'Extended family' important in raising children
The old African proverb, "it takes a village to raise a child," has stood the test of time. For generations, many families have successfully raised their children thanks to the additional guidance and assistance of their extended families. Whether it was the wisdom or the insight they gained through life experiences, the lessons our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents shared with us were priceless gifts that continue to give to this day.
This recently became even clearer to my wife and I when we lost the last of our four parents. This is hardly surprising for a married couple in their mid-60s, but it is still difficult to adjust to the fact that we are now the older generation.
All four of our parents were members of the "Greatest Generation." Our fathers were officers in World War II. My father-in-law was a lieutenant colonel who was at D-Day Plus 6 and marched to Berlin. My father was a captain in the Air Corps who only spoke to me about the good times in the Army and what a maturing experience it was for him.
Like most members of the "Greatest Generation," our parents were raised in the Depression and had a deep respect for those who earned money and tried to save it. They taught us to try to help those less fortunate, to have respect for all, and to strive to always do better.
It's only later in life that we realize how astute our parents were during our formative years. Parents have a sixth sense about what is right and wrong. For my parents and my wife's, this was obviously instilled in them by the wisdom that age brings, but also by their experiences growing up in the '30s and '40s when success was hardly assured. It was probably the realization that the older someone gets, the more they realize the inherent intelligence of their parents. This no doubt is what led Mark Twain to say he was amazed at how smart his parents had become in the four years he went away to college.
Unlike the two-parent families in which my wife and I were raised, one in every two children in the U.S. will live in a single-parent family - and before they are 15 years old, most of these families will be headed by single women. Today, a college education is almost an essential step to a successful life. That is why Misericordia University introduced its Women with Children Program. Ten years ago, Misericordia decided to provide up to 10 single mothers, who were also full-time students, with free housing, significant scholarships, child care subsidies, and a variety of support structures that would allow these excellent students to raise their children, work and attend college full time.
A few weeks into each semester, the women and their children who live in the donated Pauly and Rasmussen Women with Children homes on Lake Street become one large family. The children are raised partially on campus, so they have more than 1,700 big brothers and sisters - namely Misericordia's full-time student body.
Even more important, though, are the student volunteers who donate their time and talent to help the program's participants with everything from honing their job interviewing techniques to making career decisions. This is the kind of intergenerational advice that any parental figure can give a young person.
What do we learn from our parents? Those of us who are fortunate enough to have a two-parent family often learn a great deal. Our single mothers on campus have the awesome responsibility of raising their children and securing their future, but they find comfort and direction from volunteers and a close-knit intergenerational campus community that offers them a challenging education and a supportive environment.
(MacDowell is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa.)