Christine Vollmer on Building a Family Culture
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WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 11, 2006 (Zenit) - The greatest ill that many young people suffer today is their sense of alienation from their parents, says Christine Vollmer.
Vollmer is the president of Alliance for the Family, a U.S.-based group established to help children learn to cherish themselves and others. Its counterpart is La Alianza Latinoamericana para la Familia (the Latin American Alliance for the Family), ALAFA.
She is a founding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family. Vollmer is the California-born daughter of a French military officer and American mother. She has lived in Venezuela for the past 45 years.
We interviewed Vollmer on the situation of the family in the world today.
Q: Could you tell us about the mission of ALAFA and how it is responding to the current challenges of the family? Are there plans for expanding it in the United States?
Vollmer: The Latin American Alliance for the Family has a 20-year history of bringing information to all those organizations that work toward stronger families. So much is going on in research and in legal and legislative matters that it is important to pool and share this information. That is part of ALAFA's vocation.
The other part is the creation of reliable educational tools to help fill the void which is the result of the family breakdown characteristic of our disorganized urban living, where values have been eroded by many factors.
Q: Could you tell us about the curriculum you established called "Aprendiendo a querer" (Learning to Cherish)? How successful it has been?
Vollmer: We are very happy with the tremendous acceptance this curriculum has received. I think this is due to the non-religious-sounding approach. Although based on solid Christian anthropology, it is presented in very everyday terms.
The fact that it is presented as a story of normal young people growing up, makes it very acceptable to young people and to teachers, alike. Then, too, the teacher training courses and reliable evaluation instruments appeal to the serious professionals.
What is very different about this curriculum is that it covers all the points that parents used to know how to cover and which have been somewhat confused since the 1960s.
We start with the 6-year-old, progressing through all the values that are learned at the most favorable ages. These cover emotions, good sportsmanship, challenges, differences in personality, appreciation of diversity, and all the "values of democracy": participation, cooperation, and so on.
Thus, when our students are preteens, they have a sure base on which to found friendships and understand the changing emotions of adolescence.
This makes the education in chastity and the understanding of the commitment of marriage much easier to grasp as we get into the secondary-school books of the Learning to Cherish series. We find that kids are keeping the books close by, to use as reference when they come across difficult situations.
Q: How has your work with ALAFA helped you in your work in the Academy for Life and the Council for the Family, or vice versa?
Vollmer: I think there has been a wonderful synergy in all this, as the Pontifical Council for Family, under the extraordinary leadership of Cardinal López Trujillo, has been very open to new knowledge of what is going on all over the world and has been the best forum for spreading the application of the teaching of the magisterium in matters of the family.
The council is very conscious of the need for practical guidelines, and getting away from mere theoretical and theological teaching, [going] straight to how this teaching should be lived. And also, being a member of this council and the academy gives, of course, a certain authority to our work.
Q: What do you see as the greatest negative influence in young people's lives today?
Vollmer: I have no doubt that the greatest ill that young people suffer today is the alienation resulting from the growing distance from their parents when they are children.
The natural cohesion and modeling which makes small children so secure and so happy, and which gives the adolescent a firm sense of identity and of belonging, has been progressively destroyed, first by urban living and comprehensive schooling.
The absence of the father who works in a factory or an office contributes to this effect. And now mothers are also much less available in the home, rushing about, trying to "do everything."
The ensuing need for children to identify with peers and television characters instead of with their parents is, I believe, at the bottom of the problems that surface when they become teen-agers.
Divorce, of course, intensifies the effect. So my answer would be: The worst thing is the little peaceful home-time children have with their parents ... mothers, especially.
Q: Could you tell us how you have involved your family in this mission of promoting the culture of life and the family?
Vollmer: I think this has been an automatic result of being a close family. Children will always identify with what their parents think is really important and live for. If it is the latest fad and consumer item, of course, that will be the most important for the children!
But if it is learning and helping others, this will, from an early age, be important to them, if parents involve them as part of their belief-system.
In our case, our youngest child, Leopoldo, who was born profoundly brain-damaged, was the best teacher for our children as to the importance of loving and helping the helpless and those that some elements of society consider "useless." This is why Mother Teresa dubbed him "the professor of love"!
Q: What would you recommend to parents today to help their children live counter-culturally?
Vollmer: I would recommend that they endeavor to live an intensely home-oriented life ... to create their own family "culture," if you will.
Children need to know they are unique and extremely important to their parents. And they love family rituals, such as meals, celebrations, family jokes and stories which are a source of bonding and binding. They like to know where their family came from, and how their forebears lived.
The intrusion of the world of TV, music and "what everybody else does" is a siren-song that should be avoided.
Children will always prefer to "go against the current" if they feel they are a solid team with close and loving parents. Children put in day care at an early age will naturally be less bonded and will follow the culture, which is the first world they will discover.
It is also a proven fact that children brought up by their mothers have a better intelligence level and health than those in day care.
I believe that it is worth any sacrifice for mothers to stay home until their children are in school, and I believe we should do more active lobbying for tax relief for families with children. This is an urgent need in order to preserve the family in the future.
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Vollmer, Family, Culture
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