Our predominant behavioural patterns will become the emerging future of human kind; so let's act accordingly!
For a shorter version of this see: Bringing up the Kids Consciously.
Being a parent is challenging, but not just for the usual reasons. Many of us are having to deal with the knowledge that change has to occur, that we must set a precedent for a new, healthier future while facing difficulties as a species that we have never faced before. Our kids will have to do better than us. To instigate change without sending them off into a spiral of panic we must break the spell of our continuing induced failure.
Many feel overwhelmed by the task of even setting small changes into motion and they worry that it will all upset the children too much, so I aim here to share my faith in our ability to proceed effectively.
Further more, though I address parents here, all of us are influential upon each other, whether our scope be family, local or world wide. Our predominant behavioural patterns will become the emerging future of human kind.
Questions that crop up often:
How can we enable our kids to get things right without getting weighed down by all that is wrong.
We have good reason to judge ourselves and the past, but we have arrived to this point of comprehension. From here we can advance or sidestep into new territory and it's best our children are aware yet not squashed by our guilt. As a starting point 'truth' is one of the founding aspects of a healthy future. Defining truth however is not easy and indeed limiting the negative in the hope that we can promote the positive is a method many of us utilise. We are right to be very concerned about projecting stress upon children and about overburdening them. However we can't select what we 'tell' or 'teach' kids, they learn from what they see, hear, smell, sense and touch. If they perceive us stressed and tense whatever words we use, they will adopt a mechanism to cope with those emotions. If we are sad about the state of the world, but tell them it's all gonna be OK they will sense our denial and lies. If we are ashamed of humanity, but just show the rosy side while we wait for them to grow old enough to be able to cope, then they will have lost their inherent, incredible, pure skills in the quagmire of our confused messages.
It is ok for us to not know the answers and to not be able to tell children something definite. It is ok to need time to adapt our minds and our behaviour, but before we can lead the way we must improve ourselves radically. In short I mean that right now we are not able to set a good example to our kids, even those of us who consider ourselves part way to zero waste living or whatever goals we hold dear, we are all in a semi psychopathic state, we are traumatised by the reality of our predicament and whether it be fear, guilt or blame we are immersed in negative emotions. The real learning and evolution has to occur in us before we can be considered fit to nurture a new generation. We can make progress in this by sensing the positive potential of humankind, having empathy for all (even wrong doers), taking action in any small yet positive way that inspires us, noting all the good things and highlighting them, by collaborating....and forgiving. Forgiving ourselves. We need to realise that getting here has been a journey and even though the unpleasant aspects are caused by the highly opportunistic and devastating actions of some, we are all implicit somehow. Anger, reproach or even passive aggression towards the situation serves to create a toxic environment for our children rendering them no more fit than us. So ridding ourselves of our judgemental and defeatist mindset is our first job. Change and positive action without blame and guilt may sound counterproductive but actually is the key here.
Do our kids have to cope with change?
Change: (both the process and the result) is desperately necessary. It is also absolutely in accordance with our nature; it is NOT changing that is the only thing we need fear.
What does it look like in action?
I, for example am working upon myself and my attitude. I feel enraged by things sometimes and it is my experience that action itself is the cure. If you feel tired - rest or go for a walk, if you feel bored - find something to do, if you are enraged by rubbish on the street - get a bag and collect it.....etc. I am instigating rubbish pick ups with our local school rather than simply moaning about it, thus I cease allowing my frustration to swell and permeate my child's perspective too. My daughter saw an empty coffee cup on the street as we rode our bikes home from school; "This makes me so angry!" she said virtually spitting the words out "I hate people who throw rubbish!" Oops. Looks like I projected my irritation even though I had biked past it in silence. The solution was to stop, pick it up and put it in a bin. I didn't lecture her on not 'hating' people or about the underlying psychology of litterers, but it's now on my mind to ensure that I project a more proactive and less judgemental energy about this.
I have three children. 20, 18 and 4 years and I am more truthful and activist with my little one. Things have changed a lot in the last 15 years (for the world and for me) When my big ones were small teaching them to not use plastic bags or consume palm oil for example was not on our daily agenda. Now my 4 year old knows why our pantry isn't full of the stuff her friends have at home, she knows that the world is not perfect and that we must be very careful and clever in our daily choices and actions. My big kids, now in university also learnt this, but for them the change came later in life and as with all of my generation it has been harder to comprehend the reality and to adapt our habits. I have my own Manifesto for One (and see here) and I involve my family and encourage them to join in.
How can we protect our children from the horrors? How can we bring them up to be different (better) when the majority are lagging behind in awareness and positive action?
It may seem harsh that we enter a store and buy only the bare minimum and to expect my child to cope with knowing that over half the products available are produced at detriment to the planet and humanity, but I believe the lies and ignorance that allow children to perpetuate our wrongs are considerably more harsh. We protect our kids, but in doing so we harm the world. They are less fragile than we know, we underestimate them just as we underestimate ourselves and each other. We have great strengths and capabilities that we have allowed to become redundant and in doing so our weaknesses have prevailed. We can empower children by allowing them to see; (and I don't mean having them watch the news!) By seeing what small yet important impact our and their actions have, by allowing them to see the possibility of a better future that exists in all the many positive things going on today, by ensuring that they never lose belief in their own potential and seeing how necessary they are as an integral part of this generation and our consciously evolving society.
We as parents nurture our children exclusively and teach them that they are singular and in competition with their peers. Instead we have to show them that our nurturance is not limited to them alone, we must nurture the planet and each other. My 4 year old gave away more gifts than she received this holiday season and she knows that there are many who are in need. I can't reach all the children in the world but I can show my child that she is connected with them and that we can be truly happy when they too are happy. By empowering her regarding this matter we are filling her with motivation for a better future. Had we simply stating the sad and tragic facts we would have prompted disenfranchisement and hopelessness, the kind that is the malaise of our generation, yet by giving her a role we have given her hope and momentum.
Our kids are more resilient and capable than we have ever been given credit for, to enable them to work up to and beyond their limitations we need to first credit ourselves with this resilience and capability. In making this change we allow ourselves and them to shape the future in a positive way.
So how about setting examples and not exhibiting contradictory behaviour?
In my attempts to be a better example of myself I often find myself neck deep in hypocrisy. I talk about collaboration, yet I sit here alone behind my desk, I talk about zero waste and carbon footprint yet we drive cars and fly internationally (apparently those are some of the worst things to do in terms of the environment), but then, actually according to science just having a child is the worst thing to do..... (This is when I too have to quell a wave of frustration!) Let's look at it like this; we are trying to change, to up our game and we face all kinds of conflict upon the way. This is a multifaceted and evolving subject and one that is presently limited by our blinkered perspective, potentially our kids can be better equipped and informed to act according to what is really the best way forward. In the meantime we must make choices and try initiate a sense of mutual responsibility (especially from the corporations and the elite). We are all subject to a mind blast of information, some wildly false yet convincing. It will take time for the best way (for each of us) to emerge and in the meantime we must simply do just the best we can, step by step. The difficulties and lack of clarity are no excuse to give up!
What is the essence?
Active and conscious nurturing is the tool that will help the healthy growth of our little ones and the community around us to extend beyond us and our limitations.
Nurture is a culture that does not teach what we think we know, but teaches our children (and adults) to adapt, to see, to comprehend, to share and to care. Life lessons are learnt with these skills at the core when we exhibit them as our everyday bahaviour. When we are curious and excited simply to be alive in this amazing space and time then our apprehension, sense of urgency and stress dissipates, this gives us the ability to rise to the challenge thus setting the best possible example to our progeny.
I work alone and prefer limited company, but I see the need and merit for community so it is my conscious decision to take my little one and visit neighbours with some fresh baked cake or garden produce to extend my own borders and to enable my child to have a less insular view of the world. This is an area that I know I can make an improvement towards a better and more caring future and set a great example. My child can watch me grow too, allowing her to see me learning and adapting does not take away my status as amazing and adored protector in her eyes, instead this form of allowing myself to be taught in life is showing my own capacity to extend beyond my own limitations. Sounds heavy for a 4 year old? Sounds destabilising? Not at all! She has all the tenacity and rigour of mind to deal with this and much, much more.
But every child (person) is different! How can kids deal with the heavy stuff?
My son needed anything explained to him in a maximum 10 minute slot, all discussion and cross questions included, he is now 20 and still not a wordy young man. His sister however is even more wordy than me and loves brain teasing discussion and challenging subject matter. My little one is a bit between the two. I like them to initiate debate, but I often consciously trigger it. Knowing how a child's mind works is beneficial, but as a baseline it's good to keep succinct, clear and truthful and mostly explain through action and example rather than just words. As parents we are in a position of huge responsibility, we are shaping their minds and their perception of the world with what we show them each day. We have the power to shape the future of humankind when we introduce ideas and concepts to them, so it is of paramount importance that we teach them to value, nurture and to question. With the gravity of this upon us it is a relief to have the perspective of a child to cater to, thus we are forced to lighten up and to simplify so that they can comprehend and enjoy the process. I find that this approach is equally essential if I have any intention of gaining traction upon the ingrained stance of my friends, some of whom have 'defensive response mode' on ready to quell any insurgent ideas. The importance of humour as a teaching, releasing and healing tool can not be overstated. We all love to laugh and finding the funny side of even dark subjects can help us cope and comprehend, while it also forms bonds between those in on the joke. (To clarify, we don't make jokes out of people, but we laugh in the face of adversity)
The topic here is the birth of Nurture Culture.
Though I have centred around the parent/child relationship it appertains equally to any adult with adult or adult with child dialogue.
The world needs doula or midwives; those that can assist in the birth of Nurture Culture. With equal sensitivity we need be equipped to transition away from this present culture which means helping us mourn what we must leave behind. For the enlightened this loss is much more of a gain, but many will need help along the way. It's a time of immense upheaval and as yet most of us are completely oblivious or in denial. Us doula have a have a whole lot of work to do, first upon ourselves, then for each other and for our own and the world's children.
10 things we can do to assist Children today (in the transition towards Nurture Culture).
A list for us to fall back on when rummaging around in the dark for the way forward in this untrodden territory.
1. Be happy. Have fun.
Seriously. Yes we are dealing with mighty fucked up times, but we have finally got to some point of realisation and we are actually talking and doing... this is good. Really. Before you take another single breath just thank the universe for today and for the chance to try make things better. We could have lived in a different era, but this one is our's and we are lucky enough to be able to give it our best shot... so let's!
Kids (and adults) respond to positivity, things they learn while having fun are much more likely to stay with them.
2. Look in the mirror.
Any face you pull, any tone you adopt, any word you use... think of them all coming right back to you. That's how it works. when you criticise and judge, your child will do the same to themselves and you will end up being criticised and judged by them too. When you encourage, support and motivate, you will see your children emulate these both internally and outwardly. Look at yourself and be sure to like what you see, (if necessary make changes so that you can!) That way your child will learn how to be someone that he/she can be proud of too. Do not expect your child to be different from you; If you are cheating on your spouse, evading taxes and rude to waiters you can expect your kids to also become unappreciative and dishonest.
Be what you want your children and the world to be!
3. Listen to your inner voice.
Our inner voice may express negative feelings that we prefer to glaze over for the sake of our children, but this is detrimental to clarity. Contrarily we may be open about our negativity by voicing it, but in doing so we perpetuate that mindset. An obvious example is women who belittle themselves and the way they look and then complain that their daughters have self confidence issues. Nothing exists in isolation and that includes the beautiful psychological states of our kids minds, if we hope to nurture them with love, care and pride we must voice those same things to ourselves and also as a general behaviour to all the others around us. As a starting point we can literally 'voice' positive attitude and thoughts aloud until we get used to doing it silently, our children can hear even silent messages, but our old habits render us a little more deaf so we need to hear it spoken quite clearly until we adopt a new positive tone.
If you believe that things will improve and that you are a valuable part of that, then your kids and the world will have a chance of getting there.
4. Be truthful.
This is a tough one, if you've been living an outward lie all your life, you'll need to work on this. Many of us say what we believe should be said, but think and feel something completely different. Kids subconsciously perceive deception and they lose respect for a lying adult.
Example: Mummy is crying, she tells child "it's ok darling, mummy just banged her toe" Child can see toe is fine and heard mum and dad fighting 10 minutes ago. (we wonder why the world is so capable of deluding itself yet we instil delusion in our kids!). Try this instead "Yes, I'm crying because your dad and I had a fight, sometimes parents can be upset too, sometimes we don't agree and we are sorry if we raised our voices, we love you and we will talk calmly now" (the variations where mum and dad end up divorced are subject for another post) This is a simplified version of the principle of keeping outward and inward reactions in alignment for the sake of clarity and truth for our children and each other. There are many nuances here but this is the basic principle and truth turns out to much less complicated than lies when you get used to it. Kids are amazingly perceptive, much more so than us, (it shouldn't surprise us, they can see, hear, smell and taste better too). When we credit them with the intelligence to 'get' what is going on rather than smothering truth with our subterfuge, then they flourish, they feel trusted and they learn to trust back.
You want a truthful, fair world? Then be so in every area of your life!
5. Age appropriate.
And that might mean we are the ones that needs to do the growing! Kids are born with an incredible skills latent and waiting for us to invoke them. Often they remain inert while we baby them down until finally they give up and humour us. Be aware of your child, each one is different. Each one has sensitivities and strengths and though we almost all came out of the same egg, we each are magnificently different. Find the way that your child learns, if she is a listener- tell her stories, if she paints- draw it out with her, if she loves films- pick ones that accentuate the message you want to get across, (not those that the TV blindingly spews out or that Hollywood is making a million bucks on). If your child hears you best when he showers or walks in the woods- plan your chats for then. Even when they ask a straight question, if the answer really exceeds their ability to comprehend or deal with or if telling it exceeds your capability or wisdom at that moment simply say so. Don't tell them they are "too young" for anything, but do tell them they might not be ready "yet", so you will explain when they (and you) are.
Have empathy for your child, see their comprehension level and capabilities, then they will grow to have empathy for others too.
6. Prompt questioning, listen and talk about what you do and why.
Ponder stuff together and let your child do the answering. When he asks questions (even the tough ones) be as honest and factual as you can, if you don't know the answer... say so... tell them it's an interesting question and that if he figures out the answer first he should tell you, tell him life is about learning and that that is what all of us are doing. Tell him that those who believe they have all the answers are often those that don't.
Talk about your choices (and in doing so consider them); if you eat let's say chicken, talk about what a chicken is (it was not born a nugget!) Maybe visit the farm you buy from, or discuss the life cycle, If you find that you cannot tell your child that the chicken led a ghastly life and has been filled with antibiotics etc just so it can get to your table then you may want to reconsider actually buying that chicken in the first place. If you find a free range source and then buy eggs and meat from there involve your child in your evolution and decision making.
Learn stuff together. Empower children by letting them see how conscious decisions are made and acted upon.
7. Tell stories.
We need to believe in the incredible potential of human kind. In doing so we can look at our kids in wonder, when your kid tells you a story, listen up. Until we fill their brains with mind numbing distractions their pure minds and imaginations far exceed the limitations of our perceived reality. Story is one of the most basic connecting forces between humankind. Through mutual stories we unify. Legend, myth, religion, tradition, politics, popular entertainment.... are all examples of how story is used to frame meaning of our existence within a manageable human scale. Telling the right stories now, expressing our existence in tales that forge links between us and our planet will enable us to envisage and manifest a radically different future.
The world is not flat, but it took us a mighty long time to figure that out, who knows what else eludes us now, but we maintain a limited perspective by restricting our imagination and dreams. We must be selective about what we view and read as entertainment. Do we want violence and power games to be our recreational viewing? Is a culture not totally sick if it portrays gushing blood, multiple gun shots and stabbings in one film yet rarely a glance of a kiss or a natural body part?.
Not everyone is a confident story teller but life itself is a story. Talk with kids about the mystery and magic of nature. the world, our planet and beyond. Let the unknown be a mystery and a joy and not something that we need fear or conquer. Delight in the everyday things that you come across, notice a spiders web and tell your child how scientists use spider skills to design strong ropes, when you break a walnut shell discuss the incredible intelligence of nature. Eat snowflakes and look at them on the palm of your hand and under magnifying glass. Amaze at the aerodynamics of a dandelion seed and the height of tall buildings. Watch a bee collect polen and the speed of a dragonflies wings. Study smoke trails in the sky and cloud formations and sunrises. Talk about how the world rotates and wonder about locations on a globe. Take your child paddling in the sea, collect shells and listen to the waves. Watch things grow and pick up wriggly worms with your bare hands. Find and feel moss between paving stones. Make or listen to music with your eyes closed and dance like crazy around your house. Make ice-cream from fresh fruits and taste them all..... and a million other things. Tell your story of each day as an adventure. They need not wait for dragons and pirate ships but they may see the wonder and excitement of everyday life when you see it with them.
Notice, share your perceptions and listen to what your child perceives, from this open, receptive and story telling stance hitherto unknown possibilities can emerge.
8. Be in charge.
You are setting your kids up for a future of responsibility, therefore you need to behave accordingly. Once you have made a decision don't back track, we are all entitled to change our minds, but be sure you can explain yourself. Don't allow your child to manipulate you and avoid using the same tactic upon your child. Don't allow yourself to fall pray to third party manipulation either, for instance we should free ourselves from the enslaving, marketing campaigns of the corporations. When you figure out that buying one vegetable is better than buying anything from that long stretch of confectionery and packaged goods aisle it is now up to you to help your kid embrace that fact too. If you decide to avoid a certain product like palm oil or sugar then you must be prepared for the onslaught in the supermarket and at birthday parties etc. Make sure your child knows what you have decided and why and stick with it. Sometimes make sure there is an upside, a reward may seem like a bribe (no such thing as parenting without the odd bride!) but we can call it a positive consequence. If your child doesn't respond to your promise for an extra 15 minutes in the park instead of the sweet/toy or whatever and decides to throw a tantrum in the store, keep calm, ensure she is safe and allow her to scream the place down, there is no such thing as shame when you are exhibiting good parenting and a screaming kid will get over it soon enough, (unless of course you give in, in which case you have now got yourself a full on screamer). Once she has calmed down enough to listen, tell her that you understand her frustration, name the emotions like anger and sadness and tell her next time if she doesn't scream, she'll get that time in the park. Then forgive and move on swiftly. Every time she exhibits restraint acknowledge and tell her how proud you are.
Stand up for yourself, your health, your principles, your life, your people and your planet and watch your children take it upon themselves to stand with you.
9. Be consistent
We are all entitled to change and grow and for our opinions to adapt as we learn with the times, however a constant lack of adherence to any one specific way of doing things is going to cause your child to lose respect for that way (and for you) Consistency within the family is also important, though, if for instance one parent is a vegan while the other eats meat then a tone of respect and tolerance will unify. We can't all be the same and we need not be. Kids will also have their own ways that may differ greatly from yours, however a sense of continuity in terms of love, empathy and appreciation from parents is the essential ingredient to a strong, independent child.
Even if everything else in life changes, the emotional home is the nurturing nest essential to healthy development of the individual and society as a whole.
10. Do stuff
Be motivated together, as parents and as individuals. Make your Manifesto for One: Create your own list of actions that are in line with your vision of a better future for this planet and humankind. Find things that your child loves to do and allocate plenty of time for them. Small kids like studying nature, helping collecting litter, craft projects, baking cookies to share..... Big kids can do recycling DIY projects, join you on community projects or at the library (or online) studying whatever grabs your joint attention.... and many, many more....
Be proactive, entice your kids to join you and let them adopt the habit of being positive and active humans.
I reserve the right to add to this list as, just like everyone, I'm learning as I go along.
For advice regarding parenting, mindful, bilingual and attachment parenting, relationship advice etc; this is your lady! Aslihan Onaran whi is based in Istanbul.