I know all of us with kids or grandkids, nieces or nephews or just beloved child-friends are deeply worried about their future. We want to help them have a good one — and it is tough to realize that sometimes the best way to do this isn't always by insulating them from difficulty, but by helping them adapt to the world they'll be living in ahead of time.
The best thing we can do is offer our children a good and protected childhood that simultaneously prepares them for the future they will live in. That means we have to change how we parent.
1. Be The Grownup
This sucks. I hate it a lot of the time. This is the Mom and Dad (and Grandpa and Grandma) job — to bear the brunt of things, to do the hard stuff so the kids don't have to suffer, to not make your kids parent you or deal with your emotional inadequacies any more than strictly necessary. This doesn't mean you have to be perfect, noble or never feel anything or cry in front of them — it just means you don't indulge yourself at their expense. It just means that except when you just can't (and those moments can't be too often) hold it together, you can't ask your kids to take care of you — it isn't their job.
Your job is to face the future and come to terms with it so that they can too. That means being able to say, "I'm sad, and sometimes I cry, but now we're going to go forward." And act like you mean it.
This is, I think, the first and most important job of preparing children for the future — giving them models of real adulthood. And the models they've got are us, so we've got to do better. I'm hoping my kids won't be able to say I screwed this one up too bad when the time comes — I'm trying.
2. Involve Your Kids In A Kid-Appropriate Way
There is no need for children to know all the bad news, or your worst fears about the future. Sometimes you can tell all the truth to older teenagers, but I don't think younger kids need to be scared by things they can't fully understand. But the choice is not between "Do I wait until they are fifteen and spring peak oil and climate change on them then" or "Do I start them reading about doom at three?" There's a balance to be struck here.
Obviously you can bring them into the garden, bring them into the kitchen, give them chores to help you with your home economy, get them to help in your home business, teach them about ecology and environmental issues. I hope all of us are doing these things already, at age-appropriate levels. But there's more — one of the things we tend to assume in our society is that children should not work, and I think this is absolutely wrong. I believe children, like adults, need good work.
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It goes without saying that young children should work appropriately and have lots of time for learning and play, but children not only can work, they should work. They should feel proud that they can help their household, and know that their accomplishments matter.
3. Kids Need The People In Their Lives
Kids who are related to people by biology or long connection have to keep up those connections. They have a relationship with grandparents and aunts and uncles that can and should be separate from the relationships the parents have with each other or with other adults in their lives. They shouldn't have to lose people because the grownups can't get along. This goes for divorce (and yes, I know some exes are assholes, and sometimes the courts choose badly and sometimes there is no good choice) as well as larger extended families. What your kids have going into this is their parents plus some other people who love them. Don't take those people away lightly.
4. Let Kids Be In Charge Sometimes
Turn some of the responsibility over to your kids. And when you let them be in charge, let them be. Let them make mistakes, as long as these are not life-threatening. Treat them with respect, and when they make a mistake, let them fix it.
If they have dreams you think aren't feasible, well, help them get there anyway — but also insist that they have practical backup plans.
5. Have Fun With Your Kids
I'm not suggesting you should be their friend all the time — discipline is important. But joy and fun and play are important for kids (and they are awfully important for grownups as well). So make sure you allow time for fun.
Moreover, be fun with your kids — don't let your fear or anxiety take away the pleasures of laughing with them, or dreaming about the future, or just being with them.
6. Help Them Up When They Fall Down
Let them fall sometimes, either because they need to or because you can't stop them, but be there on the other end. You can't protect them from everything.
Yes, it teaches them that you'll be there to save them. And for some small percentage of children, that's a bad message, one that says they don't have to be responsible. But for most kids, I think that helping them up, and maybe resisting the temptation to tell them what an ass they've been, lets the stupid thing be the lesson itself.
All the lessons, all the judgments, don't have to come from you. At some point we can take our hands off and let them know that they have to do their own judging. That, I think, is that growing-up thing we're supposed to want them to do. And then maybe we'll have some more people being the grownups to work on the future with.
©2012 by Sharon Astyk. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New Society Publishers. www.newsociety.com
This article was adapted with permission from Chapter 10 of the book:
Making Home: Adapting Our Homes and Our Lives to Settle in Place
by Sharon Astyk.
Making Home is about improving life with the people around us and the resources we already have. While encouraging us to be more resilient in the face of hard times, author Sharon Astyk also points out the beauty, grace, and elegance that result. Written from the perspective of a family who has already made this transition, Making Home shows readers how to turn the challenge of living with less into settling for more — more happiness, more security, and more peace of mind.
About the Author
Sharon Astyk is a writer, teacher, blogger, and farmer who raises vegetables, poultry and dairy goats with her family in upstate New York. She and her family use 80% less energy and resources than the average American household. Sharon is a member of the Board of Directors of ASPO-USA (Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas USA), founder of the Riot 4 Austerity, and the award-winning author of four previous books including Making Home, Depletion and Abundance and Independence Days.