I know a lot of people – women and mothers especially – doing really amazing things in the world. It is this that comforts me when I start to get depressed about the news. There are people all over the world who are using their unique gifts to creatively tackle the difficulties of our time – income inequality, racism, sexism, xenophobia, war, gun violence, climate change – name a problem and you’ll find a person or group of people devoting time, energy, and talent to both the causes and effects of these problems. My faith in humanity lies in its willingness to figure out the messes we keep creating.
Now that my oldest is nearing 5 years old, his questions about the world are becoming more complex. He is beginning to see the interconnectedness of the world and I am of course trying to make sure that my answers both satisfy his curiosity and invite him further into critical thinking.
To me, this feels like an essential part of raising a socially conscious child; I don’t want to teach him what to think about the world, I want to teach him how to think about the world, and then how to translate this critical analysis into meaningful action.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to one of the authors of the book This is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the 21st Century speak about social movement ecology at the nonprofit I co-founded. Paul Engler spoke directly to something I’ve struggled with as a person committed to social change. What should I be doing? Do we fight the system? Do we “be the change”? Do we scrap everything and start over?
Paul’s answer was that for real social change to happen, we need a healthy ecosystem of efforts. For some of us this will mean a focus on personal transformation and healing, for others it will mean modeling a different way of operating outside of existing institutions, and for some it will mean taking a stand against existing structures in an effort to change or influence them. For most of us, we will move between and among all three, depending on where we are in our own lives. All approaches are necessary and all lead to meaningful social change. Like all other ecosystems, diversity is key!
So how do we, as parents, model this?
How do we empower our children to take meaningful action in the world in the way that makes the most sense for them at each point in their life?
And how do we model the necessary cooperation and collaboration that has to happen between all people working for social change so that the ecosystem can be healthy and productive?
Well, like all things we want to teach our children, we do these things ourselves! The work for us then, as parents, is to identify what we have to offer the world, and to commit to using these gifts and talents in a way that makes the most sense for where we are in our lives. I think the mistake I’ve made in the past has been feeling like whatever I did to address social woes had to be big and bold. Since having children I’ve learned the impact of small things. Each choice, every day, can be a socially conscious one.
This, perhaps, is what I want to make sure I teach my children: when it comes to social change, every choice matters and our choices must be informed by a commitment to personal transformation, a willingness to approach the existing institutions with a critical eye, and the courage to create new ways of doing and being outside of what already exists.
Do you have a way that you try to teach your children to give back in the world?
This is an original post written for World moms blog by Ms. V.
Photo Source: the National Archives and Records Administration
Miss M’s #Strengthie pose supporting the Poverty is Sexist campaign for ONE
I grew up living a pretty selfish life, if I’m honest. We weren’t a terrible family – we would help those we knew if they needed help, and I recall collecting my spare change for charity boxes and joining in with sponsored events, but that was about the sum of my giving to others. I’m pretty sure this is because my parents both grew up in poverty. They understood what it meant to have an empty tummy and to wear clothes that had been mended so many times they were falling off. So we focused on our tight family unit of four and my parents worked like Trojans, across four jobs, to ensure that they could pay the mortgage and offer my brother and I some of the little luxuries they had never had as children.
In my adult life, through becoming a Christian and learning more about the world around me, I developed a strong sense of compassion and a desire to help those who were not living the kind of life I feel we all deserve. As I’ve grown older (and perhaps wiser, some might say) I’ve wanted my children to understand and to ensure that they are engaging with the fight to help our world become a fairer place. I figure if they learn this as a child, they will get involved and start to help at a younger age, and not wait until they are in their thirties like I was.
Of course, as a parent it is my job to help them and to expose them to age-appropriate content and subjects. My twin girls are nearly eight which means we can discuss sensitive issues, but I’m still refraining from talking about sexual matters as I don’t need to smash their innocence at this age. My son is nearly twelve, and we can talk about almost all topics as he has more of an understanding of how the world works.
I’d really love to hear how other parents are educating and engaging their children within this area, and of course that is one of the reasons Jen set up World Moms Blog: to find out how Moms (Mums/Mams) the world over were tackling the same issues but in different culturally appropriate ways.
I thought it might be useful to share the approaches I have been taking so we can all learn from each other –
Child Sponsorship – In 2004 we started to sponsor our first child through Compassion. He was five at the time and over the last eleven years we have watched Carl-Henri grow into a caring young man. It has been a real privilege to pray for him, encourage the children to write to or draw pictures for him and to be able to financially support his place within a Christian project in Haiti. When the earthquake struck Haiti in 2010 we held our breath and prayed for all the people of the nation but of course our soft-spot was for Carl Henri and his family. Thankfully they were all physically well, but they were thrown into the situation of rebuilding their home and lives, which our supported project was able to help with.
Pray with them – I love to pray with my children. There is nothing more beautiful than hearing them expressing the desires of their hearts and offloading the small worries they carry. We have a daily devotional that sits on our dining table and on the nights when we are all together and have some time we read a verse and explore what it means for us and others.
Watch the news together and have open discussions – I probably don’t do this as often as I should but there is so much going on in the world and only so much that a young child can take in. There are some great TV programs nowadays that show the children what it is like for children living elsewhere. In the UK Blue Peter is very good, as is Extreme School and My Life.
Encourage them to raise money for charity – The children have mostly been involved in fundraising for overseas projects through their church groups, and Miss M particularly is keen to make sure she takes some of her pocket-money each week to put in the kids collection. We are signed up to run in the Race for Life soon, which raises money for Cancer Research UK and the girls alone have rustled up £65 in sponsorship. This has certainly made me aware that I need to get them fundraising with me more often.
Involve them in my blog and my plight to fight for a better world – I have been so privileged to travel with ONE and Samaritans Purse to see how donations from the UK and USA are being used in developing countries, and it has been an absolute pleasure to share this with all my children. They have all been very interested and proud as I have shared in Church, schools and within local groups. I also try to involve them in my blogging work and when I am working on a big advocacy campaign they are right there with me sharing the information and championing the cause.
Send them off to offer practical help – Whether in my home country or abroad, I am passionate that young adults should offer practical help to projects that are in need. It might be building skills, playing with children, reading to someone, clearing rubbish, cleaning dishes or something else entirely but so much is learnt when we stretch ourselves and move out of our comfort zone and do something for which we have nothing to gain. My children are all still a little young to have been involved in any kind of mission work as yet but it won’t be long before JJ is old enough and he is already volunteering within our own community.
So that is where our family is at the moment and I really would love to hear from you: what else can we do? What has worked for your family? What do we need to steer clear of?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Michelle Pannell of the United Kingdom. Photo credit to the author.
Decades ago, as I moved around Manhattan from cheap apartment to cheap apartment, most of my stuff fit into “New York luggage:” big black Hefty garbage bags. Now that I’ve acquired children, however, and all their junk precious possessions, the New York luggage has been retired. Now I have to hire professionals, like the team of four guys who hauled our furniture and approximately eighty gazillion boxes into long-term storage when we moved from New York to Abu Dhabi two years ago. It took us more than three days to finish that move—I’m sure those movers still have a dart board with our apartment number at its center.
That move almost killed me—and I’m not even including the hours we spent packing and re-packing the twelve suitcases we were lugging to Abu Dhabi, in a desperate attempt to make sure that no one suitcase went over the weight limit for checked bags.
So after that move, moving from one neighborhood in Abu Dhabi to another was a piece of cake: on moving day, a squad of ten men showed up armed with huge rolls of bubble wrap and cardboard; they fanned out across our apartment and hey presto! the contents of our apartment vanished in a few days.
When we moved from New York, I don’t remember thinking much about the difference between my life and the lives of the men putting our boxes in the truck. At the risk of generalizing, I assumed that I had more education than they did, and that my children probably went to “better” public schools than theirs did (if even they had kids). I mean, I know I’m generalizing here—and maybe the movers were PhD candidates in philosophy out to make an extra buck, but that seems like a stretch. (more…)