I want to propose that one of the most essential jobs through these times is that of parenting. The job so often devalued and forgotten. The job that nobody wants to pay you to do! Is in fact the most essential role of all! Because right now we live in a world that is hurtling towards destruction and how we parent and bring up the next generation could be the difference between surviving and changing and the end of our species.!
What if we are being conditioned to parent in a way that contributes to commercialism and this world we so badly want to change?
We are sold the idea that we as parents, can have it all, work, family, house, holidays etc. But, its not that simple – we cant have it all.! Well, not without a cost, and the cost is financial, you pay to have it made easy, electronic rockers, gadgets that entertain babies and children, nannies or nurseries so you can go to work, to work endlessly to pay for all that as well as the house, the car car the holidays. And thats if your fortunate enough to be a two parent family, single parent familes, have it even harder, labelled scroungers (when speaking for myself and many others Ive met this is far from the truth, most single parent families work more than twice as hard as they have no choice) and desperately trying whilst knowing they cannot meet those goals.
The more stress and pressure we are under, the harder it is to genuinely connect and meet the needs of our children, so we give them TV or toys or gadgets or clothes to try to make up for it, accept when we do this, it feeds into the idea that we can buy something to make up for a loss of conection. Perhaps we do this more because we feel we are failing when we cant meet all those goals, and have perfectly behaved (controlled) children as we are told we should, so we try to use the gadgets to lighten the load a bit, we sit child in front of the tv so we can juggle tea and work emails, and distress after a day at work. But the TV has so so so many adverts, carefully crafted by the top psychologists, to appeal to our children, who then pester us for those things, leaving us and them feeling if they don’t have them, they will be bullied or stand out as different and lacking -, which leads to us spending money and needing to make more money, round and round that hamster wheel we go. Whilst also priming our children to be super consumers when they grow up as its been reinforced and normalised whilst they are children. All the while we are told we are soft, and letting them get away with it if we don’t discipline them or let them cry in our arms, or sleep on us, or nurse until they are ready to stop – all the while in other words being told to parent in a way that reduces empathy and is more towards structure and systems, and down and down that spiral we go, as each generation has less empathy and more focus on systems and self. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer and eventually neither planet nor people can withstand this and …… well its not looking good.
So instead, perhaps our form of activism for our planet as parents, is to turn away from this prescribed way or parenting, from this ideal and the expectations on us and our children. Turn towards our own heart wisdom, parent from a place of deep empathy, meeting our childs needs, foster secure warm attachments and stopping that cycle. Growing empathic caring children into empathic caring adults who see no need to feed the commercialism and economy, but to save this world and all who live here.
Prof Simon Baron-Cohan or the university of Cambridge completed a study where, by using questionnaires with males and females of varying ages, he found males were slightly more likely to excel at systems thinking (think how the world works, how machines work, gaining status, being top dog etc) and woman more at empathy (social relationships, how people think and feel). I want to emphasise that this difference was slight!
However studies have been done in the us to show that levels of empathy in young people have been falling over the last 30 years. Why is this important?
Well our world, has for a long time now prioritised and given value to systems thinking, commercialism, how structures are set up with one person at the top and the rest trying to climb there, computers and engineering all valued very highly, with caring being a low value (think care of the elderly, stay at home mums, nurseries, schools, nursing etc), this perhaps has led us to where we are, at the brink of economic collapse, the world and its future under threat, many in poverty and suffering, animals are ours to consume and in many ways it seems some see people as just that too, objects to consume and use. We are sadly lacking in empathy!
Dont get me wrong, some of those things have been amazing, but if we don’t foster empathy, and start to value it, in EVERYONE! What will our future be? Im not sure I see one. Its going to take empathy to change the direction we are going in, to get people to care, and to change from their consumerism to one of caring and nurturing all life on our beautiful and fragile planet.
James Martin in his book the meaning of the 21st Century, talks about a the need for a revolution during this time, to change the course we are heading on. I believe we need a revolution in empathy!
Computers will become far more complex and able to solve problems and think critically, we humans need to develop the empathy and compassion needed to balance that. To stop the poor getting poorer and the rich richer, to stop the planet and all of us on it dying!
So how do we foster Empathy in the next generation, so they care enough to change the trajectory we are on? Well it starts with parenting. Which is why I suggest to you, that parenting, rather than being a low value job that many feel should not be subsidised by others taxes, is in fact a radical act of rebellion and activisim. It is through parenting, that we have a chance to save our world. Not for this generation, but for many generations to come. That supporting parents, to be with their children and meet their emotional needs, we support the whole planet.
Seems a little radical? Well Empathy starts with that tiny baby and their primary care giver (and that role that is so often unpaid and unvalued that of mother – but could just as easily be father). It is what Psychologist describe as that dance of communication between infant and caregiver. Caregiver gazes into the eyes of baby, baby gazes back, baby cries and caregiver responds with care and meeting babies needs. Baby smiles, caregiver smiles back and so on and on and on…. Attachment is how we foster empathy, by meeting our childs needs we lay a foundation of empathy that can only be learnt from being in the relationships, not taught at a school or a nursery. Empathy is learnt by relating with someone who has it, and models it and then we learn to do the same.
So for this reason, I believe being a parent, caregiver, is the most valuable role we could ever have. Supporting those in that role, to have their own needs met, to have the resources, financially, physically and emotionally to constantly give their all to this (the most demanding role I have ever had!) means we raise a generation that have the empathy in place, that can learn about systems thinking, whilst holding the empathy as equally valuable, and in this, they can work out new ways to save this world, brave new ways we cant even dream off! But, to want to do this, they have to have the empathy to care!! And it takes good empathic responsive warm caregiving during those early years to pave the way for that.
So I propose to you, that parenting is the most radically rebellious role I have ever had! Because to value that above all else, means to stick my finger up at capitalism, and commercialism, at the need to be more and buy more and destroy our planet in the process. It means to stand my ground bravely, valuing that role, others do not! Sacrificing all the hard earned structures I had before and give up so much. It is to stand in my female (which men can do to!) power and say those qualities our patriarchal world don’t value, I do! And to bring up my children to value empathy and kindness and love above all else, so that they, if they choose to (and I must admit I hope they do) will have the understanding, the softness and the strength to stand up and go against the tide of the systems thinking to care enough, to change how we do things, not just for a month or two, but for forever so we and the whole world we life with, has a future to care about!