On a recent early winter morning we decided to take a family walk outside, in a wooded setting, with our three young children. The morning is crisp with a dusting of snow sprinkled among the crunchy leaves. We all are adorned with colorful soft hats, gloves and rubber boots. Almost as soon as we begin, one of our sons complains about walking too far, followed by our daughter’s moans that her toes are cold. We move on, knowing from experience that nature will ultimately win them over. And as we enter a wooded area of giant pines the mood quickly changes, as the magic of the forest casts its spell. All three children are bouncing about collecting pine cones, twigs and leaves, jumping in the puddles and watching the swans glide along the small body of water. Our daughter caught sight of a white-tailed rabbit as we darted among the dripping vines.
As we return to the car the gentleness of the natural world stays with us all. But not for long: we have committed to attending a birthday party at a children’s pizza restaurant. We step into birthday land and the energy is jarring. The place screams of over-stimulation as all our senses are assaulted by a multimedia cacophony of intensity. After two hours, the kids are frantic and scattered. The parents all seem exhausted and tense.
We watch the hyped-up kids eat cake, and it is time to open gifts. We see a young child frantically opening presents, barely stopping to look at one before ripping into the next one on the pile. We believe that children young and old have a yearning for celebration and ritual that has a deeper meaning than an endless series of brand-name toys. But that yearning must be nurtured and brought out in people. We also know that many people are paid lots of money with the clear goal of creating insatiable little consumers, with distinct brand preferences, in children three years old or less.
The contrast between both our nature walk and this birthday party brought to our attention the emptiness we often raise our children in. Despite the obvious raising of consciousness in our world, as parents we constantly face cultural messages which say that more is better, bigger is better, louder is better, faster is better, instant is better, and mindless is better.
As hurried, harried, tired parents, how can we create a peaceful, mindful space for our children to grow and learn? One important way we have found to shut off the noise is to remove TV from your home. TV is the main medium through which the consumer values of our culture are transmitted. Also, when children are watching TV, they are NOT doing a host of other valuable activities such as playing, learning, creating, and moving their bodies. While watching TV, our children would become so entranced that nothing else existed. Turning it off resulted in screaming fits of anger and despair.
So we decided to try life without TV. To our great amazement, the children adjusted very easily. Now they draw, talk, paint, make buildings, sing, dance and read books instead of blindly staring at a box. They watch one video a week, which has become a special event rather than the daily power struggle it used to be. Of course this requires more parental thought, attention and planning than using the video baby-sitter, but the results are well worth the effort. And now we don’t worry about the amount of violence they are exposed to or if the material is appropriate or keeping track of the number of hours they are watching the box.
In other ways, as parents we can find peace and begin to nurture it in our families. Evaluate the number of activities your child is involved in. Take control and be selective. Ask yourself, does this add to our family’s peace or not? Keeping a predictable schedule is another way to create peace. Pay attention to the rhythms of the child and the family. Since children crave familiarity and regularity, be conscious of having a normal routine they can count on…school followed by quiet time, snack, dinner, baths, story time. Even on vacations, following the rhythm and predictability creates peace.
Celebrating the ordinary with rituals helps create peace and meaning. Try to make dinner a sacred time. Take enough time and eliminate the rush. Light a dinner candle, have special place mats, cloth napkins, and centerpieces made from your nature collections in your yard or parks. Cultivate appreciation and gratitude by allowing each child to give thanks for one thing they are grateful for on that day.
Reconnect with the great spirit of nature. Our family makes it a goal to go outside almost daily, no matter what the weather. Keeping their appreciation alive for this Earth plants a seed for their future care of her.
We also feel it is important to keep celebrations simple, from birthdays to holidays, resisting the temptation that more and bigger is better. Limit the number of gifts! Pay attention to the power of simple things like candles, songs, and stories. The ritual of reading and storytelling is another way to deepen our connection with each other, and awaken curiosity and imagination in children.
Of course, it’s so easy to lose balance and give in to the larger cultural values screaming at you. But our children are so vulnerable and tender, and need our guidance in creating a meaningful, sustainable life of depth and substance. Let us embrace the challenges of our families together and be pioneers into a new family creation that embraces peaceful parenting.