01.01.2008

Putting Down Roots

NabilaCowasjee, an immigrant herself, understands the conflictingmessages facing children in our country where most ofus hail from somewhere else. In this time of transition,nurturing care is needed.

When we plant a tree we make sure that the soil isfertile, that it receives adequate water and is in aposition that gives it sufficient sunlight. Only then,with these fundamentals in place, can it continue togrow strong and produce foliage, fruit and flowers inabundance, with ease.

Nourishment, love and possibly a supportive educationare considered necessary to keep growing children operatingin a functional way; elements that help them weatherthe vagaries of everyday life. These are tangible buildingblocks that are relatively easy to focus on as we bringup children.

There are some less obvious, but ironically crucial,additions that assist the growth of healthy, happy andwell adjusted children in our constantly evolving society.

We live in interesting times. The earth and all itsenergies, including human beings, is undergoing quiet,but radical, change. We are in a metaphoric mid lifecrisis, a period of transition. Our foundations andstability are experiencing the effects of this movement.It's widely reported that children are increasinglysuffering from chronic health conditions, ADD, drugabuse, are in trouble with the law, lacking disciplineand engaging in anti social behaviour. These are allissues that are a result of the base chakra, the chakrathat embodies our sense of "rootedness", thatisn't as balanced and grounded as it could be.

Australia is an unusual country in the sense that itis largely made up of a population that, if traced backto its original roots, hails from elsewhere. It is acornucopia of cultures superimposed onto a land thathas a rich spiritual and cultural history of its own.On an energetic level, it must be a really confusing,if colourful place to live, with all those messagesand energies jostling about, wrestling to find a voice.We respond to these energies in subtle and unseen waysand children, by virtue of their openness, are moresensitive to this phenomenon.

As a result of my own varied ethnic, cultural and personalbackground, this is an area I had to think long andhard about when I had my own children. I hail from abi-cultural background both in terms of race and religion;have lived in my birth country and that of my father,as well as a variety of other nations. I married a manwho is yet again from another culture and spiritualbackground and now we are in Australia, with no heritageor clear links here either. A mixed bag of lollies ifever there was one or, dependent upon how deep one'sneurosis goes, a recipe for disaster when it comes toraising children!

Along with the wonderful opportunities diversity presents,comes a shadow side. The Western world is moving slowlyaway from structured religion. We live in an increasinglysecular community where religion no longer operatesas the guardian of the value systems by which we live.

The planet with all of us strapped to it is hurtlingtowards the proverbial Age of Aquarius, which heraldsa time of working together for a common and just cause.We still have residues of previous ages. The Age ofAries was one where the survival of society dependedon the cultivation of loyalty to the tribe/family/socialgroup who set up a code of living, ethics and honour.Under tribal consciousness, the group made the decisionsfor the individual, from marriage partners to occupations.The following Age of Pisces, from which we are justemerging, began to value the voice of the individual.The Piscean Age gave rise to individual choice associatedwith emotion and introspection. The emergence of individualpower necessarily embodies the high road or low roadparadigm. We can clearly see in Western society thegrowth of this individual energy which, at best, honourspersonal expression, but at its worst, reeks of apparentanarchy, selfishness and a lack of boundaries in termsof values and ethics.

The loss of tribal values may have a confusing effecton the rearing of children these days because societyand families are unable to provide a clear or ethicalcore, even if it is to function as a point of rebellion.The move away from establishment to individual has openedus up to the vagaries of the media, for example, whonow construct and dictate to us how we should live ourlives and pursue our goals, usually from a place rootedin commercialism of which the saddening effects areclearly evident.

What does this period of transition mean for our children?It seems that all of us do require a starting pointfrom which to launch our own growth. It is in childhoodthat we receive our most crucial learning, the buildingblocks for our future success. So the ground this foundationis built on needs to be as fertile and life supportingas it can possibly be. How then can we, as consciousand caring parents, prepare and till the soil so itsupports our children's growth and resilience for therest of their lives? What practical means and methodscan we employ to facilitate this?

First of all, we need to be careful we don't throwthe baby out with the bath water. Evolution essentiallyembodies the need to keep what is good, add new learningand experience and improve upon what we already have.

It's not necessarily about returning to nostalgic,old fashioned or tribal states where a theory or ruleis required to explain and control all aspects of life.Nor is it about complete disregard for societal andpersonal value systems. The answer possibly lies somewherein between these two paradigms and will require theindividual family to consider and construct their ownmodels for their children, models that reflect theirown values at this current time.

The most obvious building block that contributes tothe creation of a child's strong personal identity isa sense of belonging. Belonging to a family, a cultureor a group of people gives children the safety and thefreedom to continue developing in line with their ownunique blueprint. The most important provider of thissense of belonging lies in human relationships. "Noman is an island", so the saying goes, and strongrelationships are where children receive love and supportso they may continue to live lives that are rich andmeaningful.

Having safe, long lasting connections with kin enablesa child to grow without having to constantly re-explainthemselves and their histories. To have a sense thatwe are valued as individuals despite differences, ina non judgmental arena, is part of feeling significantas human beings. It allows children to make choices,even those that don't fit in with peer groups laterin life; truly important skills for growing childrenin times where making the appropriate, self honouringchoices are paramount.

Wise parenting doesn't just happen; we ourselves areproducts of different styles and sometimes victims ofincorrect and unhelpful experiences. Parents, and indeedextended family, can contribute to this sense of belongingby listening when children talk, by asking "good"questions and by seeking clarification when a childexpresses themselves in a way that parents don't reallyunderstand or by simply giving them a hug. To be sensitiveto the differing demands that children face helps themto meet these challenges with increased confidence andresilience.

Children also need to feel special. There is no greatergift a parent can give to a child than to communicateto them, through words and action, beyond any doubtthat there is at least one place in this world wherethey will always belong and where they are so specialthat no one else could ever replace them. So many parentsare involved these days in high energy, important jobs.If questioned, most will express that the motivationfor all this hard work in the external world is to supporttheir families, but communicating this fact is not alwaystransparent and clear, or indeed appreciated by theirchildren. In amongst all this well meaning and necessary"busyness", it is important to spend timetogether, no matter what urgent issues arise.

Holding hands with this need for "special-ness"is the fact that children need to be and feel protected.They need to know that their caregivers love them enoughto protect them from unnecessary harm or hurt and thatsomeone will always be available to comfort and consolethem, especially at times when pain is sometimes unavoidableand may even be part of their own growth. The senseof safety this provides creates a dynamic that willserve children in their future encounters with life.It enables children and adults to face the challengesthat life inevitably presents and breeds healthy independenceand self reliance.

My own somewhat itinerant and multicultural childhoodleft me with very little other than memories and experiencesto carry with me on my adult journey, many of whichhave turned to faded sepia as the grey hairs begin totake up residence. This prompted me to ensure that Ikept some key concrete memories in the form of toys,clothes, baby shoes, photographs, birthday cards andart work that my children owned, encapsulating theirpersonality at particular periods in time. I hoped thesemementoes would not only give them a sense of theirchildhood, but also remind them of who they really are,something that can easily be lost as we grow up andbecome, ironically, more susceptible to influences fromthe outside. Sacred objects serve as a reminder thatthe current moment is part of a bigger picture and providesperspective. Totems that support the worship of ourselvesover and above peer and societal pressure and iconsthat represent times where we felt loved and safe provideincreased personal respect and a sense of our own history.

An additional factor in building those crucial foundationsfor children is the development of a positive spiritualcore. If you are reading this you will most likely beinterested in a more personal way of expressing yourspirituality and, in fact, may have a great deal ofabhorrence for traditional forms of worship.

But it is useful for a child to be aware of a stablespiritual core in their family's life. It forges a connectionto a "bigger" picture view which, in turn,can provide perspective when lost in the details oflife. It doesn't have to revolve around a world religionor culture, but clear and communicable core values basedin the individual family's beliefs is crucial in ourmorphing world where moral values and practices canbe radically different from one place or from one personto another. The nurturing of this foundation block isa key to stability throughout life. When children seeand feel a core personal faith and a stable set of values,however mundane or secular, it leaves them equippedto steer a steady course no matter what challenges theyencounter. It also gives them the courage to createtheir own set of values later in life, which may wellbe different from the ones they experience in theirown upbringing.

One of the ways in which this aspect of strong foundationscan be reinforced is through the dying art of ritual.That word probably conjures up images of going to churchon Sunday, all dressed in your itchy and uncomfortablebest and having to sit through sermons that made nosense, where you vowed that you would never put yourown children through such torture! But there are lesspainful elements of ritual families can incorporateinto daily life! The very simple act of having a mealtogether is possibly the most sustaining ritual we canindulge in every day. Sadly, many families find thisincreasingly difficult to do, with shift work, TV anda lack of time to prepare meals under relaxed conditions.

The proverbial "breaking of bread" is oneritual that seems to feed that crucial sense of belonging,the need for good food and hopefully laughter, and providesa forum for open communication, which, in turn, givesopportunity for a child to feel heard, loved and specialat a particular time of day. Ritual and repetition givesa child a place in the world. Young children, in particular,benefit from rhythms and routines as they are otherwiseunaware of time. Reading bedtime stories and givingchildren tasks to do such as setting the table or lightinga candle at sunset, teaches them to experience somemeasure of continuity, control and safety throughouttheir lives.

Ultimately, parents and indeed families cannot provide,protect and ensure complete safety and success for theirchildren - and just as in the story The Three LittlePigs, the Big Bad Wolf may come knocking. But we can,like the clever pig, build our house of bricks, (sticksand straw just don't cut it!), where the mortar is love,the door is always open for communication and cuddles,the windows reflect our values and the path is alwayslit showing the way home.

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