Connecting with Our Kids - Part 1
Forging stronger communities comes with the creation of meaningful connections between various members of that community—and with more meaningful connections the stronger and more resilient our communities can become. Our younger generation, one could say, is likely among the most important groups, at least in terms of long-term human resilience. In recent decades, however, isolation from each other is becoming more and more pervasive and our connection with our children seems to have suffered the greatest blow.
Raising young ones in a fast-paced, hectic modern world brings greater challenges than ever before, but the bond we share with our children is a sacred one that deserves our full attention. This is not about beating ourselves up over not doing the right thing. It is not about the times we may have reacted inappropriately in this moment or that one—we have all been there. Let us move forward as we owe it to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to our relationships with them.
This article is part 1 of a series of articles proposing many areas of focus which I feel would prove highly effective in growing and nurturing our next generation—our children—into positive, self-confident, conscientious and capable human beings, as well as bringing to light healthier ways of connecting and relating to one another.
A major part of being present is our ability to “tune in” to our little human beings. This takes a great deal of practice and is something that is never quite perfected. How often though do we find ourselves in the middle of another task when a child requires attention? Then how often do we actually stop the task and pay 100% attention to the child? When we only give a portion of our attention to our young ones, there is this tendency to apply a conditioned response or “knee-jerk” reaction to the situation. Take for example an adult who is busy texting when approached by a daughter who wants to show off some art she has created. The parent takes maybe a few seconds to glance up with a response of “Oh, that’s nice, Dear.” Was there any real connection there? How often have we seen something similar to this? And it doesn’t always have to be a hand-held device as the culprit—although that is a big one. It can be, however, any task from doing the dishes to fixing the car. We miss out on so many opportunities to engage our children—opportunities for growth of the child and the growth of our relationship with them. If we are even partially immersing ourselves in another task, how can we be sure we are responding appropriately to our loved ones?
Ah yes, the modern urban environment: people going for a stroll at any time of the night, doors unlocked, a place where children can play freely in the streets, where no traffic exists because everyone works only 5 minutes away. But is this just a fantasy? Is it really that far-fetched to consider how we might help to bring this closer to a reality in our own communities? The reality is, things are beginning to change already. I mean, they kind of have to when we consider the alternative. We cannot continue to become more isolated if we are going to share the same social spaces. We just have to conquer the fear.
One of the biggest reasons I enjoy putting together and taking part in our annual tour is the whole community aspect of the endeavour. The Calgary Permaculture Tour which is now in its 5th year running invites guests from all walks of life (accountants, doctors, construction workers, philanthropists, engineers, teachers, and so on) to partake in a community- oriented tour of some of the most environmentally innovative sites around the city. It all revolves around a central theme of connection. Whether it is these guests connecting with each other, or connecting with the hosts at each of the sites, new relationships are being formed and all with purpose. Experience has shown many of these relationships last far beyond the tour day as well, with some of the guests volunteering at a CSA on Patterson Springs Farm for example, or deciding to take a course at Verge, others have been known to forge long-term friendships with other tour guest. Regardless of the depth or longevity of any of these new relationships, they all play an important role in furthering the resiliency of the community as a whole.
Even the smallest interaction can have the greatest effect. Maybe it was a conversation tidbit someone mentioned at dinner that would change someone’s life or an idea overheard on the bus which led to a new innovation. Truthfully, these kinds of interactions tend to have a cumulative result of personal and collective growth. Why? Well, without drawing too much theorization into the mix, it appears there are several factors at work. The diversity of people involved seems to breed an atmosphere of cooperation, rather than competition, as people with a variety of different backgrounds and experience tend to be more open to learning about new things. In addition, the overall positive theme of the tour lends itself to being on the cusp of positive change for the group as a whole. Guests understand that they are a part of something new that not everyone has had the opportunity to experience yet.
But what if we could apply the some of the same principles to our communities and urban neighbourhoods? All too often we hear stories or comments from those living in the suburbs for example, about neighbours not talking to each other, or people being afraid to go out at night. Believe me, I get that. Without mentioning names, I have wandered some of the most infamously dangerous neighbourhoods in North America late at night alone (I’m sure, you know which ones they are) and I understand the fear, but it doesn’t have to be as bad as we tend to make it. I do believe things are beginning to change. I do believe more people are moving from a place where they just drive by neighbours without so much as a wave, to a place of starting up a conversation even after a long day of work. I believe more people are sharing their home-grown apples instead of shouting down the neighbours kids for wandering onto their property. But we have to work at this. We must become consciously aware of the negative messages we tell ourselves about urban living and then stop those tales from becoming more than they have to be. We just need to make the first move.
During the holiday season my children and I go to several houses on our block and hand out cookies. This year the neighbours to the north of us responded by giving us a bag of their own baking and a bottle of homemade wine. The neighbours to the south invited us for brunch and the family across the street gave us a whole turkey. Now the point of all this is not to get something in return (if you do that’s great, and likely you will!) The purpose is making meaningful connections, establishing trust, and strengthening the culture as a whole. Just to put things another way, imagine two neighbourhoods: Neighbourhood A and Neighbourhood B. Neighbourhood A is one in which no one talks to each other, or knows their names—just simply arrives home at the end of the day, deadbolts their doors and keeps to themselves. Now imagine that neighbourhood B is just the opposite, where everyone knows each other, neighbours invite each other over for a Bar-B-Q, and everyone is generally outside interacting with each other. If you were a person scoping the area for a possible break and enter opportunity, which would you choose? The one where no one talks to each other is the obvious choice as no one is likely to notice a stranger in a neighbourhood like that—everyone is a stranger! Far beyond any concern about crime, it’s the opportunities for growth that are the real beauty behind making these connections. People often look at differences as a drawback, thinking that if we don’t have multiple things in common, we are not able to get along. However, many times it is those differences which can strengthen a community. When we find out what specific talents are present in our communities, an opportunity for growth exists. When we embrace the differences between one another, life becomes richer. I always like to look at a natural ecosystem for clues as to some of the best ways to strengthen life. In a forest, each of the creatures plays a role and often multiple roles. The spruce trees provide shade, shelter and habitat. The fungal networks create a mycorrhizal (symbiotic relationship) with these plants to help nurture their growth. The flowers of many species attract bees and the bees in turn pollinate them to produce fruit and so on. Imagine if the entire forest consisted of only one or two plant species. The system would collapse without having continual energy input from the outside. So this same set of rules can be applied in a human relationship setting. Each person has needs and wants, and each has something to offer. Making the connection in this context more often than not, results in a long-lasting relationship and a more resilient community.
Throw a block party. Set up a ‘Little Free Library’. Invite other members of your community to your place to pick fruit. Begin conversations with one-another. Create safe spaces for children to play where they can feel secure in the fact there is always a caring adult nearby when help is needed. Find out what specific talents, backgrounds and interests the members of your community have and engage those aptitudes.
Now I’d like to open things up to the stories about you. Let me know in what ways you, or someone you know has forged a stronger community by making new connections with neighbours! Send me your stories either in written form or even a video—doesn’t matter what format, I just want to hear about it, and if it fits, I will post the responses in a future blog. Please send all your awesome stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you and Happy Re-connecting!
This is the first of blogs in this section of the Re-Generation Magazine and as the headline suggests, in this section the focus will centre on the social aspect of connection.This is likely my favourite of the 3 areas of re-connecting that we will discuss in The Re-Generation, but just like Connecting with Nature and Connecting with The Self, it seems our ability to have meaningful interactions with one another has quietly become impaired especially over the last couple of decades or so. More people are feeling isolated, we have less time with our loved ones and the time we do have is often spent in less than optimal ways. Living in an urban setting can make things even worse due to spending so much time in traffic and having long work days away from family. Something surely has to give.
Back when I worked as Procurement Manager for a large firm, I can remember days when it took priority to such an extent that even when my family and I were on a day trip out of town I would be called in when something went awry. I was expected to be there and after all that is what they paid me manager’s wages for, right? This is the story would tell myself in order to justify another sacrifice of time away from loved ones. This is what ‘pays the bills”, and “we would never be able to take trips like this without my job”, is what I’d say.
But honestly, what kind of a trip was it if it had to end at a moment’s notice?
This is a small example of what so many of us have to contend with every day. The precious moments and everything we work for have been diminishing for a while. But things are starting to change.
In this blog, we hope to take a look at how we might accomplish positive change in the relationships we share with both the people closest to us, as well as those we encounter only occasionally. We will explore positive changes that are happening in neighborhoods and urban communities worldwide. We will begin with challenging the fears which we all too often cling to in modern urban settings as well as confront the repeated patterns and messages we hear and tell ourselves daily. We will tune in to the social dynamics around us in the hopes of creating meaningful and resilient connections in the process. More specifically, we will examine examples of community building, place-making, mindfulness in social settings and the exciting and beautiful effects that these and many other movements are beginning to have for the longevity of our culture. On that note, I hope you get something out of this blog and enjoy it in the process. Peace!