Pre reading for the Exploring Parenting Course
What our world means for parents and what parenting means for our radically transforming world.
The world into which our children arrive is fundamentally different to the one we were born into which, in turn, impacts the role of parenting.
The increase in access to information is possibly one of the most significant shifts. In previous generations, our sources of information were likely to be our parents, print, doctors, lawyers and educators. Now, there is very little we cannot access immediately on the internet. Technology makes connection possible irrespective of distance and it adds both elements of simplicity and complexity to our lives. Social media can create a sense of community and it can be alienating. The opportunities to polarise or integrate have increased tremendously with the advent of this new virtual world and there is a vigilance required in determining whether what we read and see is factual, opinion-based, fantasy, manipulation or a combination of these. Our children have the same level of access that we have and they make use of it, although they may not have the emotional or cognitive development to process it yet.
As technology has progressed, so has the significance in the increase in inequality and the exposure to inequality. The primary drive has shifted from providing services in the interest of humanity, to profit and wealth creation. This requires efficiency: to do things cheaper, better, faster and with fewer people. At the same time, there is an increasing need for job creation for an increasing population size. Job security was a thing that existed in previous generations. Now, it does not, but there are jobs that exist today that were not there before and, we are told, that there will be jobs in the future that do not exist now. There are so many choices for some and not enough for others.
Another product of technology is that access to material goods has increased as more can be produced at accessible prices. Shops are open every day for longer hours and shopping has, in many ways, become a recreational pastime rather than a necessity-based activity. What would be considered an aspiration in previous generations – such as a plane trip, a car, a branded pair of shoes - is now more affordable to more people and has become more of an expectation. With the expectation comes a pressure to provide. Both excess and deprivation are visible all around us.
Overlay this with the structural inequality in our social systems that exists worldwide but is amplified in South Africa. This structural inequality was created over hundreds of years, yet there is an unrealistic expectation that it will shift, without a collective and deliberate effort, in a relatively small number of years of awareness and democracy. Research into transgenerational trauma indicates that trauma suffered in previous generations is present in current generations, yet there is an expectation that we can come out the other side as butterflies without going through the discomfort, and often pain, of transformation.
There is a massive groundswell against the status quo, with its wired-in inequity and the subjugation of one group by another. Some of the more recent examples include the #MeToo & #BlackLivesMatter movements, the movement against Gender-Based Violence and against discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ community, and more. The groundswell has awakened a counter swell from those who have most benefited from the patriarchal hierarchy, a system that was largely unquestioned for a very long time. All the while we, and our children, have access to all of the positions and opinions, which can be inspiring, overwhelming and/or confusing, as we sift through what does and does not fit in with our own culture and value systems. It challenges the belief systems that we have about ourselves and others which we have carried from previous generations and our own childhoods.
There is also an awakening to the relationship we have with the world we live in or on at a global level, which in turn, has the capacity to integrate or polarise the human element of the global equation. We are trying to understand what is part of the natural processes and what we influence, including matters of global warming, plastic, prejudice and pandemics. Our understanding is in its infancy and may be better understood amongst some people, while not yet being found on the radar of others. The 2020 pandemic will have altered the course of humanity, or at least have altered the course for many people affected by it. The disruption may or may not continue into 2021, we just don’t know.
How we live in this world has the capacity to be both hopeful and terrifying.
In our world as Parents, we experience how these world dynamics influence the change in our familial and social structures. Growing up in previous generations, we were unlikely to have had the level of exposure to different modes of thinking, theories, cultures, gender identities, races or creeds as there is today. The institutionalised segregation - on the bases of culture, race, gender and religion (amongst others) - allowed a one-dimensional upbringing for many, which also fostered the fear of ‘otherness’. Newer generations are being brought up with exposure to greater diversity (or an awareness of where it is lacking) from an early age. As parents, we have choices around how to respond to this shift.
‘Family' also means something different to what it was understood to mean in previous generations. Now, it is less likely for three or four generations of people to still be living in close proximity. There are many more variations on what constitutes as ‘a family’. Family could mean anything and the concept of what a ‘functional’ family is has shifted from ‘Mom, Dad & kids’ to a multitude of combinations and groupings of people. A ‘functional family’ now relates more to healthy dynamics between family members than it does to the structure of the family. The stigma attached to divorce, same-sex parents or single parenting is fading along with any justification for any form of unconstitutional discrimination, yet unconstitutional discrimination is still very evident.
As well as this, conversations about mental health are far more prevalent. People suffering with mental illness may have been kept in the ‘family closet’ in previous generations but are increasingly being acknowledged and supported as we understand more of our psychology and move towards eliminating the stigmatic approach that has previously been taken. Each community or family is touched by issues of mental illness either within their immediate family or within their community. The increasing understanding of the spectrums of mental health creates both comfort and fear that mental ill-health can be as prevalent as physical ill-health and can range from the equivalent of a common cold to a life threatening disease.
What we eat and feed our families has also changed significantly, from being mostly natural in the first half of the last century, to being super processed in the second half of the last century, to an overload of choices with highlighted health implications for each, along with continuously conflicting ‘proof’. We have the upsurge of processing and convenience, the access to shops, restaurants and ‘cheap’ fast foods, all day every day. Many of us no longer know what exactly has gone into the preparation of what we eat or how it impacts our bodies and quality of living for ourselves, let alone what is going to be discovered to be good or bad for us from the next iteration of research. Even having the knowledge of what (we think) is healthy, we may still make other choices which in turn plays into our own mental and physical health.
In a similar way to the mentioned examples, there has also been a shift in the concept of ‘play’. As it became less safe to allow children out without adult supervision, and with the increase in access to technology, (for those who can afford it) ‘play’ has moved ‘online’ in many respects. Children can play with friends and other people from the comfort of their respective homes. Now, we monitor screen time instead of saying ‘make sure you are home before dark’. It's just different.
With all these global changes, it seems that the education system is playing catch up, except that more people have access to schooling and there is much more pressure to perform. More people also have access to tertiary education and being formally educated increasingly appears to be seen as a prerequisite to adult success. It is difficult to understand if the pressure in the education system is in line with the ever-evolving future world requirements and although many people have an opinion on it, it is difficult to ascertain the relevance of the pressure.
Change and uncertainty have become a constant entity in our lives, and will be for the generation in our care as parents. With this comes a sometimes overwhelming amount of opportunities, threats, options and choices as we continue the search for the illusive concepts of meaning, belonging and equilibrium.
As individuals, we have each grown into adulthood having been formed by our unique circumstances, opportunities and challenges and have mostly unconsciously formed our own perspective from which we view the world. The world in which these perspectives were formed is continuously changing and fundamentally different from the one we are in now. Taking the time to understand our own response to the stimuli around us can radically transform our own lives and how we parent others.
As adults, we make the decision to have children to fulfill our own needs, not theirs, but we often lose sight of this when they come into the world. Our children have a significant role to play in our lives as much as we have in theirs. Reigniting our focus on our personal growth can fundamentally influence our experience of being a parent and will directly impact how we engage with and guide our children.
Being a parent is arguably our most universal, significant and complex role as adults. Most importantly, it is a role which fundamentally influences what happens in and to the world and society, now and in future generations. This is why we believe that “who you are will be how you parent so it is worth investing in who you are, and want to become” and is the reason we are having these conversations
Exploring Parenting is a platform for us to identify our opportunities in the world in the context of our role as parents for our own and our children’s growth.