In the past, one of the things that made parenting easier than it is today is that you had some clue of what you were parenting for. Particularly in our evolutionary history, there was a specific environment that you were surrounded by, that your parents and their parents and their parents and as far back as anyone could remember had to be prepared for, and that you would then prepare your offspring for. The amount of possible jobs were incredibly minimal and for the most part, labor wasn’t specified at all—unless perhaps you were a shaman or big man, which was the calling of few.
In more recent history, we also had a good clue of what we were preparing our children for, although less so. As economies got more advanced, we had a lot more job specialization. And while your child wouldn’t necessarily enter into the work-field that you had chosen, it wasn’t a unique situation for them to. Bakers children often became bakers, and we universally raised our daughters to be wives and mothers. There was some range of jobs for men that you could imagine your child entering into when they were adults, many of them being concrete and easy to explain (construction worker, banker, clerk, accountant).
Up until not long ago, we had some idea what kind of society and what kind of world our children would be entering into.
But this is no longer the case.
We couldn’t begin to fathom a fraction of the jobs currently available today, and we aren’t really sure which direction our culture is heading in. In short, we largely cannot begin to construct even a loose approximation of what the world will look like in 10, 20, 30—or, God forbid, 50 years—so that we can train or inform our kids on how to be prepared for it.
In a big way, this puts us at a distinct advantage, parenting-wise, in relation to our forefathers.
This doesn’t mean that we are completely at a loss, and in all reality, we will be training our kids for some of the same things that we have always need to have our human society ready for: emotional agility, social competence, confidence, resiliency.
This is where our parenting needs to focus now, more than ever. Not on a skill-set unique to an exact cultural or economical situation, but on building brain skills. We need children who are ready to respond to a variety of circumstances because they have the inner resources necessary to adapt and overcome hardship.
It isn’t necessarily intuitive how we do that. In the same way we have a harder time training our children for the world because it will be a different one than we grew up in, so many of us will struggle to bring skills to our children that we weren’t raised with. Vulnerability, insight, self-regulation—these are not necessarily things we know how to instill in children, because we do not ourselves necessarily have those skills.
Do we help them with everything they need help with? Nothing?
Do we give them the words they need to talk about their emotions? How do you teach someone to self-regulate?
I think that responding sensitively to your children’s needs and teaching them mindfulness, as well as practicing it yourself, are two of the biggest ways that we can prepare our children for an ever changing world.
Responding sensitively creates a secure attachment, which gives them a stable place to return to and to call resources from both in their childhood, and for their futures.
Mindfulness will allow them to breathe and remember that those resources are available; to take the time to pause, process what is happening, and respond instead of react.
These brings an inner balance to a person, a place from which they can review their outer and inner world and respond intentionally instead of reactively.
Today’s parenting can seem slightly less challenging if we can stop looking for very specific answers for our children’s future and start accepting that in our ever-changing world, we need these sorts of general brain skills—that have always been required, though maybe less so, and never solely so—in order to flourish.