Over the weekend, a friend and I were discussing (what else?!) coronavirus and how best to navigate the space we are in. She made the astute comment: “We are in a whole new world of parenting on this one!”
In many ways, this is absolutely true. And, in many ways, we have already been in this world for some time, we just haven’t tuned into a sense of urgency in the same way we are now.
Climate change means the world we live in is already a new world, and the unfamiliarity and challenge will only increase. While the threat might not feel the same as the coronavirus pandemic, it is no less real.
And it is just this reality that inspired Generation on the Edge. Being a parent is a wild enough experience, full of intensity, questions and incredible highs and lows. It’s absolutely not surprising that parenting books and websites are so popular – we all want advice! Add being a parent at a time of climate change, which is its own form of worldwide pandemic, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed.
It was from that place of overwhelm that I embarked on this journey, a quest to consciously take up the challenge of the moment and allow it to shape how I show up as a parent.
I’ve already shared that story here. What I want to do today is consider how this new challenge – that of being a parent at a time of worldwide pandemic and shut down – intertwines with the work of supporting young people in preparing for a world with climate change. Thoughts and questions about this subject have been reverberating through me for days. Exploring exactly this type of topic and building community around that exploration is precisely the goal of Generation on the Edge.
In so many ways, the challenge encompassed in this moment of worldwide pandemic mirrors the challenge of meeting the climate crisis. To successfully address both, we must act with foresight, inspired by compassion for many. We must act selflessly and, ideally, we must do so before the worst-case scenario forces such action.
We must learn, individually and collectively. As my friend said, this is uncharted territory, and it’s uncharted for everyone, not just parents. We are all together on a steep learning curve. That type of learning requires humility. There will be many moments in which we must acknowledge places where we were mistaken and allow our minds to change. Honestly, I have recently experienced this happening daily for myself.
We have to be willing to change our behavior – drastically. We can do so kicking and screaming the whole way, or we can do so openly with curiosity and reflection.
We must courageously own our vulnerability and we must act to protect others who are more vulnerable still. We are asked to tap into the fundamental truth of our interconnectedness and act in ways that honor the power of that truth.
The situation is incredibly complicated. By everyone staying home, many who depend on economic activity to feed their children, to heat their homes, stand to suffer. How can we hold the complexity of the moment and seek, as Zoe Weil would encourage us, to do the “most good”? Can we buy gift cards online from local businesses and restaurants to support them closing while still paying employees?
To meet this level of complication, we are asked to engage creatively and collaboratively (from a distance – thank goodness for the online web of connection!). And as we build strong networks of community around problem-solving, we can do so in a way that calls forth the unique strengths of many.
How we engage in all of this work powerfully impacts the young people around us. After all, they learn from what we do. This moment holds the incredible opportunity to model positive facing a worldwide crisis rooted in our interconnection.
It must be acknowledged that this moment is stressful. Anxiety is high and understandably so. As I move through my days, I’m trying to remind myself that I do not need to be perfect and that trying to shield my children from all moments of struggle does them a great disservice. My work begins, therefore, with openness about moments of challenge (in an age-appropriate manner) and apologies where they are needed. We’ve had conversations like this with our almost four year-old: “Mommas and Dadas sometimes get anxious or do not know exactly what to do and need to take a moment to figure things out. And when people are anxious, sometimes they…. (any number of things!).”
Talking about the pandemic with young people is also an important early step. We’ve had several conversations with our daughter, in very, very simple terms. (“There is a sickness going around that is a new type of sickness. You are safe right now, but some people get very sick from this new sickness. To keep those people safe until doctors have a medicine, we are spending more time at home, keeping our germs to ourselves.”) We have answered a LOT of questions, ranging from “Where does sickness come from?” to “Do small trees fall down easier than big trees?” (the question-asking session wandered quite a bit). Where we don’t have answers, we are honest about that and seek the answers together. In many ways, the experience is not unlike talking with young people about climate change.
With older children especially, providing a sense of agency and opportunities for creative problem-solving is important. From home, can they connect with community efforts to meet the challenge and can they contribute? Remember, especially as children get a bit older (late middle-school and certainly high school), intergenerational problem solving is very powerful. Let’s make sure we don’t leave behind young minds as we tackle this challenge. What they learn from that experience – what we all learn – will build potent tools for the future.
Wherever possible, and alongside a full recognition that many are facing tremendous challenges when forced to stay home every day, can we celebrate a simplified family lifestyle? Can we find joy in moments of connection and increased space and time together?
And, finally, it feels incredibly important to look to community at this moment. The global pandemic provides a very unique challenge when it comes to community. Typically, one of the most beautiful aspects of moments of crisis is the way in which community often literally pours into the street to connect with and help each other. We cannot do that right now – a moment in which the greatest gift we can give is physical distance. But we have an incredible tool at our disposal when it comes to the internet. We can reach out with our hearts and words, if not with our bodies. We can work together, if not in-person. And we can include young people in this work.
And we can connect with the wider community of which we are always a part – the natural world. It’s tempting to stay glued to a screen right now, either reaching for human connection or watching news develop moment-to-moment. But when we step outside, we can find grounding and perspective desperately needed in this moment of understandably loud and frequent news. And, hopefully, we can turn to nature not only to seek grounding, but also to learn, to be humbled and to remember the wider interbeing of which we are a part. That community desperately needs the same level of action to address a worldwide pandemic as does the coronavirus. May we act thoughtfully and positively – on both fronts – and may we empower young people as we do so.
And, just maybe, we can all allow our understanding of the world and our relationship to one another shift and grow in the process.