This can be a terrifying time to be a parent. If we truthfully assess the future our children might face, the possibilities are enough to drive some to decide not to bring offspring into this world. “I really want to have children, but I’m scared about what will happen with climate change.” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this statement uttered by young people contemplating starting a family.
The sentiment is completely understandable. Never has the world been so unstable and un-guaranteeable. The future livability of this planet depends on actions taken in the upcoming years, making this moment feel like a pressure-cooker on steroids.
Around 2013, my husband and I began contemplating starting our own family. A lot about having children frightened us – loss of independence, finances, responsibility – but climate change truly made us pause in our considerations. Any child with whom we might be blessed would face a future we couldn’t even imagine. If we chose new life, we were choosing a living, breathing tether to that future, one we loved with all our hearts
We decided to have a child. We each had our own reasons, numerous and compelling. And we hoped, like many others who decide to have children, that our child just might be good for the world. We assuaged fear with all kinds of rationale, but what it ultimately came down to was this: we wanted a child. We love each other deeply and wanted to be parents, despite the massive unpredictability involved on many levels.
I cannot speak for my husband, but the minute our daughter was born, so much of what I had been thinking about in regards to climate change moved straight into the realm of feeling. Assuredly, I had experienced fear and grief already when thinking about the future of this planet, but, as is the case with so many feelings, all of these emotions were amplified tenfold with the birth of our daughter.
As she has grown, I have only dived deeper into the complex mix of emotions that surround thoughts of her future. As she falls more fully in love with the world around her with each passing day, her future and the future of that world become intertwined. As her little hands explore mosses and flowers, as I see her eyes light up at the sight of loons and butterflies, something around my heart constricts. I ache for her and the earth and the perilous, unfathomable future they face.
It quickly became clear to me that I had a choice. I could try to ignore everything I was feeling as a parent of a child speeding towards a future with climate change. I could even try to ignore the presence of climate change itself. Or I could do the only thing I’ve ever found effective in facing complex and challenging emotions: I could transform my fear, anxiety and grief into action.
Ignoring the problem just doesn’t work for me. First of all, to those who can still ignore the presence of climate change, I extend a giant expression of disbelief. With increasingly bizarre weather patterns abounding, with food and water shortages driving conflicts and refugee crises, with wildfires blazing, the ability to turn a blind eye to climate change is an insane and unsustainable luxury. And as to my feelings – I’ve never been good at ignoring those, nor do I want to be. We should be feeling anxious. We should be feeling grief and even fear – and we should be feeling these things whether we have children in our day-to-day lives or not.
And so I have turned to action. Since shortly before our daughter’s birth, I became involved in a significant attempt to address climate change at the local, community-driven level while simultaneously impacting state policy through helping found and run A Climate to Thrive, a grassroots initiative in my community.
However, as my daughter has grown and learned about the world and as we welcomed our son into our lives, home and hearts, I realized that the choices I make today as a parent will not only shape the world of my children’s future, they also impact my children’s preparedness for that world. The way I show up as a parent, the manner in which I interact with my children, the space I provide in which they learn and grow and our priorities as a family can either prepare my children for a world with climate change or not.
What do I mean by “prepare my children for a world with climate change”? To answer that question, I have considered how I hope my children feel and live both today and in the future. I do not want to fill their lives with anxiety. I want to help them face climate change, and all the challenges of their present and future, from an empowered, engaged and hopeful place. I want them to know tremendous joy and love and not to shy from grief, loss or death. I want to wrap up courage and hand it to them in abundance.
How do I do this? The answer is surely not contained in one conversation or one moment in our parent-child relationship. The answer weaves itself into every decision we make as parents, including how we ourselves live as individuals.
The immensity of this truth could be paralyzing. To truly prepare our children to be positive citizens of a world with climate change, citizens who enjoy full, and empowered futures, I firmly believe we must consider the whole system of how we relate to our children and how we are going about our own lives. However, as I have thought about, researched and lived my way into some answers to this question of how best to show up as a parent in a time of climate change, I’ve been rewarded by a tremendous surprise.
I have discovered that integrating the truth of climate change into my decisions as a parent is empowering, liberating and even joyous. It means prioritizing things like time in nature and family time over material goods or scheduled, extra-curricular activities. It means living more simply, which has provided us with that thing we all crave more of these days: time. It means cultivating a deep sense of community and turning myself into a solution-maker.
Perhaps most significantly, it means that when I now think about climate change and look at my children, while I still experience a pang of fear, I also experience a stronger sense of hope, inspiration and agency. Instead of feeling like a prisoner on a vehicle rapidly progressing towards doomsday, I’ve taken the wheel, or at least a part of it. More than anything, I hope to give that sense of power to my children, the knowledge that we truly shape the world we live in and that we can do so from a place of love and celebration.
As I embark on this route as a parent, I’ve found myself longing to engage with others on the topic. I want conversation. I want a community of parents and grandparents and teachers and caregivers who collectively hold this challenge and thoughtfully consider it together. I bring to the topic my experiences as an early-childhood educator, a psychotherapist, a parent and a climate activist, but this combines into one particular lens. I long to hear from others, to collaborate and empower each other.
From this longing comes Generation on the Edge. I’ve organized the site into the several key areas of focus that have risen to the top as I’ve thought about, researched and engaged with the topic in my daily life. Each area is presented in blog format, with new writings and resources frequently added. I’ve also launched a facebook group where anyone involved in the act of caring for children today is invited to share reflections, ideas, experiences and questions.
I hope you will join us. Whether it’s five minutes a day, an occasional glimpse at the site, or a deep dive into the material and conversations offered, I hope you find the same kind of empowerment, inspiration and joy on this path that I have found. May we unite in the recognition that we truly do have a choice, if we take the opportunity provided in this moment, in this window where change is still possible, in which we still have the chance to reclaim the future for our children. It turns out that best preparing our children for that future, claiming a meaningful, joyful family life in the present and making the choices and taking the actions needed to ensure our children have a livable future are actually one and the same. This delightful fact can deliver us from terrified paralysis around climate change into powerful, creative action. Join us!
A bit about me
I’m Johannah Blackman – mother, aunt, former early childhood educator and longtime advocate for action addressing climate change. I hold a Bachelors degree in Philosophy and a Masters Degree in counseling psychology. I am a founding member of A Climate to Thrive, a grassroots, nonprofit organization focused on local, community-based solutions to climate change. In former careers, I worked as a curriculum developer and teacher in early childhood education and ran theater programs for adolescents. I also hold extensive experience teaching yoga and mindfulness. I currently reflect on daily life in this extraordinary moment at my essay-based site, Considered Days.
In my work with Generation on the Edge, I combine my experience in education, counseling psychology and what I have learned through my work as a climate activist and solution-seeker with research and on-the-ground learning in my daily life as a mother.