How do we translate our good intentions into actions that create an abundant environment for ourselves and our children?
The answer to this question lies in having the opportunities and encouragement to commit ourselves to doing what we love. It begins with responding honestly to questions such as, What was your favorite thing to do as a child? How did you spend your time when no one was telling you what to do or when you weren’t busy doing chores or homework? Did you ever receive a holiday gift that you played with for hours and days? Do you still spend time on activities that passionately engage you, that connect with the deepest part of you and enrich your life? It can be easy for adults to lose touch with the thing they most enjoy. We forget those times of our own childhood when we were totally occupied with something that delighted us. When adults become overwhelmed with the responsibilities associated with daily living, especially parenting, it is difficult to remain totally in the moment—something children do so easily. We can lose touch with what delights us and fail in our ability to see life through the eyes of a child.
Consider the vigor and determination with which children pursue their favorite activities. Have you ever asked yourself what compels your child to continually do something that you have repeatedly attempted to discourage? Do you know a child who takes things apart even though they aren’t broken? Have you ever encountered a child who at six months of age began climbing everything in sight? How about the child who drags home every animal she can find? Or the child who can’t stop singing even during dinner or whose curiosity and attraction to any new experience scares the devil out of his or her parents? Why is the child so drawn to behaviors or interests that seem immune to the corrective efforts of the parent? While as parents we need to provide appropriate limits for our children, intense responses by a child may provide clues to his or her vital essence—that essential aspect that is so important to the ability to live life abundantly. Refocusing our lens to see and appreciate the enthusiasm a child brings to his or her pursuits can greatly enhance our effectiveness as parents. It also does much to diminish struggles between parent and child.
Wouldn’t it be great if the contribution we as parents bring to this world would be to raise children who could live abundantly—throughout their lives? Our mission then becomes one of protecting and preserving the unique essence of our children. Our responsibility is to create an environment that nurtures the “flowering of the spirit.” How can we possibly accomplish this while in the midst of the mess and chaos of parenting and the challenge of managing time? How do we translate our good intentions into actions that foster abundant living from childhood into maturity?
How do we recognize an environment that supports abundant living? Is it the same for each of us? We may have differing views and preferences, but I believe some elements, inextricably related, that are essential to creating a healthy family environment. To borrow an analogy from nature, think of a beautiful lake high up in the mountains. Its banks are lush with vegetation, providing a haven for animals and birds. The lake may be shallow around the edges but has unknown depth in the center. It is a place of fluidity and variety as the seasons transform the landscape. The entire scene is a bionetwork whose parts are interdependent.
As with the lake in the mountains, the abundant family environment is sustained by a vast support system that addresses physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs. It influences and is influenced by interactions that occur within it. It is connected to a life-giving source that nourishes and replenishes. It is open to transforming experiences and to the diversity of its inhabitants and the shifting seasons of life. The abundant family environment can respond to changes in the present moment without sacrificing its structural integrity. And, like the lake ecosystem, it is able to assimilate the alterations wrought by destruction, decay, and death—an inevitable part of the life cycle. It encourages resilience, enabling its members to integrate losses into the fabric of life, and trust life experiences to move them again in a positive direction.
It is upon this foundation—which provides for the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs of the child—that we structure the tasks of daily living. The climate within a family’s structure influences the level of harmony or discord present in the home. If the climate comprises interactions that are chronically irritable; if only one member gives orders, or, conversely, if no one knows who is giving orders; if voices are always shrill or strident, then breakdowns in communication may occur. But in the best of circumstances, the climate of a family is made up of thousands of intimate transactions that become loving links that guide without binding, inspire without preaching, motivate without nagging, share without smothering, and laugh without mocking. Indeed they become the fabric of our lives.
This structure also contains our values—the basic dimensions of how we treat one another. Values are fundamental to the maintenance of civilization, and their lack is extremely apparent on the nightly news. As parents we need to make sure that everyone understands to extent of their developmental capacity those principles that are important to us. We can talk about values as much as we want, but it is how they are lived on a daily basis that has real impact on our children. It is how we put them into practice and how we speak to our children or to our spouse that our children will internalize and take with them into their own families and the world at large. As parents we don’t just tell them about life. We show them.
Once we understand that a family is a living structure, “an environment of minds,” it is easy to see how important it is to maintain that structure in a way that facilitates harmony, resilience, productivity, and support. It is also incredibly complex to keep this living structure in working order because we are talking about multiple relationships among all family members. Each relationship must be flexible, yet maintain its equilibrium within the entire configuration.
Out of the millions of interactions that occur through generations, we create an entity that goes far beyond individual members. A family begins to have a unique definition, an identity with both tangible and intangible characteristics. In centuries past, families created a coat of arms on which they designated the qualities and abilities with which they wanted their family name to be associated. Some cultures wove tartans or plaids that represented their clans. In some cultures the pattern of a rug represented a people of a geographic area. Many societies capture the identity of their tribe or clan through oral storytelling traditions. The recognition and preservation of family identity is significant as a context in which the child’s essence can flower.
The culture of a family rises above the daily drudgery, the power struggles and petty squabbles, the unending clutter and mess. It goes beyond the beautiful home and perfect children, the financial success and educational achievements. It transcends time and space—reaching back into the past and lighting our way into the future. It provides our best hope for creating a meaningful context in which the human soul may grow and flourish.