Raising the next generation – the long game

My sister has two boys. One has just turned two and the other is not yet three months old. She remarked the other day that, with small children, “The days are long and the years are short”. As a Mama of two boys who are hurtling towards adolescence I know this firsthand.

It seems only yesterday that it was my son who was running around bare-bottomed as he learned to use the potty. I can also vividly recall those days when it seemed I did nothing except focus on settling a baby who just wasn’t quite right and I had no idea why.

As my boys grew I became aware that raising humans is a long haul process. We take approximately 13 years to become sexually mature (physically speaking only), 15-20 years to complete our physical maturation and then up to 30 years to complete our emotional and mental maturation. Compared to many other creatures on the planet, this is a long time.

We also spend a very long time being dependent on a caregiver. Because we are cultural creatures with high functioning brains we require a long period of time to absorb all the information needed to be successful in the society we are part of.

I love to drive through the countryside in the Spring and see the lambs in the fields with their mothers. Within hours of birth a lamb is finding its feet and within a matter of days it is running around. Human babies are barely focusing beyond their caregiver’s face at this stage.

The more I reflected on the time it would take for my children to grow up, the more I realised how important it was that I made decisions in the way I raised them that would impact who they would be as adults rather than who they would be as children. Our culture has a keen focus on children who seem to know exactly how to behave. They are skilled at following rules and understanding the consequences of not doing what they should. In doing this I believe we are missing out on what is most important for our children.

What is most important is that we raise adults who live by a clear sense of principles. They have a strong sense of self and are confidently guided by an inner moral compass. That might look different for everyone and I think this is part of the rich tapestry of humanity. The internal motivation that comes from living by principles, rather than rules, has longevity. It doesn’t require a carrot or a stick, in parenting these are rewards and punishments, to bring about the behaviour. I am raising men at the end of the day. I want the men I raise to be able to respond confidently to the world they find themselves in and to have all the resources that they need.

Yes Parenting starts with finding a Yes to our needs as parents and then a Yes to our children’s needs. When we find our flow with this we notice that each of our children’s needs differ slightly. One might need more physical connection while another needs lots of quality time. As we respond fully to our children’s needs we are filling up their internal resources.

Every time you hold your baby and respond to their efforts to communicate you let them know that they are safe in the world. It is safe to be who they are. When we engage with the games that our toddlers play to experiment with their power in the world we give them permission to explore the terrain of who they are and what is possible for them. In a world where so many feel powerless to make a difference or to be clear about their own boundaries I want my sons to stand tall in their power.

When our children begin to transition into adults, and they face the often turbulent path of being a teenager, knowing that they are loved and accepted for who they are is essential. Every time that we respond to them, from a place of knowing that they are doing their best, we let them know that they’re OK. It is safe to be them. It is safe to walk the path ahead of them and that they are growing up just fine.

Our teenagers needs us to be the safe, nurturing space that they can return to when they go a little beyond the safety of their own limits or they make a mistake. When they were toddlers we held them after they fell or got scared because they went a little too far and suddenly couldn’t see us. Our teenagers need this too. As adults this will mean that they can sit with discomfort. The more tolerant they become of discomfort, the greater their resiliency for life’s challenges. It will also mean that they can respond to their mistakes without shame because we have chosen not to take every opportunity to point out their errors but trusted them to ask us when they need our wisdom and advice.

At every stage of parenting we need to remember we are raising an adult, not just a child. The decisions we make as parents have a direct impact on how our child is able to navigate the adult world. The more we can meet their needs in these first 20 years the more internal resources they will have to live according to the principles we’ve modeled to them throughout their life so far.

For more information on how I can support you on your Yes Parenting journey, please click here.