Kids and Transition – Part I – Bringing kids into the circle

How do we juggle parenting our children with the work we know we must do to facilitate a livable world for them when they are grown?

In this first of a three-part post, I’ll discuss what Transition Initiatives can do to be more welcoming to parents and children.

This past weekend I had a telephone conversation with one of the board members at Transition United States. As moms, we naturally swapped stories about our offspring. I realized that we have a void within the Transition movement as far as stories about parenting.

The founder of the Transition movement, Rob Hopkins, is a father of four. Although his blog reveals some of what he is teaching his teenage eldest, it seems like the care of the kids is primarily Rob's wife's duty, freeing up Rob to devote himself to things Transition without much worry about the kids. (At least, the worries aren't reflected in his writing).

Many of the other notable figures within Transition -- Naresh Giangrande, Sophy Banks, etc -- are either childless or have children who have already left the nest. Raising the kids while simultaneously doing the work of Transition isn't on their radar.

Personally, on our local Los Angeles core team, I find I get few answers and examples locally because most of our current core team falls into this latter category.

I'm hoping that if I share with you what I do, you'll tell me what you're doing and we'll all be that much wiser. If this discussion hits home with you, please add to the comments below. Because we all need to offer each other support, what works/doesn't work, and encouragement to go on.

Upon the White Charger

My work in what you might call "Transition" began in about 2004 when my daughter was about 5 years old. Thus for about half of her life, Mom has been charging about on the white horse trying to save the world.

Prior to my environmental work, I was co-founder of the local homeschool network. And prior to that I was heavily involved in La Leche League, the international organization which supports breast-feeding mothers.

Years before that, when my son (now 13 y.o.) was a toddler, I mentored and managed a series of community service projects with a different organization. I took my son to all the local meetings, and even took him --via airplane-- to one board meeting. So I have been volunteering heavily with one organization or another pretty much the entire time I've had kids.

Because of my history, and my approach to parenting, I’ve done virtually all of this volunteer work with my kids at my side. They attend meetings right along with me, and have since they were very tiny.

Examples out in society

La Leche League taught me a lot, not just about nursing and parenting. At a typical LLL meeting, the moms all bring their babies. LLL has been in existence for over 50 years, and for all of those years mothers have conducted meetings with kids right there, integrated, as part of the scene.

My local LLL group used to meet in the municipal community room. We'd spread our receiving blankets out on the floor, and sit in a big circle to conduct the meeting. Toddlers would run around the room with toys and snacks, crawling babies would get into each others' toys, and newborns would sleep in their baby slings.  Moms would talk with each other, share stories (sometimes revealing, intimate, heartfelt stories), and give each other support. Simultaneously, we'd parent our children. Toddlers learned that it isn't okay to pelt Johnny with the plastic ball, it isn't okay to screech loudly in this place, that there are other times and places where running is appropriate. New mothers learned -- hands on, as well as by example -- how to juggle successfully.

As our children grew, several of us in our local LLL circle discovered that we were considering homeschooling our eldest children. We five moms got together at a park, and while the preschoolers played on the park equipment and the babies slept on our laps, we drafted the documents and fliers from which we started the local homeschooling support group. That circle of five now exceeds 200 local families.

Our homeschool circle meets weekly for a park day gathering. At every single meeting, participating families bring children of all ages with them. We compare books and resources, sometimes have a focused topical discussion, compare what works/doesn't. We support each other in our unique journey within a society which is definitely school-centric. And we accomplish this with mixed-age kids -- babies, toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged, and teenagers -- all running about.

I'm not a historian nor studied in indigenous or ethnic cultures. Perhaps someone who is can supply the examples. But it seems to me that over the millennia, people have held community gatherings and conducted the business of directing society forward, and they’ve done this with kids in tow. Recall images of an indigenous community fire circle – in many cases kids were right there alongside the adults. Kids have been involved as vital members of the societal circle.

Within our industrialized society by contrast, it is considered "normal" to segregate children into a separate world. Our society removes children from their family of origin for most of the day. Kids have little contact with elders, and many kids have little sense of what dad (or mom) do for a living. Kids are expected to form social connections with same-age kids, exclusively. Their realm is that of school, child-care, and extra-curricular activities, not the vial workings of the real world. When parents volunteer, they drop kids in childcare. To do it differently is regarded as highly unusual.

Many organizations are adults-only, not from inappropriate content, but because our current society seems almost “allergic” to kids. But perhaps this is understandable, because kids are our life force, right in front of our faces. And if you’ve delved into agriculture, food, or health care Transition issues, you’ll already understand how deadened our industrialized society is toward life forces.

Rethinking kids

As we strive to rethink society, aren't these attitudes toward our children among the things we should reconsider? As we “create new structures” (Joanna Macy's phrase), how do kids fit in? Do we involve young people in the real workings of this Transition, or do we make them wait until they are 18 or 21 to participate fully?

Years ago, when I visited Peru, I remember we were in the airport on a Sunday. I was surprised to look out the window and see the baggage handler climb into his tractor – his young son (approximately 8 or so years old) was sitting in the passenger seat. At an airport. Driving around beneath the airplanes loading baggage. In South America they have a different sense of family, and family participation in society. There, they don’t need a “career day” at school so that Junior can learn what Dad does for a living.

Within our Transition Initiatives, we’d certainly like to get parents of young children involved in Transition activities, but what are we doing to make this possible? Are children welcome in the meetings, or are meetings adults-only? Is there something for kids to do there, a child-version of the adult activity, or a welcoming space for junior to do what mom is doing? Are we welcoming the ideas and feedback from our youth into the core of the meeting, or do we confine that to special kids-only sessions? Are we expecting our Transition Initiative leaders to be childless, or to pay for childcare?

A kid-integrated future

As I wrote in "A Movement or an Organization", for Transition to truly succeed I think we must live the change in our everyday lives. In my mind that means less running-it-like-a-corporation and more running-it-like-a-community-fire-circle.

If we aspire to eventually have a society where kids have a real Place within the framework of our communities, we need to start that culture change now, within our budding Transition Initiatives.

Our kids are a part of our lives, part of our society, and part of the future. I think they should be part of our Transition circles.

  • Open meetings. Don’t close your meetings to kids. I doubt you’re talking X- and R-rated stuff! If the parent feels the kids can handle the session, be flexible, and give it a go. See what you can do to make it work.
  • Don’t mandate childcare. Don’t expect your steering group and working group members to get childcare each time you hold a meeting. Be flexible, listen to the parent’s suggestions, and see if you can make the meeting happen in some alternative fashion. At some of our core team meetings, my daughter curls in the corner and reads a book. Next month we’ll try holding the steering group meeting at my home so that my kids can hang out in familiar surroundings rather than at a public facility. Explore what is possible.
  • Consider mother’s helpers. Perhaps within your community you have a young person who might be willing to watch the toddlers on-site during your meeting. My daughter is too young to babysit for real, but she watches the toddlers during our reskilling sessions, keeping them occupied and inventing games for them to play.
  • Kid activities. What can you provide for kids to do within the context of the meeting? In our garden workshops, we’ve had the little ones plant bright annual flowers in containers. We’ve had them paint wooden sticks that will become plant markers. Kids know it when they are truly participating in real life activities, and they come alive.
  • Youth activities. Perhaps the full meeting session is too much to hold youth attention. Is there interest in a parallel or break-out session for youth? Do you have youth leaders who would like to run it? We haven’t done this one yet, but my son has mentioned it as a possibility.
  • Transition Tales. By all means, consider the examples set out by the Transition Tales program at T.T. Totnes. But don’t limit the involvement of kids in your T.I. to a few special sessions done at their school. Bring your kids into your T.I. activities as participants to the fullest of their individual abilities.

Continued at ... “Kids and Transition – Part II – Parenting the Younger Child”

Resources:

Work of John Holt 

Transition Tales project at Totnes 

A summary of Transition Tales resources 

Please log on and share your experiences in the comments section below.

  1. How does your Transition Initiative integrate child care and meetings?
  2. What other societal examples do you know of where child-rearing and running an organization are integrated smoothly and successfully?

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