Near the end of the book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, authors Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn offer a list of twelve different exercises to help caregivers become more present in children’ lives. Here’s number one: “Try to imagine the world from your child’s point of view, purposefully letting go of your own. Do this every day for at least a few moments to remind you of who this child is and what he or she faces in the world.”
Being present doesn’t simply mean being there. After all, we all know what it’s like to be in the same space with someone and still feel miles apart. The over-arching point of this book is helping people learn to communicate across large generational divides. It’s not a how-to guide but rather an exploration of what it can mean to be in each moment with children, loving them for who they are. One of the book’s authors, Myla Kabat-Zinn, is the daughter of the late historian and activist Howard Zinn, author of the landmark book A People’s History of the United States. While their focus is clearly much different, I think their central question remain the same: how do we understand our places in the world and interact with others in such a way as to build a more loving and just world?
Over the years I have come to believe that we are strongest when we recognize the importance of coming together across generations. This has been the basis for this column and is a cornerstone of our work at the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources. Older people bring the wisdom of experience and the stories of a life filled with trial and error. Children bring the bravery of new ideas and a willingness to stand up to what looks unchangeable. They haven’t yet succumb to our too often deeply held belief that the ways things have always been is the way they must remain. Somewhere between these two perspectives is a way forward.
When we talk about the importance of studying history and engaging in community work, there is a great deal of focus on learning from our elders. I’m the first to express this as essential. Our community spaces are far too segregated. Children need to have opportunities to learn from not just their own grandparents, but from our community elders near and far. Yet at the same time, we need to remember how essential it is to meet children where they are and not always expect them to see the world as we do. More importantly, we need to remember that all the while that we’re busy trying to teach them about what it means to grow up, they can be teaching us about what it means to remain young, remembering that growth is essential if you’re five or ninety-five. From the closing of the book:
“The greatest gift you can give your child is your self. This means that part of the work as a parent is to keep growing in self-knowledge and in awareness. We have to be grounded in the present moment to share what is deepest and best in ourselves. This is ongoing work, but it can be furthered by making time for quiet contemplation in whatever ways feel comfortable to us. We only have right now. Let us use it to its best advantage, for our children’s sake, and for our own.
You can learn more about our work at the McElroy House by visiting www.mcelroyhouse.wordpress.com. Thanks so much for reading!
Related columns and resources:
“Ella’s Song: The Importance of Coming Together as Caregivers”
“Backyard Living: Encouraging Fearless Soil Explorers.”
The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier newspaper in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.