As back-to-school season ensues, I cannot help but reflect on the adults who are heroes of sorts in their own rights when it comes to looking after children. Though not a parent myself, my job of more than two decades involves working with children and I have many a friend who are parents and/or teachers. Perhaps because I work so closely with little ones, I find myself observing them often in everyday life situations when I am out and about. I am continually fascinated by their personalities and I love watching them take in the world around them as they grow and learn and change as a result. But, let’s face it, raising kids is by and large, the most difficult, yet rewarding job there is or will ever be! Of course, I am not telling you anything new as most of you reading this know it to be true from first-hand experience, and if neither a parent or a teacher, chances are that you know of at least one or two who can enlighten you, if needed.
Nowadays, with all of the increasing challenges facing our future generations and the environment around them, it is important to acknowledge two of the most important stakeholders in their upbringing–both parents and teachers alike. And yes, both are key to shaping and molding productive, healthy, happy citizens who are self-sufficient and able to contribute positively not only to their community, but hopefully also on a more global level. Naturally, everyone has their own opinion and past experiences to draw on with respect to how it exactly that children should be raised and sometimes parents/parents and/or parents/teachers agree to disagree with each other on certain aspects or roles that each plays; however, regardless of race, culture, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, etc., I think we all ultimately want the same things for our youth, as stated above. The fact is that the journey of how to get our young ones to where we want them to be or where they need to be is ongoing and ever-changing, as we face and continue on our own journeys as adults.
There is no doubt and much evidence to support the notion that ages zero through five are the most crucial years in a child’s development intellectually, socially, emotionally and physically. These are the stages and ages that demand an enormous amount of time and attention on the part of parents and early childhood educators, where possible, and yet, it seems as though there is less and less of each to give as work schedules, finances and familial structures dictate otherwise. According to Statistics Canada, for example, dual-income earners has risen from 35.9% in 1976 to 69.1% in 2014 and Childtrend.org states that the percentage of two-parent families has decreased from 85% in 1960 to 65% in 2015. Take into account both of those compelling pieces of data and it becomes apparent just where and how our individual resources are being dispersed. At the heart of those numbers lie our children. Now, that’s not to say that children are doomed because of the increase in working parents and single family structures, it simply means that our time is becoming more divided than it once used to be. I know that I certainly see the stresses of ‘not having enough time’ in the families that I know of as well as in the children that I work with. Time appears to be our most sought-after commodity, the one to which dollar and cents is attached, but also the one desperately needed for our well-being and the well-being of our families. While I am not a psychologist and I don’t have a specific quote/stat to back me up (though I am sure that I could easily find one), I will go out on a limb and say that our daily schedules and ‘plugged in’ lifestyles eat up more of our personal time now more than ever, leaving less time for the nurturing and togetherness that our kids crave and need. I hear and I see it in my daily work enough to know that truth exists in my statement, the extent of which may not even be known fully, as professionals are just beginning to embark on studies dissecting the effects of our fast-paced, digital world.
Add in the schooling years, wherein family life becomes even further strained by clocks and bells and homework and clubs and sports and friends, and a person can get a little dizzy just thinking about the constant swirl of activities, albeit many of them good. Just the same, it all boils down to minutes spent on one thing versus another, leaving parents to determine the fine line and balance between the merits of doing and not doing. So, as we look toward another school year for many (some of whom have already begun the year) let’s remember that there needs to balance and appreciation toward everyone who plays a role in our children’s lives and that we should all be working to support each other, so that we can best support our kids. When stressors take over and blame is at the ready or things get to be too much, ask for help or take a breather; likewise, offer help or simple kindnesses when you see similar instances facing others. After all, we (the collective we) are really in it together, as either participants or bystanders or more likely both. Look for solutions, not problems and remember that a little bit goes a long way, be it a little bit of understanding, compassion and/or empathy. Whether it’s a parent not able to settle their baby on an airplane or a teacher doing their best to deal with bullying issues, be sure not to act or speak from a place of judgement, but rather from a place of love, which is really what every one of us needs more of, especially our children. Remember, too, that modelling is one of the most powerful things that we can do for our youth; whether or not they realize it (the older they are, the less likely that is), they are silently looking to us at every turn to help guide them to be the best possible person that they can be. While it is an honour and a privilege to be charged with such a life-changing role, as a parent and/or a teacher, it is sometimes an exhausting and daunting prospect. But, it sure does become a whole lot easier and a lot more rewarding when we acknowledge and show up for ourselves, each other and our loved ones:-).