If ever there is a gift of renewal that we are given on earth, it is the gift of childhood. Children are how we get to start over. They are at the center of nature’s divine plan for bringing out the very best of our species and they are our only hope for our collective future. In fact, the future belongs to them. We did not inherit this world from our ancestors; it is on loan to us from our children. This idea is centuries old and lies at the heart of what it means to make sustainable choices. However, as we have moved from a culture driven by children as wealth assets to children as wealth detractors, we have lost touch with the gift of renewal and redemption that is uniquely driven by childhood.
Family is the basic building block of human social structure and children are at the heart of the family. Broken as the institution may currently be, it is still a fundamental human construct that we build our lives around. This is true across time and cultures. We reproduce and raise our young in order to give back to the world what we have learned in a new and improved form. This at least, is the hope that most of us carry with us on the arduous journey of maturity that brings us full cycle in a lifetime. An essential part of this growing up happens in the process of helping others through their childhood. There is precious little that removes ego fragments as effectively as the love of a child. Getting over what we want or thought we needed for the sake of our children is a profound step towards maturity. It is the moment when we realize that our life mission is not really just about us after all.
It has been said that in the process of teaching children all about life, they teach us what life is all about. They cut through most “isms” with shocking speed and bring us to our knees in joy and despair. Children teach us about our capacity to love. They stretch our capacity for patience, generosity and just about every other quality that is good in us and bears stretching. It is painful to stretch so far, it is easy to pull your heart out when the giving takes us so far off our intended path. I am a veteran parent who is still trying to learn how boundaries help me to love more honestly. Children, by their very nature, redefine the boundaries that make us who we are.
There are days when it is painful. We are unaccustomed to having to give so much and often the families we sacrifice for don’t work. Love and family are an imperfect art and hardly ever taught as a science, so we end up questioning their very premises. The dialogue of why not to procreate is rampant of late. The current models of cost benefit analysis have the whole parenting and family business looking like an end loss game, which is tragic even if the facts are true, because it misses the point entirely. The work of raising the next generation is everyone’s work. Having your own kids just makes the math more personal, but the responsibility of caring for those who come after us is not a choice the way it is presented. Participating in the future requires the work of raising the people who come next.
We earn our place on earth for the service we provide and nowhere is that more apparent than in the masterpiece of love that we dedicate to the children that inhabit our planet and our lives. My four children are the great work of my lifetime. They have made me the person I am and reflect equally the places I am golden and the places I am weak. As hard as it is to love them at times, and mind you I am deep in the low-satisfaction teen years, my life is inconceivable without them. So even as I struggle with the increased stress levels and lower life satisfaction that raising kids can sometimes inflict on adult life, I am also grateful, for the chance to witness, take part, and dare I say, influence the earth that our children will create.