One of the biggest challenges that we face as parents today is how to bring up our children. In these modern times, when the old networks of family and bonding are breaking down, how do we ensure that our children get the best upbringing that makes them complete individuals and aware citizens of the world?
To start with, we have to begin well. Parenting is a serious responsibility and it starts in infancy. Every parent is wired to offer love, affection and caring for their offspring, but where that ends is where parenting really begins. One of the greatest lessons a parent teaches their child is respect. Because even without the wisdom of age and experience, respect builds the foundation for compassion, kindness and love as your child grows and becomes their own person.
Many children, sadly, do not have a good opportunity to develop a healthy respect for the world around us. The food on their plate bears no resemblance to its natural source. Surrounded by concrete jungles and man-made noise rather than trees and the sounds of nature, the children just can’t understand why it matters if they take care of the world or not, even down to the street where they live. Without respect for their neighbours and what is on their doorstep, how can these children develop a respect for themselves, how can they access that natural optimism that is within us all?
You might think it is a question of poverty and opportunity, but there are families and villages all over the world in which having little is no barrier to everyday happiness. Human beings need enough food to eat and a roof over their heads, without which there is true suffering and sadly there is far too much of that in the world. But beyond food and shelter, material possessions play only a small part in what really matters.
While some children are not taught to have any confidence in themselves or hope in the world, some at the other end of the spectrum are weighed down by so much pressure that they grow up fearful and anxious that however hard they try they might just fail at being the best. There is so much competition now in life—from the moment a child even speaks their first word or takes their first step. By the time they go to school, they have already begun to develop a sense of self that’s often based on comparisons with others rather than the seeds of truly understanding and accepting themselves.
When we do see a child simply having a wonderful, free time taking part in something, without a care in the world as to whether they might be ‘the best’ or not, how inspiring is that? So full of natural joy. But in today’s modern world it often goes against everything we are taught: to have burning ambition, to be better than the Joneses, to earn so much money that we may continue the cycle of consumption that the economies of the modern world rely so heavily on.
We have become so caught up in these cycles that we are passing them on to our children from an early age. They know the difference between sports shoe brands before they know where a carrot comes from. So it becomes doubly important for parents to inculcate a sense of origin and route it back to nature and the environment so we may help develop a higher consciousness in them.
The talents of children should be nurtured and encouraged, but we shouldn’t become attached to those talents because then our children will be too focused and enjoyment may turn into fear. It is natural to want to praise our children; if we can do so without labelling them then their hearts and minds will stay open and free. If we can accept our children just as they are and provide them with the understanding and support they need to flourish as conscious individuals, we would have performed the greatest work of all.
The author is the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas