When I think about what it means to me to be a ‘Permaculture Parent’ I feel that it really is defined by my approach to life. Looking for ways to live more in line with the Permaculture principles is a way of approaching life. When I change, those around me change. When I learn, those around me learn. Permaculture is a design process by which you observe nature and try to learn as much as possible about natural systems. I see my family as a natural system. I, as part of the system influence all other parts of the system. When I change, the system changes because part of it is new, and it must adapt.
Permaculture is more than a design system for me. It is a way of thinking about and approaching the world. We consider as much as possible in our lives how to live by nature’s patterns. I am constantly self-reflective in order to observe and interact with my own behaviour patterns. The beauty (and most difficult part) of having children is that they allow your dark side to surface so easily. Despite the deep love and reverence I have for my children, the day to day living with three little beings that all need help from me pushes me into my edges of human capacity. Of course it is in these edges that the most growth will occur. In these moments of being stretched, the tiny cracks in my psyche expand and allow for patterns from my past to emerge. There is often no time to ‘catch myself’ before reacting. But these unsavoury moments become fodder for where to turn my attention next. I try to view each challenge as a guild project, one that needs careful attention in order to discover a way to make the many different levels of the situation work together to support each other rather than out-compete.
When I read other people’s articles about parenting, I love succinct lists of practical changes I can make, things I can do right away! The difficulty with Permaculture, and parenting, is that neither one offers clear cut answers. The approach is just that…a set of guidelines by which to structure your actions. They both take thought, engagement, careful observation and response. But in the interest of providing something useful that helps to bring focus to a sea of grey areas, I have put together this list of 10 ways I try to be a better Permaculture Parent:
- Slow down the pace of life, remove the excess, simplify: physically, emotionally and mentally. We constantly ask ourselves if things are ‘necessary,’ because if they’re not, the outcome also isn’t worth it. In the spaces we create, creativity blossoms. We try to disengage with the ‘overculture’ of consumerism, technology, fear, control, apathy, etc., as much as possible, carefully considering where to place our engagement. We try to be present and mindful to the situation at hand, knowing that everything else will wait.
- Respond rather than react – I try to take a deep breath to reconnect with the Earth before responding to any given situation, there are very few situations that cannot withstand a 10 second delay in response. This is also modelling a great skill for my children to learn that will serve them. Taking pause allows me to observe before interacting, by this I mean mainly observing my own inner landscape!
- Get outside. Spend loads of unstructured time in nature. It’s hard to recognize ourselves as part of nature if we are separating ourselves from it.
- Accept feedback in all its forms. As difficult as it is to take a critical look at my role in my children’s behaviour (especially those rough times), usually the root cause of the turbulence is that I’ve inadvertently created a climate of ‘control.’ If I can find a way to release my ‘old paradigm’ approach to controlling my children and look for creative and less obvious solutions to work cooperatively, I can usually turn things around in a hurry. The trust required for this took several months to build. I had to learn to trust that there was another way that would work, and my children needed to trust that I could change my way of engaging with them indefinitely. It takes radical trust to allow our children to receive their own feedback and respond to it, but when I am able to step back and observe (with the help of sportscasting or non-judgmentally verbalizing the events of a conflict), it is amazing what solutions the children reach for their own problems – ones that wouldn’t have been obvious or fair in the eyes of an adult. In treating problems between my children this way, we are also allowing them to learn fundamental Permaculture skills. Aside from behavioural conflicts, we try to communicate clearly, about everything. If my children ask a question, I try to give as complete an answer as possible while still being age appropriate. Our children want feedback about their world and experiences too!
- Enjoy time together as a family as much as possible – I have learned to find joy and gratitude in tiny spaces to combat the illusion of drudgery…most of the time.
- Practice and teach extreme empathy. “The Golden Rule” is prevalent in our home. Not just applied to others in our home, but to all beings, plants, and Mother Nature herself. My hope is to help my children know and feel the impact they are having on everything around them, since everything in this living system called Earth, is connected. I hope to help them understand that they are only in control of their own actions, but that their participation in the system will ripple out in positive and/or negative ways. When my children are upset, the first thing I do is empathize with them, despite my gut reaction to apply logic or quell their emotional response.
- We find small solutions to big problems. I have started to focus on one small thing at a time to try and make change happen and sustain. For example, I wanted to have a moment of gratitude before sharing our meals, so we started saying a family blessing. It has taken a while for it to become routine, but now the children remind us if we forget. We were also having difficulty with tidy up time (a time rife with the temptation to control!). I started having a tidy up time every day before dinner. Once dinner was ready to serve, we’d tidy until the house was clean, then eat. It has also become a pattern we’ve been able to stick to. I’ve taken to tackling one thing at a time, until it’s established. Related to this, I have made many mistakes along the way. When something doesn’t work, or fails to flourish, I try another approach to the same problem. Being willing to take chances and make (many) mistakes in the process of trial and error is part of the learning process.
- We carefully consider the foundation of our children’s days. Their basic needs are an essential way for my children to catch and store energy. In our house, sleep is treated as sacred. We try to work our activities around sleep routines so that my children have enough rest to participate fully in life and with their best selves. We also make food a priority by consuming nourishing sustenance. My children help with planting, tending, harvesting, preserving, and preparing food where possible. We engage with food on as many levels as possible. If you consider other mammals, they spend most of their time eating, drinking and sleeping. We should also afford these things as much value as possible.
- Set clear limits, and allow things to run a bit wild within the defined boundaries. Our top concern when setting boundaries is safety. Apart from that, we have certain things which are not tolerated in our home: violence, disrespect of people or destruction of property. These are hard and fast. We debate about the best ways to ensure these expectations are met, and have tried many things! Luckily, since there are few of them, and we always follow through with some method of dealing with the problem, we don’t have to address this issue too often. Where possible we try to use relevant meaningful consequences. For example, if you colour on the desk, you clean it up with guidance. If you upset someone, find some way to make it right (apologise, give the toy back, do something to make the person feel better). If you throw your food, you clean it up and you can can choose to eat what was thrown or be finished eating (make no waste!). Our philosophy is similar to that of good design principles. If we put the time in up front, at the messy design stage of planning, the long term yields will be much higher. All that being said, we do give time outs for physical violence, as we feel strongly that this is not acceptable in our home and sometimes a timeout is warranted for the safety of all involved. Most of the behavioural guidance we offer our children comes in the form of asking questions to provoke extreme empathy or by having them predict what might happen if they carry through with an action (for example what might happen if we ran across the street without looking?). As far as what is and is not acceptable in our home, it is family choice based on our own comfort levels. We set many smaller limits, but these are situational. A great tip I follow from Janet Lansbury is that if something is making you feel uncomfortable, set a clear limit and if you have lost your temper, you waited too long to set that limit. After I set limits, I refer back to the question ‘is it necessary,’ since sometimes these limits are not genuinely serving a need, but come from the overculture, and require a more scrutinous look at a later time. I am often trying to push my edge as to what ways I can continue to offer my children more freedom. In the moment where I am dealing with the child, I will set the limit, because it can always be changed, with a new clearly defined boundary in the future.
- Awaken curiosity. There is so much humans don’t understand. Invite surprise. Discover together. Learn together. Grow together. Accept growth as a messy process that doesn’t always look pretty.