Our children are not really ours. They are not given to us to keep or to own, but entrusted to us for an all too brief time in which to nourish their bodies, set their feet on the path they will walk to adulthood, and teach them what it means to be be human. While the day-to-day moments of parenting are fun and can be silly, the work that is being done in those moments carries a weight of the highest importance. Marcy Axness, in Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers (2012, Sentient Press), calls upon us to make good on the oft repeated claim that “our children are our future.” If this is so, and it is, then it’s time that we parent our children in a way that prepares them to engage with the challenges of the future — environmental and social — with peace rather than conflict.
This is not a parenting “how-to” book. There are no lists of things to check off in order to raise a member of Generation Peace. Rather, it is a neurobiologically-based approach to and a philosophy about parenting with guidelines to help in the implementation of its ideals at each stage of your child’s life from pre-conception through the early school years. In the simplest of terms, what makes for kind, caring, peaceful adults is an internalized sense of trust and security. This comes from having a close attachment to a primary caregiver, mom, when young. It is this secure attachment to one person in childhood that allows an individual to then generalize feelings of empathy and love to humanity as they mature.
For each stage, Axness discusses the important neurobiological milestones that are occurring and describes how to best work with nature to nurture these developments. This is followed with a helpful “Principles to Practice” section that gives practical advice in each of the six areas that she has identified as key to healthy growth: Presence, Awareness, Rhythm, Example, Nurturance, Trust, and Simplicity. It is very clear that these are not rigid rules that you must follow, but rather a list of suggestions to assist in implementing the ideals explored.
The key take-away point is that we are all either in “growth mode” in which we feel safe and our minds and bodies are free and open to grow, or we’re in “protection mode” in which all of our energies are redirected towards shielding ourselves from external stress and harm, stunting the development of our minds and bodies. The more we can do as parents to maximize the time our children are in growth mode, the more secure, and therefore peaceful, adults they will become. She gives us many ways in which to do this, but the most obvious (not necessarily the easiest to implement) is to live a life of example. In short, we are to be the change we want to see in the world, to use that old Gandhi entreaty.
Axness draws from Attachment Parenting, Montessori and Waldorf philosophies, and for those who are already familiar with them, Parenting for Peace will surely resonate, but her guide is not limited by any one of these systems. She doesn’t mince words and she refuses to bow at the throne of political correctness when what is biologically called for runs counter to popular culture. This is a book full of powerful ideas and Axness is calling for nothing less than a revolution in how we raise our children. It is a call that resonates with me. This is a book that I will return to often as I navigate the choppy waters of parenthood.