I have been asked by the publisher to write a new Afterword for an anniversary edition of my book, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching. It is strange to consider that that book has been around for twenty years now. They would like the new Afterword to present my evolving understandings of parenting from the perspective of a grandparent.
My understandings of the whole parenting process have certainly evolved. The world I thought existed when I first became a parent almost fifty years ago is no longer the world I experience. All the signs were present back then, but I didn’t see them as clearly as they now appear. We are on the verge, or actually in the midst of, an evolutionary “leap” as a species. Whether that leap will be into oblivion or into a truly new humanity is yet to be seen. But it will be seen within the next few generations and its direction will literally depend on the choices those of us currently alive, regardless of our ages, decide to make.
Parents now have a more momentous responsibility than ever before, as if it weren’t already a heavy enough responsibility. Now, in addition to providing safety, love, shelter, and nurture, parents must envision and live a new and transformed life and communicate that life to their children as clearly as possible.
Our children and grandchildren must witness a new way of being. We may stumble and stagger as we seek to provide that way of being, but they must see us making the attempt. They must hear our apologies for the chaos we have created. They must hear our sincere repentance and observe our attempts to atone. They must experience a new economy, a new understanding of simple joy, and a new relationship with the natural world.
We must find the courage to step into, then attempt to teach this transformed life to them. They must learn the names of the trees and flowers. They must experience the swarming of bees and the migration of birds. They must see the caterpillars become butterflies and know the vegetation necessary to that transformation. They must understand the value of sitting quietly in a field and letting life come to them on its own terms rather than remaking life in the form of their own desires.
Technology will not spearhead this transformation. The transformation must first be spiritual and psychological, from the inside out. Only then can technology be effective because only then will our spirits set the agenda for which the technology might be used. Our children and grandchildren must sense and live into this evolutionary leap in order for their phones, screens, and texts to have any true meaning in their lives. They must center their lives on the Earth as a living organism of which they are a part before they are able to stand apart and be able to do their work and give their gift to Life.
Parents have always wanted their children to have the “good life.” Most parents dedicate their lives to providing this good life for their children. But at our current point in evolutionary history that good life is a disastrous paradigm that will render the Earth unable to support human life at all. We parents and grandparents must completely redefine, first for ourselves and then for our children, the concept of a good life.
A transformed family will not be about taking away all of our toys and asking our children to play with wooden sticks. It will be about a deep, gut-level realization, that what we are doing is not working. We will gradually redefine joy and happiness. We will find simplicity to be, not scarcity as we have been led to believe, but a fullness of joy for which we have wordlessly longed all of our lives but were bamboozled by culture into abandoning. It will be difficult, especially for families already neck deep in the current economic and social paradigm. New parents will find creative ways of transforming family life a bit easier to manage, but we all can do it – parents and grandparents alike. It must start with us, not with our children. If it doesn’t start with us, where will it start? If it doesn’t start now, when will it start?
The time for a luxurious and automatic creation of family life is past. Some generation had to be alive at the crisis point, and it turns out to be us. The necessary transformation had to emerge in a time of terrible danger, and it turns out that time is now. We can wish it were not so and that we could raise our children as culture has taught us to for the past century or two. But that wish will not be fulfilled. Some have said that the WWII generation was the greatest generation. Perhaps. But their challenge pales compared to the challenge we now alive must face. We, our children, and our grandchildren stand at the cusp of being the most courageous, creative, and important generations in the history of human kind.
What will we do? How will we be remembered?