Quakers and Parenting
Using, as our guideline, the advice written in 1656 by the founder of the Society of Friends, George Fox, let's look at some of the key aspects of being a Friend and how we could use these perspectives to enhance the art of parenting.
We can be so eager to please our children, or provide them with what we never had, that we run the risk of overfilling their lives. As well as benefiting from group activities and organised lessons, there is much to be said for solitude, simplicity and even boredom. In these states, children are in a position to think for themselves and resolve their problems from within. It has often been questioned whether some great works of literature would have been written had, for example, the Bronte sisters not lived quiet lives requiring a vivid imagination and self-entertainment.
On the matter of living simply, George Fox goes on to say: Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Children are fabulous persuaders. Here is a reminder to come to a decision that feels right for you. Do your children really need a new mobile phone or games console? Perhaps so, but maybe not. Let your considered judgment, not their haranguing, create the outcome. My partner has a habit of turning the television on to mute whenever the adverts come on. The clamour of voices suddenly ceases, we focus on each other before resuming shared television watching, and are, hopefully, less influenced to buy what we don't really need.
Living simply can also guide us in how we reward and discipline our children. Instead of concocting elaborate punishments or long lectures, let the consequence rise naturally from the child's action. Help them to understand how the effects have arisen from their misbehaviour and allow them to live with the consequences of their actions. When rewarding children, wherever possible, encourage them to see the activity itself as the reward. They may want pocket money for carrying out chores but helping them to also feel the satisfaction of a job well done and a pleasant home to live in is a longer-lasting incentive that ultimately comes from within.
Be an example
It's a known fact that children do as we do not as we say. With their eyes on us every day, it can sometimes feel an impossible task to live up to the way we would like them to develop. Once we make the decision to live in a manner we are proud of, it is more likely for this behaviour to gradually become second nature. Eating healthily, listening to others' opinions, expressing ourselves honestly and peacefully can all become habits as much as their opposites. We won't be perfect but this is an example in itself.
Children, like anyone else, can feel threatened by perfection and put off even giving something a go if it seems they can't live up to your ideal. Letting your way of life teach what you feel to be appropriate and loving includes accepting yourself and all your shortcomings. How else will your children learn to fully accept themselves? When we are confident in ourselves, we are better equipped to be accepting of other beliefs and lifestyles. This lesson is deepened further as we accept that our choices and actions may not be what our children choose to follow.
We can, however, be secure in the knowledge that we lived true to our own beliefs and shared a confidence in being a strong individual who listens to others. That surely is enough of an example!
We can encourage our children to treat each new endeavour as an adventure. The sense of fear in the pit of our stomach is very similar to the sense of excitement we get when undertaking an adventure. With this in mind, perhaps we can feel braver in the face of fear and try things we would previously have held back from, things that can enhance our own lives and those of others. You may not feel able to adventure abroad or in 'big' ways but breaking outside of routine or trying new responses to old situations requires adventurous thought and can open our lives to more opportunities to enrich the lives of ourselves and others.
Respect the wide diversity among us
This is a simple one, which we hopefully naturally share with our children anyway: equality. Children are learning who they are, their place in the world and how others fit into that awareness. Their experiences are limited and their sense of self can become fragile as they become more aware that they are not the centre of the universe. Perhaps this is why school playgrounds can be such a cruel place at times. Teaching children to respect the diversity amongst others begins with respecting the diversity within themselves and their own family. Many of us have within us contrasting interests, thoughts and behaviours. There is the way we aspire to live and then there is our actual behaviour. When we can accept this diversity within, we can cease to judge ourselves and may find it easier to let go of destructive or inappropriate behaviour as well as understanding it better in others. Children who know that they and the people around them can live with diversity can accept the fullness of their own being. They will feel more confident in being respected for their own uniqueness as opposed to conforming to the family unit.
(extracted with permission from Ooffoo)
To read the other articles in this series please go to: Ooffoo
For more information on Quakerism in general, you may like to visit www.quaker.org.uk This site has pages on working with children, a link to a website dedicated to under nineteen year olds, and a search engine for finding your local Quaker meeting.