Times are tougher now for many American families than they’ve been for more than half a century. A sense of anxiety seems to hang in the air about holding on to our jobs and making ends meet. Your family may even be dealing with unemployment or having trouble keeping up with the mortgage.
Yet at the same time, there is also a sense of opportunity. Many families are re-examining their priorities and values as they focus on what truly matters to them. They’re also trying new ways of looking at the world, making the best of less, and finding ways to sustain a fundamental sense of optimism about the future. All these efforts are key elements of a resiliency we hope to foster in our children.
Calling all this a silver lining might be too much to ask in times of job loss, foreclosures, and even hunger. But with so much of what we took for granted less certain, we have a chance to discover strengths we never knew we had and to rediscover the solid human values that have been with us all along.
Community & Connections
We now know that our own economic survival and well-being is interconnected with everyone else’s—all over the globe. To pull ourselves out of this financial mess, we must all pull together. Every day, young children struggle with the conflict between their selfish wishes (“That’s mine! You can’t have it!”) and their need to nurture and care for others in order to feel good about themselves.
For parents it can be tempting to encourage our children to look out for number one even at the expense of other children’s interests. Yet this may be a time when we all are more ready to help our children see that little everyday sacrifices and compromises can strengthen our commitment to each other. We should encourage this sense of community more than ever—for our own benefit and to be stronger in the years ahead.
Even when the bare necessities of life are no longer within reach, learning that others are ready to share what they have and that we can help even when we have less than before brings renewed strengths. When there is little else to count on, reassurance can still be drawn from these acts of human kindness and knowing that we are not alone.
Our economy boomed for so long on the basis of our purchasing power. We may have mistaken the pleasure our spending gave us for true meaning in our lives or a sense of who we are. But instant gratification today with no clear thinking about tomorrow is not a model that is likely to work well for our children in the future.
Shopping’s immediate gratification is hard to let go of, but in its place we can help our children appreciate a different kind of satisfaction that comes from saving and strengthening ourselves. America’s love affair with shopping and hanging out at the mall may be over. But that can encourage us to find other activities and places where we and our children can hang out, have fun, and grow together.
Children are bound to feel a new sense of self-respect when they discover that they can rely on themselves for the experiences that really matter to them, such as friendship, exploring their curiosities, and challenging themselves to excel. In this way, they pursue their own fulfilling paths and enjoy each other without all the labels the media tells us we need for confidence and self-approval from our peers.
Trust in Ourselves
After placing our trust in leaders whose credibility has been called into question by the faltering economy, many Americans may feel that they have been misled. Yet rather than teaching our children not to trust, we should take this moment to teach them what they should look for and what questions they should ask before they trust. That, in turn, will help them learn to trust themselves.
Rather than following without questioning, as perhaps so many of us adults did in recent years, we can encourage our children to regard challenges we are now grappling with as proof that they must learn to be critical and free and independent thinkers. That will also help them deal with peer pressure as they make their way through their adolescent years.
Our children may have questions about the future that we cannot answer, but together we can try to understand the mistakes of the past so that their generation will not repeat them. Rather than hide our disappointment in the political, business, and media leaders we put our faith in, we can share it with our children. We can help them see their opportunity to become more effective citizens by questioning rather than automatically believing, by leading rather than following.
Now is the time to turn to our spirituality, our cultures, our families, and our communities to re-emphasize what really matters, and what we can really count on to rebuild our future. We now know we must live with uncertainty and cannot control every twist and turn of the road ahead. But what we can do is raise our children with values we are sure of and the strength to face whatever comes our way with confidence.