Sunday, March 24, 2013

raising kids in a time of uncertainty

Gita and our two kids- the three people I love most
I'll call it a time of uncertainty- though every time is a time of uncertainty.  Nobody knows for sure what's coming from one day to the next.  You can have a pretty good idea, but you never really know  for sure.

What is fairly certain, is that the next generation is probably not going to live as well as the current one- the one I'm a member of.  And the next will probably have it even harder.

The reasons would be the usual suspects.  Oil is getting harder to find and extract- despite all the hoo-hah from the fracking industry.  The climate is warming up, and will continue to do so for decades even if we stopped burning fossil fuels right this minute.   The North American empire within which we live is slowly coming apart in a process that may take generations to be fully realized.

As a dad, I want to know that I'm leaving my kids a legacy, and I want it to be a positive one, but the aggregate legacy that my fellow Americans and I am leaving is one of a degraded environment, degraded culture and degraded standard of living.  It's unfortunate, but it's true.

Someone (Hepp) suggested in the comments section a few posts ago that the subject of choosing to have children while being peak oil aware would be a good read. 

To be honest, I really don't know that it was always my choice to have kids.  Gita knew she wanted kids for sure.  There was no way around that.  I wasn't sure that I wanted any, but she convinced me.

Part of it was that I was scared.  Of not being a good dad.  Of not being able to cope with a noisy, poopy, pukey baby and all the sleep deprivation that comes with it.  Of not having the option of going back if I found out I didn't like being a dad.

Then my daughter was born and I held her for the first time and I understood.

Of course I wanted to have kids.  I had known about all the crap that comes with having kids- being the oldest of five- but I didn't know about the love.   I had no idea how much I would love this little blue-eyed girl and the little brown-eyed boy that showed up a little over a year later.

Life has been hectic since they were born- yes- but I can't imagine life without these two little people now.  It's a cliche- I know- but it's so true.

So now that we have these two little lives to take care of, how can we be sure that we're giving them a good future?

One thing to do is teaching them real skills.

Setting up a college fund is one of those difficult things we haven't done just yet.   If a year of college costs 40K now, and is appreciating at three or four times inflation, how much will it cost in 12 years?  And would it make them ineligible for grants or loans?  And where would we put this college money?  In a fund that's going to dump it in the stock market? That's a laugh.  Better to put in on a table in Vegas.  At least you might get a free drink out of it.

While Gita and I both want to put something aside for their education, the unknowns  are so huge that it makes it difficult to even start, though everyone seems to agree that it's the right thing to do.  Really- where do you put money right now that will guarantee that it will still be there in 12 years, with interest no less? 

Of course, that's assuming that the education that colleges are providing is even worthwhile.  The assumption that ruled when I was an undergraduate was that you would follow a course of study that you found interesting, and there would be some sort of job for you when you graduated, if you just got good enough grades.

That's not working out so well for a whole lot of Political Science majors, as well as Journalism and recent Architecture grads, many of whom were my friends at the U of

There are other skills to be learned though.  My two little scholars learned a lot in the last week about growing plants from seeds while watching the boxes on the windowsill.

They've also learned about making compost from watching me toss dead stuff into the box that magically produces dirt.  They've learned about how to build things from stone and brick in the backyard, and that you don't need to buy a playhouse from the store if you have a few old pallets in the backyard.

Giving them the chance, and the necessity to figure things out on their own at times has made them more self-confident, and I hope, self-reliant when they need to be.

Trying to set a good example by walking my talk is also important, but not always easy.

I try to do what I tell them I'm going to do, even when it's not convenient or  fun.  I sit down to play a game of Candyland, even though I'm tired.  I buy the thing from the vending machine for them because I promised that I would, even though I since I promised I realized that they're going to choose sugary crap that will make them hyper and I know I'll later regret it. 

I suppose that could be called teaching integrity.  But that's something that would be important at any time, not just now.

In a time of uncertianty, though- when being a shyster is the norm, not the exception, is it silly to try to install a sense of responsibility or integrity into kids?

Or will it be more important than ever, when formal networks of exchange break down (from being exploited by shysters, perhaps) and people have to rely on networks of family, friends and acquaintances to get their necessities?  In situations like that, trusting others and being trustworthy can make a huge difference.

There was a time (or so I hear) when a man's (or woman's) word was his bond, and a good reputation was worth its weight in gold.  I think that time might return within my lifetime.  If the gold standard were to return, in whatever form that may, having a golden reputation will be a real asset.

Being physically healthy and able to entertain themselves are also important things for living in  the world after cheap energy.

Every kid wants to watch TV, and every parent loves plopping them in front of it, and enjoying the peace and quiet that comes as a result.  But at a high cost.  I admit that I do it sometimes.  We have an old TV and a couple of computers, and there are days that I use it to babysit the kids when I'm alone with them and just don't have the energy to entertain them myself.  And the result, after an hour or two of movies or videos- almost always- is a whiny, floppy meltdown.

And we don't even do that much screen time.  A couple of times a week for an hour or two at a time.   Supposedly the average American kid spends more time in front of the tube than they do at school.  What does that do to a kid's brain?  Build brand loyalty and programmability maybe?  Make them more passive, but with a shorter, more irritable attention span?  These are not qualities that build resilience in an uncertain world.

Getting them outside seems to do the opposite.  It's hard to get them out the door at first, but there are always things to do and things that fascinate them- sometimes things I wouldn't have noticed at all.  My son picked something up from the ground today and asked me to guess what it was.  It kind of looked like an old handlebar mustache, so I joked that he was growing a mustache, and put it under his nose.  He laughed and pushed it away, and said "No daddy, this is the bark, the inside bark from the maple tree."  Which it was.  And I don't remember telling him this.

So there's lots of little surprises.

Bringing them in from the outdoors- even if it's just from our little city yard- is usually hard too.  They resist going out, then resist as much or more going back in.  Which I don't mind.  They even help in the garden sometimes, which I try not to push too hard, but am glad when they volunteer to help.

I'm looking forward to this spring and being outside with the kids.  They've made leaps in development and understanding in just the six months since the last growing season and I'm looking forward to showing them more of the world, and of the tiny world of plants and insects and soil life contained within our tiny backyard.  And I'm looking forward to the uniquely kidlike insights that they give me on a regular basis.


  1. I read something once ( don't remember where or what exactely it was about); there was the sentence "Why bringing children into this world? Why letting them deal with global warming, nuclear weapons, wars...? It is selfish to do that."
    It made me think. I understand why people say things like that. I have good friends who chose to not have kids for reasons like that. The thing is, when I look at my son, all I can think is "How could I have NOT had him???" My love to him makes me want to be a part of a change in the world.
    Yes, being a parent is exhausting and crazy and sometimes very hard.. but it also is an eye opener to what really is important to you. My son makes me see things from a different perspective every day.
    Maybe having kids is the only way how we can make a change.

    Great pictures of the little ones, by the way! I have to stop by soon!


    1. Thanks Ahlem. I think my world would be much smaller without these two little ones. I hope I can give them everything possible to have a good life. They've made my life much better.