Parenting for the future: A conversation that made me think
- 25 October, 2016
Through my career the thing I’ve loved most has been meeting smart, savvy women and listening to what they have to say about things they’re passionate about. I worried that when I gave up work to be a stay-at-home mum (SAHM), I’d find fewer of these conversations in my daily life. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Because – and it seems so obvious when I say it out loud – we SAHMs had former lives. We thought about things other than establishing sleep schedules, diverting tantrums and ways to cunningly disguise vegetables (not that these things aren’t vital to our day-to-day existence!). And – through the haze – we still do. I’m so grateful for the women my new “career” as a SAHM has introduced me to. Clever, caring, funny, kind women – who are mums first, but bring so many different experiences and opinions to the table.
One of these women is Fleur Heyworth. I love it when a conversation around a dinner table gets meaty – and at Fleur’s table, there’s no shortage of substance. A Cambridge-educated Barrister, she took a break in her career to have two children, before relaunching her working life with the UK government at the Mission in Geneva as part of the Legal, Political and Human Rights team representing the UK at the UN and International Organisations on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. She is now an Independent Consultant working with Women@theTable and the International Service for Human Rights, and has set up a website called Closing the Gap.
We recently got talking about what the future looks like for our children, and the part we as parents have to play – not just in our nuclear families, but in the world we’re leaving for our kids to be in charge of one day. I found that the work she has done with agencies for change in Geneva have given her a wide and fascinating view of the world, and ideas to share that I believe we would all benefit from.
So I asked her to write down her thoughts after our conversation, and this is what she said…
Do you ever get a glimpse into your child’s imagination, take a moment to be amazed and then wonder what kind of world they could create, and what will they inherit?
The job we do as parents is the most important job in the world, but for a long time it is just in our world, not the world outside, that it matters. Lately, as my children ask more why? why? why? questions and we have dinner time battles over not wasting nutritious food, and battles in shops over not buying everything they want, I find myself trying to explain to them why not all families are privileged to have the health, wealth and opportunities we do. And worse, when they hear snippets of news, I try to explain why there are still wars and people fighting around the world. Guns aren’t just for pretend. They’re hard conversations – not instilling fear but helping them to appreciate that they should not take everything they have for granted.
Our children are living in an incredible time; they’re learning to code at an age that I had barely learnt to send an email, yet they will still face some of the same challenges to peace our grandparents faced – and new ones too. The rise of far right ideologies that I hoped were confined to the history books alongside the attempted bans on abortion in Poland and the burka and ‘Burkini’ in France, imprisonment of civil rights activists in Russia, China and Thailand, and cyber attacks are stark reminders of the growing polarisation between and within our nations over a range of political issues. And then there is the latest Panorama programme exposing the Syrian refugee children making our high street clothes. The choices we and our children make as citizens and consumers will shape our future.
There are some things we can’t control, but also a lot we can. And as we seek to protect our young and give them wings to fly, my experience over the last year has taught me that the way we educate our young is absolutely fundamental. It is in fact our world inside that shapes the world outside. If we are to build a more peaceful, tolerant world, we have to educate our children to be citizens of a globalised world.
I recently had the honour of listening to Ambassador Beatriz Londono Soto, Permanent Representative of Colombia to the UN in Geneva, who was on a panel celebrating #DayoftheGirl. She was talking about the huge legal, political and cultural inequalities that still face women and girls and also mentioned the fragile but hopeful peace process in Colombia. Her advice was that ‘democracy and empowerment begins at home, not at school’. We need early childhood strategies to give both girls and boys the same opportunities and sense of empowerment, and we need more emphasis on emotional development.
As the privileged guardians of the next generation, we have a huge opportunity to help our sons and daughters lead equal, self-determined, fulfilled and happy lives. We can start at home, by loving them, understanding them and helping them to be secure in themselves. We can teach them that we all have equal human rights that come with responsibilities.
We also have a huge opportunity as families and key players in our communities to help contribute to the ‘Global Goals’ for sustainable development by 2030. All Member States of the UN have agreed to 18 goals on a range of issues from poverty, the environment, food and education, to gender equality, peace, democratic accountable institutions, but not many people know about them, and change is not going to happen until each of us engages.
Like computer coding, the Global Goals are possibly something that our children will learn about first, and demonstrate greater creativity and ambition than us. But for now we are still their guardians, and the guardians of their planet, so although I’m no saint as a car driving, meat eating lover of nice clothes, I am going to try to do my bit.
There are a lot of ideas and points of action in Geneva as the hub of Human Rights, Humanitarian Aid, Trade, Health, Science and Innovation, so I have decided to set up a blog, Closing the Gap, to bring some of the ideas from Geneva close to people where ever they are. I have focused on ‘Gender Gap’ because I believe in the potential and power of gender equality and want both my son and daughter to have the same opportunities at work and at home, opportunities determined by their potential not stereotypes or societal limitations. Please do tell me your thoughts and ideas because, as feminist academic Iris Bohnet says, n=1 is never a good sample!
I would also like to draw your attention to SDGs In Action, an app that has just been launched to connect us to ideas and information around sustainable development… Here you can find more suppliers of local organically produced food, car sharing schemes, clothes brands that don’t exploit child labour, or local charities to help the vulnerable. Little by little, we can make more conscious choices.
Please, don’t underestimate the power of your voice.