Postcard from connected parenting course & kids go wild in the woods
Paddington station feels like the Blitz. It's two days before the Olympic opening ceremony, and everyone with a choice is evacuating fast, escaping a million extra people in London and the fear of transport chaos. I struggle through the crowds with our bags in the heat, and collapse with relief onto the cool train. Rosebay willow herb and buddleia grow pink and purple along the railway lines and the suburbs of London finally turn to the fields of Devon. Exeter St Davids station looks like summer holidays, tanned teenagers in cut offs, the smell of coconut suntan lotion and ice cream. Exeter's only ecocab meets us at the station and drives us, along with another family, along slow country roads to Embercombe.
I'm here with with my son for a 'connected parenting' course and kids summer camp, attracted by the idea of a fun camping holiday in beautiful surroundings - woodland, lake, organic market garden, hills; loads of kids for Luca to play with; like-minded adults; and some space to think about how my role as a parent works in the context of the rest of my life, with transitioning, campaigning and if I'm doing OK.
Embercombe exists to connect people with the land and to inspire action to change our world. It is centred around the concept of the 'children's fire' - a deep commitment to take no action that would endanger children, or the children of any species for the next seven generations. The summer camp emerged from Embercombe's sustainable families group which is run by Joanna Watters, to 'help support parents to raise their children mindfully and concsiously', drawing on 'Parenting by Connection' (the work of Patty Wipfler) and 'Non Violent Communication' (the work of Marshall Rosenberg). The idea is to parent by partnership, neither dominating your child, nor allowing your own needs to go unmet. And also for parents to support one another through 'listening partnerships' and resource groups, creating a sense of community around parenting and breaking down isolation.
The course makes me think about parenting in a Transition context. Part of the idea around 'connected parenting' is that raising a child can be seen a form of activism, that bringing up the next generation of children to be emotionally connected, compassionate and at one with nature is essential for the evolution of human society, and for dealing with the huge and inevitable changes to come. I haven't yet come across a discussion of this within Transition and it would be interesting to hear whether any initiatives have parenting or family groups which focus not only on practical activities (green nappies, craft etc), but also on the 'inner' - how we really connect to our children and emotionally prepare them for the future they will inherit.
The summer camp is also the most child-centred gathering I have ever been to. During morning parents sessions and evening talks, kids are given a choice of activities - a space with craft and storytelling for little ones, or woodland activities for the braver. But also if they want to do their own thing they are pretty much followed around by volunteer baby sitters who are stationed at the top of the hill, and around the tents and yurts. They are also welcome to stay with parents in our sessions, sometimes leading to noisy chaos. This is how is should be. None of the the kids spaces or babysitting is run by attending parents, and every parent is given a way to participate that works for them and their kids. Afternoons are free for us to relax or have 'special time' (where the child decides what to do) with our kids. The children have a whale of a time - swimming, paddling, building fires, climbing trees, felting, picking fruit, and generally being free, well-fed and loved. My son forms a small roaming gang, who collect firewood and kindling and self-organise a children's fire on their 'pirate ship' (a hill). By the end of the camp I am relaxed, feel an even deeper closeness with my son, and connected to other parents who are on a similar journey.
The experience also makes me think about Transition and how we could enable more parents of young children to really participate. Among the ingredients are 'working with young people' and I know that locally, in North London, Debbie Bourne from Transition Belsize has started a kids group offering school holiday craft activities, and Jo (fellow social reporter) in Finsbury Park has set up a gardening club at her local primary school. In Transition Dartmouth Park, due to our core group having quite a high proportion of people with young children and several single parents, in order to include ourselves (!) we have taken child inclusion very seriously. So we have early evening or weekend meetings and socials, restrict our use of pubs, have children in meetings, and kids activities at events. Our open space in January was attended by about seven children, who started off angelically playing cards around a table, and progressed to very loudly playing an out of tune piano in the room (and a migrane for me!) When Lyn and I decided to initiate the group, this included a discussion with our children about what Transition was and how they could be involved, and the first project we had up and running was our primary school gardening club, organised by another parent in our core group, Debbie West.
But equally, I have seen situations where inclusion hasn't been thought through, and where times and spaces actually exclude parents of young children from participation. Many environmental and social change movements are geared towareds those with flexible lifestyles, and experience a high drop-out rate as people get jobs and have kids. But Transition is about every aspect of our lives and communities and we need to create space for people at all stages of life to activiely participate in our movement.
I'd love to hear from other initiatives about whether they have discussed parenting, either within Inner Transition sessions, or at all, and also from others who are trying to strike a balance between nurturing a child and trying to take some responsibility for the world they will inherit.