Our children are growing up in a fast paced world very different from the world we grew up in. We have many great advancements and achievements to celebrate in our modern age, yet in many ways we have never been more challenged when it comes to raising our children. Today’s parents must deal with the influence of media and marketing towards children like never before. Children and parents are bombarded with commercials, advertisements, businesses, popular magazines, best-selling books, an array of toys and other products that tell us how to make our kids the brightest, the most advanced, or to give them the most opportunities. Today’s children have more material things than any other generation, yet rates of childhood depression, high school drop outs, and teen suicide are alarmingly high. Today’s children have many opportunities and many disadvantages as a result of modern life.
The modern world brings vaccines and medicines to prevent or treat deadly diseases, technologies that have revolutionized the way we live, inventions and advancements that have prolonged human life and solved some of the world’s largest mysteries. However, modern living can also be isolating, chaotic, turbulent, and unhealthy. We now have more pesticides in our food, more pollution in our water supplies, the highest obesity rates of any generation, we are further behind other industrialized nations in education, we are destroying our ozone layer, and seeing weapons of mass destruction being produced around the world. We’ve lost our since of moral duty, social conscious, and with it our character. Too many people are afraid to stand up for causes and injustices and just go along with their heads down to the status quo.
We need to take control over our own lives before we can effectively bring change in our overall communities. There is a strong need for us to take a look in the mirror and reflect on how we are living our lives. Are we raising our children to the best of our abilities or are we merely surviving parenthood? Why do parents feel the need to smother our kids with materialistic things? Why are our kids overeating? Why are the average Americans thousands of dollars in debt? Are we trying to fill a void? Are we trying to make ourselves happy by over consuming? If so, it doesn’t seem to be working. Studies have shown that compared to individuals of the Great Depression era we have so much more wealth and luxuries, yet American’s are no happier or content than they were during this impoverished time. For many of us, we’ve lost our sense of purpose. We are not living life to its fullest. We need to regain control of our lives and get back to the basics. Materialism can spoil values and happiness. At the end of our lives, most of us will not reflect back on our lives and regret not working longer hours, we will regret not building better relationships or establishing more values in which we live by. Here are some of my tips for living a fuller life:
- You are what you eat. Learn to lessen processed artificial foods in your diet and rely more on healthy whole foods that are naturally found in nature.
- Get active. Find some active things you can fit in your lifestyle and enjoy doing. If you enjoyed roller skating as a child, invest in some skates and spend a weekend on the nature trails. Take nature walks. Take up a new sport. Learn to play tennis with your spouse. Enlist family bike rides. Go hiking. Take an exercise class.
- Establish a support network. You need both friends and family. Join organized groups with people who share a common interest. You might enjoy parenting groups, religious organizations, civic groups, or community centers. Reconnect with old friends from various stages in your life. Relationships are the foundation of life. They need you to nurture them, and work at them. They don’t happen on their own.
- Don’t just spend quality time with your children, spend quantity time with them. Get on the floor and play with them. Attend and actively participate in their extracurricular activities. Know your children’s friends and where they spend their time. Be involved in their school. Read to/with your kid’s everyday.
- Gardening has numerous benefits for people of all ages, particularly for elderly and young children. It stimulates all our senses through sights, sounds, textures, and scents. It can help us connect with memories and the past. Garden as a family. Get young kids and grandparents involved whenever possible.
- Have arts and craft time daily with your kids. The biggest complaint most parents have about art is the mess. Learn to get past this. Keep a supply of crayons, markers, or paints in freezer type bags, purchase art paper or just reuse paper grocery bags. Make a time everyday to get these out and so something creative with your kids. Don’t just put them in front of the art, get involved with them. Older kids might enjoy a more detailed craft such as building wooden models, or scrap booking.
- Cook and eat together as a family. Most times you’ll end up eating more healthfully than you would if you dined out, and you’ll be forced to have some conversation as you sit at the dinner table.
- Involve kids in running errands and housecleaning when appropriate. Even toddlers can help do chores around the house such as dusting, cleaning windows or hard surfaces with non-toxic cleaners. Running errands such as taking the dog to the vet, going grocery shopping should also be viewed as educational for kids. Get them involved by helping you make a list or pick out items from the store. We also enjoy taking our son to specialty stores such as a health foods store or pet store.
- Get outside whenever possible. Bundle up and get out in cold weather, slather on sunscreen and get out in the summer, and put on your rain gear and get out in the spring and fall. Kids need outdoor play and having some of this daily is optimal. Dress for the weather and get them some fun gear such as sleds, rain boots, sand/water toys, bubbles to blow, and get outdoors. Don’t just go to parks, experiment with going on nature walks and hikes, local arboretums or community gardens, large sport fields, etc.
- Have holidays and rituals with your kids. Make these regular things they can have fun and expect on an early basis. You can not only do mainstream holidays but you can incorporate lesser known holidays such as Arbor day, Earth Day, seasonal solstices into your routine. Make a point in making the holiday’s special and fun for kids.
- Teach children to place less value on material things and play up the fun of little things. Make the first blooms of spring even more fun and exciting than getting a new toy. Instead of buying a new book, go the library each week and check out several. As soon as your child can write his/her own name, let them get their own library card. Take your kids somewhere you can feed ducks. Spend money on a membership to your local zoo or aquarium versus buying a new toy for a birthday or holiday. Remember, children learn from us–try to be conscious of how material we live our own lives.
- Do community service work with your kids. Even from a young age, kids can be involved with volunteer work and learn about the community they live in. Visit a nursing home with your toddler. Go tour the local fire station with your preschooler. Have a best used party for your older child. They can have a fun party with their friends with snacks, games and fun. On the invitation have each child bring a sack of items such as lightly used clothing, winter coats, etc. then take the items with your child and donate them to a local homeless shelter the following week. The ideas are limitless.
- Consider taking a pet into your home. Research to determine which type of pet best fits your lifestyle. Even something lower maintenance such as a hamster or goldfish can teach a child about unconditional love and the responsibility of caring for a living creature.
- Have weekly family meetings where you can discuss any issues such as vacation planning to chore work together as a family.
- Vacation as a family at least once a year. This need not be an expensive trip to Disney World–just a weekend getaway to something fun in your own state will serve a useful purpose. If possible, try to also take a vacation once a year just you and your spouse. Offer family members or friends a child swap where you take their kids for a few days and vice-versa and give yourself and your spouse a much needed break.