Families and Social Justice

Ba and I teach a course to graduate students through SelfDesign Graduate Institute. Our last course was in Applications of Child Development to academic excellence, conflict resolution, and social justice. This blog-post/article was written by an exceptional graduate student who studied with us last term named Brandy McCray.

Brandy lives in Mississippi with her husband and step-daughter and works as a private-educator to three teenage girls. In this post, she writes about insights she gained from her engagement in our courses in her master’s program (she has taken two courses with us to date).

With Brandy’s permission, we are posting one of her recent papers for you to enjoy. In this post, Brandy wrote about how our family cultures are incubators for how we express and understand justice as a child and later as an adult. She said, if we hold social justice as a way of being within us, we draw from all of our wisdom for our actions from within. So how do we access social justice within us and trust our inner wisdom? Making sense of the injustices that have occurred in our own lives, making sense of how those affect our relationships and our worldview, and listening and observing how children organize their world, especially in the FeelingBeing stage (ages 8 through 12), and also react to situations may help to bring inquiry into our own families on social justice and how to be in the world in a way that embodies values associated with social justice.

I begin with Brandy’s closing statement but I also encourage you to read her entire paper that follows as she is particularly insightful.

As a parent our experiences are not our own anymore, maybe on the rare occasion, but we cannot simply stop being in relationship with our children because we want to act in our own way that ignores that relationship. Children suffer when this happens just as we suffer when they choose to ignore us, the parents.

Social justice happens when families orient themselves to each other’s needs and ways of being. We do not have to teach children what social injustice is in order for them to see it or recognize it. If they live from a place of well-being, they will feel and see it for themselves because it will contrast their experience of what it is to live in relationship. Gandhi also said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world… we shall have to begin with the children.” If we are striving for justice in our society we have to begin with understanding children and meeting their needs. Then all the qualities associated with well-being will be something that springs forth from them and nothing we have to superficially impose. Children will grow to embody social justice, and we as their caregivers will also learn and grow to embody it along the way.

I invite you to read her entire paper that follows:

Families and Social Justice

By: Brandy McCray

Raising Ourselves, Our Children, and Its Implications for a Socially Just World.
When parents daydream of how the want their children to be in the world when the grow up, images of their child acing a job interview with confidence, enjoying healthy relationships, making wise choices in the face of negative consequences, and facing challenges with courage may flash through our vision for how we see our future child living in well-being. Confident, compassionate, wise, empathic, resilient, humble, and the hundreds of adjectives we imagine for them fill our minds. We may push them into programs we think will cultivate these qualities, we may send them to a school that aligns with values that we hope will produce well-being, we may discipline in ways that emphasize responsibility or the way we were taught resilience by “toughening up”, but none of these programs outside the home will alone nourish well-being. If we wish for well-being and full lives for our children, we must reach for it for ourselves first. Our children mirror us. They learn how to be in the world by watching how we are in the world. As parents, we must embody the very things we want for our children.

Did the responsibility of having children just feel even heavier with that statement?
It may feel that way, but in reality, we are developing just as much as they are. We develop in our relationship with them, and just as they have bad days, so will we. There have been several nights when I have put our daughter to bed and cried and apologized for how out of control and out of touch I had felt that day and my behavior towards her and our family. If we recognize the powerful possibility of opening ourselves to development within the context of our family, we open our past to healing, we open the gateway for a flood of well-being for our families, and our children as well ourselves begin to embody all the qualities that come with well-being. How we respond to the stress of raising children is a model of how they will respond to their own stresses in later life and if they have resilience when faced with challenges. How we respond with compassion for ourselves and for our families is how they will respond with compassion in society and outside family culture. How we access and speak about wisdom is how they will access their own wisdom in the world. We teach them how to trust themselves by trusting ourselves.

We often feel love for our child that we may have never felt for ourselves. We will make hard choices for their well-being that we may not have done for our well-being alone. Our love for them motivates us to change, and in that love, we can find love and trust for ourselves. We can simultaneously develop and nourish them and ourselves in ways that we were previously lacking.

When we orient ourselves to their world, injustices in our relationships begin to disappear.
How do we relate to our children in a way that produces insight and understanding in how they are in the world, and how we can be with them? Understanding child development has been the single most important key for me in relating to our daughter, the children I work with, and the children in my community. Learning how a child is organizing their world and how input from myself and others interacts with that organization is not only fascinating but it lifts a veil between the adult and child and allows real communication between the two that serves well-being for both. There are many approaches to child development, but I appreciate Ba and Josette Luvmours’ understanding and perspective because it emphasizes well-being rather than pathology and also emphasizes how development occurs in relationship between the child and the family or caregivers present in the child’s life. Natural Learning Relationships (NLR) breaks down child development into several stages. Within these stages, the child organizes or makes sense of his world through organizing principles that change as the child develops. Each stage comes with specific needs that should be met in order to nourish the organizing principle and the child’s well-being as a result of that child being able to organize and make sense of the world around him. See the chart by BA and Josette Luvmour below for more specifics on each stage. (On the blog, I’d like to include the handout on the Natural Learning Relationships Developmental Chart)

As we grow to understand how to provide for the developmental needs of our children, we see ways in which our needs may not have been met as a child. This is new and sometimes scary territory. We are mirrors of our own parents’ way of raising us, and unless we make sense of our experiences in a different way, we often naturally reflect to our children what was reflected to us.  Focusing on each person’s needs in a family is a way to move beyond pathology and past experiences right to the heart of an issue. It helps to navigate the relativity of everyone’s experience and find boundaries or solutions that serve the family unit.

How do we make sense of our own lives and family? There are so many ways and authors to help make sense of our own past. In some ways what they all have in common is reflection and inquiry. Whether you are reading about neurobiology or reconstructing personal narratives, most techniques go like this:

  1. Simply feel the emotions that are coming through you. Even if it is after the fact of losing your temper or losing yourself in your emotions somehow. Try to be nonjudgmental. Judging yourself will get in the way of the wisdom that’s trying to come through. Do a body-scan. Start from your toes and slowly come up becoming aware of your body and where any tension or pain may reside. If you need to calm yourself still, I find focusing my breath on the areas with tension helps to calm me down.  Allow the experience to happen.
  2. Reflect on what lead up to the event or any past memories that may be triggered.
  3. Ask questions: I wonder why I reacted this way? What is this part of humanity am I experiencing now? How? Am I afraid in some way? Do I feel out of control?

These are just some of the questions and ways I approach myself when conflict arises and I respond from a place that is not coherent or present in the event. It happens! Resolving conflict within ourselves from our past experiences as well as conflict that arises in the present may occur in one instance or it may take years. If a family sets its structure up in such a way where mistakes are seen as part of experience from both the parents’ and the children’s perspective, honesty will let valuable wisdom emerge from each member of the family.

Making sense of who we are and how we experience the world in relationship to our children contributes to how a sense of justice is felt in our family units, and in turn, how our family unit lives justice and their potential in the world. Between the ages of 8 through 12, our developmental primary organizing principle is trust followed by reciprocal cooperation. Children in this stage, FeelingBeing, are developing and exploring their emotional world. Fairness, honesty, and justice become what they require to feel nourished and to develop into well-being. Children at this stage need a feeling mentor that will relate to the child’s needs for caring, adventure, honesty, justice, and fairness. This is where the foundation for social justice in our being begins. This is when we truly learn to trust ourselves and others which allows us to “realize our potential”. This is exactly how Wikipedia defines social justice, “social justice is the ability people have to realize their potential in the society where they live.” It is the ability for people to feel respect, pride, and dignity for themselves. Social injustice results in and from shame and feelings of inadequacy. If we do not make sense of how we may have felt shame and inadequacy as a child, we may allow those feelings to permeate our relationships with ourselves, our partners, and our children. A powerful inquiry for me was to take the statements of well-being associated with each stage in the NLR table and see if I felt that statement nourished within myself. It is not surprising to me, that myself and four out of six of my friends who I asked to reflect in the same way felt that that the FeelingBeing statement was the area of well-being that they had struggled with the most. “I trust my own goodness so I can make mistakes and learn. I trust myself and those around me to be honest and caring about feelings. I engage and cooperate with people.” These are the very nourishments that allow for thriving relationships and resilience. Trusting ourselves and those around us lead to our feelings of adequacy and is the very lens through which we interpret our experiences as just or unjust. James Gilligan says in his book Preventing Violence that how people treat us as well as how we already feel about ourselves both determine if we interpret human interactions as producing shame and inadequacy and also to what extent we allow that to take away our self-respect. While we cannot always help how people treat us, especially as a child, we can grow to make sense of how people treat or treated us in a way that preserves or pieces together our dignity and self-respect. And by making sense of our experiences we change how we go on to experience our life. It changes how we feel about ourselves.

When we begin to understand who we are in relationship to our family and who our children are in relationship to us, we can nurture the unfolding of their potential. In our society, children are an oppressed people group. When adults are not oriented to the needs and world of the child, the child cannot orient themselves to the world of the adult in a healthy way. Adults as well as societal systems as a whole have unrealistic expectations for children and not because children are lesser in anyway, but because they are developmentally different than adults. Adult expectations must run in tandem with childhood development or the system creates injustice. Children are oppressed when their needs are not met and they begin behaviors that are an attempt to bring attention to their unmet needs. For example, as a child, if I explored my boundaries and made mistakes I was considered “disrespectful” of my parents. Living with a three year old is helping me see that in many cases that I feel the tinge of disrespect coming from her, it is really just her exploring her boundaries. She is in the stage where she does this physically. Drumming repeatedly after I explain to her that I am on the phone is not a sign of disrespect. She is playing. I can divert her to playing with something softer. I often find that if I turn our interactions into a battle of the wills, it will turn into battle very quickly. When I can overcome my initial feeling of disrespect, we figure it out. Being disrespected is strong feeling I have inherited from my up bringing and it isn’t always appropriate to feel that way. The minute I begin to focus on the child and how they are organizing the event, I can move past it.  Children are testing their boundaries and asking for what they need. It’s hard not to take it personally, but they are testing the world around them. Not just specifically the parents will. They have never developed before. They have to figure it out too.

In what ways do we allow our children of all ages to feel respect, pride, and dignity? In what ways does society discriminate towards children? In what ways do we take that from our own children? Ba Luvmour described conflict as a pushing down of something that wants to emerge. Children explore their environments in order to discover their world for the first time. Healthy exploration where shame is not involved in any stage allows for wellbeing in their physical bodies, emotional bodies, identity, and their relationship to the world around them.

How does nurturing our children bring about a more just world?
It may sound cheesy, but to help others reach their potential in society, we have to reach ours first. In order to help our children live their full potentials, we begin to live ours. Social justice comes from living from a place of trust and vitality without the delusion of omnipotence.  We can see ourselves as legitimate and others around us legitimate as well. Programs that help bring food, job opportunities, rehabilitation, shelter, and other services are important because they help people on a basic level fulfill their potential sometimes by just helping them stay alive. But these programs are not the ways in which society can move towards justice. That begins within an individual, then within the family, and then it moves outward from there. Children have so much to teach us about ourselves, and about the world around us and within us.

Recently, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and overhead a conversation about a woman and her child.  She was discussing what it would be like to bring her child to the Met and started explaining what it was like for her as a child when her parents took her on vacation to Italy. When in Italy they spent most of their time visiting museums and chapels. She went on to say how after an hour or two she would begin tugging and pulling on their clothes to leave, go outside, eat ice cream, do something else, anything else but be in the museums listening to descriptions of the masters.  They would reprimand her, or tell her to sit quietly somewhere while they continued in their museum gazing.  She closed with an animated, “Well now its payback time and we all know what payback is.”  Here’s an example of how cycles of injustice continue.  Her needs were being ignored and she was disrespected by being told to stop, sit down, and basically go away. It’s easy to imagine that she may have felt inadequate, angry, and shame in that moment.  Her parents did not orient themselves to her needs as a child in the museum, and she bore the consequences of that.  Now as a parent, she makes sense of the situation from the view point of the adult and not of the child. 

As a parent our experiences are not our own anymore, maybe on the rare occasion, but we cannot simply stop being in relationship with our children because we want to act in our own way that ignores that relationship. Children suffer when this happens just as we suffer when they choose to ignore us, the parents.

Social justice happens when families orient themselves to each other’s needs and ways of being. We do not have to teach children what social injustice is in order for them to see it or recognize it. If they live from a place of well-being, they will feel and see it for themselves because it will contrast their experience of what it is to live in relationship. Gandhi also said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world… we shall have to begin with the children.” If we are striving for justice in our society we have to begin with understanding children and meeting their needs. Then all the qualities associated with well-being will be something that springs forth from them and nothing we have to superficially impose. Children will grow to embody social justice, and we as their caregivers will also learn and grow to embody it along the way.

©2014 Brandy McCray. All rights reserved.

Resources
Gilligan, James. (2001). Preventing Violence.
Luvmour, BA. (2006). Optimal Parenting: Using Natural Learning Rhythms to Nurture the Whole Child. Luvmour, BA and Josette. (2003). Natural Learning Relationships Developmental Chart.

02/22/15 | 0 Comments | Families and Social Justice

Comment Form
 

©2017 Summa Institute All rights reserved. | Sitemap | Terms of Use | Site by NetRaising