We have so many important and complex relationships in our lives. The family of origin we come from is perhaps the most complicated one and has a lasting impact on who we are. When we are teenagers, our peer relationships become paramount. Later in life, our romantic unions and the relationships we have with our children and colleagues become everything.
I’m a systemic psychotherapist, which means I was trained in systems theory. This is a fascinating body of work that explains how each system we navigate, whether that is family, peers, school, or work naturally falls into homeostasis (balance).
So, our behaviour impacts someone else’s behaviour which impacts our behaviour and so cyclical reciprocity occurs when we join any system. So, how we are in a relationship often determines how others will treat us and vice versa. That is an important piece of information for the times we live in. Because, another very important relationship that we are all involved in, is the relationship we have with the planet we are living on. As Carl Sagan calls it, 'the pale blue dot'. In his inimitable voice and style, he explains that "on it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives, the aggregate of our joy and suffering... lived here". And if we get the dynamics of this wrong, it could mean the end of our species. The stakes could not be higher.
Sustainability. That’s the buzzword of modern times. But what does it look like? I have to be honest, I eat meat. I’m a flexitarian, apparently. I was explaining my eating habits to students one day and a voice from the back piped up with, ‘ah you’re a flexitarian’. I thought it was a piece of teenage neologism. But no, it’s a word. And it is me. A person who mostly eats a vegetarian diet but occasionally has meat. I’m not proud of that fact, I want to be afullitarian, now that isn’t a word. But I find myself struggling not to falter in my pursuit of vegetarianism. Ethically, I don’t want to eat meat. The hypocrisy of that statement isn’t lost on me.
Being more sustainable should be the goal for all of us. As parents, we should have a clear idea of what that means. I often think the slow uptake on sustainability reflects poor messaging around it. Many of us don’t really know what that looks like, why we should attempt to bring it into our family or how we would even go about implementing it. A very important initiative in schools is the green school programme. It moves this whole idea of sustainability away from tokenism to actually creating a school environment that is genuinely concerned about how it does business. I think we could all take a leaf out of the green schools initiative and try to bring a greener home initiative into our daily lives. Teenagers take the environment very seriously. I think if you sat down with your children and talked through how the house could be more sustainable, you will find they will give you incredible insights into what needs to change. It is also a nice way to bring the family together, united around a common endeavour to protect the planet. I can’t think of a better initiative to roll out in the house. The shared complicity in developing an ethical framework for sustainability as a family could be a wonderful bonding experience. I’m not suggesting that the family becomes a zero waste warrior.
That seems like a rather drastic first step and might be too much change. Maybe a goal to work towards for sure, but start small. Using bottles rather than plastics, cycling rather than using the car, and eating less meat might be a nice starting point as a family. Do that for two weeks and build on it. Getting momentum to bring about change in the family is all about getting started. So, starting small is always the way to go. Make sure you involve the kids. They will give you really great ideas and you’ll get buy-in, too.
We can all think about the environment on the macro level and what the government needs to do to ensure the safety of future generations but what we do as a family is a microcosm for the wider world. It starts at home, and if we act as a family we might just ensure the world is in a healthy place when we hand it over to the generation that comes after us. We can’t bury our heads in the sand about climate change. Mary Robinson’s emotional plea on Sky News recently was a stark reminder to us all of what is at stake here, ‘I’m saying to the leaders here now, this is on your watch, it is so important. We are literally talking about having a safe future. You cannot negotiate with science… unfortunately some of the leaders who could do more are not in crisis mode… they are in fossil fuel mode’.
Parents are the leaders in the family.