Welcome to the Forever Years. Two ordinary mothers from New Zealand are the visionaries behind this blog. Neither of us are perfect parents or experts, and we face challenges and struggles just as much as anyone else. Please see the ‘Meet the Editors/ Main Contributors’ page for information about us. You may wonder what is behind the title of this blog? ‘The Forever Years’ expresses how valuable the childhood years are in sculpting the adults of tomorrow. Secondly, the parenting years can feel like they are the forever years! The mission of ”The Forever Years’ is to elevate advocacy voices for children through social media and to encourage the heart of parents and caregivers , providing a supportive interactive community for parents at any stage of their parenting journey. Some topics may also be of interest to those who work with children. If you are a blogger or writer and would like to write for us, we welcome submissions between 500-1500 words on the topics of parenting, including encouragement for parents and caregivers, and child advocacy. We profile our guest writers in our “Meet our Guest Writers” Page.
By Sarah Wilson and Kirsteen McLay-Knopp
Why “The Forever Years”?
The Ethos and Ideas behind this Blog
By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp
I thought it’d probably be a good idea to elaborate on why we have chosen the title “The Forever Years” for this blog! I remember a much loved teacher from back when I was at Primary School referring to the childhood years as “the forever years” and I have given much thought to what he meant by this and to what I believe this expression means. Our childhood years stay with us, for better or for worse. While it may be possible to eventually “let go” of something unpleasant that happened, say, during our 20s, 30s or 40s, it is much harder to move on from having had such experiences in childhood. Our childhood years stay with us and mould and shape the adults we become. That is not to say that, as parents, we need to ensure that every moment of our children’s lives is filled with “perfection”, stimulation and a focus on endlessly meeting their needs or demands—indeed, hardship, to a degree can build character and ambition, just as a “spoilt” child can become a petulant, lazy adult whose enjoyment of life can become dependent on others. Children are human and, like adults, individuals respond differently to different situations. In many cases children show great resourcefulness and resilience in times of adversity, although this sometimes takes a toll on the adult they become. “The Forever Years” is relevant to us all: we have all been children and our current society (locally and globally) is a reflection of the adults these years have sculpted. This expression, I feel, also shows how society is interconnected and the well-being of its more vulnerable members (children, the elderly, the disabled) is a joint community responsibility.
“It takes a whole village to raise a child.” –Igbo and Yoruba (Nigerian) Proverb.
During my time living in Vietnam, I had great respect for their cultural attitude towards children. A child is seen as being not just the child of his of his or her parents or family, but as being the child of the community. Everyone sees that child as their child. We noticed this when we visited Hanoi in 2006 with our 14 month old son. The staff of restaurants would play with him as we ate lunch and we were constantly asked how old he was, what his favourite food and toys were and how he found the weather in Vietnam. A number of people (particularly older women, I noticed) expressed concern that our son was not walking. Most Vietnamese babies I have known seem to walk younger than 14 months: their concern for our son was genuine. One lady even asked me whether we had taken him to a paediatrician yet… as this was my first child, their concern did make me a bit worried! Our son took his first steps at 15 months, back in Aotearoa/ New Zealand and I made sure to capture his milestone on my camera and e-mail it to the anxious “Aunties” and “Grandmothers” in Vietnam. Vietnamese language encourages this sense of “family” with a large number of personal pronouns which are all based on a person’s age (and hence family-type relationship) to others. Examples of these are Ong (Grandfather/ Older man); Ba (Grandmother/ older woman); Anh (Man the same age as an older brother to the speaker); Chi (woman the same age as an older sister to the speaker); Em (man or woman the same age as a younger sibling to the speaker) and so on. Children are referred to as chau, which could be translated as “child”, although I believe a more accurate translation would be “our child”. There are also gender differentials if you want to speak specifically about a boy (con trai) or a girl (con gai). These “family” personal pronouns encourage the attitude of looking at others in a community as being part of each person’s own family, and this applies in particular to children. It is a recognition of the “Forever Years” (childhood years) we have all experienced and the place of children in a “family based” society. It also recognises the “link in the chain” that every child is to the past and future of that society; the “foreverness” of the “Forever Years”.
Many other cultures think in this way: individuals are seen as “family members” and their place in the “family” is defined by the personal pronouns they are known by. In Japan (where I lived for 5 years) the “collective children” are the kodomotachi and children are referred to by their first name, plus chan (more often for girls: for example Yumi-chan, Aya-chan, Yoko-chan) or kun (for boys: Masa-kun, Hiro-kun, Ryo-kun). Here in Aotearoa (New Zealand) Te Reo Maori (Maori language) and culture traditionally address the children as tamariki-ma and boys are often addressed as tama (boy) and girls as kotiro (girl). All parents are addressed as whaea (mother) or matua (father) and the grandparents as papa/ koro (granddad) or nanni (grandmother—more formally referred to as kuia). Mihi mihi or self-introduction in Maori follows a set pattern, amongst which are the ancestors, grandparents, parents and siblings (and children and grandchildren for adults). A person’s whakapapa (family tree) is seen as very important and knowing it in detail is valued. This grounds a child in his or her whanau (family), while at the same time recognising the importance of the child to that family—once again, the “linking” across generations, the “foreverness” of the “Forever Years”.
“Ahakoa he iti he pounamu”
“Although it is small, it is greenstone.”–Maori Whakataukī (Proverb).
Greenstone (pounamu) was highly prized, however small an amount there was. This proverb has also been used to express the importance of children and how they too are a small but great taonga (treasure).
I’m sure there are many other examples of this in cultures and countries which I am not so familiar with. In English, centuries ago, people were referred to as “Mother”,“Father”, “Sister”, “Brother” or even “Child”. This seems to have been lost as people have become more isolated from one another and less connected with the community in which they live. This disconnection does not serve our children well or recognise the importance of the “Forever Years” and stressed parents living with no extended family or community support can feel overwhelmed, that they are doing it “all on their own” and that the “Forever Years” are a period of their lives to be “gotten through”. A lovely older lady I know who has looked after foster children for many years (along with raising her own three children) told me that, when the kids first came to her, angry and hurting from situations where, for various reasons, they were unable to live with their biological parents any longer, she would say to them: “you are here so you can have a chance to be a child”. To me, this sums up the ethos behind the expression “The Forever Years”. These years are the building block years to creating our future adults. Children need to be children. Many cynics would say that the world owes no one a living, but I believe that we, the adults (parents and grandparents) of our global family do have a responsibility for all “our” children, especially for those who are, through no fault of their own, vulnerable. I have faith that it is possible to do better, to share resources more equally and to nurture each child so that he or she will grow into an adult who will in turn see the importance of nurturing our future generations. I don’t believe this is airy fairy idealism: it is totally possible, if we work together and take our roles in our “family” seriously. Remember the “starfish story” (below):
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.” The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.” The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
–Adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley.
We are all here to do what we can with what we have, where we are. In the case of providing “our” children with positive “Forever Years” which mould them into capable, independent, compassionate adults, we are all responsible and, if we have a heart for children, we are all able to do something, whether we are parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles. Any one thing may be small, but it is a taonga (a treasure) to its recipient.
“A waterfall begins from only one drop of water… Look what comes from that…” –P.K in the novel The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
Ideas you may like to try:
1. Advocate for children: there are hundreds of websites out there with ways to be involved in this in your local area or in the wider world. Raise awareness of children’s issues and work to prevent instances where children are living in fear and unable to fully thrive and meet their potential (abuse, neglect, trafficking, poverty, lack of opportunity, discrimination, exploitation…).
2. Child sponsorship of children in the poorer parts of our planet is an excellent way of helping to nurture one child. If you can’t afford to sponsor a child on your own, you might be able to do so through your church, school, kindergarten, workplace or some other community organisation—the child still receives sponsorship, but the cost is spread across a number of sponsors. Be sure that you regularly WRITE TO your sponsored child (and choose someone to do so or take turns doing so if sponsoring in a group). These children LOVE to receive letters from their sponsors. Sponsored children who regularly engage with their benefactors gain confidence, learn about the wider world and feel a stronger sense of being cared for by their “global family”. I worked for Plan International in Hanoi, Vietnam and have seen the positive effects of child sponsorship first hand. Some sponsors end up having an opportunity to meet their sponsored child, as I did in 1999 when I met a boy I sponsored in Sri Lanka. Not only do the children benefit, but the sponsors’ world is also opened up. Again, there are a number of excellent sponsor organisations out there. Google searching “Child sponsorship organisations” will lead you to those in your own country and area. I will also list the websites for the two I have been directly involved with:
Tel: 0800 808 822 (NZ only). https://www.childfund.org.nz/ or Google “Childfund” followed by your country’s name.
3. “Buddy up” with local children: There are a number of “buddy” programmes around which are especially good for those who do not have children or older people whose children have grown up. These are about spending time each week with a child who will benefit from it. (An example from one such website is below. Google “buddy programmes” for your local area).
SHARE YOUR PASSION WITH A BUDDY!
Are you passionate about biking, fishing, handcraft, photography, home baking, home handyman work, or any other hobby?
Share that hobby with a child and enjoy the benefits of making a difference in their life by becoming a volunteer mentor – an Adult Buddy.
We have children between 4 to 12 years old waiting for an Adult Buddy with whom to share time together. Men, women and couples of all ages and interests, offer their time for a few hours a week with a child who has been carefully matched to them by our Buddy Programme Co-ordinators. Once introduced and happy to continue that match, both Buddies then meet on a regular basis to share activities such as walking on the beach or in the park, exploring, reading, talking, playing games or musical instruments, crafts, knitting, sewing, baking, drawing, painting, fishing, visiting the museum or art gallery, some even browse the hardware store!
Adult Buddies do not have to spend money on their Young Buddies – low or no-cost activities that encourage positive interests, attitudes, values and behaviours, are all that are required. All policies, procedures and practices, including those for selection, training, support, and supervision, reflect that commitment.
Children are mainly referred to us by social workers or educational specialists as young people who could benefit from the Buddy Programme. Some children are referred by their parent or caregiver. The child and family work with a Co-ordinator to establish genuine need, then a Volunteer is sought to become the Adult Buddy. Our vision is for children and young people to be enthusiastic about life, and be actively and positively involved with the world.
4. Fostering: Fostering is another way of impacting positively on the “Forever Years”. Fostering involves a commitment to a child or young person who is unable to live with his or her biological family. Fostering programmes have networks of support for carers and try their best to match carers and families. Foster children often continue to have contact with biological parents (sometimes supervised) and foster situations range from short term to longer term. Again, Googling “Foster Care” and the name of your local area will bring up options.
5. Adoption: Becoming the parent to a non-biological child is another option. Adoption can be local or international. If you wish to adopt a son or daughter, start by Googling “adoption” for your country, or an international adoption agency or organisation if you are interested in adopting from overseas.
Some Adoption Links for New Zealanders:
Adoptions within New Zealand – Child, Youth and Family
Adoption by New Zealanders of children from overseas countries:
6.Nurturing our own children: “The Forever Years” may seem like “forever” to a child and stay with him or her forever. There are those days when they can feel like “forever” to those of us who are parents too. But it is worth remembering that those ten to eighteen years or so actually pass very quickly.
Nurture your children—this doesn’t need to be an expensive thing. We are blessed to be living in the internet age, with ideas and resources at our fingertips. I find it useful, for example, to do “topics” with my children like “Spring”, “Space”, “Rugby”, “Japan”, “Recycling”, “Maori Myths and Legends”, “The Sea”, “Native Birds of NZ”,“Fairytales” or whatever it is that takes you and your child/children’s fancy. This alleviates the “what’re we going to do today?” problem (especially in school holidays and at weekends) and focuses on learning about one thing in depth (you learn too). You then brainstorm everything you could possibly think of to do that’s related to that topic. I’ve found it simple, but very effective over the years.
Another thing we do in our family and which is good if, like us you have more than one or two children, are “Mum and Dad Dates”: this is where we get a babysitter for the other children and take one child out for one on one time with Mum and Dad (sometimes it might be only Mum or only Dad). Our kids love this and we enjoy the chance to see each one as an individual, away from the “big noisy” family.
Anchor your children in their own “Forever Years” by sharing stories of your family, including those who have now passed on. Show pictures, if you have them, attend family reunions and anchor your child in who they are. In Vietnam there were “death days” (I attended some of these: I particularly remember one for a good friend’s grandmother). On these days, which are on the anniversary of the passing of a particular family member, the person who died is remembered and the family gather for food and sharing stories of the deceased member. So long as there is still someone alive who can remember that person, their death day is observed. Foster children or adopted children can also gain a sense of mana (pride) in who they are and where their roots lie: indeed this is especially important when they have been unable to live with biological parents.
“We’re all someone’s daughter
We’re all someone’s son…”
—You’re The Voice John Farnham
Support your children to become independent and self-disciplined and to connect and engage with the world (especially important for shy children and/or only children). Encourage them to take pride in being a capable part of our global family, rather than seeing themselves as the centre of the universe. Don’t see your children as mini versions of yourself—your interests and theirs may be completely different. Encourage empathy and show empathy yourself: be gentle when they make mistakes (this is really hard to do at times, believe me I know from experience). Tell funny stories from your own childhood or about things they did when they were younger.
I’ve shared just some ideas that I’ve found helpful in nurturing our children and there are thousands more out there. Remember, kids don’t have to have large amounts of money spent on them. Ours have had some of their best fun collecting things at the beach or making “huts” or “cars” or “spaceships” out of cardboard boxes from the supermarket.
In creating fun “Forever Years”, we relive the best times of our own childhoods and, whilst nurturing our children, we also nurture our own inner child. Children thrive with boundaries, structure and regularity. Sometimes “The Forever Years” can seem like forever in a negative sense when we are doing the same things over and over again (including the on-going cooking, cleaning, laundry, dishes and emptying out the rubbish) as well as trying to enforce boundaries and create structure (amidst what can at times seem like pure chaos). As parents we also need to ensure that we have some “down time” and not to be too proud to seek out resources and/ or help when we may need it. Accepting that everyone has their crazy days and that no one is a “super parent” helps too. Support other parents where you can, but also know your own limits and be kind to yourself. Make time for you and your partner/ spouse. Read, sing, play, learn, laugh and dance with your children. Look after your own physical and mental health so that you are better able to do these things. Savour “The Forever Years”. Have fun!
“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” ― Carl Sandburg
“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”
― Angela Schwindt