Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers
In the beginning of Parenting for Peace, Dr. Axness informs us that mammals in the wild are not a violent species, and have never been prone to violence of any type. She ponders why human mammals have turned out to be so violent, stating, "Staggering evidence of human and planetary strife is scattered across the globe.... along with our late-model cars and flat-screen TVs, the U.S. has more violence and higher murder rates than any Western European country, and by far the highest incarceration rate in the world." Because of rampant violence and strife in the U.S., Dr. Axness is determined that we stem the tide and reverse course. In Parenting for Peace, she describes how children can be raised to be peacemakers. But what is peacemaking, how do you achieve it, and what are the gifts that individuals, families, and societies attain from peacemaking?
Becoming a peacemaker seems quite simple really. Parents practice peacemaking skills as described in this book and children spontaneously become peacemakers in the process, and in their own unique way. In other words, children learn what they live in relation to mother and father, who act as models, and then carry out the principles taught that positively impact violence. But being a peacemaking parent is not always easy. For some the process becomes a "hero's journey" that challenges lifestyle, deeply impacts one's psyche, requires dealing with childhood memories, and for some with great resolve, results in joy at the end. Peacemaking parents need to be aware and present for their children, and love them as they are, as much or more than for what they do.
Peacemaking parents have a deep trust in nature's plan. Their job is to step aside in amazement at the unfolding, rather than to focus on shaping what is to happen. The book is a thorough solution to the problem of violence. Peacemaking relations between parents and children create the inner conditions where violence cannot exist in the first place. Peace and peacefulness are much more than the absence of aggression. Peacemaking children are nonviolent to be sure, but they possess essential qualities of empathy, compassion, self regulation, self knowledge, self esteem, playfulness, and creativity. They are personally and socially aware, responsible, and in tune with their own unique nature.
Parenting for Peace teaches and guides parents in peacemaking skills for all major life stages from pre-conception through adolescence. Parents can walk through the stages as they raise their children. For the major stages, Axness provides practical exercises in parenting, self experiences in human consciousness, mental exercises to stretch perceptions, and alter negative belief systems, thought provoking anecdotes, and enlightening vignettes to bring about an understanding of what peacemaking is all about. She cycles readers through seven principles; presence, awareness, rhythm, example, nurturance, trust, and simplicity. The first letters for each of the seven principles form the word, PARENTS; an easy way to recall and enact the principles. One longs for the kind of parent that Axness envisions, and we are forever renewed, inspired, and changed by the experience.
Axness provides life-changing research from medical science, regularly using this research to demonstrate that how children and adults behave depends on how their brains were programmed (hardwired) when they were small, especially very small. Depending on the absence or presence of parenting skills in peacemaking, the brains of children can be wired for peace or violence. She says, "heartened by the promise of simple principles backed by leading-edge research, parents can feel confident in their ability to raise children who are hardwired for peace."
The excitement and hope for peacemaking children is accelerated when Axness describes and incorporates the concept of "epigénesis." Epigenetics is a discipline that explores the environmental factors that can change genetic structure and encoding. This means that life experiences can change heredity so that humans are not entirely dependent on how they were programmed by the combination of genes they received from their parents. Axness states, "Epigenetics recognizes that DNA is not the grand destiny maker of life after all, and identifies the mechanisms by which environmental signals can change the action of our genes; an unthinkable concept even just a generation ago."
The book brilliantly synthesizes research from a myriad of fields including attachment psychology, developmental neurobiology, epigenetics, cell biology, prenatal psychology, birth psychology, child development, and consciousness research. In Parenting for Peace, Axness charts a compelling and engaging roadmap through various life stages, particularly the earliest because they are the times when children are the neediest and the most receptive for parenting-forpeace input. Many of the principles and approaches could and should be applied to education, developmental psychology, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, medicine, social work, and other human services.
My personal experience of cycling through all the steps in the seven principles, the medical science, and the epigenetic emphasis, was deeply enveloping and moving; something akin to navigating an ever deepening labyrinth of experience and understanding about a new way of raising and educating the children of the world. I felt an increasing crescendo of hope and joy in the vast potential for our children and the children of our children in the twenty-first century and beyond with this book as a guide. It's wonderful to imagine what our children are able to become as one reads this exquisite and timely book.
Did I say how much I loved this book, and how much it's changed my life? Just reading through The Enchanted Years, which I was not privy to, provided a model for parenting that changed my inner child and rewired some of the desolation I encountered during those years. I can't recommend this book enough. It is a pleasure to read, and it provides essential information for being and becoming more peaceful and enlightened parents and human beings. Thank you Marcy!