I became a mother earlier this year. Not long after I returned to work, I noticed the similarities between being a parent and being a futurist. Both are filled with uncertainty and mystery, and both require continuous learning. They can feel exciting, frustrating, fulfilling and disheartening, sometimes all at the same time. And in their best moments, they are both full of hope for what may be in store.
These connections were particularly potent as we worked Foundations for Flourishing Futures: A Look Ahead for Young Children and Families. A few lessons I have learned apply to both.
Too often, we do not recognize how the profound social, economic and technological changes underway will reshape children’s lives and our very understanding of what it means to be a child. Foundations for Flourishing Futures: A Look Ahead for Children and Families will help leaders across sectors navigate that gap, understand their own work in new ways and do their part to ensure that every child and family can flourish in the future.
Every issue is a children’s issue.
I knew that becoming a parent would change my perspective on my own choices and on how I see the world. However, I did not appreciate that the boundaries between my role as a parent, as a professional, as a woman or as a member of society would often feel nonexistent. I make decisions wearing all of those hats at once because those areas of my life are not as separate as they may seem.
Similarly, the boundaries among the domains of our world – social, cultural, technological, economic, environmental and political – are blurry at best. We often try to define children’s and families’ issues narrowly, considering their needs only for certain issues such as education or parental leave. Is the health of the planet, racial justice, the design of cities or the extent to which we regulate technology any less relevant to the lives and futures of children and families?
Creating false separation among the interconnected aspects of our society can lead us to miss opportunities to support young children and families. It can also lead us to ignore how our choices in one domain could affect them in another and potentially perpetuate inequities for those who have the highest needs or who have historically been marginalized.
Some questions are unanswerable, but we should ask them anyway.
Why did my daughter sleep well two nights ago but not last night? How can I help her be a kind person? What do I need take on and what do I need to give up in order to make the world better for her and other children? None of these questions can be answered with certainty (especially not the first one), but I still find them useful to consider.
Luckily, I have had practice at grappling with uncertainty because that is what thinking about the future is all about. We will almost certainly be surprised by how the futures of young children and families unfold, and we can never know for sure how what we do today will affect tomorrow. Nonetheless, the sooner we start asking big questions and exploring possibilities for the future in all of its messiness, the sooner we can make better choices and take more informed action.
None of us should have to do it alone.
I am fortunate to live near several family members who have helped me in countless ways through early parenthood. Not only have they helped me with the practicalities of daily life; their presence and support have made this phase of life much richer and more meaningful for me than it might have otherwise been.
The same is true on a large scale, too. Organizations and individuals who work on behalf of children and families are too often working on their own, without the time, resources or incentives to work together. We need to seek one another out and forge new types of collaborations with new types of partners. If every issue is a children’s issue and if the future is complex and uncertain, we need the power of collective energy and effort to make real change. If we hope to see every young child and all families flourish, we must push back against the structures, systems, policies and norms that keep advocates of all kinds isolated from one another and in competition.
Whether as a parent, as a futurist, or as someone who cares about young children and families, we each have a responsibility to look ahead even as we attend to the urgent challenges and joyful moments of today. By considering changes on the horizon and taking them into account when we make decisions, we are acting on our hope for a future where every young child and all families can flourish.