One approach: rearing future peacemakers
``A lot of people think that peace is a quiet thing, with no arguing or disagreements. But just try working out your differences together and you'll find the truth - peacemaking is noisy,'' says Barbara Oehlberg, parenting educator in the Cleveland public schools and a coordinator for Parenting for Peace and Justice, an outgrowth of the Institute for Peace and Justice in St. Louis. Mrs. Oehlberg and others associated with the organization believe that families need to withstand the noise to produce peacemakers needed ``to be leaders in a global society.''
Right now, she says, ``every major institution in our society, including the family, is based on the model of authority - you either obey or you disobey. You either win or you lose. How long can we afford to go on with that strategy?''
Parenting for Peace and Justice promotes a model for families based on justice, where children are offered a plethora of choices and taught to negotiate their differences. Learning to make choices and work out squabbles makes children into problem solvers, she says - and problem solvers, she believes, are peacemakers.
Offering choices is not permissive parenting, says Oehlberg, herself a mother of seven. Children aren't given choices like whether or not they want to go to school.
``You can ask if they want to put on their boots or their coats first,'' she points out. ``There are many ways you can get choice into their lives.''
And the choices should be ``perceived as advantageous,'' she says. ``A choice between cleaning up your room, taking time out, or doing chores is not a choice, but a manipulation tool.''
A willingness to trust your children's ability to solve their own problems can be difficult to generate, particularly when they're quite young, or when they're teen-agers, says Oehlberg.
``It's best to start when they're preschoolers with little choices - chocolate or vanilla ice cream,'' she says. ``If you start when they're 10, things have already crystallized. You won't be able to change patterns of communication overnight, or just by reading a book - it will take months to get used to it,'' she says.
Teaching children the use of negotiating skills may prevent much of the rebellion common to the adolescent years, some experts believe.
``It's clear to educators that the more input children have into the whole family decisionmaking process, the less denial of family values you find in adolescent years,'' says Carol Rose Ikeler, director of the Presbyterian Office of Family Ministries and co-author with Katherine Thorensen of a study on parenting techniques.
Jim McGinnis, founder of the Institute for Peace and Justice, found this confirmed in his own experience. ``I come from an authoritarian family,'' he says, ``and it was hard for me as a father to learn to negotiate with my children instead of just demanding obedience.''
Still, he admits, children sometimes test the limits just to know where those limits are and how firmly you stand by them. In those circumstances, he says, ``we explain our reasons for the rule and then tell them, `This is the way it is; we're not going to budge.'''
But it's important to listen to the child's side, he emphasizes, and ``see if you can find alternatives.'' He gives the example of his 14-year-old son, who wanted to stay home while the McGinnises went on a lecture tour - a request that was denied.
``His reason was to take a long baby-sitting job that weekend,'' Mr. McGinnis explains, ``so we arranged for him to stay with that family as an alternative.''
With his wife, Kathleen, McGinnis wrote a book called ``Parenting for Peace and Justice'' (Orbis Books, $9.95), describing what they've learned raising their three children, along with tips from other parents who try to nurture peacemaking at home.
McGinnis believes that the ``global family is tied to the nuclear family, and vice versa,'' and works to include his children in his work for social action. Some of this is as simple as choosing toy trucks and Play Doh over violence-related toys, or praying together as a family over a community issue. But the McGinnis family has also delivered toys to inner-city community centers, brought food to homeless shelters, and watched courtroom proceedings together. Throughout all these experiences, the McGinnises try to nurture their children's willingness and ability to make peace. McGinnis outlines four main avenues for this nurturing process:
Creating an affirmative environment at home, where family members nurture good feelings about one another. ``Nobody goes out into the larger world to be peacemakers if they don't feel good about themselves,'' he says. Part of this affirmative environment includes helping children to accept cultural differences by bringing people of different backgrounds into your home.
Promoting cooperative behavior, by offering both choices and opportunities for negotiating. ``It helps if you can get the kids to work together, doing chores or having family nights, fix-it nights, game nights,'' he says.
Teaching conflict-resolution skills. McGinnis gives the example of a situation most parents will find familiar - the messy room. ``Ask if the child wants to talk about it with you or the whole family first,'' he says. ``Then state your concerns - why are you bothered by his messy room? Is it a problem for him?''
This can get into sticky dialogue, he admits, with parents carefully examining their motives (do you want it clean to show order, or just so it will look nice to you?). Once you've agreed on the problem, ``generate possibilities for ways to overcome the problem,'' he suggests. A last warning: ``Be as clear as possible about your expectations - don't just say, `I want it clean'; say, `I want the clothes picked up, the bed made, and the toys put away.'''
Holding regular family meetings, in which you can discuss and negotiate anything pertinent to living together as a family. McGinnis says ``we're down to once a week on this, finally.'' In his family, the agenda stays on the refrigerator for a week and anyone can add anything to the three sections - fun, problems, and outreach to others.