In my parenting journey I have been very impressed (and in some ways re-parented) by my children's teachers. The first was Margaret, who runs her preschool with more sweeping vision than most universities I've been fortunate enough to attend.
Margaret taught me, through observing her with preschool children, how very important circle time is. Circle time is not just a group meeting, circle time is a developmental moment in a child's life when the individual, in all of his or her sparkling glory, has to plant his or her behind on the carpet and join the group.
In a culture that places so much emphasis on the individual, from special needs to gifted, it was Margaret who showed me the profound importance of beginnings when it comes to the group.
Young kids do not learn from explanations, they learn from example, particularly by what grown-ups value with their attention. When a teacher values the group, children learn that the group is important.
Having run groups as a psychologist, I have learned that the initial, and probably most daunting, challenge facing any would-be group is the task of actually becoming a group.
Before we can hope to effectively parent our collective children to be their unique and beautiful selves and be part of something bigger that they can come to trust as fair, nourishing and important, we grown-ups probably need to circle back and do the same.
Like a wedding ring that symbolizes eternity, lacking beginning and ending, perhaps our relationship to each other as parents is like circle time. We may all have different perspectives and agendas but in truth we share a world whether or not we act like it; and we share a love for our children.
Perhaps the big shift that parenting yearns for has something to do with our own sense of community and shared purpose, for parenting offers a unique opportunity to find common ground with others who may differ on so many points, but not on love for our children.
Of course we all love our children. It's when we learn to love each others' children that we take a quantum leap in maturing as a culture.
We parents seem to have missed circle time, instead shouting out all at once with no one quite feeling heard much less confident that snack-time will include them if they don't fight for that snack. The quiet kids have retreated to the corners and the idiot wind blows hard. Perhaps you know what I mean?
When an individual stands up and declares that she has a dream (whatever that dream may be), she can be shot down, but when the quiet crowd awakens to its own soft, powerful and loving heart there is no one person to stop and then love proves unstoppable.
While you come across these words in the middle of a sea of too much information, only you know whether you are manically trying to get more attention yourself, or if you are truly excited about joining the group toward some greater, fairer and more compassionate good.
When we have grown old we will be very glad if we have engendered in our children a circle-time mentality rather than furthered the gladiator pit ethic.
David Mamet says of writing characters in plays: "Want something or go home."
While conflict and drama make for good plays, when it comes to building community and parenting children perhaps we can go with: Be kind, polite, fair and honest or go home.
How might our world be if these factors were to trend as socially expected ways to behave? Perhaps it's up to us to quietly find out.