Parenting Into The Void: Raising Children in a Time of Uncertainty

Looking out into it all

Village, have any of you out there thought of not having children because you authentically believe that the world is doomed to end in a fiery ball of madness before our grandchildren see their hair turn grey?

No? Just me?

If that thought makes you squirm, or if my words have you digging into your copy of The Big Book of Climate Change Denial, this may not be the post for you. But if there’s even a tiny bit of you that fears I may be onto something, please stay and keep me company! We may need a group hug after this. And if you stay with me, I promise, this will end less dour than it began. This post is of a different tone than my previous, more uplifting/ lighthearted/ optimistic posts. But it is also probably among the closest to my heart. Sorry not sorry that it’s a bit bleak. 

I was originally going to title this “parenting into the apocalypse”, but I am just not that certain that it’s all actually going to come to a cataclysmic end (See Eric? I have some optimistic bones in my body!!). The fact is, I just don’t know; I’m a bit of an Apocalypse Agnostic, really. From my vantage point, on my mini-acreage, with my 2 well-fed, well-adjusted children, my husband with his great job, and my deck with some wine in the sunshine, it seems absolutely ridiculous that we could be teetering on the brink of an environmental breakdown and the end of this chapter of human history.

But of course, someone living in sub-Saharan Africa or war-torn Syria right now (if they had the privilege to be able to contemplate the end of the world) might have a very different opinion on this.

These are things that keep me up at night:

  1. What kind of world am I leaving Juni and Kas to reckon with? How can I prepare them for this world when I don’t even know what it will look like?
  2. Is there anything that can be done to stop or slow the inevitable collapse of humanity? Is my protest against plastic straws and shopping bags and the fact that I grow my own food and harvest rainwater doing anything at all?
  3. How did I get so lucky as to be born into such privilege that I can think about these things from the comfort of my air-conditioned bedroom?

Have you read the New York Magazine’s piece “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells yet? Confession: prior to writing this post, I actually had only glanced at it, and was quickly turned inwards by a massive panic attack. But I finally read it. And it terrified me- did NOTHING to quiet the anxieties mentioned above. Please be aware here: I am a humanities teacher with three degrees, none of which are remotely science-based. I am not here for a scientific debate. I am simply pointing out some of the well-researched work that is being done by others. It may or may not come to fruition. That is not the focus of this article; it is a possibility, and I must wrestle with that.

Parenting into the Void - Raising Children in a Time of Environmental Uncertainty

The thesis of Wallace-Wells’ article is simple: “[A]bsent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.” Rising sea water, melting permafrost , air that kills, toxic oceans, the two degrees of global temperature rise that used to be the “catastrophic” scenario in scientific circles and is now the “best case” scenario… Wallace-Wells tosses these things into his article like seasonings into an Armageddon soup. He asserts that we are delusional if “we assume climate change will hit hardest elsewhere, not everywhere”. He refuses to comfort us, and  ends with an eerie nay-saying of the scientists who naively assert that we could invent a way out of this.

But I am not a pure pessimist, as I intimated above: I desperately WANT there to be a way out. I NEED there to be one because I just can’t imagine leaving my children to suffer in that kind of a world (and I know other people’s children are already suffering). It scrambles my brain and scratches my soul. So, even if the end is nigh, my fists are raised and I’m ready for a fight. I see your David Wallace-Wells and raise you a Joanna Macy.

Cedar tree + me

An article called “It Looks Bleak. Big Deal, it Looks Bleak” is my salvation from turning into a quivering mass of Sixth Extinction jelly. The article is based on a conversation between activist-author-Buddhist-philosopher Joanna Macy and the online publication Ecobuddhism. While many amongst us would solve our fear by either turning away or naively looking for a fairytale solution, Macy does neither. She suggests instead that we look this future dead in the eye, shrug our shoulders, and walk into the uncertainty of it all. She lists all of Wallace-Wells’ predictions in about 1/16th of the time he spends on describing their terrifying depths, and then says this of them:

“At any rate, I take all of these crises seriously and don’t argue with them. At the same time, I spend my life and breath to open our minds, and to change our heart-minds.”

It is THIS that I need to teach my children. No matter what the world hurls in their path- whether it is an infinitely heating climate or just their own disappointments and stumbles- I want to teach them to live with a heart that is open to others, and is resilient in its course. Macy calls engaging with the truth in an open manner “the work that re-connects” and we need others around us to do it. “People can graduate from their sense of isolation, into a realization of their inter-existence with all.” I want my children to actively work to deepen their relationship with themselves, their world, and the community they create around them. DESPITE the odds.

Parenting into the Void - Raising Children in a Time of Environmental Uncertainty- Child playing in nature

I will figure out how to teach my kids about what the world might be like in a way that is unflinching but will not terrify them or keep them up at night (more on how I might do this at a later time. All suggestions welcome). I will build a drive to be self-sufficient and never to sacrifice their spirit or the earth in order to satisfy their material needs. I will deepen their compassion and their commitment to fight despite the odds. We will find heroes and heroines who are rebels for justice, and who look to their Village for support in that. Macy’s words below capture the spirit of what I want to pass on to them:

“Yes, it looks bleak. But you are still alive now. You are alive with all the others, in this present moment. And because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart. And there’s such a feeling and experience of adventure. It’s like a trumpet call to a great adventure. In all great adventures there comes a time when the little band of heroes feels totally outnumbered and bleak, like Frodo in Lord of the Rings or Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress. You learn to say “It looks bleak. Big deal, it looks bleak.”

So, be Frodo, my babies. And I will walk with you until I can walk no more.

Joanna Macy asked participants in her workshop, many of whom feel pessimistic about the future of our planet the question, “What keeps you going?” So I ask you the same; what helps you continue to be a good person, to parent well, to find peace though things may look bleak? Please feel free to join the conversation in the comments section below! Or just say something warm and fuzzy. Because GROUP HUG.

In the words of my tiny dragon, who will be resilient and courageous and strong no matter what the future holds,

“Namaste to everyone, let the light shine through”.
My Signature


  1. colleen
    August 21, 2017

    The act of living is brave..however you decide to do it. To get up and go out there and try another day and see what impact you might have (or never see the impact you do have). Connecting with people is key. Our time is short (because of our time-limited lives and maybe because of our actions). Nudge, nudge and nudge again. Go out there and write, talk and teach and learn. That is how behaviours will change by awareness. I fall short in many efforts but I work on a new effort and another way that I think will help and am hopeful that others are doing the same.

    1. Bri
      August 22, 2017

      Thank you, Colleen! It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking our actions need to be grand sweeping gestures. One thing that got me from the NY Mag article is that those grand gestures will also fail. So what we are left with are the everyday brave acts, the “nudges”, and we must always pick ourselves back up when we stumble. And this is us defying the odds all the time, you are right: because living itself is an act of courage.

  2. Samantha
    August 22, 2017

    I love that you’ve written this. I think it’s a terror many people share and few wish to discuss because, well, it’s so terrifying. In the face of the awfulness of late, I’ve found myself feeling something new (something that doesn’t just veer between rage and terror), and that is maybe akin to what Macy is saying. I find myself thinking of all the people who live and have lived at times that seem to us inconceivably horrific and realising that my fear is itself, as you say here, a privilege. The privilege that the horrors are not a certainty, not a daily reality, that between us and these awful potentialities are the myriad beauties of our daily lives. To honour and enjoy those is a duty as well as a privilege. And then, organise. As to how to do that, well, I’m still figuring that out. And as for the worth of our personal acts? I wrestle with that all the time. I’m starting to feel like a lot of what people do is part of the problem rather than the solution, because we spend so much time and energy worrying about stuff that often boils down to aesthetics, and the morally salutary effects that aesthetic engagement with our world can bring. Something I want to work on is trying to worry less about my personal actions and more about getting involved with larger-scale activism. That said, the Kantian imperative, which I do believe in, says it’s still good to bring your own bags. Is it doing anything at all? In the big picture, probably not. But for a coherent sense of identity, yes, and that is valuable, especially while bringing up kids. Being as little a hypocrite as possible is a good thing around kids, I think. And also because, you know, if everyone stopped using plastic bags, that would be good, therefore, it’s good. Below, an article that might make you feel better and worse at the same time, on this topic.

    1. Bri
      August 30, 2017

      Thank you so much for your reply, friend. I know we are in this together. You get me, and to be understood is such a gift. “To honour and enjoy is a duty and a privilege”. YES. It is easy to become overtaken. And always we will wonder if our actions have weight. But we act regardless, and hopefully against the mere asthetics. I am so excited to read this article (it’s been a full on couple of weeks) … and I’m full of gratitude to walk beside such an articulate, brace, and thoughtful friend. (Ps: totally still dig the Kantian imperative; it’s aged well).

  3. Johanna
    August 23, 2017

    Thanks for posting this, Bri. I appreciated reading both pieces that you linked to, as well as the one that Sam referenced above. Fuck. What DO we do, as parents? For now, while our kids are young, I think we protect them. We allow them to live safely in magical worlds of their own creation. As they grow older, we nurture resilience in any way possible. Spiritual resilience, emotional resilience, and physical resilience. I want my kids to feel connected to a greater spiritual whole, and have practices that bring them inner peace and clear minds. I want them to feel a connection to nature and the earth, so that their moral compasses guide them toward environmentally ethical decision-making. And I want them to have comfort and competence with wild edibles, bush skills, and living on the land so that if the situation becomes dire, they will have at least some skills to lean on. Will this be enough? Probably not. But we don’t know, so we just have to do what feels right. And just as Joanna Macy said, there is joy in this. It brings me much inspiration and light to be in the privileged role of shaping human lives. What a gift.

    1. Bri
      August 30, 2017

      Thank you so much Jo. I really like your response… because allowing them to rest in the “magic” of their childhoods is what my instincts tell me to do. And because I think developing a sense of safety, wholeness, and connection is what will create resilience down the road. We have this gift, this ability to create safety and magic for our kids. Many do not. And we might not always: it is clear that you don’t take this privilege for granted, and that you are creating such a rich and gorgeous life for your family. With an eye to the possible outcomes, this is all we can do for now. In fact, it is what we MUST do.

  4. Elizabeth
    August 26, 2017

    Yous are braver than me. To a certain extent, I find my self burying my head in the sand. I know the predictions from the headlines but I usually avoid reading more. Yes I do lots of nudging the effects of which I am told are negligible but it’s still the right thing to do. Telling my grandson to turn off the tap while brushing his teeth to not waste water is teaching him something valuable.
    While our kids were young, there was nothing cataclysmic on the horizon, but I remember the threat of nuclear annihilation when I was a little girl…the “under the desk” drills, the big sirens you still see on the sides of churches. The fear (but not really fear for me) came from the outside though, not from within our home from what I remember. I honestly don’t know what my parents thought about this threat. As first generation immigrants starting with nothing were they just focused on surviving or were they purposely shielding us from political events? I’m glad that I felt protected at home and as Joanna said, this is what we need to do. Of course this is what we need to do but what about ourselves? It’s hard to be optimistic at times and in these times. I think that’s why I try not to think about it too much and to enjoy the joys of the moments. I must admit that all the brilliant and beautiful red sunsets we have been having are tinged with worry about the wildfires but that all gets eclipsed when I watch my grandson “ballet” dancing in a tutu. I can continue my day with a smile on my face.

  5. Kristin
    September 11, 2017

    Thanks so much for writing this. I wrestle with these worries every day and it’s hard to find a safe space to talk about it. I have moments that just gut me when I imagine my girls at my age… even more reluctant than me to embrace parenthood because of the state of the world. It’s nice to read this and feel a little less alone.

    1. Bri
      September 12, 2017

      Aw, thank you for the words, Kristin… There is really nothing any of us can say that can alleviate the discomfort/ terror (depending on the day!), but I do think it’s so important to talk about. My biggest challenge is not becoming immobilized by it, but to find the charge within the struggle that can move me forward. I guess at the end of the day, that charge is actually my love for my kids, and love for this planet… and I’ll let that propel me when fear threatens to overcome. Let’s continue this conversation! I’ve got a couple of follow-up articles planned:)


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