Child and family


Free to be

Every now and then something surprising pops up from an unexpected source, colouring a vision for the future. Gratitude can do that for us.

In this case the surprise came from a black African former refugee who had been granted Australian residency.  While his name escapes me at the moment, as does the television show on which he appeared, I am sure we will hear more from him.

Having spent years in a refugee camp, eventually making it to Australia, he had secured a job, accommodation and a new life. His main message to all his fellow travellers and to us was that he was no longer a refugee but a resident contributor to Australia, ever grateful for the chance of a new life this country had bestowed.

The fellow was concerned with questionable claims of racism and victimhood projected in the media by ethnic youth gangs raging across cities and suburbs. With support from his work colleagues and community he was reaching out to those of ethnicity feeling disenfranchised to undertake a similar psychological transformation – from refugee/victim to becoming free and grateful contributors.

The message that they are free – free to take charge of their lives and make of life what they choose – is being voiced by more considered media as we are being besieged by Marxist leaders and ‘useful idiots’ of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and around the world.

Western civilization is under threat from within and without. Yet even in its imperfection, democracy continues to evolve and people can have a say, unlike in Marxist/socialist cultures BLM seeks to advance. Little do they understand the irony that once achieved, the protests and riots they espouse would not be allowed. Revolutionaries tend to consume their own, as the death of 100 million over the last century attests. Perhaps knowledge of history or a visit to Marxist countries or corrupt African dictatorships would clarify whether gratitude rather than contempt should be afforded Australia and the USA for democratic, capitalist advances on the countries of origin (e.g. Africa) or ambition (communist China, Venezuela). An entirely new vision could be formed. We could be spared the wanton destruction.

Personal gratitude

The personal becomes the political, ultimately influencing a community of interest, so it is wise to reflect on how grateful we are no matter how poor or wealthy our circumstances. Alternatively we can slide into bitterness, victimhood, helplessness or greed, when, with a slight change in attitude to gratitude, like our former refugee, we could become a grateful contributor.

Saying grace before a meal may have become passé as the practice of religion has declined and family meals around a table have been replaced by a bucket of KFC or pizza in front of the TV. Yet a family I know asks all present at a meal to nominate three things for which they are grateful that day. Gratitudes mentioned may be for food, providers of the meal, minor successes, the companionship and consideration of others. Tenor of conversation changes family dynamics for the better.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough. This message is true whether one is poor on benefits, or well off, ever grasping for better home, car, assets, status and money.

Victimhood is not a healthy position for someone receiving the largesse of public housing, free healthcare and services, as well as discounts and other benefits. Gratitude to the taxpayers who fund the benefits would more likely mean the funds would be well spent.

Similarly, a healthier appreciation of the present and vision for the future could be formed with more modest aspirations flowing from a spirit of gratitude for what fills our present, than the relentless pursuit of more to advance assets and status to dull the hollowness within.

The Gift Box

In the dynamics of generosity, awareness of the gift and benefits bestowed is a prerequisite to the ability to express gratitude.

Australia’s provision of generous welfare benefits, though never enough (the poor will be with you always), can tend towards entitlement, diminishing awareness.

As mentioned in my book Becoming, when explaining the dynamics of giving under the heading of The Gift Box (p40),

Moral imperatives imposed only on the “need to give” cause imbalance when there is no concomitant expectation of appropriate response from those who “receive”, in whatever form.

The pool of productive “givers” may shrink in a selfish self-absorbed world should there be little to no evidence of the worth of giving.

Explanation of the 3rd and 4th quadrants of The Gift Box diagram cite the lack of awareness of the value of what has been received and even hostility towards the givers, whether taxpayers or “the rich”. Productive change is impeded all round.  Gratitude, the quality of being thankful, the readiness to show appreciation and to return kindness is the missing element.

Measured against my Maturity Model, continuous giving without change, in these circumstances, leads to loss of wholeness and maturity of both parties. The “rights” of the audience to wallow in dysfunction may be respected, along with their “rights” to wear the consequences. The generous can also choose to take their gifts elsewhere to more productive pastures.

That is why it is so refreshing and inspiring to hear the story of the African refugee who has become a grateful contributor to Australia. Our gift of residency to him has been transformed into a spirit of generativity, reaching out to influence others from the refugee community. At the same time, his gratitude has proven a dynamic gift multiplier, as his workmates and the community around him have rallied to his cause. Therein lays disparity between ingratitude and gratitude.

Let us be grateful for what we have today, the blessing of being enough.

Child and family

Mothers’ Day

Vibrancy of my mother Nelly Dean, super athlete, shines through in this picture.
Nelly Dean, athletic star

On Mothers’ Day, many like me find themselves reflecting on the lives of their own mother and the impact she had on our lives over and above giving us life.

My own mother, born Nelly Dean, was one of a kind who thought outside the box, was smart, vibrant, athletic, witty and capable of clear insight into people and situations. She passed on behavioural as well as biological genes.

It took discernment and effort before I could separate the accuracy of her perceptions from her volatility that left so many diminished and me embarrassed.

Over years I worked out how to express a different perspective with respect. My philosophy developed as a result, to ‘make enquiry before accusation’, invariably leads to a richer understanding of context, better information and often self-disclosure by the people in question. All parties are able to mature through the process.

Marriage and motherhood

My father, Allan Petersen and his brothers were swimming and lifesaving legends of Maroochydore Surf Lifesaving Club, the brothers often comprising the majority of members of their champion R&R team. My parents may have met at a State Surfing championship when Allan won the surf race and Nelly the beach sprint.

It was hardly a marriage made in heaven, when Allan took his city savvy bride to live on a farm in the bush. In a short space of time this athletic couple produced one son and eight daughters, as people did in those days. Black humour prevailed: we joke we were all the result of arguments, of which there were plenty, born of mum’s frustration. My mother was no farmer’s wife to be limited by petty, small town politics. Her entrepreneurial spirit tried starting a shop, marketing baby clothes and applying her sports administration expertise to involvement in the local school.

Producing children so often distracted from raising them. We children lived a free-range life roaming local water holes to swim, picnicking in the bush, boiling the billy and helping ourselves to wild fruit – mangoes, guavas, raspberries and gooseberries – all while maintaining high academic achievement. In an era of short-back-and-sides authoritarianism post WWII, our mother was an outlier. Only when our parents parted and we returned to the city did Nelly become revitalized.

Learning and applying

While some family members defaulted to learned behaviours, I knew that if another generation of brains was not to be limited, things needed to change.

In addition to learning how to manage conflictual situations more graciously, if imperfectly, I learned that raising children free range certainly produced resilience and initiative in children, though not the discipline and direction necessary to capitalise on inherent talents to become their best selves.

Conversely, authoritarianism had value in maintaining discipline and conformity, though hampered creativity and initiative essential to becoming a whole productive, contributing person capable of being responsible for one’s own life direction.

Both realisations influenced my own parenting efforts, which focused on developing autonomy: sufficient discipline to maintain reasonable order, yet scope to gain competence in making decisions to equip them for life. Furthermore, providing experiences and support for academic achievement, culture and sport broadened their outlook and expanded networks that enabled them to be comfortable in the company of people at any strata of society. To their credit, each child has picked up and run with the opportunities provided.

Those who have read my book Becoming will recognise the philosophy encapsulated in Chapter 4 Making Straight the Way and in my Maturity Model for decision making.

The Next Generation

Nelly’s spirit shines through in my five children, each of whom is bold enough to step up and ‘have a crack’ at innovation and enterprise , taking it further to convert insight into action, to plan, strive and finish – all attractive attributes in business, work and society. Thank you, Mum. And thank you family.

On Mother’s Day I also claim some credit as a mother for having enabled my offspring to advance to a higher level of performance that had not been possible for me under the stress of poverty, ill-discipline and the need to get out to work early to earn money that coloured my own youth. In comparison they have been privileged. In many ways, on countless occasions, they have shown their gratitude – treasures remembered and savoured.

Extended education and social understandings improved through post-war stability tends to encourage criticism of those who came before. Today, rapid changes in communications technology and decades of uninterrupted economic advancement have altered our understanding and appreciation of elders and their values of respect and good manners. What we have gained in wealth and technology we seem to have lost in respect, resilience and good grace.

Chronological snobbery (condescension towards earlier generations) has emerged strongly in the era of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Communications are mostly horizontal – across a peer group, leading to pooled ignorance – rather than longitudinally, across generations to glean wisdom. Misunderstandings result. Elders’ relative ineptitude with technology can often see them dismissed as not very smart, though an older person’s life experience and wisdom could add value to many family situations – if welcomed and if precious off-screen time allowed.

Diminishing the value of elders should lead today’s busy mothers (and fathers) to consider how their children may ultimately treat them.

Ties that bind

To parents and grandparents, a new baby is a source of precious wonder, joy and delight. Merely by coming into being the new baby evokes love and hope for the life to be fulfilled that helps to overcome difficulties of adjustment that must be managed on the way to a new state of family.

For mothers, love continues throughout the child’s life. Regardless of the number of children, the ups and downs of family relationships and rivalries, mothers never cease loving and wondering about the wellbeing of their offspring wherever they are in the world, as they stand willing to assist where ever they can. Hurts can be mended, reparation made and peace restored.

Celebrating Mother’s Day with a phone call, a visit or a bunch of flowers in this COVID world marks a measure of respect and gratitude for the love, loyalty and leaven that a mother has invested in family.

That is true of my mother Nelly. It is true of me. And the same love and loyalty repeats in the next generation.

May all mothers be blessed with kindness this Mothers’ Day and beyond.

Child and family, Communication

A little more conversation

(Photo and pottery by Jan Hammond:

The Oxford dictionary definition of conversation is:

“A talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged”

Late Middle English (in the sense ‘live among, be familiar with’): from Old French converser, from Latin conversari ‘keep company (with’), from con– ‘with’ + versare, frequentative of vertere ‘to turn’.

Even from the 17th Century derivative, conversation is understood as being “with” others, engaged in an “exchange” of news and ideas. Implicit in our understanding, in order to engage in conversation, we would necessarily be “present” to another, aware, listening and open to exchange, able to be influenced. In effect, a true understanding of what is conversation presumes we have become accomplished in the enduring young adult competencies of intimacy and mutuality. Can this be achieved through Facebook, Text or Twitter?

The speed of social change has been so dramatic, we have not yet had time to step back to assess what the rapid change in technology means in our lives. Seeking personal affirmation from the virtual world in the number of Facebook “friends”, “likes”, shares and retweets, while satisfying in the short-term, may have longer term implications for our ability to deal with the difficulties and the possibilities of the real world.

Young adult tasks for all

Technology aside, for beneficial conversation we still need to develop competency in the young adult resources of intimacy and mutuality. Refreshing those skills from time to time helps draw us out of patterns of self-absorption and righteous authority as we get older and relationships change.

In their book, Christian Life Patterns, EE and JD Whitehead say flexibility and tolerance are important in developing and strengthening the resources of intimacy in the broader social context of close friendship, group solidarity, sexual love, social experiences of cooperation and competition, combative relationships, inspiring encounters with others and the experience of intuition from within oneself. Intimacy, the Whiteheads say, involves an overlapping of space, a willingness to be influenced and openness to the possibility of change. There is a risk in sharing. Only a strong and flexible identity can move towards true intimacy.

In developing competence in intimacy, we confront the need to reconcile the risk of being changed as we are drawn towards self-disclosure, perhaps coming to a different awareness of ourselves. Should we maintain a rigidly defined identity prone to isolation, mutuality essential to good conversation, becomes unlikely. Premature “identity foreclosure” of either too diffuse or too rigid personal identity leaves little room for self-exploration essential to achieving competence in intimacy required in a mature adult.

Information can be shared easily on Facebook, text and email. True enriching engagement with others, especially others beyond immediate peers, requires deeper personal development to enrich the present by drawing from elders and others to create a vision for the future and avoid errors of the past.


Conversation is more difficult in a post-truth world inhabited by Millenials, where communication is horizontal between peers, disconnected from less technically competent olds, who struggle to gain a level of competence with the iPads, emails and smart phones. Nowhere is post truth malaise more evident as in a study showing 62% Millennials believe socialism to be a preferable form of governance, as found in a recent in-depth survey of those born between the 1980’s to 2000.

Quite unbelievably few Millennials surveyed were aware of dictatorial communist and socialist leaders and their impact – Hitler, Mao, Lenin, Stalin and Pol Pot. Ignorance may be a function of educational focus on global warming, gender fluidity, #me and black arm band virtue signaling. Yet, rule under ‘fairer’ socialist ideals cost the lives of over 100 million people in the 20th Century, destroying the fabric of families, communities, economies and countries. Negative outcomes from socialism are recent enough for older people to remember the horrors, never to be revisited, despite the limitations of democracy and capitalism.

Socialism is merely one area Millennials’ might and power of communication competence tends to override the wisdom of previous experience. Rigid unwillingness to be open to the truth, limits growth to maturity and capacity for true engagement in meaningful conversation.

The Essentials

Not all conversations are deep and meaningful: casual exchange of information and arrangements form the bulk of conversations. However most of us have had the experience of coming away from a conversation disillusioned, disheartened or dismayed and wondered why, what happened?

For a conversation to be beneficial, elements that come into play to some degree include, and are not limited to:

  • Presence – Participants in a conversation need to be present to one another, i.e. open and aware of others, rather than preoccupied with a particular device as in the illustration above, or impatient to get back to it. A woman who went to considerable effort to prepare a home cooked meal for her extended family swore “no more” after everyone attending was consumed with their devices and none showed interest in, or appreciation for, the meal or for each other. Co-dependence on technology has major negative impact on relationship quality and meaningfulness.
  • Listening – It’s important to be predisposed to hear what others may have to say, open to hearing the end of the comment before jumping in with whatever may be on our mind.
  • Honesty – Good communication builds on honesty and trust. We need to be humble and courageous enough to be honest, even if it means owning up to our own limitations.
  • Pride – Pride of sensitivity tends to be affirmed as virtuous by the prevailing outrage industry, yet those who are easily offended suffer poor self-esteem, making it difficult to have a one-to-one conversation, unconsciously controlling what may be said to them and how. Those imbued with pride of authority tend to discourage alternative points of view that might be enlightening and enriching. Being the sole authority is hardly conducive to lively conversation. I have been turned off by people who have been unnecessarily accusing and bullying.

Reflecting on conversation’s essentials, we can see the importance of achieving competence in the young adult tasks of intimacy and mutuality, as well as refreshing those resources at other stages of life, if we are to be enriched in communication with others, technology aside.


We are all social beings who have an inborn need to mix with others. How well we do that depends on how well we converse, so it is worth putting some effort and consideration into improvement.

Respect for others also helps, regardless of their age, as everyone has a story.  Fun, Friendship and Fellowship over 40 Years, a book produced by Di Perkins, proves as much. Di interviewed the remaining 40 women of a group of 80, who began meeting once a week 40 years ago. While at first the women were reluctant to share, Di’s willingness to listen carefully enabled gems of life stories to be captured that otherwise would have disappeared. Having been listened to and have their stories and precious photos brought to print has been an enriching and cohesive experience for them, even after so many years.

Others develop rules for enriching relationships. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban maintain the spirit of their relationship by choosing not to text each other. All conversations are person-to-person, by phone or skin-to-skin, underpinning the importance of being present and truly listening.

Technology has also enriched our lives in so many ways. We are still trying to work out how to capitalise on the advantages while fostering healthy relationships and conversation. For technology to become a valuable servant, rather than a means of enslavement and co-dependence, we may need to marry the wisdom of the olds with the technical competence of the young. Conversation will help.



Child and family, Uncategorized

What Value a Child?

Like everything in this era of unprecedented prosperity, the manner of caring for children is evolving. Prosperity has furnished us with longer lives, greater comfort, better education (longer anyway), health care and sanitation. Choice, enabled by more reliable contraception, means today’s families have fewer children: the current average of 1.9 differs greatly from the nine my parents produced.

Back then (when I was a boy!) limited resources meant that sharing was implicit and known, not a behavioural performance to be addressed by a set age. Everyone had responsibilities they were expected to pick up, otherwise be subject to sibling ‘nudging’ of one kind or another. Slackers “copped it”! Resilience toughened character to be ready for the world of service and work. Many did work on farms or in family businesses, where they added value and their learning was extended.

Over a century there has been an extraordinary expansion of the dominion of the knowledge class of experts since Freud and others struggling with sexual identity contested ideas about mental and developmental health. Caring for the precious child can now be cloaked in anxiety, clouding natural love and intuitive care. Is there a preschool child out there without a labelled “condition”?

The Child in Industrialisation

Focus on the health and wellbeing of the child hearkens back to an earlier era when children worked long and hard tending the looms of industry and cleaning the chimneys for the industrializing powers. Activists like Dickens and Shaftsbury were concerned for the children themselves, publicizing their plight and influencing social change. Industrialists were concerned that child deformity resulting from the long hours of tedious, repetitive work would leave them without able bodied adult workers.

Conditions meant that women’s health was also poor; infant mortality rated between 40%-80%; and diseases (respiratory, lead poisoning, tetanus and diphtheria) were rife. Industrialisation brought affluence that enabled women to leave the labour market to care better for themselves and their children. With affluence, families bought space (as they still do today) relieving the crowded living conditions that harboured illness. With a mother at home to care for it, the child became a focus of special love and care.

The child in the domestic and social economy

Much is said about the “harm” resulting from the separation of women from the labour market. Yet the failure to celebrate what women achieved during that time up into the 70s, means the value of those achievements (nurturing healthy children, an extended term and quality of life, better health care and education) remain unrecognized and uncelebrated, as women are affirmed and rewarded by returning to the market place.

The wave of 70’s and 80’s feminism saw “the family as hostile to women”, shifting the focus from the child to women themselves. Feminists’ aggressive agenda comprised factors that they believe hindered women’s equality with men: equal pay; equal access to education, politics and business; abortion, maternity leave and childcare. Any children produced were to be educated and paid for by the state (and influenced by their Marxist propaganda). Those who cared for their own children were treated with contempt, as being “unproductive”. Punitive financial penalties sought to coerce them into “work”. Feminist attitudes were particularly galling for older women who had diligently cared for large families that had been encouraged. They had not had the opportunity for education and privilege more lately available from progressive policies and extended prosperity.

Value on the light side

A much longer life and fewer children, or no children, means women can now attain the equality of opportunity they sought. Producing and socialising a child may mean only a short time out of a long life of self-interest.

Smaller families lead to more intense concentration on the child, with potential for over-indulgence; and feminist self-absorption.

Images of my new grandson, William, are what comes to mind when considering the value of a child – all clean, vibrant, glowing in good health and loved to bits. He reminds me of how I treasured my own children (and still do). William represents all that is good in a child, to be loved, enjoyed and celebrated now, for what they are at this moment. His presence strengthens family bonds and evokes a whole new level of maturity in the adults that surround him – a leaven of happiness.

But that’s not all! In the continuity of life, William also represents affirmation of the value of the life of his parents and grandparents, as well as a promise for the future that depends on the continuity of love and care he receives.

Families surrounding William add value to the local and national social and financial economy, as they become positive contributors to society, their capability reaching out to help others.

Where government agencies support the early care of the child in transition to family, in education and health care, life is at equilibrium. The value of a child well cared for becomes self-evident at every level of understanding.

Value on the dark side

Not every child’s future is as promising as William’s. Some children are challenged to overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles that crush prospects. Mostly this occurs when ownership of a child is assumed, rather than ownership of responsibility for the child’s care and wellbeing. The dark side of a child’s value is exposed in the consequences of adult behaviour when the child is:

  • Neglected – Co-dependent parents self-indulging in drinking, drugs, gambling and online gaming can lead to bad habits in the child, starvation and death; often also means serial disruption and interrupted education, limiting prospects;
  • Abused – Subject to physical, emotional and sexual abuse in prostitution, extended families and indigenous communities; food traded for sex by international Aid agencies;
  • Weaponised – Used against partners to control, spite and gouge in family breakdown; and against grandparents for real or perceived offences;
  • Loaded with responsibility – Unrealistic expectations for performance and service above the age, stage or capability;
  • Over-indulged – Children given into every demand by parents’ lack of confidence in their role as adults, undermines the child’s self-esteem and resilience; and
  • Exploited in competition – as others live through, and off, the child’s performance (or not), most publicly in the tennis arena; or child achievements used to assert personal superiority against adult peers.

The return of women to the labour market and the loss of household skills have seemingly brought us full circle, inviting intrusion of expert services. Despite major investment in education we note an increase in number and range of dysfunctional children ill-prepared to learn; obesity; diabetes; mental health; and medication. A doctor counselling on childhood obesity finds it necessary to retrain the whole family, beginning with such simple suggestions as, “buy a table” and make fresh meals. Reliance on take-away, means many have not had the experience of sitting down to the table and mindfully eating a home cooked meal together.

Agency failure

Parents gain confidence in their parental role when they are well supported by family, friends and relevant government agencies, as in William’s case.

Yet the value of a child can be seriously diminished when agencies charged with responsibility fail to do their job properly and in a timely manner, implicitly expecting children to absorb the consequences of their failure. Tragic examples abound:

  • Poor Blue Card certification ending in sexual abuse and murder
  • Failure to take action on known abusers, especially aboriginal
  • Lack of expectation of indigenous ability to step up and own responsibility
  • Serial, intergenerational failure to arrest child sexual abuse
  • Propagandising other people’s children through education programs such as Safe Schools, global warming alarmism, black-arm band view of history and guilt and de-construction of western civilization
  • Family Court, which purports to make the needs of the child paramount, yet fails dismally, being consumed by self-interest. Too often, decisions made impose the burden of responsibility for agency failure and parental immaturity upon the children. Demands for more money and more judges are made without a glance at the suitability of mandated legal processes that rob the family’s financial future.

Measuring parental and agency failure against my Maturity Model clearly illustrates the consequential fragmentation of the individual child, dissension and division of family and groups, the increasing immaturity of all parties, leading to high social and economic costs that are borne by all – all the more reason to get it ‘right’ from the beginning. Parents can be sent to jail; public servants merely gravitate to the next gazetted position.

Value and hope

William will have a lot to contend with. In his life, he will need to be fortified by his family, build resilience and gather strength amongst a community of like minds in order to realise his future value. In the meantime, we enjoy him as he is now. Cherish the moment!