Loss and trust

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, September 2012

One of the great riddles of our time is undoubtedly how people managed to survive for millennia without self-help books or courses. Even today we can still see mothers in remote parts of the world who, barely twenty years old, make their way through life ­– or do they stumble? – with a baby on their hip, another one by the hand and a third one attached to their leg in total ignorance of our bookshops full of advice books on education, health and how to throw a birthday party. Back home after our travel adventure, casting our gaze over the grey-haired ocean of an orderly German shopping street, the question arises: “How do these young mothers bring up their children? Are they allowed to at all?” 

What is wrong with us? A little while ago I heard an Ecuadorian social researcher talking on the radio about the difference of friendship and family in Latin America and Germany: whereas in his home country almost all friends come from the family, social contacts are replacing relatives with increasing frequency here in Germany.

When I took over a first class for the first time in 1984, we always had problems admitting children from “new” families because the classes were already brim full with siblings. And even if it is still the case that above-average numbers of children from larger families attend Waldorf schools, this problem hardly exists any longer whereas the number of children from one-parent families is steadily growing.

As a teacher, the insecurity with regard to bringing up children is particularly noticeable in parents who are fixated on their own child. Each step he or she takes, every feeling he or she has, takes on such dimensions that the child hardly has the opportunity any longer to gather his or her own experiences – which may also include frustrations. The flood of self-help books is buoyed by this wave of helplessness while knowledge based on experience is lost. How can we overcome that?

If the social environment is increasingly replacing the family for many children, we have to form communities in which an atmosphere of trust, dependability and security prevails. That places great demands on teachers and parents because such an atmosphere must be continuously practiced by looking with an open mind at the individual child and the community. The one is conditional on the other as much as they need one another. The best self-help in that context is an interest in the other person. And the children of the young mother in a remote part of the world perhaps have more of that than many a pampered German child who has little leeway any longer other than just to function.

Henning Kullak-Ublick, Class teacher from 1984 -2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf schools and the Friends of Waldorf Education as well as Aktion mündige Schule (www.freie-schule.de)


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