Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Comment on another mom's blogpost...

For some months, I have been corresponding with a childhood friend who briefly investigated unschooling before choosing instead an academic nursery school. I've realized, at this point, that posting directly to her blog is stressful and probably not a good use of my time, as she seems to be locked in the "yeah buts" of traditional , "you gotta control 'em"parenting. Since i have found that answering her posts clarifies my own purpose and beliefs, though , I spent a good deal of time today considering her post, and the response I would make to her, if she truly wanted to "get it". Maybe something here will help someone who is struggling with this issue. writing it was, as the friend said of her post, cathartic.

* * *

I am posting a longer analysis of your reply on my blog (no names), because I wanted to use it to clarify my thoughts, and see how far we have come.

This has been a period of intense awakening for me, and I don't want to usurp your space here with my ruminations, which are for me, not any attempt to sway you (which doesn't seem likely to happen - you seem determined to defend the very parenting tactics that seem to bring you and M distress, at least occasionally.

Personally, I am striving to eliminate all distress about family work, and willingly accept any help or no help from my children. And they help more now, and more joyfully and independently, than they ever did when I tried to force their participation .

My replies reflect my family's truth, and don't belong here. You can follow them, there, under the title,"Comment on Another Mom's Blogpost".

Here, I wanted to share this post from Claire on the Always Learning list, in response to another poster's requests for ideas to remain calm when feeling angry.
To me, it seemed to express eloquently what my own experience has been, and what we're aspiring to create, here in our lives....

I hope you enjoy! =)

*Re: Finding Calm

I'd like to address a couple of points. First, I don't think it takes a certain type of person to unschool. I do think that to unschool, a parent has to let go of automatic reactions and mainstream expectations around children's obedience. And the key here is that this letting go is a process, one that takes a lot of time and effort, and doesn't always go forward smoothly. I still react with anger sometimes, but I also know that those times are becoming much less frequent, and that I am more aware of my anger, and so more able to let it go before speaking or acting. I like the John Holt principle that you should not say anything to your child that you would not say to a treasured friend. This helps to curb the nastiness that springs out when I'm angry.

For unschooling to really work, the "'why can't I control my kids?' mode of thinking" has to be thrown out. Partly because control is counter-productive to a loving, trusting relationship, but also because often this mode of thinking is based on the parent's fear of others' disapproval. What unschooling has given me is the clarity to see that people's judgements based on mainstream expectations mean much less to me than quickly and calmly addressing my children's needs. When I do this I find it very empowering.

The OP wrote: " I expressed my utmost disappointment at Mia and her inability to sooth the situation by allowing Jude the lead. I let her know that I expected her to help me out; not make the situation harder for me."

I too have felt the frustration of an older child refusing to acquiesce to the demands of a younger sibling. But I absolutely do not want my kids to become rivals, or for one to feel resentful, so I am really mindful of not asking too much or being unfair to my older child.

Lastly, the OP wrote: "Something inside is stubbornly refusing to
budge, and I can't seem to completely immerse myself and see the whole."

What if that something is an unhealed wound inside you, something from your childhood, or a perception of yourself that is still unexamined? I found that to really go deep into unschooling, I had to go deep inside myself, and look at what kind of parent, and ultimately what kind of person I want to be. Affirmations and so forth are useful, but the only place you will really find calm is inside yourself.


Here is the analysis I made of the blogpost...

*As for a 3 year old animal… I’m a nearly 40 year old animal. I want my cake and I want to eat it too. The reference came from several days of reading articles, blogs and comments that kept referring to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the “Theory of Natural Man” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Jacques_Rousseau#Theory_of_Natural_Man. The rational in my writing being that we are all animals, but as we grow older and are molded by the expectations of society (and we are, simply by the behaviors we model for our children to observe) we become a little less “beast-like” and more domesticated.*

Here's where we part ways. You're reading theories, and using those to try to divine what may be going on with M. But M hasn't read them (and couldn't understand the philosophy yet if he did read them).

I am simply being with my children in a respectful, trusting, loving way, assuming always that they had the best intentions, and reading words written by others who have raised their children with respect, trust, and love, and who are willing to share the wisdom gleaned along the way...

* I’ve done it myself too many times. I have a wonderful son, but too often I fall into the “I’m the Mommy, and I say X needs to be done” trap that creates a small war in our house. *

This is what I was responding to. I used to feel the same way. No rationalization helped; neither did reading mainstream parenting theory or studies of human nature.

What did help was changing the way I saw my children; when I began embracing their needs as being as legitimate and pressing to them as mine are to me.

* I can say it’s for the good of our whole family all I want, but at three, M just wants to enjoy his time playing, reading stories and being hugged. He doesn’t want to pick up the pile of blocks that are strewn across the floor where others are trying to walk. He doesn’t want to keep his books picked up. And he’s the first one to cry and run for comfort when he trips over said blocks or books.

But he won’t clean them up when he’s asked. Not without the prerequisite of several hours of whimpering, procrastinating and delaying tactics… he gets hungry a lot, and he always wants a hug.*

If this is your internal dialogue in these moments, M will feel it as a whiny, "this-isn't-fair-to-me" attitude from you. Since he can't understand the situation as you see it, the vibe probably makes him want more food, more hugs, and more avoiding the cleanup. Whining begets whining, resentment begets resentment. And, in the *several hours of whimpering, procrastinating, and delaying tactics*, the actual problem (toys scattered across the floor and the hazard they present) could have been matter-of-factly or sweetly cleaned up by you, many, many times over.

Turning it into a power struggle is a very inefficient use of time and energy.

* The human beast wants its cake and wants to eat it too, whether the beast is a 40yr old mommy who wants a smiling child and lots of private time or a 3yr old who wants the security of discipline and rules and the freedom to run free. *

Lots of private time is not a realistic want when one has a 3yo. Smiling children are usually the result of *lots and lots of time and attentiveness from their parents*. The thing most overlooked is that, parents spend all the time with their child that the child desires have smiling children. Parents who do not engage in power struggles over cleaning, but who just do the cleaning necessary for safety and sanity often find abundant hours opening up, and their children grinning ear-to-ear! =)

I don't know any 3yo's who want * the security of discipline and rules*. All the ones I've ever met have wanted affection, acceptance, attention, freedom, and knowing they are safe. A quick cleanup that is play, followed by more play and snuggles and snacks, rest and more play, would meet those needs joyfully, without the bitter pill of contention.

It's also worth considering that a 40yo can do a lot more to get what they want than a 3yo can, and (hopefully) has a deeper understanding of needs vs. wants. To a 3yo, wants *are* needs. A parent who does their best to meet wants will have a child more willing and able to express those wants calmly and capably, and one who accepts more easily those times when the parent cannot fulfill their desires.

*Writing these cathartic ramblings is just that….catharsis. They were written as my way of exploring the sudden influx of distressing feelings I was having because a day went unusually bad.*

I understand the need for catharsis after distressing emotions. I also understand that, very often, those emotions come from an unwillingness to accept the people and conditions around us as they are. Working within the limits of what M is capable of would end a lot of those distressing feelings, those angsty feelings that apparently can last through hours of battle to accomplish a three-minute task. I've lived both sides of this coin, now, and I make a conscious effort to *breathe*, to stop my reaction long enough to see the second, better option. Fighting a child to "get them to do something" has never, in my experience, been the better choice. Everyone ends up feeling stressed and icky - and one very young person probably has absolutely no idea why he's being yelled at or disciplined (which begs the question - is discipline really discipline if the child doesn't learn the intended "lesson" from it? Or is it just a punishment, a way for the parent to vent their anger at not being able to control the will of the child?)

* because a day went unusually bad.*

The whole day? Or just moments of it? People use bad day, think bad day, because of some bad moments, actually...but, in the space of a breath, it's a new moment, and the chance to make this one better. Moments just keep happening, and any (every!) one of them can be used to do some small thing to make life better. Even on trying days, I've found that focusing on the good moments improves my mood, which improves the children's, and often we end up in a happy snuggle. =)

* My friend is Unschooling her two children. She finds the lifestyle works wonderfully for her. I confess myself both amazed at the life she is living and wholeheartedly terrified of it.*

We are an unschooling family...it's not something we do *to* them, and it isn't a *lifestyle that works wonderfully for us*. It *is* life.

If you see the amazing aspects of it, and the joy, and the peace, why then are you terrified? It would seem, in all of this, that *that* is what needs the most pondering. Until you really understand why you're terrified, you'll be resistant to considering this life openly. And yet, you do keep coming back to it, as though something in it is speaking to you. My guess, from when I thought a lot of what I was reading was scary-crazy, is that it will do so whether you listen or not. Time will pass, and life will be lived. M will be older.

The terror you feel is certainly having an impact on him, too. It's hard to feel peace and terror at the same time.

I suspect you don't and can't understand the essence of unschooling, how absolutely *not* terrifying it is (except that thrilling little jolt of "just how much more wonderful can this life get, and is it actually possible to pop from joy?"). You are holding too tightly to what you assume, what experts and theorists have said, to open your arms to the reality hundreds (thousands? tens of thousands?) of families are living. Happy, bustling families alive with passion and delight with each other. Families steeped in balance and harmony, and learning as easily as they breathe...families where, when there is a conflict, the adult takes some deep breaths, asks,"What is needed in this moment to bring peace and help understanding?", then does that from a place of awareness, love, and acceptance.

Only when I let go of those assumptions, rooted them out and examined them unflinchingly in the light of day, could I find and fully embrace the bliss that was always there, waiting patiently to be discovered.

* In the example of cleaning: Actually sometimes I cannot see the mess. Or as in the other day, M strewed papers all over the floor, started dancing around and slid on one, landing face first into the coffee table in the matter of seconds before I could have cleaned the papers even.*

Accidents happen, and can't always be prevented. Even unschooling can't protect a child from the dangers of poor traction, gravity, and immovable objects.

What it can do is to cushion the fall by surrounding it with many moments of joy, and love, and togetherness. It will make a parent more attuned to their child, more able to offer comfort in a way that is deeply comforting to the child.

* I also tend to have dizzy spells and often bump into furniture or step off to avoid falling over (let alone little dimly contrasted pieces of Lego that hide on the floor).*

That would seem to make a thorough cleanup of paths through the toys pretty important. I'm not sure I'd foist something that important no a very little child who isn't interested in cleaning. I would just make sure I kept a clear path, so I could move freely, and my kids wouldn't be needlessly frightened by my slips, bumps, or falls.

* Asking M to clean because, as you may have noticed, one person cannot do it all by themselves, and something will give…. The house will become a bit messier or there will be yelling. In my case, there is often a lot of bruising… on me.*

Is it really necessary to "do it all yourself", though? I never suggested you needed to (and you aren't the only adult in the house, even if you did want spic-and-span clean).

But I've found it takes a lot less energy to clear blatant safety hazards than it does to try to coerce an unwilling 3yo to clear them. I've also found that, if done willingly, and if I stay focused on the goal of safety, there is great joy in providing this service to my children.

I am, after all, their mother. Part of that job is to protect them and see to their safety. I'm not going to ask them to take on that responsibility. As they are ready, they do more and more to stay safe themselves....that's survival instinct.

I'm wondering, if you don't feel you have time to at least clear paths, what else you might be doing that maybe you could do a little less of, so that that time and energy could be used to keep spaces safe without overtaxing you. Maybe laundry or dishes could wait, or maybe a few minutes' less writing time would yield much greater peace (which in turn yields more writing time, with the added benefit of being able to move without tripping.). Computers and TV can use up a lot of time in a hurry. So can organizing and craft projects, and cooking, and....what things do you feel you "have to" do, that maybe aren't strictly necessary? ....

A few minutes of playing Legos on the floor *with him* can do wonders for finding those lost pieces...and it can be fun tossing them back into the bin together when he's done (you could also move the bin to his room, or a less high-traffic area, and just check for strays twice a day!).

If the choice is between a messier house or yelling, bring on the messier house. If the choice is between a clean house and a respectful relationship with my children, I'm learning to let go of the fantasy of a clean house. The mess comes with these kids....and I wouldn't want to live without these kids! =)

* And all I was saying, or trying to say, is that I wish I could explain this to him without tears or crying (because he sees me hurt or upset or because he was doing something and got drawn away from it because he was ready, etc.) *

You *can*! =) You see the mess and say, "Wow...it looks like you had fun here. But now it's not safe to walk. I'd better clean up. Wanna help?" And then you clean it up. Whether he helps or ignores you.

The way to show a young child that cleaning up messes is necessary to safety is to clean up those unsafe messes.

Because, when Mommy doesn't want to, and tells her 3yo he must help, the message he gets is that making him clean it is your goal. If the mess was *really* unsafe, why shouldn't a child count on their parent to clean it? He trusts you to do that for him. If he keeps that trust, he'll trust you to help him with other, bigger-kid messes later. If he loses it...you might not even know when's he's got a problem, when he's older. Trust begets trust.

If your goal really is to help him see the need to keep high-traffic areas free of safety hazards, insisting that he help is counter to that. Dropping everything to tend to the safety hazard would be a much better way to live the lesson.

It will take years. 3yo people can't understand it, yet. Jeremiah, at 8, is only now beginning to (despite all *my* years of trying make him see the connection).

It would also help to learn the language and developmental stages of early childhood. What you say seems - abstract, dealing with theories and what-ifs. The book, How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen (and Listen so Your Kids Will Talk) often helps parents learn ways of effectively communicating with their kids. A google search of "Piaget" will show you the stages of development....there are also books that give good overviews of each year in a child's age, which could be immensely helpful...


dharmamama said...

What a beautiful post! I came over from Always Learning. Have you seen this article?

I can feel the love you have with your child and in your life throughout this post - thanks for posting the link!

Laura Z said...

I'm just starting our new blog and found your post from always learning as well.

I always learn from others and your post was a great reminder to things I sometimes forget as well as some new ideas I hadn't even thought about :)

- A Ripple in the Ocean

Bob Collier said...

What on earth is an "academic nursery school"?

"We have a cultural notion that if children were not engineered, if we did not manipulate them, they would grow up as beasts in the field. This is the wildest fallacy in the world." - Joseph Chilton Pearce

That's certainly been my experience.

Deanna said...

Lovely, and stated simply and well. Sadly, I think our society tends to encourage a very selfish sort of parenting where it is all about *us* and *our* needs/wants. You make it so beautifully clear here that by clearing our minds of our desire to control and instead looking clearly at our children and what their needs are in the moment, happiness and peace and calm take up residence.
Thanks for putting your thoughts into words!