Thursday, January 07, 2010
Acts of Kindness, Zen Gardening, and Keeping Our Home...
As I have posted here many times before, I have been challenging myself to think differently of the work of keeping a house - who does it, what is necessary, why it needs doing, what attitude to approach it with...
I haven't made this journey in a vacuum. I spent years reading mainstream parenting books, mainstream self-help books, watching mainstream television shows that mostly showed me many, many things to try in order to get my kids cleaning, so that they would learn responsibility and fairness.
It took a while for me to start to wonder why there is such a proliferation of tricks, techniques, and consequences intended for no other purpose than the manipulation of children. And, even then, for a long time, the wondering was submerged beneath the seeming mountain of work that needed to be done. There was too much for any one person, and of course the kids needed to do their share. I mean, they live here, too, right? And it is for certain that they make a good deal of the messes that need cleaning up.
Coercing my children to do my will, to obey, never felt right. I have very vivid memories of my own childhood, and I am a person who lives through my emotions, and processes memories complete with how I felt. I was raising my children much as I had been raised, with inflexible rules meant to assure that each did as I said, without hesitation or complaint. And if they did not, I gave them the sure and certain knowledge that I would punish them.
I was raising them in a way that made them feel as trapped as I had felt. And trapping my children was trapping me, too. Our days were grinding and exhausting. Despite how much we all loved each other, there was a great deal of hurt, fear, anger, and frustration always just beneath the surface of things.
In a sense, I had become a monster, to my children, and they had become tedious chores, to me. I resented their messes, and they resented my resentment, and the meanness it brought out in me.
This was not the fun life with children I had envisioned, before they were born, when I had been certain I was going to be a perfect mom.
I knew I was stuck, but I had no idea what to do about it...
Until the day a friend sent me an email invitation for a nature walk being hosted by a radical unschooling group, which strongly suggested anyone interested in attending who was not actively unschooling read at Joyce Fetterol's site, first. I did, and read a bit about the basics of radical unschooling, loving the concept of building a trusting relationship with my kids, living with them peacefully.
Then I skipped over to the section on chores....and quickly decided these people must be completely crazy! What did they mean, keeping up with the housework was my job, and not the kids'?! What did they mean, I should clean up their spills, pick up the clothes that didn't make it to the hamper, stop punishing them for the state of their rooms, let them create without worrying about tidying up, afterward?
I thought they were crazy, just fooling themselves - and yet, I was intrigued enough to go on the walk, along a creek in a state park not too far from home.
That experience changed the course of our lives. It was the catalyst that got us unstuck.
It was there that I saw, for the first time in my life, an entire group of people who were treating their children with genuine affection, kindness, and respect. The children were enjoying the adventure of a frog-laden creek, with accompanying waterfalls, and the mothers were enjoying their children. They seemed happy to do for their kids, and to watch them explore. I spoke to several of the mothers, and most of the children while we were there. On little girl, Lily, was a year older than Annalise, and she captivated both of us (Marla, if you read this, yes, it was your lovely Lily. What a charmer!.
From there we began our own journey, filled with potholes, false starts, and wrong turns I've already documented here and elsewhere.
Finally, many months later, I think I've come to a place of peace with cleaning. I can look at it, not as a tedious thing to get done, but as a Zen garden. I attend to that I'm tending; I use the time to be in the moment, to serve my family and myself lovingly. I allow thoughts to flow freely, without trying to catch or direct them.
Sometimes one or both children will help me out, because they want to, or maybe I ask them to do some little thing like bring a broom to me, or dishes to the sink. Other times, they'll just keep me company, chatting away while I work. Still others, they will be watching TV or playing a computer game, and I will watch and chat with them while tidying nearby.
I work in short bursts, so there aren't long stretches where I am unavailable to Jeremiah and Annalise. The cleaning, more and more, is simply part of the fabric of our lives. It doesn't take precedence over time with them, over fun, over answering their needs.
I've come to see, and prove to myself with photos, that mess is a cyclical thing. I'll clean, and it'll need cleaning again. Getting upset, forcing the children to help, screaming, punishing...none of those get the tasks done, and they would make life unpleasant at best, ugly at worst.
I will likely live without children someday. I think, when it happens, that I will miss their young presence in my life more by far than I will be happy for greater tidiness in my home....