Sunday, January 27, 2013

Obedience vs. Judgment

They chose to pool financial resources to purchase a longed -for game....
When I was a mainstream parent, I wouldn't have thought of 11 and 8.5 years as ages I at which I would often witness mature, independent, future-thinking behavior from my children.

Recently, Jeremiah discussed apprenticeships, internships, and maybe taking some community college classes.

Annalise read and discussed her bank statement, set up a budget for a future planned purchase, and made video chatting appointments with her best friend, who happens to live a state away.

I believe that control, school, parental restrictions and requirements, and other trappings of being a "good parent" in this American society, can cripple children, from the beginning, maybe from before conception, if the parents' ideas of how they will raise their as-yet unborn children are too rigid.

All these external and adult directed hours and activities take time, attention, and energy from living their own choices, and tell them, over and over, that they are not to be trusted to make important choices for themselves.
Choosing to wear summer clothes on a cool fall day (I carried her unneeded jacket).

When I was the ages my children are now, I was very much under the control of all the adults in my life. I was not expected to use my own judgment; I was required to obey instantly. I was given little choice in how that life would play out – even my play might be disrupted at any time, at the whim of any adult.

For me, it is a matter of deciding which matters more to me - that Jeremiah and Annalise obey me, or that they develop a reliable and adaptable sense of judgment.

The joy of choosing  to create with  snap circuits..
That they respect all adults equally, simply because they are adults, or that, again, they develop judgment of their own, to know which adults might be trusted, and which have failed to earn their respect.

There was a time when I demanded obedience. Somehow, likely because it was one of those unexamined thoughts that's not often even noticed, I thought that their obedience, and my rules and punishments, would imbue them somehow with good judgment.

  Miah chose to keep his catch, and Lise to release hers.
We are told, in many ways, that this is true...that children need rules, boundaries, consequences, follow-through, schooling, extracurricular activities, and control in nearly every aspect of their lives, if they are to grow up to be responsible, productive members of society who know right from wrong, can be trusted among society, and who will 'amount to something'.

So, we are told, as parents, that rules and consequences imposed consistently over time will help a child to learn good judgment...

But, if that's true, then why do the punishments last throughout life? Why are older children grounded, and adults fines or jailed?  Why is it that the climate of punitive consequence remains a part of our culture? Why do we need law enforcement, jails, and courts?

Maybe because what the requirement of obedience imparts is not good judgment, but the ability to follow rules - or to give the semblance of having followed the rules. Sneakiness is common, after all, amongst people who are expected to obey or suffer the consequences of disobedience. My children are generally only sneaky to perpetrate pranks, while planning surprises, or when keeping harmless secrets...not because they fear the result of honestly claiming their own actions -  even when they are wrong, and know it.

If not from obeying, how is judgment learned?

Choosing to stack firewood.
I think it comes from making choices - I don't mean "Will you choose the blue shirt, or the green one?" or "Will you do your math or your English homework first?" or "carrots or broccoli for your vegetable?"

Those are often the only kinds of choices kids are given, and, even when very young, they tend to be able to see that these choices aren't the valuable kind.

Valuable choices matter. It's "I don't want to wear the blue shirt OR the green shirt. I want the orange dress, or Daddy's chef coat, or fingerpaint as a shirt, or no clothes at all or to change in and out of all my shirts and have four baths today, too."

It's "I would rather play Crayon Physics; paint your portrait; invent a machine to make Pokemon real; look up guinea pig care and Monster High videos on YouTube; write a JavaScript game; build with snap circuits, Legos, blankets, or food; film stop-action videos; collect bird's nests; do virtual surgery; learn Japanese; shovel snow; or make three types of eggs at once...."

It's "Why not just eat the carrot and the top. for something green?; no, I'm not hungry: romaine and Nutella; share some veggies with the guinea pigs; can I have barbecue chips and a Green Machine smoothie instead?; I need protein now, because I'm feeling cranky; maybe I should just have some water; can I eat these pepper seeds?; has everyone gotten some of these cookies?; and can we put cream cheese on the shopping list?"

Choosing to build a campfire.
Judgment comes from making choices that could go wrong; choices that have inherent stakes to them, rather than adult-invented consequences ("If you don't eat your vegetables, you can't have dessert."  "If you don't do your chores, you can't watch TV.").   

Festive dancing on a closed street....
Choosing this shirt over that is not much of a choice, if you already feel comfortable in either. Choosing to be naked, though, means that you might have to skip having company or going away from your house, and wearing paint may mean places you can't sit, and the eventual necessity of a potentially unpleasant cleanup.

So, with our children, we've come to a place where we only make the essential decisions they legitimately can't make for themselves yet, or those they ask us to make for them. All others, they handle themselves.

Choosing business, art, and writing Kanji Japanese anime titles...
Sometimes, they get it just right, and other times, things go wrong, or the unforeseen occurs. Yet, successful or not, carried within each decision and action is another kernel of judgment waiting to be discovered, as they arrange and live their lives.

To me, that's far more important than kids who obey fallible me, without judging whether that's a good idea!

Choosing togetherness.

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