I’m still juggling the various strands of discussion in the comments, on two posts now, and such thought-provoking remarks continuing to come in. I’m conscious of several questions that have been raised but not tackled yet, and while I’m pondering them (and seeking time to reply), I thought it might help if I teased apart the topic strands into separate threads. The unschooling thread is going strong in the knowledge post, and I’ve put together a number of your comments and questions about parenting below. Amy at Epiphany Springs and Elizabeth at Frabjous Days have posted on the respectful parenting topics at their blogs, too. (And other people as well, I’m sure; feel free to add your links to the comments.)
Also, Willa has written another very good post at In a Spacious Place addressing the shortcomings of the term “child-led” education.
Here, from the patience post, are some questions people had that others might want to try to answer, and some of the insights about respectful parenting. These are by no means all the good comments, nor even all the best parts of the comments they’re excerpted from. If you’re at all interested in the topic, I heartily encourage you to read through the whole comment thread.
Specifically, I found myself wondering, when you mentioned the difference between patience and exerting control — any examples of how this applies in those moments that ARE frustrating, and hard to enjoy? Like when you’ve asked your 4-year-old six times to clear her dishes from the table, or to brush her teeth, and she’s just lying on the floor??? I hate the overpowering nag that wants to, and often does, leap out of my mouth, but it’s hard to find a more connecting, genuinely patient (yet appropriately authoritative) way …
One thing that used to be said about me is that I knew how to be childish with children and get down on their level and endear them to me. It pains me so much that this is not true of me now for the most part. I want to recapture that and find balance. Someone does have to cook dinner, someone has to maintain some sense of order that I think children really crave as well, but does it have to be done in a scolding way? It’s all I know though. I’d really like to do things differently but feel a little helpless.
For example, yesterday was a lovely day full of connections and exploring and creating and reading in which I truly felt present to each of my children. However, not only did the dishes go unwashed and the laundry landfill grow and the grocery shopping go undone, but in being present to one child, I sometimes overstepped the limits of myself and the other children, delaying food or naptime or other requests so as not to “cut off” the curious child. Once I have a hungry or tired kid on my hands, I realize that I’ve created the negative situation by not guiding the gang into a transition. Lissa, your point about margins of time helped me think about this problem in a new way (I think my family may need to live in the margins!), but I’d love to hear more about how others find balance.
It is easy (for me) to fly off the handle and it is tempting because it generally produces a fast and desirable result. Or so it seems. But what it really does is put a crack (even if only a tiny invisible one) in the structure of my relationship with that child. They have certainly learned what not to do (if only not to get mommy to the breaking point!) but has it been effective discipline? No, not really and it’s not worth it. The short term obedience brings long term fracture.
I really think that examining the whole behavior modification approach to reward/punishment is what many of us have to go through to reach “the next level,” where we maintain relationship without losing our ability to lead/mentor our children.
It seems that my parenting journey is coming full circle. I have “tried” everything these past few years, every ridiculous suggestion out there in hopes of gaining cooperation, only to find that none of them work as well as simply being truly present, cheerful and respectful to my children. I chose to forgo the positive approach a few years back because I was just so physically tired and kept hearing from so many “experts” how I needed to lay down the law. As you mentioned, Lissa, it often does take more time and energy to parent mindfully but the rewards are far greater. Unfortunately, I formed the habit that I would yell or threaten punishment of some sort when I was angry and that has been a hard habit to break. However, I am determined to do so for the sake of my relationships with the children.
I wanted to throw out some real-life examples that are very pertinent to me right now because that’s the way I come to understand these concepts.
Example 1: 5 yr-old child does not want to leave a fun location (park, store, friends’ house, etc). It is bedtime, naptime, mealtime, etc and we need to leave. I can give kind minute-warnings until we leave, think of something fun to do at home, and ask politely, but child will not comply. I (usually) end up gently carrying kicking and screaming child to the car. Sometimes I’m laughing because of how funny it looks. What can I do differently here?
Example 2: Children don’t clean up after themselves. I’m probably guilty of not modeling this from the beginning. Toys and paper are strewn everywhere. I can bribe (”We’ll go to the park when it’s clean”), help, or threaten, and it’s still a huge ordeal. I try to get rid of toys and organize better. I have a hard time working in the learning/schoolroom because I can’t handle the mess. Do I just continue to ask nicely like a broken record and let them live with the mess? Clean it up myself?
And so I started deliberately setting us up to succeed. If it was time to go out, the shoes got all excited and her coat sang her songs. If I wanted her to do something, I spent about half a minute thinking of a really fun way she could go about it, and presented it to her cheerfully. I got her into bed by racing her there. I told her troll stories while she cleaned her teeth.
It sounds like I used a lot of energy, but actually I was using a fraction of the energy parenting had taken before – and now it was all positive energy. I began to feel better in myself, which made me more energised and enthusiastic about parenting. And I became happier with my dd, which meant that it became a matter of course to treat her in this cheerful playful way. Pretty soon I no longer needed to put thought or effort into it, as it became a natural way of life. Our expectations turned around and all our conflicts disappeared.
In raising my kids I don’t normally “take control” by trying to run my kids’ lives, but by simply withdrawing mentally into my own little world while keeping an outside appearance of involvement. That looks like patience but it isn’t, not really. It’s a bit more subtle than visible impatience and control maneuvers. So I’m glad you pointed out that side of it.
Anyway, I think it’s also an attitude of “we’re all in this together, let’s try to help each other out,” instead of “I’ve got this house/homeschool to run and you’d better be a well-oiled cog.”
One day, about a month ago now, I just stopped. Stopped scolding or nagging or lecturing. It’s humbling to realize how much of that I had been doing, before. Since that day, I’ve only gotten mad and lectured once, and I felt like a jerk for doing it. (The irony of its happening after a trip to Target the day after I posted about how much better our shopping trips were does not escape me, and indeed gives me quite a pain. Ha. So there you are, full disclosure.)
Aside from that one lapse, and may it be my last, I have to say it has been FANTASTIC. I’m shouting because it really is big. It’s huge. Before, I was a nice, sweet, merry mama when I wasn’t scolding/being stern/nagging/lecturing/ordering. Now, I get to be a nice, sweet, merry mama all the time. When a child is doing something that isn’t okay (and believe me, that happens), I am nicer and sweeter instead of stern and sad, and there has been less “not okay” stuff happening. More importantly, there isn’t that awful feeling of being on the other side of a conflict with a child, as if we’re adversaries.
What has surprised me most has been how I have felt like I got my old patient self back—the self who didn’t think of it as patience because she was focused on what a marvel it is to have a relationship with this amazing child. When we’ve hit bumps (conflicts between kids, mostly), I haven’t felt annoyed or frustrated. It’s almost like a game, a challenge I present myself: how can I steer us through this rocky place without losing my cool? I have found myself waking up every day eager for the challenge. I’m dead serious here. This really is big stuff.
I’m being frank here because I think this is such an important matter. The overwhelming response to the patience post speaks to that. This is a topic that hits close to home for a lot of parents. I don’t know any mothers who enjoy scolding or nagging, or feel better about themselves or their children after they’ve done it. I know a lot of mothers who speak with longing of how they wish they were more patient, wish every little thing weren’t such a struggle.
It’s the logistics that wear us down, I know it. The dozens of small daily challenges that arise in homes full of small people wanting different things. That, and the fear that if you don’t “raise them right,” they’ll turn out to be horrid, selfish, lazy people. Oh my goodness, it’s outcome-based parenting and I think it’s a model as problematic as outcome-based education.
Maybe it sounds counter-intuitive to say “don’t focus on outcomes, don’t think long-term—think now, this moment, this encounter, this relationship.” Of course we care (truly, madly, deeply) about the outcome. We want life—and eternity—to turn out well for our children. But the thing is, the future is being made right now, in each small moment. I think sometimes we look at the future like it’s the answer at the end of a long math problem, and our attention is focused on getting that all-important right answer beneath the bottom line. But in truth, each small step of the equation is a complete math “problem” by itself. We hardly even notice how automatically we borrow and carry, add and subtract. Each one of those operations affects the “final answer.” Each one is its own unique, discrete puzzle which can contribute confusion or clarity to the larger problem.
Oh, I know this analogy is full of flaws, but you see how I’m trying to get at the importance of taking it one step, one encounter, at a time.
Stop thinking about changing “for good and not just for days or moments.” That is just another thing to overwhelm you and you don’t need that!
Just change the next interaction you have with the kids.
Stop reading email right now and do something “preventative” – something that helps build your relationship with them. Fix them a little tray of cheese and crackers and take it to them, wherever they are, unasked. Sit down on the floor and play with them. If nothing else, just go and give each of them a little hug and a kiss and say, “I was just thinking about how much I love you.”