Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Another Gem from Willa

March 31, 2008 @ 5:21 am | Filed under:

Parenting as a creative art:

But if the parents don’t model mature, loving ways of interacting, how is the child going to learn? I think some people see the word “love” and think “permissive, weak, mushy”. But honestly, it doesn’t break down that way, or shouldn’t. There is nothing permissive or weak or timid about allying with the child to help him to “become who he is”, who he is meant to be. There is nothing permissive or lax about letting go of the non-essentials and focusing on the essence. It is strength, not weakness, to focus on the good things and magnify those. Love is as Maritain said “wild and irrepressible”. It is deep and unique and springs out of who you are as a person, like any other creative art. It is generous and loves the truth, as he also says, but then you also have to remember that truth is not a sword to use to cut others down — it is a light that illumines and makes good things clear and transparent and sparkly. For some reason, it often involves laughter, at least in our household. Laughter (not the mocking kind) frees things up and dissolves barricades.

There’s much more, including a moving account of her husband’s tenderness toward their fragile infant in the NICU. The “my little werewolf” story reminded me so much of how Scott kept me laughing when Jane was in the hospital. As her golden curls started to fall out from the chemo, my brown-haired husband joked to his brown-haired wife that “we always knew she’d lose the blonde hair someday…just not this soon!” The nurses used to think we were crazy, but the laughter was what kept us sane and close.

Willa’s thoughts about laughter dissolving barricades and tension brought back another hospital memory. One of our favorite nurses, Theresa, was a young mother about our age (late 20s) with two little boys ages 3 and 5. She worked nights, and we often wound up chatting during the wee hours when all her patients, including my two-year-old, were asleep. Once she told me that she had almost administered her very first spanking the week before—almost. Her boys had done something (I don’t remember what) Very, Very Bad. Something Extremely Naughty and Highly Inappropriate. Surveying the scene of the crime, fury rose within their mother and she roared at them, “You deserve a—” She was going to say “spanking” but she saw the fear in two sets of big brown eyes and a pang of regret cut through the fury. Her sons had never been afraid of her before.

“—A—a SCHMANKING!” she finished the sentence.

Fear changed to bewilderment in the big brown eyes. “What’s a schmanking?” asked the five-year-old.

“It’s this,” said Theresa, and she scooped him up and tickled him all over. He shrieked with laughter and the three-year-old held up his arms, crying, “My turn! My turn for a schmanking!”

I loved that story then, and I love it more now, ten years and four children later. Don’t all our children deserve a schmanking now and then?

Here’s another nice post at In Need of Chocolate
with a roundup of many of the books people recommended in my patience post comments, plus a link to an article urging parents to “take a week off from punishing” their kids and see what happens.

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The Parenting Thread

March 29, 2008 @ 9:02 am | Filed under:

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. (more…)


March 25, 2008 @ 8:11 am | Filed under: ,

Thoughtful and thought-provoking conversation continues in the comments of the patience post. There are two main strands of discussion: one focuses on parenting style, and the other on educational philosophy. Of course, those two topics are completely intertwined—not just in the comments, but in life.

I’m seeing a lot of incoming links to that post, and I wanted to direction your attention toward some of them. Willa’s reflection upon patience vs. acedia is a powerful read: “Is it possible that every morning God says, ‘Do it again!’ to the sun?” An excerpt:

I think the “bad kind of patience” that Melissa discussed relates a bit to acedia, or at least it does for me. Too often, I “serve my time” and endure what ought to be a delight. Thereby I lose the privilege of drawing closer to what I am intended to be. Thereby I close myself into a little box, limiting myself to finding delight in what I naturally have a preference for. Doctor’s offices are one thing, but when I am bored and restless spending time with my little ones, or impatient about having to deal with the 100th quarrel or need in a day, that is something else. Like Melissa, I should know better than to take these joys as a given. If Aidan taught me nothing else, I should have learned that these very repetitions are privileges of the greatest magnitude.

JoVE shares her thoughts on children and housework. Amy has some specific questions about dealing with the daily challenges of parenting; she also ponders, movingly, how “seeing beauty in every face” means looking for it in her own face, too.

I was going to reflect upon these and other incoming links, but my rugrats have awakened and there are bouncy balls whizzing past my head in every direction. Rose is comparing the bounce and arc of balls made of different substances. (In my experience, “child” outbounces them all.)

Asleep at the Meal

October 11, 2007 @ 9:11 am | Filed under:

I bet I have a version of this picture for every one of my kids. Is there anything more adorable than a baby overtaken by slumber in the middle of dinner?


(Kindly ignore the grimy fingerprints on the chair. Egad! Why is it you don’t notice these things until you’re posting them on the internet for all the world to see?)

Charlotte Mason, Discipline, the Deputy Headmistress, and Running Wild on the Cereal Aisle

July 18, 2007 @ 2:31 pm | Filed under:

The Deputy Headmistress has a great post up today about flaws in Charlotte Mason’s approach to discipline. I appreciate the DHM’s remarks on this subject, because this is a topic that has caused me a lot of head-scratching over the years.

On the one hand, yes, I totally get what Miss Mason was after in regard to habit-training. People do mostly tend to do what they’re in the habit of doing, and if you’ve got a bad habit, a way to banish it is to practice doing a good or desirable thing in its stead. Enough persistent practice, and eventually the good thing becomes the habit, the automatic behavior.  A patient and diligent mother can make a sort of game out of this for her children, helping "lay the rails," in CM parlance, for good and socially pleasing habits. All manner of examples come to mind: not slamming doors, washing hands before meals, brushing teeth, clearing dishes from the table, making beds, and so on. These are good habits to have, and a household chugs along more smoothly and happily if such actions are routine. I’ve had great success with this principle, whenever I’ve taken the trouble to apply it. (I seem to have trouble pulling off the patient and diligent parts at the same time.)

But all those "habits" are outward, active, task-oriented. There are other "habits" which rely upon interior qualities and are affected by temperament and circumstance. As the DHM notes, Miss Mason’s recommendations for altering behaviors like tantrums, lying, and stubbornness tend toward sorrowfully raised eyebrows or a gentle application of "natural consequences"—the "natural" consequence of behaving unpleasantly around mommy being removal from mommy’s presence.

But I also think this is why CM takes discipline so lightly, as
something easy for the alert and clever mother to address with nothing
more than a look and a shake of the head. It’s always a simpler matter
to get a child to mind somebody not its parent, or not as familiar to
it than it is to get a child to be consistently obedient with Mom when
Mom is the only one around. It’s not the same as having Nurse, Cook,
Gardener, under nursemaid, parlourmaid, second housemaid and the tweeny all there, and all bowing to Mom’s authority.

I also note
that a lot of the distractions offered to redirect the attention
involve sending the child to other adults (take a message to cook, take
this package to the gardener…) Somehow I just don’t see that working
for me (The crock pot wants to see you…).

Frankly, in the days
of outhouses, chamber pots, an army of servants, nurseries on the top
floor of the house, and children constantly being supervised by a
well-trained nurse, I doubt very much that Parents’ Union mothers often
found themselves dealing with such issues as a preschooler wiping a
clumsy hand on the bathroom wall instead of washing it with soap and
water, a child stuffing the toilet with matchbox cars, pulling dresser
drawers out and dumping out all the clothes, gluing baby dolls to the
living room rug, finger painting in Mommy’s make-up or lotions, and
dumping out bottles of cooking oil on the kitchen floor while Mommy is
cooking dinner. Mommy wasn’t cooking dinner. Cook was.

A few years back, we had a rough patch when I was pregnant with Wonderboy and having some hip-joint trouble that slowed me down. This coincided with some, hmm, difficult behavior in a certain four-year-old. I procured a coach’s whistle and made a habit of simply whistling for Scott (working downstairs in the basement office) whenever the certain someone was out of line. Daddy would come barreling upstairs, and good order was restored before his foot hit the landing. But this solution did nothing to solve the real problem; there was no discipline involved, merely distraction. Distraction is a great tool for babies and toddlers but does nothing to help a four-year-old overcome a tendency toward tantrums.  I might just as well have been banishing the child to the nursery, as in one example in the DHM’s post, and letting poor Nurse cope with the tantrums herself.

A few years before that, I inadvertently launched a firestorm on the Catholic Charlotte Mason discussion list by asking for help applying CM’s discipline philosophy on a practical level with another child—again, a four-year-old!—who had certain habits (primarily, I recall, of the running-amok-in-grocery-stores variety) which were not altering under the gently grieved looks Miss Mason recommended a mother cast in such a child’s direction. The conversation quickly drifted into the spanking debate, always an explosive subject on e-lists, and was speedily and firmly curtailed, leaving me none the wiser. I wasn’t in favor of corporal punishment anyway, so the spanking arm of the discussion hadn’t seemed to apply to my situation, and the conversation died before anyone could explain to me what to do when my preschooler didn’t respond to gentle suggestion the way Miss Mason so confidently assured me she would.

I had to do what everyone else does and blunder along as best I could, learning through trial and error. Much error, I suspect. Fortunately most children seem hardy enough to survive a heavy dose of parental blundering. Certainly the four-year-old who once sent me seeking advice from strangers on the internet has become an exceedingly pleasant person. Even in grocery stores.

Radical Unschooling, Unschooling, Tidal Homeschooling, and the Wearing of Shoes that Fit

This is part of a (much) longer response to the comments on my "Lovely, Lovely Low Tide" post. I thought this part of my comment was relevant to the ongoing discussion here:

I am certainly not perfect
and I try show my warts and all on this blog. I am constantly pondering
and working with questions, and I wonder sometimes if that makes me
seem inconsistent, like people must be wondering if I’m ever going to
pick a lane! I am comfortable, though, with who I am (my favorite John
Paul II quote was, "Families, be who you are!"), and who I am is
someone who likes to mull over a wide range of ideas and see what
WORKS. For me, for us, for my kids, my husband, in our unique and
ever-changing situation.

I sometimes do feel an urge to "belong" to one school of thought or
another, to find that label that fits me perfectly. As I said in my
original Tidal Learning post, I couldn’t find the label, so I made one
up. It’s useful mainly as a way of answering people’s questions when I
meet a new homeschooler.

I have written elsewhere about how some part of me seems to stick out
of every niche I enjoy visiting (and that is probably true for most
people). I’m a pro-life Democrat, for Pete’s sake! Sort of. Ha!—I
don’t even fit THAT label across the board.

But still there is that desire to find the perfect label. There are
times I read Charlotte Mason and think: She makes so much sense! I want
to be a whole-hog CMer! And other times when I read Sandra Dodd and
think YES, I grok that, I’m an unschooler! But the reality is, I have
places where my understanding doesn’t completely line up with either CM
*or* radical unschooling. And that’s fine. I can still learn from both
schools (unschools?) of thought, and identify with aspects of each.

One area I’m keenly interested in is the balance between a rich
unschooling environment (the kind of environment & relationships
Sandra describes so vividly in her book and site) and the logistical challenges
of raising a big family, especially with my special-needs son. When
you’ve got big kids and babies in the same house, all with their own
(sometimes conflicting) needs, you’re probably going to have to make
compromises somewhere. Tia, that’s the issue you seemed to be exploring
in your post on Always Learning—-how your need for a clean, uncluttered
space seems to you a valid need that benefits the whole family, and how
you feel able to maintain that without shortchanging your children of
your time or attention. It seems like a good question to explore, but
is perhaps a bit out of context on that particular list. And I saw that
the reactions of experienced radical unschoolers there were coming out
of a sense of concern that your vision of it being possible to maintain
a tidy home while unschooling might make newbies feel like failures if
they can’t pull that off.

Probably some of the friction comes in the different definitions people
have of unschooling. I try to consistently use "radical unschooling"
when describing the lifestyle Sandra speaks of, which incorporates an
approach to parenting that believes kids grow up happier and nicer if
there aren’t constant conflicts with parents over chores, TV, and so
forth; and that the way to avoid that kind of tension is to relax
control in those and other areas.

While I find much to learn from in that vision of parenting, I cannot
say it totally lines up with mine. I’m completely on board with "say
yes as often as possible"—but I also see myself as the leader of this
crew of kids and am comfortable with the notion of parents being in authority
over their children. I don’t see authority as a bad thing or
necessarily meaning there will be friction and discontented children.

But I digress. I was saying that as I understand it, "radical
unschooling" has a specific meaning, and some discussions are not going
to be relevant in a radical unschooling context.

Just plain "unschooling" is a tricky term, because to some it means
radical unschooling, and to others it means "kids growing up without
‘doing school’ either in a schoolhouse or at home"—without necessarily
applying to *parenting* style. You’ll find, then, families who consider
themselves unschoolers but where the parents have an authoritative (not
the same as *authoritarian*, and I credit Jeanne Faulconer for writing
a post years ago that first made that distinction clear to me)
parenting style. That probably best describes how Scott and I are
raising our kids. So while I have great respect for people like Sandra
who have, by all accounts, raised some fabulous, considerate,
compassionate, respectful, nice kids according to the parenting
principles that accompany radical unschooling, I’m coming from another
perspective, one informed by my Catholicism (the only label that truly
fits me across the board), my experience, my husband’s viewpoints, and
the temperaments and needs of our specific children.

So yes, I think you can be both an authoritative parent and an
unschooler, and there are unschooling discussion lists where it might
be interesting to have that discussion, but I would naturally expect the
experienced & happy radical unschoolers to speak up with strong
arguments from their perspective. And if they all disagreed with my
opinion, I’d have to say, well, I went to the vegetarian banquet
looking for hamburger recipes!

Still, I love to hear the RU perspective, with its emphasis on JOY.
Joyful parent/child relationships, joyful person/learning
relationships, peace and delight and harmony in the home and with the
world. It’s a refreshing vision—invigorating, I think is the word I
used in my Low Tide post. Sandra’s work truly refreshes and empowers
me, and I would hate to discourage anyone from encountering it, even if
I’m not a radical unschooler myself.

One insight I had about myself during this current re-immersion in
Sandra’s website & list is that I was able to put my finger on why
our foray into pure CM method this past winter/spring fell flat after
six weeks, so that I found myself—for the first time in our
homeschooling experience—with a roomful of discontented kids.
(Discontented with our learning experiences, I mean. They have
certainly all been discontented before, like whenever I cook dinner.)

The realization that
came to me via my rethinking Sandra’s philosophy is that what was
different about our High Tide time this winter was that always before,
while we may have been taking an excursion aboard the S.S. Charlotte
Mason, I was captain of the ship, adjusting our course as needed, and
pulling into port for refreshment or exploration as my young sailors
required. This time around, I turned the ship’s wheel over to Cap’n
Mason herself—and much as I love her captain’s logs, she doesn’t know
my crew the way I do. After six weeks, they were ready to mutiny.

So I am back where I belong: comfortable in my own shoes. I’m a Tidal
Homeschooler, and it works for us, makes for fun times with my happy,
pleasant children. But it was the Radical Unschoolers who taught me
this lesson, and I will continue to enjoy learning from their
perspective— just as I learn from the pure Charlotte Mason folks and
the Real Learners and the classical-ed folks. I
really, really like to learn. So do my kids, so I’m content to "be who
we are."

No-Cry Friday

June 14, 2007 @ 8:32 pm | Filed under:

MotherTalk has dubbed June 15 "No-Cry Friday" in conjunction with the blog tour of Elizabeth Pantley’s book, The No-Cry Discipline Solution. I haven’t read the book yet, but I’m interested. Parenting literature is, in case you haven’t noticed, a pet interest of mine. I’m partial to the work of Dr. Sears, myself. And also (I know this will be a shocker to veteran Bonny Glen/Lilting House readers) Charlotte Mason.

For my contribution to No-Cry Friday, I am reprising a recent Bonny Glen post that generated a lot of nice feedback; a goodish number of people seemed to find it useful.

A Word Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

I think all my real parenting successes have to do with hitting upon
just the right metaphor to illustrate a concept. Patience, example,
levelheadedness—forget it. All I’ve really got going for me is a knack
for figurative language. But hey, if it works…

One image that has worked wonders here lately is the tipping cup.
Years ago, I noticed something about toddlers. If a two-year-old is
holding a cup of water, and it tips and begins to spill, the
child—rather than righting the cup—will nearly always turn that cup
right upside down and dump out the rest of the water. Which is why you
only gave the child water, and not juice.

It struck me a certain type of temperament is prone to similar
behavior when it comes to anger. I have a hot-tempered child whose
natural tendency is to react to any slight upset with a full-fledged
outpouring of wrath. If her cup of emotion tips, so to speak, her
inclination is to just pour it all out.

So one day I talked to her about toddlers and tipping cups, and how
our feelings can be like the water in the cup. She seized hold of the
metaphor immediately. We talked about how part of growing up is
learning how to straighten your cup back up after you’ve been jostled.
You don’t have to let every little splash turn into a big flood.

This image has become a bit of code between us. I’ll see her
beginning to lose her temper after something annoying happens.
"Straighten your cup," I’ll murmur, and more and more often, she takes
a breath, presses her lips together in grim determination—and keeps her
temper in check. I’ve come to know the expression on her face that
means she is struggling to hold her cup upright. She likes to cuddle up
with me in the afternoons and talk about her triumphs.

"I didn’t tip my cup, Mommy," she’ll whisper. "I wanted to
pour it all out, right on [insert sister’s name] head." A pause, a
wicked chuckle, as she savors the image perhaps a bit too much. She
knows there is acid in that cup. "But I didn’t."

A month later, the image continues to prove useful—and not just for the child in question. I often remind myself not to tip my cup, too. For parents, the saying should be: "Don’t shout over spilled milk." The other night I was listening to a talk on mindful parenting by Ren Allen and Sandra Dodd, recorded at the 2005 Live and Learn Unschooling Conference. Ren said that a big shift in her parenting style came when she realized that "between every action and reaction, there is a moment"—a moment in which you, the parent, can choose how to react. Kneejerk parenting—reacting with the first emotion that rushes over you when something goes wrong—can become a habit, but we can all break it. We can take a breath and choose a different reaction, a calmer, kinder one.

Another image my kids and I have used to help us control our tempers is to think of temper as a horse. You’re the rider of the horse; you hold the reins. Lots of times, something is going to happen to upset that horse; it’s going to want to rear up and buck and come down hooves flying, stomping, charging at the offender. But we don’t have to let that horse run wild; we can choose to rein it in.

Both metaphors, the bucking horse and the tipping cup, have been really useful ways for my kids and me to talk frankly and constructively about emotion, temper, reaction, anger, and patience. I have found that in an emotionally charged situation, an angry child will respond much better to a lighthearted, "Whoa, there! Don’t let that horse get away from you!" than any kind of scolding or sternness on my part.