We are misdiagnosing a huge problem in our WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic <-- I learned this acronym from my favorite thing that I've EVER read on the internet EVER - ha! Did I say that already? You can read it here: A Thousand Rivers. Be prepared to be blown away. Also, I LOVE the WEIRD acronym, and I plan to use it a lot.) Where was I? Did I lose you in that long aside? (I think I may overuse parentheses. Oh well.)
Anyway. Where was I?
Oh yeah - We are misdiagnosing a HUGE problem in our WEIRD culture. We, as a culture, as parents, as "educators", tend to think that "WE" have a problem with overusing technology, whether it is the internet, social media, or smartphones.
The truth is that the internet and our iPhones are not the problem - they are a scapegoat. The problem is DISconnection, and it will not be solved by simply limiting and controlling technology use in ourselves and our children. Two huge reasons that limiting will not work are:
1) Technology is awesome! It's fun! It can do cool things! It makes life easier. It helps us connect to loved ones who are FAR away and whom we can't connect to in our every day lives. The problem with LIMITING, therefore, is that we are labeling it BAD, when in fact it is NOT bad. It's awesome! Even if you think that you aren't labeling it bad - that you are just saying "too much of a good thing isn't good for you" or "all things in moderation" - the message that is being sent to your subconscious and your children by the action of limiting is that it is BAD.
So what happens? If you are trying to cut back on internet use yourself, when you are drawn to it and break your "resolution", you feel BAD. You feel ashamed. You feel like you aren't strong enough to do something that is supposedly good for you. Shame never has the power to create true and lasting change in our behaviors. Because people who feel bad about themselves have a hard time changing. It's a vicious cycle.
If you are limiting your child something different will happen. You see, your kid(s) recognize(s) technology for what it is - AWESOME! So if you try to artificially limit their use, they are not going to be happy with you. It doesn't take a scientific study to prove this - it is happening in homes across America every day. So in effect, by trying to limit them you are driving a wedge between you and your kids, making the REAL problem worse - disconnection. Also, by limiting them you are creating a more intense desire in them for what they cannot have. (Read this wonderful piece by Pam Sorooshian called, "The Economics of Restricting TV Watching of Children").
2) It is human nature to resist being controlled. (And if we get really honest with ourselves, there is really very little we control in life anyway.) This is why RESOLUTIONS rarely last - because they are an attempt to control OURSELVES in areas that we don't really want or are not ready to change in. And although it may appear that we can control our kids for a while (while they live with us or until they get "older" <-- whatever that means) - eventually they will be the ones in control of THEIR choices.
The problem is that parents tend to reason this way: if I give my small child good habits by controlling them now, then when they are old enough and wise enough to make decisions on their own they will have a good "foundation" for doing so. This logic is serious flawed. Why? Because children need EXPERIENCE to learn how to make good decisions and by controlling and forcing them to do it OUR way we are depriving them of that. But using this logic allows parents to feel good about themselves because they think they are doing the "right thing" and that when the child gets older if they choose the "wrong thing" then that will be the child's (or adult's, by that time) problem. In actuality, many unhealthy habits (including food choices, moving or not moving - known by most as exercise, technology use etc.) are created in people by CONTROLLING THEM when they are young.
The misdiagnosis of the true problem is what makes it possible for videos like Prince Ea's "Can we Auto-Correct Humanity?"(you can view below) and Rachel Macy Stafford's piece "How to Miss A Childhood" go VIRAL. The fact that the messages from these wonderfully well-intentioned, creative people are spread through technology, social media and are being watched by hundreds of thousands of people on smartphones is the ultimate irony and shows how disconnected we are from the true problem. Don't misunderstand me - there is TRUTH in their messages. There is love. There is honesty and conviction. At the core both of these people recognize that our real problem is with lack of connection.
The problem with videos and blog posts like theirs is that people use them as validation that we NEED to control our children and we MUST limit their use of technology.
The reason why so many of us can sit watching or reading and nodding our heads as we access the information through our computers and iPhones, is because we sense that there are things that need to change. We also see the irony. Yet most of us will not change our own habits.
How can we do this?
Well another part of the problem is our desire for a quick fix. In our fear, we reach out to grab whatever seems easiest. While connection with our loved ones is a constant work in progress, something that waxes and wanes, changing from moment to moment - an essential part of our lives that must be attended to every day - we long to "fix" the "problem" and be done with it. We want the solution to be neat and tidy, we want to put it in a box and close the lid on it and then we want to wrap that box up with a shiny bow and double knot it. We think that the answer to what ails us is to LIMIT - screen time, Facebook, smart phones. It's why articles claiming that all handheld devices should be banned (BANNED!) for children under 12 (12!! That's years not months!) are popular. But our neat solution actually causes more problems because (again!) - we don't like to be controlled. There's that vicious cycle again. So to reiterate and really drive the point home, this misdiagnosis and simplistic solution actually causes problems for at least 3 reasons:
1) We are misunderstanding what the true problem is. I mean all you need to do is look at that picture at the top of this post to realized that we've always found ways to ignore each other - whether we are surrounded by strangers or loved ones.
2) When we limit technology we create a NEED for MORE and we create resentment which feeds the bigger problem of disconnection in our relationships.
3) When we limit ourselves or our children we deny ourselves and our children the opportunity to make choices freely.
What if there is a different cycle? One full of joy and REAL connection, and the freedom to choose? What if every day, each moment, we started to ask, "what do I want to do right now," or "what does my loved one need right now?" It isn't easy, no, it is a lifetime of practicing and making mistakes and trying again. It is messy. It can't be contained in a box or defined by a set of rules. But with practice we will get better!
With practice we learn to stop what we're doing and turn towards each other.
It sounds too simple to be true.
Instead of limiting, EXPAND. Add things into your life. DO things together - both things that involve technology and things that don't. Because the truth is that LIFE is not "either/or", technology OR no technology. It is not easy to change our regular patterns and habits in life. Adding things in is often a slow process which can feel excruciating when we want change NOW. But adding things in is a positive mindset that will serve us in all aspects of life. Instead of focusing on the thing that we are so worried about, we start seeing all of the things that make our life so beautiful. And when we feel impatient we can remind ourselves that:
Three years ago I started this blog. Two and half years ago I was high on life (and blogging!) I wrote a lot. It felt great! How did I manage to do that with a 5 and 2 year old? Well, I'm sure sometimes I wasn't paying a lot of attention to them (even though I was writing ABOUT them!) One of my favorite lines from a blog about unschooling said, "Seek balance. Sometimes, you find balance by experiencing extremes." I believe that we are so stuck on the idea of IMPOSING balance on ourselves and others that we aren't allowing ourselves experience the extremes. Kids have always been on the "cutting edge" and parents have always been worried. But we don't have to worry. Worrying, limiting, and controlling are choices. So are trusting, engaging, and loving.
I choose love. And my plan is to keep having fun as much as I can. By myself and with my kids. With my husband and other friends and loved ones. Sure, I may be scared sometimes, but I will not let fear dictate my choices or determine my relationships.
PS If you need more reading - A book I plan to read in the near future that addresses this idea is called Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun. (Thanks for the recommendation Sandra Dodd!)
In the past I've picked a word, identified my core desire feelings, and even committed to doing 13 things a month (what the heck! I was motivated that year... Also, yeah - No, I don't think it lasted!)
The past two years I've been a bit more chill. I've picked words and reflected on things but I'm not all, "ON FIRE!" This year I have a couple of things in mind to guide me into 2015.
The word that I've chosen (or more accurately, the word that has chosen me...) is Breathe. I'm focusing on my breath this year. Every day. And especially in the harder moments. Just breathing. And being. And waiting. Knowing that each moment will always pass and new ones will come.
I've been thinking a lot about Change lately. I believe we NEED change. Without change in our lives we stagnate. Yet we also resist change. We think we hate change and that we don't want it. But I know that sometimes I feel most alive and happy and whole when I'm reveling in some new change in my life. So I'm going to focus on consciously creating changes in my life that make me and my loved ones feel good.
I have been getting newsletters from Parallax Press since I downloaded a free book from Thich Nhat Hanh and here is a bit from it that includes a quote from him:
“There can’t be a new year if there isn’t also a new you.” If we do not have the intention to water the seeds of transformation within us, he elaborated, the so-called new year will continue to be very much like the old, not only for us, but also the world.
Wow. I continue to be astounded by the synchronicities that life offers when we are open to seeing them. It is amazing.
But although I believe we need change I also believe we need to be patient and loving with ourselves and others always. I've seen how change in myself doesn't often happen overnight but instead over long stretches of time. So I'm not focusing on huge, grand, sweeping change - I'm focusing on taking Baby Steps.
I found Core Desire Feelings (ala Danielle LaPorte) to be really helpful - when we know how we want to feel we often make better choices to help us achieve those feelings. I've picked 3 feelings to focus on and they are: Engaged, Energized, and Effective. (I think that 3 is a powerful number of words. And I like alliteration. It is one of those dorky things about me that I embrace.)
Finally, while I was walking Yoshi right around the New Year I was thinking about resolutions and how I don't really like the idea of them. But one resolution jumped into my head and that was: I resolve not to get depressed this winter. I've noticed the past few years that I often get in the rut after the holidays, and even when I know it's happening it's still difficult to get out of. I told my mom that I was optimistic about being able to keep this resolution; but, within 48 hours of making it, I was challenged. (Isn't that the way of it?? I think this is why resolutions seem to futile sometimes! But then again, perhaps that is also the point. If it was easy, we wouldn't need to make the resolution in the first place.) I've felt quite angry and sad already this year. But my resolution is helping. I'm making choices that are keeping me focused on what is important and I'm not staying down long.
So far the biggest change I've made is taking a break from a Facebook. It's been a week and I can honestly say it has been wonderful. In a way I did it "cold turkey" - but in a way I had been building up to it (Baby steps!) by taking small breaks and posting/scrolling less. I feel more engaged with my family, more energized to take on more throughout the day, and effective at making change in myself and around me.
I have a lot more time to fill now that I'm not on Facebook. So I've decided to learn to play guitar again. (Actually this is one reason I decided to take a break - I've been thinking about doing this for a while, but just wasn't DOING it. I needed to clear out some time.) I started once before Marisol was born, but then got sidetracked. So far my strategy is to watch some Youtube videos, pick out some tunes - which is fun and helping me build up some calluses on my fingers, and practice a bit each day. My goal is to be able to play some of my favorite songs so I can sing along.
Here are some videos of my baby steps in learning guitar for your viewing pleasure.
Happy New Year!! I hope that you have found some ideas, words, and inspiration for your 2015. It's going to be a great year - I know because 15 is my favorite number.
I can't complain about 2014. It was a good year for me and my family. It's kinda mind blowing to look back over a full year - I mean the time flies by and yet at the same time the early months seem so long ago.
In 2014 we brought our newest family member, Yoshi, home. We moved to our present home and settled in as quickly as we've ever settled anywhere. I started going to Yoga on a weekly basis. We traveled, had great visits with family, and generally had a great time.
I just took the whole month of December off from blogging. It is the first time I have skipped a whole month since I started Together Walking over 3 years ago. It was not a conscious decision. I often follow my instincts and feelings on things and my body, mind, and spirit were telling me to slow down and take a break.
As I reflected on this past year I realized how many defining moments and realizations I've had lately. Here are a few of my favorite things that I've discovered this year:
1) My favorite thing that I've ever read on the internet: A Thousand Rivers, What the modern world has forgotten about children and learning
2) My favorite group to listen to during emotional times - The Wailin' Jennys.
Especially One Voice and By Way of Sorrow and... ok just about anything they sing!
3) My favorite TEDx talk yet: Peace code in the human brain by Robin Grille
I'll probably write more about this in the future, but for now I'll just say that I started bawling after watching this talk. It was a mixture of feelings of validation, relief, and hope. It is totally awesome and you should watch too.
4) My favorite character ever: Thanks to Marisol we are reading the Harry Potter series together and I'm falling completely in love with Dumbledore again. He is just too amazing to put into words. His sense of humor ("Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thanks you!"), his sense of unwavering justice, fearlessness, kindness, intelligence, integrity, the way he treats Harry and the other students... well obviously I could just go on and on! Clearly I am in love. And I've found my role model for life. So what if he's fictitious.
There were a few themes in 2014 too: Death, Lice, and Gratitude being the Top 3. I know they don't sound very uplifting or glamorous overall, but they were (uplifting) and maybe life isn't meant to be glamorous.
I don't think I can elaborate on why I felt like Death was a theme here - it deserves a whole post (or more) on it's own. But I'll just say it's a topic that has been on my mind a LOT this year and I feel like I've learned a lot from delving into it, even though it's not always fun.
Lice is more like the theme of our fall and winter and again - not really fun or glamorous, but I strive more for honesty here, and HONESTLY we've been dealing with it! I've learned that trying to "take care" of Lice is more of a marathon (with some sprints thrown in) and I'm better at the sprint part. And when you don't get to the finish line you just make your marathon longer. Oh well. It's also a good attitude check. Life and Lice happen - now go make some lemonade. (<-- if this paragraph made sense to you - awesome! If not, don't worry about it.
Onward! As one of my favorite people - who I forgot to list above - Elizabeth Gilbert says all the time.)
In the late summer and early fall I fell into a very emotional state of being. I wasn't exactly depressed - as I "carried on" with life quite well. But I could feel my heart aching every day. Literally aching. My chest physically hurt just about every day and I felt incredibly raw and vulnerable - like my chest was open and heart exposed.
During that stretch I took to recording my Gratitudes frequently - for the first month or so I did it every day. After a couple of months of doing this I noticed my heart wasn't so achy and I felt much lighter in spirit. I'm tucking this away in my store of experiences to remember in the future when I need it.
I also discovered The Theme song for my life: Nothing More by The Alternate Routes. The chorus really sums it up for me:
We are love,
We are one,
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are peace,
We are war,
We are how we treat each other and nothing more.
It is so true and it explains the vastness of the human (and other species) experience. We are capable of All Things - great things, loving things, terrible things, fearful things - all of it. In the end it comes down to our choices and how we treat each other.
Marisol, my mom and I sang this song at the Lockwood family reunion to celebrate my grandfather's 90th birthday this year which will be a cherished memory for us too.
But if I had to pick the two things that made 2014 an amazing year for me, myself, and I - it is easy to do. Those two things are Yoshi and Yoga.
Before we brought Yoshi home I taught a Hypnobabies series to four expecting couples - all four were dog owners! If that is not really cool, amazing, meaningful - maybe "meant to be"? jumps to mind - then I don't know what is. They were all thrilled for my family and one student mentioned that getting a dog is "life changing".
At the time I didn't completely understand. But now I do. I'm totally in love with my dog. She is just so wonderful and I can't imagine our family without her anymore. And I'm completely lucky to have her because her needs perfectly align with some of my needs that I was neglecting before we had her. I now regularly take walks, get outside (daily!) and get to talk with my new friends while she plays with hers. Thank you Yoshi, I love you!
And Yoga, ah Yoga. I put Yoga at the top of the list of best things I've ever done for myself. I'm that serious about it. I haven't missed a week since I started this summer (except when we traveled - and then I did make-ups!)
What were some defining moments for you in 2014? Some of your favorites? What did you discover about yourself? About others?
This morning I cleaned out the van a bit in preparation for our trip up north next week. Marisol got upset with me for cleaning out the pockets in front of her seat. I was a bit baffled - it was a bunch of shells, wrappers and other trash, and some other random toys and bits. I thought she knew I was cleaning out the car. I was annoyed that she was so ticked at me. So I detached a bit for a while. I let her say what she needed to but I didn't engage too much.
Then later I went to talk to her. I crouched down in front of her - she was sitting in the computer chair - and I offered to put the stuff back. While I talked to her the song "Keep Breathing" came on the Pandora channel I was listening to (the music came from my phone in my butt-pocket. Super inspiring, I know!)
Eventually as Marisol kept talking some other issues came up. She didn't feel great. She was feeling stressed about going to our friends' house because there were going to be other kids there and she was worried it wouldn't work out well. She wanted to go, but she wasn't sure she was up for it. (And she didn't really care about the stuff I had moved out of the van... phew! Still, when am I going to learn to check with her EVERY TIME before touching/moving her things?? Sometimes I'm so slow!)
I nodded; I empathized; I offered options of what we could do. I told her we didn't need to go and that her friend wouldn't be terribly disappointed today because she had other friends coming over. I told her we could find out if they could get together Monday.
We ended up going. She ended up not having a great time so we left earlier than we planned. But then we had a great discussion the whole drive home about relationships and communication and how people learn things and how some people have a harder time with things than others. She definitely wasn't thrilled with the way things had gone done, but she also wasn't out of control because of her feelings (which has happened plenty of other times.)
We got home and only had a very little time to get ready for her dance class. But we made it on time. Gerry was a trooper. When we got home from dance she played with her neighbor friends. As we got ready for bed she said that the rest of the day had been better because she had fun at dance and playing. She said just because part of the day wasn't good that didn't mean it all had to be bad. Alleluia! I've said this to her a few times (thank you Sandra Dodd!) - that bad moments don't make a whole day bad, that we can move on and have good moments - it seems like it might be sinking in.
And somewhere in there I heard the "Keep Breathing" song again - on the drive home, or at home - I'm not sure. But it was perfect. And true... Sometimes all we can do is keep breathing, until the next moment, and the next moment, and somehow we get through the not so good ones and the great ones come round again.
I started going to a yoga class a little over 3 months ago. The impact it has had on me has been profound. I have yet to miss a week and have no plans to miss anytime soon - I love it too much!
Someone asked me recently: "Susan, your comments about yoga and meditation interest me a lot, because I cannot see myself "shutting off my brain" long enough for emptiness to enter and for me to be calm."
Honestly, I think that meditation and yoga are probably MOST important for those of us who think we cannot "shut off" our brain! To be honest, I believe that most of us are scared to even try. I know I was. I loved my thoughts so much and the idea that they made me, *ME*, that the thought of losing them scared me. When I felt passionate and ON FIRE and was sharing with the world what I thought was the "right way to be"... well, honestly, that felt pretty awesome! I didn't want to lose that feeling. I didn't want to run out of ideas or things to write about. I didn't want to stop caring about what I thought was important.
But the truth is that as long as you are reacting and pointing out what others are doing wrong (which is kinda what we do when we feel very passionate), you can never truly practice the most important things- kindness, listening, mindfulness... presence.
Anyway, my fear has kind of come true lately - I just really don't feel the intense need to write any more. I've read that it happens to other people too. I think it is partly due to doing yoga/meditation every week. For a couple of months (since around the time that the world lost Robin Williams) I literally could feel my heart aching - it was raw and open and a day wouldn't go without something causing it to throb in my chest. I wasn't exactly depressed - I mean I was carrying on quite well with a busy schedule, maybe even keeping up a little better than usual - but my emotions were always just barely below the surface. I feel like I've clawed my way back up to more stable ground with laughter, gratitude, and mindfulness.
Last week Thay, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, experienced a severe brain hemorrhage. Last night I downloaded a free digital copy of his work "Be Free Where you Are." I read much of it immediately. It is beautiful and profound. He opens with a poem he wrote during the war in Vietnam right after a town was bombed and destroyed by U.S forces. Here is the poem:
I hold my face in my two hands.
He talks about how angry he was, but that anger is what makes us suffer. He talks about taking care of his anger. He also talks about what he means by freedom: "By freedom I mean freedom from afflictions, from anger, and from despair. If you have anger in you, you have to transform the anger in order to get your freedom back. If there is despair in you, you need to recognize that energy and not allow it to overwhelm you. You have to practice in such a way that you transform the energy of despair and attain the freedom you deserve - the freedom from despair."
Yes. This hit a sweet spot for me. I know in my head that despair is not really helpful or useful to anyone - and yet when you see so many terrible things happening every day in the world, most by our own human hands - it is easy to despair.
Then today I read an article called, "Our Children Need More Than Our Anger" and it really clicked in with everything else. I need to go to bed so I can't elaborate more right now - but I really highly recommend reading both Thich Nhat Hanh's work and this article.
So I'm still thinking. But I'm also being more mindful - when I driving to teach I put on some classical music, see the beautiful fall colors, and notice my breathing. I'm trying to be better at really listening and hearing my children and husband when they are talking to me - even if I'm feeling tired.
And my mind isn't quite so busy. Turns out it wasn't really scary at all. Turns out it's pretty nice.
Debates, anger, passion, hate, division...
If you can't find any truth in the "other" side...
You're not looking hard enough.
If you can't find something beautiful to love in someone else...
You're not looking hard enough.
Pick a topic, debate, controversy -
Someone, somewhere believes the exact opposite as you.
Our experiences help shape us.
That is why we are all so unique.
Countless different ways to see, hear, smell, feel, touch the world.
Countless ways to abuse and be abused.
Countless ways to heal, love, and be loved.
Black and White will never be able to paint a complete picture.
The only real Truths:
Love, connection, discussion, listening, open arms, hearts, and minds, patience, Time.
If you've never tried on the words:
"What if you were me... what if I were you?"
Now's the time.
If you can't understand why someone else thinks, feels, BELIEVES, differently than you...
You're not listening hard enough. You're not thinking hard enough. You're not trying hard enough.
Lately I get onto Facebook and I scroll through my feed (as I do) and it just amazes me. The things that are controversial are just, well... kind of mind blowing. I mean there are the normal "BIG" debates in parenting circles and politics: e.g. abortion, vaccines, full-term breastfeeding, environmental issues, war, etc. etc. But really you can pick anything - and I do mean ANYTHING - and it can turned into a heated debate: drinking (cow's!) milk, celebrating Halloween, posting personal pictures online, when to turn your child forward in their car-seat - those are just a few that popped into my head right now, but I think you get the idea!
Ok, so I went over to my facebook page to take a quick peek to see what I could find. This picture was almost immediately in my feed (and I've linked it to give credit if you care). ummm can I just say wow. As a friend commented - if you feel that strongly about this you better start looking at everything you buy! (Which I think may be the point of this particular page actually, and even a worthy to think about for many.) But this is just ONE example of something people get really worked up about.
I mean - is it me or does EVERYONE have an opinion about EVERYTHING?? I know what some of you might be thinking - *You* (Susan D May) do too! I really do. I'm WAY more opinionated now than I've ever been. I mean seriously - I have some strong, "out there" (by mainstream standards) opinions. So it's not that I'm against HAVING opinions. Nah - it's be a pretty boring world, filled with boring people if we didn't have our own thoughts and beliefs. But honestly, I just can't seem to get worked up about too many things anymore. And when I do - I quickly return to a more peaceful state instead of getting more and more fired up. I don't have the time or energy to work myself into a tizzy about every little thing that someone else has an opinion on. My kids are growing up right in front of my eyes and we are busy and at the moment I seem to be barely keeping on top of things one day at a time.
Two years ago I made a Desire Map and two of the words I chose were "peaceful" and "on fire". Even at the time, I recognized how difficult it was to be both. When I started this blog I was regularly ON FIRE. I had something to say and share and I wanted to get it out to the world, STAT! I often stayed up till midnight or later pouring my thoughts out. Then I would click "post" and share what I wrote on Facebook and the adrenaline rush that followed would keep me awake even later! (Then I would wake in the morning and find that the sun still rose, the world was still spinning the same way, and people were still going about their daily lives the same as usual.) By the time a year had passed I felt that I was almost "Awake" - Meaning I was interested in achieving what this quote says:
"Once you awaken, you will have no interest in judging those who sleep." James Blanchard
But clearly when you are ON FIRE you are feeling passionate, and passion often causes us to think we have the "right" answer (aka "judge" others.)
Now, I'm not claiming that I don't "judge" others. I actually think that judging - as in forming opinions - is part of the human experience. It's fine to have opinions; it's fine to make judgments.
So what's my point? My point is - it's not the opinion or what you believe that matters - what matters is HOW you express your feelings, WHEN and WHERE you choose to express your thoughts, and WHO and WHY you choose to express your beliefs to.
These are not easy things to discern. I sometimes think I am kind of a wimp when it comes to sticking up for kids in real life. I'm way more likely to look the other way than I am to say, "hey! that's not right!" Partly, because I'm still figuring out what is the KINDEST way to help both children and those that care for them. And usually the answer is right there in that sentence I just typed - instead of telling people off when *I* think they aren't being kind enough, I can offer HELP. What can I do? How can I help you? How can I love and support you so that YOU can be your best self?
Because in the end I TRULY believe that we are all doing the best we can. I just have to REMEMBER that I believe that. People love their children. People want to do right by their children and loved ones. So, yes I have very strong opinions about how to treat children. But I'm no longer feeling the fire of my opinions burn me up every day. It's far more important that I let my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs guide me in how I treat my loved ones than spend my time debating every nuance on the internet. It's far more important that I build real connections with ALL of the people that cross my path every day, than spend spending my time judging every action and word that leaves their mouth.
I know that I am but one voice. I know that nothing I say here is original. I know I'm repeating myself. I have read many books and articles about treating others with compassion. The message is real and it's out there for people to find in their own way and time. I cannot control everyone else - I can only choose my own path, as mindfully and respectfully as I possibly can. And since I am human I will make mistakes. I will stumble and fall. I will run into others and hurt them. I will fail to stay the course I have chosen. I will be a hypocrite. But then I will remember that I love myself and I will try again. I will try to offer this grace to others too, and I hope people will do the same to me.
I saw this picture go through my feed today and it spurred a flurry of thoughts that I wanted to share. It seems like a benign enough statement, "A child who reads, will be an adult who thinks." Surely all "good" parents will agree with it, right??
And it's not exactly that I disagree with it. After all, *I* was a child who read (a lot!) and now I'm an adult who thinks (a lot!) So I'm proof positive of this sentiment, right??
Here's the thing. Reading is important in a literate culture, like the one we live in. But we've twisted this truth (that reading is important) into all sorts of other things that aren't true. For example many people believe that if a child doesn't learn to read in a certain "window" of time, then it will be very difficult for that child to learn to read later. Why do people believe this, when home-schoolers see repeatedly, over and over, and time and again that this simply isn't true? How can this be? Well, it's because school (or school like conditions) is (are) not the ideal environment for children to grow and learn in.
Anyway, I'm not saying that I have a problem with people valuing reading or books. I love to read. I love books! What I have a problem with is pushing unrealistic expectations on people - especially children - and "book worship". When reading and books are valued as more important than the actual child standing in front of us, there will be problems. What about children who AREN'T that interested in books? What about toddlers that can't sit still during story time? What about little boys that prefer to watch a video to fall asleep than listen to mommy read a book? What about children who love to go to the library to get new DVDs out and rarely read the books that are brought home?
I'm not talking about not having these opportunities (reading and books) available to children. I'm talking about pushing books on children because we've deemed them more valuable, more useful, more educational... better.
Another blog post came through my feed yesterday called, "Unschooling at Home and at Work, Part IV: Play... Where It All Breaks Down." In this article a professor talks about real conversations she's (he's?) had with students about what they like to do in their free time. The conversations that follow are pretty sad and she sums them up this way:
I’m not interested in anything.
These are people that have been through our school system. Literate people. Presumably people who read as children. People who have been exposed to our culture their whole lives. Clearly they are not absorbing the message that reading and thinking are not only worthwhile, but enjoyable!
So before you jump on the Reading = Thinking = Success and Happiness Bandwagon, rethink your strategy of how to get there. Forcing kids (PEOPLE!) to do things before they are ready will not ensure that you reach the goal.
Just yesterday Marisol read prayers to me off of a prayer dice her grandmother gave her. It was awesome. Yes, she partly has the prayers memorized from hearing them - but I could also tell that she was actively decoding each word, taking her time and really READING each one, not just rattling the prayer off. The road to becoming a fluent reader has not been an effortless one for her. She often wishes she could read NOW. But she also doesn't want to work at it and do things that bore her - like flash cards or read early readers. She definitely does not want to be FORCED to do anything (she is very clear on this point!) So instead, her skills and vocabulary have been slowly building over time. She also loves books. I want to keep that love intact, so I respect her desire not to be forced into reading and her pace of learning. I'm glad that I can do that for her.
Gerry's interest in books is slowly building over time. But he LOVES video games and the Mario games are often filled with stories and dialogue - all of which he insists on me reading to him.
Every day I model reading - mostly on the computer and my iPhone, because that is mostly where I read now.
So my point is, as parents WE should THINK before buying into something that seems "obvious". If this obvious "Truth" is causing discord in your life and stress in your relationships with your children, maybe it's time to dig deeper and clear the air between you and your child. When you see your child clearly for the amazing person they are, things will flow. Is your child exposed to letters, sounds, and printed words every day? Are they loved and are their needs being filled? Do you read to them when they are curious and want you to? If you can answer yes to these questions, they will learn to read.
As for thinking... It was noted on one of my favorite Facebook pages recently - I don't know a kid who doesn't think. It's sad that there are adults now saying they "don't think." Clearly our system isn't working for everyone. It's time for us to change our strategy.
Here are some great links to read more on this topic-
A Thousand Rivers
Unschooling and changing my perspective on the importance of reading
Yesterday I resolved to stop REACTING and RANTING (not before I started composing the "Rant to End All Rants" in my head first though!) Why? Well, it just doesn't feel good to be in that mode - to be reacting and defending and wanting to PROVE why your way is better. It is so much better to live what we believe peacefully and promote what we love, as opposed to bashing what we don't.
But then I read an article that annoyed me. And I was going to send it to one of my favorite bloggers so she could break it down - but then I thought, why don't I instead? So the day after making a Grand Resolution, here I am composing this post. Naturally. Because that's what happens when I RESOLVE to do anything.
BUT the good news is that this post is going to be extremely positive and inspiring. In my very humble opinion anyway. So even though I am reacting to something I didn't like, I'm putting out there what I do. So maybe my resolution still stands.
The post I read is called 12 ways to be the meanest mom in the world. But since I don't think it is necessary - or even desirable and effective - to be a mean mom in order to be a good mom, I'm going to list 12 ways to build an amazing relationship with your child and be an AWESOME mom (or dad! or any person in a child's life...)
(Also, if you really believe that the "kids these days" are the "laziest, rudest, most entitled kids in history" maybe you should check in with past generations and see what *they* thought of kids back in their day. Go back a few years, to oh, I don't know, maybe the 8th century BC when Hesiod said, "I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint". Ok, so I'm not really sure who Hesiod is or if he really said that, so maybe this one from Plato is more familiar, "What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?" Hmmm... I guess the whole, "kids these days" notion isn't so new!)
Ok enough ranting! On with the raving! Without further ado, 12 ways to achieve parenting awesomeness and build amazing relationships with the children in your life:
1) Support your kids' natural, biological rhythms and help them get enough rest. If school is part of your family's life find ways to make going to bed enjoyable. (Of course do this whether school is part of your life or not. I only mentioned it as a "condition" because bedtime is usually more of an issue for families that have to conform to the school schedule). Find a routine that works for everyone, but be flexible. Recognize that there are times when children aren't ready for bed at the "normal" time and other times when they may need to go to bed earlier. On the weekends let them catch up on sleep if they need to. Have discussions about why it's important to get enough sleep and ask them for ideas if bedtime is becoming unenjoyable. If your family has opted out of school, even better! You can really respect your child's natural sleep schedule. You can also give them more freedom in exploring their limits, what feels good, and what works for them. Your discussions will probably include respecting other's need for sleep and appropriate behavior if they stay up late (aka - daddy needs to work so we have to keep noise at reasonable night time levels! Also, Mommy is just plain tired.)
2) Have a variety of food in the house. Allow your kids to choose what they want to eat. This is a big topic to cover in a short list. However, limiting kids and controlling their food does not lead to healthy, balanced eating habits. If they want "dessert" let them eat it. If you must worry about someone's diet, let it be your own. Model what you think is healthy eating. Have natural conversations with them when things come up - like the time you eat too many potato chips and got a stomach ache (I may or may not have done that last weekend.)
3) Give your kids some spending money regularly. But be generous with them also. We give our kids an "allowance" every week. Right now Marisol gets $5 (she's 8 years old) and Gerry just started getting $3 recently (he's 5 years old). We do not tie the money to chores or behavior. It is automatic. The benefits are many: they learn to save, they learn how much things are worth, there are fewer debates about what they can get when we go to stores. But I've also realized that I want to surprise them with things they love once in a while too! Because I love them. Because it takes so little to give them joy. Because I believe the best way for them to learn generosity it so experience it and see it, so I want to model it. There is no one right way to approach money and one thing I've learned is that our approach is always evolving. But keeping open, honest communication about money and being generous are good starting points for us right now.
4) Support your child through challenges and be their advocate. If they find themselves involved in an activity, a class, a job, or any relationship or situation in which they are unhappy support them. Listen. Offer insights if they want them. Ask what you can do to help. Life will always have challenges but you can show them that they don't need to face them alone and that they are up to facing them. They will learn how to make the best of things if it is worth it to them and they will also learn what situations aren't worth staying in.
5) Watch them do hard things and be in awe. Children are born wanting to learn and grow and try new things. When they find things they are passionate about they WILL do hard things without you "making" them do anything. Be ready to support them in the way that is best for them, determined BY them. Sometimes that will mean helping or even doing something for them, sometimes it will mean commiserating, "man, that *is* hard!", sometimes it will mean keeping quiet but remaining present. Sometimes they may even want you to give them some space. Respect that they know what is best for them in any given moment.
6) Give them a watch and alarm clock if they ask for one. Believe that when children find something worthwhile to them they will learn to manage their time. But help them in the meantime. Some people sleep through anything - even the loudest alarms! (My sister was one of them, and I've heard other people say the same thing!) Work together to find ways for your child to succeed. They will learn it is ok to ask for help when they need it.
7) Support your kids in their interests. Involve them in financial decisions. Of course, gratitude for what we have is very important. But learning that there is no shame in wanting more is too. We bought a wii gaming system less than a year ago. We are probably going to get a wiiU for Christmas. No, we didn't go out and buy it the instant our kids (ok, Gerry) wanted it, but they know that we are planning to get it. He also knows how much money it is and that "300 dollars is a lot of dollars." And in the meantime we go to Best Buys and Targets and Gerry gets his fix.
8) Be there for them when they experience true loss. Because they will. But if it is a loss that you can help fix, help them. They will learn kindness this way. And they will learn to help you when you make mistakes too. Show them how to be responsible by being responsible, reliable, and truthful.
9) Be truly radical and give your child more freedom than you are comfortable with. Whether it is about "screen time" or food or exploring their environment, be willing to push your comfort levels because you want to build trust between you and your child. Fight the urge to restrict, limit, and control even though all the other parents are. Besides you know that control is a myth anyway.
10) (and 11 and 12) Model, Model, Model
If you make a mistake, apologize. They will learn how to apologize naturally this way. If you see them struggling with a friend - help them. Support them both by listening and asking questions. Children are intelligent - they know when they've done something wrong and they want to make amends. Be the kind of person you want them to be. They will follow suit. Help others because it is important to you. And remember that your kids are some of the most important people that *you* can help. Notice the things that they do for you and others and thank them sincerely.
The amazing thing about children is that they are human beings, just like adults! Yes, they will make mistakes (like adults) and yes they have less experience than adults - but they really want to feel good, and living well with others does feel good for all of us! They want to be connected to you and to the wider world. Punishment and praise (or other rewards) are not necessary and in fact, not helpful.
Yes it's a lot of work being a parent and staying connected to our children - but it is worth it! And once you start to see that they really *do* master everything they need to in their own time, you will feel more confident in them and yourself. Not only will you have amazing relationships but you will feel like an awesome mom (or dad, or grandma/grandpa,or aunty/uncle) too!
I read an article about a child's math test. When her mother looked through the test she noticed that one question was marked wrong that shouldn't have been, because her daughter's answer was right. Turns out the company that created the test had the answer wrong. She went on to explain why this is a big deal. Here is the line that stood out for me, "In a low-stakes world, Pearson’s screw up was a low-stakes mistake. But now we’re forcing our kids — our eight, nine, and ten year olds — to live in a high-stakes world."
At first I got all fired up when I read that. It honestly made me really angry. "We're" forcing our kids. Who is we? Why are parents cooperating? Do the majority of the people really believe that they have no choice in this matter? And who says it's a high stakes world? Why are we letting "others" decide for us?
You may call me naive. You may say I'm privileged. And you may be right about both. I am reminded often of the little bubble I live in. I see that many people believe these things - that our world is a cut-throat, competitive, hard place. And still, I choose not to believe that. I believe we are meant to live in cooperation with each other. I believe that when we do, we are happier and healthier. I believe our children are craving a different way.
So what I want to do is yell, "WAKE UP! *You* have a choice. Yes you. You don't have to FORCE your kid to do anything if you don't feel it is the right thing to do. And I'm fairly certain it isn't."
Maybe your personal situation won't allow for homeschooling. I understand it isn't an option for every family. But that doesn't mean you have to just go along with and feed the current system. It's up to you to change it if it isn't fitting your child's needs. Refuse to buy into it. We all know about supply and demand - if enough parents stop buying what's currently being sold and start demanding change, it will happen. I know it's hard. It may feel impossible. So you start simply. You tell your child that their test scores don't define them and your love and approval will never depend on a letter or a number. You don't feed the hype and competition that fuels the school culture. Maybe you start conversations with other parents or your child's teachers about information you've read about how children learn. You tell your child (and yourself) that we all learn differently - in our own way and time - and you BELIEVE it. And if you don't believe it yet, you fake it until you do.
It seems that a large majority of our population is being driven by fear. Fear that our child won't be "successful" and that it will be our fault if we don't somehow get them through the system. But what is success? And what if THE SYSTEM is actually what is holding so many of us back? Then why are we doing this to our children? (And if you need some more reading, here is an article written by someone who believes that education doesn't guarantee success. So there is at least one other person out there.)
I'm not fired up anymore. I'm tired. I hope more people start questioning things and taking back what is rightfully theirs. All of our children deserve the best, and what we're serving up isn't it.