Setting The Tone for Our Children
A long time ago I began to realize something really important about how we parent. Basically, the way we choose to parent sets the tone for how "The Wider World" treats our children - especially when they are very small. If we are kind and patient with our babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, if we listen to our 5 and 6 year-olds, if we give legitimate choices to our children starting at a very young age and allow them to have a voice in our family, then others will follow suit.
Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, and close friends will largely treat your children the way you do. If you speak softly and ask them nicely to stop doing something you feel is not appropriate, they usually will too. On the other hand, if you punish them, treat them as incompetent, and speak to them harshly, then those around you will assume that they should too - because that is how you want things done.
I used to think that some family members were "walking on eggshells" around us - and that may be partly true - but then I realized that this is a much more positive way to look at their behavior. Yes, it may make others uncomfortable because they are not used to it. Yes, they may not know what to do or say sometimes because they've never seen or experienced gentle parenting in action (and hence the uncertainty and "eggshells".) But over time they will start to see what works and what doesn't and they will begin to mirror your behavior.
I've seen this in my own parents. I specifically remember a year ago when Gerry was crying because he didn't want me to go on a swim with my dad in a lake. I was feeling exasperated because it wasn't like I was going to the moon - and also I'm with my kids pretty much ALL. THE. TIME. But you know what? My 4 year old boy still liked to keep me close. Anyway - my dad said something to me that made me feel so good. Basically he said, "He'll grow out of this - look at Marisol and how independent she's gotten!" It was such a boost for me to hear those words coming from my father. My dad loves me very much - this I never doubt. But he also thinks I am a total hippy and I know sometimes my ideas seem just a little bit out there to him - so to hear my own philosophy coming back at me in a positive way, in a moment when I really needed it - well, that was amazing! (And you know what? At 5, Gerry still likes to have me close a lot - but he's also loosening up and his comfort level for space and time from me is increasing! Imagine that, he's growing up!)
This is another huge benefit of choosing to parent this way - it's really isn't about just you and your kids. It's about everyone you come in contact with. People can't help but learn from the examples you live out every day.
It's been just over 3 weeks since I last published a regular post. But just before that post I started a new tab labeled "Gratitudes" which is really another blog-space that I am using to record my gratitude daily. For so long I've wished for that magical Harry Potter pen so I could capture all of my musings, and it seems I have found a bit of real magic in starting this new habit. I've also often thought about how Doogie Howser would write a few of his thoughts down each night - musings and lessons he had learned - and I wondered "why can't *I* do that?" (not as in, why can't I physically do that, which of course I can, but why can't I find the motivation or the discipline for such a practice?) Also, I've heard the advice given before of keeping a blog to record your daily activities if you are homeschooling - and I thought that was a great idea too! The actually practice has eluded me until a month ago though.
It seems that I've finally found my "hook" - and it is gratitude. I highly recommend starting a blog and keeping track of your gratitude daily. I've found that I'm looking for the moments and snapping pictures, and now I'm actually even USING my pictures so it is just a great feeling! Plus I can look back over the days and see all of the wonderful people and happenings in my life. And this space is 100% for me so I know my motivation is pure. Sure, I know family will appreciate it too, and maybe a few curious readers might benefit from seeing snapshots of what an unschooling family's life looks like, but it is mostly for me.(Unlike the ego motivated ramblings I post here, in which I try to spread world peace and overtake the world with my ideas of how to achieve this. Keep reading for more of that!)
Again, did I mention that I highly recommend this (gratitude) practice? Life changing.
Anyway. Blah blah blah. (I mean how long can I ramble about life changing gratitude - there is only so much you can say!)
Spanking has been in the spotlight- have you noticed? I have. And I've somehow maintained a sense of peace and calm through the whole storm (in large part because of my new gratitude practice). Because I know the truth and nothing can sway me from it.
The truth is that hitting and hurting our children will never be the answer. No justifications or qualifications will ever make it right. There will only be ramifications. And yet I remain peaceful inside - even after reading ridiculous arguments and comments and sad stories of countless people trying to make sense of violence against our weakest, most vulnerable members of society. Because I understand why they say what they do. Because I know that it is too painful or difficult for many to face the truth that is their own upbringing, and the fact that they are perpetuating the cycle with their own children.
But feeling peaceful doesn't mean we stay silent. And just because there are many other eloquent voices out there saying the same thing that I am, that does not mean I'll stop. And just because they say it a million times better than I am - with more conviction, stronger arguments, and more clarity of thought (forgive me - I'm tired!), that doesn't mean my words don't matter. We never know who we may touch on any given day. Maybe it will be your closest loved one or a stranger half way across the world, and there is a good chance that we'll never even know what impact we may have, but that doesn't mean we give up.
Two arguments defending spanking stood out for me last week. The first: that as long as our government is violent, our parenting will have to be. This is an interesting thought and I understand where that line of reasoning is coming from and going - that our laws are backed up by FORCE, sometimes lethal force, and that we must prepare our children for that reality. For me this is a great reason to parent the way I do - because I want things to change. We can't change things by staying in the same paradigm.
And second, the argument that ALL parenting comes down to parents "doing" things to children that the children aren't allowed to do (take things from them, send them to their room, tell them "no" etc.) The reason? "Because that's how the parent-child relationship works." This reasoning actually makes giggles bubble up inside of me because the person that wrote this is so clearly not even CLOSE to inhabiting the same beautiful world that I do. And so, I can only laugh. Clearly it hasn't even occurred to this person that some parents actually eschew (how's that for a big word??) ALL forms of punishment. The idea that parenting can actually be about respecting, loving, guiding, problem solving. and compromising hasn't even occurred to this person. So I have no words or argument that would convince someone like this at this point in time.
So I remind myself: We only have our own lives as examples. This will be our biggest contribution, Always.
Listen People! Embracing peaceful parenting does NOT mean you will be perfect. We will always be imperfect humans. I am often less loving and patient than I wish I was. It means that we ADMIT when we are wrong. It means we say "Sorry". It means we try harder. It means we seek better ways ALWAYS. We do not become some super-human when we become parents. Too many parents are clinging to the idea that they must have all the answers, that they must be "RIGHT". There is nothing further from the truth.
Spanking is wrong. Period. End of story. Don't be afraid of this truth, embrace it! Shout it from the mountaintops, revel and roll in it! You DON'T HAVE TO HIT YOUR KID! Isn't that amazing news? Don't you feel the light? It feels so good. There are other people out there practicing this very strange truth right now and they can tell you how liberating it is. It isn't always easy, no. But it is possible. You just have to start looking in the right places, and you will find your answers.
There are very few things I'm willing to take such a strong stand on, but this is one of them. Please be brave and let others know if you feel the same way.
ps What? You were spanked and you "turned out fine"? I have another read for you here.
September 1st, Labor Day 2014 - Tomorrow marks the first day of school in our neighborhood. For us though, it will mostly just be another Tuesday. Our schedule is about to ramp up and get busier - Marisol has quite the fall schedule this year (dance, gymnastics, CCD, soccer, and a class at the zoo!) but tomorrow we have nothing.
Today I was reflecting on a post I wrote two years ago, "Kindergarten and 'Have to'". I know that it has the potential to raise defenses and turn people off. People don't want others telling them what they can or cannot do. But that has never been my intention, and never will be. I feel that if a child is thriving in school and is happy and it works for their family, then that is great for that family! And I also know that for some families, homeschooling really isn't an option for any number of reasons. I do not have any illusions about everyone being able or wanting to homeschool, so I have no desire to prescribe homeschooling as a Panacea for all the World's Problems. And I really don't want to hear about why a particular family has to send their children to school - that is really none of my business, and every family's situation is so unique that there is no one formula for how to make things work. I *do* know that for every article touting homeschooling as only for the privileged or rich, there is a family out there proving that statement wrong. (Darcel, who blogs at "The Mahogany Way" is one that jumps to mind immediately for me.)
No, my only desire is to open people's minds' to POSSIBILITY by sharing my experience. Not MY possibilities, but the Idea of Possibility. But if we are constantly saying, "this is how things HAVE TO be" or "my child needs to do x, y, or z" then we are not opening ourselves up to these possibilities.
Have you ever noticed how often we tell kids we can't do something they want to do because we "need to" or "have to" do something else? "I can't play a game right now honey, I HAVE TO make dinner," or "Mommy needs to do __________ right now." Even about things that clearly aren't have-tos or needs, e.g. "I need go to yoga now, or I'm going to be late!"
The ironic thing is that we love to point out that kids don't NEED many of the things that THEY want! You know, like new toys, to watch another show, or candy. But when it is something important to us, it is a "need".
I'm not suggesting that we always drop whatever we're doing so our kids get what they want. Not at all. But I am suggesting that we get radically honest with ourselves so we can be clearer with our kids in our communication.
For example: Yes, when I have a Hypnobabies class scheduled I am committing to those couples and therefore to teaching them at certain times. My kids have not always been thrilled with that, but I am always willing to reevaluate the costs and benefits to our whole family. It is definitely another reason to love what I do - I have a lot of freedom in determining how much I want to teach.
Or when I've played Mario brothers for a couple hours with Gerry on a particular day I can honestly say that I NEED a break or that I don't want to play anymore.
Usually if I'm being really honest with myself I know that it is most true to say, "I WANT (or don't want) to do __________" right now. And that is perfectly valid! The point is that just because we are adults, that doesn't mean suddenly our desires have reached some super status of "need". Sure, to us the things we want to do in any given moment may seem more important to us, but to our kids their desires are just as important. And the more we recognize this tendency in ourselves - to make our to-do list more important - the easier it is to prioritize in ways that are respectful of our whole family. Yes, the dishes do need to get washed and so does the laundry. And they will! But you get to choose when and with how much joy you complete both. Some days you do them together, some days while they play by themselves, some days after your partner gets home from work - the possibilities are literally endless!
Why is this idea so offensive? I think it is probably because our human tendency to want to be "right". When someone questions our "have tos" it's like being told that we are wrong.
For me though, it is freeing to realize when I'm not being truthful to myself and my kids. And it still happens all the time! The "have to" force is strong in our culture and in me. But the first step always has to be to recognize the truth. Once we have done that we are empowered to choose the next step.
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.