I hurt someone I love with one of my "out-there" ideas. It wasn't my own writing but an article titled, Your Child does NOT Thrive on Routine, that I posted on Facebook. The first time I read this article it resonated strongly with me on a personal level. But when one of my favorite people and best friends shared her sadness in reaction to the piece, it made take another look.
How did I miss that this article had the potential to offend? Recently I read an article titled, "Babies Are Needy—Does That Bug You? Maybe get a dog instead of a baby." This article is also very blunt in its presentation, yet its core message resonated with me. After reading a lot of the comments I saw how many people were hurt by it and decided not to share. (If you're really curious I can send you the link.) Presentation does matter. Mayim Bialik's new book, "Beyond the Sling" advocates similar parenting choices BUT with a totally different tone. Tone matters. Words have power.
Part of the reason I didn't think much of posting this article is that it seems to be about a somewhat benign topic: "Routine." Compared to other controversial parenting topics like breastfeeding, vaccinations, co-sleeping, spanking, and homeschooling, it seemed pretty safe. But "Routines" (aka schedules) are as accepted and entrenched in our culture as anything else, and in this case was code for school (or daycare for the younger child). Also the use of the the words "Your Child" make it very personal, giving it more power. This is why I try to be very careful with the words that I choose. For example I write here about MY TRUTH, and what works for me and my family. I wonder though, would the author's point have been as powerful without the strong language? Which style is more likely to actually make an impact and be heard: powerful but possibly offensive, or a more subtle, hopefully compassionate approach with less "oomph"? I'm finding that as I try to share my truth without hurting/offending/judging, it can be difficult to do since my reality is so different from most people I know.
But let me backtrack for a minute. Let me explain why I liked the article to begin with. I've recently been thinking about my kids and how we've for the most part never really had a "schedule". There have been times when we got into a certain flow that seemed to stick for a while, but routines or schedules have never really worked for us. I used to think that it was Marisol who broke me into this kind of a lifestyle. But lately I've been delving more into *me* and I've realized that *I* am the one who is just not very "routine". I just didn't really know it since I had always had routines and schedules my whole life - until my kids joined me. It was the classical case of mistaking correlation (the arrival of Marisol and my lack of schedule) for causation. Now, I'm not saying that Marisol is prone to an orderly day (or night!) either. I'm just noting that I am as much the cause as she is. I also agree with the author's assessment of children thriving on predictability and familiarity, that these two things lower stress, and that routines, schedules and school are not the best ways to achieve these things.
Let me go on a little "school tangent". I realize now that I've been "hiding" behind some words when I talk to people about homeschooling my kids. I say, "I loved school! It was great for me. I'm not homeschooling because I have something against school, I just see a better way for us." Now, these words are true. I'm not lying when I say them. But they are a buffer of sorts - it puts the people I'm talking to at ease. But another truth is that the more I inspect and reflect on my own experience as student AND teacher, the more I see wrong with school.
I will begin by critiquing myself. Because that's what I like to do (ok, well I'm trying to get away from that, but for now to make this point I will. And it's about my past self, not my present self). One very strong memory I have of school - and this was high-school - was of my teachers (and mom's friends - my mom was my math teacher in the 9th and 12th grade) ooohing and ahhhing over my report cards. Teachers LOVE those 99.99% GPAs. And my reaction? "Well, isn't that the GOAL?" To get 100%, I mean.
I am ashamed to admit that is what I thought. In my defense, it wasn't completely my fault - I mean that is what we are taught - to get the right answers and the high grades. But it ignores so many other factors - like different learning styles, and kids that are really smart (ALL OF THEM!) but don't care about grades (I have so much respect for those types now!), and people that just aren't interested in what x + y equals, or what day the Battle of Gettysburg took place. Not to mention not everyone can memorize hundreds of unrelated facts and regurgitate them on command. As for me, "school-smarts" and "know-it-alled-ness" run in my family - thankfully so to kindness and the ability to think critically (aka change our minds!)
So yes, school was good to me. Or I should say, school and I were a good fit. I was lucky. I excelled in many areas and had great friends. But now I see things quite differently. In particular the competition. Even back then, I never liked it. I hated when my classmates celebrated when they "beat me" on an exam. I was embarrassed by teachers who made sarcastic remarks about me in front of the whole class. I ignored my body to come to school when I was really sick so I wouldn't "let my team down" by missing a game (how well could I have played??) I both suffered from and participated in middle school cruelty. These are just a few of the experiences that immediately come to mind.
The truth is, the school environment is tough for many kids and there are negative aspects for everyone. School does NOT foster critical thinking, creativity, individuality, cooperation, flexibility, questioning, pursuing passions, or success for all. (There may be exceptions, but for most I believe this is true. I'm speaking as a teacher now too.) These are things that I value. All of this is part of the benign and what most think of as beneficial "routine" of being part of school. It may seem like I've made quite a leap here, but this is where my mind went yesterday.
Back to my friend. My reaction to my friend's sadness was very emotional. I felt sad too. The feelings manifested in my body - a hard ache in my heart, eyes stinging, a sick pit in my stomach. I wanted to be able to vomit all the words running through my mind into this post in one big purge. I want my friend to see my heart and know my intention.
Besides the emotions my thoughts ran wild. Everything rushed in and around my head and every idea was connected to that moment. Every idea I've ever had seemed to relate. It was close to impossible to untangle it all and make sense of it.
So, am I really ready to share my truth? I thought I was. Also, this is what I wanted right? To make people think and question?
I reminded myself of some things. First, I am really starting to accept deeply that we each own our emotions. No-one makes someone else mad, or angry, or sad. We are in control of ourselves.
Second, I reminded myself of the "Purple spots". I've heard this now from two different sources, Tara Wagner and Louise Hay. If someone came up to you on the street and told you that you had purple spots all over you and you had better get to the emergency room quickly, what would you do or say? How would you respond and react internally? (Assume you just left your house and gave yourself a once-over in the mirror - you *know* there are no purple spots!) Chances are good that you would not get angry or upset. You might even be more than a little concerned for the other person (Helloooo, someone's had some purple kool-aid!)
How does this apply to every day situations? Well, if you notice that you are bothered by something that someone has said to you, then that means on some level you believe what they are saying. I would only freak out about purple spots if I really thought they were there! An example: your husband tells you to get off your lazy butt to get something for one of your kids. You get really pissed off. Why are you mad? If it's not true, there is nothing to get upset about, and if it is true then you can simply make your decision accordingly (although that really wasn't a nice way for your husband to talk to you - you probably need to work on your communication!) Seriously, I've seen how this works for me. When I'm feeling good about myself and life I don't take things personally. When I do get upset, it is time to look internally.
How this applies to me personally is that many of the choices we've made in our family (nursing an almost 3 year old, homeschooling, co-sleeping, our use of media, to name a few) are judged very harshly. I know; I read the comments (even though I know I shouldn't!) But I cannot take them to heart or feel saddened by them because I know what they are saying about me (my choices) is not true. Usually there are very, VERY big misunderstandings at the heart of the hurtful comments.
Let me be clear: I am not saying that we should not be aware of how our words and actions affect others. What I am saying is that if something bothers you that is your cue to look inwards (this seems to be a recurring theme!)
I am not so naive to believe that it is possible for everyone to home-school or stay home with their small children. But I *do* believe that many more people could make different choices if they wanted to. Maybe not the BIG one - like quitting your job today. But smaller ones. And as smaller choices are made, different paths become easier and more attainable. Feeling like you have no choice is an illusion. I also am very aware that it was relatively easy for me to jump onto this unconventional path. The choices we made early in our "parenting path" and even leading up to having children made it easier for us than it is for many. I am so lucky to have an extremely supportive, intuitive partner. Somehow we are evolving together with seemingly little effort (also not typical!) For us finding our way has been a natural progression - for others who want to break away from our cultural routines, it may look more like an abrupt break.
I believe choices are best made with eyes wide open and with knowledge of alternatives. I believe this is where defensiveness often rises up in us. If we acknowledge there are options then we are left with the (often) uncomfortable truth that what we have been choosing may not be the only or best way. In the case of school - sure maybe school (routines) work for some children and families, but does it for most? And is it the best way? If parents can honestly answer, yes - their child/ren is/are thriving and happy and healthy, then the judgment that routines aren't good for them is irrelevant.
This is part of listening, really LISTENING to yourself and your loved ones, including your kids. When your kids complain about not wanting to go to school (or dance class!) how do you respond? "Oh, you love it - once you're there I can't get you to leave," or "All your friends are in school," or "Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to," or "Do you think I want to go to work everyday?"
Naomi Aldort once said something to the extent that children are capable of adjusting and even appearing happy in almost any circumstance. She asserts that indeed children are wise to make the best of whatever their situation is. Children are the Kings and Queens of "Being" - they only know how to live in the moment. This is why they may appear to "get over" what they told you they were unhappy about. They know they don't hold the power in their lives, so they let go. We could learn a lot from children.
Finally I want to address the "judgmentalness" of the original article. This also seems to be a topic I continually grapple with. Here is what I have decided:
I AM JUDGMENTAL.
Can I finally just own this? Or every time I notice it do I take note and then actively choose something else? Is it possible to make life-choices so mindfully and differently and NOT be judgmental? If it is, then it definitely is going to take a lot of practice for me.
Luckily, I don't believe I come off as judgmental because I am also loving, kind, and generous. And slowly I am learning to keep my mouth shut. I constantly remind myself of what I truly believe, "We are all doing the best we can with the tools and knowledge we have." I can also connect to the feelings of others, even when I do not agree with their methods. Frustration, stress, anger, impatience - these I can relate to and have compassion for. No one wants to feel that way.
I've seen a lot of examples this week of parents really losing it with their kids. Usually it is about behavior that just seems pretty normal. To me the parents look like the jerks, not the kids. But I feel bad for both of them. I admit I'm still not sure what to do in these situations and usually don't do much at all. I'm hoping to get better at offering loving support in scenarios like those.
For now I'm trying to be a living example of the ideals I hold dear. I see it in the little things - a friend who was uptight about her kids wearing their shoes in the park last summer has decided this year to let them roam free and barefoot (my kids and I are such bad influences!) And I'm reminded by the big things, namely death, that our daily choices do matter because they are what ultimately make up our life. I'm learning to bare it all here where it is relatively safe and non-confrontational and I still have my coping mechanisms for "real life" - Like, don't read the comments, don't look directly at people when I'm uncertain of their reactions, or saying, "I loved school!"
Someday when I'm really confident maybe I'll just look right in the eyes of another mama and smile.
So it's Sunday night. Which means tomorrow is Monday. And since I just declared *one* week ago that I was going to try and post on Mondays and Fridays I'd better get something together for tomorrow. I mean I have to make it longer than one week! I mentioned to Mike as he was going to bed that I can't disappoint my huge readership... I believe he snorted. In fact because of that little snort, I'm dedicating this post to my amazing husband. Lucky for him, I laughed too. We have to keep our sense of humor after all, and not taking oneself too seriously is an important part of the equation. Yes, definitely. Well, in my opinion anyways, and that's what this blog is for - my opinion, so there!
I have a lot of different thoughts, both as drafts here and in my journal. But I'm tired tonight. So I'm going to go ahead and finished a post I started a while ago about Unschooling. And actually now that I've decided to do that, I can't think of a more appropriate topic for my second "Monday Awakenings - Life is Good." (Coincidentally, did you know that one of the unschooling conferences is called Life is Good? I can't wait to go to one of those!) Finding Unschooling has definitely been the biggest awakening in my life. I can honestly say that without any hesitation. One of my thoughts when I first started reading about it was, "huh... how come *I* didn't think of this on my own??" It's so simple at it's core that it seems obvious. And I'm a *smart* person, goshdarnit! I should have been able to think of this myself - I was the Valedictorian of my high-school class for goodness sake! (Which I find more and more ironic the as I embrace a new direction that may never include school. I actually almost get an ashamed feeling inside now thinking of it - something to explore and expand more on later. Also, now that I think of it, this may highlight how school doesn't exactly engender critical or creative thinking... but I digress)
For a year or more after I discovered Unscooling I was ON FIRE for it. It was like I was blind and now I could see and I really, REALLY wanted to shout it from the mountaintops (ok rooftops - but that condo we lived in was pretty tall!) I would be up well into the night reading about it. Mike would get irritated for a long time when he saw me reading, and tell me to, "Stop reading that crap!" (Hence my dedication to him today - love you honey!) Luckily, I am not that easily dissuaded. We've both come a long ways - he is super supportive of the kids and me, and I've gotten better at presenting things to him. Also I didn't start broadcasting far and wide that Unschooling was the best thing ever since sliced bread, which I am thankful for because I probably would not have been prepared for the conversations that followed. I did feel a bit guilty keeping it a secret though. I mean it's so amazing, wouldn't everyone want to know about it??
When I first came across the word "Unschooling" my curiosity was immediately piqued. I had never heard of such a thing and had no idea what it meant. Thank goodness for Google! I did a search, and much to my husband's chagrin, a new world opened to me. It was one of those things that once I knew about, I couldn't go back. My life was changed.
What is Unschooling? I'm going to try and put in words what it is to me and then follow up with some links that explain in other people's words. Basically, Unschooling is a kind of homeschooling. But instead of creating a miniature school in your home, you continue your lives together with your children in the best way for your family, without considering how things are done in school at all. I suppose that is where the "un" comes from, in that, schoolish ways of thinking and doing things do not impact your own way of life (as much as that is possible).
Unschooling to me means living with my family in a way that supports each person and their interests and growth. It is NOT "child-led" or "parent-led", instead it is about partnership. Other things that unschooling does NOT mean:
It is not leaving the kids on their own to learn.
It doesn't mean that my kids will never learn things kids in school learn. (Can you follow that one? Double-negative much! Well, you get the idea - in a more straightforward manner - My kids *will* learn many of the same things that school kids learn, they will also probably differ in a lot of areas, but really all people do, school or no school - ok ending longest run-on ever..... NOW)
Here are some good links to explore if this is still to vague:
Definitions of Unschooling
The Unschooling Philosophy
Demand Euphoria's perspective
Unschooling Me - How to Unschool
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much information out there that it really would be redundant for me to try and "define" what Unschooling is. And besides, even though I've been reading about it for 4 years now, I am really still a newbie. Technically this is our first year "unschooling" since Marisol is 5 years old. The best part of reading about experienced Unschoolers has been to define what principles are most important in guiding our family's life. Unschooling philosophy, for me, is much more than just homeschooling my kids. It is a complete way of life. I'm glad that I discovered it so early in my children's lives because although the concept behind the philosophy is simple (people, children included, are learning all the time), embracing what that can mean for your family and life takes longer. I have found that I grasped with my mind very quickly what Unschooling means. It all makes sense to me. However, the "doing" can be more difficult as you learn to let go. I like the analogy of holding onto balloons you can find in the sidebar here. An example in our life of a concept I grasped very quickly mentally, but had difficulty embracing fully in my heart, was not limiting TV. This is a "balloon" that I have repeatedly "let go" of only to grab the string as it floats away from me, bring it back towards me to hold onto, and then let go again. Lucky for my children, I have been able to keep many of my struggles (mostly) internal. I'm hopeful that this will lead to them having more clarity and less baggage (or balloons!) as they grow to adulthood.
Reading about Unschooling and people who are living this kind of lifestyle has impacted our life in so many ways. Most of the concerns that people have when they first hear about Unschooling are the same and they have also been addressed repeatedly in many different forums (yahoo lists, blogs, books etc.) So instead of defining Unschooling and addressing common concerns, I plan to write about how unschooling looks in our family's life. Learning is not just about school "subjects" (and in fact many Unschoolers try not to break things down in this way, because all learning is related). Learning, and therefore Unschooling, occurs in all aspects of our lives including sleep, eating, use of media, and relationships.
Watching our kids learn is one of the most amazing things in the world. This is true for all parents. What continues to astound me in our first "official" year of homeschooling, is how and what Marisol learns every day WITHOUT ME CONTROLLING IT, in any way. I feel very lucky that I started learning about Unschooling when Marisol was still a toddler because we've been able to see how she continues to learn and grow - yes with our love and support - but with absolutely no formal "teaching". I'm trying to put snippets of what the kids are up to over at Everyday Adventures which will be a great place for me to "record keep" as the kids get older.
If anyone (especially friends and family) is really concerned now that I've TOTALLY lost it, please don't worry about us. One thing I'm learning more and more as a parent that nothing is ever set in stone or guaranteed. We are always willing to reevaluate, and of course, listen to our kids. We would never stop them from going to school if that is what they want. I actually loved school myself and know that for some people it is a wonderful place. For now though, we have a different vision and direction for our family. I would love to hear others' thoughts. Is anything awakened in you? Also, experienced Unschoolers, please chime in and if I am way off about anything, please correct away!
Have a great week everyone! I know you will learn something new every day ;-)
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.