When I found out I was pregnant with my oldest, I knew I would be a single parent. Although at the time I was scared, I do remember distinctly feeling a sense of peace and calm. I had been preparing to be a mother my whole life. I was confident that I could do this on my own and not only do it, but do it well. I would make a good mum I thought to myself. After all women for generations had raised babies and If they could do it then so could I. I was educated, I had worked as an Au pair, worked in childcare and had a nursing degree. Hey I had this. I remember that first 48 hours I spent after delivering my first son. I was totally awestruck, I had never felt more vulnerable yet strong at the same time and had never known a love like this one. Boy he had me totally. I brought my son home and I was overcome with emotion. What now? I remember looking at his tiny little hands, and dark long eyelashes and saying “It’s just me and you kid”? The reality is in today’s world it quite often is just that. You and baby against the world. You may be lucky enough to have a partner to share that journey with but even still the incredible pressure of our society today puts mothers in a place of isolation when they need a tribe of people the most. Husbands return to work, friends have their own families or work commitments, often grandparents are still working themselves. Women are left wondering what on earth happens now? In other society’s. women are usually surrounded by aunties, mothers, sisters, and grandmothers. All there to help support families raise their babies. Its more than likely she would have helped raised siblings, watched sisters raise nieces and nephews, listened to the wisdom of her grandmothers and generations before her. For most women in Western cultures we are overwhelmed by the advice and information available. We look for images of motherhood in the glossy magazines, on social media, and on the pages of parenting books. Books that call to us in the middle of the night over spilt coffee, nursing babies, and unfolded laundry.Somewhere in that book is the “perfect mother” If I can find the formula I too can have the warm fuzzy home, the manicured lawn, the helpful husband who does the first bottle feed of the night with carefully expressed breast milk, while you get some sleep. The perfect, sleeping, minimal crying, baby who stares adoringly at you from your one thousand dollar bugaboo pram.
You see as a mother, I felt I had this incredible responsibility to be the best mother I could possibly be, so where do I look to find such an example? I don’t remember much of the time I was a baby, I do remember my parents like most parents of their generation were fairly authoritarian, “you can’t leave the table unless your plate was clear, smack on the bum for being disrespectful, but I had years before I would need to have those kind or rules. I needed something tangible now. So I drowned myself in those books and magazines, spending hour upon hour researching the perfect method to child rearing. I was an expert so I thought. I filled my days with scheduled feeding, scheduled naps, pumping, feeding and just generally driving myself to insanity. Although the time passed quickly enough and I was the proud owner of a happy, thriving, fed sleeping baby. There was definitely a cost to me, and a cost to my dear first-born. By society standards, I had such a ‘good baby’ , I heard your must be a good mother, “well done you”. See society does this to a first time mother, She stares at her baby, wanting to give him the world. She looks at the world, and the world gives her a list of rules to follow. If she follows these rules then she is a good mother, we will praise her, in books, in magazines, in conversations between friends, on social media.
No wonder she is exhausted, no wonder she thinks she is a failure.
My schooling as a parent, continued as my oldest grew, Although I wasn’t overly controlling, my son was always in the dirt and I certainly didn’t helicopter, I still liked to be in control and for my son to listen and to do what I asked. If he misbehaved we would go home, if he was rough with someone I would take him home or at least remind that was a possibilty, or remove the toy he was playing with if he wouldn’t share it. If he didn’t pick up his toys I would tell him we wouldn’t be able to do xyz until he was finished cleaning up. And it worked, my son did what he was told, he picked up his toys, if I warned him we would leave the park if he didn’t behave he would most often behave accordingly. You know what too, I would see the approving looks of other mothers, “good on you”, “stick to your guns”, “don’t let him walk all over you”. Even my own family members would congratulate me on how well I had raised him. Not that I don’t agree that I didn’t put everything and every part of myself into my little boy as any mother does but I somehow instinctively knew that there was another way, but what was it? It wasn’t until I met some other mothers who followed more attachment style child rearing practices that I found that there were mothers, feeding their babies to sleep, never leaving them to cry, holding them, and certainly didn’t follow schedules I noticed they were much more respectful when it came to ‘behaviour management’. Not only that they looked happy, content, their children seemed to thrive also. So i began to research more into alternative parenting styles and more and more learned of more respectful ways to parent my growing family. At the time it was just ideas, I started to add a few of these “techniques” into practice but we were far from the picture I had imagined.
Not long after I had my oldest I was introduced to my husband and together we added 3 more little boys to our tribe, as they grew I noticed that conventional parenting methods just didn’t seem to work anymore. The threats, the consequences, all seemed to get more and more difficult. While a 2-year-old might respond to ‘ put down the stick or we are going home’ a 5-year-old will just tell you “good great I want to go home this park is stupid anyway”. It seemed achievable to have well-behaved and obedient children when there was only two of them but I found the more children we had, naturally the days became more about survival, and I spent so much of my time managing behavior. Each child was in a different phase and needed something entirely different. I found myself pulled in 4 different directions, barking at my oldest to clean his room, telling my middle child to clean his teeth or there would be no time for stories before bed, leaving shopping centers with a screaming toddler and a crying 4-year-old because they didn’t get to have that ice cream i promised because they didn’t behave accordingly. When i look back at so many of my parenting struggles, I feel embarrassed and ashamed. I chose obedience and control over compassion and empathy. Not only that I feel sadness that the society we lived in seemed to praise me for it. If I could control my children and still remain calm, I was a super mum. I get it we are overwhelmed, we are tired and exhausted and without support we turn to the methods we have been conditioned into. The inner voice that looks at your child in those moments and says, “he will obey me”,” how dare he talk to me that way”, “I am his mother”, “he should show me respect”, “how will he learn to treat others with respect if he doesn’t treat his own mother with respect”. The thing I hadn’t thought of is, respect isn’t taught. It is learned. What is the difference you say? I can teach my child a lesson, by forcing it upon him or contriving a consequence or I can show him kindness, empathy and compassion. So that he will know what these look like. So instead of telling him that he cannot go out to play because he hasn’t cleaned his room it might look like, saying to him.”Wow you really have had fun in this room, but it looks like it might be a lot for you to clean on your own, would you like me to help you clean your room? “Should we do a little bit now and a little bit later?” What lesson A looks like, is the parent is trying to teach the child a lesson, respect me and our property or I wont respect you. I will take away your things or your freedom. It doesn’t really teach them anything but It might make you feel more in control and like a good parent. It might also disconnect you from your child further though and he may be even less willing next time to do as he is asked. At the end of the day when you look at him sleeping and remind yourself of all the things you want your child to be and how much you wished they knew, how much they were loved by you. Here is the moment when option B is more likely to get you there.So what does this all have to do with where we are now and my children’s education?
Parenting respectfully does look different to conventional methods. In my experience, I was able to get quick results by using threats but I was noticing that my relationships with my children could have been better. I started to question whether I could really know my child if they couldn’t really be themselves with me. I remember having an argument with my then 6-year-old about something and he just blurted out, “Why can’t you listen to my suggestions”, Why are you always the boss of me.” It hit me that he was totally right. Why was I the boss of him? He was no more my property than I was the property of my husband. He was a human being with a voice, and he wanted me to hear him. So when my son started to ask why he had to go to school, saying “I can’t make him go, that he hated school”. Something had changed, I knew I had to listen.
Learning to live respectfully with your children takes lots of work, especially with older children who have been conditioned to believe they aren’t worthy of trust, that they are innately bad and that they need to be taught to be good. With my two younger babies it was easy as soon as I realized I didn’t have to buy into all the crap they feed you about never having a baby who sleeps if you don’t let them learn to self settle on their own. I fed them babies and cuddled them babies and picked them up when they cried. I loved it and I felt like we had a great rhythm. Older children I was still learning, I knew how to get a child to eat their dinner by telling them they wouldn’t get any dessert or they would go to bed hungry. I knew how to get a child to say please and thank you by simply not giving the child the item they requested unless they used appropriate manners and respect,easy right? Well how does one go about these things in a respectful way? I was about to find out and it has changed my life.
So much of conventional parenting looks at the child but on this journey it has all been about me and my perspectives. I am learning to be kind to myself and heal my own heart. I have been called too relaxed, permissive, and I’m sure many more things. I’ve had parents choose not to let their child play because I refused to punish my child and instead listen to, and talk with them instead. It isn’t easy. It takes lots of internal dialogue, questions all your assumptions and I am working at it every day. There are days when I mess up and apologize (which was hard at first) Like apologizing to a child for messing up would put you at the same level as them right? A human level rather than the person in control. When a child has been controlled for a long time he has to start all over again, his world looks different now as he learns that his voice is heard. It can be challenging at first as you navigate how on earth do you get them to do anything without using a reward, or a threat or some other form of coercion? I began to understand that respectful parenting isn’t about finding a gentler way to get my children to behave, I found it wasn’t about obedience at all but more seeing your child who he is, a human being and treating him as one. Just because he is smaller and his brain isn’t as developed as mine he is no less deserving of respect than you or I or an old dementia patient who can no longer tell you who they are. As I learned to move further from conventional parenting I found more and more people who were too. With all the hate in the world, I think people are guessing that maybe it all starts at home. That showing love and generosity, compassion and empathy are what breeds loving compassionate and kind adults. That forcing a child to say please does not make him inherently more grateful. Just obedient. With businessman running countries who wants to raise people who are obedient? We want thinkers, questioners and those who don’t stand for crap just because someone is bigger, stronger and has more money and more power. But that’s another story and I am getting off track lol.
Our journey into homeschooling and into unschooling has helped me dramatically in this shift. My learning of unschooling and understanding that thousands of children world-wide are learning and thriving with no school. Just living life and partnering with their parents rather than having their days planned and controlled by adults was amazing to me. It was inspiring and gave me such hope and faith that we were on the right path for our family. As the days go by and we go further along our winding path it becomes more and more clear. You see the joy in your own children as they make all those amazing connections, and seeing the learning happen right before your eyes. The wonderful thing is, when you let go of expectation and see your child in all his brightness, the whispers become silent. You can watch your child in all his wildness and see light and happiness and are free to just enjoy him. You will be more open to kindness, joy and happiness. It wont be a destination that you will one day reach It is already here.
I am not saying that when you see my children playing you will think “wow what amazing children” what method is she using? That’s if you’re looking for children who are obedient. Because that is not my goal, to you they may look wild, they may say no to me when I ask them to do something, which always makes adults feel uncomfortable. I see the squirming as they witness a child say no, and a parent responding without punishment or threats but perhaps with empathy and understanding and acknowledging the child’s needs. Sometimes they will amaze you as much as they amaze me. I don’t try to control what they do or say, I am learning when to be quiet and not everything needs to be a lesson. That doesn’t mean that I am not helping them to learn all the things they need to learn to be successful adults, and modelling all the things that no rule can teach. But right now we are healing from the past as my children learn to trust me again and trust themselves, sometimes we take a few steps backward but then we tend to leap ahead. I have still more shifting to do to be what they need me to be but we are well on our way to a far stronger relationship.
Letting go of control and partnering with my children has been so important for their education because if my trust is truly theirs, they are free. Free to explore, to question, to be curious, to challenge. Although happiness and emotional well-being is our focus a wonderful education and inspired journey of unique learning just occurs naturally, because of such a relationship. Something that can truly flourish when we are willing to do work on ourselves. As our connection deepens I am truly inspired at all that they are learning and just how naturally that occurs. I can appreciate everything they learn not just what is deemed important by society, because I see them light up when they are doing things they love and learning things that is interesting to them. They have taught me more about the world in their short lives then almost 2 decades I spent schooling.
What helps me to stay focused is to remain connected. When the moments come, when my anxiety creeps back in, when society’s glum attitude towards children gets me down and makes me question my parenting. I look to so many others who have been there, I have found comfort with people who live their days like us too. And I am reminded that we all have times in our journey where we need to question our own discomfort and choose connection and peace over fighting to be right or be in control. We are human after all. Being kind to yourself is just as much part of healing your family as it is for your child.
We look at learning so differently now, we no longer only associate learning with school but that learning is living. And to me the most important part of our living is the connections and relationships we have with people and our planet. So it makes sense to spend a huge portion of our days focusing on these things. Relationships, connection, love, joy, peace, harmony and experiencing it all side by side. Who better to teach a child about love than his parents.
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November 27, 2016 Uncategorized
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