Questioning the labels

We have a habit of labeling. Maybe it goes with our inherent need to belong, or maybe we find instinctively that we bond better with a common good and common enemy.

We see it in religion, when even Christianity is segregated within itself, we see it in generations, when whole groups of people are put into boxes they don’t fit.

And we see it in parenting.

This week I have been reading about different styles of parenting. Of peaceful parenting, though it had many names. And my first reaction to this is joy that people are questioning, thinking, trying to do the best that they can for their families. But then I found that what a lot of people perceived as clarity was beginning to look quite black and white. And we need those shades of grey.

Apparently from a psychological perspective we get them about age twelve. That’s when black and whites such as “stealing is wrong” gain perspective and we think “stealing is wrong, unless a person has to steal medicine to save their child” and so on. Most of us keep those new found hues and they serve us well as we navigate the truths before us. Until labeling encourages us to suspend them for a while.

I think it’s really important to question society, what’s put before us and even our own beliefs.

I don’t believe in control crying, neurological research aside I can’t get my head around it. But there are times out there when a mother may be desperate, she may not have help or family support, her exhaustion may get in the way of her taking care of her baby or other children, put her driving or health at risk. There may be times when it’s absolutely right in that situation.

I don’t believe in smacking, but I have smacked. And every time I see it referred to as this horrible violence against children I wish that I could take a snapshot in time, of the few times I’ve done so, when nothing had reached my son, when he was so lost in a tantrum, so lost in the anguish of his own anger that everything I did would make it worse, even walk away. And those few times that in desperation I gave his hand or bottom a single smack and pop his spell was broken.  His anguish drained away in an instant. Then we hugged, we talked about it, he heard me. Because for my child, in those moments, that momentary tap was kinder than an hour of words or demonstration. I see people say that smacking teaches violence and from an adults perspective I absolutely 100% agree. But a child, more often than not, is in the moment and their perspective is different to ours, that’s how siblings fight but love each other just as fiercely a couple of moments later. I’m not suggesting you smack your child, not at all, just as I don’t plan to do so again, but I am suggesting that you don’t beat yourself up if you have. Just question it, like everything else.

I don’t believe in putting kids in situations that are likely to push their buttons – but sometimes I do, because life does. I read a comment the other day where a woman said something along the lines of “I thought my daughter was being naughty, then I realized that I had dropped the ball by talking on the phone. It was my fault not hers.”

See the thing is, sometimes life makes you wait – for a phone call or cookies to bake or something you want to buy, sometimes it makes you be quiet, sometimes you need to listen, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, sometimes you need to take a deep breath when you’re angry or you need to calm down when you’re sad.

I want to bless my kids with a life that involves them greatly and nurtures them as much as possible. But that life will involve phone calls, trips to the supermarket, waiting in line, cleaning up the toys and taking responsibility for themselves in that moment.

Peaceful parenting often focuses on our tone and language when we talk to our children. As it should, they’re extremely receptive to it. But I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that there are times that my child only hears me when I raise my voice. We laugh about it later, because it’s “Mummy being loud” but mummy has to be loud sometimes, because sometimes he’s being a dinosaur or a robot policeman and they don’t have very good listening ears.

Sometimes I snap at my son. Rarely, but I do. And though I try very hard not to, I’m not sorry. Because the times that it happens is when he has pushed and pushed and PUSHED, and my kind tone and language finally expires into a flustered snap. That snap is just as important to who he will become as the love we give him, because in life people respond to you how you treat them. And it’s much kinder to my beautiful boy for his Mum to occasionally bite, then explain why, than for him to believe that he has less of a duty to treat others with respect than they do him.

 Apparently we shouldn’t argue in front of our children, we should avoid being sad or angry in their presence.

When I was a child my parents tried not to argue in front of me. I’d feel something simmering between them all day, because kids are smart, they get that, then I’d hear hushed, angry voices from the living room while I lay in bed. My belly would twist in knots – what was this horrible secret that they were hiding from me? Those everyday disagreements, to me, became enormous. They became frightening because of their secrecy.

We try not to fight in front of our kids, but sometimes we do. And that’s ok. Because I want them to grow up knowing that conflict is alright sometimes. That love doesn’t diminish because of it. That it’s possible to disagree with someone, even for them to piss you right off, and to hug and make up five minutes later. I want them to see their parents say sorry too, and mean it. I want them to know that their family is safe in the calm and in the rough because it’s bigger than that.

Bodhi has seen me happy. A lot. He has seen me laugh and smile and joke around and dance a chicken dance in public to make him giggle. He has also seen me cry, real honest to God sadness that reaches the depth of my soul. And I’ve told him, in words that make sense to him, why. I’ve told him that it’s ok to feel sad sometimes, and it’s ok to cry. He has wrapped his arms around me and kissed it better. His sadness isn’t a scary thing to him, and neither is mine. I’m allowed to be strong for him and he’s allowed to be strong for me… or for a friend or a kid he doesn’t know at the park who needs someone to hug it out.

He has seen me angry. He’s seen Daniel angry too. And 99% of the time we’ve done a real good job of being angry. We’ve been the kind of angry we ask him to try. The kind where you take a deep breath and talk it out, or go for a walk or be alone until the fire eases. But he’s also seen me be angry badly (which equates to loudly in my case). He saw Daniel throw keys at a wall once. And we talked about it, and he got to tell us how we could do it better. He got to tell us how we should have handled it. And that let him be wise too. It let him know that everyone makes mistakes, so not to worry about his own.

Labels can bring people together, and I love that so many parents are coming together to peacefully parent their children. I love that old ways are being questioned and that compassion reins. But I just hope that we keep sight of those shades of grey in amongst it all, because they belong there just as much as anywhere else.

I hope that when we parent, we make it our philosophy above all else to be kind. To be kind to our babies, our kids, our partners and ourselves. They deserve it and so do we, because as long as we keep questioning and doing our best it’s ok not to be perfect.

As I peacefully parent, I’m also going to be at peace with that.

 

Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2012

Educating Us

We will be homeschooling.

It’s something I’ve hesitated to blog about, because people have a habit of mistaking passion for my truth as judgment of theirs. But that’s not it. There isn’t one right choice, just as there isn’t one type of person or a single kind of joy – they’re all valid and any choice made in the best interest of the child and family unit is the right choice for them. I smile just as much hearing about a friend’s child enjoying school as I do about mine enjoying freedom. So having said that, I’ll say a little more.

Sometimes I call myself an attachment parent, but that’s not entirely true. I instinctively parent. I do what feels right for my kids. That includes breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, not leaving them cry, feeding them healthy food… and how we educate.

A couple of years ago now I was looking into schools for Bodhi. I had been homeschooled from age nine onwards and had gotten so much from that. In that time I had I found so much of me, I found a hunger for knowledge, self-motivation, creativity and exploration of the world around me. But it would be too hard to homeschool my kids, I decided, and I found myself sliding uncomfortably into the norm.

I planned to send my son to school. The thing was that the more I looked at these schools – these good schools – I couldn’t get past the fact that this was thirty hours of my child’s week (not including homework). The best thirty hours. The thirty hours where the sun was out and his mind was fresh and that these thirty hours a week for thirteen years would be spent in an institution. And it struck me that it didn’t matter how good this institution was, or how dedicated his teachers would be – that was a huge part of his life that he would be away from the life he was being raised to be part of. And for that huge part of his life the child I was so passionate about raising would not be raised by me at all.

It wouldn’t really be the teachers either, because they are amazing, but in the ratios of children to teachers he would be raised just as much, if not more, by peer pressure.

A feeling of unease sat in my belly.

I began to read. I read random books on homeschooling, I read Holt and Gatto. A lightbulb went off. I decided that I could homeschool my kids. It would be hard at times, and it would challenge me, but that would be ok, because I could do hard things, I could be challenged.

Bodhi often tells people that we’re homeschooling before I do. He radiates confidence and he owns it – as much of it as he understands. And the responses we get are interesting. We get admiration. We get sharp intakes of breath and brows drawn together as people mutter “why???”. And we get “there’s still time to change your mind.” Or “but if he wants to go to school you’ll send him right?” We get those two a lot.

I don’t have any intention of changing my mind. That sounds defiantly naive from someone whose child is yet to start ‘prep’, but I know this one, not just because I’ve been homeschooled, but because it makes sense for us. It feels right. It feels exciting. I have no doubt that we’ll make mistakes, and that we’ll learn from them as much as we do the successes. For all the highs and lows that will undoubtedly come my children will have the world as their classroom, they will be taught by someone who loves them more than anyone, and their needs, challenges and strengths will drive this thing before us.

What about if he wants to go to school? See here’s the thing; he wants to eat chips for every meal, except when there’s chocolate. He wants to have custard for desert every night and icecream every day and never, ever brush his teeth. As his parent it’s my job to guide him for what’s best for him, until he has gained the wisdom to make those choices for himself. So if he wanted to go to school would I send him? No, not now. I’d see why, and I’d make changes and fill gaps that might not be being filled. I’d put his happiness first, without question, but I’d encourage him to take this time. If he was older and he decided school was right for him then I would support him all the way.

This thing before us is big, but it’s also awesome. And I don’t plan to do it alone. He will have many teachers in his life, he will pursue hobbies, languages, probably martial arts, sports or dance. He will be surrounded by friends of his choosing, of all ages, and he will also enjoy the peace of solitude that he craves.  Sometimes he will be bored, and from that he will find his own motivation. He will have opportunities laid out for him and have to pursue others himself.

We will explore rockpools and textbooks. Some days we will play and wander until the sun goes down and others we will get lost in study.

He will get a great education – and so will we. His family. We’ll learn together. Not just about phonics and science and history and art but about each other. We will learn what makes each other tick, what drives each other mad, and what makes each other hungry for more.

Some links of interest…

Csilla is a homeschooling consultant (see Too Cool 4 School on facebook) and has just written an amazing book about her family’s journey. I was fortunate enough to be asked to write the foreword Love Learn Live

John Taylor Gatto – All his work is brilliant, but this speech connected so much for us The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher

SunnyHomeschool on facebook is a wonderful resource and run by a very special homeschooling Mum, Heather.

Sir Ken RobinsonChanging Education Paradigms

A thought provoking video Why I hate school but love education

Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2012