Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Posts tagged “mindful parenting

Happy New Year 2017

happy-2017

So it’s that time of year again; when everyone posts their resolutions and goals for the new year. I’m not immune to the appeal of ‘starting fresh’ and making a grand effort to improve myself and my life – the changing of the calendar from one year to the next is a natural transition, and it feels good and productive to have goals. Last year, rather than making ‘resolutions’ for 2016, I went with an overall theme for the year. It was trendy a few years back, but I really liked that idea, and it worked better for me than having ultra-specific resolutions.

My theme for 2016, so you don’t have to go back and find that post, was ‘mindfulness’, which is basically the practice of living in the present moment (hard to do when anxiety disorder is part of your life, which is why it felt like something I needed to work on). That’s still one of my favorite words, and I find that it will continually be on my list of ‘things to work on’. It wasn’t a total success, but, as my music teacher is often saying, ‘progress, not perfection!”. In that light, I do think that having an overall theme was easier to maintain than a list of ‘rules’ to have to follow.

Here’s a re-cap of my goals in that theme from last year:

meditation – I practice on my own, but I really would like to make it part of my week to go to the group sit at St. Mark’s. They meet twice a week; I want to make at least one of them.

simplify – KonMari! I want to clear out things that don’t make me happy, from possessions to wardrobe to household goods

health – movement and community – walking with playgroup; with the kids; family health; focus on cleaner eating

relationships – tend those I care about and cut loose those I don’t

I didn’t actually make it to St. Marks for meditation with the group, well … ever. The timing wasn’t something I could ever work into my schedule. After giving it some thought, and making my personal meditation practice a priority, I didn’t feel the need to practice with a group as much. Now, I’m content to continue my personal practice in private. As for simplifying… well, that didn’t work out either; at least not in the KonMari way. I did do some downsizing and re-organizing, but nothing that could be categorized as a clean sweep in the KonMari way. We finally got our storage building moved into our backyard, so that alleviated a lot of the clutter inside the house, but there’s more (always) to be done. It’s a process, so while I didn’t exactly meet my original goal, I don’t feel like that was a total failure, either. Health/Nutrition/Fitness are always going to be a focus – more so in the coming year with the decline in my parents’ health, but that’s a long story best told over coffee. I went walking with the group once, and tried to go with another group, but that didn’t work out according to the original plan, either. I did purchase a new bicycle a few months ago, so that’s what I’ve been doing, because I enjoy biking more than walking. The kids have their bikes, too and we ride together – another bonus. This year, I want to get a bike rack so we can take our bikes to local biking trails and ride (or maybe we can just work on increasing our distance and ride to a park that’s not too awful far away). As for relationships, I feel like I’ve been stretched too thin to effectively be a friend to some of the people I actually do care about. There are definitely a few friends who have become long-distance friends that I need to make more of an effort to connect with.

This year, I am going to go with the same one-word theme, but more action-oriented. Mindfulness can be an action word, but it feels more passive to me. Now, at the end of the year, I’m feeling antsy – like I need to move and ‘do’. To satisfy that need, I’ve chosen ‘create’ as my theme. Here are some things I want to create this year:

  • space – both in a physical and metaphysical sense. In the real world, I want to create peaceful, relaxing spaces in my home. This means taking charge of clutter and possessions that no longer serve me or my family, or our purpose. I have really been drawn to the idea of minimalism over the past couple of years, and while I won’t say I am ready to go all in just yet, I feel the need to free up space in my home and my head, and I feel like downsizing all the things might be a step in the right direction. This aspect also includes clearing away obligations and activities that no longer fit my needs or bring me joy or relaxation, or free up time so that I can spend more of it with my kids and Loverly Husband. A relatively inflexible rule I’ve established over the last couple of months has been to say no to things I don’t truly, deeply enjoy or that put money in my family’s budget. I’m spread very thin, and I need to take back some of that time.
  • memories – this is something that is so very important to me; that my children have a rich childhood filled with memorable experiences and traditions to carry with them throughout their lives and one day pass on to their own kids. We’ve made an effort to have game nights and do things as a family that do just that: create a memory. We only have a few years of ‘childhood’ left; I want to make the most of them. I’d like 2017 to have an emphasis on ‘creating memories’  – simple things like rock painting, cooking together, game nights, traveling and other fun (inexpensive, low-key) stuff.
  • art – creating art is something I always come back to. This takes many forms: art journaling, writing, painting, crafting… I like them all. Some of the time I take from other things needs to be focused on creating more of the thing my soul craves.
  • music – I started playing cello this past year, and began piano lessons earlier in December. I used to play flute and clarinet in school, but dropped it after I graduated. I’d forgotten how much I loved it; playing music occupies my entire body – mind, hands, attention, eyes – it’s a full-body experience. For someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, having something that’s so all-consuming to drown in has been an amazing relief. Since my kids are also taking music lessons (both on violin), it’s also something we can do together, which I love.
  • change – activism has been a part of my life for years now, in small ways. As my kids get older and demand less of my time, I feel the need to get involved with larger efforts to affect positive change. I’m not sure exactly what route this path will lead me on just yet, but it’s something I am motivated to accomplish.

 

create

So… that’s my word for this year. What’s yours?
Happy New Year!
Warmly,
~h


Fight for Kids, Not Against Them

I came across this article the other day that was about fighting for your boys instead of against them. The post was Christian-based, but made some really valid ideas… up to a certain point.

Some of the first things on the page were amazing observations; that as our sons grow, feeling that we (parents and children) weren’t on the same team anymore; that it’s normal for our children to challenge parental authority as a natural part of breaking from the family unit to seek/establish their own identity; and that emotions can creep in and do their best to persuade Mom that the child is the problem, rather than the situation/behaviour.

I’m totally with her up to that point. I was expecting similarly ‘aware’ progression and advice/solutions to help a parent and a child work through this stage in a positive and productive manner, but what I got was an utter break in rational thought. To be fair, I didn’t realize that this was a Christian-based article; had I known that, I would have been prepared for the abrupt shift from ‘awareness and reason’ to the ‘slam-the-shutters-down’ glaze of reason in favor of the party-line of Christian-based ignorance.

Rather than offer practical solutions, the author completely ignores the *actual* issues like communication, understanding and the like, she introduces unnecessary confusion into the equation by excusing the child’s behaviour completely by blaming ‘Satan’ as the one who’s destroying your relationship with your child and “Jesus/God” and prayer being the solution. Rather than actually DOING anything, she advocates what boils down to making a series of wishes, crossing your fingers and hoping that things will get better while absolving yourself of any further responsibility. After all, it’s not our fault that these issues escalate; it’s ‘Satan’.

I’ve never understood this  mindset – that parents bear no responsibility. Putting the onus on parents to ‘pray harder’ or ‘do more’ (which usually means getting more involved at church, which ends up taking the parents even further away from their kids) makes parents feel even more helpless, and that things are even further removed from their hands to ‘fix’ things. Perpetuating the idea that parents can’t be wrong under the guise of being ‘godly’ only further alienates children from their parents, because the solutions aren’t family-based. All the kids end up seeing is a parent traveling a road that the child isn’t on, doesn’t understand, or isn’t interested in. More effective, I believe, if for parents to be open to the idea that they may have things ALL WRONG. Examine their methods and look for flaws. Admitting to their mistakes, acknowledging their humanity and propensity to make mistakes levels the playing field and puts you all firmly on the same side. How much easier is it for a child to admit to his mistakes when a parent first admits their own?

I believe in helping my children understand that they control their own actions, just as I do. We all make decisions each and every step of our lives, and they aren’t always the right ones. But even a misstep can be re-directed. It’s not some invisible evil that tempts and lures us; it’s decision-making on our part. Sure, we can be led astray, or get lost for a time, but having a family structure that allows for mistakes and is supportive about correcting them can help set things right again. Cultivating an environment within the family of being honest with ourselves about how we feel, what we need, asking for help when we need it, and a host of other issues that both begin and end with the parents. I don’t believe that there is an invisible force that will magically fix things, or in excusing my children’s undesirable behaviours (due to immaturity, lack of experience or hormonally-driven out of control emotions) because of ‘Satan’. Poking your head in the sand never solved anything. Perpetuating a culture of helplessness by shirking the monumental task of raising children to be responsible, self-aware adults who contribute positively to society is detrimental to our future on this planet. It’s even more difficult when the parents are re-working their own childhood trauma to make better decisions for their own families.

The practical solution to this issue begins when they are small. Children understand language long before they have the ability to speak. If even a 6 month old dog can understand basic commands, think how much more intelligent our children are. If we give our children the vocabulary to describe their feelings, help them focus on how they feel as a basis for asking for what they need, imagine how much more concise their communication will be when they’re older. Sometimes, for myself especially, this means learning to do that for yourself is the first step – and it’s a hard one. While this is my ideal, it’s certainly not always attainable; I’m human and fallible, not a robot that can be programmed without deviation to a previous operating system. I’ve also failed in numerous ways to override my first impulse and implement the new ways of communication that I’ve striven to learn. Thankfully, my kids are both understanding and forgiving, and we continue to learn together.

I’m not an expert of child-rearing, but I do know that ‘prayer’, at least when applied to this type of situation, isn’t a solution. It may be part of a solution, but it’s not going to work without the active involvement of the parents and cooperative action from the children. Kids need active parenting – proActive parenting, even. Especially as pre-teens and teens, when they’re going through the agonizing process of separating themselves from their identity as an almost-adult instead of ‘X’s child’. I would so much rather have my children know that they can come to me with mist-steps along the way and know that they will find a hearing (and understanding) ear rather than a disappointed tut-tut and reference to the Nation of Israel, or some other biblical anecdote that vaguely mirrors the situation they’ve come to me with (I always HATED that as a kid).

I don’t ‘like’ organized religion as a whole; that’s no secret. But if you’re religious, that’s fine – pray, pray for your kids, pray with them. But please don’t make the mistake of praying and thinking that you’re done. Offspring are long-term projects; ones that take YEARS to fully develop, and they need you every step of the way.

Warmly,
~h


Tame Child-Creatures

“The more boring a child is, the more the parents, when showing off the child, receive adulation for being good parents – because they have a tame child-creature in the house. Let the kids be themselves and make no excuses for them. After all, they are their own little beings and not a clone.” ~Frank Zappa

I saw this posted the other day on Facebook. I and copied it to my TAL FB page, but ever since then, it’s been on my mind. I’ve been thinking about ‘tame child-creatures’ and comparing my own heathen horde with them and have thus far come out glad that our home contains none of these docile small people.

I’ll be blunt here; sometimes, homeschooling sucks, and when you have children who have been taught that their thoughts and opinions matter, and as a result of that, are used to being heard, listening to a 25 minute treatise on ‘Why We Shouldn’t Have to do Math Today’ can be doubly tiresome. We’ve spent the last couple of months in a bit of a rut. If you’ve been reading here lately, there have been a few posts whining about being tired and irritated. I would apologize for that, but I won’t lest I be accused of perpetuating the false notion that homeschooling is always hunky-dory.

I reached a breaking point (mental exhaustion-induced, I think now) and almost threw in the towel on homeschooling. After some discussion and intervention by Loverly Husband, some mindful cooperative parenting/homeschooling, a bunch of deep housekeeping and home-blessing projects and a substantial break and family vacation over the past two weeks, we’ve been successful in reigning in our kids a bit, setting some reasonable expectations and clearer boundaries and are getting back on an even keel.

That’s not to say that everything is comin’ up roses; we’re currently battling a little bit of First World Entitlement Syndrome (which has resulted in some serious discussions about their status in life and some plans on Mom/Teacher’s part to work in more hands-on direct contact with those less fortunate in our community).

All that aside though, I like that my kids have… personality. I am grateful that they’re thinkers and leaders – they question things; they don’t follow blindly and they’re confident that they will be heard. I count that as an accomplishment in my parenting career that my kids know that they can have their own opinions about things and that they feel free to express them. I admit that I have been embarrassed by them in public – what mom hasn’t? But most often, my embarrassment has come from me buying into some unrealistic stereotype that I momentarily feel pressured to conform to… like the idea that ‘good mothers’ have children who are mild-mannered, calm and quiet – especially in grocery stores.

I recently unsubscribed from a homeschooling support group because of the overwhelming presence of parents who want ‘tame child-creatures’; parents who have an unrealistic ideal in their head that their normally exuberant children don’t meet – and perhaps worse are the parents who are all too willing to share their favorite spirit-crushing methods of enforcing conformity. It got to the point that I was nauseated sometimes to read about some of the things parent’s have done to get those picture-perfect kids (like incorporating a spray bottle to squirt an errant child – like you might a puppy… srsly?? o_O).

The attitude seems to be that the long-term effects don’t matter (if they’re taken into consideration at all); as long as they present a good image to the world (or group) then whatever you do in the name of enforcing conformity is fine. I think that’s dishonest and downright harmful to the kids. It’s a mistake to think that in creating tame child-creatures, you’re actually molding the personality. If your child is wild at heart, you can discipline and punish the things you don’t like – but all that’s creating is a good actor. Sooner or later, that wild heart will break through, sometimes with tragic consequences. Wouldn’t it be ever so much better to work with your child to shape him or her into a productive adult? We all have flaws and personality quirks that will serve us in various ways as adults.  As parents, we’re supposed to think in the long-term. Facilitating our child’s inherent traits to maximize future potential is in our job description. I believe that learning to ask questions will serve my kids better as adults than obedience. Confidence trumps conformity. Lead, don’t follow.

There’s balance, of course. We’re aiming for delightfully cultivated wild children here – not feral brats. I am not suggesting that children who are allowed to run free with absolutely no boundaries or expectations are better; they might even be worse. No one wants to deal with bratty children who haven’t been taught common courtesies. It makes me wonder how many parents go to the ‘tame’ extreme because they’re afraid of having a ‘brat’; and furthermore, how much the ‘tame’ and ‘bratty’ children contribute to the problem because other parents only see the two extremes – the oh-so-appealing docile and obedient child who never gives a moment’s trouble and the obnoxious, loud feral child who has no concept of his or her role in society.

I like the natural indulgence in the fullness of the moment that kids seem to live in when they’re allowed to; it’s a reminder to me to live in the ‘now’. If they’re a little loud, so what? If they’re a little bouncy, that’s usually okay, too. A few well-placed reminders do the job nicely. It’s more work, sure – you have to be present and paying attention to your kids a lot of the time. But that’s mindful parenting, not performance parenting and that’s what we’re working towards. Cultivating wild children means that you’re actively involved in what your kids are doing now, not trotting them out like show ponies.  Even with all the effort that goes into striving for balance, I think I’d rather embrace the wild than train and tame.

Warmly,

~h