Friday, August 30, 2013

10 Reasons not to Home School #7

10 Reasons not to Home School #7 
To build strong family relationships.

  This is one of the first points in my series that I feel is more of a conditional, than absolute item.

   This has always been and remains high on the list of reasons or benefits parents give for the choice to home school. They often point out the sheer number of hours a day the typical family is separated, and the fact that peer based segregation can encourage children to lose appreciation for those who are older and younger. Many parents cite their own childhood as an example, and parents or siblings with whom they have strained, or just distant relationships and little interaction with as proof of family disintegration.

   It is true that by nature most forms of home school does mean in most cases that family members spend enormous amounts of time together. Many home school families do almost everything together, some even avoiding any functions that separate their family into peer based, age segregated groups, meaning that even their church and social activities are family affairs.

    However a dangerous underlying assumption in this thought is that ‘more time’ automatically means ‘healthy relationships’.  
After all, - I have heard other’s quip, - ‘when you spend this much time together you have to learn to get along.” Many parents talk about wanting their children to be best friends, and seem to think that by eliminating competition for outside or peer based friendships, this will naturally occur.

       Unfortunately this is just not the case. Being in a confined space with anyone for any period of time will certainly allow you to know them deeply. It can result in bonds of friendship that last, but can just as easily result in bitterness, hurt, isolation or damage.

   Sibling rivalry, lack of boundaries, abusive tendencies, anger issues, neglect, manipulation, unrealistically high expectations, parental control, co- dependence or other unhealthy relationship dynamics are not resolved by simply spending every waking moment together. In fact, unrelenting daily interaction coupled with any kind of isolation will make any of these issues far worse.

    It is true that children who are constantly around each other and parents where these and other issues are present will learn to adapt to their surroundings. They will probably learn their own strategies to cope with parts of their life where they have no control.

  However this does not mean that these relationships are healthy or will last once a child is able to leave home.  It also does not mean they haven’t been damaged or have little basis for knowing how to recognize healthy family dynamics and have healthy interpersonal relations.

  MORE of unhealthy is still unhealthy. More time spent as a family where there is damage is just more damage.  

  Home schooling can no more give you healthy family relationships than a car can give you a great  family vacation…. Both can be tools used to accomplish something precious and enjoyable, or  be a nightmare where someone is crying and everyone wants it to be over.

    At this point I think it is important to clarify something. I do not think that home schooling automatically means a family is isolated, co dependent and has unhealthy or damaging family dynamics.

  However, here are a few thoughts.

 Home school will reveal your family’s weak areas.

 Home School will make isolation much easier.

Home School will accentuate personality and character traits, good or bad.

Home School will be highly attractive to parents with control and/or dependency issues.

 Home School is sometimes used as cover for abuse and neglect.

With great power comes great responsibility.

    Independence and self reliance are qualities not only valued by, but really, necessary for those who choose to educate their child. Often these self sufficient families hesitate to involve themselves in other’s affairs. There is great distrust in most home school families for government intrusion.  As home school parents we have chosen to accept FULL daily responsibility for our children in many cases with little to no input from others on a day to day basis.

  I believe this is all the more reason home school parents should be highly equipped to recognize signs of family dysfunction in their own homes, and in others.

   Anyone who has climbed the world’s highest mountains; who participates in extreme sports or any other high risk activity will tell you that THE number one key to success is to know your limits, or the conditions around you that will not only certainly prevent successfully completing your goals but very possibly destroy you and those with you.

   I can’t really think of anything more important or high risk than being the primary nurturing spirit, loving security and educating force for another human soul.

  Some of the reasons I have listed in my series 10 Reasons not to Home School  I believe have no logical place in a family’s decision to home, private or public school their children. (Such as Avoiding sex Ed; because it is an area all parents need to address regardless of where their child learns to read, etc.)
    Some reasons, like this one, I believe have tremendous significance and actually should be a key factor in determining if home schooling is right for your family. With one exception from what most advocates of home school will tell you; that homeschooling is the best choice you can make for your family relationships.

   NO family is perfect.  Each family has areas in which they can improve. Parenting is a process of learning and growing, and just as you will never feel like you have ‘arrived’ as a parent and have everything figured out, - you will never feel perfectly ready for home school.

   However, it is important to know the difference between a family atmosphere that at it’s core is loving, stable and healthy, and allows for children’s learning and growth, and one in which there is chaos, dysfunction, and damage.

 Here are some questions that may help you determine if your family relationships will benefit or be further strained by the home school lifestyle. Regardless, they are crucial topics to discuss.
(These questions assume there is a two parent home, single parents face even more challenges)
   * Do you and your spouse have a stable, healthy relationship?
   * Do you and your spouse communicate clearly and know how to work well together?
   * Do you and your spouse know how to support each other effectively?  (Have you previously successfully set goals together and accomplished them?)
    * Are you and or your spouse disciplined and able to complete projects?
    * Do either of you have hesitations or concerns about home schooling?
    * Do you or your spouse tend to have control/ anger issues?

    * Do you or your spouse tend to over react to issues and pull the whole family in an extreme direction?

  * Do you and your spouse both feel comfortable with the financial implications of home school?(Living off one income so one parent can teach / sharing teaching and income producing activities etc.)
* Do you or your spouse have priorities that supersede necessary time/effort/expense for home school?
*  Do you have a supportive network of people around you who can offer balance and give you an unbiased perspective when needed?
* Do you and your spouse agree on methods of discipline for your children?

 * How does conflict with your children affect you and your spouse?
 * Do you and your spouse currently know how to motivate your children to do what they don’t like to do?
  *Are your children opposed to the idea of home school?

     Home school is not easy. Parts of home schooling do not come naturally. Every Mom finds her areas quickly!! It requires tremendous team work, good communication, sacrifice, and endless self discipline.
   The questions I asked above are critical to honestly answer because these issues will not be resolved with more time together, a flexible schedule, and less  outside structure, input, or accountability.

   If you and your spouse struggle in the areas above, home school and it’s challenges are likely to strain your relationship, and those with your children. In general, one of two things will happen.

  A)Either home school will become the focus and relationships may suffer.
  B)Both will suffer and your original goals for home school will be entirely lost as you struggle to maintain some level of stability in your relationship(s) with your spouse and children.

    In a very real practical sense, - home schooling is to education what a private or home based business is to the workplace.  Many people dream of being their own boss, - setting their own (relaxed) schedule, free from the pressures and irritations of their current job.

  However many people who jump into their own business find themselves woefully unequipped to face the very real demands that a home business requires. Instead of less work, it requires more. Instead of fewer pressures, now they face every conceivable pressure of the business they are trying to build.
   Instead of having to face an annoying boss when mistakes are made, the small business owner finds any and every mistake costs him personally and directly. Not only does a small business owner need many skills, determination and drive, but most important the ability to prioritize on a moment by moment basis.

    The same qualities needed to successfully run your own business are needed to run your own school.

  The rewards of home school, or home business can be great; but the truth is, for some families it is just not a good fit.

   I know some of you are wondering if I am suggesting that putting your children in public or private school somehow manages to miraculously ‘fix’ relationship problems, and my answer is no. A family or couple whose relationship are strained and face the challenges l mentioned above will have to work hard to resolve them no matter where they educate their children.
However I DO believe the home school lifestyle can add tremendous and unnecessary pressure.

*I believe the health of relationships are far more important than the idea of home school.

*I believe that you can educate your children well at home and loose every part of your family that matters.
*I also believe that you can try to home school in the midst of unhealthy family dynamics and be forced to choose sanity and relationships over any real solid education.

I have personally seen both happen.

 Nothing is more heart breaking to me than for parents to sacrifice their children’s well being for an idea.

   This goes back to the core issue of goals. What ARE your goals for your children? For their education?  What DO you hope to give them as a foundation for life?
Are you committed to home school no matter what the cost?
        What if it costs you your marriage?
       What if it costs your child a solid education?

 In a perfect world, you could do it all. You can balance it all, you can pull it all off. 
 In a perfect world you would never have to choose between a healthy marriage and being the person that teaches your child to read. In a perfect world you would never have to choose between a school system you dislike and your personal health. In a perfect world you would never face financial difficulties or pressures that severely limit your parenting options.  In a perfect world you would never have to face that you or your spouse simply doesn’t handle conflict or discipline in an appropriate way that provides a peaceful, stable environment for your child.
  In the real world, - we are usually forced to make realistic choices based on very real limitations.
   I think one of the MOST important things a couple can do when deciding to home school is to write a list of things that they are unwilling to sacrifice.   My husband and I have already discussed these things at length.  They are our bench mark, - our way of knowing each year if home school will continue to serve our family well, or if we need to change direction.
Our list has sentences that begin with:
If home school means that we  _________ , we will  quit home schooling.
If we cannot find a way to provide ___________ for our children through home school, we will quit homeschooling.
-If we see ______________ in our lives, we will quit home schooling.

    These protect our safe place. They ensure that our ultimate goals for our relationships, our family health, our marriage, our children’s development and education are not lost in the hard work, the urgent and necessary daily demands of our life style. They also ensure that even though right now while we enjoy how home school fits our family, that we don't become lazy or slack in pursuing our real goals.
   Putting your children in school does not mean that other problems will automatically disappear. In fact it will likely come with its own set of challenges. But here is the truth. Home school puts tremendous pressure and stress on Mom’s and marriages. Home school requires HUGE amounts of time. Home school usually means living off of one income. Sometimes the time, money and energy required to 'do it your self' is just not worth it.

     Home school is only as successful as the teacher and environment in your home. 

    There are many, many reasons why home school may not fit every family well.  
But does this mean that raising children who love to learn, - does it mean that your role as your child’s teacher, - does it mean that your ability to impart your religious beliefs, does it mean that your ability to have a tight knit family is gone?

   I believe it does not.  Part of my goal in writing is to expose the faulty thinking that says that certain parental goals can only be achieved in one way, - through home school.  This kind of all or nothing thinking forces deep dedication and fails to recognize when something no longer works.

   If our goal is to home school no matter what, - then we will have to be willing to sacrifice everything for that idea.

  If our goal is to raise confident, capable, religiously, morally, and academically educated children, - then we will pursue every, and all options to achieve that goal.
What are your goals?
What relationships, family priorities, health priorities or other things are you unwilling to sacrifice?

This is #7 in a series called 10 Reasons not to Home School and the rest can be found here.

Linking Up

Monday, August 26, 2013


If you are like me, - this is just what I need to hear every Monday morning!
Lets us treat our children as we would like to be treated!

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Great Educators are Motivators

So this was our first week of school and boy was it busy!!
   Between that and some small fall projects I did this week all while Hubby was out of town all week for work, I needed to wait 'till next week for the next installment of my 10 Reasons Not to Home School series....
   This is from a speaker who talked about motivating kids to write. What do you think?

What have you found to be the most effective ways to inspire and motivate your children, especially tackling subjects they find difficult?
 Next week I'll share my top tips for motivating, - meanwhile I'd love to hear yours!!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Myth of the Christian Family

This post is a bit of a departure from the topic of education and parenting... and addresses a topic that I've been considering lately....

  How much teaching have you heard about having a Christian testimony?
  About living your daily witness? About your life showing others your faith? How our lives should look different than the ‘'world’s'. How our love, and integrity, and character and joy, and peace, should make the 'lost' long for what we have with God.

    If we are not careful, - it is much to easy to view your life, family, relationships as key representation to the core of all Christendom.

    After all, - we have Christ.- As a family. We do things differently. We go to church together, we have devotions. We try to put God first, in our lives, in our home. We pray for each other. We love each other. We are a Christian family.

  Despite the fact that in any group of Christians you will likely find a vast idea of HOW to accomplish it, - (home school/public school, skirts/pants, head coverings/current fashion, spanking/gentle parenting, debt/no debt, submission/partnership, and on and on...) There still seems to be some basic idea of the ultimate goal.

   This thinking seems to go like this; that in a chaotic, destructive, dangerous, immoral world, rife with confusion about right, wrong, faithfulness, truth and justice, and even the idea of what constitutes family, our strong, happy marriages are to be beacon of radiant harmony . Our healthy, well rounded, well educated children are to be leaders, in word and deed, our organized, peaceful homes, - a place of refuge for others, showing them the love of Christ.

These things aren’t just the goal, - they should be the natural results of a family living for God.
But what about when they aren’t?

What about when in 'good Christian families', - there is Anger.
Emotional Abuse.
Physical Abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Eating Disorders.

Spiritual Abuse.

   From what I have seen, the ‘lost heathen’ handle it a lot better than the church. They know these things happen; they don’t assume they will be exempt. The pain, the hurt, the sin of the fallen world; they open their arms and say, ‘I’m sorry. It hurts.’

   In the church, - we are uncomfortable enough with the indirect effects of sin in our imperfect, and sinful world. Miscarriage. Cancer. Freak accidents. Infertility. Hurricanes. Young military widows. Children that get sick and die. Though we are uncomfortable, these things we accept, as part and painful parcel of our fallen world. The families we comfort, (though often awkwardly) knowing it is pain that is ‘unavoidable’.

Direct affects of sin, it seems are a different story. 

 Especially if they disrupt the neat tidy image of a Christian family that we believe we ought to be.

   What church has not seen a family whose daughter got pregnant out of wedlock. A seemingly solid marriage suddenly dissolve. Children who leave home and ‘go crazy’ with self destructive choices. A man or woman who seems to for no apparent reason, abandon their spouse and children.

    Unfortunately, - in most cases, though we see the outward change, we are unaware of the years of inner decay that brought a family to this point. And let’s be honest. Would you want to know?

What would you do if you discovered a child in your church from a prominent family was being abused? If a husband asked you for help because he had a severe online gambling addiction. If a young mom you knew talked about taking her life?

    Don’t worry. This will probably never happen to you. – In most churches Christian families have learned to hide their pain, suck it up, put on a broken smile, trying every week to push harder, - work harder, - to BE the Christian family they want so desperately to be.
They feel guilt. – They know God!! They should KNOW how to fix this!
They feel shame. What kind of testimony is this?
What if they cause another Christian to stumble? How do they witness to others when their life is in shambles!!
They feel alone.

   In some cases no one is really surprised when the breakdown happens. There have been signs of the struggle. Sometimes help has been offered. Sometimes it has not. Either way, there is always lurking the temptation of the insidious comfort in listing the reasons that this must have happened to that family. All the more comforting if the things you feel they 'did wrong' are things about which you already disagreed. After all, - they allowed their kids to _____. They didn’t really  seem to care enough about _______.  They should have never ______. You always said they ______. 

  That list is the only thing that stands between you and the thought that tomorrow it could be you. Your parent. Your sibling. Your child. Your spouse. Your family.

  Whether there was any apparent warning or not, - it seems often there is an underlying theme.
The unspoken idea that ‘real’ Christian families do NOT have major problems.
That REAL Christian families KNOW the right thing, DO the right things, SAY the right things.
That SUCESSFUL Christian families OVERCOME each problem that comes their way.
That earthly victory is ALWAYS possible.

That the Christian family is the earthly picture of God’s ways in action, and anything less than pretty, sweet, unity is failure. If they fail, it must be their fault not God’s. They obviously weren’t the good Christians you thought,  or just confirmed your suspicions that they never really were.

The truth?
There is no such thing as a Christian family. – There are only earthly, broken, sinning, flawed families made up of flawed, imperfect, sinning, broken people. Some families are made up of people who happen to trust in Christ.

This doesn’t mean they are perfect.



   It means that WHEN there is pornography, adultery, affairs, lying, betrayal, abuse, chaos, lying, depression, addictions and all that comes with our sin filled world,- we have a choice.
We can choose to confront it.
We can choose to be honest.
We can choose to reject sin.
We can refuse to willingly accept harm from others.
We can choose to repent.
We can choose forgiveness and healing.
We can choose to respect ourselves, and know our value and worth.
We can choose to be courageous and know when to say 'no', 'enough', 'no more'.
We can be humble.
We can choose love.
We can do and say the hard things that allow us to be right with God, (and hopefully right with each other- but right for us regardless.)

   The key? We can only choose for ONE person. Me.

  The thing about Christianity is that it isn’t a group thing.

It is only my life, my choice, my love.
We can’t choose for anyone else, including our family.
Especially our family.
The hardest thing on the planet just may be seeing someone you love more than life hurt; and realize there is nothing you can do for them.

    I think there is a myth; the myth of the Christian family.

When there is hurt, pain, damage, and destruction in a life, and it affects a family it is painful. Devastating. Unbelievably hard.
It is even harder if for some reason we believe it isn’t supposed to happen.

That it can't happen; that as Christians we are exempt from certain things.

   That if by trying a little harder on OUR end, we can somehow change things for someone else.  If we just preach a little louder, or keep smiling and forgive and turn the other cheek one more time, or somehow just quietly love them enough,  that somehow everything will turn out ok.
 Sometimes everything is not ok.
 But you can be.

   A victorious Christian life doesn’t mean that everything around you is ok.
   It doesn't mean that everyone you love is ok.

  A victorious Christian life is ONE person who KNOWS how much their God loves them and loves him back, no matter what life brings.
 There is a God who knows YOU by name. Who cares how you feel and what you face. He knows your heart, he knows your frame, and his love for you will never change.

But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another... Galatians 6:4

 How have your family relationships impacted your walk with God?
This Present Mom,


Friday, August 16, 2013

What is Successful Home School?

 picture credit

What Is Successful Home School?
   To know whether or not something is successful, - you must know the goal intended.

   If you are taking a business trip; success is defined by lack of disruptions, quick easy travel and safe arrival. However if your goal for taking a trip is to have an adventure, - the unexpected, - the uncertain, even possible danger are what you hope to experience.  

     If someone asks you after a trip if it was ‘good’, you are going to base that answer on what you had hoped to accomplish.

   In the debate of education, - I feel that this idea of goals, and success have been greatly confused, especially when it comes to home schooling.

  Public Schools began with the sole purpose of providing academic education for children. The primary purpose was not to completely prepare a child emotionally, spiritually, and relationally to live life. This was always understood to be the parent’s responsibility. The primary purpose was to give academic education.  Over time, many parents came to feel that the public school system was not doing a good job.  Combine that with factors that parents felt were a negative influence to a child’s development emotionally, spiritually, and with relationships, and parents began looking to alternatives.

    Interestingly enough however, - academics have never been parent’s primary motive for home school. For the last 30 years, - one reason has overwhelmingly been given as the primary reason that parents give for choosing such a massive commitment.

   Imparting religious and moral values has always been and still is the number one reason parent’s give as their motivation to educate their children at home.

      In the early days of home school there was very rigid legislation for home school families. The government was interested to see if it was possible to academically educate a child enough to satisfy state and federal requirements and standards.  Years of testing, and finally the first batch of home school high school graduates proved it is not only possible, but that parent directed education was producing test scores that blew their competition out of the water.

   Home school was successful. At least by government standards. Yes. We had proven that most average, but dedicated parents COULD teach their child to read, write and take tests well, - and in most cases those students would do  better than public school peers.

  But wait. What was the stated goal of homeschooling anyway?

   From the governments perspective, - parents were taking on themselves an academic task.

   But from the families themselves, - the goal was quite different.  Remember, - the number one stated reason parents had for home schooling? It wasn’t academic achievement. It was passing on their religious and moral convictions to their children.  How did they do?

   That question tends to make people uncomfortable. Suddenly, we seem to be judgmental.  If we ask the question ‘has home school been successful in passing on a parent’s religious and moral convictions’, that question requires that we look at home school graduates as a whole person, and, to some extent how closely their life resembles their parents.  

    We are left with two options. Either we are forced to judge the children’s life based on how much they ‘look’ like a Christian (based on a very surface view of how closely they are outwardly following  their parent’s beliefs) or we are forced to accept that there really is a range.

    Some families may have children who have rejected God altogether, some who would say they agree with their parents on basic beliefs but whose lives look nothing like their parents would hope, and those who from all visible and outward signs have followed their parent’s faith and lifestyles but may or may not actually have personal faith.

  This is interesting to me because many home school families have tried to arrange their entire world, including social interactions, books, movies and more in a way that exposes their children primarily to faith that looks just like theirs. Some Christian parents are far more concerned about ‘worldly’ or liberal Christians more than they are ‘blatant sinners’.  They are far more comfortable talking with their children about the contrast of two wildly opposing world views than two  that claim to have the same foundation but look drastically different.

  In many cases this was a huge part of parents taking their children out of school. They wanted to pass on a faith to their children that was more than a Sunday service, but instead an all encompassing way of life. To them, - seeing others who profess faith but live in many ways ‘just like everyone else’ was an indication that faith was either insincere or immature. I wonder then with that in mind if homeschooling has produced faithful followers of the 'sincerely committed' kind.

     What I have found seems to be a double standard. When I ask the question, ‘Has home school been successful  in passing on a parents religious and moral convictions, I tend to get answers that start as an acknowledgement, - ‘Well, - some home school families have ended in disaster. We ALLLLL know those families.  Their kids were not well educated or / they rejected God / went crazy/are REALLY weird etc., - but that isn’t really the fault of home schooling. There were bigger problems. It is really a parenting issue. It is really about relationships.”


   And yet when another Christian family or their children appear (once again, - outward indicators)  to be ship wrecked in the faith, these folks are usually the first to mention public school, - peer influence, and low standards as the cause. You can’t have it both ways. Either the method of education IS key to a successful Christian family or it is not. And this is a pretty important thing to decide, especially if it is THE basis for such a huge part of life, AND the primary reason given to others.

     Let me make this clear. I do NOT like going around judging other peoples parenting. I am NOT a perfect parent and am learning every single day. But what I don’t understand is the disconnect we seem to have between advertising a goal, and then feeling offended when people ask for the results.

    Across the board parent’s said they chose to home school because they wanted to impart their views to their children. Ok. Based on YOUR goal, - how’d that work for you??
DID home school really help you achieve your goals for your children?
Are you pleased with the results?
Do you now think your goals were on target, or misguided?

     How has it worked for home school families across the board? DO most home school grads agree with their parents on their religious beliefs? DO they agree with their parents on how to live? Are home school grads choosing to home school their own children?

    In asking myself these questions I started with a legal pad and began writing a loooong list of names. I personally know either casually or am close friends with a couple hundred home school families.  I know what I have observed as the ‘real’ results of home school.  I think I know what many of my peers think and feel generally speaking. I know the ‘shining star’ families who seem to represent the very best of healthy family relationships, education, and raised successful Christian adults. I also know that for every one family like that I can tell you of four or more families who are or have struggled with serious moral, relationship, and educational issues, and some who are poster cases of why some people think home schooling should be illegal.

  But I am one person. I know my vision is only as large as my social circle. I was sure someone else must have already asked these questions so I began looking.  However I did not find where anyone had addressed this issue in depth before, or asked the questions that I was curious about.

    So I wrote a survey, because I wanted to know. By its own commonly touted purpose; HAS home schooling been successful? Has it helped meet the goals that parents intended for it to accomplish? Is my personal social circle a fair representation of the home school movement at large, or have my ideas been inordinately affected by out of the ordinary cases?

   Meanwhile, I have been writing a list of 10 Reasons not to Home School. They are the reasons I have most often heard cited as the ‘why’. 
They represent stated goals.
 I have been challenging these one by one. I believe these reasons cannot and do not work as the motivating factor for educating your child at home.  I believe that home schooling based on the wrong reasons produces exhausted, defeated parents, kids ill prepared for life, and family relationships full of decay.

    A few decades ago, parents began to question how the current school system was either helping or failing to help parents educate their children, and support healthy child development and families. After 30 years of a home school movement and hundreds of families who have adopted home education as a way of life to specifically address these issues, - I am asking the same questions.  

  Perhaps with one significant difference; I actually am not trying to advocate home school, private school, or public school. I truly deeply believe that the method of education is rarely the problem. I personally believe that all three can be THE best. However, I DO believe there are some foundational ideas about education and parenting in general that are underlying factors in the health of a family, and healthy child development and those are what I am eager to explore.  Since my life history and experiences have all been related to home school and the home school culture that is the area I feel comfortable addressing.

    Are you brave enough to ask the right questions, and find out the answers even if they aren’t pretty? Do you want to know what the last generation of home school grads thinks about their experience? Do you want to know what worked and what didn’t for families who have done this for decades? Do you want to know where older home school families are now, and if their relationships are strong?

  Do you want to know what home school parents from 20 years ago believe were the key to certain successes or failures? Do you want to know if they regret their choices?

 Do you want to know if marriages are surviving home education?

So do I.

   For every one family who writes books, and speaks at conferences talking about what worked for them are ten families who have had less stellar experiences. My blog is dedicated to giving those families a voice. To bring the unvarnished truth, the good the bad and the ugly about this thing called home school.

   This is the purpose of my posts on 10 Reasons not to Home School, and my Survey for Home School Grads. (Results to be released soon)
     I am excited about future projects I am working on that will allow us to learn from the best and the worst of the past, and hopefully make balanced, healthy choices for our own children.

 I have a lot of questions. I hope you join me in looking for answers.
This Present Mom,

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Teaching Your Child to Tell You 'NO'

    I was raised to believe that obedience was a child’s non questioning compliance with all instructions and commands that their parents gave. Not only was compliance necessary, but also a good attitude. After all, - if it wasn’t cheerful, it wasn’t obedience.

       As a compliant first born, married to a compliant first born, who gave birth to a compliant first born, this philosophy found its way into my parenting early. It was all too easy to implement. For some kids; like my son, the desire to please is strong and motivation enough to secure cooperation. Yet as my son grew older I was uncomfortable with what I saw in his life, but I didn’t know how to put my finger on it.  There were times when my husband (a truly amazing father) handled things differently than I did  and I found myself struggling to understand why I approached parenting from such a different perspective. Things came to head when we had cousins over for a visit and a confrontation began.

    What had been some minor squabbling in the past few visits (which had been settled case by case)  came to a head in one big fight. When I took him aside and patiently listened to his entire saga one thing became very crystal clear to me. My son had no idea of how to set boundaries.  He had no idea when or how was the appropriate way to say no and stick to it. Without the knowledge and ability to set clear boundaries he was left with whining and manipulation.  Neither are very endearing. While they may sometimes work, they are not the basis for peaceful or healthy friendships.

    At that point things clicked as the connection between abusive authority and relationships in general crystallized. There is a huge difference in creating rules for your house, with which your child must cooperate, and creating an environment that is designed to support one (or more)  person’s ultimate control, and force unquestioning compliance from a child.

  Abusive authority uses their power to exert their will onto another person. Healthy authority simply enforces impersonal, un-emotional rules.  

    A child who has been forced to submit their will to a dominant forceful ‘authority’ does not have a healthy foundation for peer relationships. They will tend to fall in one of two roles, - either becoming, OR submitting to others as the dominant one. They do not know how to handle conflict properly because in their life experience it is force or rank, not logic or kindness that matter.

   I felt a wave of relief in this discovery. No wonder I was uncomfortable. Unwittingly I had been playing the role of an abusive authority. I had never physically hurt my son, - or verbally hurt him in any way, - (if anything I’ve been passive because I am so determined not to ever be to forceful)  but in our home our perspective of WHY and HOW to obey was based in all the wrong ideas.

   Right away I sat down and had a talk with my son. I told him that it was OK to say no. It was healthy to say no. We talked through how to handle when friends and he disagreed on what to play, or what the rules should be, and how at ANY point how he should respectfully state his opinion, then be ok if they disagreed, even if it meant they had to take a break from playing together. We role played a bit with scenarios he created, and I saw huge relief in his face.

   Then I talked about how I had raised him to never say no defiantly to me, and how I was wrong. I told him that God gave him his own conscious and his own personality and that of course he was not going to always agree with his father and I. I told him that he should NEVER do what he felt was wrong, no matter who told him to including me.

    This was something we had discussed before regarding ‘tricky people’ (aka abductors  and sexual predators)  , but it really is futile if your child has been raised to ‘respect’/’fear’ authority, or (through association) those they sense have any kind of dominance over them.)

    I told him that he should feel free to respectfully disagree with me at any point and gave him examples of how to calmly, respectfully tell me what he thought. We role played, with me demonstrating how I planned to listen and affirm what he said. Ironically it is something he has had no problems with in his relationship with his Dad, but in the past I thought maybe the conflicts he and I had were a result of the fact that I am the ‘all day’ parent and his Dad is the ‘fun in the evenings and weekends’ parent. I realized there were actually REAL differences in my husbands core basis for parenting  and THAT has been evident in our parenting)

     I told him that Mom and Dad had rules in our house for how we treat each other, and how to share chores, and how we take care of our pets and possessions. I told him that of course he didn’t have to agree, but that our goal was to be kind and respectful of each other and that when he had his own house he was going to get to make these decisions of what rules where in his house. (I wanted to give the kid a sense of hope and a vision for a future when he could have freedom to call the shots in his life. That day is coming quicker than I want to admit.)

     The first talk was good. It was a great starting point.

  Something I wasn’t sure how to handle was attitude. He knew that every morning it was his job to do ‘morning chores’ which consisted of making (or stripping) his bed, tidying his room and bathroom.

   If I reminded him, some days it was no big deal. Other days he started a full body slump, full on whining, and a litany of reasons why he didn’t want to do it and how miserable his life was. In my past, this would have seen this as disobedience that called for punishment. It wouldn’t be acceptable for a child to ‘keep’ a bad attitude.

   Parental pressure would be exerted to require a ‘change’ of attitude. I have never been comfortable with this. First of all it just isn’t logical. Most of us adults have bad attitudes at times. That is just life.

  In parenting I often consider how God treats his children, and I don’t see my heavenly Father glaring at me because I DON’T want to get out of bed, or go to work, or whatever - he just smiles and loves me anyway. I do not see God as someone who punishes us for having feelings, no matter what they are. Furthermore, - the thing that helps me get over a slump has never been someone berating me or telling me that I am ungrateful and should suck it up and BE happy, threatening pain or punishment.   It is the beautiful, unexpected kindnesses of others in life that have turned my feelings around. Some days my attitude changes, some days it does not.  Some days I don’t feel better until everything I was dreading is done.

   That being said, - as a parent I DO feel it is my job to teach him how to properly handle or express his ‘bad day moments’ in a way that is polite or thoughtful of others. Most of us figure out quickly in life that it isn’t what we think or feel, but how we handle it that affects our relationships and interaction with others.  Those who are able to experience thoughts, feelings and beliefs in a way that does not negatively affect others are the people with whom we all want to be friends.

  In the past I would vacillate between trying to ignore the unpleasantness, (which was pretty hard some days) or telling him that he needed to work on his attitude, sometimes giving him ‘time outs’ until he could ‘be more pleasant ’. With my shift in perspective, came a different approach. My goal had changed. I was not trying to change his attitude, OR simply endure it. My goal was to help him learn to properly express his emotions, and then, to love him unconditionally through them.

   Now on his ‘whine fest mornings’ I first try to stay cheerful and loving. I love that boy, fuss=pot or not, and he knows it. Second, - I try to genuinely sympathize. I know I like it when others understand my bad days!!  Sometimes, a smile, hug and ‘I’m so sorry you are still tired (or ‘hate cleaning’ or whatever) , - I know it is hard.’ Is all he needs, and is enough to cheer him up.   

     Third, - I remind him that it is ok to have a bad day, but he needs to be thoughtful of those around him. I don’t require him to smile and be cheerful, but he may not throw himself around, start verbally ranting, or doing little things to annoy his sister, etc.    In our house, this means that there will be an extra chore. Having a ‘bad day’ moment or rough start is not an excuse to intentionally make others miserable too.  This is comes back to the impersonal rule in our house that we treat others with respect and kindness no matter what.

  In the adult world, waking tired and being grouchy is your choice and not a problem, - unless you decide to break the traffic rules and endanger others. Then you are responsible for your actions.

   So if my son wakes up grouchy at the world, (or develops this attitude at some point in the day) he knows he will receive love and understanding first and foremost. If he tries to spread the feeling through poorly chosen actions, he knows I’ll calmly ask him to do an extra chore.

    The results have been amazing. I don’t take his bad attitudes personally or feel that I have any responsibility to ‘change’ them, and he knows his feelings are ok, and is learning how to properly express them.

  Ironically, his bad attitudes are less common. Probably in part because it just isn’t a big deal either way. He feels heard and affirmed, and knows he is totally normal to feel in a funk sometimes.

     The concept of setting boundaries has been very freeing for our relationship, and I suspect will be invaluable as he reaches his teens. Already there have been times when I see his little ‘man’ personality appear and it totally catches me off guard. The other day he got home after working with his Dad and I eagerly started asking all sorts of questions about what he did, and if he liked it, etc.

  He glanced at me with a tired, slightly irritated look that shocked me because it reminded me of his Dad some days. He rolled his eyes, and sighed loudly, ‘Mooooom.’ I could tell he was winding up for a whine/slump session.

  I smiled back (inwardly crushed realizing my baby was gone forever) and said, - “Hey, - if you’re tired and don’t want to talk about it, - that is OK. Just tell me nicely and I’ll respect that.”

  He sucked in a huge breathe and exerted the obviously HUGE effort required to quickly and quietly say, ‘Mom I don’t really want to talk right now.”

  “Cool! No problem! – Why don't you go get a hot shower and think about what you want to do tonight!?!"  He visibly brightened and life moved on. I smiled thinking about his girl friend or wife someday and hope that a little practice now will mean open, honest and guilt free communication that supports a healthy relationship in his future.

    Interestingly, my second child is a much stronger willed daughter. From the perspective of my past, she would have required much more intense effort to achieve compliance because she has NO problem saying ‘no’. I am very thankful my perspective changed before I ever started parenting her.

    I am delighted to see her fiercely independent self develop and we are both learning how to properly channel her spunky determination.  I am glad that she will never have her spirit crushed, or her will broken. I am excited to see my son develop his voice and inner strength and confidence and wish I had done more to encourage it from the start.

   What about you? Is your child willing and able to tell you and your spouse ‘no’?  How have you taught your child how to make personal boundaries and to properly express their feelings? Have you had to overcome any ‘abusive authority mentalities’ in your parenting?   

   Some of you are probably shocked that these basic simple ideas are so new to me, and I would love to hear your input!!  What have you found best encourages your child to be confident in themselves, stand by what they think, and yet be respectful? Thoughts?

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