One Month In, What Bugs Me Comes From Outside the Home

So, A and I are now one month into the de-schooling process. He’s been spending most of his time just being him. He has been playing with his toys, watching television shows and movies that interest him, playing games on his tablet or on the computer that amuses him. I’ve given him a long leash for exploring with the things around him the sort of person he wants to be and we’re making some great discoveries along the way. Not epiphanies, to be truthful, but reinforcing upon things I already knew about A and allowing him to nurture his self-confidence and his sense of self.

I’ve been spending this time doing some much-needed work on me. They say that de-schooling is very much for the parents, as much if not more than the child. And I have to say that I completely agree with that. I thought I was so ready and I still am, insofar as recreating school in a home environment. But that’s not what home education is all about. Sure, I’ve set up a process for recording what gets done over the day; I’ve got a planning and execution process in place for work done over 6 week periods. It is all very structured and that is because that is what I am accustomed to. It’s what many adults who have lived in institutions are accustomed to. But that does not mean that it’s an optimal environment for encouraging learning. And it’s certainly not the case where I’ve asked A, ‘So how do you want to go about this?’ I have my own preconceived notions that I’m having to let go of to give A the room that he needs to flourish.

What I’ve not been ready for is … just going at his pace, however fast or slow that is and in whatever direction that takes us. I have to fight back at wanting to be that Tiger Mom. I have to fight back at wanting to do this to impress others or to prove that I’m right about modern schools. Those will not sustain us through the process. What will sustain us is feeding A’s natural curiosity and just being brave enough to let it flow and to trust in him. On the surface, it may look like not a lot has gotten accomplished… but once I get to thinking about it and comparing A to how he was a month ago, he’s a changed little boy and all for the better. Learning has certainly happened in some very big ways that you can’t put a gold star on.

Something that’s been sticking in my crawl lately… and this came off of a podcast I was listening to and I can’t find it to link it and quote from it. The podcast had a couple of ignorant authors who weren’t parents giving their opinion on the notion that parents seem to believe that they ‘own’ their children and how nothing good ever came from ‘owning’ anyone. This was all said in the context of childhood being a relatively new modern invention, more or less making a rationale for linking parenting with modern-day child slavery when making a comparison of the importance of the rights of the child over the rights of the parent. Obviously I thought that the discussion was appalling and very threatening as I saw it as the rationale for undermining parental authority when it came to matters of the child and their role in family versus their role in society.

Indeed, the current government will be dissolved in March and a new one voted in this year and this is of great concern to home educators in England as the new government will likely be another coalition with a good possibility that Labour will be in power. In general, Labour is not a friend to home educators as they stand on a platform endorsing stronger measures to monitor home education in light of concerns about child welfare and radical extremism– they would like to change the law to reflect that. Sometimes Its Peaceful gives a pretty in-depth review of what’s on the table and so there’s no need for me to repeat it all here– it’s all said there, very well. In short, stay out of my living room unless there’s proof that there’s a problem and there are plenty of opportunities to look for proof, land of the CCTV.

NSPCC turns parent's darkest, sleep deprived, over-stressed thoughts into signposts for abuse
NSPCC turns parent’s darkest, sleep deprived, over-stressed thoughts into signposts for abuse

But what I would like to give thought to and encourage others to do so as well– is perhaps re-examining the language used around parental authority and children’s rights. Because I see my parental authority as a mandate, as an absolute. It shouldn’t be questioned. Granted, there are horrible parents out there who do terrible things to their kids and that’s not the norm. And granted, what is the norm is that all parents struggle. Parents who struggle are not parents who abuse, as the NSPCC would otherwise have everyone believe. (Perhaps the reason for NSPCC’s drop in charitable income can be attributed to their success in alienating just about everyone.)

My parental mandate is not the same as ‘ownership’ implied in the above podcast– my kids aren’t slaves but also, neither am I.  I will challenge my children to be independent and teach them the skills they need to do it, as it’s not a sign of abuse nor neglect if my son’s able to dress himself before age four, is free to go and get his own snacks from the cupboard, can navigate an android tablet or a computer via mouse, and has regular chores like tidying up after himself, bringing his dirty dishes to the sink, sweeping the floor with an electronic broom and hanging up his shirts. I trust him to manage his days without me having to constantly supervise, intervene, or even leaving the responsibility for entertaining him up to me. I prefer the drone method of parenting rather than having to be that helicopter mom. (to quote Jenny Senior in this very wonderful NPR interview that I wished I had heard years and years ago… that and not wasted my time on social media and BabyCenter [or BabyCentre] parenting groups [with exception to many of the very cool moms I met there and still keep in touch with])

Call me old-fashioned, but I did grow up in the era of latch-key kids. We did just fine. My kids are smart and responsible. I remain nonetheless attentive, caring and conscientious. I am right there every time I’m called, but I do not have to be micro managing every minute of my child’s life. I remain approachable to my children at all times and they receive my full attention each and every time.

Believe it or not, this is done by appealing to his sense of altruism, his want for feeling accomplished, independent, safe, and his want for developing his sense of self-respect and if he’s not in the mood for minding what needs to be done, then I shall raise my voice so that I can be heard over his meltdown and he shall be sent to his room to reconsider his poorly chosen actions. And when he’s calm, we will talk about what can be done better next time and he will apologise. And if he’s not able to calm down, we do a backwards countdown breathing exercise. There are several times (once this morning in fact) where he’s lashed out and then realized he’s made a poor choice in actions and can’t find a way out. The ‘countdown-to-calm’ we’ve been using for two years now has been his lovingly reassuring way out of being out of control. This technique was not taught in one of the many state endorsed parenting courses I’ve gone on (sorry, my kids don’t do sticker charts and there’s a growing body of research that indicates external rewards < intrinsic rewards, something that my inner compass also tells me is true)– this technique was developed out of what I noticed about my own son, doing my own research on childhood development and neurobiology, and listening to my own inner voice– inspired by attachment parenting beliefs. At the end of the countdown, he knows that I’m ready to fully hear him out, lovingly embrace him, and help him find a better way for next time.

The path to this tidy solution wasn’t perfectly straight. There were some serious bumps and sudden swerves in the road trying to figure it out while always reaching for how to do it better. However, we got there because I am relentless when it comes to striving for a harmonious home where everyone feels like they belong.

Trust me to get on with parenting, on my own, following the wants and needs of my children under the guidance of my own very well-developed moral compass and intuition. That’s how my parenting is and home education is an extension of that. My child’s education ultimately rests with me, not the state.