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Jen

Deciding What's Best in a New Era of Parenting

Posted by Jen on June 9, 2010 at 7:56 AM
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crossing over

I'll confess. I was in the let's-never-let-the-baby-be-unhappy camp during my children's early years. You know the kind of mother of which I speak. The one who doesn't pass around her newborn. The one with the crib doubling as a hamper because no human creature has ever managed to remain in there for more than three minutes. The one nursing her toddler in the grocery store--while she's pushing the cart.

This strategy, I must say, honestly worked well for me. I was stretched and tired and worn out at times, but leaning into what my kids needed made me personally as a mom really happy. I was glad for the extreme measures and felt a kind of satisfaction to be going the extra mile. Call it sick, I know, but it was the right decision for me.

And for many years, it was absolutely the right decision for my kids. Except, of course, when it wasn't. My kids spent their baby and toddler years eating when they were hungry, sleeping when they were tired and playing to their hearts content. This was all fine and good until it was time for Madeleine to go to school. And then. Oh dear. Our follow-your-bliss do-what-you-want-when-you-want-to plan wasn't going to work at all.

Because school has a start time. And a lunch time. And a lesson time, complete with learning stations that changed every twenty minutes. Which turned out to be way too short for my (then) tv-free kids who had figured out how to do the one thing they loved for at least one hour at a time, preferably two. It took me one whole year of kindergarten to get bedtime down and then a whole other horrific year in first grade to realize she needed to go a different school altogether.

School has been the one glitch in my follow-your-bliss parenting strategy. I've adjusted by working on bedtime routines, figuring out how to get out the door in the morning and how to get homework done at night. So far, so good, for the most part. It's only taken five years.

Now we have much more serious decisions on the table as the kids get older and we need to decide which schools are best for them as they outgrow our cozy neighborhood schools. What would make them happy right now might limit their opportunities a few years down the road--because inside the Beltway where we live, the invitation to this or that track of education starts early. Following their bliss may naturally exclude a host of experiences that might open new avenues of interest that will delight them--even more than they can imagine right now as they change and grow.

This puts me in a delicate spot as a parent. Do I demand that they go to schools they might not truly want to go--in the spirit of hope in new experiences? Do I relent and continue to allow them to follow their natural inclinations--a deeper lesson in following their hearts--and risk another kind of missing out?

I think for me it comes down to trust. Do I trust my instincts about this child enough to follow my own intuition? Do I trust my tween to know her own mind well enough to make a reasonable choice? Especially after eleven years in the follow-your-bliss incubator?

These parenting decisions reflect our basic outlook on life, work, joy, fulfillment and responsibility, so snap decisions or quick edicts won't do. It's only when we have insight into why we're doing what we're doing that we can feel solid and brave in our choices as parents, even if we're not entirely sure. That's where I am this morning, and this is what I'm trying to do.

36 Comments

Jo writes...

I empathize. I am at that very crossroad w/my 3rd child, and school has been the most difficult part of parenting with all of my children. I think we have to trust that although there are definitely decisions which are better than others, as long as we are there to make it all a learning and growing, as well as safe environment, they will be fine. I am now wrestling w/my definition of "safe." ::sigh::

M writes...

If I allowed my 11 year old step-daughter to make big decisions like that, we'd all be eating candy for dinner, never brushing our teeth, and homework would never get done. I believe firmly in limiting, boundaries, expectations, and consequences. Children can't see five minutes from now, and it is up to me and her dad to think ahead for her now. That's just our family. It's different for everyone.

M writes...

If I allowed my 11 year old step-daughter to make big decisions like that, we'd all be eating candy for dinner, never brushing our teeth, and homework would never get done. I believe firmly in limiting, boundaries, expectations, and consequences. Children can't see five minutes from now, and it is up to me and her dad to think ahead for her now. That's just our family. It's different for everyone.

Mary writes...

It sounds like you were homeschooling up until "school age," and it was a lifestyle that suited your family well. It's never too late to go back to that. Learning is so much more meaningful when the motivation and interest comes from within. I'd take a serious look at homeschooling. Our family has been doing that since our kids left public school after grade 3. It's not perfect or regret-free (nothing is -- not even the "best" school). But it might be the best fit for your family.

Melanie writes...

The key to successful parenting is to actually be a parent to your child which means being their role model, disciplinarian and authority figure NOT their best friend. You will have plenty of time to be their friend when they are grown and successful. Parents are expected to set both expectations and boundaries for their children and not nurture and encourage them along the way. It is not a parent's job to make their child happy, parenting is about giving them the love and structure and skills that life and love and relationships require. Her child wasn't ready for kindergarten because as a mother she failed to give her the skills she needed and yet we blame our schools when a child arrives at school unprepared to learn. Parents need to wake up. Have confidence in their knowledge and decisions and the strength to say to to their children. Their children will be happy and thank them for it in years to come.

Melanie writes...

The key to successful parenting is to actually be a parent to your child which means being their role model, disciplinarian and authority figure NOT their best friend. You will have plenty of time to be their friend when they are grown and successful. Parents are expected to set both expectations and boundaries for their children and not nurture and encourage them along the way. It is not a parent's job to make their child happy, parenting is about giving them the love and structure and skills that life and love and relationships require. Her child wasn't ready for kindergarten because as a mother she failed to give her the skills she needed and yet we blame our schools when a child arrives at school unprepared to learn. Parents need to wake up. Have confidence in their knowledge and decisions and the strength to say to to their children. Their children will be happy and thank them for it in years to come.

Meagan writes...

Your thoughts are honest, and while I am only currently in year two of motherhood, I foresee facing the same challenges. We more or less let our baby be, and he is happy. We stick to a bedtime and have some routine, but no rigid schedules whatsoever. He will probably continue to nurse for a few more months, and that is OK with me.

I think too much of popular parenting advice asks us to ignore our intuition, so you are wise to listen to it. I think it's a delicate balance--listening to our gut, and then teaching our children to listen to theirs.

I'm sure that gets much more complicated past age 13 months, though.

Nick writes...

As a psychologist and a parent, I think you have to do what you truly believe is best for your child and will make her into the best adult. If you love her, there is no bad choice.

Cheryce writes...

My first thought was... homeschool them.

I don't believe in creating a false sense of security in the aspect of my children never experiencing consequences or hurt or let-down.

But the public school system is flawed in the sense that children can NOT seek their own way; they can not stay on a task if the teach has scheduled something else; they can NOT look at each child as the individual that they are-- they must look at what works for the most kids at the same time.

If you want your kids to be free-thinkers and to follow their passion, the typical public school won't foster that.

Parenting styles vary drastically, but one thing remains consistent through out all kids-- they are born to adapt, learn, and be loved.


That's all.

Megan writes...

Ditto that, M. It all sounds kind of indulgent to me, not to mention setting yourself up for major difficulties later. I know families who are overly child-centered and their kids run them and run wild (and then they blame things like food additives for their children's poor behavior). Oh well, then they get the satisfaction of being radically differenct and thinking they're better than everyone who uses a crib and makes their children sit down for meals. How about we prepare kids for the real world and not for a fairy-land where they get to do whatever they want whenever they want?

Megan writes...

Ditto that, M. It all sounds kind of indulgent to me, not to mention setting yourself up for major difficulties later. I know families who are overly child-centered and their kids run them and run wild (and then they blame things like food additives for their children's poor behavior). Oh well, then they get the satisfaction of being radically different and thinking they're better than everyone who uses a crib and makes their children sit down for meals. How about we prepare kids for the real world and not for a fairy-land where they get to do whatever they want whenever they want?

Stephanie writes...

We followed the same path in the early years but choose to homeschool when they hit school age. I too am finding that I need to adjust as they get older. But what I am also finding is that by meeting their needs and valuing their opinions in the early years, they are more likely to value mine as they get older.

My 13 year old is very open to my opinions and advice (much more so then when he was younger!) He does not always like my decisions, but he also knows that I don't over rule him without a good reason. And that I am always willing to listen to his side.

I am finding that, as they get older, my boys are naturally learning that the world does not revolve around them and other people have needs too. But they are also aware that their opinions and ideas are valuable and have merit.

It is a bit of a leap of faith that you will not be "spoiling" them when they are younger. But as a mom whose teen finds her "interesting" (he told me that yesterday actually) and who wants my opinion, I think it was a good leap to take.

Karen writes...

Find a Montessori school Children can "find their bliss" and get a great education learning at the own pace.

Stacy writes...

I don't think there is a right or wrong way to parent, as long as your child is happy, well-adjusted, and healthy. I think as moms we can be too judgmental of one another at times, instead of acting like the community we are. I also think that decision-making is an important skill for children to learn, and to learn early, as well as the reasons behind the rules (we brush our teeth so we don't get cavities, we eat veggies so we grow up strong, we don't hit because it hurts others). I think by teaching our children to think for themselves, we arm them with a knowledge of self that can be more important than anything a school is able to teach.

S writes...

Finding alternative forms of education that embrace a "follow your bliss" style is not that difficult these days. Montessori, Reggio, etc. allow children to focus on their interests and move in their own time. My daughter's Montessori school also provided enough structure mixed in with free to be you and me that I believe her movement into the public school system will be transition we can all handle. You also have to be as aware as you can when your child goes to school and try to meet the needs the schools miss yourself. I am sure your parenting style helped your children achieve a happy and confident base and going with your instincts is often the best way to go.

PS-I am very old school and strict and that works for us but everybody has to find their own "best" way.

Dawn writes...

My parents were born at the beginning of the baby-boom and I was born at the very end of it. We were all raised to "Do as I tell you, not as I do!" I resented my upbringing for many years.
I attempted to raise my children in a "free spirit" and nearly made myself crazy. My mother saved me by bringing structure back into the picture. But there was still something missing.
I finally figured out part of the missing puzzle piece, I had never been told WHY certain things were done the way they were. So I began to explain why we were doing things "my way" and if my children failed I did not blow up, but explained it was an opportunity to try again.
My children were complemented everywhere we went for their good behavior and respect, they in turn received praise and respect from the adults around them. I also did emergency placement work for our local CFS, eventually ran and managed several group homes and still do work with At Risk youth. I have had many successes along the way!
My secret? Expectations are high but attainable. Lessons are taught with love and guidance. Mistakes are opportunities. Schedules are followed, because the world revolves on schedule... therefore schedules are a natural event. You cannot force summer to come during winter.
If a child does not know the way, you show them as often as it takes until they do.
Figure out how they best learn and teach to it. If they are visual, leave pictures or lists, If they learn by listening get a small digital recorder. etc etc.
They will still make mistakes, mess up, and choose a scary friend or two. As stated, these are opportunities too. Try a new approach, practice makes perfect, and scary friends can be taught too.
My son turns 22 and daughter turns 23 this summer. Last weekend I spent at the lake with my son, his girlfriend and three of their formerly scary friends. This coming weekend I am taking my daughter and two of her girlfriends, because as they say... I am a "Cool Mom to hang out with!"

Xenu writes...

Yeah...this is exactly why I choose not to have children.

Amy writes...

Thank you for speaking out as someone who wants to raise your children the way you are doing. Here in Austin, Texas we are lucky to have a school -- similar to the unschool and freeschool movements -- that allows kids to make decisions and become who they are meant to be versus being molded by their parents or schools into their vision of a good child. My daughter goes there: http://www.samschool.org. The school is founded with the idea that kids will learn naturally and don't need to be forced to conform to schedules that were invented in the 19th Century and often haven't changed since then. And with the freedom to chose how they will learn, they grow into amazing people who are great at making decisions (because they have always been given the responsibility of making them); they know who they are and have the confidence to pursue their hearts' desires. They also get along really well with other kids and adults because there is no "everyone must sit still at a desk" time, which creates large amounts of time for social interaction and figuring out how to operate in a group.

stacey K. writes...

okay all you smart moms....After reading your replies I decided to present my parenting problem to you all and see what advise you can send my way!

I have a wonderful, extremely bright daughter in kindergarten. She is testing out somewhere between 4th and 5th in her academic skills. (no doing of her parents, I assure you!) We have discussed bumping her a grade but her maturity level is right there with her kindergarten peers. I'm okay with all this.

Here's my problem: she is very hard headed or defiant (as her teacher has said), does not choose to follow direction or rules, has a bad temper and will do whatever she feels will work to get her way.

Her older sister is the exact opposite. Bright but a rule follower and a pleaser.

I am obviously in need of guidance to get my kinder daughter on a path to being a well mannered and adequately compliant child.

Thank you for any books or advise you can suggest.

Amy writes...

Stacey,

I can see how you have a hard choice. As a teacher, I have always believed that social development should be the most important in the early grades. I would agree to letting your child keep going on through the grade levels instead of skipping because socially she needs more time.

Of course, if she is having behavior issues it could be because she is so advanced. I have had very bright students act out because they are just bored with the curriculum. (Sometimes this is a sign of being gifted).

But, if it were my decision, I would leave her where she is for now. Teachers have great ways to differentiate for more advanced students, and if she is labeled as gifted, then she will be given more learning opportunities along the way.

This is just my opinion because I find that parents know their children best. :)

Shay writes...

"School has been the one glitch in my follow-your-bliss parenting strategy." It's a shame that "had" to be, when follow-your-bliss could have gone on for 13 more years via homeschooling.

"inside the Beltway where we live, the invitation to this or that track of education starts early. Following their bliss may naturally exclude a host of experiences that might open new avenues of interest that will delight them--even more than they can imagine right now as they change and grow."

Again, homeschooling can remedy that problem. Outside of Big Box Institutional Education, children can follow their bliss wherever it takes them, up, down, left, right and back again. No penalty for choosing "the wrong track."

Seems like letting your kids truly follow their bliss would also be following *your* bliss, so why not homeschool? You'll love it. It'll be just like those first few years where you lived according to your own family schedule instead of one imposed by an institution. And you'll feel so very solid and brave. :-)

ercka writes...

great job mom!! :) :) i love that theres someone out there like me.

i guess that this is the reason (or one of them) that most parents who parent this way end up homeschooling.... :) im not near that point yet.

Elizabeth writes...

Whew Jen, you have some tough decisions ahead don't you, but you sound as if you've got a good feel for who your children really are and what's important to their core ... If it were me, I think I would send them where they can thrive.

I tend to think most of what we learn isn't in the classroom. I'm a good example of this ... the stories I could tell you about my first 12 years of education would make your hair curl and wonder how I ever achieved any of the things I have.

What made the difference for me was a natural sense of curiosity and a love of reading not the 10 schools I was in by 9th grade.

You know what you know, Jen and your children are lucky, lucky, lucky, to have you as their mama.

Carolyn writes...

You can have blissful kids and still have boundaries and loving discipline, and high yet practical and attainable expectations.

Over-indulgence doesn't make bliss, it just makes selfish, neurotic narcissists who expect the world owes them happiness, and expect very little of themselves.

It reminds me of the movie "Marley and Me", I left thinking all they really needed was a training crate,the dog would have been more secure, and spared a lot of blame.

Sarah writes...

Interesting thoughts! Mine are still very young -- ages 7, 4, and 2 -- but we are homeschooling for many of the same reasons that other commenters have mentioned. It is not always easy for me to tune out the voices of the outside world saying that we are "missing out" or that our kids are being "deprived" of a "normal childhood" but I really love what is happening here at home, and I hope that I will never feel pressured to do anything else. I love seeing how genuinely curious my kids are, I love to see them so intensely focused on their own pursuits, and I love that we get to share our love of learning together every day. I realize now that school only taught me to play by the rules and ace tests but not to really get excited about learning or to listen to my own natural curiosity. It amazes me that I could have gotten such stellar grades and yet remember so little of what I had supposedly learned! Colleges are increasingly interested in homeschoolers because they are often more mature and have had more of an opportunity to reflect on what they want to do with their lives. Whether you decide to homeschool or not, just don't let the pressure get to you. Your children will thrive in a place that nurtures their innate desire to learn; if they're not comfortable or enthusiastic, their learning will be compromised. Let them follow their passions!

Sarah writes...

Jen,

I am both a parent and a middle school teacher. Your child must buy into the school she attends. The only things that she absolutely must have in her middle school years in order to keep most doors open to her are strong math, reading, and writing skills. A poor math background, in particular, can be a difficult obstacle to overcome.

You are pretty vague in your post, however, and could probably get more helpful answers if you were more clear about the kind of schools you were choosing between. For instance, since you live inside the beltway it is very possible that the future door to which you refer is the front door of Thomas Jefferson. Moving your child into a new/better school now does not guarantee acceptance into TJ later, nor does it mean that TJ would be a good fit for your child even if she was to be accepted. There are many wonderful high schools inside the beltway - some of the best in the country. It might open more doors for your daughter if she was to be a shining star in a strong school rather than invisible in a magnet like TJ, which is ridiculously high powered and competitive.

In the end, I vote for strong basic skills, positive friendship circles, a good balance between academic/extra-curricular life and home life, and happy, kind, hard-working, confident children. The middle school that will help you reach those goals is the middle school you want.

p.s. They do exist -- I work in one!


stacey k writes...

Thank you Amy for your input!! As a teacher, do you have discipline styles that might help my child but squish her zestiness? We have tried emotionless and immediate consequences for a long time. She does get upset but it never changes her "do as I want to" behavior.

Thanks again!

stacey K writes...

Oh! and Jen....you sound fabulous! I think you'll feel your way through it and come out with the best decision for your child. Let's face it...life can be tough and if you can extend that bliss longer rather than shorter, I say GO for it!

D writes...

I would love to give in blissfully to my girls, however, I also need to set them up for success in their adult years, so I plan to do my best for the immediate now and the long term future. UGH!

KayTi writes...

Jen -
You raise some great points, but you also seem to have a partial explanation for some of your experiences right there in your post (don't you love the perfect 20/20 hindsight that motherhood gives us sometimes? Sigh.) Your first experiences in school sound like ill-fit problems. Many posting have suggested home-schooling, which is one avenue, but even just finding a better fit (as it sounds like you went on to do with your daughter) can be a solution. In the end, the educational environment has to be right for THAT CHILD. They're the one attending the school, after-all. As I tell the other parents of children at the school my children attend, I already graduated third grade. I can help, sure, but *I* don't have any homework. ;)

In my life, following my child's lead has rarely led me astray. When he or she (I have one of each) has felt strongly about something, following their lead, asking them lots of questions, prodding, guiding, educating, informing, critiquing along the way has been our best bet.

If I feel strongly about something, I state it ahead of time. "I didn't like that place, it didn't have a good feel." Or "I don't like the way that boy plays, it's really rough." or "I don't like the way when you play with her, she seems to always want to tell you what to do. I think you probably have different ideas sometimes but it's probably hard to get them across when someone's telling you what to do all the time."

But mostly I use the skills that helped me so much when they were babies and toddlers - I watch and listen. I observe. I ask myself questions. I chat with my mommy friends and test out theories (I am lucky to have found a wonderful group of like-minded mommy friends via my children's school.) And I show my children that I'm listening to them, that what they say matters, that they are worth listening to.

And a comment for Stacey K - if you haven't already read up on radical grade acceleration for gifted students, I recommend you do. Linda Silverman out of Colorado has a WONDERFUL website, as do the Davidson's in Nevada. If you haven't already, it is likely also worthwhile for you to pursue independent psychological evaluation (IQ testing, really) for your bright child, so you can get a professional's point of view on her strengths and her weaknesses. What you and her teachers perceive of as a weakness could just be her reaction to class content that she has already mastered. If she knows how to read, having to plod through phonetics lessons can be like fingernails on a chalkboard.

My understanding of the research is that for most gifted children, the outcomes of grade acceleration are extremely positive. The maturity fears are largely overstated, more of a conventional wisdom concern than actually supported by the research. Gifted children need the opportunity to be with their intellectual peers - the kids who are performing at their level. That may be one or two grades up. A 4th/5th grade performance level is likely an indicator of reading comprehension or decoding skill, a psychologist can give you a more complete picture of intellectual ABILITY, versus a specific subject-based skill, which will help you in forming the right kind of educational plan for the child.

Stacey K writes...

Dear KayTi!!! I love you! Silverman's website had so much info and points our family in a great direction. Thank you so much as I have felt very lost regarding my daughter for many months now and school personel has no idea how to proceed with her.

Amy writes...

Stacey K,

I have found that discipline techniques vary so much from child to child. Sometimes it takes the majority of a school year to find out what works with some children. I think that emotionless and immediate consequences are a good way to go. I would also suggest some sort of reward system. Choose only a couple of "goals" for her to work on. This can be done with a sticker chart, marbles, calendar, etc. I believe in clear rules, clear consequences, and celebration of good behavior. You may have to try multiple things to find the way that works for her. Just keep in mind that every new idea must be used consistently for at least two weeks before trying something else. Of course, my statements are generalized since I do not know your child personally.

Cindy writes...

We are homeschooling, too. You can respect your child's feelings while providing boundaries. Just like in our other relationships, no one should be "running" anyone.

Jess writes...

Jen, it's absolutely wonderful that you're considering M's own desires as your family makes this choice. She is, after all, the person whom it most affects...and she IS a person, no matter how young.

Often the "you're their parent, not their friend" argument is made. I firmly believe that a parent absolutely, positively should be a child's friend. The two are not mutually exclusive. A friend is a person who knows somebody deeply, has their best interests at heart, and treats them with respect. Kids deserve the respect of being told that their thoughts and feelings are important and valid.

Claire writes...

Letting my children follow their hearts has worked very well for me and my children. They learned what they wanted to learn when they wanted to learn it, so they were always motivated. I never had to "discipline" them or motivate them because they were always happily following their hearts. If they ever did anything that was not advantageous for them, they were only reflecting me. So I changed my behavior (without them knowing it)and their behavior improved as mine did.
I don't know how a child can follow his heart and soul while going to school, but hopefully (someday) there will be schools that allow that M.O.

philseo writes...

I really love the suggested activities. I can imagine how kids will enjoy such things. very cool!

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