This article really shifted the ground beneath me – Raising the Awesome Child. Its not that I am convinced of my kids awesomeness, their gifted nature, or their general superiority. I love my kids, but I think all kids have the capacity for their own kind of greatness and I get pretty exhausted listening to people talk about the superiority of their brood. This part of the article I can easily work through. But this writing jolted me in other way– so much so that I stopped questioning absolutely everything I was doing as a parent. It’s exhausting really– the constant search for the “right” way to deal with sibling squabbles, or fits or all out shenanigans. Was I a peaceful parent? Did I yell too much? Did I allow too much tv? Did I not read to them enough? Umm, yes. All of that. But like my own mother told me– we make the best choices we can with the information we have right in the moment. Each day I am making the best choices I can for this day, for what I know now, for what my kids tell me they need and want.
This article flip-flopped so many familiar parenting theories I’ve read. In the peaceful parenting paradigm, one works hard to support a child to grow their emotional intelligence and learn how to self-regulate. Parents are always supposed to keep their cool during this process. Hoffman writes, “Helping kids develop self-control is also about parents being in control. The lesson here is that parents can’t teach kids how to handle emotions unless they model strategies for self-control: “Even though your son tore your pricey shawl while playing Batman, maintain a calm demeanor. Calmly ask him, ‘how did this happen?’”4 In other words, don’t let your child know that you have powerful negative emotions, ever. ” What? I’m not saying that keeping your cool isn’t a good thing, but how liberating it feels to realize that under the right circumstances, I can express my emotions– even anger?!? And that not being authentic about my emotions is me asserting more control. Whoa. Its inside out, then outside in. I am still trying to work this all out.
Hoffman also spends a considerable amount of time unearthing the solitary nature of modern parenting. She writes, “Modern parenting has also put an unusually heavy burden on mothers and fathers by making them into something close to the sole caretakers of children. This is a decisive break with most pre-modern societies, where that responsibility was—and in many societies still is—shared by a variety of surrogate parents, particularly siblings. “
The loneliness, the burden of modern parenting seems to suggest the possibility for a generative moment where we work to build a community of care for our kids. We have some wonderful resources around us– human resources. There are lots of parents and kids at MAHC and TS that we could rally, no? Could this be a starter network for a community of care? Or can we formalize the care, just enough, to allow parents more access to support through childcare swaps and other informal but equitable arrangements? If I offered art classes in my home for teens, would those teens be a network of childcare support for me? I am really intrigued by this idea. I’d like for my children to have meaningful relationships with other adults and kids– ones based on bonds and trust over time. I’d also love a support network of trusted people who can step in for me when I need help. And, of course, I’d love to be that support for others. Its the getting started part that I am not so sure about. And I do fear, that even within the homeschooling community, there are ideologies of parenting that might work to undermine the building of this kind of community of care.
Hoffman goes on to say:
“The decline of truly shared and communal responsibilities for childrearing is a key component of our cultural predicament. Because of deep concerns about privacy and the limits and rights of social authority and responsibility, one of the unquestioned presuppositions governing adult-child relations in society as a whole is the notion that only parents have the right to tell their children what to do, as long as the parents are not engaging in abuse or neglect or breaking a law. Norms of parenting in many communities in the United States have moved away from what were commonly accepted and valued practices of diffuse authority and communal discipline—the expectation that other mothers, for instance, would make sure everyone’s kids behaved well at the bus stop. Many mothers’ emphasis on their differences from other moms—even within the same community—is part of this problem. By seeing themselves and their offspring as so different from others, parents undermine any capacity for shared responsibility and for any sense of self that is more realistically connected to the concerns and perceptions of others.
Obviously this may not be true for all parents at every time and place, but beyond limited arenas highly regulated by law (such as schools or childcare facilities) our culture at large does not provide the supports for authentic engagement with other people’s children. Social pressures, legal liabilities, cultural consensus on individual differences, and ideologies of parenting itself work together to undermine the important role of those other than parents in raising children. And so, in the absence of valid sources of self-critique from others outside our own limited worlds, we are left wanting in ways to connect our ideals to practice. “
I think I’ve thus far been assuming this was a barrier to building a community of care amongst some of the folks I know. But I can’t really know anything till I try… So that, I shall do.
So back to my kids awesomeness.
This blog is meant to capture our unschooled life. The window we give into this world, if you hadn’t already noticed, is highly curated. You see our rad projects, our magical walks in the woods and our idyllic trips to the beach. That stuff is all as lovely as it seems, but in between those moments it ranges from boredom to chaos. So for every magically captured moment in this blog, I would like to share a misstep, a failure, because for sure, there are many. I don’t want to idealize our family or our choices. There are days when I question everything. Can I do this? Will I destroy them? Will I be able to stop myself from “teaching” to them? But some of the moments are more mundane. Did I really need to argue with you for five minutes about why you should wear socks with your sneakers? Or might I just loose the battle, let your feet get cold, and assume the next time you’ll decide you might like some socks? But like ever other day, I make the best choices I can with the knowledge and resources I have in the moment. Sometimes I am right on. Others, well, I am way off.