Life is Not Always About Playing

Thanks, Mommylicious, for the thoughtful comment on Waste Not, Want Not.

Mindful, Respectful, or Grace-based parenting has been very intriguing to me and my husband since the day we were blessed with our oldest daughter who just turned 12 last week--very hard to grasp initially and in many places completely unimaginable as to how it could really work. We have edged into it in the ways and places we felt comfortable over the years. It didn't just happen without tears, struggles, internal conflicts, and criticism from families and friends. We used to believe too children need structure, discipline, punishment, and that they need to learn life is not always about playing (**more posts on this to come--stay tuned.**) Today, we are on board philosophically with the entire concept and still resisting in practice in certain areas because we have such strong conditioning in those areas that we can't stop our reaction before we act on it. I imagine I sound like a complete extreme nut to many reading my blog; but, it is the most natural, comfortable, and healthy feeling way for me and my husband to parent these days.

Grace-based families are homes where children are given FREEDOM...to be different...to be vulnerable...to be candid...to make mistakes! My husband and I accept our children unconditionally regardless of merit, serve their needs without a sense of obligation, and motivate them to a higher holiness without condemnation. Our relationship with our children is NOT based on their behaviors! We don't aim our children toward success, focusing on wealth, beauty, power and fame. Instead, we try our best to raise our children to look "upwards and outwards all the time" with a humble, grateful, generous, and servant's heart.

It is about respecting children, having faith that human beings inherently have all they need to develop into happy and healthy individuals when allowed to do so at their own pace. It's about stopping my automatic reactions to my children's behavior and asking myself a few questions: is my opposition to what they're doing based in some real danger to them or others? Is it developmentally appropriate for me to expect them to behave differently than they are? Increasingly, my answer to this is--no. If I expect them to act differently, I am ignoring where they are at developmentally.

Am I assuming motives on their part? They are trying to push my buttons. They're just buttering me up. etc. Where is that coming from?? Who told me I was selfish or prideful or deliberately difficult when I was a child? I can find out plenty about my own childhood conditioning if I just look with curiosity at how I react to my children and the thoughts that run through my head.

In our experience Mindful/Grace-based parenting is an evolution. It is impossible for most people to leap into it fully and completely because the basic beliefs that underlie it are so counter to how we tend to think about children and the responsibilities of parents in this culture, not to mention how we think about ourselves--we are going to treat our children and anyone else in our lives exactly how we treat ourselves. In our experience, as much as we coerce ourselves, we coerce our children. It can be very hard to imagine that we can get through our lives and be successful without coercing ourselves. I know this all too well!

For example, is it coercive to keep only healthy food in the house. In my opinion, it's not--until my children want to have "unhealthy food" and I say no. It's pretty easy to keep a toddler unaware of sugar (or processed foods or whatever it is that you call unhealthy) because their short-term memory is so, well short, that they forget about it unless they're reminded of it. They will get old enough to retain the concept of sweets! When that happens, in my opinion, the concept of common preferences doesn't apply in this arena. Why should I, as the parent, get equal or in most cases greater say in what my children eat than my children do? Between adults, say my husband and I, I may not want him to eat cake because I don't think it's healthy for him. However, I don't tell him "Honey, we need to find a common preference here because I'm worried about you eating cake. Can you not eat cake except, say, on birthdays?" so we can find a common preference we're both comfortable with.

Yet we think it's fine to do this with our children. Can I be absolutely certain that eating "unhealthy" foods in any given instance will irreparably harm my children? How can I know that my children will eat on balance what is good and functional for their own bodies? If you ask me ten years ago, I would be afraid to answer. Today, I wouldn't doubt that my children will eat what is good for them because I believe that my husband and I eat what is good for us. We don't have to keep a very tight rein on them. If I look very closely at what I fear about my children, I can find that it mirrors my own history with food. I came to see that it was early and prolonged food coercion that made forbidden foods so irresistibly compelling to me. My children eat what they want, including stuff that I don't eat and don't want them to eat; but by and large, they eat it in moderation and pass it up sometimes (if you see my children at a birthday party, you will be surprised at how few sweets they eat in comparison to other children.) They eat plenty of other foods that provide necessary nutrients, fiber, etc... it helps me to accept this line of thinking and parenting because I have seen it play out successfully in my own family and I have managed to see and even undo some, maybe much of my own self-coercion around food in last ten years.

That's me. I absolutely don't advise anyone to try and parent this way if they're not comfortable with it because you'd be coercing yourself and it would be unsustainable. Start where you are and see if you are drawn deeper into it in ways and places that are comfortable to you.

Mindful/Grace-based parenting doesn't resort to coercion, physical force, or going against the express desires of the child unless there is a serious and imminent safety issue at stake. It''s hard to understand how that could possible work in the myriad instances we run across in our daily parenting life. I understand that. I've totally been there.

It works, practically and philosophically, for my family. Every family is going to enact this differently. People who first codified this type of parenting have a set of ground rules that define it. I don't know what those are! The key concepts are autonomy and intrinsic motivation. In a sense, it is why we became relaxed homeschoolers (unschoolers.) We never arrive, but are always adapting and changing, making new knowledge. We use any resource that seems appropriate at the time--cinemas, TV, computers, books - stories, text books, formal courses, art supplies, museums, historic buildings, parks. We've learnt that it isn't the medium that matters so much as the motivation. If the motivation is intrinsic, then it works.

Our aim is to be confident in supporting our children as autonomous learners in their own right, in all spheres of their lives. It takes a lot of swimming against the stream of mainstream educational thinking with all its control techniques and standardized national curriculum. Learning and living are indistinguishable. Our children know (or will know) what they need to learn and can flourish by their own lights if we, the parent, actively assist them.

We are our children's trusted advisors. Our children can afford to listen, knowing that advice is simply our best theories and that we don't consider them infallible and are not going to impose a solution. Abandoning children to their own devices without constant input of information, moral beliefs, and the gift of criticism is a failure of parental duty. Not making final decision about what another human being puts into his body is not the same as not offering our theories about nutrition, offering to do Internet searches with our children on diet, and taking them to lots of different eating establishments so that they can have fun experimenting with taste.

Giving our children privacy is not the same as ignoring them for several years and telling them to go away whenever they intrude on our space. Helping our children to learn about food preparation, because this is one of their areas of interest, is not an excuse never to cook for them and so on.

We are engaged. My husband and I don't simply leave our offspring to it; rather we aim to ensure that our children have what they need to make well-informed decisions about their own lives. Of course, whatever path we choose in life comes with a certain amount of risks. Believing that our children are autonomous human beings in their own right doesn't absolve us from caring deeply and we think parents have a very important obligation to be there for their children and help them find and meet their preferences.

We can live consensually with our children. In essence, we can and should eradicate coercion from parent-child relationships and instead seek common preferences, that is, solutions to the problems of daily living together which everyone genuinely prefers and in which everyone wins.

Unschooling/parenting is a whole lifestyle and we are constantly learning and growing along with it. Coercion sabotages our ability to think rationally and creatively and solve problems optimally. It has been most liberating and life changing journey for our family thus far. It is also a really practical way to live.

Mindful/Grace-based parenting is not a recipe for parental self-sacrifice, but, for everyone in the family getting what they want--children and parents. It takes a lot of engagement and creativity. I believe all important relationships take work and are worth the work. I've also found that an awful lot of energy that used to go into conflict and compromise now gets used much more positively. It is beyond compromise. When I compromise, I have to give up one of my needs. It is about meeting everyone's needs all the time. This is the paradigm shift that is HARD to do sometimes!

3 encouragements:

Tina H. said...

Sarah,

What beautiful kids you have!!!

I have found in this journey of ours, that the only thing causing harm is usually ME!!! My hang-ups, my desires, my thoughts. My kids are complete souls as they are on any given moment and it is up to me to see where they are---not where I think they need to be. Every time I stop myself (even if it is just thoughts) I find myself growing closer with them.

Sarah said...

Thank you, Tina, for your compliment and sharing your personal journey.

Since God created us in His Image, all children are beautiful! May He be Glorified in All Things.

As parents, we never arrive, but are always adapting and changing, making new knowledge. When I feel our family is in chao, it is more about ME than them.

Kaylynn's Mommy said...

Hey, there! Wow! I really appreciate your thoughts! Thank You for sharing! Yep, I agree with you...but it is almost easier said than done! I hope I am not a pushy parent...I guess children learn better by example.....so I better set a good example! You would love my friend's homeschooling church in Texas! They have the same vocabulary as you! Here is the link to their church: http://www.gracecommunityinfo.org/content.aspx?id=53

True learning-learning that is permanent and useful,that leads to intelligent action and further learning, can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner.
John Holt
Real heroes are men who fall, fail and are flawed, but win out in the end because they stayed true to their ideals, beliefs and commitments.
Actor Kevin Costner
 

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