Sunday, July 31, 2011

Letting Go Little By Little, So Our Kids Can Mature

Most of my writing and blogging is done when my muse calls and when I have something to say. As a result some of my published early blog posts and emails from discussion groups were more reactionary and rant-ish in nature. At some point I got sick of that type of infamed writing. I also began to realize it sometimes represented spirited opinions in the heat of the moment but what was on my mind most of the time was not that stuff; once I wrote about it and got the anger out of my system it was gone.

It is odd having a blog with who-knows-who reading it and having no idea what they think of who I am based on what I've chosen to reveal. At some point in time I realized that maybe I've been giving a certain impression of myself that isn't entirely accurate. For example I feel strongly that young children need to be protected and cushioned from certain mature issues in life and that American media is fairly corruptive. I still believe that but things change as kids grow older.

I recall one time my sons wanted to hear more read alouds about knights but at the time, of I did not let my kids play with toy weapons and I discouraged exposure to violence (we didn't even watch the news within the kid's earshot). In looking for stories to read aloud which had an appeal to my boys, I had the same issue with pirates, weapons, and stealing. I started having trouble finding stories that didn't include violence and use of weapons. (You are probably saying "duh" right now.)

At that point, I posted a note to a chat group about books for children and got a private response that was long and thoughtful and brave. The mom said that once upon a time she was like me trying to shelter her kids from violence and weapons but over time as the kids grow up more and more of the real world (and history) is exposed to the kids. Like me, she also had been on a kick to have no violence even when talking about knights, who did have weapons and used them sometimes. Her email was nice in tone but there was something about it that was basically telling me I was being unreasonable and unrealistic in my expectations.

I did arrive at the same place that the brave mother arrived at. Little by little over the years my kids have been exposed to things that I knew someday they'd know about. You can't plan this stuff, it just happens. One day a kid tells your kid something that you didn't want them to know about for a couple more years. Another time a movie is watched at a friend's house with a sex scene. Your son hangs with kids at sleepover camp who use profanity often while away from adult's ears and slips up a lot when he gets home.

My husband and I know what we believe and we have raised our kids with those values. Some things are topics that are not discussed until the kids are a certain age. Other things can be said at younger ages but the kids don't get it until later. We talk about things with our kids. When things happen sooner than is ideal, we choose to address it (rather than to ignore it). I may not like that my child was exposed to it, but reality is what it is, and then the present is the "right time".

The parenting style we have used is called attachment parenting. I don't know what the label is for the other important thing that describes our communication style. We have kept the door of communication open and I have forced myself to learn to be a good listener, first in my former job where I took training in active listening, and later when I was doing volunteer work with La Leche League as a lay breastfeeding counselor and took the training that they require (very similar to active listening).

I am pretty much always available to listen to my kids (although I don't always have eloquent replies to their sometimes surprising revelations). They can tell me anything and they do. I hear all kinds of things from them. My kids tell me stuff that my friends say their kids would never tell them. My thirteen year old told me who he has a crush on, for example. That surprised me, as most teens don't reveal that personal information to their parents. I'm sure there will be more that he is not telling me. In the teen years kids should be growing apart from their parents and becoming more independent. Some things are private and should remain so.

I speak honestly from the heart to my kids. I share things with them. When I make an error I apologize. If I realize my tongue was too sharp when they pushed my buttons I address it later with an apology.

I am trying to teach my kids not just to share their thoughts but how to do it sensitively and kindly and with certain communication etiquette rules. Thus, sharing about being angry is okay for everyone to do but what we say and how we say it matters just as much. It is always good to discuss one's anger but it is not acceptable to use name calling let alone physical pain infliction or physical property damaging to express one's anger. My husband and I don't encourage the use of profanity, instead, we are trying to stretch their word choice ability through the use of other words in the English language.

While it is true that in American culture certain explicatives have no equal and sometimes they are indeed the perfect word choice, the fact is that far too often Americans rely on profane words as adjectives or adverbs, to the point where more effective communication is avoided. A person who drops the f-bomb constantly or uses sh** nonstop seems to have a limited vocabulary whose communication is less effective and less interesting. I can't stop my kids from swearing when they're alone with their peers but I wish at least in certain circles they'd train their mind to stop and think about a better word choice (saying that cake "was flavorless" instead of "sh***y").
I started my parenting journey with having my babies in a protective bubble of safety and provided them with nourishing food and drink and surrounded with love. I tried teaching them to have a positive attitude and to look at the world with a certain rosy outlook. As they got older and wiser their eyes opened and they began to really see more of the real world as it happened around us. World events and events close to home (i.e. 9/11, an earthquake near the home of our Japanese foreign exchange student) showed my kids that things happen that are out of our control. All we can do is choose how we react to those things.

Kids Choose How to Act and React

I'm trying to teach my kids to realize they do have control of certain things in their lives. They control their values and attitudes and the perspective that they view the world through. They control how they act and react to other people in living their daily lives. They control their words as well as their body language's non-verbal communication. How they respond to a rude comment a peer makes to them, how they act when they're around the girl who has a crush on them, and how they respond to a rude comment made on Facebook are all things they control. They are (hopefully) learning with each thing they do that how they choose to respond and react matters and will negatively or positively affect their lives. They have the choice to react this way or that way and they will influence others with their decision which will impact their own lives.

I am trying to make my kids see that although at times it can seem that they have little control of their lives they really do control a lot, and as they mature and grow older they gain more and more responsibility and control. I want them to realize they are liked or disliked for who they are as a person and part of who they are is how they act, interact, and react with others. The act of relating to others defines in part who they are as people. People judge others all the time, and not all judging is bad. People judge others based on how a person behaves which includes what they say and how they relate to other people. If a person is rude and selfish people will think they are unfriendly and not easy to be around or that they are not someone they'd want to befriend for pleasure or work alongside (on a school project or on something in Scouts or when adults, as co-workers in the workplace). Kids and teens need to ask themselves if they want to be the person who everyone dislikes or hates, avoids and dreads being around or do they want to be treated with respect, liked, and sought after as an acquaintence or friend?

Giving Kids Choices from the First Birthday and Up

I have given my children small decisions to make starting when they were babies. Kids really do learn if you let them. I let them eat with their hands until they had the fine motor skills to start to handle the fork and spoon then I banned the eating with the hands. Thus, my kids were skilled with using those before they were two years old. I see kids who are well over three being fed by their parents. Why do they do that? Do they think that keeping a child reliant on them and dependent is good for the child's development? Do they think that doing that is an expression of their love? 

When my kids were not yet one year old they began using a sippy cup and then moved to an open topped cup and regular drinking and also sometimes with straw use (in restaurants) in the first year. Why? Because the real world is not filled with sippy cups and I was not going to haul one around with me everywhere I went. I also had read that over-use of sippy cups and pacifiers caused delayed speech and malformation of the soft palate with speech impediments and the necessity of speech therapy. What informed parent would create those problems for their kids? This thinking mother put the time in to teach the kid to drink correctly and we used plastic cups and yes, some of them got knocked over by accident, which I cleaned up. I also realized that there are many ways to express love to my children and keeping them ignorant and incapable is not what I would define as being a loving and caring mother.

When to quit the sippy cup seemed like a big deal back when I had only one toddler to raise. Now my oldest is just about 14 and my younger is 11 and it's a whole new world. My kids have learned a lot from their friends and peers they know through various extracurricular activities. They have learned some negative things from other (supposed) sheltered homeschooled kids, even the kids who are in very religious families.

Now my kids are older, more than ever I realize that I cannot and should not control every single thing or try to prevent my kids from being exposed to certain things. Trying to keep them in a bubble is a ridiculous thing to attempt. I can only do so much, such as when my son's friend asked that I take them to see Friends with Benefits , a romantic comedy which I knew was rated R. I hadn't even looked to see what it contained that I may object to, I said no, that due to their ages (14) they could see Transformers 3 (PG-13) or Captain America (PG-13).  Twice I had to shoot down that teen's request (my own son has no interest in romantic comedies so he was not asking to see it). What that family does and what they let their 14 year old watch is something that is none of my business but I won't let kids who are even temporarly under my supervision do things that I don't want my own kids doing.

Once kids and teens see or hear things, whether it is a news event, something about drug use, or something relating to sex or relationships, the only thing they can do is choose how to react to it. They need to try to make sense of it and they form an opinion. As a parent I have been setting a foundation for my kids.

General teachings about our value system have been discussed and expanded upon later after they hear something they can start to fit reality into their worldview and see what picture forms which may be different than what their peers or others in their circle of influence think.

We taught our kids for a long time that we felt that children are meant to be loved and they take responsibility to raise so adults should have children when they are ready. Part of our ideal situation is that a child would be raised by two loving parents in a committed relationship and to us the ideal situation is after the couple has made a legal and spiritual committment through marriage. It was quite some time before my kids realized that some adults in the real world bear children out of wedlock. Later they found out that some single teens accidentially get pregnant when a child was not desired.
Later they found out that even adults sometimes wind up pregnant with an unwanted baby.

At some point my kids found out that there are infertility medical procedures that adults can pay to access to help them get pregnant when the natural way doesn't work. Later they found out about that it is legal in America to get an elective abortion if the pregnant woman decides she doesn't want to bear the child. To complicate matters even more, they learned about homosexuality and that there was a movement to legalize same gender marriage and that some gay people want to raise children too, so they either adopt or seek services with a fertility doctor. Last week my eleven year old found out about sperm banks, after watching a drama on TV that showed a lesbian woman who sought to become pregnant through a fertility clinic. (When we started watching the series I had no idea that one of the characters was a lesbian let alone that she'd seek to become pregnant as a fair amount of the storyline.)

So, we parents can set a foundation of values. We choose to live with a policy of open communication. Then we live real life and as things happen or are learned we discuss them and we frame them in our family's worldview and then we let go and let our kids decide how they feel about it.

My husband and I hope our kids see things our way but we know we can't control their every thought and that sometimes they will disagree with us. In the teen years especially, when they are trying to form their own identity they will sometimes take on viewpoints or ideas that are not the same as their parents. Although I don't like that idea I know that sometimes kids and teens must try on various views. Sometimes after testing out a viewpoint they may change their stance when they consider other views which they'd never seen before, or when they learn more information. (I have seen this in my home with my kids and when teaching and discussing things in current events classes at homeschool co-op. It is amazing to witness the opening of a mind and when kids or teens suddenly can see things through different perspectives and realize life is more complicated than they'd realized.)

Natural Consequences
I have not ever been a parent ruling with an authortarian parenting style. I have used parental authority and have exercised my parental responsibility though. I give my kids choices and let them see the natural consequence of their actions.

I show tmy kids that if they want to have that goal they must take that path and do X, Y, and Z.

To outsiders what I do and how I do it may seem like I'm dictating or controlling my kid's every move but I am not. I'm being realistic and providing options. If my son says he wants to do Plan B but Plan B will not get him to his goal I explain that. I won't let him go on with Plan B thinking he will succeed at his goal, as Plan B will fail to achieve his goal.

"You want that merit badge? The deadline to submit your personal fitness plan is tomorrow. If you don't get it in, you will have to wait until we move to Texas, get hooked up with a new Troop and then find a new merit badge counselor. Your work on the badge will be at least two months longer to start, if not three, then after that fitness plan is approved you will have to do the three months of exercise, so now you're looking at finishing six months out not finishing in three months if you get that plan in by this deadline." That's an example of how I talk to my kids. Does it seem too blunt to speak that way? I've heard that boys and adult men actually do much better with direct communication. I'm looking for successful communication so if some flowery language loving women don't like my direct and clear communication, that is their problem, not mine, because the boys and men and even some of the women in my life appreciate it, prefer it, or need it.

I love my kids deeply and I care about them very much. I express my emotions. I speak from the heart. I also talk directly and clearly to them so maybe some women think my communication method is not flowery enough. Let me tell you, boys usually don't like a lot of flowery talk. It annoys some people, did you know that? Do you know that some beat around the bush or kiss-butt language or obviously phony and fake talk, or the passive aggressive style bothers and maybe infuriates some people so that they shut out what you are trying to say and may even dislike or hate you and may seek to avoid you? So is doing that "good communication"? If that kind of talk worked well on your daughter, your son probably won't respond to it as well. You can speak plainly about things and still have your kids know you love them to death and that you have unconditional love for them. An adult in an authority role can speak directly yet still be considered kind and worthy of respect. Being rude and mean is not a requirement as part of clear and direct communication.

Letting Kids Grow Up

As my kids grow up and get older I let go of trying to control their lives little by little. Small things led to bigger things, like dropping them off to take a class led to letting them sleep at a trusted friend's house which led to my twelve year old going on a twelve night Boy Scout Jamboree camping trip a day's drive away from our home.

I want my kids to learn to be independent. I want them to be able to handle appropriate indpendent activities as they go along in their childhood, I do not want to shelter them and keep them too dependent until the day they go off to college. The things I taught my kids when they were children will hopefully help them navigate life as teenagers. What they learn as teens will hopefully help them when they are away at college. What they've learned at college and from my husband and I when they are in their college years will hopefully help them in their young adult lives.

Active Parenting

Parenting is a process and it is a verb. It starts the day the baby is conceived. Parents build a foundation for their kids and even from the first year the baby is working at moving away from the parent to try to become independent. Safe parameters and guidelines and limits help the child stay safe. Strong communication between parent and child (and siblings) helps teach as it allows for some looking back in retrospect and allows to think about how to handle that next time or where to take the situation from here.

Parents cannot keep the real world away from their children forever, nor should they. What they should be doing is preparing their kids to realize how in control they are of some parts of their own lives and that they can and do control their own outlook on situations that are beyond their direct control. No, they could not control the fact that Grandpa got Cancer which caused him to die but they chose to spend time with him and to not avoid seeing him when he was suffering in pain and when his physical appearance began to change. My kids had to adjust to seeing him suffer in pain because we explained that the thing that would bring the most happiness to their grandfather was being around his grandchildren as he knew his days were limited. We told our kids it hurt them to see him suffer but that it should help them feel grateful for their own good health and that they should look forward to every day they are alive and that hopefully they will have a long life like their grandfather did.

The sooner that kids realize they do have some control in their lives and when their parents let them utilize their power (even something as small as choosing what they want to wear or what movie they want to watch from the options I approve) the more capable and the more empowered they will feel. Self-confident kids who know they are prepared to handle whatever life throws at them are kids well on the way to maturity and independence.

Our world needs more independent, capable, responsible and mature people. Keeping kids in a bubble and not revealing the real world to them prevents the parent from communicating with their children about those important topics which stunts their development and keeps kids immature and naive.

Sheltering kids too much and for too long is like not teaching a kid to swim and then throwing them into deep water and expecting them to know, without instruction or practice, how to swim. Exposing kids gently to things and teaching them how to handle them creates independence and helps train their mind to evaluating things logically and exercises their thinking process. By exposing kids to various people and situations they sometimes wind up having to deal with problems or they learn new things that maybe parents would rather not have their kids know or experience yet but they must handle it. The ability of being able to take whatever life throws at you and to know you have a choice as to what to do with those lemons is important: will you make lemonade or just stare at them in confusion?

Parenting is not easy nor is it predictable. Parents have little control over what happens in the world outside the walls of our home, but we can influence and teach our kids how to respond and react to things that come their way from any direction or any source. We have to let go a little to let things reveal themselves and then tackle the challenges as they come. We need to have open communication and close bonds with our children so they are open minded to hearing what we say and and so they know they can come to us to seek our counsel.

What parents can control is the foundation that is established with the family's value system, we can control the parenting style used which helps create the parent-child relationship (whether it is trusting and strong or distrusting and weak) and we can control how we communicate with each other.

Rather than rally against the ills of the world and try to shut it out forever, I think parents should expend energy developing their family's value system, setting a strong foundation for the relationships within the family and establishing a communication system that is open so that as our kids grow older they continue to feel safe discussing things with us. Kids with strong foundations and who know what their values are can and will view the world through that perspective. Those kids will be on their way to being able to think logically and critically about what they see and hear in the media and in the real world. They will form their own opinions and will use their point of view to try to make order out of our complicated world.

As kids begin to realize  how they can affect change within their own sphere of influence they will feel more in control in a seemingly out of control world. They will feel empowered and strong, capable, able and independent. That's what our world needs more of.

Are you preparing your kids to be independent, strong, empowered people or are you keeping your kids sheltered, dependent and reliant on you to do their thinking and doing for them? I hope you have thought about the big picture and I hope you know what your end goal is, then work backward from there. It seems clear to me that in order to have thinking, responsible, self-reliant young adults, they need to have practiced by having made some decisions on their own (which includes making some mistakes based on their choices and learning from those mistakes). Letting even a toddler make seemingly small decisions is a first important step in teaching a child to be a thinking, independent minded, empowered, self-confident person.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Moving & Kid's Adjustments: An Idea

One unintended action resulted in helping ease moving stress.

Since I am alone with the kids for the move preparation process, I got overwhelmed with keeping up with the dishwashing, even with a dishwasher. I switched to use plastic utensils that we already owned, and also paper plates. I packed the dishes and got that out of the way.

We are all sick of eating out of paper bowls that get soggy when you are finishing your bowl of cereal. We are tired of weak plastic knives.

Last night my thirteen year old son (the one most resistant to this move) said he can't wait to get to our new home so we can go back to using real dishes and metal utensils.

One of the adjustments to getting used to living in a new home let alone a new state far away from home will be to return to using our regular stuff. I never thought that using our utensils would bring normalcy and happiness to my kids. Maybe the small discomforts in the move process are just as important as having familiar things like their same bed and bedroom wall decorations and their books and their whatever-else stuff that they normally live with. 

I therefore now recommend that families making a long distance move do what I did. Start packing two or more months ahead of the move date, to spread it out so it isn't an insane chaos whirlwind time. Yet, make those last weeks uncomfortable just a bit by packing the stuff away that perhaps you thought you should wait on. Seeing my home change into a more of a generic skeleton house has helped the separation process. The kids and I look forward to the new place that we can start making feel like a home. When we arrive at our new home we will be so fixed on the easier task of unpacking (compared to the difficult task of reducing our possessions and deciding what to keep). We look forward to reuniting with the stuff we need and like since we've not seen it in a while.

This is another example of how one feels gratitude after some deprivation or suffering. Instead of tempting kids as to all the good things in the new place you're moving to, the small inconveniences of the packing and moving process will make them long for the normalcy of your ordinary family life. When they get to where you are going they will focus on the now and the future and will be so busy they hopefully won't obsess about all that they have left behind.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cicada My Son Found

While working in the garden moving mulch my thirteen year old saw this and called me over exictedly. I believe it is a cicada.

Photos taken 6/13/11 by ChristineMM.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Head Out of the Clouds

As I've said multiple times before I don't want my kids to apply to college and find out they are not prepared as the college requires.

Here is an article by Jeanette Webb of Aiming Higher Consultants that speaks to the fact that it seems that some American teens are "living in Disneyland" thinking they deserve to reach for their dreams and they are thinking too much of their future potential as their ticket to college rather than having shown evidence that they have already achieved or shown that the work they are capable of doing.

I applaud her message as it seeks to help students realize what they must do years before the college application date in order to be able to go down the path they desire.

I started really thinking about how to homeschool high school at the start of eighth grade homeschool but now I wish I'd done the research when my son was starting grade seven. What courses are taken in the 8th grade year are vital.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

They'll Turn Out Alright

I'll share a quick post which I'm publishing while on a break from packing.

Lately I have been thinking about my kids turning out alright overall. A voice, or God, or my gut, or something, is telling me that no matter how much I fret or stress out about my kid's homeschooling, they are going to turn out just fine.

This summer has been focused on preparing for the big move. It has taken almost all my time and energy since mid-May. I have no time to stress over or even plan much for my older son's freshman high school homeschool year which begins in a few weeks.

One thing I have put a ton of thought into is parenting my kids. If I somehow manage to mess up their home education all the good parenting skills I've poured into them will still have reaped some reward, so my efforts will not have been for naught.

I have been thinking that really so far, my kids have turned out great. I get many compliments about them, their personality, how easy they are to get along with, how pleasant they are to have around, and how their friends all clamor to be with them more. The things my kids do is partly nature and partly nuture. I have taken many steps to teach them basic etiquette and I've had to speak to them directly and plainly about what is rude behavior and what is unacceptable. I've taught them things like how to do things like graciously decline a serving of a certain food they know they hate when they are a guest at someone else's home. My kids didn't just get this way from their inborn nature, the guidance from me and my husband deserves some (if not most of the) credit.

My first goal for my kids at the end of their high school education is to have my kids be decent people who can contribute to society and who have decent social skills and are likeable people. My second goal is for them to come out of it free from mental illness diagnoses and not taking any prescribed medications for anxiety disorders or other such (now) common childhood and teen conditions. I believe some of what goes on in school or at home actually causes the problems so we're trying to avoid those; if you don't believe me, watch the documentary Race to Nowhere. Third, I want them prepared for college to seek the major of their choice. I used to think that was the primary goal but I have since reshuffled the priorities to add in what some would say is stating the obvious.

If my kids can't hack their studies in order to study a certain major in college it will be okay so long as the first two goals stated above are still fulfilled. I want healthy kids both mentally and physically and I want them to be happy pursuing something decent in their lives.

If they don't have what it takes to get into a prestigious college that's okay. I want them to find a college that's a good fit and one that can give them a good education.  I don't want them attending a school that's a poor fit socially or one that is so difficult that they are in over their heads and can't learn due to being overwhelmed.

I just don't want my kids to have been capable of more and have them not reach their goals because of my inadequacies or my ignorances in my handling of their home education. I don't think I've screwed them up yet! They're entering grade nine and six now and I think their heads are on straight and they have decent thinking skills and common sense, and those three things are really important!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Not So Sad About Leaving

A friend asked how I was doing emotionally about leaving, was I sad?

The answer is, since I visited Houston in mid-June and since deciding to rent there while the Connecticut home we own is on the real estate market I have not felt sad about leaving. The only time a glimmer comes through is when I'm gardening, to weed and tend it so it looks not like a jungle for when it's put onto the market. When I'm alone outside in the quiet and listening to the chirping birds and seeing how my plants are growing, and looking at the trees and wild plants around my property, I feel sad. But that is short lived, as I have little time for strolling through the yard and in my woods or for weeding. I'm too busy trapped indoors decluttering and packing. When I'm busy sorting through material possessions I feel annoyed, and it's tiring work, so sadness is not on my mind.

Now that I have a sense for what I'm moving to, I am looking forward to that and my job in Connecticut is to do work for the process of getting out. I am just so busy working at leaving that I'm not feeling bad about leaving. All I feel is hopeful for the future and that future is in Texas. My attitude is, "Let me out of here so I can get on with my new life in Texas!" I want to go back to living regular ordinary days. I don't want to deal with projects and home renovations and dealing with roofers, so forth and so on.

The harder part was before I went to Texas when it seemed unreal to me. Even worse was the period when my husband was out of work and I felt terrible about our finances and worried we may have to leave here just due to financial necessity. That feeling of being unworthy to be here or feeling worried about the sad state of the economy in the state of Connecticut was an oppressive feeling to live with.


The other night my older son was upset about the move. In my opinion he is over-focusing on what he is leaving behind rather than feeling anything hopeful about where we are going to be (let alone the fact that we will be reuniting as a family of four when we arrive in Texas). He said that it was hard to feel hopeful when Texas to him is a great unknown. He's a very visual kid and he said to me that he can't picture Texas, he can't imagine it, and in order to feel happy about going he needs to be able to visualize it in his mind. He said he is having trouble taking ideas or things we say that he has never experienced and imagining them as real, so he's not excited about anything good that may happen down in Texas after we move. He paints a dismal picture of what his life will be like there, including his desire to not meet new people, to sit at home all alone for homeschool lessons and to only communicate with his old friends via Skype or Facebook.

I was frustrated with my son for feeling that way about not being able to imagine what Texas was like. I've shown him my photos, I've given him long verbal explanations. I have shown him websites and photos on the Internet. None of that seems to be good enough for him.

Then I realized that I was feeling the same as him, before I went down to scope the place out. Once I realized that he and I were feeling the same way I let go of my resentment with his stubborn behavior about this.

We'll just have to get there and then we can start discovering everything as a family.

We won't have much time there to unpack before the Texas school year begins. A friend's child starts on August 17. That's about two and a half weeks before school beings in Connecticut. I'm now even happier that we chose to move now rather than waiting until after Labor Day! I guess our summer has been short changed this year if I'm going to shift gears to match the Texas school year calendar.

I am starting to make some inroads with the homeschool community in my area of Texas. I've found some outside classes that my older son can take if he and I think they are a good idea. I am close to signing him up for an online math class. I can't wait to do more planning for homeschooling which really can only start once we are down there and have started unpacking.

The move date is fast approaching, I can't believe it.

(And I can't believe that I'm now a homeschool mom to a homeschool high school student!)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Able and Independent Kids

Two stories.

1. My eleven year old is not happy that I still refuse to allow him to own an iPod Touch. He wants to use his own saved money on it and I say no. Why?

Our behavioral optometrist has explained to me the neurological problems related to starting at (any) small screen (such as a smart phone). There are specific negative ramifications for doing that action, the way they over stimulate certain brain centers and how other brain centers are not in use, and also how the field of vision is limited to much too small of an area. Our doctor said to look at such a screen should be done only about 10-15 minutes.

My son has access to xBox360, Wii, TV, PCs, and laptops, and an old Nintendo DS handheld and an old GameBoy handheld game device.  I don't feel that he needs an iPod Touch to do more of the same on a tinier, portable screen. Enough is enough with all this media and all these devices.

Plus, he has lost his iPod Shuffle about three times and left it at a friend's house, proof to me that he is not quite responsible enough to blow nearly $300 on a such an easily loseable littleiPodTouch. The main reason he wanted one was to do video chat with his twelve year old friend. My son felt left out that his friend had one and he did not. Well, guess what? The kid lost his device so when my son was pining away the other kid's was AWOL.

My son approached me about this yet again. He stated there is no problem with looking at small screens. I repeated what our doctor told us last month. I asked why he feels what the doctor has said is incorrect. He said he Google'd the topic and could not find data on the Internet to support the case that our doctor (and I) were making and therefore what the doctor said is false.

Although a quick Internet search will not always yield the same advice an expert professional can tell you during a consult I have to give this young kid credit for having exercised independence and taking the situation into his own hands to research. Other than answering various questions like what is that song lyric actually saying or when a new video game will be released, this is the first (in my opinion) more important data research action he's taken. Bravo.

While I applaud his effort, I still won't let him have the iPod Touch. (My husband agrees.)

2. I was busy packing and had just agreed to throw my older son an early 14th birthday party. He asked for a custom ice cream cake from a fantastic local dairy farm ice cream stand. I agreed but said I was too busy to handle it and would he please call to order it?

He asked for the phone number and my reply was I don't know it, Google it. So he did. And he called and ordered the cake himself.

Perhaps you think I was lazy to not take a minute to order that cake? I'm really busy and have a full plate and really, the kid is turning 14 and he's growing up. He can order his own cake! It's the least he can do, considering I'm running the rest of the party and hosting it in a house that's turned upside down for move preparations.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fixing a Scratched xBox360 Disc

This worked for us on the first try.

There are written directions on the YouTube page for this video.

Who knows why my husband owned this stuff but it was on his workbench which I had not yet decluttered for the move. My intention was to give away all the car washing stuff. I guess now I'll keep this 3M stuff.

A Dental Scam - Dentists Committing Fraud on Deep Gum Scaling

Today I went to my dentist and had an interesting conversation with the dental hygenist. I was talking about how we are moving out of state and we will need to find a new dentist. I told her that I hope I can find a new health care provider who uses laser dentistry like my dentist does.

I received a warning of a rise in scams on dental patients. The practice has been receiving visits from new patients who seek a second opinion because on going to a new dentist for the first time they are being told they have gum disease and need deep gum scaling, an expensive procedure. The patients worried of the high cost so they went to get a second opinion and in the opinion of my dentist, there was nothing wrong with their gums and there was no need for deep gum scaling. Formerly those patients were told they had good dental health so the need for an expensive procedure and sudden gum disease was hard for them to accept (their gut feeling was right).

I was also told that some dental insurance plans are starting to pay for deep gum scaling so there is a sudden rise in the diagnosis and the procedure being done. When the procedure is done without medical necessity it is not only unethical but to bill that to an insurance company is insurance fraud, a felony crime.

I was grateful to the hygenist who cautioned me to be aware of this scam of fake diagnoses for gum disease and recommendations for formerly healthy patients to suddenly need deep gum scaling.

I was also told that 95% of the patients my dentist receives are from word of mouth referrals from happy established patients. I was told that if patients are happy with their dentist word gets around and there is then no need for advertising. So I will beware of dentists who advertise. It makes sense, if a practice is booming and has more than enough patients why would they pay good money to advertise to bring in more patients than they can handle? I will ask around to find a good dentist rather than rely on the ads I see.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Small Acts of Amazing Courage Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Small Acts of Amazing Courage
Author: Gloria Whelan
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publication: Simon & Schuster, 2011

My Star Rating 4 stars out of 5 - I Like It

Summary Statement: Fast Paced Young Adult Story Tackles a Difficult Topic

National Book Award winner Gloria Whelan, who has long been known to teachers, homeschoolers, and librarians for her engaging fiction delivers a short, action packed, engaging story. The publisher is marketing this book featuring a 15 year old girl as young adult genre, but I feel that it reads like a juvenile literature story albeit tackling the topic of 1918 India's caste system, the Untouchables, and intentional acts of physically abusing babies in order to use them as deformed street beggars which (some would say) are tough topics for kids aged 9-12 to handle.

The main character is an English girl, the daughter of a high ranking British military official. Rosalind is unconventional having been sheltered by her mother, kept in India for home education, rather than being sent alone to England to attend a boarding school. Rosalind breaks conventional social rules by mixing and befriending with the native Indian people who her family employs. She rejects Indian social norms and sees a different future for the lower caste members including the Untouchables. Her journey leads her to learn about Ghandi and to support social change that is in direct violation of her own father's military career actions.

I rated the book 4 stars = I Like It because I feel it could have been a longer story and it could have gone deeper in character development and story. On the one hand I enjoyed the way Whelan's storytelling quickly drew me in, starting with a great first line "How can kindness get you into so much trouble?" then drawing us in with quick action. There is never a dull moment. The book reads like the way a movie feels to watch. I didn't want to put it down and read through the book within a 48 hour period as I was so curious to see what happened next. While reading the book I loved it but a few days later in thinking about it, I was starting to feel a little let down.

Why am I not rating this 5 stars? There were a couple of pivotal points that if I think about them, are a bit unbelievable. If I'm trying to love the story I could tell myself look past that and just tell myself to enjoy the story and to not overthink it, but, I wished Whelan dove deeper and included more detail. That would have made me really feel everything more and to honestly believe it.

I was left wanting to understand a bit more of how Rosalind could have been so naive before these new events happened (she acts and thinks a lot younger than a 15 year old, especially one from 1918 when marrying age was younger). (I feel that a five star book should never leave us feeling we needed more.) I wanted to hear more of what happened with Ghandi to draw her emotionally into the plight of the Indian people. The bazaar scenes could have been more detailed and modern American teens who would read this young adult novel should have heard more about the situation wtih the begging children and the abuse and selling of babies. Even the budding romantic relationship needed more to let us see how she had her first physical attraction to a young man rather than having it appear as a platonic friendship then jumping to a peck kiss.

This is a book for young adults (or mature younger readers) that addresses a rare topic that is important and not often enough taught about in school. Just finding nonfiction books for children and teens about the history of India is difficult, which is a shame. I give Whelan kudos for tackling this tough topic but wish it was longer, more detailed, and a more engaging book story rather than feeling like a fast paced drama action movie. The book is shorter and simpler than I think today's teens can handle and a more in depth tale could have done a better job at tackling these tough but important subjects. Used in tangent with nonfiction readings of Indian history a student could learn more but as the main informer of these topics to uninformed American teens, this book is not enough in and of itself.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from's Vine program. I was under no obligation to review it favorably nor was I paid to read or review it. My blogging this was not part of the Vine committment. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Who We Are, What We Do & Our Material Possessions

The more I declutter to downsize possessions before our move, the more I'm starting to hate stuff. I am starting to prefer the absence of material possessions to actually owning a thing.

But, I do things and the things I do require tools and materials. So I own stuff. I can't knit without knitting needles and yarn and patterns. You can't paint without canvas, brush and paints. It is important though to not think, "I am that material thing and if I get rid of it I will lose a part of myself" as that is not a true statement.

With this huge decluttering job I've been working on for over two months I have found it most useful to define who I am by what I do and to see if the label still fits. If not, I discard the items.

"I am a knitter who dislikes acrylic yarn" means the needles stay, the acrylic yarn goes, and the wool yarn stays.

"I am no longer a machine sewer for fun projects" means the material and most thread has gone.

"I am a machine sewer for necessary repairs" and "I am a hand sewer of Boy Scout uniform patches" means the over $100 sewing machine stays (as it is too expensive to replace easily), the needles and pins stay, and the thread colors that are commonly used on the Boy Scout uniform remains.

"I am a soapmaker" means the best and most used soapmaking supplies remain. The duplicate stuff I don't need goes, the expensive stuff I use stays".

I have been teaching my kids to use this as well. They now say "I am a LEGO enthusiast" which means the thousands of LEGO is moving with us. "I am a guitar player" means the guitars are going to Texas. "I am no longer a player of XYZ video games" means those game discs have been given away.

Who We Are Inside

I have been comforting myself that regardless of physical location I am still the same person inside. Yes, I'm leaving friends and family, but who I am is within me and I'm not really losing myself in this move. In selecting to get rid of various material possessions I am not changing who I am inside, I am just narrowing plans for what I may choose to do or to not do in the future. It is not a big deal, really. If I let go of the acrylic yarn and I choose to knit with it in the future all I'll have to do is buy a $3 skein at the nearest chain craft shop and suddenly I'd be back in business knitting up synthetic fibers.

The fact is that with what I have chosen to keep I have plenty to do and plenty to read. I am not going to be bored, that is for sure, so why moan and groan about what I am giving away that I don't want to do anymore? I may have enjoyed doing an activity in the past but that is not how I'm spending my time right now anyway.

The other day my thirteen year old son was upset about moving. On a hunch I used the language I'd been using in my own head with him. He had never said these things to me about 'losing himself' but I had a feeling it is what he was thinking. "You are not losing yourself in this move. You are who you are inside and you will still be that person when you wake up at your new home in Texas. The only thing that has changed is your physical location." He got it. Discussing that seemed to help diffuse the situation.

(Clarification: my son could understand the concept but he was too emotional and said he rejected the validity of it. As with other emotional things the first time a new idea or perspective is heard we may say we reject it but the idea can stay with us and brew in our minds and sometimes we come to accept their truth. As I repeat the idea over time I hope it starts to sink in and reveal itself as true.)

This Place

It pains me to leave this physical location both the interior of this home, which I love, and its rooms, filled with memories. My home is comfortable, it is more than servicable, it's beautiful and also it's impressive to some people. I'm moving to a rental home which seems tiny in comparision to the point of being cramped, and is definately not a home a status-seeker would ever live in let alone buy. My Connecticut home is a quiet and peaceful place and apparently where I'm going is a fest of dog barking all day long. Oh joy.

It hurts to leave my land, my two acres of woods, and the creatures that share the land with me. I'm leaving the Chimney Swifts who reside in one of my chimneys and to leave the Red Shouldered Hawks that live in the woods. I'm leaving the sunrise through the east woods and the sunsets seen through the huge red oaks in the west. I will miss my garden which I started a couple of years ago, and to leave the wineberries, dewberries, wild black raspberries, the wild grapes and the hickory nut trees, whose wild harvests I enjoy eating. I will even miss the heavily forested road that leads to my house on the drives to and from this place.
I know what I am leaving behind so I can easily start to get blue thinking about what I will not have in my life. I do not yet know what lies ahead so I don't know what to look forward to. This realization which dawned on me just a few days ago has comforted me greatly already, and I shared it with my upset older son yesterday. Keeping that thought in mind is really helping me.

There are trees where I'm going and there very well may be hawks that visit me daily there also. Who knows what lies ahead? I'm trying to think of this move as a real adventure. I plan to have fun discovering this new place that I'll be calling my new home. I already know it has one thing better than here, I have a bike and walking path that is just a few feet behind my backyard and it is 160 miles of interconnected paths! How cool is THAT? (In Connecticut, this former avid bike rider has been avoiding bike riding on the roads due to the danger of the crazy drivers who may run me over while they speed down the road let alone the jerks who text while driving and those who illegally talk on handheld mobile phones.)

More importantly, what we're gaining by moving to a rental home now before the Connecticut house sells is we are able to be with my husband and we'll be a complete family. I don't like living as a single mom to two sons who miss their father. I miss my husband for our relationship together and for who we are as a complete family unit. All of us want to be together so that is what we'll have very soon. If that means living in a small temporary home and paying a rent and a mortgage, so be it. Hopefully this stage will be a short one then we can move onto buying a new house in Texas that will be our permanent home.

Leaving Friends and Family

My friends and family are just a phone call or an email away, which is the major way I communicate with most of them now. I can use Facebook to check in with people or I can read my blogger friend's blogs. We can all Skype. My kids will continue to play xBoxLive with their friends (which allows them to have real time audio conversations while they play the games together).

I will also be visiting this area at least a couple times a year, and maybe our infrequent visits will motivate my busy family and friends to actually make time to see us. The fact is, I may see people more after I move away than I do now because everyone is so busy doing their own thing that they sometimes don't make the time to see people who don't cross their paths easily.

I am so ready to just go and start this new adventure. I'm on the final stages of decluttering and packing. The moving truck has a date to arrive and start packing so I have a firm deadline to work toward now!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Homeschool High School Conference Report

Written by my friend Polly Castor is here. I'm who she mentions having gone to the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers conference with. I hope to blog my impressions when I have more time.

(Today I'm busy packing.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Thoughts on Talking to Our Children

Parents are often told to look for teachable moments. Those who talk about the importance of communication between parent and child often give advice to watch for opportunities to have discussions then jump right into a larger conversation.

If there is a topic that a parent wants or needs to discuss it seems impossible to wait for some event to happen that is perfect to discuss that thing. Perhaps better advice would be that if something needs addressing it should be addressed even if that means the parent brings it up out of the blue.

It should also be said that the way it often works in real life is sometimes situations happen that we are not at all prepared for and parents will need to do quick thinking to link the thing happening to the larger issue. You can't prepare for this much but just hope and pray that at that moment you are able to articulate a larger discussion on the spot.  (Let me be more frank. What you need to do is to be ready to quickly wing it and hope that what is said comes out not just sounding half way decent but just makes sense to the kid). That's the reality of how things happen in real life, but saying that sounds like sloppy advice. Even if that sounds complicated or sloppy, from my own life experience I can say I feel that it is the best advice that parents can be given regarding communication with their kids.

So, first the parent should have an environment where they are present with their kids enough to even have face to face communication. Second, there needs to be a foundation already in place that allows for safe discussion. In order to feel the lines of communication are open the parent must not chastize or punish their kids for asking about certain things or for sharing emotions that are not what the parent wants to hear. Although a parent may not like hearing what is being said such as if they disagree with the opinion, it can be discussed in a respectful manner. Also, if the parent doesn't know there is a problem they can't work at fixing it so even if they cringe to hear something their kid says they should not bury their head in the sand and ignore it.

I always try to link what is being said to the emotion behind it then as quickly as possible start addressing the handling of the emotion rather than focus on the words said first about the opinion or statement. This does work with kids even if you are thinking it could not work. It works perhaps easier and faster than it works with adults, because adults seem to want to hide or guard their emotions and try to keep discussing the issue when the reality is the true problem is the emotion. Young kids start off life very open and not worried about embarrassing themselves. Kids start putting walls up to protect themselves as they get chastized for sharing their thoughts, emotions and ideas. If parents create a more open environment they can prevent or lessen those walls from forming. Even a kid who has put up walls to protect themselves at school may be completely unguarded and open at home with family, which is what you want, isn't it?

I strongly feel that usually the real problem with a person of any age is the emotion behind it not the actual issue. I may say something terse to my husband about not changing that lightbulb for the last three weeks when my real issue is not that I really need that extra light in that spot right at that moment, but that I feel I've been handling too much of the responsibility for managing the daily tasks around the house and he's not pulling his weight on something as easy as changing a lightbulb set me off to say something about the lightbulb.

I also think that some people may not even realize the bigger issue is anger about a larger issue, they may think the only problem is the lightbulb. That's why sometimes after the lightbulb is changed the anger still remains. In any relationship if there is a problem in the base foundation and if we fail to deal with the core issue the relationship will continue to have problems. It's true of the parent/child relationship as well as between friends, co-workers or with who we're in a romantic relationship with.

Over the years that I've been parenting I think I've improved my skills on winging conversations with my kids to take advantage of situations they bring up. When I realize in hindsight that I missed an opportunity or that I could have or should have said some extra things, I wait for a good time to initiate a discussion to get my point across. I don't make a huge deal out of it and call a family meeting or make it a long talk. It may just be said while I'm driving or when I'm making lunch or something. I do it at low stress times rather than put them on the spot by calling a big official meeting.

Something else that the experts often don't say that they really should is that kids and teens will feel more emotionally raw at certain times and that at those times the situation is ripe for the sharing of extreme emotions, high drama, or out of character statements. I think that parents should be both aware of those times of the day (i.e. their kid is always very dramatic and moody at bedtime when exhausted) or on certain vulnerable days. Then when something is said it should be put into perspective.

Some people (kids included) also have issues relating to food (i.e. can cry easily if they skip a meal and may be a bit on the hypoglycemic side or they may rage quickly with anger after eating a lot of sugar or corn syrup foods). What is said in those times needs to be framed and tempered if not also being taken less seriously.

Crazy statements said while in extreme moods should not be ignored but a parent should realize the root physical issue and address that such as an exhausted kid who just got home from a week at sleep away camp should go to sleep or take a nap rather than have some long drawn out disussion or an argument with the parents about something that was said. The parent should address the situation a bit but then perhaps it is best to try to shut down the discussion pending action (i.e. go eat a well balanced meal, wait an hour then talk about the problem, or go to sleep for the night then talk about it tomorrow).

Engaging a person in long dialogue who is not feeling well, who is overly tired, who has a pounding headache or who is really hungry is a recipe for disaster. More damage could be caused by the escalated or prolonged discussion, you want to avoid letting it get to that point.

Parents may be surprised that the next time the thing is discussed the kid thinks the issue is no big deal or they may have even forgotten they ever said something extreme and seem "over it" already. Perhaps you have noticed this about yourself? Women, just think of something that you really were angry about during your PMS time that was a non-issue the very next day. Now imagine your kids or teenagers in that same situation.

Talking to our kids is really not as big a challenge as some people make it out to be. If you just think about the ideal way you would like people to talk to you then do that with your child you will be off to a great start. Another way to think about it is if you were an irate customer and dealing with the company employee, how would you want that worker to deal with you?  Would you not want to quickly get to the base issue and address it to resolve your problem or is what you want just to rant and rave like a nutcase and not work at getting to a solution? Do what you think is right.

(If you detect that your child's goal is to just fight and be verbally abusive I advise that you realize that's the core problem and get to working on resolving that immediately. That is a bigger challenge, it's a real problem much larger than more simple than learning general communication techniques, and it may require expert help such as with a therapist lest you be responsible for unleashing another drama queen or drama king, or a nuisance (or a sociopath) into society. Please spare us that by getting expert help if it is needed.)

Perhaps you didn't start off your parenting journey feeling very good at communication skills, but parenting your kids is a great time to learn. You learn as you go and you learn as you make mistakes along the way.

Making a mistake in communication is probably inevitable. Don't actively avoid communication because you are afraid you'll do it wrong.  If you do say or do something you regret, sincerely apologize to your kids. It's good for our kids to see that their parents are flawed and that they make mistakes too. It is good for kids to see that when they are children they are worthy of being asked for forgiveness (they don't start to matter when they become an adult), how they feel and how people relate to them matters since the day they were born.

By knowing that their parents care about them enough to treat them with respect and dignity and by knowing they can share their feelings, thoughts and ideas with parents who care, kids develop a positive feeling of self-worth which most people call good self-esteem.

Open communication with kids is important. Just do it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I'm Not Really a Harda** But It May Seem That Way

Sometimes I wonder if based on my blog posts, those who don't know me or my kids personally think I'm nasty to my kids. I'm not. Honestly.

Now that my kids are the age they are (11 and just shy of 14) I am more firm with them in what I think is a good way. I feel like explaining myself so here is some of my parenting philosophy.

After having lenient parents so permissive that it felt like they may not actually even care if something went wrong (and having snuck around quite a bit and having them not even notice obvious things) I felt that I'd be a bit more shall I say in tune with my kids when I was a parent. I also didn't feel I could openly discuss issues with my parents and felt lacking in parental guidance. I had what people consider a mother/daughter relationship with my maternal grandmother.

The flip side of my parent's parenting method was a "because I said so" and "I'm the parent" type of thing and "I don't care what you think I'm the parent and you do what I say". I didn't like being spoken to that way. Worse, there was a pendulum that would swing from ignoring what was happening (i.e. me bickering with my brother) then a sudden outrage of screaming and threatening or spanking or being slapped in the face and demoralized and put down. Some people could classify some of what my brother and I went through as abuse and other things as benign neglect.

I decided I wanted a different kind of relationship with my kids.

When my first baby was born I was surprised at the love I felt and his dependence and total reliance on me blew my mind. When he cried due to gas pains I hurt so much and just wanted to make him feel better. Having read Ezzo's Babywise and hating everything I read I turned to the local Barnes and Noble and found William Sears M.D.'s book The Baby Book. I glanced through it and felt the advice was in alignment with my gut feelings so I bought it and read it. I relied on that information to help me deal with things like a sleepless newborn crying. By the end of that first week I was already pretty well in tune with my baby and everything I read in the attachment parenting books was working.

I was very gentle and patient with my baby. I taught myself about developmental stages and I didn't get angry with him for doing what is normal for that age and stage. I just adapted our surroundings so he would not get hurt and gently guided him to stay safe. My son was very close to me and he had separation anxiety when I returned to part time employment (for 8 weeks) and also when I just tried to exercise at the gym. I felt bad that he was in such distress in those times. Yes, I was worn out at times and felt I could never get away but I also knew that babies grow up and change quickly and that it was all temporary so I could just "suck it up" and be the mature adult to match my chronological age. Actually parenting with that mindset really helped me stop being so selfish and self-centered because I was putting someone else first.

Several times strangers in restaurants have complimented my husband and I on how we spoke to our kids and on how well behaved our kids were. I was kind to my kids and patient. I spoke to them just like I spoke to an adult. I treated my kids with kindness just like I treated strangers and adults in my life. I have never understood why a parent feels they can be rude and mean to their young children when they would never act that way to strangers or their adult friends.

I never coerced my kids to behave well. I did not spank and I did not use pain infliction or threats to get them to be well behaved. For keeping them happy in restaurants, I'd being quiet toys (so as to not bother other customers) and crayons and I'd interact with my kids by talking to them or playing games or coloring alongside them while I chatted with my husband at the same time. When they were toddlers we sometimes would have to eat in shifts while the other walked around the restaurant pointing out the cool stuff nailed to the walls or strolling around the parking lot a bit. I paid attention to my kids. We didn't ignore them so they'd fight for our attention and act out so we'd address them. We didn't give them electronic toys to preoccupy their time in public because we wanted them to learn patience and how when you eat in a restaurant you do have to sit awhile as the food is cooked (the opposite of how eating is done at home).

People kept telling me to read the book "How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen". I finally read some of it when my son was about three years old but I was already doing most of it from my own common sense. My issue with the book is it trains to use certain language but I feel like it comes off phony as the reader is told to just do it that way and it will work. I spoke that way from the heart and naturally not because someone was telling me to say sentences in a certain manner. It's hard to explain.

I agree with everything that Dr. Sears has ever written with the exception of how he would say that all moms could go to work with babies in slings. Sorry to announce it but most employers won't allow that. I think with that recommendation in The Baby Book he went a little off the deep end.

Later I read Barbara Coloroso's books and heard her give a few lectures (via audio recording) and loved what she had to say.

When my first born was five and he struggled to learn to read for homeschool lessons, I got angry because it was the first time I was mandating that he do something for formal learning and he was rebelling. I wondered if I'd given him too many choices. I thought maybe after all I was a permissive parent in a bad way, even when I thought I was not being permissive. The thing was, in the past I'd just talked to my sons frankly and they would respond with logical thinking and they'd do the best or right thing. This was the first time my son was really resisting me.

Because my son had every sign of reading readiness I really struggled with his inability to sound out the words. I would try to teach him, shelve the curriculum, then let two months go by then would re-try. The only real resistance I got from him in his entire life was about the reading, oh, and haircuts. He said that he could feel every hair being cut and it hurt. He had other signs of sensory issues that were a bit tough to take. About the reading, I think some of the resistance was a developmental stage, but at age 10 he was diagnosed with a reading disability so perhaps his resistance was not a strong will but an early sign of his learning disability.

In that Kindergarten year, I started to have some expectations for the homeschooling and he would comply. I figured that if 98% of his life was kind of open to doing what he wanted to do (play) that to do up to 30 minutes of formal academics a day (reading, math and penmanship) was no big whoop. He would also listen to read alouds of fiction, science and history (which he didn't know was something that some kids are not interested in).

The older my kids got the harder their homeschool work load got and the more I expected of them. I think that is a good thing.

My goal has always been to raise kids who are independent but to give them freedom in a safe manner. As they grew I would teach them new things and would give them more and more responsibility. My goal has never been to keep my kids dependent on me.

I want my kids to be able to handle themselves and to stay safe. I want them to know how to hold their own and to be able to socialize in a healthy way with other people (of all ages and both genders). I want my kids to be polite and friendly happy people.

Kids and teens don't always do what is right and best for them (such as comply and cheerfully do the type of school work that our society wants them to do).

We set limits in our family, and my husband and I are pretty consistent with our application of the family rules and with giving consequences. I do remind them sometimes of the rules when they are about to break one and I remind them of the consequence (some may call this a threat but I feel that's a wrong term). If they do break the rule especially after that reminder, the consequence is in effect. Period. I do not reneg on it.

I have a habit of blogging some of my challenges and problems but not equally blogging the happy times and how smooth things are going. I fear that sometimes that sounds like bragging and I hate bragging.

I think I'm a reasonable and fair person all in all. In my work with other kids through Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting and teaching homeschoolers at the co-op I think there are just a few kids who don't really like working with me. There are a few who really rub me the wrong way so perhaps our feelings are mutual.  There are some problem kids who are known to others to be pains in the butts so it's not just me. Some kids are real stubborn and don't like to follow rules or that seem to have it their life's purpose to go against the grain. When I'm leading or teaching a group and there is some nuisance kid in the group trying to derail the direction of the class it is challenging. If they don't like me because I don't put up with their nonsense I really don't care. I will not cave in and give in to a kid who is trying to manipulate me; I don't do that with my own kids so I won't do it with someone else's. The rules are applied evenly across the board. I don't play favorites nor do I pick on the kid who is not my favorite. Nipping things in the bud is good for all kids so that's what I try to do.

I have a bunch of kids who love taking my homeschool co-op classes. If I was a too strict mean pesron I'd not be well liked by those who actually know me or take my classes. I have gotten compliments directly from the kids. I was also surprised to hear that some of the kids praised me to my children who then passed their kind words to me. My son acted proud that his mom was well liked by the other kids.

There is one boy who some say is hard to handle in a class who considers me his favorite teacher. I love having him in my class and he does not wear me out like he does some other teachers. I know that kids are different and I try to be flexible with how I relate to kids depending on what I think they are going to respond well to. I can adapt how I talk to kids so that they respond well. There are some kids who you just have to be very direct and clear with communications with and others who want to be spoken to all sweet and gushy. I'm not that type of a person so the ooey-gooey talk is something that comes harder to me so I struggle with that; perhaps that's why not all girls flock to me but the boys seem to be able to accept me as I am?

I am willing to give kids freedom and responsbility (even other people's kids who are under my supervision). If the kids can't handle what I've given them then limits are more clear rules are laid out. I guess I give them room to breathe and if they screw up I come in and make clear what is expected.

I've found that as my kids get older I have both given them more responsiblity and also given them some clear limits. They look like they have a ton of freedom but I'm still keeping an eye on what is going on. I don't think that I'm at all overly controlling nor am I being negligent when my kids are being given some freedom to move and make their own decisions.

I know that sometimes people need to make mistakes in order to learn something, even when you tell them not to do that thing or that bad thing may happen they go and do it anyway, then the problem happens. I never set my kids up to make mistakes just so they'll learn something. However if something happens due to a bad decision on my kid's part they will suffer the natural consequence. We will then discuss it unless all it takes is a "look" from me and they know what I'm thinking and that is "enough said".

Most times that one error and consequence does not result in the lesson being learned and they go and do it again, and again. That's not my problem, it's their problem. All I can do is let it go and let them find their own way. I do remind them of the risk or the rule or the limit and if they do it their way instead and screw up they have to live with the natural consequence.

A mom who has known me about a year and a half but who I don't see very often finally figured me out. She recently told me that I seem like a tough person (something I have a hard time realizing that I'm perceived as being) but I'm actually really soft hearted inside.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Risk My Husband (and I) Are Willing to Take

Last year, my husband said something in a (rare) lecture to our older son who'd just turned 13.

For background I'll share this was about discussing the hard work it takes to do well at learning academics. My son was adamant about wanting to be an engineer and the college prep for that path starts in 8th grade. My son was giving me flack about doing the school work. In my opinion was being lazy about stepping up to the plate to do high school level work. He was being disrespectful of me in his noncompliance and in his complaining or back-talking. I'd had enough and phoned my husband at work to let him know that when he got home I'd like him to handle the situation.

(I have seen that in the preteen years my sons have started moving away from me a bit and seeming to take my husband more seriously than they do me sometimes. I am certain this is a normal developmental stage for boys to go through, at least people say it is. Perhaps they fully know my limits and now they are putting him to the test, who knows? I'm not over-analyzing it, what's the point? Where my kids used to seem to listen to me more than they did their father if what they need now is to have my husband step up as the more hard line authority figure I am happy to let my husband handle it. If he chooses to do 3-4 serious lectures a year I'll not protest. To be honest, I'm more of a discussion and concensus person, but with these teen hormones raging sometimes soft talk and touchy feely discussions get nowhere.)

My husband said,

"I need to do what I feel is right and what is my duty as a father. When you are a young man in your 20s if you hate me for what I have done in trying to raise you well that is okay with me. In my heart I would know that I did what was right.

I don't decide what to do based on what I think you will like in the moment. I don't let you get by with doing less because it makes you happy. Learning can be hard. Doing all this academic work can be less fun thatn doing other things like sitting and watching TV and playing video games all day.

I have to live the rest of my life with the ramifications of my decisions and that includes decisions about raising my children. I could not live with myself if I did the wrong thing in the hope that it would make you like me more in that moment. I choose to do what is right based on whether it is right or not, not based on what makes you happy right now."
At first I was taken aback that my husband would ever accept that our kids could hate us for doing anything related to what we think is good parenting. My first thought was I wanted love from my kids including in their adult years and that I should now, do what would make them love me now which I thought would instantly translate into lots of love in the future.

For a moment I questioned myself and wondered if I should relax back on our homeschool academics in order to keep my sons happy with me. Didn't I want them to think their homeschool years were joy-filled?

Back at that time I was also considering sending that son to private high school instead of continuing homeschooling. With all the hard work that homeschooling my kids has been, the last thing I wanted was for either of them to look back on it with any kind of negativity let alone to think it was all a mistake. I wanted my kids to have great memories and to feel happy they'd had the option of homeschooling.

My frame of mind at that time was I was feeling burned out with homeschooling but I didn't recognize it in myself. Several people who know me said I was burned out and I was shocked to hear it. I think I had been thinking that burnout felt like boredom. I was feeling at my wit's end and worried and inadequate and incapable of continuing. I had my kid's best interests in mind and thought maybe it was time to start using school instead.

I thought maybe I wasn't up to the challenge of homeschooling any more, and that maybe I should just concentrate on being a good mother to a schooled child. If some of the responsibility was removed from me (their education) maybe I'd be liked more and it would just be easier for me to be a supportive parent of a schooled kid. Heck, I could even go back to work and make more money! I could do things just for my own self and have more time to do fun pursuits! How tempting that sounded!

Other parts of the lecture were based on discussions my husband and I had had in the past and some is a rehash of things he and I have separately and together stated.

"If you want to be an engineer, you have to go to college. To go to college for engineering you have to learn certain things. High school classes are probably the hardest and worst in your whole life, because you are forced to learn certain subjects and not all of them are things you want to learn about. Our government and the colleges have decided what things must be learned in the school years and we are complying with that. You have to go by the rules our society has laid out if you want to do certain things. You do not have the option of making up your own rules and defining how the game is played. Life doesn't work that way, not in America and not anywhere else either.

When you get to college and you major in something you love it may be hard work but it is more enjoyable because most of it is learning about the field you love. But you will never get to engineering school if you don't do the prerequisite work the colleges require. It is a fact. If you want to study a topic in college you have to do the prep work they require for that major.

If you are unwilling or unable to do the work, or if you choose to not do what your mother and I tell you to do because you think you know better than us, then you will reap the seed you have sown. It will be time to apply to college and you will find that you are not ready as all that prep work takes years not just months. You may wind up not being able to do what you say you want to do because you will not have done what the colleges require.

We want you to fulfill your dreams. We want you to have options. If you say you want to be an engineer we will help you by plotting the path which that requires. If you decide that you won't do the work to get to your goal that is a choice you are making for yourself. You are closing the doors to opportunity, it's not us closing them for you. I won't be the one closing doors for you, only you can do that. I can't do your work for you. You actually have to do it. You have the control and it is up to you as to whether to take advantage of the opportunities that you have been given. Your mother and I have worked hard to give you options and chances.

If all you want is to sit around and be a couch potato as that's more fun than learning to write an essay or learning something in math that is not coming easily to you, you are closing doors. Your mother and I know what it takes to get to certain goals and we are here to raise you and help you along that path. But if you choose to not listen to us and if you refuse to do the work necessary for what you say you want to do, we can't help that.

Whatever your goal is, we will help you with it. Engineering is hard! If that's what you want we will help you. We are not forcing this on you, this is what you say you want."

At that point my son agreed that engineering was still what he wanted to do, even though it was already feeling like hard work in eighth grade.

My husband concluded with more about his own feelings.

"When you are grown up maybe you will hate me or maybe you will appreciate me, I don't know. But I need to do what is right in my heart as to do less is something I could not live with myself about. My father did that for me and I am doing the same for you. As an adult I know my father was a great father to me even though sometimes he did things that made me hate him in the moment, like weeding that vegetable garden for hours and hours every weekend and mowing the lawn.

If you disown me when you are in your 20s and never speak to me again I will be fine with it as if I do something other than what I think is right I just could not live with myself for the rest of my life."

I was speechless throughout that lecture. I just sat there and listened and watched. The lecture was deeper than I thought it would be. I thought it would just be a restatement of previously said things like "do your school work and listen to your mother and cut the crap and drop the attitude and that means no eye-rolling either".

At the conclusion I was quite moved because my own parents had let me down by doing things that had made me happier in the moment. My parents had low educational expectations of me for school (my own movitation to succeed in school was internal until burnout started to set in during sixth grade and was in full force by ninth grade). My parents had zero goals for post high school education and my father even had negative views of a college education. It is hard to put into words what it feels like to have goals and dreams but have no true support network to help you achieve them, when you are not really able to do it all on your own.

My situation impacted my life's path. I got off on the wrong foot so to speak or maybe I should phrase it that I started off lacking some of the tools I needed to succeed at my goal. While in school I received little emotional support from my parents and after fourth grade I didn't receive any homework help at all, for example, let alone being told that there is value to higher education and that I should strive to go to college and hope for a career in something other than an entry-level no-skill job.
I also was raised in a lenient environment with not enough limits. Having too much personal freedom and being allowed too much independence in the teen years taught me some good things through the School of Hard Knocks but I also experienced some bad things that I wish I was spared. At age 19, at a weak point I was being courted to join a cult but that is another story.

For years before becoming a mother I vowed that if I ever did have children that I'd be a different kind of parent in an effort to raise my children better or more ideally than I'd been raised. My life could have been a real mess if certain events played out fully. I was a Godless person back then, and I was saved from some situations by what seemed later to have been only what could be considered The Hand of God. Someone was looking out for me. I felt that not everything that happened to me, good or bad, was directly being controlled by me (that is the life philosophy I was raised with).  Realizing that was what set me to spirituality as I sought answers to questions I had.

I want my kids to have more options than I had myself, and I want my kids to have better, more informed guidance than I had. (Perhaps my own situation has caused me to take the raising of my sons so seriously and maybe it is why I have gone above and beyond the typical by homeschooling them.) Giving my kids the best I could offer (my time and my energy, I don't mean toys or material possessions) is something I discussed when I was dating my husband. We are in agreement on that. From the start of our relationship we have shared hopes, dreams and goals.

My husband is a fantastic person. He wanted to help me change the course of my life to meet some of my unfinished goals and to get more in line with living what I said I wanted for my life.  Soon after we met with his support and guidance I re-enrolled in college after formerly dropping out, and later he encouraged me to seek a better job than the one I felt stuck a rut with. My husband was so supportive, and I trusted his judgement on helping our kids too.

So after hearing my husband give that lecture about being able to live with himself if our kids hated him for doing the right and best thing I wound up almost instantly agreeing and accepting that notion. What my husband said helped remind me of the importance of perseverance and staying on course even when the going gets tough. This mindset can be applied toward general parenting issues as well as education and homeschooling any child, whether they are a strong willed child or not. My husband's lecture helped me by reminding me of the bigger picture of what we are trying to accomplish and I felt refueled and rejuvinated.

Note: This post was inspired by a comment that a first-time blog visitor of mine left yesterday, on my post about Homeschooling a Strong Willed Child (written in 2006).