|My amazing girl|
As I lay awake last night holding my little girl and listening to the rain I was overwhelmed by my love for her. Even though she had just gotten me up from a deep sleep at 1:30 am (as she does most nights) I took a moment to savor her warm head resting on my shoulder and her small sleepy sounds as I snuggled her back to sleep. This is the good stuff, this is what it's all about.
While I waited for her to drift back off I thought about the kind of parent I want to be and the lifestyle I want my family to have. I had been reading some parenting and unschooling articles earlier that day and and came across this really excellent one from Life Learning Magazine (which is a really amazing resource for anyone interested in unschooling). This article reaffirms so much of what I believe about raising children and education and it made me feel so relieved to hear it from someone else.
I tend to be the kind of person that doesn't have a lot of strong opinions. I try to see both sides of any argument and will always admit that I could easily be in the wrong. However, parenting and education are probably about the only things in life that I have VERY strong opinions about. In spite of the fact that I am convinced that this style of parenting is for us, in spite of the fact that I know unschooling works from personal experience and in spite of the fact that I have faith that if we trust and respect our children they will surpass our wildest expectations for them, I have a hard time not doubting myself every so often.
Why is it so hard for parents to trust themselves and their instincts? Why is it so hard to keep the doubt at bay? For me I think it is that I am so passionate about my children and their education and lifestyle that I think about it constantly. I read tons of parenting and child related articles and I feel like I am usually barraged with information that is totally counter to how I want to raise my kids. I knew going in to this that I would be in the minority but it is still sometimes difficult to stand by what you believe when it feels like everyone else is telling you something different.
It seems to me that the majority of parenting articles I run across are aimed at trying to trick your child in to being a particular way. They tell you how you can "win the bedtime battle", or "make your kid good at science". All too often they pit parents and children against one another and encourage you to manipulate your children. The people who write these articles depict children as wily little devils who are trying to manipulate and outwit their parents while the parents are trying to beat them at their own game. Why do people want to mold their children to be a certain way? Why can't we celebrate who our children are rather than coerce them in to being what we want them to be? Why can't a family all be on one team instead of it being parents against kids?
The core of my parenting philosophy revolves around trust and respect for all family members including ourselves. I believe that children should be given respect equal to any other household member and this means no arbitrary rules, no power struggles and no "because I'm the parent and I said so". My children will be given the freedom to do what they want, when they want. Just as if they were adults in the house they will be allowed to use it's contents as they see fit (provided they are respectful of the communal living spaces and don't damage property). Just as I would never tell my husband that he can't have a snack right now or can't watch any television, I don't want to do these things to my children either. I want to afford them the same freedom that any family member deserves. This is really not easy to do for me even though I raised this way. It's hard to go against the societal norm and let your children have freedom to do what they wish even if it's not something you like. For example it's easy to let your kid paint or read all day but a lot harder to sit by while they play video games for 8 hours straight. The thing is, and I truly believe this, if you leave them alone they won't want to play video games for 8 hours straight. At least not for more than a week or so. Once the novelty wears off they are going to get bored and want to try something else. Kids are naturally bright and inquisitive, if you leave them alone they will want to do interesting and amazing things!
This doesn't mean that my kids will always do things I agree with and it doesn't mean I can't have concerns and talk to my children about them, but basically there should be a good reason behind it if I am going to ask them not to do something. If I feel like the kids are watching too much TV I can talk to them about and explain why I feel that way. Conflicts will be resolved with family meetings rather than top down authority. Since my daughter is still a toddler there are plenty of times I have to tell her no, but I try to think very hard before I tell her she can't do something. Is there really a good reason she can't do it or am I just instinctively saying no because I don't want to deal with it right then? As long as she isn't hurting herself or someone else than I think she should be aloud to do pretty much whatever she wants.
It's really hard to keep all this in mind on a daily basis and consistently put it in to practice but communicating with others helps me remember to be the kind of parent I want to be. That is why I want to not only continue to read stories from others that have a similar parenting philosophy but to write down in my own words what I believe, to reinforce and remind myself that I can trust my own parenting instincts and I can trust my daughter to be the amazing person she is.
I know that my time and temper will be a little shorter when our next baby arrives so it will be even more important to make the effort to trust and respect Echo at that time. I look at how strong and smart and happy she is now and I want her to stay that way. I want her to know how truly valued and respected and loved she is. I never want her to feel like a second class citizen in her own home, I want her to know that she is a full fledged family member who's opinions and needs are valued.