Let’s talk about peaceful parenting for a minute

peaceful-parentingControl. It’s a supremely human response perfectly suited to our seemingly chaotic world. I have compassion for the many souls, including myself, who feel a strong desire to clutch at it in times of change – those “growth periods” that tumble our realities until we don’t recognize them. We each deal with uncertainty in our own way. It’s not unusual to find me scrubbing the bathtub or mopping the kitchen while waiting for an important phone call.

On some days, my son could easily feel the scratches from my grasps. On some days, it takes a hundred deep breaths not to string him up like a puppet and force him to act and be exactly as I would like. Or, at minimum, shower him with loud NOs and ultimatums until he bends to my will when he displays behavior I don’t like or understand. I guess I could. It’s always in my power. I am his parent. But I don’t. And hopefully I never will.

This is a difficult parenting style for many to understand. Even me sometimes. There is a fast growing number of parents like my husband and me exploring this way of being as a family, as well as organizations and information that support it. (Clicking here or Google-ing ‘peaceful parenting’ and ‘unschooling’ will give you a taste.) I happen to know several parents who embrace these ideas even more fully than I do, and I’m inspired continuously by them. Despite my description of the tougher days above, our home is relatively peaceful and happy because we’ve chosen to parent peacefully. That said, I don’t deny it can be difficult. As a way of maintaining my own enthusiasm, I’m offering some reminders below. I thought you might want to peak over my shoulder.

Being calm and patient is not easy for most kids, especially young kids, and it’s not synonymous with “well-behaved.” Outside of the first and last 30 minutes of every day, my five-year-old son rarely sits quietly for longer than five minutes at a time unless he’s strapped in a car seat. That includes story time, family game time and meals, especially if we’re at a restaurant. How can he possibly ignore all the new stimuli and people to pay attention to him? And why would we want him to?

New stimuli, new people, new discoveries, adventures, experiences, lessons, play, challenge, failure, success, creative expression, broken hearts and the rare broken bone. That’s why he’s here. That’s how we learn. The fact that his curiosity and high-energy disposition don’t lend themselves to quietly coloring for hours is not his fault. As long as he’s not doing any harm to himself or anyone else, we support his exploration and wild expressions. Even when it’s inconvenient or messy. Even when it’s annoying as hell or downright embarrassing. Even when it pushes the boundaries of acceptable child behavior or makes guests uncomfortable.

Clearly, not everyone agrees with our choice, and it’s not just the lady glaring at us in the cheese aisle at Trader Joe’s. (Reminder to self: It doesn’t matter.)

A recent Psychology Today article (click here to read for yourself) about how France responds to ADHD asserted that fewer French children are diagnosed with and prescribed drugs for it partly because of greater awareness of environmental factors that affect behavior like nutrition and underlying emotional issues. My child does not have ADHD, but it’s an issue I follow with care. I involuntarily nodded my head while reading this until I got to the line that asserted the vastly divergent parenting philosophies between the U.S. and France could be why “French children are generally better-behaved than their American counterparts.” The author goes on to say that it is likely French children behave this way because of their parents’ strict structure, rigid limits, clear family hierarchy and low tolerance for emotional outbursts. In the last few lines she criticizes American families for too often allowing children to control their household, often by crying. Thank you, dear author, for a perfect segue into my next reminder…

Our child benefits by having choices and a reasonable amount of control over his own life. Control and authority are not powers I take lightly when it comes to parenting. They aren’t currency that is earned, given up or given away, and they aren’t worth fighting over continuously simply to appease any desire to quash challenges to said authority, my own ego or external expectations. My son is, above all things, a human being. He is an equal member of the family. He deserves to be just as empowered in his own life as any other human being. Lessons are more impactful when he learns the consequences of his behavior not just from those I impose on him, but also from his own experience. It may be difficult for those supporting a more traditional parenting style to see from the outside, but giving him a measure of freedom and a say in our household is not the same as handing over control. Listening and addressing the source of the behavior instead of imposing more rules or punishing him for every misstep is not giving him the keys to the kingdom.

My authority comes from feeling confident and comfortable enough to allow him some power over his body, time and choices. My empowerment comes from knowing he feels empowered and offers me the respect I’ve also offered him. Our home is more peaceful because we’ve chosen to parent peacefully.

squishy but happyWe need to remind ourselves every once in a while why we do what we do. Parenting choices are as complicated and varied as humanity – much more complicated than the relatively simple declarations I’ve offered here. There’s always more to say. But for now I just needed to give myself a strong reminder and a good talking to. In those difficult moments, when my son won’t stop stabbing his fork into the dining room table, when he’s decided to scream everything he says for a day, when I feel my clawed hand begin grappling for relief through totalitarian control, I will read this again.

I will remind myself why we’ve made the choices we have and why we’re worthy of them. I will remember our children are shining lights full of eccentric beauty, wisdom and love. They deserve the freedom to soar.


Want to know when and where you can get Rebecca’s upcoming book? Sign up for updates at www.laughattheskykid.com. Thanks for reading!

Let’s talk about the schools for a minute

Our son Henry attends preschool. Based on my unscientific research – i.e., conversing in-person and online with a wide variety of parents – about two-thirds of you are shrugging and saying “Okay, and…” and the rest of you are wondering why. This post is not meant to answer that question. I have so many questions of my own, I’m instead using this space to help navigate the process and welcome you into it.

The community of alternative educators, homeschoolers and unschoolers is growing by leaps and bounds. They all have immeasurable love for children and robust beliefs about their development. And I still consider myself one of them – or at least a passionate supporter of these ideals who is still considering her child’s options.

I believe mainstream educational institutions no longer address the needs of our evolving children and communities. A hierarchical structure designed to train young people to be compliant and effective factory workers or, if you’re from a wealthier community, corporate managers, doesn’t work for our children or our society any longer. I think there is a lot of merit to the myriad of alternative options growing in accessibility and acceptability, including home schooling and/or unschooling. I will have a lot more to say about this over time, especially after I return from the AERO conference in Portland in August, but that’s the gist of my thoughts on education.

Here’s the rub. Our son is a truly social being. He loves people – being around them, playing with them, entertaining them, laughing with them, showing affection, enjoying the reciprocation. He runs up to the newest kid or parent on the playground to say hi and invite them to play. Everyone at his school knows him because he welcomes them all as they arrive, usually with a huge smile and a hug. He’s the first to console a crying classmate or defend them when he believes they are mistreated. He is a genuinely friendly child who enjoys the energy and security of a community. He was raised in a group setting – a wonderful nursery in Taiwan – for the first 11 months of his life, and perhaps something stuck. When he’s not with Mama and Daddy, and sometimes when he is, he wants a strong community around him. Preferably one made up of two- to four-year-olds.

When we needed to look for a daytime care situation about a year ago, we were lucky to stumble upon a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool in our community. The short answer to the “What the…?” I just heard you all utter is that this school is one of surprisingly many around the world that uses a community-based approach, developing lesson plans based on what the class collectively is interested in. Then they explore this subject in a very organic, natural way, all while taking the needs of the entire class into account. It builds community, a sense of belonging, a strong sense of responsibility to their fellow human beings, open minds, open hearts, open imaginations, as well as mutual respect among a very diverse group of kids.

Henry thrives in this environment. He’s joyful. He’s challenged. He has strong friendships with his classmates and teachers. He loves going to school because he can express himself, make mistakes and be authentically Henry while he’s there. Like at home, he is loved and accepted unconditionally.

But what’s next? There are few options for Henry to continue with a similar program once he is five or six. Well, unless we want to move to Italy… (Hmmm.) In an ideal world, we would be able to keep him in an inexpensive or free variation on this program for the rest of his schooling, because even public schools would be designed around a similarly progressive philosophy. But alas the educational times aren’t a-changin’ as fast as the rest of the world seems to be and that likely won’t be an option in a couple of years. So, we’ve been looking at our non-mainstream choices and getting dizzier by the month. Homeschooling, unschooling, radical unschooling, expensive private schools, start or join a joint parent-run school, online education, democratic schools, and on and on.

Like every child, Henry is a peg of a unique shape. He doesn’t fit perfectly into any institutional hole. But as an outgoing child without siblings he doesn’t fit neatly into a homeschool hole either. So, our exploration continues. We are confused, concerned, even a little frightened. We want to trust that a path will reveal itself in some quiet moment, and I do believe it will, probably by Henry himself. I guess we’ll just breathe, keep listening and the knowing will come.

I’ll write more about this journey as it unfolds. There’s nothing terribly profound about our story just yet, but there is something profound that happens when stories like these are shared. Just like so many of you, we are parents making tough choices in an ever-changing world. The more we are willing to honestly and openly talk about our fears and ideas, without judging or fearing being judged, the more we all benefit. I guess I’m simply adding our story to all of yours and welcoming you into the conversation. Happy parenting.