On Parenting

Why You NEED to Take a Day Off (Hint: It’s not about self-care)

I just spent the afternoon listening to the legendary author and feminist Gloria Steinem.  Among the topics she addressed was the issue of democratic heterosexual households.  She argued that society has convinced us there are “male” qualities and “female” qualities.  However, when we realize that the “qualities necessary to raise children – patience, nurturing, attention to detail, empathy” – are HUMAN qualities, we’ll have taken the first step towards a democratic household.

Why don’t many men readily display these qualities?  She argues that it’s because they haven’t been given the opportunity to raise children.  Which brings me to my story.

My husband and I have what you’d call traditional gender roles.  He works outside the home; I work within it.  When we’re together on the weekends, I’m still on the clock: making the food, holding the limits, and managing the logistics, as I do during the week.  This is both convenient and devaluing to my husband.

I recently decided to step away from my home for 12 hours every Sunday, leaving my husband 100% in charge of the home, the children, and the schedule.  I’m launching a couple of projects and wanted time to work on them, but I also knew that I needed to give my kids and husband space to build their own relationship.

Is my husband thrilled about it?  The jury’s still out.  Is my absence pushing him out of his comfort zone and allowing him to become more organized, patient, and empathetic?  Yes.  Is he rocking it in his own way?  Absolutely.

Switching roles one day a week is helping both of us cultivate qualities that have lain dormant for a long time – qualities that make us more human, more whole.  And this is slowly but surely leading to a more equal partnership.

The road to true equality is long, rocky, and treacherous.  The archaic claws of tradition and enculturation threaten to pull us back at every turn.  But I’m strengthened by the words of Gloria Steinem, who reminds us that “women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal inside it.”

Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal inside it.

6 - 12, On Parenting, Theory and Practice

What Matters In The End

“If it’s not my idea, I don’t want to do it.”

This seems to be my seven-year-old son’s motto these days, which is kind of annoying because we’re spending the summer in a city with a wealth of world-class museums that I want him to experience.  I know he’ll enjoy them once we’re there, but transitions have never been his strong suit.

After some trial and error (and many arguments) trying to motivate him to leave the house, I’ve found a two-part formula that seems to work.  It both gets him excited about a particular museum AND allows us to continue the learning journey once our visit is over.  I’m sharing it with you in case you find yourself in the same boat.

I used to try to persuade him (and get some stealth teaching in) by reading him books related to the topic of the museum we’d be visiting, but he was never interested.  So then I started showing him short introductory videos from the museum websites.  Voila!  Immediate interest!  I realized his fear lay in not knowing what to expect; once he knew where he’d be going, he was more inclined to cooperate.

Then I discovered that if I waited until right after our visit to read him a book related to the topic of the museum, he was a million times more receptive, connected, and interested.  It reminded me of the Montessori/Orff concept of giving the child the sensorial experience before the symbol/language.

By following this simple two-step approach, we’ve been able to explore several wonderful museums.  It took some observation and creativity, but I found an approach that minimizes my son’s insecurity and maximizes his learning potential.  And isn’t that what matters in the end?If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn. - Ignacio Estrada.png

 

 

 

6 - 12, Favorite Books, Nature, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

The Entitlement Myth

A few weeks into his first-grade year, my formerly sweet and relatively cooperative son began acting sassy, cocky, and entitled.  Requests for help were met with groans and eye-rolls.  Limits were countered with sighs and “whatever“s.

We gave him the benefit of a doubt: Surely he was just imitating his older classmates’ rude behaviors.  Or maybe this was a misguided attempt at being more independent.  All my friends’ children were acting the same way, so it was probably a developmental phase.  Regardless of the reason, I dealt with entitled children all day long at work and  I wasn’t about to put up with the same behaviors from my son at home.

My husband and I gave Zachary a speech about behavioral expectations in our family.  He gave us a sigh and an eye-roll.  This was going to be harder than I thought…

A quick Google search on books about childhood entitlement led me to “The ‘Me, Me, Me’ Epidemic: A Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Children in an Over-Entitled World”.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book revolves around the principles of Positive Discipline, which I’ve used for years.

The first practical suggestion for countering entitlement is called “Mind, Body, and Soul Time” (MBST).  It requires each parent to set aside just ten minutes a day to “be fully present in mind, body, and soul and do whatever your child loves to do.”

Ten minutes a day sounded like a paltry amount of time until I started seeing the day from my son’s perspective.  From wake-up to bedtime, I was always busy with something – too busy to spend ten minutes one-on-one with him.

When he woke up, I was making breakfasts, packing lunch boxes, and getting everyone out the door on time.  Even though Zachary and I spent the day together at school, we were always surrounded by other children and adults.  Then at 5pm it was a mad rush to pick up his sister, drive home, get dinner made in 15 minutes, and sit down for ten minutes to eat as a family.  My husband would read the kids a book and tuck them in while I cleaned the kitchen, answered work emails, and planned the following day’s lessons.  Our life ran on a strict timetable and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find ten minutes to just be with him without sacrificing some essential task and sending the whole house of cards crashing down.

Three months after reading the book, we decided as a family to walk away from the madness of our lifestyle.  We shifted into the slow pace of unstructured homeschooling and discovered something we never had before: TIME.

Without the need to wake up at 6am, my son could go to bed later.  And without the need to hurriedly clean the kitchen and answer work emails, I could spend time with him.  And so, I started reading to him for an hour each night (his favorite thing to do).

Within a week, my husband pointed out, “Zachary is so much happier.”  It was true: my little boy began to laugh again.  Then, we noticed another change.  He became physically affectionate.  The child who had been pulling away from us began moving back into our lives.  He started folding his 4’4″, 70 lb. frame into our laps, requesting snuggles.  Or he’d jump into our arms and wrap his arms and legs around us in a full-body hug.

IMG_2090

And then, about a month in, we noticed it.  The entitlement, sass, and attitude had disappeared almost completely.  Requests for help were now met with an agreeable attitude; limits were either accepted or discussed rationally.  We even started hearing a phrase we’d never heard from him before: “How can I help?”

Sure, he has his moments, especially when he’s hungry or tired.  But overall, he’s a different child.

He’s a different child because I’m a different mother and we lead a different lifestyle.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that everyone should drop what they’re doing and homeschool.  But we need to stop justifying rudeness and entitlement as “normal” parts of growing up.  These behaviors are cries for help from little beings who are evolutionarily primed to connect.  So please, find those ten minutes, before it’s too late.

“The impulse to be good arises less from a child’s character than from the nature of a child’s relationships. If a child is ‘bad’, it’s the relationship we need to correct, not the child.” – Gordon Neufeld, “Hold On to Your Kids”

***

This post contains affiliate links that allow me to continue providing the quality content you enjoy at no cost to you.  Thank you!

On Parenting, Theory and Practice

Rediscovering Motherhood

An American friend and colleague who lives in Asia recently shared with me that her in-laws had moved out of her house.  They had been very involved in raising her children, so I asked if she missed having the help.  She texted back, “No.  I’m forced to be the mom and it’s what my kids want and what family is supposed to be.”

As I sat staring at her words on my screen, the last seven years of my life – my entire parenthood journey – flashed before my eyes.  I remembered how both times I had a baby I told myself that I’d stay home with them until they were three.  And how, by the time they were each 15 months old, I was desperate to find a job – any job – that would transport me away from the solitude, burden, and relentlessness of motherhood.

Though I enjoyed my teaching job, it was also a band-aid that covered up the rawness of parenting and kept its suffocating weight at bay for ten hours a day.  Yes, as a teacher I was still working with children.  But, they were other people’s children, not my own.  The responsibility for my students’ outcome didn’t rest solely on my shoulders.

Ironically, my hyper-focus on work ended up dragging me, kicking and screaming, back to stay-at-home motherhood.  The burden of a more-than-full-time job dictated the rhythm of my children’s days.  My night-owl son struggled mightily with 6am wake-ups, and spent the day being angry and uncooperative. My daughter cried daily at drop-off for two years, was constantly sick, and threw massive tantrums.  I fretted and lost sleep over other people’s children, all the while downplaying the struggles of my own.

Like an illness that forces you to slow down and reassess your life, their cries for help finally broke through to my mothering instinct – that part of me that for several years had lain curled up in a ball, shaking its head and refusing to fully engage.  Mercifully, conditions at work conspired to push me in a new direction, and finally one day I packed up my belongings, picked up my children, and drove away.

Homeschooling became my new project, and I threw all my energy into re-creating a mini-classroom at home.  But my children were only vaguely interested in the materials.  They played outdoors, built intricate LEGO creations, read lots of books, and reveled in their new freedom.  And while I fretted over incomplete lesson plans, a voice from my heart told me: “Leave them alone. They’re doing the work of childhood.  You go work on yourself.”

A2E03521-B934-4D23-AF4C-1BF70763BD7B

Crap.  I’d been avoiding working on myself for years.  “Teacher” was a label that had allowed me to work on others.  But I was no longer a teacher; I was “just a mom”.  Being a mom meant I had to become reacquainted with the vulnerabilities of motherhood.   I had to examine my own shortcomings and anxieties, lest I inadvertently pass them on to my children.  I also had to identify and dissect my triggers, and remain present through the chaos.  I had to move past society’s cognitively dissonant perceptions of motherhood, and craft a definition that rang true to me.

Being vulnerable is exhausting.  It’s also some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.  Someone on my Facebook page wrote: “Homeschooling is a gift you will never regret giving to your children.”  And I’m starting to realize that, in addition to homeschooling being a gift to my children, rediscovering motherhood through homeschooling has been a gift to myself.  It’s a gift I never even knew I wanted, and one that I now can’t imagine living without.

_____________________

If you know someone who would enjoy reading this essay, please share it with them!

 

 

On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning, Theory and Practice

The Good Struggle

This morning, let’s talk about compassion (identifying our common struggles) and empathy (letting others know they’re not alone).

Raise your hand if you want your child to show compassion and empathy for others.  OK, that’s pretty much everyone in the audience.  Put your hands down.

Now, raise your hand if you want your child to suffer.  Anyone?  Anyone?  *crickets*

Most of us agree that it’s painful to watch our child get hurt (physically or emotionally). So painful, in fact, that it triggers the Mama or Papa Bear in us and we come out swinging against the person or situation that is causing our child pain.

But, what if I told you that suffering is at the root of compassion and empathy?  

Really. Uncomfortable. Thought.

I get it.  So, let’s leave our children’s suffering aside for a moment, because I have a story to tell you about my own journey towards compassion.  Before I became a mom, I thought that parents who, in my lofty opinion, didn’t have their act together deserved zero compassion.  ZERO.

I had a long list of parenting choices I would never make (screens, junk food, yelling at my kids) and I had an even longer list of behaviors my children would never exhibit (because they were going to be Montessori children).  I looked down my nose at those “hot mess” moms and their unruly kids who broke my rules for a perfect life.

And so, of course, the gods sent me two beautiful, loud, demanding, free-spirited children to take me down a notch or fifty.  Now, after seven years of being dragged through the parenting rodeo, I’m a proud card-carrying member of the Hot-Mess Moms club.

Do I still judge other moms?  Yes.  For about two seconds.  But then a voice inside me says, “Psst.  Girlfriend… Take a look in the mirror!”  That’s the voice of compassion. (I thought the voice of compassion would sound like Pema Chodron.  Yeah, no.)  When I hear that voice, my resistance to accepting my own imperfect humanity and that of others melts away.

Now here’s the thing: My lack of compassion for other parents stemmed not from being a bad person, but from not having lived through the struggles of parenthood.

So how does all this tie back to our children?  Well, if we want them to feel compassion, we need to let them connect with the struggles of others by letting them struggle a little bit themselves.

And if we want them to learn how to show empathy, we need to connect empathically with them post-struggle.  Let’s put aside our “I told you so’s” and “You’re OK’s”… When we suffer, all we want to hear and know is “You’re not alone.”

compassion-suffering

 

 

3 - 6, 6 - 12, Favorite Books, On Parenting, Siblings, Sleep, Social and Emotional Learning

BOTW: Good-Night Yoga

good night yogaOn a recent date night at a local bookstore (exciting, I know), my husband came across Good-Night Yoga: A Pose-By-Pose Bedtime Story.  Neither of us practice yoga, but we’d been trying to find activities we can do as a family in the evenings that will engage both a three-year-old and a seven-year-old AND that will help us transition peacefully into the bedtime routine.

We’ve been reading and yoga-ing with this book a couple of evenings a week for the past month, and it’s become on of our favorite evening activities!  The kids love the illustrations and poses, and my husband and I love that it’s fun but not over-stimulating.  The kids have a great time watching their dad wobble through the balance poses, and I can see their body awareness improving with consistent practice.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly way to wind down after a busy day, then I encourage you to find a place on your bookshelf for Good-Night Yoga!

(This post contains an affiliate link.  Purchasing through this link helps support the quality information you enjoy, at no cost to you. Thanks!)

Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning, Theory and Practice

The Puzzle-Child

Over the years of working in Montessori classrooms I’ve met many children who are eager to attend lessons, engage in follow-up work, and share their new knowledge.  And then there are the occasional “puzzles” (as my son’s Primary guide once referred to him).  How do you know if you live or work with a puzzle-child?

puzzle

Puzzle-children are those for whom learning comes easily but who see most teaching as a hindrance to their own learning agenda. On a good day, they grumpily humor your agenda for a short while and then stealthily slink away to pursue their own interests.  But most days, your invitation will send them into fight/flight/freeze mode: they either become argumentative (fight), run away from you (flight), or shut down (freeze), refusing to speak or make eye contact.

I used to think puzzle-children felt intimidated by the work or lacked the desire to learn.  But these children aren’t insecure or apathetic – quite the contrary!  I started taking the time to connect with puzzle-children to understand why they rejected lessons, and the phrase they said again and again was: “I already know that.”  Upon gentle prodding, it became clear that indeed, they did understand the concepts I was trying to present.

Puzzle children don’t care about your ego. In fact, in a battle of egos, theirs will always win.  They don’t care about sitting politely through your carefully planned presentation or showing you what they know.  They don’t care about your album sequence, the state standards, or your lesson plan.  They know what they want to learn, and they know they can use you as a resource to overcome any gaps in knowledge that pop up as they pursue their own explorations.

And that right there is the key to engaging successfully with a puzzle-child.  You have to be like a floor lamp: present but unobtrusive, and willing to shed light on whatever topic the puzzle-child approaches you about.  The puzzle-child will often be found with his nose in a book; tinkering with random objects; or using Montessori materials in ways that might seem sacrilegious at first but that, upon closer inspection, constitute legitimate intellectual explorations.

Conversations are essential for connecting with the puzzle-child.  But you have to watch your tone of voice: puzzle-children detect the moment you switch to a “teacher” voice, and in that instant you’ve lost them.  They also detect when you’re trying to quiz them.  You’re better off assuming they’re already experts. Use precise terminology when chatting with them; rest assured they’ll pepper you with questions if they don’t know what you’re talking about!

Puzzle-children love stories and experiments, and they are cosmic thinkers (meaning they’re able to effortlessly make connections among seemingly unrelated topics).  They’re autodidacts who focus on a topic until they have filled their cup. And then, just as quickly as the interest blossomed, it seems to disappear (but rest assured that the knowledge remains).

For puzzle-children and their adults, the most difficult times are those when the puzzle-child is between interests.  They’re often restless and irritable, flitting from one activity to another.  This is an important time for puzzle-children, and one should not jump in to fill the void with busy work or adult teaching agendas.  For it is precisely the space and boredom of their aimless roaming that will help them find their next “big thing”.

Puzzle-children don’t need to be taught how to learn.  If anything, they need to be protected from well-meaning adults who want to impose their teaching methods at the expense of the puzzle-child’s creativity and resourcefulness.  It’s a blow to the adult’s ego not to be needed, especially when your entire identity rests on being a transmitter of knowledge.

For teachers and parents of puzzle-children, it’s time to change that identity and protect these powerful and eccentric learners.  Help the puzzle-child learn how to communicate their needs and let them know you’re there as a resource.  Prepare their environment with quality books and essential Montessori materials. Provide open-ended tinkering, building, crafting and drafting materials.  Go outside together and explore nature through their eyes.  Listen, observe, document, trust, and wait.  Be flexible, creative, and honest, and above all, be genuine.  Follow the child.

“Our care of the children should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

 

Montessori Theory, On Parenting

What Montessori is Not

Montessori is not a curriculum – not a series of boxes to check off.  It’s a guide for understanding how humans grow. It’s a way of supporting how humans learn.  It’s a means for finding joy and purpose in life.

Montessori is not dogma – not a script to follow blindly.  It’s a conversation about priorities.  It’s a toolbox for navigating parenthood with grace.  It’s a dance with the imperfect realities of life.

Montessori is not just for the wealthy – not a ticket to career success.  It’s for the homeschooling family.  It’s for the public school family.  It’s for the refugee, the migrant, the orphan, the elderly.

Montessori is a way of seeing and being.  It’s a new understanding of the adult’s role and a window into the child’s soul.  It’s a path that leads to trust; a path that leads to peace; a path that leads to life.

hand-black-and-white-love-finger-child-human-695951-pxhere.com

Montessori Theory, On Parenting

A Village: Its Value and Values

A Montessori learning community is a dynamic village, whose success – defined not in financial terms but by the growth and joy of the children – depends on the collaboration and shared values of all its members.  What role do you play?

The Montessori Guide

Each environment (classroom) is steered by a well-trained and experienced Montessori guide.  She needs to have a profound love for children and a vision of their immense potential;  keep herself immersed in Montessori theory and continuously educate herself on aspects of human development; and be receptive to respectful feedback. But no matter how passionate, qualified and dedicated the Montessori guide be, she cannot fulfill the mission alone.

Administration

Administrators are the torchbearers of the school’s Montessori values.  They serve as a sounding board for the guide’s ideas and challenges; help parents and guides understand each other; and uphold the practice of Montessori philosophy (to the exclusion of all others) through comprehensive parent education, effective professional development, and consistent observation/feedback in the classroom.

Parents (at home)

Parents who choose a Montessori education for their child need to understand the impact their home life has on the functioning of the classroom community.  When the values of the home align with the values of the chosen school, the child transitions smoothly between his two environments.  This continuity of values and expectations allows him to feel safe, accepted and successful.  Parents who offer clear limits and hold their children (and themselves) accountable; provide a loving home environment rife with opportunities for connection; and model a growth mindset have children who come to school ready to reap the benefits of a truly transformational education.

The Parent Community (at school)

A parent community provides the “village” that allows families to successfully navigate the pressures of modern society and stay true to their core values.  The village upholds the school’s values and uses them as a guide for how they treat the children, staff and each other.  They volunteer their time and talents towards the upkeep and improvement of the school.  Children see their parents’ commitment towards school and begin to understand its value.

Stronger Together

In a society that tries to outsource or outwit the most challenging aspects of child-rearing, it takes commitment and vision to be a member of this type of community.  Only when we each understand and embrace our role – and find the humility to admit that we need each other – will we begin to be of service to the children.  It truly does take a village.

quotation-maria-montessori-we-shall-walk-together-on-this-path-of-life-for-76-84-94

On Parenting, Practical Life, Social and Emotional Learning

Entitlement: Been There, Done That

Few things trigger me more than interacting with a child who has an entitled attitude.  rich-kidWhy?  Because I was one of them.  I grew up in a traditional Mexican upper-middle-class family, with a stay-at-home mom and two maids who did all the housework so we didn’t have to.  I never did my laundry, tidied my room, or set a table.  Those things just happened!

When I was 18, my mom went back to school and decided that I needed to learn how to run a home.  One night, my dad was coming home a bit later than usual, my mom had class, and the maids were gone, so I was tasked with re-heating my dad’s dinner.  With the burner on high, I stirred the tomato sauce and thought, How will I know when it’s ready?  It eventually burned and my dad had to eat charred tomato sauce on his pasta.  I remember the feelings of shame and incompetence that washed over me as I watched him pick through the blackened bits on his plate.

The irony is that I ended up in hotel management school in Switzerland, which is like Practical Life boot camp for rich kids.  Within weeks I went from not knowing how to boil water to cooking coq au vin; from not knowing how to make my bed to mastering hospital corners; from not knowing how to set a table to prepping a banquet room for 350 people.  My teachers were kind, but they also had high expectations and only a few short months to prepare us for demanding industry internships.

After 12-hour shifts scrubbing pots and pans, I would drag myself to my dorm, body aching but self-confidence bolstered by what I had accomplished.  During my three six-month internships, I sometimes cried in the bathroom after getting chewed out by the head chef, but then I’d wash my face, put on my apron, and continue plucking thousands of chicken feathers or slicing tray after tray of tomatoes.

The resilience, growth mindset and grit that define my adult personality were not developed in my posh private high school or in my comfortable childhood home.  They came from three bone-crushing and character-building years of meaningful work, high expectations, and caring guidance.

Meaningful work.  High expectations.  Caring guidance.  These are the three cornerstones for the development of true self-worth.  They’re also inherent in the work children do in Montessori environments (both in school and at home).  When we do things for our children that they can do for themselves, we rob them of the experiences that will help them forge strength of character, develop autonomy, and lead fearless lives.

PS: About a decade ago, my father lost his business in one of Mexico’s financial crises, and my mom had to go into the workforce to support them.  She works long hours and doesn’t have time to cook, so my father was forced to prepare the meals.  He’s now a passionate home chef who pours over elaborate recipes and has found self-worth through cooking amazing meals.  It’s never too late to transform your life through meaningful work.