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.

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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”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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