I recently picked up a copy of Time magazine in a waiting room and read a story about all this blogging that is going on. The author of the article asserts that “people are being highly selective about what they share” and that “many of them are posting an impossibly pristine, accomplished version of their family lives on the web.” (Time, 10/26/15 p. 39) Well, I don’t want to be guilty of that! I do tend to write when I am in a good mood, but today we had a rough morning and I have decided to do a bit of writing and sharing anyway. It’s good to keep some balance and perspective.
I have written before that my relationship with my children is the foundation of my homeschool. Today was one of those days when I needed to remind myself of that. After a rough patch this morning with my daughter, I had to stop and remind myself of one of my favorite relationship quotes. I’d like to share it with you here:
A real relationship is a dance among willing participants who give what they wish, as they wish, when they wish. It inspires present and future intimacy, present and future understanding of the other and the self. It nourishes those involved. It makes us more of who we are.1
The quote is from Sun Magazine and it is actually about zoos and our (not-so-real) relationships with animals when we visit zoos. But I find it to be relevant to human relationships, also. Perhaps for relationships between people I would change the wording somewhat. People have all kinds of relationships with one another and they are all ‘real’ in their own ways, from superficial acquaintanceships to close friendships to a variety of family relationships. For me, I find that a relationship that makes me more of who I am is a rare gem and is a relationship worth a tremendous amount of my time, thought, and life-energy. My relationship with my children definitely falls into this category.
Now, on to our rough morning, or, “what is Kim getting at here?” One goal that my daughter has set for herself is to improve her spelling. Today I felt bored with our usual spelling and writing activities and I decided (without her input) to write up a short assignment for her. She was to ‘interview’ Destiny, our recently-adopted cat (“What are your favorite foods?”) and one of our chickens, Bertha, (“Where are your favorite places to scratch for bugs?”) and then write out their ‘responses’. I liked my idea; I thought it was fun and would give her a chance to show how creative and funny she can be. My daughter, however, did not like my idea at all! She told me flat out that she did not want to do it, she requested a math assignment instead, and when I wouldn’t give her one she went into her room. Wow, suddenly I was really crabby! I confronted her. I went through the usual “I need to see that you are learning” and “I am your mother and you need to do what I tell you to do” and “You know, I don’t ask that much of you and you sure have a lot of free time”. I told her she could either do the assignment or do the dishes. She did the dishes. This type of exchange went on for a while. Finally, I took a shower and had a cup of coffee and settled down.
What was going on here? I realized that I needed my daughter to do something ‘schoolish’. Why? To assuage my own fears that she might not be learning the right things, fears conditioned by my own years of being schooled. Also, I needed to be the authority figure, to have my daughter unquestioningly do what I told her to do. I suppose I could have used some sort of coercion to force her to do my assignment, like take away a playdate or fun outing if she did not comply. In school, I remember the teachers telling kids that they had better do the assignment or they would “get a big, fat goose egg”. (It took me years to figure out that meant a zero.) But fortunately I remembered something crucial. I remembered that my relationship with my children is the most important thing in my life, and their relationship with me, at least for now, is the most important thing in their lives. And a good relationship, for us anyway, makes us more of who we are. It does not diminish us. It does not pit one will against the other. I talked to my daughter. I apologized. So did she. We spent some time together doing chores outside. I gave up on the writing assignment and made my daughter a math worksheet, like she had requested.
Does this mean that unschooled children do whatever they want to do? No. For me it means that my unschooled kids have input into their learning, a LOT of input and control. And that my need to see them learning needs to be in constant balance with maintaining a positive relationship. Later my daughter and I talked about her spelling/writing goal that she had set for herself; it continues to be a goal for her. She told me that, while I may be bored with her spelling assignments, she is not. So we will keep things the same. We have several activities that we do, but the most typical one is that I come up with three words for her to spell and she writes out a sentence or two using them. She does this whether or not she feels much like writing. She still has some control, though. Tonight she told me, “When I’m in a good writing mood, mom, you can tell because I’ll write more and embellish more. And when I’m not in a writing mood, I just write less.”
1 Thought To Exist In the Wild, by Derrick Jensen, Sun Magazine, November 2007 Issue 383