Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Say no and mean it

I am a parent of two well-mannered, respectful and attentive children. Of course, like most kids, mine don’t always get along with each other or listen to what I say or do what I ask them to quite when or how I ask them to do it but, for all that it drives me up a wall when they’re like that, I understand that parenting is all about process, and my relationship with them is dynamic. They are growing and learning and developing skills and habits that will serve them well later on. I am proud of their growth, and I am confident that they will both become quality people in their own, individual way.

I have confirmed that, if I would occasion it, I as the parent must be the both the standard and the example of what such growth looks like. I must be the teacher, the arbiter, the model and, without being so overtly, the director of my children’s learning. It is work to do this well and none of us does it perfectly. Yet, I stand by the belief that, if we would have our children become people of quality, with an appropriate understanding of self and an ability to examine with consideration their behavior and their choices, then we must do so consciously. If we are what we eat, then surely our children will be what they are parented to be. Children who are left simply to be may enjoy a youth free from the imagined burdens of responsibility, but I would argue that they do so at incredible risk to their safety and at a not inconsiderable cost to their ability to make good decisions on their own.

One of the most important ways in which parents can--indeed, must--contribute to the wellbeing of their children is to provide clear, consistent boundaries that both protect them from grievous harm and help them interact well interpersonally. Number one on the “how to” list of contributions involves just a single word: No. Judiciously and uniformly used, this small word guides children to an understanding of what is safe, what is socially acceptable and, when used with its antonym, offers solutions and possibilities for children to use as a means to think critically and independently about their world. It must be recognized, however, that words are powerful and, if they are wielded indifferently, without concern for their effect, they can create more problems than they solve.

If you tell a child no, as a parent you are using your position of experienced authority (a position that your children want to accept) to instruct them. If you throw the word around nonchalantly (and most especially if you don’t stand by it once you’ve used it), at least two consequences follow naturally: First, the child will no longer accept your decisions as valid on their face, and second, your position as experienced authority figure will be lessened. Either of these means you must work harder as a parent to instruct your children. Both of them together create a relationship between you and your children that is at best adversarial, and that can very easily become treasonous.

I suspect that many parents hesitate to enforce their disapproval either because they are not truly convinced that it is required or because they worry that doing so will engender bitterness (i.e. a fit), conflict (i.e. a shouting match) or resentment of them as individuals, but neither of these is a compelling reason to abandon the decision once it has been made. You are the parent. It is your right (and, indeed, your responsibility) to make decisions on behalf of your children. Show confidence and judicious consideration in making them, and do so not out of fear, but out of confidence that you are directing your children to become wonderful people. If it means saying no, say it, and have the resolve to stand by your choice. Your children, ultimately, will thank you for it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Wayfarer House Monday News Bulletin

First, some news from around the world…

The U.S. gave a good showing against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final, but lost 3-2. I watched the game on Univision (we don’t have ESPN), which makes the game all that much better because of the colorful commentary. GOOOAAAAALLLL!

I also learned, right in the middle of the game, about Zelaya’s ouster in Honduras. I’ll be following the events there with some interest, with the hope that it does not explode into a humanitarian disaster.

Iran has begun recounting ballots from its recent election. Good job sticking with the rule of law, guys! We’re proud of you over here!

And in local news…

Caleb and Maeve had their first offer on a house rejected. This is, no doubt, a relief to Caleb, who is concerned about money what with two girls going into pre-school next year. Our collective heart goes with them as they embark on the journey of house ownership. We’re not anxious to see them go, even though we know it’s a good thing for them. We just hope that the process of finding a home of their own treats them well.

Karla’s health improves steadily, and she is on her way to the local community college in the fall to study alternative healing. She wants to help people in a way that is her own, and hands-on healing feels right to her. She’s had some good and powerful experiences with different kinds of hands-on healing over the last couple of years, and has seen how positive the results can be. I think it is admirable that she wants to share that experience with others.

The Wayfarer House younglings are home at “Camp Papa” this week. Today’s exciting agenda includes a trip to the vets and the library, helping Papa mow the lawn, playing in the pool (after it’s been refilled) and taking a nap (or at least watching Papa take one, which is good enough for me). They will be grateful, I’m sure, to start their outdoor camp experience one week from today.

Wifeness is looking for a teaching job. She had an interview at a local high school, but isn’t holding out much hope. She’s a victim of the classic catch-22. Schools (especially in the current climate) want teachers with experience. She doesn’t have any (of the traditional variety, anyway) and can’t get any if no one will give her a job. Man, we need to get this school thing up off the ground!

There is, of course, much more going on in my world, but the kids need me to get started with my day. I hope yours goes well!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

School is done.

Grades are out. Most passed. Many did amazing work.

Stuff has all been packed and moved to my new classroom. I’ll explain later.

There’s no soccer or athletics to deal with. I’ll have to explain that later, too, I think.

Plants have come home.

I can breathe deeply now.

It’s nice to be able to post.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Not Survival Mode

A number of people who read this blog have asked where I’ve been this last month. To answer all the questions at once, there is nothing wrong. I am not highly stressed, and we are not in the grips of crisis here. Nor am I in “survival mode”. In survival mode, the extraneous elements of life are surrendered and we are left with only what must be in order to endure. Rather, it’s more like “prevention mode”. I’ll employ that term (for lack of something more erudite) to describe the prophylactic efforts we all undertake at times to avoid the catastrophic. Suspenders and a belt. In “park” with the emergency brake on. CDs and a geek stick. We engage in these habits, fully aware of their disproportion, because we cannot dismiss the feeling that, without them, something bad might happen. Nonsensical when we are navigating life at a pace and in a style familiar and predictable to us, such measures serve as a security blanket in times of frenetic unpredictability.

The end of school for me is the culmination of long effort on the part of my students. It is a time when they examine what they’ve done, where they are in the continuum of their work, and many are finding that they are not as ready to move on as they would like. Time is short, though, and the effort necessary to accomplish their goals often requires a lot of last-minute negotiation, organization and collaboration. There are countless spontaneous conversations during the days now when students ask can retake an exam, get help on their research, show me their presentation activity. They want to know if I’ve looked at their papers, if their pen-pals have written back. Can I help them make a phone call?

In order to accommodate the mental strain from all this, I find myself doing things I don’t need to do under normal circumstances. I stop trying to keep track of things in my head, for example. There is just way too much information flow, so everything gets written down. Meetings, reminders and notes all live in their right places in my computer, and I make no decisions without them. All the paperwork I get is (for me) meticulously organized so I can know where to find what I need and what must receive first priority. This is not the time to retain the inventory mentally.

I also notice that I take measures to protect my reserves of energy. I need naps more and I eschew activities that might leave me too tired to take on all that my students might throw at me in a given day. It is unfortunate that blogging, being more of a creative endeavor than a therapeutic one for me, requires more mental and psychological effort to maintain than I can easily summon without risking burnout. I know this is so because, when I think, “This would make a great blog post,” all the little warning lights in my subconscious go off. This is a time of year when I find it important to heed the warning lights.

Although I have much to share about what we’re doing here at Wayfarer House, it will need to wait just a couple more weeks, until the bulk of the frenzy at school has subsided. Until then, know that things are going as they should. Wifeness and the girls are well. The community is moving forward. Summer has arrived.