I've been reading from an author lately by the name of Alfie Kohn, who wants us to think of our long-term goals for our children and think of how our parenting contributes to reaching these goals. There's a quote I've read that reminds us, "We aren't raising children, we are raising adults." Would you want your child to grow up into a happy, healthy, confident person? Would you want them to be an ethical person? Do you want them to be blindly obedient to those who tell them to do things or think for themselves? The way we parent can have a significant impact on what kind of adults kids become.
As the kids are getting older, now 6, 4, and 2, I'm seeing more and more the wonderful people they are becoming. Despite common parenting advice about strict discipline and warnings about how children are "manipulative" and that they cannot and should not be trusted to make their own choices in life, we've been doing pretty darn well without it all.
Our kids choose when to go to bed, often staying up late. They choose where to sleep, often in our bed. Ava is proud she was able to choose if she wanted to homeschool or public school. They can choose how to dress. They choose if they are going to wear a coat on a cold day, often going without (I bring one with in case they change their mind). They choose how much supper they are going to eat by listening to their own body.
Yes, whenever possible, I try to allow the kids to have freedom and choices. Depending on the day, some days are harder than others for me to let go of the desire to control their every move. But I'm a work in progress. I've learned that the days things aren't going smoothly are usually the days that I've tried to be controlling or forceful in some way. On most days though, this seems to be working well for us. It also has given them the confidence to make their own decisions and truly be themselves. I'm enjoying seeing their natural generosity and helpfulness coming out.
I know every parent has glowing examples of things their children do that make them proud. These are a few of my recent examples that I want to be able to look back and read someday when my kids are older...
A short time ago, we were at an indoor play park. A girl a few years older than Ava came in who had what I'm guessing was cerebral palsy. Ava had previously met another girl with a similar disability who is a friend of John's aunt. I made a quick note to Ava when the girl came in about how she was born with a disability and she may not be able to play and talk in the same way as other kids. Ava quickly went up to her and befriended her. Her aide told us the little girl loved Spanish so she and Ava were saying Spanish words they knew. The rest of the time, Ava played with the little girl in the park. Afterwards, the girl's aide came up to me and said how much they appreciated that Ava played with her and wasn't afraid of her. She said everywhere they go, kids and their parents are afraid to talk to her and the little girl loved having a playmate.
Another recent time at a kids play center, the kids brought their quarters to spend on whatever they liked. Noah spent most of his on the candy machines. He and Ava began sharing their candies with the kids around them. One mom got angry and started scolding her kids for taking the candy. So, without any direction from me, Noah began going around to the parents at the play center asking them if he could please share his candy with their children.
The kids have also started showing some great maturity when they have had the opportunities to take on bigger responsibilities. The other day at a craft store we were at, Noah was very upset that we were leaving. His little sister was getting tired and had had enough and so we unfortunately had to get going. Since Noah was so upset, I carried him out and Ava, without being asked, took it upon herself to take over the rest. She pushed Amora out in the cart. Got her into her car seat, then opened up the back of the van and loaded our bags in, shut it and returned the shopping cart. Then hopped into her seat and buckled up, all while I was getting Noah in.
The kids also have never been punished if they say a "swear word." We don't censor what movies they see unless we think they'll be upset by something violent or scary. They've heard plenty of cursing. Instead of punishing them, it makes sense for us to explain that many people we know would be offended if they used these words around them. You know, just like many adults censor themselves around their grandma! The kids don't wish to offend anyone so they don't use the words. My brother joked once that it seems like swear words were invented just to get children in trouble for saying them! They are, after all, words that are part of our language, our expressions, our culture. Kids hear them all the time whether a parent chooses to refrain from using them or not. So why are children treated harshly for doing what children are designed to do: To learn language and everything else around them from those around them and from their community and culture.
Ava once left a message on her grandma's answering machine and, in trying to say two different words according to her, the word "shit" came out! She came running to me very upset about this. I told her it was okay and grandma wouldn't be mad. She insisted I call her grandma immediately and tell her NOT to listen to the message and to erase it as SOON as she go home. I was actually really surprised at her reaction since I had never made a big deal about swear words other than telling the kids that other's might feel bad if they hear them.
My kids teach me so much about the true nature of kids...and people in general. If given the respect and responsibilities and freedoms that we all deserve, they will more often than not, rise up to it.