YOUR CHILDREN ARE PEOPLE NOT PROJECTS
My children are 12 and 13. Just the other day, on our afternoon walk, their dad and I were discussing how the last couple of years has felt like a shift from parenting to guiding. They are so obviously independent, so expressive and opinionated these days. In the early years it was easy to feel like my children were an extension of myself. In a world where I made all their meals, tied their shoes, helped them with crafts, and did most everything else for them, it took constant reminding that they were their own individual selves. I’ve made real efforts to treat them as such, although I know I don’t always get it right. Their individuality was most easily seen in those early years when I looked at their outfits: a combination of a super-hero cape and their favorite pants that were now capris- plus the light-up shoes I swore I’d never buy. This desire within me to allow their individualism to blossom often led to some tongue-biting when they proudly bounded out the door in these outfits- outfits I now look back at fondly & cherish in my mind.
While it may have begun with outfit choices, their desire to express themselves and figure out who they are has become evident in many other ways as they’ve gotten older, from the shows they like to watch to the books they like to read to the subjects and hobbies they most like to study and cultivate. Being their mother and their teacher presents a unique set of circumstances. In addition to the challenges of parenting in a way that makes them feel seen, heard, and respected, I’m also trying to educate them in the general knowledge I know they need in order to be successful on whatever path they choose, while also recognizing, respecting, and making lots of space for their individual interests. In trying to do all of this, it’s easy to slip into the habit of viewing our days as checkmarks to put down on my to-do list. It’s easy to see school as something I need to get done, rather than my child’s avenue of self-discovery and self-expression. But I can tell you, after thirteen years of parenting and five years of homeschooling, the most important thing to remember is that your children are people not projects. Treating them as such will result in earning not only their respect, but their trust, admiration, and friendship as well. Yes, I said friendship. We all likely grew up hearing the phrase, “I’m their parent, not their friend.” But I believe it’s possible to be your child’s friend. Not the kind of friend who lets them get away with things, but the kind of friend that encourages and treats them in a way that leads them to seek you out for advice, for reassurance, and for questions. As a homeschool parent you have the unique opportunity to watch your child blossom in home life and education.
First, as their parent, it is my responsibility to encourage my kids to be the unique people they are. As my kids have hit the teen years, their individuality has become more and more evident. There are times where I see that they share traits or tendencies with me or their dad, but there are many more times where they aren’t like either of us. They are their own person- a person who doesn’t need to me to constantly try to change them or make them better. When my kids were younger I used to joke, “The rules in this house keep you safe and me sane.” Sadly, it was true, in that many of the rules had nothing to do with bad behavior; I just wanted them to act in a way that fit MY personality, MY desires. Many of the rules didn’t respect who they were becoming or their feelings. Our home is just as much THEIR home, and as the grow-up it is my job to make certain they feel safe, seen, and free to be themselves within these four walls. New questions, ones that I think are important for all of us to ask when setting guidelines within our home are, “Does this keep my kids safe or does it keep me sane?” and, “Does this teach my child to be respectful of someone’s feelings, or does this elevate my feelings above my child’s?”
I’ll give you an example of each:
The first one- my sanity. My daughter loves doing art. Her projects sit out in what to me looks like a mess, but it’s her process. Do I insist she clean up her space everyday when it only bothers me? No, because it’s her space. If that mess were in a common shared space, it would need to be put away because we all enjoy that space together. As it is, she’s free to keep it how she likes it. She has learned over time, on her own, what’s appropriate when certain things get misplaced or broken.
The second one- respect. If I’ve had a long day, and I just don’t feel like talking, do I tell my kids to stop asking so many questions? Do I snap at them for being too loud? If I want to model respect for them, I simply tell them I’m tired right now, and I’m going to take some quiet time for myself. THEY don’t have to be quiet. I can find a quiet place for myself. I realize this only works with older children, but the idea is no less important with younger kids. We must learn to balance their enthusiasm for life and connection with our possible need for quiet and rest in a way that is respectful. This is the difference, for us, in teaching them to respect others while still being respectful of them.
Those two questions can help us as parents to set intentional parameters in our home that don’t make our children feel less-than but do help them become kind adults.
Our children best learn respect and thoughtfulness when we model it in the way we treat them.
I certainly have goals for my children’s education. I want them to be well-read, to excel in math & science, to be critical thinkers. I highly value education and the doors it opens for you to live a comfortable life, but I also just as passionately believe that educational success does not have to come at the expense of our child’s self-worth or assurance that they are loved for the fact that they simply exist. I do not believe that they need to be micro-managed or over-corrected. No matter how young or how old, children want what we all want- to valued, to be heard, to be considered, to be respected, to be forgiven when they make mistakes, and to be loved unconditionally. Even in our everyday, seemingly mundane school lessons, we have the opportunity to build them up or tear them down, to silence them in our sea of to-do’s or give them the freedom to become who they are, to cultivate our relationship or treat them as a project, to build their confidence or shake their faith in their natural abilities.
These are several ways to respect your child in regards to their education:
Involve them in selecting topics of study. A few subjects are non-negotiable- math & reading. But in most other subjects, you have a lot of freedom giving your child a voice in what they study and when. When your child’s voice counts in most areas, they are more likely to do the work they don’t like as much in the other areas.
Involve them in setting the daily schedule. Again, with freedom to make as many of their own decisions as possible, kids will thrive. Just give them the chance.
Be aware of their individual learning styles.
Do not dismiss apathy or resistance as “bad behavior” or a “bad attitude” toward learning. More often, these outward behaviors are signs of lack of confidence, fear of failure, or struggles with understanding the material. Take the time to observe and truly get to know what may be the underlying issue behind these outward behaviors. It may be that the material needs to be set aside for later years, or it may be that a different approach to teaching it would work better. Whatever the case, let it be known to your kids that you care more about their emotional well-being than their academic achievements.
In everything we do, in every lesson we teach, let‘s remember that parenting and educating our children don't have to come at the expense of our relationship with them or their self-worth. Our children are not projects to be completed, objects to be fixed, or wild ones to be tamed. They are individuals, loved and adored; to be guided, nurtured, and protected; to be cheered on, encouraged, and taught well their value and worth. When we give them these assurances, we teach them kindness and respect that they will in turn show to others. We give them the gift of confidence that will go far in helping them achieve their own goals and aspirations, but most of all, we make them feel loved.