Good enough

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My approach to parenting thus far has been basically stumbling through it.

I’ve been lucky in that neither of the boys really had difficult babyhood issues – like sleep or eating.  I made decisions about things sort of going with the flow (e.g. co-sleeping with both of them for my sanity, because it really did teach both of them to sleep at night, not because I believe it’s a beautiful thing).

I guess I sort of thought we were getting away with it, really, this sort of ‘lazy parenting‘.  I see other people making really informed choices about their parenting styles (whether or not I agree with them, they’ve made a choice and they are sticking to it) and wonder if I am doing my kids a disservice.  What is good enough?  What is too much?  Did anyone worry about this stuff before our generation??

Then a couple of things kind of kicked us in the ass recently.

First is just Oliver’s behaviour in general.  I say ‘just’ because he’s a three year old boy.  As I haven’t parented a three year old boy before, I don’t know what is normal and what isn’t.  I do know that Mark and I are getting increasingly frustrated with him, and angry.  Some nights, everything is a fuss or a disaster.  Potty training is pretty much going nowhere. Dinner time, bed time, play time – sometimes it seems like everything is a fight.

So coincidentally last month I attended a training session at work, one where they’re giving us nice topics of work/life balance rather than technical topics – and it was Alyson Schafer speaking to the topic “why do my children do that”.  I’m so glad I went.

Everything she said made sense.  She is a Alderian psychologist, which doesn’t mean a lot to me since I have no memory of Pysch 101 back in 1996 or whenever (I hated that class, actually, because what I do remember is that it was entirely graded on multiple choice exams which is an evil way to demonstrate learning).

What makes sense is the motivating factors behind his behaviour.  He wants attention.  He wants independence.  That pretty much sums up everything he does – it’s clear.  So I need to read more of the book I just got, and Mark needs to read it too, but I am really trying to have more patience when he does act out, and look at WHY he’s doing it rather than getting into a power struggle or just walking away because in the moment, I’d really like to beat him over the head with a wet fish.  Sometimes.

And without blaming us, a lot of what is happening is down to us and how we react to him or what parameters we place on him.  Not that we are being horrible.  But that we need to support more and more independence (I think, actually, we are pretty good about that) and really listen to him more.  The frantic pace of our week, with work and daycare and so little free time, it doesn’t really allow for this.  So we will need to work hard to make it happen. 

I was looking forward to doing some more parenting learning next week as I had planned on attending a talk Barry Macdonald is giving on raising boys that was recommended by Alyson Schafer, but Mark has to go away on business to New Jersey for two days.  Damn.  I’ve asked Alyson to help me give my ticket to the sold-out show to someone else.


The other issue is giving me a headache.  Or maybe an ulcer.

We recently switched daycares.  We switched because Oliver will be going to Junior Kindergarten in the fall, and he needed to be at a local daycare in order to get transportation there.  The local daycare was not an option until Callum became old enough to enter as a toddler rather than an infant.

Oliver attended the previous not-local-at-all daycare for 2 years.  He enjoyed it.  I was happy enough with it.  Recently, they had started sending home a workbook for tracing letters of the alphabet as homework.  ‘Homework?!  He’s three!’ I said.

New daycare has no homework.  New daycare has no Spanish or French lessons, like the old one.  New daycare has no lessons, from what I can see.  It’s all play.  Play play play.  Play is good.  But he’s going to school in a few months.  And he can now read numbers and letters.  And I’d like to work on his writing.  And let’s keep developing these skills, right?  Where’s the homework, people?!

Last week, we attended an open house at a local Montessori preschool.  I knew nothing about Montessori, other than my mother pulled my brother out of one almost 30 years ago because, in her words, ‘all he was learning was how to clean a table’.  Mark and I went with an open mind and were initially very impressed with what we saw.

Also completely disheartened when they showed me a workbook of a kid the same age as Oliver who wrote and did math (long addition) perfectly.  Wow, hey, we are failing our kid!

Now suddenly we had these two divergent paths.  Keep him in daycare, all play all the time, be more responsible for his learning at home, and hope that when he starts with the Kindergarten curriculum in a few months, there will be more formal learning happening.  And I have no reason to question this because I do believe in public school.  And Mark and I are both products of public school and we’re okay (well, mostly. Heh.)

Or, switch to Montessori (and this Montessori appears to be a full-on-we-drank-the-koolaid-Montessori rather than a softer version).  Stay with the curriculum there until he’s 6.  No play (15 minutes at recess, that’s it), all learning.  All learning all the time, with their Montessori methods and tools.  Which are unique.  Like the thing where you have to do everything silently.  Wow, that’d be interesting with Oliver.

The cost isn’t really a factor; there is a small difference but not really enough for that to be a deciding factor.

There are also logistical questions – like how Callum fits into all of this.  He would be making the switch, too.  I also have some basic concerns about the Montessori’s licensing but that doesn’t really impact the boys, and that’s the important thing here. 

What impact will a seemingly severe change in their preschool education have? And the range of opinions out there about Montessori is huge.  Teachers say the kids are more prepared for the public school curriculum; then some teachers say they are less prepared.  Parents are happy; parents pull their kids out.  High spirited children do really well; high spirited children get kicked out.

I wish someone could tell me what to do.

I wish I knew what was good enough for him, for them.

13 Responses to “Good enough”

  1. crunchy Says:

    I am attending a Barry MacDonald things soon too. I have 6 year old.
    I still haven’t figured it out.

  2. Thanks for the link love!

    A couple of books that have really helped me with some of the issues you have described are “Hold on To Your Kids” and “Unconditional Parenting”. I haven’t read much of Alyson Schafer’s stuff, but what I did read made me want to vomit (literally and figuratively):

    I think that “parenting by instinct” is a great way to go most of the time, rather than listening to supposed experts. Do what feels right in your heart, not what some training method might suggest. The main drawback of parenting by instinct is that there is a tendency perhaps to default back into the way that our parents parented (because that is what we have seen the most of). That can be good, or bad, depending on how you were raised and how you feel about it.

    I wouldn’t say that I have made firm choices and I’m sticking to them. I would say that I like to read, listen, communicate, etc. because that helps inspire the way that I parent. I use those inspirations to affect my style and hope that I’m somewhat successful.

  3. EWiller Says:

    See, for me, your reaction to that cry-it-out entry (which, really, doesn’t have much anything to do with the behaviour stuff she is talking about in her new book or the training thing I went to) and the position you take on anything to do with parenting indicates to me that you do have a clear view of your own parenting belief system, with clear opinions that have been researched. And I really don’t.

    And so although I don’t agree with you on various things (I am not anti-CIO, but I’ve never had to use it, but I think it’s great when anyone can get some sleep again!), I totally respect that you have that strong opinion and you stick to your guns.

  4. jamie Says:

    Awwww, let him play! LOL! You’re opening yourself up to ALL KINDS of crazy parenting theories and such. I’ll give you mine in a nutshell, cuz you did ask for it, and I’m big on giving assvice 😉

    I think that we as a society put too much pressure on our kids to learn this, do that, learn this, read that at too early an age. Our kids don’t get a chance to be kids anymore.

    Case in point, when I was trying to teach Ephraim his numbers, he was totally not interested, not retaining anything, nothing. So I quit. I think it took just a couple of weeks and he was totally counting….

    Kids learn by playing, that’s been my experience.

  5. Has anyone really figured it out?

    I plan on stumbling through for as long as possible.

  6. Cristen Says:

    I also thought the montessori experience was weird – too quiet and calm. Where’s the energy expenditure? Good luck. If nothing feels right yet, keep touring places until it does.

  7. @ EWiller – I do have very clear opinions on some things. And on others, I’m still trying to figure it all out.

    @ Jamie I totally agree about the importance of play! So much so that I’m planning a 15 day Carnival of Play on my blog from April 1 to April 15. I’m hoping to generate some inspiration for me and for others on that topic.

  8. SCM Says:

    This is one of those times I’m glad I missed out on being a parent. A whole heap of decisions I don’t have to make.
    Good luck with it all.

  9. Emma Says:

    I have a book about boys that is fantastic, can’t think of the name right now but will send you a message when I find it. All I can say is that boys are totally different than girls!

    Saying that, I think that boys are more play focused. I do believe in the learn through play philosophy…who doesn’t love chalk and sock? When you put this out on facebook I replied that I read the blog of a girl who’s son is in a Montessori daycare. He is very smart, but I think that is in his nature, not just education. I know he takes science classes and I believe a language. He knows all the presidents of the US. What 3 year old needs to know all the Presidents?? I sometimes wonder just how much fun they have.

    Let them be little, that’s my vote!

  10. Emma Says:

    Having written all that, I am pretty sure you read the blog I mentioned…catwoman.

  11. kgirl Says:

    Play is work for a child, y’know? There will be plenty of homework later.

    And besides, that doesn’t mean that you can’t sit down with him and practice letters and numbers and colours, etc. I’m guessing you don’t need a handout from the daycare to ‘teach’ your child.

    Personally, I think the most successful parenting is parenting that’s done by instinct and trust (like, in yourself). Books and courses can offer handy tips that you might want to put into play, but really, nobody knows your child but you, and it sounds like you’re pretty in tune with your kids’ needs.

  12. Vic Says:

    The boy is 4. He’s been getting math homework for almost a year, and reading books now. Me, hell I didn’t even start to learn that stuff till I was 5. I’m not too bad off now. I reckon we push kids too much these days. Hopefully a diet of full on play will teach him social skills that will be more useful than knowing how to read a novel at his age.
    That said, go with your instincts, hopefully they’ll throw up the answers.

  13. […] it may be debilitating guilt, enough to trigger depression or worse. For others, it is occasional questioning whether stumbling through is good enough or wondering if there is a way to repair past mistakes. These mothers may feel overwhelmed by too […]

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