December 3, 2007

Commitments & Taking Children Seriously

I've been thinking that to someone who is new to unschooling, my question about honoring commitments might be confusing. In mainstream parenting if your child commits to a team sport or a lesson, he's committed. He sees it through. End of story. If someone had asked me for advice on my current situation four months ago I would have said, "The child said he wanted to take the class, you're paying for it, he needs to learn that commitments should be honored and get his butt to class."

But that was before I discovered the unschooling lifestyle and Taking Children Seriously. Now I look at things differently, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to explain where I'm coming from for those of you who are new to these ideas. I'm still pretty new to them myself, but I'll do my best to explain the philosophy of Taking Children Seriously as I understand it today, on day 84 of our unschooling adventure.

As far as I can tell, it's all about treating my child the way I want to be treated. It sounds ridiculously simple but it changes everything. Just think of all the things you might do or say during the course of a day that minimize your child's wishes in favor of accomplishing your own goals. Now imagine taking those wishes seriously and really trying to make adjustments for them. Actually, I'm envisioning my niece and her frequent desire to dump all the liquids in my sister's refrigerator onto the floor, as I write this. Okay, stop imagining that. To be honest, if you have a toddler, I have to tell you right now that I have no idea how this works with toddlers. If I had known about this philosophy when my son was young I would have tried it and I would have loads of advice for you, but I had never even imagined such a way of life existed back then. I mean, I was into attachment parenting and the family bed and all that but this is a whole new ball game. (For real life experiences in Taking Children Seriously with toddlers and younger kids try the Parenting Pit and Happy@Home.)

Anyway, I digress.

Let's move on to commitments since I can't seem to explain Taking Children Seriously very well and for some reason their website is down so I can't even cut and paste an explanation for you. [The Taking Children Seriously site is back up! Click here for a link.]

How will a child learn to honor his commitments if he is never forced to honor them? Well, how did you learn to honor your commitments? It's unlikely that you honor commitments today because you were forced to honor them as a child. I don't even think honoring commitments is a lesson that can be learned (or taught), now that I think about it. Sure, you can drill a sense of duty into a person but what does that accomplish, really? And is a sense of duty something we want to cultivate in our children? For me the answer is no. You can always tell when a person is doing something out of duty because most often there's no joy in it. I want Jerry to approach his commitments with joy--not duty.

And here's another thing I know about Taking Children Seriously. It requires that you always expect the best of your child. For example, if Jerry commits to doing something and suddenly doesn't want to go, I need to expect that he has valid reasons for wanting to bail out. I should not leap to the conclusion that he doesn't want to follow through because he's lazy. That one little alteration in thinking makes a really big difference.

Okay, since I'm having trouble explaining where I'm coming from here I'm going to fall back on Rue Kream, author of my favorite unschooling book to date, Parenting a Free Child: An Unschooled Life. I've been trying to adhere to this list, from the back of her book, lately.

Fifteen things I wish adults would not imply to children
by Rue Kream

1. I don't trust you.
2. You don't try hard enough.
3. I can boss you around because I'm bigger.
4. Adults know everything.
5. You don't know what you're capable of.
6. Possessions are more important to me than you are.
7. You should believe what I believe.
8. Your feelings are not important.
9. It's okay to ignore kids.
10. I don't have time for you.
11. You have to earn my love.
12. I want to change you.
13. You owe me respect.
14. I know what's best for you.
15. You're not a whole person.

So, those are all things I'm trying hard not to imply to Jerry. And by not implying those things I'm taking him seriously. By taking him seriously I'm setting a fine example of what it means to commit to someone (Jerry) or something (parenting) out of love, rather than duty. And that's how I'm teaching him to honor his commitments.*

Sheri, at SwissArmyWife, recently posted something on a similar topic: the Golden Rule. If we apply it to each other shouldn't we apply it to our children too? You can read her post by clicking here.

*I hope you can tell by now that what I mean when I say I'm "doing" something is that I'm STRIVING to do it. I'm not saying I do it all the time. That's my goal, but I'm human and I'm new to this so I don't, by any stretch of the imagination, have this nailed down. I just wanted to make that clear. :)

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