Saturday, February 2, 2008
I've been thinking lately about the challenge we have as parents in figuring out where to draw the line in responsibility for our children. I mean, on a basic level, we, as adults, are ultimately responsible for our children. Legally, we are responsible. But as unschoolers, many of us choose to take a very different view. I, as a human being, am not responsible for the actions of another human being. I can no more control another person's actions as hold back the tide. My children are individuals, they are autonomous, they are not me, and yet every single day, I struggle with this very reality.
So much of our society tells us that we are responsible for controlling our children. And in many circumstances, I buy into that: Don't run in the library. Look both ways before crossing the street. Keep your voice down! Don't touch that. Be careful. Whatever. But last night I heard something that really helped. "If it doesn't have my name on it, it's not my responsibility."
This is good for me. Slogans and simple phrases help me figure out in the moment what's right for me. My daughter Janey's bedroom? Not mine, she can keep it as messy as she likes. The carpet in Janey's room? Sorry, it's mine. The title to the house is in my name. If she spills nail polish on the carpet, it's a big hassle for me, that one's mine. My son Charley's tendency to go without socks in the middle of winter? Not mine. As long as I know I can put up with the whining several hours after we leave the house because his feet are cold, he's on his own. If I know I just won't be able to deal with it, I stick a pair of socks in my bag. It becomes mine when I know I won't be able to let it go. His teeth? Well, technically they're his, he should be able to choose whether or not to brush, right? Wrong. The dental bills come to me, in my name. Until he's old enough to pay for that, dental hygiene is mine, too.
I've had an issue in the past with feeling overly responsible. For other people, mostly. Are you okay? Comfortable? Happy? What do you need? It's been hard work to realize that taking care of me is a big enough job. But when it comes to parenting young children, it gets tricky. How much do I let go? How often do I intervene? When is it necessary and appropriate for me to control my children? My head spins just thinking about it. But the big lesson I'm getting these days, is that when I take care of myself first, it's good for all of us. My kids are learning first hand how to do that for themselves. I can already see Janey's tendencies to put others' needs before her own. She's the oldest, and like me, is very good at caring for others. Not a bad quality. As long as she's not sacrificing her own happiness in the meantime. Like Janey, I have to be careful not to stick my nose into places it doesn't belong.
My kids have already learned that they are very capable people. Years of making their own choices and figuring out what works for them on their own has taught them that they do know what's best for them. When I slip up though, and try to control when it's none of my business, they let me know. It's very uncomfortable all the way around. It's humbling, but important. Another opportunity for me to listen; really listen to my children. When I'm tired, or irritated, or frustrated, it's hard to listen. But I try. I try, every single day to give my children the same respect I would like to receive in return. And most days, it works. If it doesn't have my name on it, it's not my responsibility.