Thursday, September 2, 2010

The other side of The First Day of School

A friend posted on facebook that her daughter was headed to the bus stop. One of the comments on the post was "you are so lucky!!! My kids dont start till next week!!!"

Other parents have posted the Staples commercial that declares "It's the most wonderful time of the year again" because "Their going back!"

When a mother posts, "you are so lucky!!! My kids dont start till next week!!!" I wonder if her children are her facebook friends and know what she's posting. Then again, she is probably also saying it out loud in her home. Her children are hearing this message and, no matter what their age, they are internalizing, "I can't wait until you go away." In that moment it is hard to imagine that the child feels loved and cherished.

I used to send my children to school. I will admit that in the past I talked about how great it would be when my children were all in school. Then when they were in school, I did look forward to the beginning of school in the fall and the end of holiday vacations.

I also used to be that mother who yelled at her children and tried to control what they ate, when they slept, and tried to make them do chores. Notice that I use the word "tried" because I was not successful. Because I was not successful a vicious cycle of lack of success, more frustration and more yelling, which lead to less success and more frustration and more yelling, took over our family. You may not think that looking forward to the start of school and being a mother who yelled at her children are related. My life is an example of how directly connected they are.

When I stopped trying to control my children and started focusing on our relationship, and being respectful of them as people, things changed. When my relationship with my children changed from "controlling parent and child who should do what she was told", to "parent and child who are partners in the exploration of life" spending time together at home became easier, more fun and enjoyable. We have always been a family that had successful outings and enjoyed doing things together. We have always been a family that outsiders would look at and say "They are such a nice family." However, we have not always been a family that lived happily together in our home. For the most part it was because of me that our house was not always a place of peace, love and joy.

I changed my parenting before our children stopped going school. Because I changed how I was parenting my need for time away from my children decreased. Because I changed how I was parenting my children's desire to spend time with me increased. We have chosen to be a family who loves and supports each other. We have chosen to live a life of respect and connection. Because of this, our lives have been transformed. I can no longer imagine wanting my children to get on the bus and leave me for 7 hours. My children are sad when their friends go back to school, but they have no desire to get on the bus that drives past our house each day. Instead, on the first day of school we celebrate who we are as a family. In small ways we mark the day that reminds us how far we have come and the blessings of our chosen way of life.

If you are a parent who yells at your children and who looks forward to the first day of school I hope you will read the books that started me on this journey to a better life together as a family:

"Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Punishment and Rewards to Love and Reason." by Alfie Kohn

"Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming parent-child relationships from reaction and struggle to freedom, power and joy." By Naomi Aldort


  1. Jenna - i have found the same thing - the more peaceful my parenting becomes the more connected to my kids and the less i feel the need for 'me' time :)

  2. I agree! As much as I enjoy my "me" time, I can't imagine sending my kiddos away for so many hours/week. Although, this toddler phase is kicking my butt, so maybe just for pre-k ;) (jk)

    Also wanted to add Parent Effectiveness Training to your book list. Especially because I think it comes off easier for the mainstream folks to relate to--less curnchiness to swallow ;) and it still promotes coming from a place of respect and connection in our interactions with our children.

  3. Nicely done! As a homeschooling mom, I would love more time to myself, but I've never understood the whole "Thank God it's September!" thing. You addressed it very diplomatically.

  4. :) I think that all mothers would be happy to have a few extra hours to themselves. I choose not to take "me time" at the expense of my children's well-being. On the other hand, I know that not enough time for me leads me to be less than the mother I would like to be. One of the benefits of being with your children all the time is that you can find a flow that allows for me time, not always and sometimes not as much as would be ideal but some. I get up in the morning with my husband most days which gives me time alone after he leaves for work and before the girls are up. I have also learned to make sure I'm meeting the needs of my children, fill their cups to over flowing, so that they have times with less needs - which equals time for my interests. Children with unmet needs tend to be clingy and, well, needy. That sets up the negative cycle. It also gets easier as they get older.

  5. My neighbor up the street made a similar comment a couple weeks ago..."I can't wait till they go back to school." So sad. Every morning when I hear the school bus go by at some ungodly hour while we are all still snuggled up in bed together, I think how fortunate we are to be able to not do that. Living with children can be challenging, but that is because they challenge us to move out of our comfort zone and really work on ourselves. We can either fight against that and make them the enemy, or we can embrace that and be grateful for such great live in zen masters. Every moment is a choice, and sometimes I still fall into the old patterns of power struggles, but I never would wish my children on those buses.

  6. I wonder how ones even gets to "change" their parenting style....Did you read a lot of books, talk to the people in the "group" or what? Just curious how all of you guys are doing it....

  7. I LOVE THIS!!!! Thank you, Jenna!

    (I'm SO happy to NOT be sending Edie to school this year!)

  8. I don't need my children gone to have "me time."

    Thanks for sharing the way your desire for time apart changed when the relationship ceased being an adversarial one. That's something for people to think about.

  9. I don't think kids hearing "I'll be glad when they go back" feel less loved, necessarily, since they're also getting a slew of messages that school is good/best for them. It does, however, send a very big message about the relationship between parents and children, that parents aren't really supposed to want to be with kids "too much". Isn't that one of the number one questions homeschoolers get? How do we stand being with our kids all day? Betcha dimes to dollars every person who asked that question had a parent who breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the summer.

  10. Misty - reading the two books I mentioned at the end of my post really helped me a whole lot. Then finding people who were already parenting the way that I wanted to parent, on-line at first and then in person, really helped. :)

    Meredith - that's a good point. The girls' friends who go to school are convinced that they have to go to school to succeed in life.

    You should have heard our discussion this weekend when they were convinced that wizards must go to school before they get to Hogwarts. The fact that Rowling has said that wizards homeschooled, didn't faze them. The friends were convinced the kids would have had to go to school to learn math.

  11. I appreciate you found a situation that works for you. It strikes me, on observation, that you are talking about two things: school and control.

    In the issues of control, I agree with you. If you respect children as people, I think they both learn respect and empathy for others (even their parents!). Sometimes we can't always do that perfectly, but the important thing is to always to try and to keep trying.

    But some of us tell our children that they are lucky that they are going back to school. Hypersensitivity aside, part of educating someone young is recognizing the luxury and joys of an education. Many in the world sadly do not have that luxury. Do our children see it that way? Sometimes no--they like their weekends, summers and their own time. But sometimes yes. My daughter could not wait to get back to school this year and for all the right reasons. My son is admittedly less enthusiastic, but even he understands why it is important and significant. He has never once said "I am sick of school" or "I don't want to go."

    Love and support is always important in any family. But to imply going to school equates to being unsupportive and controlling isn't really fair, is it?


  12. G. My intention was to explore how changing my parenting changed my perspective on having my children home all the time.

    I do not think that I implied that children going to school had anything to do with being unsupportive and controlling. I did imply that if you are a parent who can't wait until the first day of school and/or you are a parent who yells at your children you might benefit from changes in your parenting and in turn changes in your relationship with your children.

    Families with children who attend school can be just as respectful and compassionate as families with children who stay home. Parents of children who go to school can be supportive and not controlling, if their children are choosing to go to school.

    Your children may enjoy school. However, your son may not feel comfortable saying that he is sick of school or doesn't want to go. Children who are told how fortunate they are to be able to go to school, or who have been told their whole lives that they have to go and that school is required to be successful, often don't tell the adults in their lives how they really feel about school. They may feel that doing so would only earn them a lecture or ridicule or their feelings would be discounted. Having a trusting relationship with your children enables them to share what they are really feeling about what is going on in their lives. Hopefully your son's true feelings about school would be respected and validated since you said you parent respectfully.

    Thanks for commenting. I hope this clarifies the intention on my blog post.

  13. I used to love school. Up until about 7th grade. I never in a million years would have thought we could live any other way than going to school. We moved between 7th and 8th grades and I ended up in the south in a school that was literally repeating material I had learned in 6th and 7th grades at my old school. The kids in my class had been friends since Kindergarten and had no room for a new friend. Teacher was a moron. No one talked to me (if they did, it was to create jokes at my expense) so I was lonely and bored out of my fricking mind. I cried all the time, I missed my old friends and felt I was falling behind on stuff my friends were learning while I was repeating 7th grade. I had no clue know what could improve my situation. All I could think was I wanted to move back or go to a different school! My mom kept saying to tough it out. I considered suicide but that seemed stupid, like I'd miss out on the good things life would bring later (driving, boys, kissing?!, college) plus I wanted to be strong.

    Anyway, years later my mom admitted that she should have tried to have me skip 8th grade and go into 9th. I doubt that would have "fixed" everything, but it's sad that she wouldn't do anything about it then. Wouldn't find a way to help me when I needed it the most - I have many many other examples of this. We had a terrible, adversarial relationship my whole life. She never had my best interests at heart. Now we don't talk because I choose happiness instead of misery, which is all I get when I talk to her. I have an awesome family and a wonderful life she knows nothing about. Sad, really.

  14. I am trying to become the mom who doesn't yell, and whose kids are well-behaved because they want to be, not because they have to be. We have just restarted homeschooling, and I really need to figure out how to accomplish the state requirements without making it too much "work" - after all, that's part of what I don't like about public schools.

  15. Xaia,
    Thank you fore all your comments :) I could never homeschool in the usual sense of the word, which often translates to school at home. When we realized we needed to free our oldest from the school system we were fortunate to learn about unschooling. :) Unschooling has brought our family closer together and made it possible for me to feel comfortable with and capable of taking our girls out of school.