Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reflecting

Our family is home again after spending 5 days with 700 people at an unschooling conference. This conference is the one family vacation that we find a way to afford each year. We spend time with like minded families talking, making music, learning, and laughing. While reading the online group list for people who attend the conference, the facebook group wall and interacting with people over the long weekend one thought kept tripping me up. I would read something or see a behavior of someone attending and I would think, "That makes the conference look bad."  Because the conference is so important to our family, a sacred time when we get to turn a hotel into a home that we share with some of our favorite people in the world, I feel protective. I don't want anything to ruin this amazing experience. I want everything that is said and done to reflect well upon the conference and unschooling.

Considering there are 700 people with diverse backgrounds, all at different places on their journey as parents, as unschoolers, and as people, it's not a realistic expectation that any of us can make it through a weekend of too little sleep and too much stimulation without ever saying or doing something we might think better of during our usual day to day life. I can think of several times when I was reactive, I know there were situations that I could have responded to with more compassion, and there were even a few moments when I could have interacted with children more respectfully.

As the weekend progressed I found myself thinking a different thought, "Why is it anyone's job to make the conference look good?" It's a crazy and intense time and everyone there is doing the best they can in the situation. People attend for the same reasons my family attends, and maybe for a few reasons all their own. We aren't there to make the conference look good, we are there to embrace the experience, to learn and grow and have fun. We learn as much from the moments when we don't quite get it right as we do from those moments when we think, "I totally rock!" What we don't need is people criticizing our less than stellar moments because we might be making the conference or unschooling look bad. What we do need is people supporting us and saying, "Hey, it looks like you're having a rough time, can I help?"

I started to think about how parents want their children's behavior to reflect well upon their family. Parents get upset when their kids do something that might make the parents or the family look bad. Parents want their kids to get good grades, succeed in sports and/or the arts, and to be polite, among other things, to make the parents look good. Your children aren't here to make you look good. It isn't your child's job to do things your way so you can bask in the glow of having a "good kid." Your children are here to learn and grow and have fun. Your children are here to be their authentic selves, not to be a "good kid." Life can be crazy and intense and over stimulating. There will be times when your children are frustrated because something didn't turn out the way they hoped it would, they will be in emotionally difficult situations, they won't always do or say what they wished they had done or said. In those moments they don't need punishment, criticism or an "I told you so!" In those moments they need our unconditional love. They need someone there to say, "Hey, it looks like you are having a rough time. I'm here for you in what ever way might help."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I'm a better parent when...

I have been sick for a few months. The herbs, vitamin therapy and medication are starting to have an effect and my energy is beginning to increases. This is a very good thing, particularly since my husband suffers from chronic illness and our family depends upon me to be the parent who consistently functions. However, I have noticed that the improvement of my health has actually caused some challenges in  being the parent that I want to be. When I was exhausted, sitting on the couch for hours out of the day watching multiple episodes of "Bones" on Netflix was fine. When I was sick and doing the absolute bare minimum to get through each day my expectations for myself and everyone else were also at a bare minimum. Now that I am starting to feel better I want to get things done. I want to make up for the months of inertia, get the house cleaned up, get rid of piles and generally do everything that I haven't managed to do in the past 1.5 decades of parenthood. As my expectations increased I realized that in some ways I was a better parent when I was sick. Our life was a mess but our relationships were better. I had all kinds of time to be present for my children. I wasn't hurrying about trying to get things done and getting annoyed if they interrupted with needs or if they didn't feel the same need to get things done. When I was too tired to crochet while sitting on the couch, I was too tired to fight my body's need for rest. I rested all the time. Now that I have energy sometimes I stop paying attention to my body and try to do more than I have energy to do. As a result I get tired, frustrated, and irritable with my family.

This experience has reminded me take time to reflect when there is conflict or tension in the house so that I can figure out what is keeping me from being the parent I want to be. I find it interesting that something so wonderful as feeling healthy and having energy was having negative repercussions. As we all readjust to the most recent changes in my health, changes for the better, I'm reminded that all changes require a period of adjustment. When I stopped to think about it I realized that this is actually quite common for families. Things that are supposed to be good, that should be fun or could be positive, result in the need for a period of adjustment, turn out to be a bad fit for the family or require an adjustment of expectations or attitude on the part of the parents. When we are growing and learning as a family change is constant. We are continually adjusting to where each person is on their journey. It should not surprises us when things get out of balance.

When change happens and we are adjusting we need to remember that it is a process. We need to remember that not everyone will adjust to change in the same way or in the same amount of time. As parents we are adjusting to our children's ever growing skills and abilities at the same time they are adjusting to having those skills and abilities. We are adjusting to having a baby who now walks at the same time our baby is adjusting to being able to walk. We are adjusting to having a teenager who dates at the same time our teenager is adjusting to dating. I am adjusting to having more energy and being able to get things done at the same time as my children are adjusting to having a mom who wants to zip around and clean up the house.  Focusing on our relationships with our children, and our connection with them, can make meeting all of our various needs during times of adjustment easier.