I thought I would occasionally share books on different themes! So, for this first time, let’s talk about parenting! So, with no further ado and in no particular order:
An oldie but goodie! Lenore Skenazy points out how today’s (western, mostly) children are less free than ever, how their weeks are filled to the brim with activities, school and homework and how we do not help them become competent adults by driving them everywhere and never let them do anything on their own. In our paranoid society (I have to say that the US seem to be way more extreme than Europe on this aspect!), letting a kid walk to school or to buy bread on their own is seen as odd at best, or even abusive. But how are children supposed to learn how to function on their own, all of a sudden, if we never let them gradually take on more responsibilities and learn new competences? Lenore Skenazy proposes small, fun challenges to let our kids be more independent, more confident, and ultimately safer!
What I’ve implemented: I’ve found it really interesting and I’m trying to regularly reassess the situation with my own children (who are 10 and 7) and see with them what they would like to try. My 10yo is extremely proud to walk to school on her own since September, and my youngest is thrilled to walk into the bakery on her own to buy a baguette while I’m waiting at the corner of the street, for example. It’s been really good for my oldest who sometimes lacks confidence.
This one may seems a bit odd, but trust me, it’s really interesting. I’m not religious (I’m an agnostic atheist) but it’s easy to see beyond this aspect of the Amish community. Amish children are both cherished and not coddled at all. Big families often living on farms mean a lot of housework, cooking, farmwork… and Amish children are expected to do their share of it all quite early on.
The authors don’t sugarcoat some less appealing aspects of the Amish living (the potentially dangerous farm environment, the relative lack of privacy, the pressure of the group to conform, the absence of higher education) but they also highlight more positive things: the network of relatives and friends always ready to lend a hand, the lack of electronic devices and television, and the fact that the children are encouraged to be helpful and autonomous, and are viewed to have value as a member of the family, not because of their performances at school.
What I’ve implemented: gradually giving them more chores. I’ve always asked them to set the table, since they were old enough to do it. Now they also put the dishes and cutlery into the dishwasher, put their clean clothes back into their wardrobes, and generally help around whenever I ask them to. I always thank them afterwards, just as my spouse and I thank each other for doing something, but I offer no rewards. They seem happy enough to have more responsibilities. They especially like to cook, and go fetch the mail or go down to the building’s basement to grab something from the pantry for me! I’ve also tried to expand my network and offer help to my friends who also have kids. We do not have to do this on our own, nor should we expect to.
(As a side-note, I see a lot of my friends bemoan the amount of housework they have to do. My mom also did so when we were kids. But neither she or my friends give any chores to their kids, and I remember as a child and a teenager feeling frustrated and guilty when my mother said how much she did around the house – which was true – but never allowed us to help. I felt both like she resented us a little for giving her so much work, but did not want us to help or to be more independant. I really did not want to behave that way with my kids, and this book only strenghtened my resolve. And it’s not that bad if the clothes are partially unfolded by the time they get into the wardrobe or if it takes twice as much time!!)
Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson make the (very compelling) point that anxiety often comes from a lack of control, and that our children nowadays lack control over their own lives. Their weeks are packed to the brim, they’re pressured to get good grades and perform well in their after-school activities, and when they get home, it’s only to be pestered by concerned parents about their homework. It can lead to them feel very anxious about their lives that they feel are decided by others (their teachers, coaches and parents), and to lack both free time (essential for self-reflection and growth) and sleep (the last one being made worse by smartphones, tablets and videogames). They then either become so anxious that it affects their mental health (anxiety and depression is an epidemic for children and teens now), or they give up on school or other activities because they feel like the only freedom they have is to resist parental pressure by doing exactly the opposite of what their parents want them to do. The authors propose to back off, especially with homework, and to offer children our help as ‘consultants’ instead of anxiously hovering over them and changing the home into a battleground where everyone loses.
In the end, our children’s lives are their own, and we cannot shield them from failure, nor is it healthy to do so. They have to find their own motivations and goals, and feel like they have a say about their own lives. And perhaps more than that, we cannot mold our children into something they are not – and don’t want to be.
What I’ve implemented: We never really fought at home about homework, but we did check homework and get antsy if the kids didn’t study as much as we like them to (especially the oldest, the youngest one has little homework). We decided to do just as they suggested, and offer our help if she needs it, but let her deal with it. She’s made a few mistakes that made us internally scream (forgetting to study for a test, for example) but I think she’s learnt from it, and she seems glad that we trust her to ask for help if she needs it (she often does). We’ve always let them play unsupervised/read/daydream a lot, and continue to do so. That time is very precious and should not be taken away from them. We also let them dress as they like (as long as it’s relatively weather-appropriate), even if the mix of colours that my youngest chooses often gives me a headache. There are a lot of areas where we can give our children some control, depending on their ages of course. It really helps giving them confidence and agency over their lives, and also teaches them to deal with the consequences of their actions.
What are the books about parenting and education that you’ve found useful and valuable? Let me know in the comments!
As usual, be well, be kind, be thankful. Until next time!