while you were dragging that stick through the dirt

I used to be into the Love and Logic books and methods for successful parenting – not so much now. As a result of a class we enrolled in over a year ago I’m still getting the program’s weekly emails, consisting of “tips” – alternately douchey, authoritarian-sounding advice (“Is Your Family A Team?”) vs. decent advice (“Looking Calm When We’re Not”) – and ads for seminars and products to buy.

Ultimately, I’ve decided L&L reeks of control and manipulation. I don’t think it means to, and I genuinely think some of the methods, when practiced by adults who have their shit together, are good ones; I’ve employed some of them. But Love & Logic sets up family environment as a conflict where no matter what the parent must TRIUMPH over the will of a non-cooperative child, a team sport where the grownups make sure they win out over their children through humane-seeming, but ultimately domineering, principles and occasionally ridiculous, cumbersome consequences meant to mirror “natural” ones (whatever that means).

Today I was thinking of the temptation to not want to be made a fool of by our children, while I hung up the kids’ clothes in the closet and they played outside. It was that little voice that piped up, they’re playing while you’re working, and it reminded me of my own family’s, “Kids need to learn…” mantras. As in, “kids need to learn things aren’t handled for them”, “Kids need to learn how to clean up after themselves”, “Kids need to learn their actions have consequences”, etc. etc. It took me a few years but now I feel genuine puzzlement or delight when I hear such foolishness. I was part of a “need to learn” upbringing, and in most ways I didn’t give a damn about doing housework or handling my own stuff – until I was an adult. I do housework joyfully and rather well, these days. Because being out in the world I made it my own.

These days – for now – I have come to believe young children’s best primary job is to play. Not to be sitting in a desk at school, or being smacked by other kids at free-for-all recess, or zoning in front of a television, or being shuttled about from fast food restaurant to t-ball game etc. No, simply to play – and if possible and appealing to them, outdoors. I have been continually astounded by my children’s imaginative abilities and desire to play: ten thirty at night, after bath, and my daughter wants nothing more than for me to take up her little plastic dinosaurs with her and make up elaborate scenarios for them. She still has steam; I am tired and ready to sip a glass of wine and watch an old movie. Most parents reading this will relate, and pause thinking how uniquely play-oriented our children are. Can we trust to nature and let them play?

Yes, meanwhile, the child grows and needs to be fed and washed and have their clothes mended.
Yet my children do more work voluntarily around the house than my brother and I did. I have dealt with the potential chore discrepancy and resentment rather successfully – so far* – through a few principles:

Number one, self-talk. I try to tell my kids why I do what I do, and this includes the work around the house. Kids learn what they see you doing; if they see you taking care of yourself, of them, and of the home in a joyful, matter-of-fact manner, they may adopt similar attitudes and behaviors.

Number two, again – freedom. Children being allowed to do what they want, and then fed a decent meal, you can sit down at the table and say, “Do you guys want to finish reading your book then come help clean up your room?” The answer has so far most always been Yes. If the answer is No you can ask them what, then, they expect to do? I have found that being agreeable to their wants and predilictions, combined with the self-talk I exercise, makes them ready in equal measure to assist in age-appropriate jobs around the house.

And number three: responsible ownership. My children have so few toys that there is no mess they can make in their room that doesn’t take about fifteen minutes to clean up. The kids seem to enjoy their room and the ease they can clean it; last week Nels even took the initiative to mop, in order to prepare the room for his favorite game, that of Restaurant (the children have named the establishment “Pumpkin Jack’s”). If my children learn, as I feel, that it is a joy to care for their material posessions and treasure them, they will be ahead of my young adult self when I gained emancipation.

It is in play, freedom, and autonomy that my children grow their personalities, pick the things that are important to them, and perhaps most importantly exercise their considerable – considerable – vigorous natures to a full extent. They remind me that the adult world is often a grim one of power plays and resentments; they encourage me to take a sip from their boundless energies and emerge refreshed.

* Altho’ I do notice the Universe often deals me a dish of, “Yeah, you think you got it figured out? Try THIS on for size” whenever I’m feeling peaceful and triumphant on a familial issue…

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