When Not To Take Advice

unsure

How often do you receive parenting advice from well-meaning family, friends, and even strangers?

When my first was born it felt like I’d received a sticker on my forehead that said “New mom, criticize me.”

Strangers said I didn’t dress my baby warmly enough, friends gave me books saying I’d ruin my kid if I didn’t parent in a particular way, and comments from family that weren’t in the least meant critically would hurt.

I had received unsolicited advice before, but it ramped so quickly after having kids that I knew I’d have to come to terms with it somehow. I quickly learned I could never please everybody and I better find a way to make peace with critical comments.

Sometimes the advice made immediate sense in a kind of “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment. More often, the advice was at odds with something intentional I was doing. It was then that I would suddenly feel insecure.

I hit upon a simple and helpful question to ask every time a comment made me unsure of my path:

Has the person giving advice ever given me concrete, selfless, and timely help?

If the answer is “no,” then I’m free to listen to the comment graciously, say “thank you” and move on with my life without guilt.

If the answer is “yes,” then I need to take the time to consider the matter carefully.

In other words, listen to your mother.

But seriously, I’m not saying do whatever your told, my point is that only people who have sacrificed to invest in your life in a way that you personally find helpful and uplifting are the folks who are likely to have chosen their criticism carefully.

Advice is cheap and there is plenty of it spread around, but the folks who have invested in your life are to be treasured.

I’m not a puppet of those that help me, I just take what they have to say seriously and take the time to wrestle with their ideas.

Where this question is most helpful is when a comment is bothering me that really shouldn’t. The comments of haters on the internet is perfect example.

Somehow these comments hurt, but they are not based in reality – or only in a twisted way – and though we all know haters aren’t worth arguing with, their comments still hurt.

This question helps me see the matter more concretely and reminds me to turn to the faithful few in my life for perspective and advice and not to be blown by the winds of opinion.

If we set out to build a family culture according to our deepest values then we will bump up against established norms and ruffle feathers and get criticism. We need to stay calm, gracious, and confident in such exchanges and bounce right back again.

I hope this question helps you the next time you feel oppressed by negativity!

Making Peace With Your Path

dark-forest

Imagine life is like a vast forest that each of us explores as we make choices every day. Sometimes we’re on well-worn paths and sometimes we’re hacking through unmapped jungle.

Some of us know which direction we want to head, and others follow the next most-promising turn.

Most of us at some point climb a tree to get a view of the land we’ve covered and to get a glimpse of what the future could hold.

Often it’s hard to see that our own path lies far, far away from where we want to be.

Dreaming of the Future

It’s easy to stay seated in that tree and dream of flying machines that will carry us over the forest to our dream destination: financial freedom, security, physical beauty, children, world peace, having our own business, spiritual maturity . . .

When we are so far from where we want to be it seems that descending the tree into the dark forest and taking a step is futile.

So we stay up in the tree, dreaming of distant lands and hating our winding path of a past.

We need to learn to make peace with our path.

Where am I?

We need to be brave enough to accurately plot our position in the forest. For good or for ill we are where we are right now and we cannot wish it away.

If we want any hope of reaching better lands we must accept where we are and where we came from.

Only then can we determine the direction to follow, and only then can we drop the baggage of the past and find the strength to take the next step in the right direction.

And then the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and . . .

It is anything but easy. Dreaming in the tree is much more appealing (especially if we have our smart-phones with us).

The Struggler’s Advantage

But all is not lost or wasted. We might not see any advantage in our previous paths and our current situation, but they might hold some secret power that will brighten our future.

I didn’t grow up athletic, so when I first started running in college my whole body screamed in resistance. As I struggled through each step my encouraging runner-friend cheered me on. I realized then that no matter how hard my friend had trained all his life, he would never know the difficulty of making a sedentary body move for the first few times.

The people at the top of their fields often have never been at the bottom long enough to know what it feels like to be an outsider or an adult beginner.

Math teachers choose to teach math because they like and understand math and may never understand the struggle and feelings of inadequacy that many feel when presented with a math problem.

When it comes to helping others, our weaknesses might just become the source of our greatest strengths.

Unique Past, Unique Destiny

Our time exploring the part of the forest we didn’t want to be in gives us a unique perspective that equips us for the future in ways we cannot yet see.

So let’s make peace with our path, be honest about where we are, decide which direction we want to head, and get down that tree into that dark forest and take that hard first step, then the next, and the next, until the sun goes down.

Then do it all again tomorrow.

If it’s true for us personally, then it’s also true for our families, our towns, our countries, and the world.

Let’s make peace with our path and do the hard work of moving us all toward a better future.

What Is Being Organized?

room

I like to define being organized as when our stuff supports the lifestyle we desire.

How we arrange our stuff has a significant impact on how we live our lives.

If my stuff is always strewn all over, I’m much less likely to invite people over. If I want to a have a lifestyle that includes hosting, I need to change how I deal with my stuff.

Organization is Personal

For some, good china and cute curtains might be necessary for a lifestyle of hosting, and maybe for others having a picked-up house isn’t even needed.

This definition helps point out that organization is something quite personal.

We can be inspired by how others organize, but we shouldn’t assume that more organization is necessarily better.

Before we decide to reorganize, we should first think deeply about what kind of life we want to live.

From there, it should be easier to see in which ways our things (and therefore habits) are not supporting the lifestyle we want to have.

I hope you found my organization and planning ideas helpful, but I also hope you recognize what is already working well enough for you and stick with it.

Organization Changes Over Time

This definition of organization also acknowledges that life has different phases and stages.

Our desired lifestyle when we have little children will be different from that when we are retired. Our homes and organizational systems will look different, too.

The idea of “ finally being organized” is an illusion. Our stuff will always support our desired lifestyle to a greater or lesser degree.

There will always be room for improvement and need for change as our lives and the people in our lives change.

So we shouldn’t feel guilty when we feel an area in our life could use some better organization.

The question we should ask ourselves is,

“Is it worth my time and energy to organize this? Or does it work well enough for my life right now that my time is better spent elsewhere?”

Determine to decide, and be released of guilt. (link)

The Antidote To The Checklisted Childhood: Raising Self-Directed Learners

checklist

How often do you read something that convicts you as a parent but fails to provide sufficient help on how to change?

It happens to me all the time. I can see problems myself, people, what I need is help and solutions!

I recently watch this engaging TED lecture about How to raise successful kids – without over-parenting.

Julie Lythcott-Haims’ critique is good, but her solutions just scratch the surface.

She points out that over-parenting sends the kids the message “Hey kid, I don’t think you can actually achieve any of this without me.”

“[O]ur overhelp, our overprotection and overdirection and hand-holding, deprives our kids of the chance to build self-efficacy, which is a really fundamental tenet of the human psyche, far more important than that self-esteem they get every time we applaud.

“Self-efficacy is built when one sees that one’s own actions lead to outcomes, not one’s parents’ actions on one’s behalf, but when one’s own actions lead to outcomes.

“So simply put, if our children are to develop self-efficacy, and they must, then they have to do a whole lot more of the thinking, planning, deciding, doing, hoping, coping, trial and error, dreaming and experiencing of life for themselves.”

So if we shouldn’t micromanage and limit our kids to the checklist of things that we personally deem as important in life, what should we do?

“[A]m I saying every kid is hard-working and motivated and doesn’t need a parent’s involvement or interest in their lives, and we should just back off and let go? Hell no.

“What I’m saying is, we should be less concerned with the specific set of colleges they might be able to apply to or might get into and far more concerned that they have the habits, the mindset, the skill set, the wellness, to be successful wherever they go.”

But how?

In her talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims goes on to discuss the importance of kids doing chores and parents providing unconditional love, and that’s a very good start.

But does requiring chores train kids to “think, plan, decide, do, hope, and cope” or develop the “habits, mindset, skills set, and wellness” necessary for success?

That’s asking a lot of chores.

Happily, this time I won’t just leave you with questions, I can point you to a resource that addresses this very question of how we train our kids in their self-efficacy so they become makers, dreamers, and doers full of hope and grit and ready for success wherever they are.

And you can buy it from me for just $987! – JUST KIDDING!

This stuff is so valuable it should be available to every parent, and it is.

Lori Pickert writes at Camp Creek blog and volunteers countless hours to help parents learn to be mentors in their children’s self-directed learning.

She has a book that explains her ideas and gives concrete steps on how to start NOW wherever you are, whoever you are, whoever your kids are, whatever your budget.

She is also one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met. Her standards are high, but she believes everyone can take that next step toward raising self-directed learners.

The book is Project-Based Homeschooling, and don’t let any word in that title intimidate you. The book is about how to support that part of your child’s life that he or she is in control of, and you as the parent gets to decide how big that part is – this is not about letting go of all control or giving your kid one type of education!

Lori’s book explains how to be a supportive mentor in the work your child does apart from the checklist you give him.

There’s nothing wrong with a checklist. Put chores on the checklist, put hiking or family time or whatever aligns with your deepest values on the checklist, but make sure you pay attention to, appreciate, and encourage the work your child does apart from the checklist.

When you learn to appreciate your child’s work and see how important you are in supporting it, it will be much easier to know how to cull the checklist so you don’t ruin your child with the “checklisted childhood”.

So don’t worry about your lengthy checklist now, just do the next right thing.  Skim the blog, read the book. Contemplate how the ideas might fit well with your situation and family life.

Remember, you are in charge, you are wiser and more knowledgeable than your child in many things – but not everything.

Then let’s enjoy the journey! It’s anything but easy and well-defined, but it is every bit as exciting as a great adventure story!

“My job is not to make [my children] become what I would have them become, but to support them in becoming their glorious selves.” – Julie Lythcott-Haims

Full disclosure: I write this of my own free will and won’t earn a cent from it. Lori’s ideas have challenged and encouraged me like no other so I’m happy to pass them on!

An Experiment In Obedience

long-road

We are three weeks into a six-week experiment with training our kids in the habit of obedience.

I prefer to secure the child’s will, give him lots of choice within boundaries, and give him time and space to make a decision. But sometimes a child just needs to obey because a parent knows better.

Our kids weren’t bad about obeying, but sometimes it took some convincing. Convincing takes time that we sometimes do not have.

Then I ran into this quote,

“Tardy, unwilling, occasional obedience is hardly worth the having; and it is greatly easier to give the child the habit of perfect obedience by never allowing him in anything else, than it is to obtain this mere formal obedience by constant exercise of authority.” Charlotte Mason

Over time we’ve tried various methods to “exercise our authority,” but no matter what the method used, Ms. Mason is right, it’s a terrible burden.

What does “never allowing him in anything else” mean? Charlotte Mason suggests taking six weeks to train a new habit and she views obedience as a habit.

Six weeks sounds excruciatingly long to work on one thing, but it sounds blissfully short if it means never struggling with our kids over obedience again.

I won’t go into all the details, partly because I don’t like to make suggestions when an idea has not stood the test of time, but here’s a little bit of what we’ve discovered along the way.

Week 1

We saw lots of progress in the first week. I was thrilled to have obedience be a positive interaction with my kids. Since we all discussed the new idea and the advantages it would bring, they were eager to be on board.

I yelled much less, we all celebrated when a child was prompt, cheerful, and lasting in his obedience, and often it only took one child to obey promptly and receive praise to inspire the others to do so, too.

At the end of each day I was exhausted, but not worn out and frustrated, just exhausted like I’d done a hard day’s labor – and I had!

It was work to not give out too many commands, interrupt my work to be sure my command would be heard and obeyed, deal calmly and firmly when someone did disobey, and find my way in this new experiment.

Toward the end of the week the kids rebelled a bit, as if to say, “That was a fun experiment, Mom, but can we go back to doing things our own way when we feel like it?”

It was the first sign that maybe six weeks are necessary. Normally I revel in the success and start to coast. I coast until I wake up one day later and realize I’ve coasted right back to where we were before.

Week 2

We’d been fooled to thinking our work was mostly done because we’d seen so much fruit, but week two revealed that my husband and I weren’t fully on the same page. When he was lax, I was more likely to be lax and we all fell back into old habitual ways.

We had to work details out and remotivate ourselves.

We read through our list of motivations for this obedience experiment that we’d made at the start. We discussed the advantages with our kids again. Obedience brings liberty. Mom and Dad yell less. Not yelling was probably the biggest reason for us all.

We struggled this week, but we got back on track.

Week 3

We’re finding our rhythm. Stephan and I still have to find full alignment, but it’s getting easier for us all to require and deliver obedience.

The house is a bit of a mess. In order to train the habit of obedience, I haven’t been nagging about everything, which means pick-up time hasn’t happened because I’ve wanted to avoid an obedience fight over it.

Yesterday I asked Vivienne to pick up the beads that were scattered all over the floor and to tell her siblings to help as well. She said, “Oh yes, Mommy!” with a smile and ran off.

Stephan and I nearly fainted. Is Charlotte Mason right? Can obedience really become such a habit that it is really no great effort for the child?

I don’t know. This time Stephan went in to help them all pick up and keep a positive atmosphere, but such help in the past would not have been enough to prevent the kids from whining and complaining about the difficulty of the task.

This week I’ll try making more frequent requests for small pick-up tasks and see how it goes.

At this point, three more weeks doesn’t sound horribly long and I’m starting to hope that we really have habitual happy obedience at the end of it!

Have you ever focused on one aspect of parenting over a long period of time? If so, how did it go? If not, why not? The idea is new to me, so please share!

Living in the Moment

red light

For a long time now I’ve been trying to live more in the moment.

I want to enjoy my family and not be worried about tomorrow or stuck in the past.

Why is it so hard?

Then it hit me: I DO live in the moment. I’m actually very good at it.

“When is this stupid red light going to change?” “Look at the traffic!” “Come on, go already!”

Waiting for my d e l i b e r a t e and s u p e r  s l o w preschooler to put on his shoes is an exercise in torture. It feels like an eternity.

Isn’t that what living in the moment is? Being so present that now feels like all there is?

Maybe living in the moment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When I’m razor focused on the most obvious thing in the moment, I often miss the important.

When I focus on my son’s task of putting on his shoes, I’m blind to him as a person, to the beauty of nature outdoors, to appreciating how the older ones have learned to get themselves ready and out the door on their own.

I’m so focused on the task at hand that eternity of the moment is forgotten.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “the present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

But surely that red light will not be there in eternity.

Maybe living in the moment means focusing on the part of the moment that is eternal: the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Not the shoes, but the boy-turning-man.

Not the traffic, but the people I’m with.

Not my problems and my troubles, but the blessings I’m thoughtlessly taking for granted.

Maybe planning the future and reflecting on the past aren’t the enemies of living in the moment, but rather a way to use the present to connect with the eternal parts of the past and the future.

Or maybe planning and problem solving are only helpful in that they make the path smoother so we can focus more on the eternal part of the present moment.

I can’t enjoy my son as a person when we started to get ready too late.

Or can I?

Can I still enjoy the scenery when we’re late and in traffic?

Only if joy is a higher priority than punctuality.

Ouch. I want to be joyful and punctual, but if I have to choose . . . I usually choose being pissed off because we failed to be punctual.

Like I wrote last week, I’m no longer pretending I have more solutions than questions, so this is where my thoughts end and yours begin!

Culture Making Part VII: How To Encourage Our Children To Be Makers

flower peas

How do we help our children make something of the world?

Last week we discussed the most important way: be a maker yourself!

Here are some other practical ways to increase productive cultural power for our children to encourage their creativity, productivity, and responsibility.

Get Out Of The Way

One way is to get out of the way when our children are making meaning. It’s clear when they are painting that they are being creative, but what about when the 5-year-old dumps water on his dinner then refuses to eat it?

Our son did just that the other day and it turns out that his rice was too hot to eat and he wanted to cool it down. He’d recently watch a few videos on how water puts out fires by reducing the heat of the flame.

He was making meaning. As he had predicted, the water cooled the rice down, but he also learned that it made the food inedible.

Lori Pickert gives some hints on how to build what she calls a “maker culture” for our families in her book Project-Based Homeschooling.

I’ve mentioned before Pickert’s idea of producing what we consume.

“[When children] don’t just passively consume [but] actively produce . . . they take ownership over ideas and work with them, build with them. They take what interests them, what they enjoy, what they love, and they make something new.” – Lori Pickert

This idea takes us a huge step away from the idea that there are good and bad activities or good and bad media, and challenges us to ask what process is going on beyond the surface.

Instead of thinking books are good and movies are bad, notice whether or not a child play-acts his own stories after watching a movie, or shares a scene after reading a book.

Even if we don’t particularly care for Frozen we can appreciate the important work our children are doing when they play-act, draw, make dresses, and otherwise make something of the Frozen world.

A Frozen obsession won’t last forever, but the skills gained in making something of their world will if we choose to appreciate it rather than condemn it.

The Power of Attention

This brings us neatly to another tip of Pickert’s:

Give attention to what you want to grow.

“Think hard about what you value most, because that’s what deserves your attention. Your child will respond by doing more of whatever earns your focus. You feed a behavior with your attention, and by feeding it, you create more of it – so be thoughtful about what you invest with that power.” – Lori Pickert

What we shine the light of our attention on will increase, whether it’s the negative, or the positive.

It’s important to encourage with actions and not words. Make time, space, materials, and support for making and sharing.

Make Making Safer

To help get over the hurdle of starting, think of how you can lower the stakes so that creating and sharing aren’t attached to big risks.

Provide art materials that you won’t get upset about if they are dropped and broken.

Stay calm when you want to scream “What were you thinking?!” in the aftermath of a failed act of making meaning (like water on dinner).

Don’t immediately judge when your child (or spouse!) shares his work with you, rather show genuine interest and ask open-ended questions to learn more about the meaning behind the work.

For details and more concrete ideas, visit www.Project-Based-Homeschooling.com or read the book (it is not at all just for homeschoolers!).

In Short:

A child’s play is often the important work of using their cultural power to make something of the world. We can increase our children’s productive cultural power by getting out of the way when we see it happen, shining the light of our attention on it, and making it safer to venture into creative work.

Did this post inspire other ideas for encouraging and appreciating your child’s work?

 

This is Part VII of the Culture Making series. Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI and Part VIII here.