The following is a guest post written by Justine Julian
Justine is a doula, parent educator, student midwife and mother to five kiddos ages 22, 16, 7, 3 and 1. She writes about pregnancy, birth, parenting, family, becoming healthy, and her ever-unfolding and blessed life at State of the Heart Parenting.
In a northern climate – like up here in northwestern Pennsylvania – the mid-to-late May arrival of spring is not only a beautiful reminder of the cycle of life but also brings a joyous feeling of liberation. The green buds on trees and tiny shoots bursting out of the ground signal a time of frantic activity for plants and wildlife, but usher in a distinct and gentle respite for my family.
Many long months of trudging from house, to van, to store, to playdate, and home again is one variation of cold, slushy mess after another in the winter. As a homeschooling family, we attempt to fill the long dark days of winter with plenty of scheduled outings to enjoy museums, to visit relatives, and to ferret out learning opportunities within the warm walls of local businesses, shops, and attractions. All of that scheduling can feel pretty overwhelming. The morning routine becomes a great big hassle of searching for clean (and matching) clothes, shoveling a nutritious breakfast into still-sleepy mouths, and hustling out into the cold to buckle everyone in just so we can make it someplace on time. Even on the stay-at-home days of winter when we decide to venture out into the snow to enjoy sledding or other snowy delights, we can spend a ton of energy and time simply wrestling everyone into snow gear and getting out into our very own backyard.
But spring brings galoshes and buckets filled with dirt. Spring brings chubby toddler hands carrying their very first lady bug. Spring brings rolling in the grass and burying your nose in a cluster of lilacs. Spring brings a singing momma laying in the hammock, marveling as dappled sunlight dances over her nurslings’ sleepy face. Breathe it in. Breathe it out. No need to rush today. Thank you for making it so very easy to slow down, spring.
But is this springtime slacking off doing my child any favors? Isn’t it my job to provide enriching and structured activities in the name of creating well-rounded and fully educated children?
Author Carl Honoré says no – he doesn’t think that it is doing kids or families much good. He has written The Power of Slow: Finding Balance and Fulfillment Beyond the Cult of Speed, and, more recently, Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting. In his interview with the NY Times he highlights how the recession is forcing parents to yank children out of many of the scheduled activities designed to create super-human intelligence, creativity, or life experience. Initially, these changes are met with despair and a sense of failure for the parents. Over time, these families realize that they are enjoying each other more and regaining a sense of control over their own lives.
But what about Tiger Moms – types who want their child to reach their fullest potential during these harrowing economic times? Don’t we owe it to our children to provide every opportunity and prepare them for the tough life they have ahead of them? While I admire the commitment – and the passion – that these parents have, I am always drawn to the words of Joseph Chilton-Pearce whenever I fret that I am not doing enough to prepare my children for the world. His 1998 interview with Casey Walker entitled Waking Up To The Holographic Heart: Starting Over With Education sums up exactly how I feel on this:
[Education is]…not preparing the child to be a dollar commodity in the marketplace, but is meeting each stage of a child’s life with the environment that allows the child to be fully and completely and wholly a child at that time. My statement has always been that the three-year-old is not an incomplete five-year-old, but a complete, total and whole three-year-old. If a child is given all the nurturing to be here as a three year old, they’ll be the perfect five year old later on, and so on.
The first thing I would say about any true educational system is that it is not founded on the notion that we are preparing a child for life. The theory we are preparing the child for life, or for the future, is a terrible travesty which betrays every facet of the human being. We don’t prepare for life, we equip the child with the means to live fully at whatever stage they are in. The idea we’re going to train a child at seven to get a good job at age twenty-seven is a travesty of profound dimension. It makes for a world where every 78 seconds a child is attempting suicide, as is true today. It is this kind of terrible despair we breed in our children when we don’t see the difference between preparing and equipping our children to be present to life.
There are entire learning curriculum devoted to making our infants and children smarter and better than their nose-picking counterparts (remember the characters Steve Martin and Rick Moranis played in the 1989 film Parenthood? I love the scene where the highly-educated toddler is memorizing the square roots of numbers while her same age cousin is running into walls wearing a bucket on his head). Of course, being exposed to conversational Mandarin, Pulitzer Prize winning literature, and Mozart is wonderful…but not at the expense of the things that babies TRULY need to grow into healthy, capable, children full of curiosity and empathy: Human milk. The love of a connected adult. Being spoken to and read to. Food, water, and an environment free from harmful toxins. Unstructured play with children of various ages. Time and time again, I turn to The Essential Truths from the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children to be my guide in these matters.
There is a big difference between giving our children outstanding life experiences via classes and courses designed to wring every ounce of learning out of every second of the day vs. sending them out into the yard to play in the mud with the neighborhood kids all day long before hosing them off at sunset and dumping them into bed. There is a balanced middle ground which exposes children to the beauty of the world via natural learning opportunities inherent in the trusting relationship between adult and child. When we are spending time with our little people and fully engaged with their genuine selves in this genuine moment, we are providing them with the chance to be a whole and healthy person. When we stand back and simply observe them taking a bold new chance without our help or interference – even when they do it the hard way – we are gifting them with confidence and self esteem that bubbles up from within. Whole, healthy people with true confidence and self esteem have the ability and desire to explore, learn, and grow at every stage of their lives…not just in childhood.
Have recent changes in your work, home, or community caused your family to change the pace of your lives? In what ways are you slowing down to make your life richer in the ways that matter?