This is my opinion based on my experience as a mother of my four children, ages nine and up as of this writing. I’m not a psychologist, and I’m open to hearing other views, because this is not a simple issue–at least for me, as I’m not a forceful person. I want people, especially my children, to be courageous, ethical, well-disciplined and loving, without being told to do it. I want them to love learning. I want to research options for them, present the best and have them choose the best. I want them to eat some spinach because it’s good for them, introduce themselves to a new kid because it’s the neighborly thing to do, and ask me to sign them up for all the programs that teach something useful for their development and for getting on in the world. I was brought up to value reasonableness and have a natural aversion to being pressured myself. So I let it go. I have become more realistic, however, about the ways in which I can and should go about being my children’s educational facilitator.
When my children were young they all received a home-based education, up to the ages of twelve (on average). I gravitated to a natural learning approach, because I love to learn myself and was confident they would too, and would do well to make many of their own choices of topics, materials and means. I got them participating in some community sports, art and other programs, more the older ones than the younger, as I got busier with care-giving, teaching and housework. Their early childhood was more about learning experiences with family and close friends, in their own home, yard, and community. That was enough, and I didn’t want to interrupt those learning times too much with drives to and fro. But when they were, say, nine and up, I wanted them to participate in more group learning experiences and formal programs, in addition to home lessons in academics and home making.
My oldest was willing. Quiet but not timid, he tried several music classes, gymnastics, dance, baseball, art, piano, Bible club, swim lessons, 4-H, and swim team, and more. He went on to choose areas of further study and practice, and all of his program experiences have greatly enriched his young life.
Then came the other three children. These three, from the age of eight or nine, have been fearful of trying new things, especially when they involved people they didn’t know, or activities in which they felt unskilled ( just about every program). It wasn’t enough that they would get to know the other kids, and would improve in the skill. Over and over my reasonableness and unwillingness to force left me upset , knowing that they were missing out in gaining key knowledge, skills and understandings, developing social self-confidence, and discovering their talents. In my area there were so many great children’s programs, and I was a bit worn out trying to teach everything myself. Some used that argument–“But Mom, I can learn those things from you at home!”
My husband has always been okay, in theory, with making the kids do things that are good for them. But in practice, he’s a marshmallow, so it fell to me to do it or not. I did it. I forced my daughter to take swimming lessons and piano–things I was sure no reasonable grown-up could regret having been forced to do as a child. She cried, she pleaded, she refused to listen to my reasoning, but even though I wavered and questioned the wisdom of this approach many times, I forced her to try the things I felt were right for her. And she liked it. I did this several times, and at times paid cash for her acquiescence. A few forcings later, she is not so surprised that she ends up liking the programs I require her to try. She is now, as a fourteen year old, choosing programs on her own, although she admits that she is still nervous. She knows that through programs she has learned a lot, discovered some talents and abilities, and gained confidence. She has also gained respect for my judgment.
My second daughter has always been a strong one. She also got ideas from daughter #1’s efforts to escape program participation, and added her own arsenal of appeals, battle tactics, and determination. Plus she was working out how much to be like her sister and how much to be different. Just because #1 liked it, doesn’t mean I should do it. Lastly, her strong will gives her the ability to be courageous despite her fears. So with this new personality to deal with, I adjusted my tactics. As my old education prof was always declaring, “Teaching is revising!” and “What does the student need to succeed?” I decided that if I really wanted daughter #2 to participate, I could:
- Provide ample information, including pros and cons, with encouragement and incentives, but let her choose. I would be patient, watch, and pray, letting her drop her guard, consult others and truly consider her own thoughts on the matter. Interestingly, in this case she invariably tried to determine how important it was to me for her to participate, and if it was really her decision. It was as if she was deciding whether to take a stand and dig in her heels, to preserve independence (perhaps at the cost of rational decision-making). If I didn’t come on strong, she became more considerate of my judgment.
- Tell her it was mandatory, and be willing to go to great pains (and I mean pains) to fight all opposition. This approach almost guaranteed a polarization of positions, expression of strong emotions and a clear stance of authority on my part. It required Daddy to be 100% behind the stance, as my daughter would be sure to appeal to him. I soon discovered that this was not the best approach for us. It obscured my daughter’s self-awareness, led to stress that made both of us less able to intelligently discuss the issue, catalyzed negative triangulation (if that’s a term I can use) between daughter, mother and father on many occasions, taught my daughter the exact limits of my willingness and ability to exert authority, and left both of us feeling bad.
Although this daughter missed out on some opportunities I think would have been valuable,This daughter is now gaining confidence in her own decision making ability. She may decide to participate in a program because she is confident it’s a good one, because she wants to trust my judgment and/or please me, or because she sees the incentive as worth the uncertainty. Or some combination of these. She has sometimes regretted opting out, but it has been her decision and she appreciates that.