When we decided to follow our hearts into a mode of parenting that is less common and not at all mainstream, we knew there would be some criticism. People are naturally skeptical about new ideas and theories that haven't been proven by years and years of practice. Think of Copernicus and Galileo. And some people are naturally defensive; they act as if our choice to do things differently is a direct threat to them. We don't tend to care what they do, yet they want to explain their way as if they are trying to convert us.
And of course there are some people who genuinely care about Partner-Guy and I and the kids and their criticism or skepticism is usually thinly veiled as a question. These people are usually family, and we respect that they care about us and only want what is best for our children. We excuse them for not knowing the same things about child development as we do. We know that they engage in relationships with children from a different perspective and set of priorities from what we do. And most of the time we are not offended by their skepticism.
For example, I was asked by a relative if our children have any friends and are they given lots of opportunities to 'socialize'. In his book Hold onto Your Kids: Why Parents need to Matter more than Peers, Dr. Gordon Neufeld calls the modern preoccupation with playdates and childhood friendships "courting the enemy". Yes, my kids have opportunities to be around other children. Mostly, they have no interest in other kids. They are each other's best friends and we don't fill our lives trying to find an assortment of children for them to ignore. Social skills begin at home and are learned by modelling the behaviour of people who already have social skills, not by spending endless unsupervised hours with other immature people.
Another relative asked when we were going to begin teaching formal lessons. I wonder if the definition of "formal lessons" is to force children to learn something that they are not interested in just because I think it is important. What I do is to expose them to new ideas and subject areas and let them pursue whatever they are interested in. The school system is obsessed with 'early literacy', yet without a single 'formal lesson' both Anna and Holly are learning how to read and both of them can spell many words from memory. They can rhyme extensively and they make oral lists of words with the same initial consonant sound. Who needs a formal lesson? When they want to learn something special, like how to play the piano for example, we'll get them lessons if they ask for them. Formal lessons are not out of the question, they just aren't a requirement.
On another occasion we were asked if our children are bored being stuck in our little bungalow all day. Hmmmm. The children aren't chained to the table legs! They play indoors and outdoors. We go somewhere almost everyday : the Zoo, the Science Center, an indoor or outdoor playground, a museum, a pool. We visit people. Sometimes we go to a movie. We visit the Valley and the beach as often as the kids suggest it. We walk around the block every night after supper and look at gardens and trees and lawns and talk to our neighbours and play with their pets. No, the children are not bored.
One relative asked if we were going to teach the children how to act. I guess that person was concerned that we don't seem to be teaching our children how to get along with adults, particularly adults who they don't actually know. We tend to believe that it is the role of the adult to accommodate the maturity level of the child. Our children don't conform to many of the usual expectations for children, and we don't make them. We try to model good behaviour for them, but we let them live authentically and we don't force them to do things that they aren't comfortable with. And we don't shame them or punish them when they don't comform to the expectations of other adults. They don't hug anyone outside of their immediate family. They don't act 'charming' to make adults feel good. They rarely answer when asked assorted random inane questions that adults ask (like, How do like your little brother?). We respect them. And we hope that we are modelling respect in our relationships with other adults so that they can learn about how different relationships require give-and-take in order to function smoothly.
But by far the most unexpected question we've been asked has us completely perplexed.
We were asked if we had joined a cult.
Wow. I guess there are aspects of 'cultishness' in our lives. We keep mostly to ourselves. We reject the methods of the majority. We try to find other like-minded people (although not very successfully). We read extensively about what we believe in, so when we talk about our family we use expressions that other people may not be familiar with. We procreate like rabbits. (Not sure if that's cultish or not, but the cults I've seen on TV tend to have a LOT of children running around!)
So I'm not sure if that comment has me feeling offended or amused. When I consider the source, I am inclined to be amused. I don't expect everyone to understand our choices or why we are choosing a path less travelled. I don't expect people to share our goals or to have insight into our relationships. But to think that our lifestyle reflects that of a cult? Now that's a good laugh.
And so we continue on this journey of life learning and non-violent communication and raising ourselves along with our children. We are not doing so to either please or offend or confuse or reject other people. We are doing it because we are convinced that it is the best way for children to grow up authentically and to eventually live meaningful adult lives fulfilling their true potential.
We welcome comments and questions. We are happy to explain our ways, and we are not trying to 'convert' people. We ask for patience, as there is still much that we are learning. And we ask that criticisms not be directed at our children.
Have you had any strange inquiries about the education of your children?