Show me a strong-willed child and I’ll show you a strong-willed mother.
After all, who really has the power in the parent-child relationship? The parent can at any moment take away food, toys, privileges and happiness in one fell swoop if he or she likes. All kids can do is throw hissy fits.
When a mother tells me her kids are strong-willed (especially if all her kids happen to be strong-willed), I suspect right away that in fact we’re dealing with a “Strong-Willed Mother.” She’s the one who knows how happy life could be, if only all those little half pints in her charge would shape up, cooperate and do as she says!
By the way, I love these moms. They’re among the most passionate home educators. Let’s take a moment to look at the profile of a strong-willed mommy.
- They have a clear idea of what ought to be done, in what sequence, to what end, by what due date.
- They spend energy preparing lessons or lesson plans, or they hone a philosophy without lessons.
- They hold specific images in their minds of what success is for each child.
- They are highly responsible (take seriously their duties to provide an education).
- They feel pressured (by family, social network, even the mysterious “society at large”) to perform at a high level.
- They usually care about check lists and completing assignments, though some are equally committed to crunchy, unschooly parenting tactics.
- They’re seriously good at defending their point of view (lawyer-esque in their clarity and supporting reasoning).
- They find it hard to believe that their kids don’t buy into the flawless logic of their brilliant positions!
- They sincerely believe they are being reasonable in their expectations and have asked nicely, thankyouverymuch.
- They resent influences that undermine their vision.
These moms present their case for what kids ought to be doing, feeling and thinking, and then expect cooperation. They’re stymied by what appears to be “out of line” thinking and get their feelings hurt when their children exhibit signs of distress or boredom, or when they challenge the reasoning of the stated objective. If this mom has read that getting to sleep before midnight improves a child’s mental acuity in the morning class session, then she finds it irksome if her son insists that midnight is the best time to play Warcraft to be with online friends who live halfway across the globe. Her reasoning is superior and he ought to see that as easily as she saw it.
I hope I don’t sound harsh. Some of her skills are ones I want! There’s a doggedness to her commitment to her goals that is laudable; her lessons that are well-prepared and received usually turn out so fabulously! Strong-willed moms have an enthusiasm for their passionate viewpoints that inspires others to take on their opinions and convictions. The other thing I love about strong-willed moms is their thirst to know more. They do change directions when new and better information is presented clearly and persuasively.
Perhaps the biggest myopia, however,
is that strong-willed moms sometimes project
their strength of will onto their kids (mirroring it back).
So when a child expresses disinterest, rather than really hearing that as an authentic representation of a genuinely valid viewpoint, the strong-willed mom assumes it means the child is being strong-willed (not cooperating) rather than seeing her attempts at enforcement as the evidence that she has the strong-will (unwilling to entertain or accommodate the child’s point of view). See what I mean? Strong-willed essentially means being so committed to your own point of view, opposition is perplexing and leads to conflict. Well, who is unwilling to be flexible? If once you dispense the program you are unwilling to entertain a child’s disinterest in it, the strong will is not his!
When thinking about home education, then, being strong-willed as a parent can be a liability. Home education is guided not by bureaucratic expectations or an impersonal instructor. At its heart, home education is about nurturing relationships. Parents and children are bonded to each other, which means that they are more expressive, more vested, and more likely to tell you when they are suffering than their peer group at school. To successfully navigate the home education relationship means the parent (who has the power by default) must discover how to enter into the mind-life and motivations of the children. Conversation about what works and what doesn’t, trusting a child’s subjective experience, believing a child’s reasoning (based on his or her developmental level) all comprise the parent/teacher, child/student relationship.
Strong willed mommies can use their strength of will effectively if they redirect it. Rather than being so tenacious about curriculum and objectives (and then how to “get your kids to do x, y and z”), give that same level of passionate commitment to understanding how your children experience their home life and studies. When they show distress or boredom or apathy, get interested. If you’ve got tears, you’re done. There’s nothing more to discuss or do that day. It’s gone too far. Regroup later and talk about what your child was feeling/thinking. Focus on your child’s internal experience, not on objectives. Here are some conversation starters.
- I’ve noticed that you used to get up early and finish your math pages before breakfast. Lately you still aren’t done by noon. What happened, do you think? How can I help you?
- Are you in pain?
- Are you bored?
- Are you nervous about failing?
- Tell me how it is for you.
- I’m your mother and I’m responsible for your education, but you matter to me even more. How can we ensure that we stay connected to each other while you also learn what you’re supposed to?
- What one thing could I do for you today that would relieve this build-up of pressure?
- If you could change one thing about _________ (math, writing, that report, your text book, this co-op class…), what would it be?
- What is worrying you today?
- If you could learn anything you want (money were no problem, time was free), what would it be and why?
- I’m sorry for pushing so hard.
- I’m sorry for not hearing you sooner.
- I’m sorry you got frustrated to the point of tears. Have a brownie. (Or, go jump on the trampoline; take a walk; watch a movie.)
- Do we need to hire a tutor?
- Do we need to take a break from (math, writing, reading practice, tuba, dance)? How long sounds good to you?
- Can we work out a deal here? (I need _______ from you, what do you need from me?)
- Want to get a Coke? Let’s talk.
- I love you. You matter to me. When you’re ready, please feel free to tell me what’s happening inside you (you can write it or we can go out for an ice cream). I promise to listen and not try to get you to change how you feel.
Having a strong vision for how to teach and what to cover is a strength worth cultivating. Holding it in an open hand when dealing with children who don’t have your vision, who are practical (not abstract), who feel different pressures than you feel is essential to preserving the relationship. Close relationships foster learning. Happiness is the context for achievement. Joy is the best teacher.
Reach out to the frustrated child today and see how it goes. Don’t solve problems. Try to simply describe them in detail and be aware of how your child sees the world.