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A Parenting Paradox

It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon here, and I had quite a few things I wanted to get done today. I just realized that I won’t be crossing even one thing off my “to do” list, though, and I couldn’t be happier. Instead, as I write this, I’m sitting on the couch, stroking my son’s head as it rests in my lap. He has a cold and is feeling miserable, so we’ve decided to spend the day snuggling, drinking tea, and watching movies.

Heaven.

Afternoons like this used to be much more common when the boys were younger. I was an “attachment parenting” mom, and physical closeness was a big priority during their early years. Even as they have grown older we are still a physically affectionate family, but it’s just not the same. And now that this son, my youngest, will be heading off to boarding school this Fall, I am fully, painfully aware that the daily hugs and regular, casual check-ins that have become part of the fabric of my days will be much rarer. So, any ideas of productivity are easily set aside today as I soak in this precious time together.

I used to think that raising little ones was hard, but I’m finding that parenting older ones is even harder, at least for me. When they were young there were certainly lots of challenges – sleep deprivation and the need to be constantly alert to choking hazards and other potential dangers was tough. I always knew what to do and felt like I could protect them, though; I was in control of circumstances. Now, however, I am not, and the struggle to find the balance between maintaining a close connection and making room for their increasing need for independence is an even more difficult challenge.

And it doesn’t help that I’m prone to worry.

After more than a decade of practice, the pathways in my brain that give me the ability to imagine every possible worst-case scenario for any situation have become deeply-entrenched. Not to brag, but I have developed a type of x-ray vision that enables me to see all the possible dangers that lurk around any corner my boys might turn. You name the situation, and I can deliver a list of possible problems and harms that can come from it, everything from simple embarrassment to heart-stopping physical calamities.

My worry game is strong.

I am convinced that letting go of our children is one of the hardest challenges life presents us.  It is a kind of paradox, actually. How do we stay attached, loving and caring for them every moment of every day, and yet unattached so as to provide the space they need to find and follow their own path in the world?

I think it comes down to trust. Trust that we have helped instill in them the confidence and skills they need to meet the challenges coming their way; trust that their choices are the right ones for them, even if they are not what we might choose; trust that they will still come to us when they need us, knowing we will always provide a soft place to land. And also trust in ourselves, that we can find the sweet spot between attachment and independence.

I have my work cut out for me. Cultivating trust in place of worry will not be easy, but as I look forward to these final months with both of my boys still at home, I can clearly see that this will be an important part of the process.  Not doing so would stall the healthy transformations we need to embrace and make the transition even more difficult for all of us. So, I will rise to the challenge, focusing on developing a greater sense of trust that my boys will find their way in the world, while also trusting that, on days like today when they need me, they will find their way back.

A Mile in His Shoes

He tried to hide it, ducking his head quickly as I walked into the room, but I had already seen his face. He was crying, again, and didn’t want me to see. So I pretended for a moment that I hadn’t, moving through the room and tidying things here and there as I debated whether or not to say something. What could I say that hadn’t already been said many times before? What can a mother do when her child is struggling, and she doesn’t know how to make it better?

This boy, my youngest son, is very much like me. Of my two boys, he resembles me the most in terms of looks, and especially in terms of personality — strong-willed, independent, and often driven by an internal engine that doesn’t seem to have an “off” switch. The latter trait can be particularly frustrating for both of us, especially when we face obstacles outside of our immediate control that prevent us from moving forward — we’re not good at sitting still or waiting. So we have both become very good at work arounds, at figuring out how to get things done in spite of challenges or setbacks, to the point that sometimes other people (even the people closest to us) don’t have any idea how much we’re struggling because we seem to be doing fine.  This trait also makes it hard for us to ask for help, because we don’t want to slow down long enough to explain the situation and ask for it, and because we feel like we should be able to figure it out on our own.

Except sometimes we can’t, and by the time we realize that, we’re already overwhelmed and exhausted.

This is the point my son had reached when I walked in on him that day as he was working on a written report. I knew reading and writing were challenging for him, and since they never have been for me, it was hard to know exactly what to do, but I did my best to help him figure out a variety of work arounds, like listening to audio books instead of reading physical books, and typing instead of writing by hand. But sometimes audio versions aren’t available for the book you want to read (which was the case for this project), and sometimes you just need or want to be able to write things by hand. Both of these are very hard for my son, and he has explained to me multiple times that “the words move around on the page” whenever he tried to read, and that he has to focus so hard on spelling words correctly when he was writing, that he lost his train of thought on the bigger ideas he wanted to communicate. I could certainly see evidence of these difficulties in his school work — the simple words and sentences in his papers didn’t come close to matching the depth and complexity of the ideas and questions he could express verbally. This is a kid who barely broke a sweat developing and delivering an hour-long presentation on Hannibal and the Punic Wars when he was in fifth grade, but who cried in frustration as he attempted to hand-write a simple timeline for his presentation board. In short, the gulf between his written abilities and his verbal abilities was wide, and getting wider.

So, as I tidied his room that day, realizing that we were both feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by these issues, I decided it was time to find some help. None of the solutions we had tried seemed to be helping all that much, and it was time to find out why. At first he resisted the idea of visiting a learning specialist and having some testing done, but over the course of a few days and a few more frustrating sessions with his report, he finally relented. In retrospect, I’m really glad that I gave him this time to think it over and to let the decision be his — forcing him to go through an evaluation process would likely have been counterproductive, damaging his self-esteem and undermining his growing sense of independence. Finding the right kind of professional support was an important part of the process, too.  Unfortunately, all experts are not created equal, and I had to invest a lot of time in finding someone who could affirm my son’s creative and intellectual strengths, and who could gain his trust by treating him with respect and without condescension.

During my search for professional help, I was excited to find an online tool that gave me a chance to “walk a mile” in my son’s shoes, or, as their web site says, to “experience firsthand how frustrating it is when your hand won’t write what your brain is telling it to.”  I asked my son to watch as I tried a few of the exercises, typing, fixing, re-typing, fixing again… the timer ran out every time before I could finish. I couldn’t believe it. How could anyone ever get anything done this way? When my son confirmed that the simulation was almost exactly what it’s like for him, my heart overflowed with compassion and admiration.  And then we cried together, but this time out of relief instead of frustration.

So, as we begin this next part of the learning journey together and I reflect on our experiences thus far, I’m grateful that I allowed the extra time for my son to come to his own decision, and for me to find the best learning specialist for our needs.  Now that we have a better understanding of how his brain is wired, and why particular activities are harder for him, his whole demeanor has changed. He’s feeling empowered and optimistic, even though we’re still too early in the process to have seen much in the way of results yet. Sometimes just knowing that there’s a path forward, and having someone who is willing to walk it with you, makes traveling even the most challenging of terrain much more bearable.

 

Thanks for stopping by today! If you enjoyed reading this article, you can find more on this topic here.

Homeschooling and College Admissions

Thanks to HomHomeschool.com Photoeschool.com for helping us get the word out about our “From Home Education to Higher Education” research! This article was posted on their site yesterday:

 

 

Homeschooling and College Admissions – a survey for homeschoolers AND for colleges! Genius!!

My husband and I made the decision to home school our two sons in the middle of their 1st and 4th grade years. It was the end of January, testing season was about to begin again, and we decided enough was enough – it was time for a change. So we jumped into the deep end, knowing instinctively this was the right choice for our family, but without any real plan of what we were going to do or how we were going to do it.

Read More…

 

 

 

2015 Points of Light

Stars

Winter Stars

I love holidays, pretty much all holidays, but I have to admit that New Year’s is my favorite. Yes, even more than Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the 4th of July (my other favorites, in that order).  I particularly love the final build up to the new year, that week between Christmas and New Year’s Day when everything is done — all of the decorating, traveling, shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, entertaining — and it’s time to rest and recover, to pull back from the many details of the recent weeks, and to think about the bigger picture, the vision for what’s to come.  It’s like looking at a blank page, or a fresh new canvas, and imagining all the things you could write or paint in that space. Unlimited creative potential.

I even like that the beginning of the new year coincides with short days, long nights, and cold temperatures — it feels like an invitation to hibernate, to recharge, to dream.  If I were a wild animal, I’d definitely be a bear. During the dark months here in the Pacific Northwest, I light lots of candles in the house, and have beautiful paper stars that I hang in the front window until the first day of Spring. The soft light and subtle warmth inspire me and light the way.

So, now that we are fully into January, I’m putting pen to paper (or rather, “fingers to keyboard”) as I think about and plan the year to come, and I’m particularly excited about several projects, my “points of light” for this year.

“From Home Education to Higher Education” Research

At the top of my list is a research project I’ve begun in partnership with the Oregon Home Education Network.  We’re updating some research conducted in 2004 about perceptions and admissions rates of home schooled students applying to college. Before surveying and interviewing admissions officers, however, we decided to invite homeschooling families to help us shape our research, and in just a few short weeks we’ve had a tremendous response! Families from every region in the country, with the exception of the Mountain region (so far!) have shared their thoughtful questions, concerns, and recommendations with us. I’m so encouraged by the responses and ideas coming through, and know that the results will be rich and useful to everyone in the homeschooling community. If you haven’t had a chance to respond yet, or want to invite others in your community to respond, the “From Home Education to Higher Education: What Homeschoolers Want to Know” survey is still live here.

We’ll begin distributing the online survey to Admissions Officers across the country in early February, and will begin conducting personal interviews toward the end of February. Updates, summaries, and interesting insights will be shared here, so stay tuned! The final (and free!) comprehensive report will be released in early summer on this site and on the Oregon Home Education Network site.

“Emerging Options in Education”

Another project I’m working on this year is an online course called “Emerging Options in Education”, where I’ll be describing all of the new and innovative educational options available to students of all ages these days.  This goes way beyond homeschooling! The course will include descriptions of and links to some fantastic programs and organizations, along with a discussion of K-12 and Higher Education trends that will shape how we learn in the coming years. I truly believe we’re at a tipping point in education, which is exciting, but also confusing for many. I’ve written about this shift already in a prior post, “The Big Education Shift — Are You Ready?”, and this course is designed to help you get ready!

A Podcast? (What do you think?)

Finally, I’m toying with the idea of starting a podcast connected to the “From Home Education to Higher Education” research. In short, I would love to record the interviews I’ll be conducting with university admissions officers and make them available to the homeschooling public. One of the ideas expressed by several homeschooling families is that they would like more direct contact and specific information about admissions for homeschoolers at different institutions, and I’m thinking this might be a good way to connect applicants with those making admissions decisions. Would this be of interest to you? It will take some work, so I want to make sure there’s enough interest before I invest too much time. Let me know!

On the Chinese calendar, 2015 is the year of the ram (or sheep) which signifies gentleness, connection, and creativity. It sounds like a great year to me, and this is exactly what I hope for all of us as we begin to paint the canvas of 2015.