Friday, April 29, 2016

Putting "The Mommy Wars" to Bed: Chapter 7


I'm just going to tell my story here, and you can use it however you see fit.  

When my daughter was 2.5 and son was born, my honey and I decided that I would stay home. Our reasoning went like this: 
  1. We will be paying almost as much for childcare as I am making
  2. If I can teach Childbirth classes and compensate for the difference, it's a wash
  3. I cried every day that I left my daughter with her wonderful Auntie at her small, private, in home day care, playing with her cousins for two years. I wanted to be at home
Shortly after I gave birth to my son, and my daughter was nearly 3 years old, I started getting pressured to put her into pre-school.  The decision was 100% selfish at that time. A visceral NO.  I had just worked for two years to be at home with her, and her brother.  No way was I putting her into a pre-school. What is pre-school but teaching her to like learning, and a few basic skills for Kindergarten readiness.  Letters, numbers, patterns, attention span, drawing, reading, painting, eating graham crackers and napping.  I can do that, I told myself. And I did.  We had the best time. We went to gym classes, swimming lessons, and story times to offer the "social skills" everyone was always so concerned about.  We went for walks and to parks and she learned everything she needed.  Two years later when it was theoretically time to put her into Kindergarten, again my mind/heart/body really resisted the idea.  I mean, if I can do pre-school, how hard can Kindergarten be? We then stumbled upon a school in my district that partnered with homeschoolers to try to offer the best of both worlds.  I could homeschool her, with he support of certificated teachers who would guide me and hold me accountable to making sure she was reaching the appropriate milestones.  I was able to attend classes, and my little guy was even included at his own level.  Class sizes were a tiny 3-5:1 student to teacher ratio.  It was a dream.  We took classes at the school that were more engaging with other kids: Science, Drama, and Ceramics, and did all the core at home, with guidance and support.  My kids bloomed.  We read by the fire, or in trees, they read to each other in the backyard on a blanket in the spring.  We did math, read The Story of The World, learned fractions while we cooked together, went to parks and beaches and the school even provided weekly swim lessons.  We continued with story time and gymnastics. I loved (almost) every minute of it.  I never had to wake them before they were rested, so honestly my life was charmed. There were certainly sacrifices. There were no extravagant family vacations, going camping was our big getaway each year. We ate simply at home, rarely went out and when we did, Ruby's Diner (where they served Kraft Mac-n-Cheese) was our $30 treat. We worried about money, quite a bit.  We made that sacrifice knowingly and intentionally. We shopped at second hand stores, but damn it, my children had a beautiful childhood. As they grew, and my "some college" level of education started to show its limitations, we started taking more core classes at the school and doing more of the elective classes at home.  We did PE, Art, History, and Health at home, and left the core classes to those with greater expertise.  Here is where some of my regrets enter the scene. Logically I know that I could have regrets no matter which style of education I had chosen, no program or style of learning is right for everyone...pretty much the point of this LONG story, but read on if you'd I don't judge myself either.  Nearing the end of my daughters junior high career, I started noticing dynamics that were not great.  Because we were so invested in the community, and because she had a safe/familiar social group, I kept her there despite my intuition.  That decision led to some hardships for her.  I don't, nor can I ever, know that if I had made another choice, if she would have had an easier time.  Perhaps she needed to grapple with something and would have found something to grapple with in any environment. Eventually we ended up moving around to a few different high school programs, none were a particularly awesome fit, but she got it all done.  My son chose to transition into traditional high school for his junior year, part time, and  then full time for his senior year.  He's now preparing to graduate this spring. There are definitely benefits to public high school; the specific benefits that are in contrast of homeschooling that leap out at me so far are, A. Deadlines B. Unbiased grades/feedback C. Necessity of better organization/time management/study skills/planning.  On the other hand, I've spent the past week the most afraid I've ever been due to threats made against the student body at his school.  A highly unlikely scenario in a small homeschool community. Two very different kids, the same childhood, the same options, struggles with different aspects of education, her interest and willfulness, his organization and issues with distractions. Where we landed (so far) is with two people who have a wonderful shared history, a long childhood of happy memories, academic successes and failures, and then more successes. Aside from private school, we have done it all, and you know what?  These two people are who they are, and short of a catastrophic experience, likely would have become themselves no matter where they went to school.  I have seen bad outcomes in the homeschooling world, largely relating to kids having too much control over their education (or lack thereof as the case sometimes becomes), too much flexibility, etc.  I have also seen bad outcomes in public education, falling through the cracks, not having enough parental involvement, exposure to alcohol and drugs, bullying etc.,  and private education is just as fallible.  Schools that are not held to state standards can write their own tickets and can abuse that to create phantom successes. They are also known for elitism, favoring students whose families make generous donations that the school relies upon. Paying a lot for your child's education does not guarantee a positive outcome either. 
Listen to your intuition and seek counsel from unbiased resources if you meet challenges.  There is no way to know for sure that your child will be successful in any given educational environment, no matter how much money you may spend, or how little. Ultimately the choice belongs to your child, and they alone will live with the consequences of their decisions, positive or negative.  
To wrap up this topic specific to "The Mommy Wars", I just want you to think about how many times a day we all judge ourselves...usually more harshly than necessary...and know that that is a trait that we all share.  If I have made a decision about my child's education that you believe is not in his/her best interest, please, utilize the acronym T.H.I.N.K. before you decide to share.
T - Is it TRUE?
H - Is it HELPFUL?
K - Is it KIND?
In addition, I would add, are you a person that I trust? A random stranger making a snap judgement, even if all of the above is relatively true, is unlikely to be received well. I don't know you, you don't know me, or my reasoning, or my child's needs, challenges, gifts. etc.  
If you are someone I can trust, AND the answer to all of these are truly "YES", then really consider the INTENT vs. IMPACT.  If you truly want me to consider what you are saying, find a way to offer it to me in a way that is loving; say what you mean in the kindest possible way. If I feel judged or like you are being condescending, I am unlikely to consider anything you have to say.  It's a natural response. It's much easier to deflect my own pain, in anger at you. If I feel, on the other hand, that you are seeing me struggle and I feel like you are climbing into my sinking boat with me and picking up a bucket to bail, I will more likely be able to hear you. 

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