We drove home from the Davy Knowles concert in Northampton late Wednesday night, the stroke of midnight nigh and many miles still to go, the boys crashed out in the rear seat in that folded-over way of sleeping children, my window cracked to admit an invigorating rush of air. I generally don’t mind driving, though my capacity for long, late hauls is waning with age, and as I drove I thought (and not for the first time, good lord no) about my obligations as a parent. Because although we’re all huge fans of Davy and of live music in general, there’s no way I would’ve driven so far to see him of my own behest. (Though we did end up in the front, at a table that was literally pushed against the stage, and we did end up meeting Davy, which for us was akin to meeting someone truly famous, like, I don’t know, one of those people who go on TV and stuff. And the concert kicked ass. So there was all that)
And so as I drove I pondered yet again the fine line between facilitating my children’s interests and flat-out spoiling them, a line I can’t quite seem to nail down, the damn thing seems to be always moving this way and that, depending mostly on my mood and general sense of magnanimity, which is itself an inconsistent beast.
I do believe that in general our society has become overly child-centric; there seems to me too much focus on our children’s development, too much capitulation to their whims and fancies, and, frankly, way too damn much coddling. I think partly this is a response to our very understandable fears about our children’s economic futures, but I think it’s also a response to a largely-unrecognized hole most of us have for a deeper and more meaningful sense of community. In other words, we focus so intently on our kids because we need them to be the community we’re otherwise lacking.
I’m pretty sure this is one of the potential pitfalls of home education; that in our well-intentioned efforts to facilitate our children’s interests, we go overboard, and in the process diminish the very sense of self-reliance so many of us home educators like to crow about. No doubt this happens in a schooled environment, too, but of course my children don’t go to school, so that’s not what I know or spend too much time thinking about.
As many of you know, Heather and I spent a bunch of time in conversation this spring, working an audio-based workshop about our respective journeys with home education; it’s launching real soon. One of my favorite of these conversations was one we had about “averageness,” and how there’s something to be said for honoring averageness, for teaching our children that it’s ok to not be or feel particularly special, and to understand that they’re really just a part of something much, much bigger than themselves. It was a much more nuanced conversation than that, of course, but that was the gist of it.
After we had this conversation, I remember thinking about how many homeschoolers fall into the trap of comparing their children to their school-going peers, eagerly pointing out the ways in which they compare favorably, as if that were some sort of proof of something. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this, too. And really, it’s understandable: I think homeschooling parents often feel on the defensive, as if they have to prove the merits of their approach, in no small part because skeptics so often demand they prove the merits of their approach. And I think homeschool parents feel as if their children are a reflection of themselves. I mean, every parent feels this, but I suspect those of us who’ve chosen to educate our children at home maybe feel this more more acutely. Of course, this is a trap, too, because our children are their own people, and I suspect we’d do well to worry less about what their behavior and choices say about us as parents, because I think that the more we worry about this, the less capable we become of letting them find their own way, in the process learning how to muddle through the occasional shit of life the best they can. Which is a pretty darn valuable skill, when you think about it.
Anyway. I’m not sure where I’m going with all this. Like I said, it was late, and I was driving, and my mind was free to wander. So I let it.
Also, I wanted to let you all know that I’ll be leading an intensive homesteading workshop at the NOFA Summer Conference next Friday. I’ve done versions of this workshop before, and it’s always been a blast, and a great opportunity to dig really deep into whatever folks want to dig deep into. Please come if you can!