Thursday, June 20, 2013

Musings on Our Unconventional Life

I have so many thoughts bouncing around in my head today, I just have to take a minute to write some of them down.  A friend posted this article on Facebook this afternoon: Have American Parents Got it All Backwards?  I'd rather not paraphrase, so go ahead and hop over there and give it a read or some of my rambling won't make as much sense!  In very broad terms it got me thinking about how we have so much backwards, not just parenting choices.  I am constantly confounded and bewildered by what the mainstream assumptions are as far as what choices are "good" and "normal" concerning pregnancy, birth, food, education, and the list goes on.  I'm not saying that I'm better than anyone else, and I'm certainly far from perfect.  We don't need anymore "mommy guilt" than we all already have.  But I do have strong beliefs, and my husband and I are navigating the waters of life and parenthood together and finding that we are quite unconventional when it comes to...well, most things.

I didn't really learn anything new from reading the above article - I already agree with most of what the author has said, and I believe that we (Americans) do many, many things backwards in our society, usually in the name of doing what is "right" or "safe" or "politically correct."  I also already knew that many other cultures birth, raise, feed and educate their children in wildly different ways from us and that many of the children raised in those cultures are healthier and happier for it.

When you move away from what is considered mainstream in your parenting decisions it's hard (especially in public) to not sometimes feel judged (as in "do you see what she is letting her child do??").  Other observers might even try to step in and fill the parenting role that they perceive you being inadequate at filling!  Just recently my children were playing on a staircase.  My husband and I were standing at the bottom and this woman swooped in and said "No, no, no, you three get down from there!  You are going to hurt yourselves!  Do you see what they are doing?"  My kids all stopped playing abruptly and gave my husband and me bewildered looks as just moments before they had asked if they could play on the stairs and we said "sure, why not?"  I look at the well-meaning intruder and say "Wow, you're a little intense.  We do see them.  We gave them permission to play on the stairs."  "Well, as long as you're watching them...."  They are our children, we take care of them without your assistance every day of their lives, and we are perfectly capable of making decisions regarding their safety and supervision, thanks.  For that matter, the children need to be able to learn to decide what their own limits are and they are generally quite astute at assessing what they are capable of doing safely and what is unsafe or risky.  Sometimes they take the risk, and that's part of learning and living.

So here's my confession:  Our children are allowed to ride their bikes around the neighborhood unsupervised, play in the yard and care for our animals unsupervised, complete households tasks and chores without their hands being held, choose what they want to learn about and take charge of their own educations, play in the dirt, play in the water, make messes, make mistakes, play outside all day long on a "school day" if they want and not do a lick of "book work," climb fences, climb trees, skateboard, take risks,  decide what to spend their money on, decide what they want to read, make new friends, fall down, wash dishes, make their own meals, experiment, ask questions, get frustrated, get bored, and at the end of the day, despite their independence from us in so many ways, we still have a family bed.

They don't always do these things on their own...but they can if they choose to.  They can also ask for help.  When they become interested in a certain subject or have a specific question for us, we listen and we facilitate.  We provide them with resources, inspiration, and encouragement.  When they want to tell us something or ask us something we don't brush them off, we listen.  It is the foundation of our home (un)school philosophy.  We have to be available all day, every day, to listen.  To answer questions, to look things up, to engage with them and be honest with them.

Even though our 5 year old daughter still shares our bed and needs plenty of time to be loved and treated like a child (because she is one), she is also the most independent child I have ever met.  Every day she waters all the plants in our large garden, harvests ripe vegetables, reports back to us on the state of the plants, what bugs she saw, what looks healthy and what doesn't, collects the chicken eggs, feeds and waters the chickens, goats, and her indoor rabbit, and the list goes on.  She adores helping to cook, bake, and clean with us.  She helps care for her baby brother and never gives me a hard time when I ask for her help or a for a favor.  She is always eager to help, has an amazing work ethic, and boundless curiosity!

Our 7 year old son likes to play video games and we don't stand in the way of this.  He also loves to ride his bike and play baseball.  He has amazing hand-eye coordination and a mind-boggling memory.  He is incredibly intuitive and is always reading peoples' emotions and body language with uncanny accuracy.  Despite his love for gaming, computers, and all things electronic he is still a social butterfly!  He makes new friends all the time and easily adapts to new social situations regardless of the age of his counterparts.  He is fascinated by weather, science, and math.  He hesitates to try new things, but once he gets a little taste of confidence he takes off.  We know this about him, so we know the right way to provide positive reinforcement when introducing new concepts to him.

Our 19 month old in no way lives in the shadows of his brother and sister.  He has a huge personality!  He is also extremely independent and we let him be independent!  He plays in the yard, with the animals, gets dirty, gets wet, problem solves, and has a blast.  Feeds himself with utensils and has for ages, but also still breastfeeds.  He drinks from a cup, builds things, communicates with us extremely well despite having very little vocabulary, and is the most cuddly, loving, and affectionate baby.  He is allowed to explore, secure in the knowledge that he has our unwavering love and support.

We are trying to raise children who are free-thinkers, independent, down-to-earth, self sufficient, passionate, curious, caring, grounded in reality, but wildly imaginative.

I still haven't figured out how to accomplish all of this, but I know that we have to move far, far away from what is mainstream and forge our own path for our family.  It's the only way (for us) to survive and thrive in this backwards world we live in.  If giving birth to my children in my living room, owning dairy goats, learning to hunt so our family can have wild harvested animal protein, growing vegetables, taking charge of our family's health by practicing herbalism and alternative medicine, not vaccinating our children or animals, unschooling,  practicing extended breastfeeding, sharing a bed with our kids, and striving for complete self-sufficiency for our family makes my husband and me "strange", then so be it.  It is what it is and we are who we are.  Every day we learn new things, every day we get closer to our goals, and every day we open new doors to understanding the world and the universe and our place in it.  It's a fun, frustrating, awe-inspiring journey.  Sometimes I feel hesitant to share with people some of the more "unique" aspects of our family and then I wonder, what am I ashamed of?  The things that might make others think we are crazy are the same things that I think make us who we are!  I love our family and I love our unconventional life.

"People can save the world by the way they think and by the way they behave and what they hold to be important." ~ Cindy Lauper 

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