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CPL, Part 3 March 7, 2009

Posted by Beth in Parenting, Personal.
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(Part 1, Part 2)

My Central Purpose in Life is to create and maintain a loving, nurturing environment in which to raise my children and assist them in preparing to live independent and happy lives.

The central focus of my central purpose is the creation and maintenance of a supportive and nurturing  environment for the individuals in my home, and for the relationships which are an integral part of it. The physical surroundings and organizational structure of our home provide the setting and framework which support me in this work. (See Part 2)  They are key tools, the absence of which would make my task much harder, but the ultimate purpose is to assist the growth and maturation of my children, striving to maximize their potential for happiness without sacrificing my own.

Even without explicitly identifying my CPL, I always understood that parenting requires constant deliberation, and that this task was the most important one I faced. I loved my work as an emergency room physician, but I never cried when I left work to come home. In contrast, sometimes while driving to the hospital, tears would blur my vision as I grieved over the necessity of leaving my young children in the care of someone else. When the opportunity came almost 8 years ago to quit my job and work full-time as parent and home-educator, the choice was easy.  I have never regretted it.

What does it mean to create and maintain a loving, nurturing environment?

Here’s a tentative outline:

1) defining and establishing a safe haven within the home
a) convey a sense of acceptance
b) engender a feeling of belonging
c) inspire mutual respect and consideration

2) support of individual family members in
a) meeting developmental needs
b) identifying and achieving personal values
c) attaining key skills and knowledge for a happy, independent life

3) development and maintenance of supportive, healthy relationships
a) between individual family members
b) as a family unit
c) with friends and the wider community

I could stop here and let the above outline speak for itself, but I’d like examine each area in greater depth. This exercise of fleshing out the details is helping me to further clarify just what it is I am trying to accomplish and the specific principles which will best help me reach my goals.

I strongly recommend doing doing this for yourself. When my values seem to conflict or choices between options are difficult, the more clarity I have in my purpose and priorities, the simpler the decision-making process has become. This has ranged from how do I want to deal with my son not doing the dishes to whether or not to take a class in economics at the local junior college (which I really really really want to do, but decided not to when I thought about how it would impact my ability to attend to my CPL, and the decision feels great) to ending my resentment over being the one who does most of the attending to the “homefires.”

1. Safe haven

I want our home to be a safe haven for each of us–a place which serves as a respite from the world, a place to rest and regenerate. What is the key to such a haven? I think it comes from a true sense of belonging, which itself is based on acceptance.

What does it mean to accept someone? It certainly can’t mean unconditional acceptance of all behaviors–because some things are unacceptable. But, it is possible to refuse to accept or allow certain behaviors while still fully accepting the person responsible for them. I have come across this in so many parenting books–but what does it really mean? How do I implement it?

I think that it means we must accept that each person’s emotional experience is what it is. (A is A, after all.) Accepting another’s emotional experience doesn’t mean agreeing with it—but the first step has to be recognizing it , doing our best to truly understand it, and somehow communicating an acknowledgment of it.  Acceptance means recognizing that we can only start from where we are. The better we understand where that is, the better we can evaluate and direct our actions. Within this viewpoint on acceptance, lie the clues to its implementation.

My parents had the explicit goal of molding and shaping my sisters and me–which meant they tried to control who we were and what we would become. This left me struggling with the vague sense that, somehow, I was flawed. I just was not quite “enough.”  It has been a long journey to understand why such an approach creates those feelings and therefore is not optimal.  I knew I didn’t want to pass that legacy on to my own children–but I didn’t know how to avoid it.

I spent a lot of time reading up on child development, parenting and education–trying to adopt what made sense and discard what didn’t. Along the way I made numerous mistakes, oscillating between “Don’t crush that dwarf” and “I am in control here”–neither one feeling satisfactory, but not able to think of anything better.

Eventually I was able to accept that each of us comes with our unique strengths and weaknesses, our perceptive insights and our blind spots, ours skills and our incompetence, our knowledge and our areas of ignorance. That means “us parents” as well as “those children.”  We are all “works in progress” –and that fact is not just an unfortunate truth, but the essence of being alive!

What we could all benefit from is a feedback system which provides us with accurate information–what does it sound like we are saying; what effects do our words and actions have on those with whom we interact. With this information, we can draw conclusions, make evaluations and ultimately improve the effectiveness of our actions, our communications, and even our thinking.

Two valuable gifts I can offer to my children are 1)  transparency and  honesty about who I am, what I think and what I feel,  and 2) serving as a mirror for their thoughts and feelings.  These both communicate trust and acceptance. By modeling self-acceptance, I show that it is OK to be who you are. By reflecting back their own thoughts and actions–unaccompanied by unsolicited advice or judgment–I send the message I trust them to either use the  information wisely or to capably handle and learn from their mistakes.

A helpful mirror doesn’t shape or mold, or judge,  but rather simply supplies an accurate reflection. It gives us the information we need, to make the adjustments we choose, to reach the goals we have set for ourselves. This is how I understand acceptance: to offer understanding and reflection, and when necessary, to speak up for myself in a way that attacks the problem not the child.

That brings me to my third ingredient for a safe haven: an atmosphere of mutual respect and consideration. This involves setting boundaries and expectations for how I want to be treated, and setting rules for acceptable ways to express feelings and deal will conflicts and differences.

I used the term “inspire” because I found my attempts to control my children were both harmful and unnecessary.  What I can actually  control is myself. I must first clarify and understand my own expectations, personal needs and desires, as well as the limits of my tolerence. In setting boundaries and expectations for our lives as a family, I need to communicate them as emanating from me—not as arising from their deficits or failures. This allows room for both of our points of view as we work toward a livable solution.

Mutual respect and consideration are part of what makes it safe by cultivating a sense of belonging and ownership–in the home and in the family.

Mutual respect also involves staying out of each other’s business. If it doesn’t effect me, and does not threaten life or limb, I need to back off and let them handle it–although I stand close by in case they want my help or advice. I do think part of my job is keeping them safe–gates on the stairs when they are young, rules about use of the car when they are older–but the rest is up to them.

Whew. Putting this in writing is hard work. The rest will have to come later

CPL, Part 2 March 3, 2009

Posted by Beth in Parenting, Personal.
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(for CPL Part I see here.)

My Central Purpose in Life is to create and maintain a loving, nurturing environment in which to raise my children and assist them in preparing to live independent and happy lives.

To get a better handle on what such a purpose would involve, I needed to think about just what would constitute a loving, nurturing environment and  what I need to do in order to accomplish it.   I was able to identify three major categories.

I would like our home to be:

1) Supportive and nurturing of individuals and relationships
2) Aesthetically pleasing
3) Efficient in the  operation of its “infrastructure”

#1 immediately stuck me as the most important and the hardest to define and implement–so I will save discussing it for last. Today, I will quickly and briefly expand on the other two.

2) Aesthetically pleasing

a) tidy, comfortable, clean
b) furniture that is functional, comfortable, visually attractive
c) Other decor: simple, well-maintained, adds something positive (i.e. not just clutter)
d) Art: adds beauty, has personal meaning
e) Yard: low maintenance but a source of visual pleasure

This outline gives me a set of criteria with which I can evaluate the physical aspect of our home.  Contemplating  this list reminds me I have several places in need of attention and improvement.  It provides me with a simple check list against which I can evaluate the current state of our home, and a specific image to guide any changes.

3) Efficient operation of the “infrastructure”

(By infrastructure I mean the organization and implementation of activities which are necessary to support our lives, but which only indirectly are key to the achievement of our higher values.)

a) Create an order that serves a purpose, in the tasks as well as the materials of daily living (meals, cleaning, personal care)
b) Maintenance of labor-saving devices
c) Minimizing time spent on chores in order to free up time for more meaningful activities
d) Facilitate communication and co-ordination of activities – again in order to maximize the achievement everyone’s individual values within the context of shared resources, including time.
e) Appropriate division of responsibilities for the care of shared resources

In addition to the physical atmosphere of the home, part of my work entails attending to the structure and coordination of our ADLs (Activities of Daily Living.) Efficient and orderly operation and maintenance of our home and our personal health provides a foundation which frees us to achieve what is more important or simply more fun.  Much of the structure which currently exists has evolved through trial and error—but by explicitly defining what the various tasks and structures are helps to focus my attention on what is going well, and what could use some fine-tuning.

So that briefly summarizes the physical and organizational parts of the home environment. Next is the biggie: the aspects of the environment which more directly support and nurture individual family members, with special attention to the needs of dependent children in their growth toward maturity.

Any thoughts on something I have missed?  I’d love to get some feedback as I see this as a work-in-progress.

A Central Purpose February 9, 2009

Posted by Beth in Parenting, Personal.

I am taking a break from my economics blog to rethink just what it is I am trying to accomplish there, and in my study of economics in general. I’d like to share a post from a blog that had helped give some structure to my thinking.

What is a Central Purpose in Life?” by Burgess Laughlin on his personal blog Making Progress.

Take a look, then let me know what you think.

Do you have a central purpose in life? If so, what is it?

Because Everybody has a Mom October 8, 2008

Posted by Beth in Just for Fun, Parenting.
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Riding Shotgun June 30, 2008

Posted by Beth in Parenting.
Ah, if only my first act of parenting had been to teach my son to drive.

I know people say it is a good thing that are kids start out as babies so we can grow as parents as they grow as human beings, BUT, I sure wish I had been able to have from the start my recent experience “teaching” my son to drive. It has become a metaphor for parenting. All those books I read (and reread) kept telling me “Trust your child” “Nurture, not control” “Listen and reflect. Don’t lecture and judge.” Good advice that rapidly faded from my repertoire in the day to day realities of sibling rivalry, keeping house, getting places on time, trying to cook just one meal for everybody, all while juggling the roles of cheerleading-mom and task-master teacher (amongst many others.)

So what is it about driving? I get to sit in the front seat and watch while my son does all the work. What could be better?

Reality provides immediate, important feedback. Hit the brakes too hard: we both feel the jolt. Take a turn too tightly: the wheels hit the curb. I don’t say a thing unless our lives are in danger. He handles the rest. Over time, his stops and turns are getting smoother. His skill at judging distance is improving. Occasionally he asks for help, but mostly he figures it on his own.

There are speed signs and stop lights and traffic laws which don’t change no matter how much he wants to negotiate. Consistent predictable rules are helpful. The consequences are clear. When you know where you stand, decisions are easier to make.

There is no denying that I am not in complete control. I do have my limits. If he is reckless (which he isn’t) I will refuse to give him the keys or let him in the driver’s seat. But once he’s there, he has to drive. It’s his task. I’m there for emergencies and to help when he asks for it. Otherwise, I am just there for back-up.

No, the analogy isn’t perfect. It is not always clear when I need to speak up. Is this situation dangerous enough that it needs my intervention (as when saying hurtful things to a sibling, or not slowing down “enough” when approaching a stop sign.) But the general idea of letting reality do the teaching as much as possible, of having confidence in his ability to learn from his own mistakes without a lot of yakity-yak from me, of sitting next to him to be there should an emergency arise, of describing his progress so he knows I see his improvement, his competency, that’s what I wish I could hold on to in the wider context.

The kids are growing up. I’m still riding shot-gun, but more and more, they are in they driver’s seat, and I am learning to relax and enjoy the ride.