Peaceful not Permissive: Parenting with Compassion & Respect
Back in September we had the opportunity to enroll our 6yo Levi in a very small private school that believes in teaching to each child's needs so they can reach their full potential. The cost is significant but we were fortunate that family & friends rallied to cover his tuition this year. It was an experiment for all of us as we had been homeschooling after a brief but disastrous stint in public school and our intention was to continue homeschooling if this wasn't the right fit. Levi wanted to give it a try, and so we did.
The Fall went pretty well but by the time January rolled around he was really struggling to attend. Just as we had decided to go back to homeschooling he had a visit with his Aunt who teaches there and they worked out that if I came one day a week to his classroom he would go back. We did that for about a month. Then I was sick in the week leading up to March Break and the week after I wasn't going to be able to go with him to either. March Break ended.... And he couldn't make himself go back. So we went back to the drawing board. We talked about it a lot. We explored pros and cons and challenges and loves and strategies and alternatives. We talked some more about attending school vs learning at home and he eventually said “I don't know Mom. You & Dad just decide for me.” (Which he has said a few times now and I've explained that it has to be a decision we all make together because he is the one who has to actually GO to school or learn at home and I can't force him to do either. Even if I believed forcing him was the right thing to do (which I don't) there IS no forcing a child who has his autism profile. Lol.)
I took a chance and said “Ok. Mommy decides that you're going to school.” He stood up and walked to the entryway to put his coat and boots on…. But he was utterly broken. His face crumpled. Every fiber of his being fell. I sat down with him and said “... it looks like you *do* know what you need.” He burst into tears and crawled into my lap. We stayed home that day.
If he was attending ordinary public school I wouldn't care. But this is an excellent school where he is adored by teachers and students alike. Family & friends are generously paying for the opportunity for him to be there. On Valentine's Day he wrote in his card that he loved us for finding him a school he loves. There is clearly part of him that does enjoy it. But there is also a part that is struggling.
My job is not to attempt to force on him what I think is right, but to work with him to figure out what he needs to flourish. Of course as parents there are times we have to set firm boundaries so our kids know where the dangerous edges are. We have to brush teeth and buckle carseats and hold hands in a parking lot. But a situation like this where both options are acceptable is an amazing opportunity for him to learn that his feelings and opinions and needs matter. It is a chance for him to experience the satisfaction of making a decision about something significant. It is a chance for him to safely experiment with how to sort things out when they aren't black and white. It is a lesson on tuning in to his intuition. It is a chance for me to build the trust between us. It is NOT about me being permissive, giving him too much control, failing to set a boundary, or in some other way letting him down. Working actively WITH your child to make decisions about their life, from a place of compassion and respect, to help them become their best self, is not at all the same as lazy or permissive parenting.
Some parenting philosophies advocate for forcing kids out of their comfort zone to try and ensure they're capable of doing uncomfortable things when they're older. Others believe we need to ‘put our foot down’ regularly so that kids learn who is boss and to do what they're told. That's not how I fly. I believe in respecting who a child is; in teaching them how to listen to and trust their gut; in creating space for their voice to be heard; in helping them find their place in the world; in building on their strengths instead of always correcting perceived deficiencies; in working with them to problem-solve progressively bigger and more complex issues; in positively not punitively building skills and confidence and a willingness to take smart risks. I believe children are capable.
A little while later that morning, Levi came to sit with me and said “Mom, if you homeschool me, Lutka (little brother) can get homeschooled too. Then we both get to learn. I choose homeschool!” He had a huge smile on his face and asked if he could do a maze or a worksheet and could I find something for little bro too. We worked on those together and he gave me a hug and kiss (both rare!) and he asked happily “Are we having a good day?” (Which is his way of saying I'm having a good day and I THINK we all are but I'm not 100% sure I haven't missed something so am going to ask it as a question.)
There ARE parts of school he likes and so this decision wasn't simple like when he needed to leave public JK. He needed the freedom and support from me for him to be able to express the emotions that were part of the decision making process. Pros and cons and logic are where we tend to focus in decision making BUT the heart and intuition matter too.
Too often we assume our children don't know what is best for them so we have to impose our adult will. Yes, our kids need guidance in learning how to listen to, interpret, and apply what their head and heart and intuition are telling them. And yes, as parents we bring experience and knowledge to the table which our children can benefit from when we share them wisely. But I believe children are capable beings, and are hardwired for growth and goodness and to move in the direction of love… if only we can get our own ego and woundedness out of their way. And so we homeschool.