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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

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Comments»

1. Rational Jenn - March 9, 2009

Thank you for posting this. I love the idea of parent-as-mirror! That’s a good way to think about it.

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.

This pretty well sums up much of my parenting philosophy, too–stay out of their way as much as possible. They need me, sure, but they need first-handed experiences, too.

I might have more to say as I think more about what you’ve written, but for now, just wanted to stop by and say thanks!

2. haynesbe - March 10, 2009

Jenn,

Thanks for letting me know you “stopped by.” I’ve gone to your blog a couple of times to post a comment on your “accidental controversy” but couldn’t quite do it. Not sure what I would add except to say “You go, girl!! Take those kids with you, and let them carry signs!” I am astounded that this was controversial. Do those people have kids? Don’t they realize there is no way you can *stop* your kids from believing what you believe when they are young, any more than you can *keep* them believing what you believe in when they get older?

That turned out better than I thought it would.
Anyway, live life and take your kids with you.

3. Rational Jenn - March 10, 2009

Thank you so much for what you said! I’m still processing a lot of what was said (good and ill) about bringing our kids to that tea party.

You are ABSOLUTELY CORRECT: they will imitate us now because they’re little and they’ll figure things out on their own when they’re older. Small kids practice being grownups by emulating the grownups they see all the time–my oldest son has been using hair gel and deodorant this week because that’s what he sees his dad do. My daughter insists on using MY hairbrush.

They want to do the things we do and they would have been devastated if we had denied them the chance to help us do our real-world work. And it never occurred to us to deny them that chance–they help us all the time and it’s actually an expectation. Dad needs to do a house project? We’re ALL helping. Mom needs to pay a bill? We’re ALL helping.

Anyway, it’s nice to hear supportive words, so thank you!


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