John Holt once wrote, “First of all, [parents] have to like [their children], enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions. They have to think of their children as friends, indeed very close friends, have to feel happier when they are near and miss them when they are away. They have to trust them as people, respect their fragile dignity, treat them with courtesy, take them seriously. They have to feel in their own hearts some of their children’s wonder, curiosity and excitement about the world. And they have to have enough confidence in themselves, skepticism about experts, and willingness to be different from most people, to take on themselves the responsibility for their children’s learning.”
This is in regard to homeschooling, hence the “… to take on themselves the responsibility for their children’s learning”, but I want to expand that to the consideration of the whole span of their childhood, before and beyond the years of compulsory education.
I think most parents do enjoy their children, and truly do love their children. I dare to say, though, that many do not necessarily like their children. Or at least not the amount of energy that children require in their most natural way of growth and development. Children are inconvenient beings. They are noisy, wiggly, have different sleep patterns, are very needy for many years, and are predictably unpredictable. Some are actually very vocal about not wanting to be around their children for very long (can’t wait until summer vacation/winter break … is over), or the shaming they place on their kids when they “act up”, and in times of conflict. This is not even going into neglect and abuse, but day to day struggles with accepting their children as they are, rather than what the parent wants them to be/to become.
All the things that make up the essence of a child, their curiosity, their wonder, their way of exploring the world around them are not easily contained, nor should it be. But it so often is the expectation for them. They are “needed” to sit still, to use quiet, “respectful” voices, they are to wait patiently, to stay in line, to be considerate of others, to share their toys, and so much more.
Don’t get me wrong, all of those things can be helpful, but few are truly necessary unless it is for the benefit of the adults around them. We take them to places that are set up for the convenience and necessity of grownups. Grocery stores, banks, malls, gas stations, churches, even schools. Places with lots of activity happening, and the majority of it is not for their enjoyment and investigation. For the sake of all the other people involved, the children have very limiting boundaries placed around them, and the stakes are high if they don’t comply.
What if a child was given the support to explore, to inquire as the ideas and questions occur? What if sitting still was the exception rather than the norm within their daily adventuring? What if an excited tone, even one that is exuberantly loud was smiled upon rather than frowned at? What if waiting semi-patiently was sought because something truly held great interest? What if learning could be done standing, walking around, hopping up and down, bouncing on an exercise ball, or hanging upside down with equal acceptance as sitting in a seat, facing forward, with wonderings held hostage until the appropriate Q & A time? Would a child’s world be that much grander, sparklier, engaging? I have found it to be so!
Again, I understand that chaos is not productive, and rules have their place. I’m just saying that if we are to share our time and space with the little ones, the growing up ones, the expanding toward maturity ones, it is nicer to step into their space, their perspectives, and their incredible way of interacting, as someone who really wants to be part of their world, as their friend, and with an actual liking of who they are as unique individuals and not just tolerant of their childish ways. Or, as is so often the case, as someone who believes that they are not equally worthy of the same level of respect and consideration because, they are, after all, only children. Children who need to learn their place, to contain their emotions, show utmost respect to their elders, obey commands given without questioning authority, and remain composed even when the adults around them are not.
Do we like our children? The children of others? The silly, humorous, and sometimes annoying souls, who weave in and out of our lives, our homes, our communities and create havoc at one turn, and give out love and consideration in the next? Do we truly like them? Even when they are messy and disorderly and are in meltdown and causing upheaval? Do we? It is not always easy to do. Just as it is not always easy for them to find likable things about us. But I truly believe that if we expect that they will be likable, then we will find ourselves liking them despite ourselves. That we will see the worth in liking to be around them and setting aside our adult affairs as often as humanly possible, and most of the time it is a matter of priority. Let’s make them priority. They are only young for a brief time.