The Art of Parenting

Daddy says parenting is an art not a science. I agree, just from being a kid once myself and now working with children. It is so difficult to know just what to say, how to say it, and what to do with kids. You want them to explore who they are, learn new things, and to be independent and responsible. But, unfortunately, all children are different, their needs are different, and the environment they are growing up in is different. There isn’t an ultimate how-to guide to raising perfect kids. So all a parent can do is their best.

A couple weeks ago I had a big argument with Dad. It was ugly and we both said a lot of hurtful things. But there was one thing in particular that he said that really made me stop and think. He said, “I made the mistake of thinking if I raised you and your brother like adults, you would be adults by now.” The reason this made me reflect so much was because I don’t think my parents raised us like adults at all! I will say they spoke to us like adults, there wasn’t a lot of goo goo ga ga that I can remember. Whenever genitals came up in conversation, they used the real words, but I don’t think they treated us like adults.

I’ve never had chores. Chores are meant to teach kids responsibility, handwork, one’s role in the family. I never had chores and I never really learned these lessons. I never had to keep a clean room, I never had to make my bed, I never had to do the dishes or take out the trash, nothing. So when I consider my parent’s assessment of my brother and I being lazy, part of me wants to say, “duh.” All my friends had to do things, but we never did.

I never had to stick with any activity. If I wanted to dance, I could. When I wanted to quit, I just had to finish the year, then I didn’t have to do it anymore. I didn’t have to explain my reasoning or choose an alternative activity, if I didn’t want to, I didn’t have to. I realize it may not be wise to force children to stick with a sport or instrument, but it isn’t helpful to create the expectation that when things become difficult or no longer fun, you can just walk away. Adults have to do things they don’t want to do all the time. Plenty of people don’t like their jobs, but they get up and go to work everyday because it is expected of them. Making a kid continue an activity, can help them understand and accept this fate as an adult.

My parents also never taught us good social skills, now my brother and I have difficulty relating with others and spend most of our weekends at home. I have many memories of coming home complaining about someone at school and Mom saying things to me like, “you don’t need them” and “don’t be friends with people who annoy you.” For much of my life, people have been tools of survival, not fellow creatures in this world trying to survive and thrive. I never learned how to value other people and their troubles; instead, it is all about me and what someone can give me. Similarly, I was taught all men are drunk, drug addicted, violent, rapists. Thanks Lifetime Movie Network. I was never taught the values of honesty and emotional connections. Men can’t be trusted and women are all annoying. As a result, I’m 24, alone, and fearful of the intentions of others.

Finally, Keith and I have spent time talking about how they weren’t honest with us, therefore we aren’t honest with them until the pot has boiled over. I used to think, Mom and I had very honest and open conversations, but as I reflect on my teenage years, the only things I spoke to her about were things concerning other people. I never told her about my struggles, unless I’d already solved the problem myself. When I sought her advice, she usually told me to throw people away. I never talked to Dad about things unless they were accomplishments, but never struggles. Mom and Dad never showed us how to deal with challenges, they didn’t create an open environment where it was okay to struggle. Keith has said, he asked Dad about certain things in his past and Dad would say, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” This isn’t something you say to someone who you are trying to “treat like an adult.” As my brother and I have entered into adulthood, we are learning new things about how our family isn’t perfect. We realized, we don’t know anything about our parents or their failures. The problem with this is we think they’re perfect, therefore we have to be perfect. But we aren’t perfect, but we can’t tell them we are struggling until it’s too late.

Since I’ve spent all this time bashing the art of parenting in my own life, I want to say one of the greatest things my parents taught me, the value of family. They did create a space where we learned to value our extended family. Mom made a point to take my brother and I to see my grandparents about once per week as children. As a result, we have a very close relationship with our maternal grandparents. While my grandfather was in his final years with Alzheimer’s disease, I was with him most days. I call my grandmother just to say hi, and go to see her when she is sick. They also built a home where we were comfortable being, although we were never allowed to have friends over. Family movie night and Sunday breakfast have always been important to Mom and Dad.

I had a lovely childhood, as I can remember. But I struggle now, as an adult, dealing with Dad thinking I’m lazy, shallow, and stupid since he raised me to be lazy, shallow, and stupid. But how long can one blame the failures of their parents on their lack of positive character qualities and values? Probably not much longer. I know the problems, I know the root of the problems, it is now my responsibility to solve them. But how?

Your Kid, Your Responsibility

I teach Religious Education at my home parish. I find it to be so rewarding to volunteer my time to help nurture young Catholics and to help guide them in their budding spiritual journey. It’s not all roses and butterflies, though. I worry constantly about the kids because I don’t know if I’m doing a good job teaching them. They are small sponges now and in third grade, a strong theological foundation is not exactly vital. No one is going to them on the playground asking them about the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. But I know the things I teach them now, will be the building blocks of things they will need in the future when they come across more complex theological topics. I also struggle because I only get them for a couple hours each week, the rest of the time, I don’t know what spiritual battles they are facing. The worst battles, which too many children are dealing with, is their parents lukewarmness.

As a parent, it is your responsibility to be the primary spiritual director of your young child. We, as the members of the church community, are secondary. We are here to inspire discussion, answer questions, and set an example to the kids. Parents should be having those discussions, doing further research, learning together, reinforcing the lessons, and being the greatest example of Christian virtue. You are with the child far more than the RE teacher is and when you send your child to us, we have a very difficult job to do. I teach third grade this year. They obviously don’t have driver’s licenses or cars in order to get themselves to Mass and Reconciliation. It makes for a very awkward conversation when we get to the 10 Commandments and we talk about how important it is to keep holy the sabbath day, and some of the kids haven’t been to Mass since Christmas.
This post is inspired by a specific little girl in one of my classes this year. She is smart, charismatic, and engaged in class discussion. One day, she came to me and said, “I don’t really believe all this stuff. I know Jesus died on a cross, but I don’t believe He is in Heaven waiting for me.” As you can imagine, my heart shattered. Here we are with a month left in RE, we just celebrated Easter, and here is one of my beautiful little girls coming to me with a major spiritual battle. The whole interaction was odd because she asked to speak with me in private, so I knew the conversation wasn’t going to be good. But here I find myself, needing to put on my big girl Catholic pants on and guiding a tiny soul back to Christ.
I asked her how often her parents take her to Mass, because that’s the best place for us to encounter the Risen Lord. As expected, she said whenever they feel like it, which isn’t often. Next, I asked her how often she received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the best place to encounter the tender love and mercy of Jesus Christ. Her answer, only when we go during RE, twice per year. I then did the best I could and told her about St. Teresa of Calcutta and her dark night of the soul. It is not uncommon for the greatest saints to feel a disconnect from God, yet they persevere and are rewarded in Heaven for their steadfastness. I recommended she sit quietly with God as often as possible, learn new prayers, and to read her children’s bible. That’s all I could think to do for her in that moment.
Later, I told the Director of Religious Education and she informed me that the parents of my darling student had pulled her two older siblings out of RE for their spring/summer sports. Yes, with only a few weeks left in RE, the parents pulled the kids out for sports. I’m sure her parents thought this was a reasonable thing to do, but I have to ask parents like this, where are YOUR priorities? I can’t blame the children for this because they don’t know the consequences of sin the way an adult should. It is the responsibility of parents to teach their children how to set priorities correctly, and one’s immortal soul, should be at the top of the list. But I know we are in this place because her parents don’t think their immortal souls are under attack.
After learning this news, my greatest concern was that she was only receiving a religious example in the church, where she wasn’t spending much time; her parents and family were not being the spiritual leaders she needed. Even worse, I was concerned someone was telling her that Heaven wasn’t real or that Jesus wasn’t waiting to bring her home to Him. Third graders are still at an age where they will believe most of the things you tell them, they ask questions, but once they receive a satisfactory answer, they will accept it. For her to come to me and say she doesn’t believe Jesus is waiting for her, I think someone told her that.
At this point, I don’t know what to do other than to pray. RE is over and she is no longer under my tutelage, I have to let her go and let God handle this. I pray she will draw close to Him, but I also pray she doesn’t have to learn too many lessons the hard way. I pray her parents will make a personal relationship with Christ a priority in their lives and the lives of their children. I pray they will see the magnificent gift the Father has bestowed upon them to nurture a tiny being made in His image, designed to spend an eternity united to Him in Heaven.
In the comments below, I would love to know if any of you have experienced anything like this and how you handled it. Have a sparkly day!

Homeschool Approach: Charlotte Mason

The Charlotte Mason approach to education was coined by the British educator Charlotte Mason who wanted to stand against the “utilitarian” form of education in her day. She achieved this, primarily, through living books. Living books are an alternative to textbooks which tend to cover a variety of topics, written by several people, designed to present information as facts to children. Charlotte wanted living books to be used because they were narratives written in an engaging tone that would spark the child’s interest. A good living book will be written by someone with expansive knowledge and/or a personal testimony to the topic covered. The Charlotte Mason approach is a literacy rich approach to education.

Other aspects of the approach are:

Narration
This is when the student will retell the story. Educators can discern whether children are grasping the main idea, setting, characters, etc. It also helps kids organizes their thoughts in order. As an education, it is important not to interrupt the child during narration or correct them while they’re speaking.

Habit Training
Character qualities were also very important to Charlotte because she saw education as a discipline. Therefore, a daily practice in things like attention, obedience, and respect were vital components of her approach. When children have these qualities (among others), they can take personal responsibility for their education and become life-long learners.

Lesson Planning
Lessons should start short with small children to slowly encourage self-control and attention as kids get older. The lessons covered a variety of topics to help teacher and student remain focused. For example history we would be followed by science rather than geography to keep things moving.

Handwriting
Charlotte was a believe in perfection, a child should never be given an assignment they cannot complete perfectly, the perfection should be built upon. She would rather have a child make one perfect stroke, rather than ten poor ones. Therefore, handwriting came about slowly. Children should start with creating basic lines and strokes, then move onto letter formation. After that, words, phrases, sentences, and eventually paragraphs. All of these things should be done in the child’s best handwriting. These copywork lessons were very short, only a few minutes a day.

Dictation
A very common calling card for the Charlotte Mason approach is dictation. Small children will be read a phrase or sentence that they will then have to write. Older children will be given pages of work to study for a period of time. Once they have studied the work, the educator will dictate it to them, one phrase at a time. This would help teach children things like grammar and spelling. If a child spells something wrong, Charlotte felt it needed to be corrected right away to avoid the incorrect spelling to be imprinted in their mind.

Art and Music
Charlotte’s approach to art and music appreciation is very similar. Children are given one artist or composer to study for a long period of time. Then, each week, they are given the opportunity to be exposed to these artists or composers. With art, they would study the piece then speak with their teacher about what they observe. Then, they would sketch the work from memory. Finally, they would compare their work to the original. Music is similar in that one composer is studied for an extended period and each week students study a different piece of work. They will discuss what they hear in the melody, different instruments, and the form used in to construction of the piece. The goal for both art and music appreciation is for students to have the ability to recognize the artist or composer by their work.

Crafts
I assure you, these are not the crafts you are thinking. Charlotte didn’t want kids making silly crafts with glitter and popsicle sticks, rather they should be exposed to real materials and real tools. They should receive real construction on how to create real products. Children should practice wood working and make bird houses or leather work and make wallets.

Science
Another one of the calling cards for the Charlotte Mason approach is the nature walks. Children are to spend copious amounts of time observing the world around them with outside time. Younger children should take their sketchbooks outside and look for birds, trees, flowers, and bugs to draw. Throughout their education, kids will learn the different parts of these creatures and be able to label them as well as date when their first sightings are. In the upper grades, they will study the entire environment and be able to know which species belong to which ecosystem.

Math
Children should have exposure to manipulative and have an understanding of concepts before teachers start teaching equations.

Social Studies
This is where the living books re most prevalent. Students read books that are relevant to the particular topic of study then create a notebook timeline.

Pros                                                                   
Lessons are short
Allows for a lot of creativity
Living books are fun to read
Emphasizes experience over desk work
Cons
Books can be expensive
Student may be a reluctant reader
Can leave holes in certain areas of study
It is hard to do nature walks in bad weather

This is the first post in a series of posts I will be doing this month to talk about the different homeschool approaches/philosophies/methods. If this topic interests you, please subscribe.

Have a sparkly day!

Having Respect for All Life

I don’t like bugs. I don’t know why. Maybe it is because they are mysterious creatures with tiny eyes and scary little legs. Whatever the reason, they make me uneasy. One day at work I was talking to a young man that does like bugs, about my dislike for creepy crawly things. At one point in the conversation he said, “I have respect for all life.” Well that’s a beautiful thing! We should have respect for all life. Bugs are created by God just like we are. We are co-creatures in God’s divine design.
It wasn’t until the next day in Chapel that this statement swirled around in my head and stirred up a question: Is he using contraception? I know he has a girlfriend, I don’t know if they are sexually active (none of my business). But I think he isn’t alone in making statements like this. One of the things that drives me crazy about our culture is how everyone wants to be organic and hug trees and run 100 miles a day, then take a magical pill everyday that alters their body’s chemistry. To truly have respect for life, shouldn’t we be open to it?
I’m sure many who are on the pill don’t consider that one of the ways it works is by thinning the lining of the uterus making it uninhabitable for a fertilized egg, meaning fertilization can take place. I wonder if people consider the fact that with IUDs, the device is making it impossible for the cells to continue to multiply until the embryo eventually dies out of lack of growth space. I wonder if people really know what they’re doing to their bodes and their babies. I wonder if they even care. Some people are only environmentally friendly and organic because everyone else is, it’s the cool thing. But isn’t that just pride? Isn’t contraception just pride? Can we truly say we have respect for all life if we are choosing to pollute ourselves in order to prevent having, not just a creature of God, but a being made in his image?
The Catholic Church teaches against all forms of artificial contraception. God designed our bodies, and the human sexual relationship, with very special intentions. When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much, God blesses them with a little baby. When two young adults love each other, they fornicate, contracept, and abort? Mommy and daddy eat GMO foods grown with pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and artificial hormones. And here we are (millennials) telling them how bad all this food is for them. Why haven’t our parents told us how bad that magical pill is for us? Probably has something to do with the fact that they are products of the sexual revolution, and we (as millennials) think we have achieved some superior level of intelligence. We’re both wrong. Our grandparents are the truly intelligent ones. They taught us to be frugal, self-sufficient, how to garden, and the joys of waiting until marriage.
In conclusion, I have a respect for all life, I just prefer humans to bugs.

 

In the comments below, let me know how you’re thoughts on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Also, don’t forget to subscribe, tomorrow’s post will be a YouTube video of a book review. Thanks for stopping by, have a sparkly day!