Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Encouraging Creativity

"Hey, mom! Want to color in Cutielicious?"

Yes, I do. I love Cutielicious. It's a super fun doodle book with just enough structure for the creatively challenged (me) and more than enough freedom for the artistically inclined (Helen). One of the best purchases I've ever made, it makes me happy to color in this ultra cute book with my little girl.


"Ooooh! Let's color the cookie page," my little one exclaims. "Which cookie do you want to do?"

I select my cookie declaring, "I'm going to color it like one of the yummy sugar cookies with the slick pink frosting on it. I love those. I'll try a pink circle in the middle and then color around it with tan."*

"No. You have to color it all brown first."

"I don't want to color it all brown first, then it won't look like I want it to."

"But I want you to make it look like this one," my little girl asserts, pointing to the sample cookie provided.

Um. That's an ugly cookie. I don't like the way it looks. I wanted to color it like the delicious cookie in my brain.

"Why can't I color my cookie the way I want to color my cookie?" I ask a little petulantly.

"Because I want it to look like this one!"

"Then you can color yours like that one. I want to make mine a pink sugar cookie." I'm a little surprised at how strongly I feel about this and how grumpy I am to have my small opportunity for creativity wrestled from me by my tyrannical daughter insisting I recreate the uninspired cookie offered as a model.

At her further insistence I copy this stupid cookie, while she criticizes my efforts.

"Those circles aren't round enough!"

"That's the wrong color."

I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am a grown up, that the activity in front of me is not about my artistic (ha!) expression but about connecting and sharing time with my precious daughter. So I copied the ugly cookie.*

And then I thought about how often we suck the joy out of our children by asking them to copy the ugly cookie.

It may go something like this.

"Hey mom! Can I help you clean the bathroom?" a child asks enthusiastically while grabbing the spray bottle of homemade non-toxic cleaner.

"Sure! Here, spray right here. . .wait, no, that's too much! No, don't spray there, here, that's enough. Okay now. Wait! Where are you going? I thought you wanted to help me!"

Or maybe this is more familiar.

"Mom! Look! I wrote a poem! Want to read it?"

"Sure! . . . Oh, you misspelled this word. You should put a comma here. Do you think it would be better if you. . . "

Or sometimes around here it's:

"Mom! Can I make a cake?"

"Sure, first you need to . . . okay now . . . wait, let me just . . . good now . . . wait! I thought you were going to make a cake!"

The resentment I felt at being forced to copy that ugly cookie, the disappointment at having my joy and vision subjugated to someone else's agenda, made me realize just how damaging it is to interrupt a child's inspiration. Not only does it prevent their expressing their creativity, but it robs them of the motivation to act in any way. I copied that ugly cookie, but I didn't want to and I hated every minute of it. And when I was finally allowed to create my own cookie, the joy was gone.

I'm pretty sure that had I had the freedom to create my own cookie first, I would have happily copied that ugly cookie to please my little girl. Of course, I'm a grown up. I can get over it. But every time we ask a child to copy the ugly cookie before they're allowed to create the cookie that inspires their joy, we rob them of the opportunity to express their unique vision. We deny them the satisfaction that comes from acting on their internal motivation to create something that pleases them. Ultimately, we prevent them from learning to be self-motivated individuals who can conceive of an idea and follow through on it's implementation without always having someone else tell them what to do and how to do it.

I'm going to try to cultivate an awareness for when I'm asking my children to copy an ugly cookie. I'd much rather see the beautiful pink-frosted sugar cookies lurking in their brains.


* I would like to say for the record that I can see that the "ugly cookie" I created under my daughter's direction is, in fact, much cooler than the pink sugar cookie of my imagination. But that's hardly the point now, is it?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Seeking Discipline

My friend Clea shared this on facebook the other day. I quote it here, with her permission, because it so perfectly captures where I'm at myself.
So I think I've named the crux of my challenge here at my little homeschool. My kids think "homeschooling" equals "do whatever I want" and when that isn't the case, whether we're talking chores, errands, academic work, or speaking to me, they turn very unpleasant very fast. So my job isn't so much to teach them academic whatever, or even "how to learn" but a) self regulation and restraint and b) how to not be a brat when you don't get your way. Right now that job description isn't working for me.
We are in the thick of it here these days. The toddler is finding his two-year-old voice. The brand new five-year-old is taking "strong willed" to new heights, and my 7-year-old, while mostly "good" can display some amazing attitude when asked to do something as simple as clear his plate from the table. Add in the usual sibling spats and the tiny daily stresses that is simply life with three small children (you know, sleepless nights, ear infections, tummy bugs, and seriously do I really have to feed you all again???) and I'm just feeling, well, challenged I guess is the best word for it.

Feeling challenged is an improvement. I was feeling utter despair. An afternoon to myself spent shopping, reading and praying helped turn me around a bit. So I've moved past despair, but I'm still a long way from joyful.

I am very clear that self regulation and restraint and how-to-not-be-a-brat-when-you-don't-get-your-way are at the top of what I'm supposed to be teaching my kids these days. Perhaps just a tiny bit behind not-bullying-everyone-in-the-house-with-your-unreasonable-and-impossible-demands-and-your-temper-tantrums. And I have started these lessons with a renewed energy.

And I hate it. I hate being the bad guy, the heavy, the "worst mom in the world." I do know moms who revel in these labels. They hear these epithets as assurance that they are doing a good job. Not me.

Somewhere along the line I fell for the story that if you just love your kids enough, if you reason with them, let them know you're always on their side, breastfeed them until they're 20, sleep with them, wear them, and do everything "right," you will have an endlessly happy relationship with your child.

Let me tell you something. I know a lot of people who have done the attachment parenting/gentle discipline thing, and not one of them is having an easy, blissful time with their child. Neither are my friends who took a more conventional route.

Because this parenting thing is hard. It presents new challenges every. single. day. Because children (like adults) are prone to selfishness, impulsiveness, irrationality, and a deep inner distaste for being told what to do.

And it is my job to tell them what to do. Even as I write that I'm arguing with the voices in my head who say that's not really necessarily the case. But it is. Because if I don't teach them to bathe themselves, to treat others with kindness and respect, to clean up after themselves, to feed themselves, etc., etc., etc., then they will be people who cannot take care of themselves and whom no one wants to be around. And that does not serve them well.

So I am embarking on a stricter discipline regimen. Which means I am no longer tolerating the wicked back talk ("aaaarrrhhh! I don't want to! You're mean!") or the imperious demands ("You get my shoes and carry them to the car for me!") or the refusal to comply with the fundamentals of self care (say, brushing one's teeth).

It's exhausting. The ups and downs. The screaming tantrums followed by the giggling snuggles followed by imperious announcement of how many pieces of birthday cake I will or won't be permitted at my darling's next birthday party.

I'm worn out. I have to constantly remind myself that being a "good mom" doesn't mean my kids are always happy. And yet, I really did believe that if I just did it all "right," my kids would be charming, agreeable little people at all times.

That's when I have to remind myself that Our Heavenly Father, in all his goodness and perfection, does not have children who are always charming and agreeable. Heaven knows I'm not. A

So I'm charging forward. And I'm seeing some benefits. It's kind of two steps forward, one step back, but it's progress. I feel like there are more good moments now than there were a week ago. And less yelling from all of us.

We still have a lot of work to do, but I think we're moving in the right direction.