I won’t be sending my child/ren to school…

This has been an enormous decision for us to make.  My husband is still struggling to come to terms with it, I myself, have no idea how it will work.  What I do know is that it’s the right thing to do.

During my childhood, I was an annoying child.  I tattled and whined and was bossy.  Nobody liked me.  My first grade was ok.  Things fell apart when I was pulled from the government school I was in to be put into an all-girls catholic school (if you live in Zimbabwe, you know the one).  2nd grade was a nightmare.  I had this big African woman for a teacher (African women in this country are tough old ducks, bordering on abusive) and she was awful.  She used to sit us under her desk when we were naughty, slip her shoes off and we would have to endure the smell of her feet for an indefinite period.  She was quite a cruel woman, she did worse than this, especially to me, I was so easy to pick on, so much so that my mother came to school one day to ‘have words with her’.  I remember my mother walking out in tears, although it escapes me what the meeting was about.  All I know is it was about the way I was treated.

3rd Grade, I had an old European lady for a teacher (these women are almost as bad as the African women), and while she didn’t make me sit under her desk to sniff her feet, I distinctly remember being rapped over the knuckles for some petty slight  with a yellow number block thing.  She too, was a cheeky old bat.  My 5th grade teacher, Mrs Walters, what a gem.  She slammed my face into the black board for getting some complicated mathematical equation wrong.  Nice.

The rest of my teachers were ok.  I even had a few favourites over the following years.  Did I enjoy my school life?  No.  No I did not.  I was a ‘dork’.  I entered high school with too-short hair and braces, I was quite a sight.  I came into my own eventually, but still.  I was never ‘popular’ and always was taken advantage of and made fun of.  My 2 final years of high school were the best.  I went to an American school where we could wear plain clothes and I made a lot of friends.  My headmaster at that school, was by far my favourite teacher/person of authority of all my school career.  He was my confidante and my friend.  I loved him dearly.  He never shouted at me, he always joked around with me, and most importantly, he respected me as a person.  He was great, Mr Neves was.

I had been fully intending on sending my child to school up until a year ago when I started on my peaceful parenting journey.  As a peaceful parent, there are so many things to research to make sure you are doing the right thing.  Being a peaceful parent in itself is a deviation from the norm, and when you start reading up on it and researching it, you find other like-minded people talking about different things relating to the decisions you have to make as a parent.  One of these things was schooling.  As I looked deeper and deeper into it, memories from my childhood came back to haunt me and I started wondering, “Do I really want to put my child through what I went through?  Do I really want to financially struggle for the next 18 years to pay someone to do something that I can do myself?  And not only that, do I really want to pay someone to mistreat my child when I don’t mistreat my child?”  The answer to all of those questions was no.  A firm and irrevocable, no.

I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but what I do know is that my child will learn whatever he wants, whatever interests him.  I will not be sitting him down in a school type environment and blathering on at him all day as they do in these prison-like institutions.  I will fire up his curiosity, I will teach him through play, I will allow him to learn at his own pace.  I will not force him to learn something he is not yet ready to know.  More importantly, I will not send him to an institution where he will meet adversity from all sides.  I will give him the option to one day go to school.  When he is old enough, I will let him make that choice.  If it turns out that he doesn’t like it, I will pull him right back out and continue as we were.

What about socialization you might say?  Here’s what I think of that pathetic socialization argument:

“You hear the word ‘socialization’ used frequently, that that is what schools do best – they socialize children. No, they don’t. You learn to talk to a fragment of people your own age, you learn to envy, resent, and fear people older than you and you learn to have contempt for people younger than you. They hardly exist.” ~ John Taylor Gatto

I really don’t see why I should not only pay out my nose to send my child to a mind-controlling institution, but to allow countless people to mistreat my child.  Teachers and students alike.  “But he’ll learn about the real world that way!”  Uh… No he won’t.  All he will learn is that people are unkind, he will learn that bullying is acceptable from people older than you, be it student or teacher.  He’ll likely go into a depression and become so anti-social that he’ll be one of the many kids to abuse alcohol and drugs.  I’ll not have my child interacting with largely mistreated children.  I will not have him learning bad behaviour from these children.  He will be socialized, he’ll interact with his family (which is quite big), he’ll do fun and light-hearted extra curricular activities and make friends with kids outside of that controlling environment that is school.  I’m not going to lock him in a cupboard with a bunch of books.  He will learn what he wants, when he wants to.  He will learn through play and he will not be forced to learn anything he is not interested in.  Children have a natural desire for learning, we only think they don’t because we send them to school from such a young age that that natural desire is destroyed.

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There Are 3 Types of Parents, Only 1 Is a Good Parent

I keep seeing a lot of confusion regarding Attachment Parenting, so I thought I would break it down for those who can’t work it out.

There are 3 kinds of parents:

Authoritarian Parents

Permissive Parents

Attachment Parents

Authoritarian parenting – Authoritarian parenting, also called strict parenting,[15] is characterized by high expectations of conformity and compliance to parental rules and directions, while allowing little open dialogue between parent and child. Authoritarian parenting is a restrictive, punitive parenting style in which parents make their children to follow their directions and to respect their work and effort.[1] Authoritarian parents expect much of their child but generally do not explain the reasoning for the rules or boundaries.[19] Authoritarian parents are less responsive to their children’s needs, and are more likely to ground their child rather than discuss the problem.[20] Authoritarian parenting deals with low parental responsiveness and high parental demand, the parents tend to demand obedience without explanation and focus on status.  (Wikipedia)

These parents believe their children are vessels to be controlled.  They believe that children come into this world to fit into their lives rather than accomodating the needs and wants of the child.  These parents hit, do time-outs, leave their babies to cry, formula feed, shame and detach from their children.  Most parents fall into this category because of mainstream parenting.  It is widely believed that children need to be punished consistently and without compassion to ensure they turn out fine/okay/good.  Unfortunately for the children, these are one of the two worst parents.

Permissive parenting – Permissive parents do not set limits or boundaries, they do not discipline their children at ALL and are the kinds of parents who bury their heads in the sand rather than deal with conflict.

Permissive parenting is often confused with attachment parenting.  I believe that the predominant types of parenting in Zimbabwe are authoritarian and permissive or a mix between the two.  Permissive parents are the most likely to give up on trying to do anything with their children, they are the least likely to respond to their children and the most likely to turn out the ‘brats’ of the generation.  While permissive parents respond to their infants, common sense and logic seem to escape them the moment their children start exploring the world.  They tend to shout out of frustration and if that doesn’t work, completely ignore their children and their behaviours, good or bad.

Attachment parenting – Attachment parenting is a style of caring for your infant that brings out the best in the baby and the best in the parents.  Attachment parenting implies first opening your mind and heart to the individual needs of your baby, and eventually you will develop the wisdom on how to make on-the-spot decisions on what works best for both you and your baby.

A close attachment after birth and beyond allows the natural, biological attachment-promoting behaviors of the infant and the intuitive, biological, caregiving qualities of the mother to come together. Both members of this biological pair get off to the right start at a time when the infant is most needy and the mother is most ready to nurture. Bonding is a series of steps in your lifelong growing together with your child.

Attachment parenting is connecting with your children on an emotional level, it involves spending copious amounts of time with them so that you can learn all about them and how best to approach different situations in a way that won’t cause your child unnecessary distress.  Attachment parents DO set limits and boundaries, they just don’t do it with punishments and humiliation.  Instead they talk with their children, they comfort them and connect with them, acknowledging their children’s feelings and helping them deal with their emotions.  Attachment parents do not DEMAND certain behaviours from their children, rather they teach their children how to behave by leading by example.  Attachment parents teach consequences not by hitting their children for ‘bad’ behaviour, but rather they teach them by showing them what can happen if they do a certain thing.

I believe most parents use various methods of parenting from each of these types.  But let’s do the math, if you use one third of the methods from each, that means more than half the time, you’re doing something wrong.  There are a many ways to parent, but only one method turns out truly exceptional human beings.

Unfortunately for Zimbabwean children their parents are so stuck in misguided and old fashioned Christian traditions that parenting has become stagnant in this country.  No one reports on the numbers of suicides, of teenage depression, of alcohol and substance abuse.  It’s all swept under the rug like a dirty little secret that will destroy everything they hold dear.  They don’t realise that they are already destroying everything they hold dear by being either so complacent or so strict that their kids will NEVER be ok/fine/good etc.

This not only applies to Zimbabweans, but to the rest of the world too.  Children are viewed much like stray dogs and cats are viewed; as pests.  Children are people too, with human rights and everything.  Denying them their individuality is denying the world a future, it’s denying the world a chance to heal.

Do you want to know why the world is the way it is today?  It’s because no one will admit that they have made a mistake, they defend their rights as parents or religious nuts or ancient cultural traditions but no one takes into account the rights of the child.  The more we hit and shame and punish our children, the worse the world will get.

Children are great imitators.  Give them something great to imitate.

The Cost of Conditional Parenting

As children, our parents are our whole lives, we seek comfort, food and shelter from them, we seek approval and recognition from them, but most importantly of all perhaps, we seek understanding and unconditional love from them. 

Unconditional love.

Something very few children get.  We always hear parents saying that they love their children ‘no matter what’, that they would die for them and do anything for them.  While this may be true, our children don’t see time outs, spanking or any other form of ‘discipline’ as unconditional love.  The message that we send by doing these things is “I don’t love you, I’m going to {insert punishment here} and when you apologise then I’ll love you again”.  We may not say that in so many words, but that is what our actions tell our children. 

Look at it like this, we spend our entire lives seeking approval, recognition and understanding from other human beings.  The most important place that we look for these things, is from someone we want to share our lives with, or someone we fancy ourselves in ‘love’ with.  Girls give up their young bodies to boys they ‘love’, some ending up pregnant as a result and the sperm donor running away in fear.  We seek approval from our friends, so much so that the majority of children and teenagers will literally, do anything to make sure they are always thought of as cool and ‘legendary’.

We see young people today wandering aimlessly through life, concerned only for the shallow things that life has to offer, they are compliant or rebellious, most of them suffer from depression in some form, countless of them commit suicide.  Why?  Because these young people have never, ever been accepted unconditionally for who they are. 

Let’s take a look at why.  Rewind 10, 12, 14 years to a 3 year old toddler having a huge tantrum.  The toddler is screaming at the top of his voice and is bashing his fists against the floor, hitting anyone who comes close to him (where has he learned to hit in his anger?  from the parents?  from other children at daycare who are hit by their parents?), the mother, bewildered by this sudden onslaught of emotion and the destruction taking place from those little chubby hands, yells to be heard above the noise, the noise continues to grow louder and louder until the mother loses her temper and starts screaming back (again), she swats the toddler on the butt and then sends him to timeout for 3 minutes where she yells at him to ‘think’ about what’s he’s done.  The little boy, sobbing uncontrollably, sits obediently in his corner, slowly but surely becoming ‘calm’ (inside, the stress hormones are still raging and the little boy feels completely misunderstood).  When his 3 minutes are up he is hiccuping, with a tear stained and snotty face, but he is ‘calm’.  The mother goes and says to him “Do you know why I put you in the naughty corner?” He mumbles back a small “Yes” (because he knows that’s what she wants to hear).  She says, “Say sorry to mommy and give her a hug”.  He obediently does as he is told, not because he wants to, or because he understands, but because he knows if he doesn’t he will be put straight back in timeout, possibly with another wack to the butt/leg. 

What has just taken place is one of many, many small eradications of this child’s personality.  He was having a tantrum because he had lost his favourite toy.  He was frustrated because he had looked for it everywhere and couldn’t find it, he wanted to take it outside and play with it.  Meanwhile, the toy had been packed away by the mother, she didn’t ask him if he still wanted it, she didn’t ask for his permission to take his favourite toy away, she simply deemed him too old to play with it and so packed it away in a box to be forgotten about.  This simple misunderstanding could have been completely avoided if the mother had asked him what was wrong.  If she had acted instead of reacted.  This is a scenario that takes place all too often in all too many homes.  Parents expect children to come into this world and not be an ‘inconvenience’, to sleep the night through from a day old, to be ‘well behaved’, to be seen and not heard.  Everyday, by our actions, we tell our children that they are not worth our time, that they are inconvenient and expensive, that they are ornaments to make the parents look good at the appropriate times.  This little boy, will spend his life being misunderstood.  Is it any wonder that one day he will take cocaine to be ‘cool’, that he will drink and drive one day, ‘because everyone else does it’? 

I know that I have spent my entire life seeking approval and understanding from others.  In my darkest moments, I whisper into the dark “I just want someone to understand me”.  I know now, why I do that.  I know now why I had self-esteem issues, why I would do anything for ‘that boy that I loved’.  My mother and my grandmother, both had the attitude of ‘I’m bigger than you, you will do as I say, when I say it, or so help me…’  I remember wooden spoons and big shoes being brandished and utilised, I remember sitting outside on the swing singing to myself ‘No body loves me, every body hates me’.  I remember crying and wishing with all of my little heart and soul for my mom to come and hug me and comfort me. 

I thank my son, everyday, for coming into my life and showing me all of this.  I thank him for illiciting a love so powerful inside me, that I wanted to make sure that he never ever felt the things that I felt as a child.  I thank him for inspiring in me this burning desire to know myself, to know why I am the way I am, to understand why I feel the way that I feel, and to make sure that he never has to seek approval and recognition so relentlessly as those of us who have been raised conditionally have been seeking it.  I want him to be happy and confident within himself, to know his heart and mind, and to be content with himself.  I don’t want him to be as vulnerable to hurt as I have been.  So here I sit, nursing him because he’s just had a temper tantrum from getting a fright for pulling the drawer all the way out, and I will continue to provide him with this greatest source of comfort and security, for however long he needs it.  When he gets frustrated and angry, I will ask him what is wrong, I will commiserate and listen to him when he tells me that he wants to hit me, or hurt me because he’s so angry, I will console him and say to him how scary that must be for him, I will ask him what he wants me to do to help him deal with these big and scary feelings.  I will never punish him for his feelings, like so many of us have been during our childhoods.  I will never belittle or humiliate him for being a child.  I will never lay a hand on him to control his behaviour.  My child is a human being, he has rights, he has needs, and most of all, I owe him pure and unconditional love and understanding. 

Well-meaning parenting

I have, like many others, been drawn into the ‘mommy wars’.  I always hear there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to parent.  But is that true?  Would we say that a mother who neglects and abuses her child has neither chosen the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to parent, that she is just doing what’s best for her family?  This is an extreme example to use, but just because something is more sociably acceptable does not make it ‘right’.  There are many forms of neglect, for some children, the most subtle kind of neglect is the worst, while others bounce back from it.  The important thing to remember is that every single child is different.  Some children can be bullied, while others can’t and so on.

If there is one thing I am tired of hearing, it’s ‘don’t be so judgemental’.  But why shouldn’t I be?  I look out into the world and I see death and destruction everywhere.  All of this has to start somewhere, doesn’t it?  Of course it does.  And I believe with all my heart and soul that the world is the way it is because of the way we have been treated as children.  For example:  I was raised in your normal Zimbabwean/Southern African household.  I was formula fed, I was smoked around my entire life, I was hit, I was humiliated etc etc.  My mother and I have a terrible relationship.  Truly awful.  And I believe it was not only because of the way that I was raised, but because of the way my mother was raised.  I have always, always found it hard to empathise.  And I forgive myself for that now, because the lack of empathy (or the presence of it) is a learned emotion.  When someone displays empathy to a young, clean and innocent mind, that mind will absorb the emotion it is being shown.  When there is an absence of empathy, the emotion cannot be learned.  i.e. instead of being hit for every transgression (thus, lack of empathy), why not come down to your childs level and ask them what is wrong?  Are you feeling angry?  Wow, that must be really scary for you.  Come here, I will give you a hug and help you through it.  The lack of this basic understanding, can result not just in the lack of necessary human emotions, but it can twist a young mind too (disclaimer – I am not saying I’m twisted).

The problem with the mommy wars, is we are all so afraid of being judged.  We stand up and defend ourselves to the death, knowing that we might be wrong, but too afraid to admit it for fear of the emotional turmoil in realising that we haven’t given our children the best.  Instead of standing up and saying, “I made a mistake, now that I know better, I will do better.”   Parents do the things they do for ‘well-meaning’ reasons.  Just because you ‘mean’ well doesn’t mean you are doing well.  And this is where our problem lies.  We accept people for the way they parent because they are just trying to ‘do their best’.  But what about the children?  What about the children who one day lack in empathy?  That could be taken one step further into pure psychopathy.  You just don’t know how your child will turn out due to your ‘well-meaning’ parenting.  I’m sure my parents meant well by hitting me, after all they were doing it out of ‘love’ and because they wanted me to be ‘respectful’.  Well that didn’t turn out too well did it?  Not for us anyway.

My point is, ‘well meaning’ parenting is not, and never will be, the same as ‘good’ parenting.  Instead of justifying your decision with ‘it never did me any harm’, stop and think about that.  Did it really not do you any harm to be hit?  Are you a perfectly healthy individual having been formula fed?  Are you a trusting individual having been left to cry as an infant?  Do you fear your parents even though you are grown with a family of your own?  As in, do you fear their acceptance or non-acceptance for decisions you make?  Do you still worry what they will say even though you have left home, have a job and a family etc?

In this age of information, there is absolutely no reason to continue with well-meaning parenting.  Our children are our future, and if we mess with our children, we mess with our future.  Attachment parenting may not be ‘right’ for every family, but it is right for every child.