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Taking care of our own needs

What I'm trying to say is, sometimes the parent needs to think about his or her own needs first, and the child's needs are secondary, because how can you care for your child if you're not caring for yourself first?


It's important for parents to recognize their own limitations and set healthy boundaries. It will be harder for our kids to respect us if we aren't respecting ourselves!


But it's also important to recognize what are healthy boundaries and what are boundaries of convenience. It's a healthy expression of boundaries to say "I won't let myself be kicked when you're angry." It may be a boundary of convenience to spend all day running errands you "need" to do and to turn down a request to stop at a place a child wants to because you've reached your running around limit.


It's also important to recognize what are natural limits and what are limits we create by trying to do too much. Being honest with a child that we are too tired is recognizing natural limits. Being tired often is an indication we may be pouring too much of our limited energy into things that could be reduced in priority. If we're often saying no to a child because we've spent the day running errands and we're too tired, then we're putting our child at a lower priority than errands. Occasionally that will happen but if it's happening weekly, then it might be a problem that could be examined for a better solution.


I think parents often confuse what they need to do care for their own mental and physical health with the things we do to keep the family functioning, e.g., meals, cleaning, picking up dry cleaning, banking, errands. Perhaps it's clearer to say that sometimes a person's own needs override other's needs.


I think when we place how we meet the family's needs ahead of their needs is when we need to step back and question. If we decide it's okay to inconvenience the kids for our needs -- and kids won't see what we're doing (like making dinner) as self-sacrifice because kids realize (even if we don't realize it for ourselves!) that we could choose to do things differently -- then we shouldn't be surprised if the kids decide it's okay to inconvenience us when they choose to meet their own needs.



Sometimes I'm too too tired to go out at 10 pm to get some candy that he wants. We'll discuss the options like creating something else or eating what we've got in the house. I've noticed a trend these days that he's accepting of my limits more.


Sandra Dodd: I'm going to jump off from there. He WILL accept limits more as he knows they're thoughtful/compassionate/respectful of him. But aside from the good part of the statement above, I want to move toward what might be a misunderstanding.


Letting kids have their choice of what's in the house, or letting them pick things at the store are natural parts of everyday life. Going out after dark to get something someone craves isn't, unless people were restless and wanting to get out anyway, or needed to pick someone up from a movie or a friend's house, or whatever honest out-of-house reason there might be.


The only things people should really be expected to go out for after dark, I think, are necessities like toilet paper, maybe milk, drinking water if they have bad water and no filter.


I have two or three times gone out with Holly, walking to the Texaco just for candy or the walk. We could've driven, but it was more the nighttime adventure than the candy bar.


If one of mine says "I wish we had M&Ms" I'll say "Put it on the list and I'll get some tomorrow." (or if groceries were just bought, "next time")


"My kids can have what they want" (which gets said a lot by many long term unschoolers) doesn't mean "... in the whole earth, any time of the day or night."


"I don't limit my kids' video games" does NOT mean "I buy them every game and system that comes out." It means the parents aren't forbidding or timing or whatever.


And if we say "Whatever's in the house, they can have," some newer readers seem to smugly determine just never to have candy or video games in the house.


There's a balance.


The extremes aren't so good. Neither deprivation nor crazily trying to provide everything a child has ever seen or imagined is going to work.


Here are some responses from Julie Bogart, Pam Sorooshian and Robin Clevenger about taking care of ourselves and meeting our own needs.


This is probably a big reason why I was so conflicted when I heard unschoolers say, "Make sure you do things that interest you too" and I think, "But there's no TIME!" This was a huge issue for me, because it felt like incredible pressure. Take care of all these kids' needs AND make sure you do something interesting yourself too.


Julie Bogart - Perhaps this idea is also miscommunicated. There's a sense in which it sounds like pursuing personal interests means doing additional things for yourself, apart from your kids. I've found that if I simply include my interests in our lives together, then we all participate in each other's interests. For instance, I will happily play Yu-Gi-Oh cards with my son, watch That's So Raven for the millionth time with my daughter, listen to my other son play his saxophone, discuss my daughter's latest book she's reading and read my oldest son's email about song lyric meanings. But I also like to watch Sister Wendy videos about art history. So I might pop those in after That's So Raven. I enjoy poetry and tea so we make tea and muffins and read poetry. Interested kids do it with me. And now they love it!


I love Shakespeare so we usher at the local Shakespeare festival in town. My older kids come along and now they enjoy Shakespeare as much as my husband and I do.


I continue to listen to U2 and read email about the band every day.


I post on my favorite e-lists and forums.


Right now I'm teaching myself Greek. I just get my books out and do a little bit while I sit at the table in the same room as the other kids. My 7 yr old daughter got interested and has her own "Greek notebook" that she writes the alphabet in. We enjoyed bird watching this year because I love bird watching. I participated in the Project Feeder Watch. My kids knew that and helped me out - just like I help them out in their interests.


When my kids were little, I used to take some time away. My husband would watch the kids three hours a week and I'd go to the library. I remember that at first, I literally just sat in a private room doing nothing. I would journal a bit or read a magazine, but I mostly just enjoyed quiet. Over time, I started working on getting published and spent some of that time writing, studying or finding markets for my work.


Later, I dropped the library visits and took guitar lessons once a week. I would practice guitar during the day when my kids were playing in the living room or outside.


I guess I am taking this further because it is important to me that our kids see that a lifestyle of learning continues throughout adulthood. Unschooling isn't just about knowing our kids well and facilitating their interests until they move out. It's a lifestyle for all ages. Certainly the time to devote to multiple interests will vary according to the ages and stages of our kids. I just wanted to put in a plug: don't assume that pursuing your personal interests means time away from children or that it means competing with your children's interests.


And I'd ask any mother: what does interest you? If you've forgotten, it might be time to simply think a bit about it again.


Robin Clevenger - Julie, this is so well said. I've found that my kids' interests spur my own and vice versa, back and forth between us. My daughter Asa wanted to take violin lessons, and in Suzuki violin, the parent usually learns too. So I found myself renting a violin and playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star right alongside her. But I started noticing violin music and what kinds I liked and what kinds I didn't. We found the little violin harmonies in Dixie Chicks songs, and I heard a snip of Vanessa Mae's classical-with-a-dance-beat and bought the CD. I found myself drawn to fiddling and she and I went to some amazing fiddle concerts and now I'm discovering that I love playing Celtic Fiddle music. It's something that we do together every day - we play duets and we play separately and we both share this love of this instrument. I would've laughed if someone told me a few years back that I'd be playing the violin - I always considered it such a fussy instrument.


On the other side, although when I write, I have to be alone, I edit all of my writing when I'm around the kids. Mackenzie sat with me as I read my entire 1st novel aloud and edited it. It was fun to have him with me, and we talked a lot about the plot and characters. It also had an interesting side-benefit for him. It let him see that writing is a fluid process - not something you do once and forget about. I remember how astounded he was at how many mistakes I was correcting in my own text and how many parts I decided to rewrite or use a different phrase. And he was more amazed when I was on the 10th revision and still finding stuff. I think it really helped him to start writing more himself (he tends to be a bit of a perfectionist and gets frustrated if things aren't just the way he imagined them.) After this, he realized that he could always change it after the fact, that it didn't have to be just right the first time. Also, seeing me go to my adult writer's group gave him the idea to start a kid's writer's group, which has now been going for 2 years.


Most of the kids' and my interests, we do together. Some of my interests I do while the kids are occupied elsewhere. All of our interests are beneficial to ourselves and to each other, I think. We learn so much from each other and from supporting each other in what we love to do. I never could've predicted the amazing stuff we've gotten into together, and how much I would enjoy learning from my kids. Unschooling isn't just for them, it's for all of us!


Me pursuing my own interests almost always results in me telling the kids "No" at some point.


Pam Sorooshian - I'm a little concerned that you've taken this "not saying 'no'" to a ridiculous extreme. You shouldn't be feeling like a martyr - you should be taking care of yourself - your kids need you to be well-rested and they need to see you as a real person, too, not only as someone who instantly satisfies their every little whim.


I say yes if it is possible. I don't say "no" automatically or arbitrarily. I try to make things work. But that doesn't mean I have to be SO self-sacrificing that there is no room in my life for taking care of myself or meeting any of my own needs. I don't have to automatically always be last in line for my own time or attention. I'm thinking you need to find a little more balance.


It's only 9:30 am and I already have a huge list of what the kids want to do with me today. The list will get longer as we go further on in the day (it always does! lol).


Pam - You can say, "Here is what I have time to do with you today." You can all together work out your schedules for the day so that it is as good for everybody as possible. But you count too.


I'm a little concerned that you've taken this "not saying 'no'" to a ridiculous extreme. You shouldn't be feeling like a martyr - you should be taking care of yourself.


Julie Stauffer - I think this is a common problem with new unschoolers. They know what template they don't want to be like (traditional parents, school-at-homers) but there is no unschooling template so they simply move to the opposite end of the spectrum.


Living in a respectful relationship means respecting yourself too. It means really, really looking at day-to-day interactions with your family members and being willing to examine whether everyone is being treated fairly.


My biggest pet peeve is people who mistakenly think that giving children room to express themselves means that you do nothing when they are rude to others, screaming at the parent, etc. (I'm not talking about spankings or timeouts, but simply talking to the child about how their behavior is affecting others, taking them on a walk to chill out, giving hugs to calm down, etc.) These then are the same parents who complain that other children want to exclude their kids from play. Well, duh, I don't like to play with people that yell at me, take my toys, throw sand at me, etc., either.


There is a balance, a fairness that often people seem to be missing. They move from "the parent is king" to "the child is king" and seem to miss consensus and boundary building all together.


This has given me a lot to think about! thanks for writing this. Now I'm thinking I should be making more of an effort at pursuing my own interests.


Julie Bogart - Shouldn't require a big effort.


Reading your day made me exhausted! :) I'm thinking of it this way.


If you have a book you love to read, why not let the kids know what you'd like to do, as well? Say to them, "I'll play these board games with you today, and I'm also planning to read a chapter from this book right after lunch. What would you like to do during that time that doesn't need me?"


You could offer to pop in a video tape or to have them also read to themselves during that time.


Last year when life got crazy with activities and driving and TV and computers, I realized I needed some quiet. I asked the kids if they'd mind if I lit a candle for half an hour and we used that half hour as a quiet time in the house. No music, TV, videos. Anyone could read or play quietly in any room of the house, but no loud discussions or running through the house games.


They were willing. We did this for a couple weeks. It helped me when I needed it. We stopped when it became irksome to the youngest.


What I'm realizing is that we need to help our kids to realize that we are humans who live with them and have needs/wants/limits too. This doesn't have to be oppressive or punitive or neglecting. It's just real. They don't mind supporting a mom when she needs it.


Yet I still feel that pursuing my own interests WILL be competing with my children's interests to some extent. From past experience, I know that they do. Me pursuing my own interests almost always results in me telling the kids "No" at some point.


Julie: What do you mean "No"? If you're making dinner, doesn't that mean you can't play a game?


If you are peeing in the bathroom or taking a shower, doesn't that mean you aren't available?


If the only time your kids see you not with them is to do personal hygiene and care-taking, they will feel that you exist solely for their use/entertainment. Then they resent you when you take time away from them. But if you all live together in the home sharing interests, helping pitch in to make lunch or clean up, life is lived for everyone, not just for the sake of some.


It's only 9:30 am and I already have a huge list of what the kids want to do with me today. The list will get longer as we go further on in the day (it always does! lol).


Julie: Why a list?


I need to pause a minute to breathe or I'll get really overwhelmed thinking about adding one of my own interests to this day. :)


Julie: That's the difference right there. It shouldn't be that you are adding anything. Your interests will naturally come out of you. For instance, have you turned on a CD of music that you enjoy today? (Just put it on the CD player-doesn't take time away from anyone.)


Have you lit a candle or arranged a couple of flowers?


Can you put the talk radio show on that you like while you make lunch?


Can you leave an art book on the kitchen table open to a favorite painting and look at it each time you walk by?


You don't need to "make time" for interests as much as stay interested. Start tiny. I used to read while I nursed the baby. I miss that time so much, actually. When your kids color pictures, use real art pencils so that you can color with them and make something really pretty for you. Tape it to the refrigerator.


Pick out some videos at the library that you like and watch them with your kids. If they say "boring" let them know that you are going to watch five or ten minutes of it and then play the board game.


My point is this. What a mom often means when she says she doesn't have time to pursue her interests is that she has lost touch with what interests her because her life has become so consumed with the primary interest: raising children. Guilt prevents remembering what she liked (what colors, music, movies, hand crafts etc.).


But over time, a slow burn grows until one day depression is often the result.


Also, kids grow up and need you less and then it's easy to resent their growing independence. I don't get when people say, "I do my thing and when they need me, I stop and help them and then go back to my own thing". Because when I stop to help them they have me helping them all day long. That's not an exaggeration.


Julie: Perhaps your kids are used to that lifestyle. What if they began to see you emerge? What if they discovered they could help mom pick out her favorite CDs at the library? My daughter used to find art books for me when she was only 5 knowing that I loved to look at them. It goes both ways.


I thought I had this resolved in my own head, that that's just the way things are, that I need to accept it and appreciate that they want to be with me so much, that they won't be little forever so appreciate it while it lasts. Now you have me doubting that again. :)


Julie: It's both. You'll never get this time back as a mother or as an adult at whatever age you are. Both/and. Children require the lion's share but not all.


When I first read your post yesterday, it really struck a chord with me. I can see the truth in what you wrote. So yesterday I got out some books that I thought would make some good altered books. I had read about people doing this and it interested me a lot. Of course I did most of it while staying up really late after the kids went to bed <grin> but at least I did it. :) (I'm TIRED now! lol I only got 4 hours of sleep and I need much more than that.)


Julie: Being tired isn't the worst thing in the world. :) But perhaps you are on a binge/purge cycle. Don't toss the book or the idea. Just "alter" the amount you read tonight.


I hear the kids out in the living room beginning to fight. Alisha just asked me how much longer I'm going to be on the computer. Deep breath... Gotta go try to find some kind of balance to this day!


Julie: Good idea. Small steps.


P.S. I don't mean to sound like a "know-it-all" but I've actually spent quite a bit of time on this topic. I have a website (Trapdoor Society, I'm Jazz on that site) for moms growing in their own educations and have spoken numerous times to homeschool mom groups about how to be a self-educated, nurtured adult while a fully active homeschooling (unschooling) mom.



There is a balance

Robin, Julie and Sandra respond to the same question.


It's only 9:30 am and I already have a huge list of what the kids want to do with me today. The list will get longer as we go further on in the day (it always does! lol).


Robin - What we do if we've got a busy day or lots of things we want to accomplish is this: We all sit down at the kitchen table and I bring 2 pieces of paper. On the first piece of paper, we write down everything that people want to get done today. That might include housework that needs to happen, projects that the kids want to do, or anything that's already scheduled like friends coming over to play, as well as things that I want to do. Then on the 2nd piece of paper, I write down the times we have available. I put in anything that has to be done - like eating, or laundry if we're out of clean clothes, or whatever. Then we go around and try to add the other stuff in so that everyone gets to at least get some of the stuff that they want to do in the day. For stuff that doesn't get fit in, I add it to my schedule or to-do list on my palm pilot so that we don't forget about it. I think it has helped the kids to see how much time we've got in a day and what can be accomplished in that time, and to prioritize what they want to get done. We don't do this all the time - many of our days are just free-ranging. But if the kids have projects or if I have things I want to accomplish, it all seems to go better if everyone knows that their own needs will be addressed.


Julie Bogart - I have been thinking about the "yes" and "no" discussion. What do you think of this as a principle for how to say yes or no?


Perhaps we need to get honest with ourselves and each other.


I had the following situation last summer. My 13 year old daughter had a very active social life. She wanted to go out with friends most nights of the week and usually needed rides that were 30 minutes round trip to get where she wanted to go.


I wanted to say yes as much as possible and did for four weeks until I was dreading another request for a ride.


I finally told her that I wanted her to have a wonderful summer with friends and I would do all I could to facilitate it, but I needed to do it less because I found myself dreading her requests instead of looking forward to them. We have four other kids who needed me too and I was spending too much time in the car. I asked her thoughts and she told me that she felt frustrated that she had so few alternatives for rides.


We tried to brainstorm some ways to make us both happy. She brought the kids to our house a few times instead of going out, she got a few rides and I drove a little less. I took a one week break once just to have a vacation. :) During that week, my husband did more of the driving. Once my son got his license, he helped even more.


Anyway, perhaps the principle might be that when you feel you need to say "no," it helps to give the context for the "no" and also search for a possible "yes" solution for the one requesting your involvement. Seems like we need to communicate more than "I will" or "I want to" or "I won't" or "I can't" in order for this to work.


What do you think?


Sandra - Sounds pretty good.


I think it covers not saying no arbitrarily, and modeling problem solving strategies.


The idea is to facilitate the kids' busy lives. The idea is not to be the sole facilitator!


And as to boredom or feeling overwhelmed with kid-need on everyday-days, I don't think anything comes close to having other kids over more, or maybe a mother's helper. Kids can do more in their own homes just with the addition of another human. Lego is different, Barbies are different, the swing set is different, the videos are different, if the new kid has new ideas and methods and knowledge.



Joyfully Rejoycing
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