Boys and Caregiving

Late summer, I was walking our dog, a Great Pyrenees, in the yard and looking for a missing toy in the grass. As we were walking a rabbit took off and my dog tried to as well, pulling me into a divot in the grass. The result was one of the worst ankle sprains of my life. I required assistance just to get back to the house. The males in my life sprang to action. My husband helped me get into the house. My oldest son helped me wrap my foot; finished cleaning the floor, an interrupted chore; and picked a flower for me. My youngest son stayed nearby offering comfort. I thought as I sat there, my ankle on fire with pain, as the only female in my house, if a female is required for caregiving to happen, I would be in trouble. I thought exploring the topic would be interesting.

When it comes to raising boys, there are few discussions about boys and the role of informal, unpaid caregiver. In popular culture when a father cares for his child without the mother present, some have called his care “babysitting.” There is a counter movement stating father’s when left alone to care for their children are parenting, not babysitting.

Both children and adults at some point in life require caregiving. Statistics show the economic value of unpaid caregivers in the billions of dollars. According to caregiver.org, out of the 43 percent of the population that provide care to a child or older adult, 14 percent are males.

In an article by the New York Times, the risk of divorce when women are diagnosed with a chronic or terminal medical condition is discussed. According to a study published in the journal Cancer, “female gender was found to be a strong predictor of partner abandonment in patients with serious medical illness.” Having a spouse for support when managing a serious medical diagnosisis an important part of improved mental health and physical health outcomes. The conclusion in the study from Cancer mentions this as well: When divorce or separation occurred, quality of care and quality of life (for women) were adversely affected.”

I believe valuing caregiving and care for the home are important to the health of my son’s future marriages. By investing in the training of my sons to run a household, care for children and adults, and complete house cleaning chores, my sons will be better prepared for marriage and parenthood.

A simple way to model these skills is to include children in daily work. In fact that’s what we do, we start with doing the work together. I’m not looking for the boys to pay attention to every detail I would, or in the way I would. I observe simply if the job is done, with increasing attention to detail as the child gets older. Yes, the boys fuss and argue, but often, with using some whimsy and playfulness, we are able to have fun together through the duration of the project. My 3-yearold has announced he hates laundry and loves to do dishes. My 6-yearold some days fights me, and other days initiates working on chores. In fact, setting the table is a specialty of his, with attention to detail and the comfort of the family.

The process of modeling these skills has provided opportunity for my husband and I to have discussions about who does chores around the house and when. This part of our lives continues to be a work in progress. Fortunately, how we handle these discussions can be helpful for our boys as well. Modeling how to have a conversation about chores, even using tools to help identify areas of improvement, can be helpful. In an article on the chore war, which includes a checklist to guide a conversation about chores, because couples who do the least arguing about housework are those who have talked about it and made choices together.”

I want my boys to be fully prepared to graduate into meaningful employment and relationships when they leave our home. I want my boys to realize the work in a home isn’t men’s work or women’s work; it’s the work that benefits everyone closest to them, benefits a wife, benefits their children, benefits their family.

“The work of making home happy does not rest upon the mother alone. Fathers have an important part to act. The husband is the house-band of the home treasures, binding by his strong, earnest, devoted affection the members of the household, mother and children, together in the strongest bonds of union,Adventist Home.

References:

https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-statistics-demographics

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/12/men-more-likely-to-leave-spouse-with-cancer/

Glantz, M. J., Chamberlain, M. C., Liu, Q., Hsieh, C.-C., Edwards, K. R., Van Horn, A. and Recht, L. (2009), Gender disparity in the rate of partner abandonment in patients with serious medical illness. Cancer, 115: 5237–5242. doi:10.1002/cncr.24577

https://psychcentral.com/lib/chore-war-household-tasks-and-the-two-paycheck-couple/

White, Ellen G. The adventist home counsels to Seventh-Day Adventist families as set forth in the writing of Ellen G. White. Southern Publ. Assn., 1980.

Mundane Days of Faithfulness

The winter months — with recovery from the holidays, colder temperatures, and the end of the school year seeming so far off — are often when students appear to struggle. For parents the colder, shorter days can be seen as days to get through in order to get to the days which are warmer and longer. In the winter months in the midwest, it’s a time of rest for the land and the plants; even cows and chickens take a break from producing milk and eggs. The winter is a sustained period of time where not much appears to be happening, but it’s a crucial time in the farming process. Just as the farmer has a time without the appearance of success, so too, families can have a season where not much appears to be happening. There are ways, though, to make the mundane days, meaningful.

During this time focus could be changed to demonstrating how to work at something for a little bit, and be satisfied with incompletion. The process is the important part.

When I think of an example of appreciating repetitive and mundane experience, and focusing on the process vs. the outcome, each time I come back to chores. When I look at chores in a way that I will only be satisfied when every dish is clean and put away, all the clothes laundered and put away, and the house straightened and looking company ready, then I am setting myself up for frustration and an irritable mood. I am also modeling the idea that satisfactory work only occurs when the desired outcome is met.

I’ve worked, prayed, and continue to practice accepting time spent on a project as good enough. Beyond accepting “good enough,” the repetitive nature of most tasks lends itself well to engaging in mindfulness activities which soothe the mind, body, and spirit.

The easy task of matching socks and prayer go well together. Singing and worship in the middle of dishes increases energy, both physical and spiritual. Vacuuming and mopping the floor works well with taking deep breaths and adding a blessing or a mantra to focus the mind. My favorite deep breathing activity is also a prayer. When I breathe in, I pray, “Whatever You give me, I accept.” When I breathe out, I pray, “Whatever You take from me, I let go.” I have found increased connection with God, and flexibility in following God’s plan for me by incorporating this deep breathing prayer with my chores.

In Deuteronomy 11:19 we are to “Teach them (the Word of God) to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” While it may feel awkward at first, modeling and demonstrating mindful connection to God throughout the day are powerful tools of faith to impart to your children. You may wonder, then, how does this apply to school work?

My husband, a concert level musician, taught me that in order to learn how to do a skill quickly and accurately, I first needed to learn to do the task slowly and methodically. Whether taking my licensing exam or folding laundry, in order to improve my skill, I need to take action slowly; and, once learned and done accurately, I can increase the speed of completion. School work is about acquiring new skills, in-depth study, and communicating the knowledge acquired. The process is similar to what I described with chores. Frequently, there isn’t a satisfactory end. Reading, writing, and math all require practice, a lot of practice, with frequent mistakes and trying again. If the focus of learning is on a satisfactory outcome, we can set up our relationship with our children to be one of frustration and irritability. I present for your consideration: What if the process of learning chores and prayerful mindfulness will ease any learning frustrations, because knowledge of the process of learning will already have been experienced by your child(ren) through learning the process of chores?

These shorter, colder, perhaps even mundane days allow activity in a household to slow down; the focus of learning can be on the basics. Through repetition and mindfulness, a child can grow physically, developmentally, and spiritually during a time when you are unlikely to see any “academic fruit.” These days are important, if we can model the skills we want our children to integrate, and allow children freedom from constantly striving for the moment of success.

“What will you do in the mundane days of faithfulness?” ~Martin Luther

Family Traditions Create a Family Story

My boys love stories. When one of the boys seem more demanding, more whiny, or is asking me to help them with something I know they can do, I know they are wanting my time and attention. So, we take time out together with a story. We do the same at bedtime. My boys have a hard time slowing down and going to sleep. Once again I turn to taking time to read several stories to help them calm down.

Stories are a way to create a cohesive and positive family experience during the holiday season. Stories are also a way to introduce children to the family spiritual belief system, long before they are ready to make a cognitive commitment of belief. Using stories during the holiday season is a way to meet both goals — create a shared family story, and share the parent’s spiritual beliefs. A family story, including spiritual beliefs, is shared among parents and children through family rituals and traditions. “The existence of and the participation in family rituals also seem to contribute to the individual’s identity within the context of the group. Through these rituals an individual may receive affirmation of his/her group membership, while at the same time being esteemed as a unique and special being,” (Smit, 2011). The desired outcome is that, through the experience of these rituals and traditions, each person in the family will experience a sense of belonging, of how precious they are, and will begin to incorporate these rituals and traditions into their life story as well.

During the holiday season we are with my extended family, and we will take the time to have a family game night. This is a way to include grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles in our family story too.

Allowing time during the holiday season for each person to share what traditions they enjoy, and then incorporating them into the family plan, includes each person in the family narrative. To revisit and participate in the traditions each year provides the potential for each family member to continue to experience a sense of belonging. Taking time, like on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, for each person to share their experiences, their story, of what it is like to live in their family, also allows the parents to hear what experiences of being in a family the children remember. This is particularly powerful as it helps address issues regarding belonging and exclusion in the family, and gives the opportunity for parents to make changes in order to increase a sense of belonging in a family.

However, the more frequently the traditions occur, the more likely a child is to remember them and include them in the narrative of their family experience. Finding ways to include daily, or weekly, or monthly traditions is a way to increase family cohesion, even if children are argumentative or don’t want to cooperate. Simple ways to emphasis rituals include the following:

  1. Have specific rituals upon arrival and departure of family members. When families greet each other and bid farewell to each other consistently, with affection and love, in spite of the presence of negative emotions, an increased feeling of belonging is created.  
  2. A family experiencing change or trauma can ensure children feel safe and a part of the family by following an expected daily ritual, such as a bedtime routine that includes time with Mom and Dad before bed.
  3. Traditions and rituals, such as Friday night worship, to welcome the Sabbath and to talk about their week, can be helpful to each family member as they try to find meaning in their shared experience.
  4. Having a weekly event such as the Sabbath — including time together, food, and maybe even other friends and family — is a respite from the mundane, and creates “sparkling moments” that create a shared history among family members that is easier for each person to remember.

Shared rituals help to provide an anchor for the relationship, reminding each family member they belong. “The structured parts of a ritual anchor us to our past, whether that is our personal past or that of our family of origin, community, culture, religion, or humankind,” (Imber-Black, 2009). It’s never too late to start traditions. Even if you have children who are teenagers, you can start new traditions, maybe by asking an adolescent what is important to them. Responding to a child’s idea, by allowing it to change your plans, to include them in your rituals or traditions, is a powerful way to demonstrate a child belongs. By making these changes, parents are providing a safe haven. In fact, through the use of positive and inclusive rituals, the family is able to create a shared narrative and experience transformation, even where chaos or trauma may have occurred.

The simplicity of a shared history allows each person to experience the strengths of the family. As the family experiences a shared narrative, each person has an idea of where they came from, who they are, and what their future may look like.

 

References:

Smit, R. (2011). Maintaining family memories through symbolic action: young adults’ perceptions of family rituals in their families of origin. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, (May), 355-367.

Imber-Black, E. (2009). Rituals and spirituality in family therapy. In F. Walsh (Author), Spiritual resources in family therapy (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. (Original work published 2009)

White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: Norton.

Growing Roots, Bearing Fruit

This year we are homeschooling a kindergartener. In typical classrooms we would be teaching our son, at five-almost-six years old, how to read. In reality, from a sensorimotor perspective we started to teach him to read a long time ago.

We read books together.

We visit the library together so he gets an idea of the reading opportunities available.

We bought him a balance bike when he was two-and-a-half years old.  

My son mastered how to ride his balance bike by four years old. In fact he was so good at riding it, he wore it out before he turned five. This spring his cousin took 30 minutes sharing her bike with him, and I received a video of my son riding a bike with pedals, no training wheels. There are specific neurological areas of development that need to occur, and skills that need to be mastered before a child is ready to read. Learning how to ride a bike with pedals, no training wheels, is one of those neurological skills which points to readiness. These are areas as parent-teachers we can and have supported.

There is one thing that we are waiting on. My son hasn’t expressed the desire to read yet.

There are many things that I want to try to see if they help him learn to read. I have sensory ideas. I have ideas for learning to read outside. I have ideas for including grandparents, cousins, siblings in learning to read. Until my son is interested in reading, though, I keep finding ways to make reading interesting, and to focus on his sensorimotor development. We are also taking steps to help our younger son start to learn how to read. This spring he started riding his first balance bike. 

From a developmental point of view, these are foundational neurological pieces that are stepping stones to advanced academic skill. The end goal of course is for the student to experience the “fruit” of their academic labor, demonstrated by sustained attention, cognitive reflection, and the ability to memorize and recall information. There are sensorimotor skills that are needed first to strongly root a child through practice, experience, and relationship that the child will need to understand abstract academic skills. An article I read in The Atlantic, “An Unfinished Quest in Education,” discussed how children going into school, but lacking sensorimotor experiences, has made it more challenging for them to learn. As parents in a homeschool setting, we have the opportunity to provide sensorimotor experiences as part of their learning, and introduce specific learning skills as a child needs them.

In younger years children benefit from shared experiences — which can really be as simple as reading or cooking together, to build the relationship between parent who is also teacher, and child who is also student — and lots of time to play. In older childhood and especially adolescence, when a student is stuck, having the experience working through challenges together will be helpful in working through abstract academic skills.

Things to watch out for are signs of a behavior, relational, or emotional imbalance (mental health problems or concerns). There are often interventions a parent can put in place at home. Sometimes the family may benefit from guidance of a mental health professional who can provide support for the parents, the child, and the whole family.

Throughout this school year, I’ll provide ideas on how to help a child’s neurological “roots” to flourish, because this is the hard work, the work that leaves me wondering if I’m preparing my child appropriately. This is the work I need support on, and where I want to provide the support to other parents. The very activities we choose could influence our children for a lifetime. We are shaping our son’s interest in reading, interest in exercise, and his relationship with us and learning. There is a lot going on right now that isn’t evident, but is just as important — or maybe more important — as the “fruit” of academic learning.

Reference: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/06/an-unfinished-quest-in-education/486074/

Maturing the Parent, Teaching the Child

Here we are at the beginning of our homeschooling journey. Our oldest is starting kindergarten. We have a lot of ideas about homeschooling, what we want our children to experience during this journey, and how we will get there. However, to borrow from Stephen Covey, we are going to “begin with the end in mind.”

Our curriculum for this year is Destinations. My husband and I went through the process of identifying our goals for educating our children. We identified 28 goals that are important to us, and seven overall goals that will be the focus of the work we do. The other 21 goals will secondary, or tertiary, and we will document on them when we notice them, but they aren’t the priority goals. I look at our goals, and think this will be harder than I thought. We aren’t simply focusing on the tasks of learning, like reading, mathematics, and writing. We want our children to live these goals, with our ultimate success knowing that our children have a personal walk with God.  As parents we also have to learn how to model the actions we want our children to imitate, because they do imitate us already.

When it comes to being parent-teachers, we get to work together on the expectations we have, our parents have, and others in our support system might have for the education experience of our children. The education process has reinforced the notion of teamwork. At the same time, my husband taking a primary role in educating our children challenges societal norms. Sometimes these challenges are easily overcome. Other times the challenges take some time to work through. Educating a child becomes as much about the maturing of the parent, refining routines, learning or relearning skills, and being or becoming the type of person we want our children to imitate…as it is about teaching a child. Having education goals keeps us from being pulled in too many directions, and allows us as parents to intentionally model what we want our children to imitate — even as they imitate many other actions that we aren’t intending to model.

For educational learning specifically, we follow a Montessori approach right now, a hands-on method where the children are able to interact with their environment without specific direction. We provide different opportunities for learning. We know which learning tasks that are necessary such as reading, writing, and mathematics. How a child accomplishes the learning tasks will likely vary. A Montessori approach gives us the opportunity to observe our children, notice learning preferences, and let our children teach us about their own interests. The children create, problem solve, and share with us their experiences and successes. We are able to develop a relationship with our children, without focusing specifically on behavior management like sitting still, focusing, and staying on a task for a predetermined amount of time. While important skills, we can get to them at a later time. For now, it’s about modeling, observing and enjoying each other.

References:

Covey, S. R. (2013). The 7 habits of highly effective people: powerful lessons in personal change. London: Simon & Schuster.

Dickerson, E. (n.d.). Check These Out:. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from http://showcase.netins.net/web/nurture/