- To love God and to love their neighbour. When I broke this down in my own head over the past while, I realized that my heart's desire for my children really does echo the Bible's two greatest commandments: To love God; and to love others.
When it comes to loving God, I desire my kids to know God at a personal level, and to be in relationship with Him and to look to His leading over their lives. How this objective translates into our lives now is this: My kids need to see their parents' faith being lived out, because our example will or will not lead them in that future direction (not that it's a guarantee of the choices they will make as adults); and they need for us to be deeply involved in praying for them and working with/coaching/discipling them. It means that our kids need to learn about the Bible and what it means to live life as Christians; and it further means learning and talking about other faiths and religions in the world around us. I have no desire to shelter my children from learning about different beliefs or religions; in fact, I'll be as interested to learn more as I hope they will be in coming years. My hope is that they will learn to lead lives of a Godly faith in and amidst the world around us and they they will do so out of deep understanding, tolerance, and respect, and while caring deeply for those around them...which is part of my hope/dream for them that they love their neighbour...whoever that neighbour might be.
That's the perfect segue into talking about how we need to live life now in order for the kids to mature into adults who also love others. When I think about loving our neighbours I am, of course, talking about more than those who live on either side of us. I'm talking about those folks as well, but so many more: our family members; friends; people who are less fortunate than we are; people both near and far. For our family, 'neighbour' also includes our kids' birth father and community in Ethiopia. Loving others is about building understanding and compassion, making caring about others a priority of our time and money, and about learning to care about the people around us in tangible and meaningful ways. There are a host of things that I would like for our home environment to include over the remaining time that my kids live in this home, including these few: Learning how to manage conflict and family dynamics; developing depth in friendships with a variety of people in their lives; spending time (quality and quantity) with family and close friends; making ongoing and deliberate and thoughtful contributions to our community and broader world and our Ethiopian family; understanding others' perspectives while holding on to our own sense of self. We are working in each of these areas with our kids and my hope is that we will deepen these kinds of commitments over the coming years.
- Depth in relationship. So much more important than education is relationship...being in relationship with others. Obviously, I hope that my children continue to have excellent friendships with their peers and I hope that some they already have are 'lifers.' But here I'm talking more specifically about relationships that they have with the adults in their lives. These are so important to develop, for at least a couple of reasons. First, because as lovely as it is to have friends who are similar-aged peers, by the time our kids hit adulthood, it's adults that they need to be able to get along with and work with, and childhood is a time to practice these skills. Second, it's not fellow peers that we want our children learning their identities and their value systems from...that would be a little like the blind leading the blind because none of them have their values established yet. So I'm also looking for my kids to have deep relationships with key adults in their lives: Parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles; their teachers (yes, my kids do have relationships with many adults who are teachers and coaches in their lives!); mentors; family friends; etc etc.
This one is both easy and hard to work on during our h/schooling years. It's easy in the sense that we are built, created, for relationship. It is instinctive for us to attach to others...it's just question of to whom we attach in order to cultivate the kinds of depths that we hope for, for our children. On the other hand, this is a hard aspiration to have because I don't see adults taking on such significant mentor roles in children's lives very often any more - we're too busy now, too often isolated from each other and living on our own little islands. We're not living in earlier days any more, when communities of people lived together, or in close proximity to each other and where the connectedness between child and numerous adults in his/her life was a given. Sometimes I feel like selling our home and moving into a neighbourhood with our six or eight other families and just 'doing' life together as families...that would make this so much healthier, in some ways.
- An understanding of balance and polarity. This might sound a bit odd, so let me explain. Someone that I used to work with defined polarities as being two seemingly opposed attributes, tendencies, or principles; they are extremes that must be managed and balanced because too much of either, or too little of either, polarity would be not a good thing. So in a workplace, for one obvious example, one may need to manage the polarities of team-building and independent work. In life as I see it, I hope to cultivate in my children an understanding that life is: Both fun and routine; easy and hard; exhilarating and scary; work and family; holy and sinful; work and relaxation; living in the moment and having goals for the future; about the here and now and about eternity; about head knowledge and about the heart's instinctive pull; full of love and beauty, and replete with the worst and most depraved of humanity; joyful and sorrowful; etc etc etc. I want my kids to view their world as being all about the mix, all about the management of both ends of various spectrums because too much or too little of any of these things just isn't the way life works.
In order to foster this, I want to encourage their (and my) thoughts in this direction through what we choose to read, how we talk about the world and about the people in our lives, and by engaging them in ongoing discussion about what they see in the world around them and about the mixed feelings that live inside of them. We talk every day about 'on the other hand' thinking, and I provide examples and I probe the kids for 'on the other hand' thinking.
Lizzie, for example, is maturing into mixed feelings in these very days, which is really cool to see (and amazing to see because she's developing them at a pretty typical age/pace, whereas kids with a trauma history or high sensitivity are usually years behind in the brain's spontaneous development in this area). I encourage her in her mixed feelings many times throughout the day, to the point where she now echoes it back to me: "Mommy, I have mixed feelings about abc...on the one hand, I think/feel xyz, and on the other hand, I think/feel qrs." We let the kids sit in indecision for an inordinate amount of time (drives me crazy at times) because their indecision tells me that they are thinking more than one thought at a time and that they are processing a mix...fabulous news! Just this week, for example, when Geoff and the kids dropped me off at a haircut appointment, Matthew took the entire fifteen minute ride to ponder (out loud) whether he wanted to go in to the salon with me, or whether he wanted to go with his dad and siblings for ice cream. He talked about it the. whole. way. there, about advantages and disadvantages of both sides of the equation and we let him wallow in his uncertainty (in fact, encouraged it by holding him in his indecision for as long as possible - 'yes, I can see where that would be tough...on the one hand you...and on the other hand you...' etc) in order to cultivate this very notion of understanding polarities - even in these simple ways, he is developing critical thinking skills that will benefit him hugely later. When, in the last minute, his decision was made, he owned it and was fine with the fact that he missed out on his beloved ice cream because he wanted to experience the relative quiet of a hair salon (and let me just say here that if a hair salon with fifteen stylists is considered relative quiet, you might be able to imagine how loud our house is!) where he could lounge on a comfortable chair and close his eyes and listen to an audio book.
These examples are just two that characterize the early roots of what we hope to cultivate in our kids over time. The more my children see a world that is complex and difficult to decide upon, the better. I want them to grapple with hard, seemingly diametrically opposed issues without offering solutions or pat answers, and I want them to begin this process in the relative safety of our home.
- Knowing how to manage a family and a household. We want our kids to move into adulthood knowing how to survive, and thrive, in a world where they are suddenly in the position of making decisions about their own lives and well being.
In order to do this, our schooling needs to include: Household management (cleaning, cooking, laundry, making purchases, etc); financial management (tithing, saving, spending wisely, paying taxes on earnings, budgeting, etc); opportunity to watch other families go through life so that they can compare and contrast and discover the kind of spouse and families that they might like to build towards; understanding the dangers of addictions (technological as well as substance) that would threaten the family and household they might seek; etc etc.
- A healthy sense of their own identity (including racial and cultural identity and their identity as children of God).
To foster this, I envision that as parents, we need to work first and foremost and deliberately and for as long as we are parents at deepening our children's attachment to us, so that as they grow older they will want to (continue to) confide in us their secrets, desires, hopes, dreams, vulnerabilities. This might sound like an odd way of encouraging the development of their sense of identity, but I want for our kids to know that we accept them no matter who they are - and in doing so, in being the safe place for them, I hope that they are freed to branch out and simply be the person they were created to be. This happens over time, something that our society tries to steal away from us in the push towards independence and in the drive to be like everyone else. I envision trips back to Ethiopia, travel experiences to broaden the kids' understanding of themselves vis a vis others, exposure to and friendships with people of various races/cultures/religions, opportunities to explore faith issues, lots of one-on-one time with a parent and/or other adult mentors, provision of time and space in order to think and feel and process.
I see this as being about integration as an older child and/or adult - when a person understands other people's perspectives, but it simultaneously able to hold on to themselves...their own decisions, standards, ideals, values, self-perception, etc etc. Matthew demonstrated just a hint of this earlier this week; Lizzie, in an effort to needle him (a particular gift of hers these days!), called him a couple of choice names and ended up by saying "Matthew, you're crazy...just crazy." Just before I jumped in to help, in that breath between the end of her sentence and the beginning of mine, Matthew shocked me - he shrugged his shoulders and looked right at Lizzie and said "Yeah, so? Who cares? I'm not any of those things." Huh - he heard her, accepted that she thought these things, and yet knew himself well enough not to be cowed, or changed, by her view of him in that moment. Likewise, when a cousin and a sibling made fun of Matthew a few weeks ago by mocking him about something that he was scared to do, he demonstrated a bit of it again, by simply saying to them "That wasn't a very nice thing to say. And it's ok if I'm scared." Huh again. Though I don't think Matthew's mature enough yet to be considered integrated (he's still struggling to regain those mixed feelings he lost when his siblings came home forever), these surely are some early signs that it's going to come.
- To work at things they love to do, whether it be as a stay-at-home h/schooling parent, a CEO, a school teacher, a custodian, an engineer, or whatever. I hope that the kids are able to find meaning in what they do.
To help them figure this out, our learning at home during their childhood needs to look at: Learning about different types of work/jobs; understanding their individual giftedness (and weaknesses); and on exploring their varied interests over a long period of time in the hopes that they might find a match between type of work and ability/interest/gifts. It also implies that they develop the healthy sense of identity that I talked about above, so that they experience the freedom to cultivate their interests as they get older. I'm even a little picky now about how I engage the kids in discussion on these things at their tender ages. Most people ask kids something like 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' I hate that question. Hate it, hate it, hate it. To me that question implies that what they do for work some day is the sum total of their identity. It's the being part of that question that has me cringing...what do you want to be when you grow up? Shudder. I don't want my kids to be their work, regardless of what it is. I've lived with that and it's not good. There's so stinking much more to life than our work. Maybe it's too fine a point to make here, but if I want to find out what future employment my kids are interested in these days, my question is this: 'What kind of work would you like to do when you grow up?' or 'What kind of work interests you these days?' ... 'Oh, so you'd like to work as a firefighter/boss/doctor/house cleaner?' Simple change, big difference.
One prospect that I find exciting about h/schooling is that when they are teens, they will likely still have enough time outside of academics to cultivate various interests - whether through volunteer work, part-time jobs, or just spending time with other adults in particular jobs that might be of interest to them. Even these days, this coming winter, Matthew is going to volunteer for our local humane society for several Saturday mornings; he loves animals and we thought this might be a good way for him to cultivate this. I can easily envision Seth wanting to do this at some point, too. There's a whole host of ways that we'll be able to cultivate their work interests and explorations over time.
- Geoff and I really want our kids to experience the pleasure of learning, to persist in the stamina that it takes to figure things out, to make mistakes, and to be able to figure out how to learn what they will need to know. By the time they complete their high school education, there will undoubtedly be holes in the knowledge that they have acquired (whether they're h/schooled or publicly schooled). We feel that we don't need to worry about those holes if our kids find pleasure in learning and have an appreciation for how to go about acquiring the knowledge or information they need to know.
I'll be frank. To encourage a love of learning is the primary reason we're venturing forth now into a new-to-us kind of schooling. They need freedom and imagination to explore things that are of interest, to experience where their curiosity takes them. I have watched one child's inherent curiosity and love of learning slip away in the past year or two of schooling and that's one of my big fears. I don't want Seth or Lizzie to have to walk that road either. My three, like many children, learn best organically - - in a hands-on, natural, timely way when the subject matter is of inherent interest. What child, or adult, wouldn't learn best this way?
- Experiences that involve them in their local community and also take them beyond their primary community: Whether that means traveling or working abroad, volunteering (here or overseas) for periods of time...whatever it takes, I hope that they have an interest in being involved with the world around them.
As hinted at above already, I think the best way for kids to learn this is by engaging in these kinds of things while still children. Even in these days, I am starting to look for ways in which we can be involved in our local community. And in the days ahead, we'll be working at figuring out how to give them exposure beyond our local environment as well. In both areas, I want to encourage the kids to see beyond their own noses to the many needs and interests that exist outside our front door.
- Ideally, it would be great if others think well of my adult children - not because of the job they work at but because they are honest and hard-working; live with integrity; are compassionate and just in the way they live their lives; get involved in community life; live life regardless of what the world would dictate to them.
And that's it: Eight things that we hope/dream for our kids when they are adults. The bottom line is that I so hope for my children that they mature into integrated, adaptive, emergent adults.
This list is not complete. I have more items on other lists. But these are a few of the bigger ones.
Do you know what I was shocked to see missing from my lists...all of my lists, including the one I've just shared with you?
(to be continued)