Every May I go on a weekend long dance retreat in Loveland, OH. When I returned from my annual trip last month, Beezy informed me with a big smile that she and her dad had broken all of my rules while I was gone. Rules? I have rules? I was not aware of this. I don't think that "strict" is an adjective people would generally apply to me. So I was very curious to know what were these rules that it was apparently such a joy to break! There were only two mentioned--Beezy slept in my space on the bed, and she and her dad wrestled at bedtime. I disapprove of rough-housing right before bed, as Beezy usually has a hard time falling asleep as it is. Yep, I'm hard core all right! Nearly a bastion of rules.
I do have rules about no running in the house, and if friends come to play, they are required to help clean up before they leave. But mostly we just naturally run on principles, and any rules follow from those. Maybe this is because of my Montessori background. I believe that children should know the reasons behind any restrictions. Only this way can interior motivation to do the right thing exist. Arbitrarily imposed rules set only for the convenience of adults don't fulfill that ultimate goal. Because I'm the adult and I said so... What does this teach? Children learn that if they want power, they have to be bossy, even bullies, to get it.
Increasingly I am aware of the nature of conflicts with others over my parenting style. We are coming from an entirely different paradigm. For example, when Beezy hit someone, I would talk to her about how that makes the other person feel, and that we don't want to hurt people, and that when we do, we make amends. I would also seek to understand the reason, the need underlying the behavior. The mainstream response would be to belittle and punish, to think badly of the child, and by extension, the parents. What are those people doing wrong in raising their child, that she would hit someone? One thing that has always stuck with me was the teaching of my Montessori training, that these children have only lived on this earth for three or four or six years. They have not had the time and experience that adults have had to learn to control such impulses and to find better ways to communicate their needs.
Even among adults, instances of throwing things, hitting, cursing, and screaming are not rare. For a child, the impulse to kick, hit, yell, or throw something comes quite naturally. What good can come from punishment with more of the same? Or even the shaming of a time out or taking away a toy? Children begin to believe that they are "bad," and people who think they are bad often do very bad things. We witness constantly a gross lack of empathy in the world. A complete disconnect from the idea of putting oneself into the shoes of another, and trying to understand. If empathy is not role modeled for children, and is withheld from them, how can they learn it?
Jesus admonishes us to become like children if we want to get to heaven. I think he is asking us to put ourselves into their smaller shoes, to see His light shining in their eyes. Too often adults do not take the time to observe what is really going on with a child. We take the easy way out. The lazy way. When Beezy is all grown up, I want to be able to echo the poetic words of Robert Frost: But I, I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.