Tuesday, August 6, 2013

They Won't Listen to Me!

I just saw a post on facebook where a Mom is asking for help because her child "won't listen."

I have to wonder what this really means.
Kids DO listen.
They may not choose to respond in the way the parent prefers, but that doesn't mean they didn't listen.

I think that much of the time, when someone complains that another person "won't listen" or "doesn't listen" what they really mean is something more along the lines of "They don't do what I say, even though I use nice words and phrase things in a way to pretend that I'm merely sharing information, or asking, rather than telling."

There are two separate, but related, issues here.

The first is simpler to describe.
There are unmet expectations.

If I say something to one of my kids, and have no expectations of any particular response, then whatever they do, or don't do, is fine. There is no feeling of "they don't listen." No expectations; no frustration. If I have expectations… then I'm not asking or sharing, I'm telling, and wanting them to do something in particular.

The Mom in the post I saw went on to say that her daughter "does the opposite of what I say" and mentioned a case of the daughter continuing to do something the Mom doesn't approve of, even though they "discussed it."

Maybe this Mom doesn't realize that she is wanting or expecting her daughter to do as she is told.
Maybe she believes that she is only sharing information.

Or maybe it's deeper than that.

Maybe she believes that unschooled kids always do what their parents would prefer, because of how they are treated more kindly and gently, with respect. That explaining things always changes someone's behavior. That if you phrase things in a "non-forceful" or respectful way, kids will always make "the right choice."


While unschoolers often make the choices their parents prefer, whether it's from understanding through discussion, or modeling, or patience, or whatever, they do not ALWAYS do so.
The whole point here is that the kids get to CHOOSE. They get to decide.
The parent doesn't get to control them, whether directly, through force, or indirectly, through manipulation.
Influence, yes.
Control, no.

There have been many, many times when I've patiently explained my point of view, offered information, and been supportive of my kids' choices, and they have ultimately made a choice that I would rather they hadn't. What I would consider a "poor choice."

Sucks to be me. :-)

The important part of this is what happens next.

Do I complain that they "won't listen"?  No.
Do I tell them what I think of their choice?  Sometimes.
Do I let them experience the consequences of their choice?  Yes, unless it truly is a life-or-death situation (which happens rarely).

Have they learned from those poor choices, and come to see the world the way I do, apologized, and then gone on to make the choices I would prefer?

Not exactly.

Sometimes, yes.
Sometimes, it has taken a very long time for that cycle to happen. Much like how, when my oldest was born, I suddenly had a different respect for my mother.

Sometimes, they continue to see things differently, and stand up for their own beliefs. Something I want them to be able to do, even if I disagree.

The thing that concerns me about all this is how often I see new unschoolers being very frustrated that they try to be kind and gentle and understanding and non-confrontational and open and honest and free with their children… but they somehow expect that the results will be a child who, given freedom, always makes the "right" choices, with those choices being what the parents want. The parents want the child to have the freedom of choice- or at least they want to think so, or be able to say so. Choices other than what the parents wanted are still seen as wrong, on some level, and, in cases such as the one I saw, as "they won't listen to me!"

Guess what.
That's part of freedom.
The freedom not to listen, or to disregard what someone says.
You don't get to have one without the other.

Is it difficult to see your child make choices you don't like?
Damn straight.
Is it hard to watch them struggle at times?

I read once, long ago, a suggestion that it is better to allow young children the freedom to make choices, including especially "wrong" choices at a young age, when the things they are deciding about are small, so that they LEARN to make better choices, when the stakes are higher. So many of the daily choices people are faced with aren't nearly as critical as some parents seem to believe they are. Often, it isn't the choice itself that is so important, it's the process of making it, and learning from it.

This means that it's important to recognize the process as critical, rather than focusing on being frustrated by the choice itself.

So… anonymous Mom on facebook… if your daughter drinks things with "chemicals" in them, even though you have explained about them, it's not the end of the world. It really isn't. All the explanation in the world does not mean that choices are always made logically, or that the "explainee" will change their mind. It doesn't make you a bad parent, or her a bad daughter.

None of us are perfect people, and none of us are raising perfect people.
The image of the free, independent, unschooled child, where everything is easy and joyful, where the parents and children always agree… is a fantasy.
Yes, there are days when our lives feel pretty damned close to that fantasy. :-)
And yes, it is MOSTLY the case, or we'd change what we are doing, how we live.

But there are disagreements, for sure.
Respectful, most of the time.
But still disagreements. Still challenging.
Still learning.

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