Finding the right amount of structure - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 26 Old 04-16-2014, 01:16 PM - Thread Starter
 
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When I other homeschooling parents say "We would unschool, but my children do better with structure" I confess that my first reaction is to think quietly to myself "and by 'better,' you mean they do more of the stuff that fits your narrow definition of education." ;)

 

But my second, more charitable reaction is to think quietly to myself "If my children did better with structure how would I know?" I mean, our family life and my temperament, they're just not conducive to consistency of structure. Dh's sleep/wake/home/meal hours depend on whether it's an A-week or a B-week, and when he's on call (one in two) anything goes, he could be gone all day or all night, or in and out, or noodling around on his guitar all day while the phone doesn't ring. And I'm sort of conflict-phobic, so if I suggest something and it goes over well for 24 hours and then someone decides it's not a good idea, I will almost always find a work-around, or reframe my expectations, or decide not to sweat the small stuff, and define almost everything as small stuff. And then, well, my older three kids were always sooooo stubborn. If there was a bit of resistance to something, we couldn't simply get past that resistance with consistent low-key expectations. Consistent low-key expectations could easily result in years of irrational refusal to do anything that even had a whiff of that expectation about it. (Like when my mom tried to gently remind eldest dd to call her "grandma" when trying to get her attention, and the result was that for five long years she would not use the word 'grandma' to my mom's face, and would only call her "hey!" or "hey you!"... it was just crazy how that backfired!)

 

So anyway ... it turns out that my older kids actually do pretty well with structure provided that structure is willingly undertaken and comes from a source that is emotionally detached. Once they entered high school, they just fell into the business of schedules and deadlines beautifully. They do all procrastinate a bit, especially the older two, but when they buckle down their efficiency is good they get things done on time without any drama. They don't necessarily love structure in and of itself: they're not people who enjoy mapping out their lives in agendas and timetables. But they do appreciate the way in which clear expectations create conditions that are conducive to productivity. 

 

So why, oh why, did we struggle so much find the right amount of structure at home? Why was it so important that they get the structure elsewhere in order to happily abide by it? Why were the little bits of structure we tried over and over again at their request so impossible to stick to, so vehemently resisted? For years I had this idea that my kids would eventually learn to create their own structure to whatever extent was optimal for them if I just gave them autonomy and support. It didn't really happen like I thought.

 

Fiona is my last unschooler at home. Today she wrote a final exam in math at the local school. She enjoyed the whole course, but especially the business of reviewing and studying for the exam. She's also just resumed violin lessons, by her own choice and actually somewhat contrary to my expectations, and she's enjoying the structure now that she feels it's coming solely from her teacher and not as a result of family and parental expectations. Her enjoyment of this external structure got me thinking about all of this again. She's more resilient and less stubborn than her older siblings, but regardless I hope I can do a better job of helping her find appropriate amounts of structure -- without necessarily having to enrol in school. 

 

At this point she's planning to continue as an unschooler, provided she can get small doses of outside structure in areas academic, athletic and artistic (my 3As, rather than the 3Rs). And we're lucky that the school has been willing to let her access tiny bits of their structure whilst remaining designated as a homeschooler.

 

Anyone want to navel-gaze along with me? Offer advice or reflections? Critiques?

 

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#2 of 26 Old 04-17-2014, 05:21 AM
 
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It almost sounds like they didn't/don't see you as a parental (authority) figure. Ordinarily, I'd say this was a bad thing, but it doesn't sound like it caused a lot of strife in your house. Of course, again, that could be good or bad. 

 

My biggest concern would be that you mentioned when your mother tried to get them (or one of them) to call her grandma and it resulted in a five year refusal to call her grandma. I would be worried (and I'm basing this solely on what I'm reading here, and you know them, so you may think I'm wrong, and maybe I am) that this would indicate a resistance to any authority, and that could prove problematic. I'd be worried that they'd get fired from jobs for refusal to do as the boss says, or that they could get injured when a police officer tells them to do something and they refuse. 

 

Overall, though, I think every family has to find what works for them. Even if it's not something someone else would do, if it works for your family, it works. I've always tried to make sure that my kids understand our house rules may be different from others, and that when they are at someone else's house, they have to follow their rules, even if they're more or less strict than we are. Aside from that, though, I've always figured if it works for us, that's what matters. If someone else disagrees, that's their choice, but it doesn't have to change my mind. When I hear something that sounds judgemental ("My kids do better with more structure"), I just smile and nod. I try to take it not so much as "My kids do better than yours with more structure" and more as "My kids do better with structure than they do without it", even if I know that they really meant it the first way.

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#3 of 26 Old 04-17-2014, 07:50 AM
 
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I love hearing about your older kids and the early years of unschooling, because it sounds so much like what happens at my house.  Our schedules, while not erratic, are still not predictable and they are seasonal.  I totally understand not having a life that was conducive to any more structure than is (barely) perceptible.

 

One more reason that many parents embrace some structure even though they like the idea of freedom, is that the adjustment period is simply too hard if you want to remove some of the basic structures (bedtimes, for example) or additional structure (desk time for homeschoolers.)  I know because I have tried backing off the imposed structure and the chaos (highs and lows) were more than I could bear.  

 

I think that is more what parents mean when they say "structure" rather than "rhythm".  And some kids are calmer (and, need I say more compliant?) when given a structure.  We like them better.  It's less stressful for us.  (That's not a criticism.)  Is it really "best" for the kids in the long run?  Who knows?  I do think a good relationship with parents can be worth a little structure, when it comes down to that.

 

Conversely, I think most of us have had not grown up in an unstructured environment.  I'm willing to bet most if not all of us have been raised in school and moved from school to family life without a significant break in external structures (external, but perhaps voluntary as in college).  I've had the chance to completely break off from any externally structured schedule (voluntary and involuntary) for a fair number of years, and still I have a hard time loosing myself from the feeling that I *should* add more structure, and letting go of the fear that they can find their own structure when they desire it.  Not having been a child raised with that kind of opportunity, I still need to work at the faith.  Both my girls resist mightily, and I am also not one for fighting battles over things whose importance is not worthy of the conflict.  I've spent too many years inwardly rolling my eyes at pronouncements of doom lest I not comply that it is hard to take myself seriously when I am tempted to make the same pronouncements out of frustration.

 

Structure is nice, structure is orderly.  Most people assume the opposite is chaos (even I use it that way)-- but chaos in nature appears to have an innate structure, if viewed from far enough away, and though difficult to *see*, that structure is inherent in each piece.  (ETA: Can I add that I think "chaos" is how we beings, who live generations in the blink of a god's eye, view order that is Universal in scale?)


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#4 of 26 Old 04-17-2014, 07:51 AM - Thread Starter
 
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It almost sounds like they didn't/don't see you as a parental (authority) figure. ....

 

[reference to anecdote about using the word "grandma"]

My biggest concern would be .... that this would indicate a resistance to any authority, and that could prove problematic. I'd be worried that they'd get fired from jobs for refusal to do as the boss says, or that they could get injured when a police officer tells them to do something and they refuse. 

 

This is a bit of an aside, but you kind of stated it above without realizing it, I think. Our family doesn't operate on an authority paradigm, so the refusal to use the word "grandma" didn't represent opposition to authority. It's hard to explain exactly what it was, but it was more along the lines of anxiety-related resistance to the expectations of the people you care most about. The things my kids knew they struggled with they tended to get very anxious about and were their own worst critics. Adding judgment, pressure and expectations from the people whose opinions they cared very deeply about just put their anxiety over the top, and that was externalized as anger. 

 

That same kid who refused to say "grandma" is now 20, graduated from a high school program with the top marks in her school, has been living entirely on her own for three years with no problem, is the darling of her highly competitive university program, and has been gainfully employed since 15 with nothing but rave reviews from her employers. She hasn't got an anti-authoritarian bone in her body.

 

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When I hear something that sounds judgemental ("My kids do better with more structure"), I just smile and nod. I try to take it not so much as "My kids do better than yours with more structure" and more as "My kids do better with structure than they do without it", even if I know that they really meant it the first way.

 

It never occurred to me that they might have meant it the first way! I always assumed the second. But I think sometimes when parents mean their kids "do better" they mean that only with parental structure do they learn in school-like ways that meet with narrow parental expectations.

 

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#5 of 26 Old 04-17-2014, 08:31 AM
 
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This is a bit of an aside, but you kind of stated it above without realizing it, I think. Our family doesn't operate on an authority paradigm, so the refusal to use the word "grandma" didn't represent opposition to authority. It's hard to explain exactly what it was, but it was more along the lines of anxiety-related resistance to the expectations of the people you care most about. The things my kids knew they struggled with they tended to get very anxious about and were their own worst critics. Adding judgment, pressure and expectations from the people whose opinions they cared very deeply about just put their anxiety over the top, and that was externalized as anger. 

 

That same kid who refused to say "grandma" is now 20, graduated from a high school program with the top marks in her school, has been living entirely on her own for three years with no problem, is the darling of her highly competitive university program, and has been gainfully employed since 15 with nothing but rave reviews from her employers. She hasn't got an anti-authoritarian bone in her body.

 

 

It never occurred to me that they might have meant it the first way! I always assumed the second. But I think sometimes when parents mean their kids "do better" they mean that only with parental structure do they learn in school-like ways that meet with narrow parental expectations.

 

Miranda

Well, as I said, I was basing that solely on what you wrote here. Obviously, what represents an opposition to authority to one person may not to another, and as you said, in your case, it wasn't even an opposition. But I would imagine, since that was my immediate thought, that may be what others think as well. And that may also be where part of their structure worries come from. They feel they need to have structure in order to make sure their kids "turn out right", so to speak. 

 

As far you always assumed the second way - I haven't run into many people who mean it the first way, but I have run into a couple. Very judgmental types, and so it kind of put the thought in my head, and was why I had to start making sure that I took it in the least offensive way. lol I don't know if you've just been lucky that you've never run into it, or if I'm just unlucky to have done so - I'd guess the second, though, as I find that there seem to be a lot of people in my local area who don't homeschool so much to give their kids the best education for them, but more to have a holier than thou "look what I do for my kids and you don't" kind of attitude. 

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#6 of 26 Old 04-17-2014, 08:56 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I would say we've usually managed to have a flexible rhythm. I really like to frame what we're striving for as a family rhythm rather than as a routine or a schedule. Rhythm to me is like waves breaking on the shore ... fairly regular, but forgiving. If something gets in the way of a wave, the water jostles up against it a bit, and there are ripples that form in its wake, but the next wave comes in anyway, with gentle fluidity. Our days haven't often felt chaotic; the energy level we keep here is what you might imagine with a family of introverts living in the forest. Our difficulties with structure have less to do with a tendency to flit between too many pursuits without seeing them through to completion and more with our tendency to get locked into one thing for hours or days or weeks to the exclusion of others. We tend to end up feeling simply out of balance, rather than overwhelmed by chaos.

 

I agree with you SweetSilver, that most of us adults have had very little experience without externally imposed structure, and therefore it's hard to trust oneself -- and one's children -- to live that way. It's very hard to break free of the mentality that being unstructured will inevitably result in aimlessness, lack of productivity and chaos. 

 

I suppose I just imagined that by growing up unschooled my kids would learn to define their own goals and create their own structure above and beyond a daily rhythm and flow to the degree that was optimal for them and would best serve those goals. To that end I tried to avoid imposing structure on them in authoritarian ways, and instead I involved them collaboratively in creating any family-based structure and supported them in creating structure for themselves. I had a bias towards internally-defined structure rather than externally applied. And yet it didn't seem to be enough: they have all gravitated to external structure. Willingly and autonomously, of course. They've made the choice to contract out the structure-making to teachers/programs/courses. 

 

Actually, now that I think about it, my eldest has become very proficient at self-structuring in the last year or so. She's in a university program that imposes a certain amount of structure in the form of rehearsals, exams, competitions, auditions and juried performances, but when it comes to her regular violin practicing, exercise, cooking, shopping and housekeeping she has done very well at figuring out how to proactively organize it all. So perhaps it's more that there's a phase my kids need to go through as they begin stretching their wings towards independence where they needed the scaffolding of external structure. 

 

One amazing thing I've noticed: when my kids have reached out for the scaffolding of external structure, they've really done well with it -- because they wanted it, to serve their own needs, I suppose. Unlike their schoolmates at the local high school, who tend to resist the structure, pushing against it in order to exert their autonomy, my kids have exercised their autonomy by choosing school's structure. It warms my heart (well, sort of!) to hear them complaining about their classmates' oppositional behaviour. They understand intellectually why it happens, but at the same time they experience a sense of frustrated incredulity. 

 

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#7 of 26 Old 04-17-2014, 09:35 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I don't know if you've just been lucky that you've never run into it, or if I'm just unlucky to have done so

 

I suspect it's more the first: luck plus our particular circumstances. We live in a very small town and have a high respectability quotient as a family (eg. dh is the much-loved local family doctor) and my kids have always been fairly precocious in areas that people tend to notice.

 

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#8 of 26 Old 04-17-2014, 12:42 PM
 
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When I other homeschooling parents say "We would unschool, but my children do better with structure" I confess that my first reaction is to think quietly to myself "and by 'better,' you mean they do more of the stuff that fits your narrow definition of education." ;)

 

FWIW, one of my kids does better with some structure, and what I mean when I say that is that she's happier and less stressed. And the same is true for me-- when I have a structure I get more done and feel less flustered, and I like that. 

 

I think emotional detachment does help-- when I provide structure for my kids, they expect that it's more of a suggestion, and so it doesn't really work. If they join an activity run by someone else, their buy-in is a lot stronger.  

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This is very timely for me.  My dd, 7, just told us a few days ago that perhaps she would like to try public school.  When pressed on the why she said that she feels that she is falling behind her friends in math, writing and reading.

 

We are fairly unschoolish, except that if they sign up for a class or activity, I expect them to complete one session before they can stop, unless they have a compelling reason.  For example, there has been a time or two where they wanted to quit soccer mid-season because it interfered with free play time with their public schooled friends. But when asked between seasons, at sign up time, if they wanted to do another season, they've always said yes.  That's pretty much the extent of what I require that they do, learning wise.

 

So, I asked dd what brought this idea about, and she talked about how her friend who is 2 years older than her and goes to public school can write so much better than her brother who is the same age.  I pointed out how much her writing had improved during NaNoWriMo, when she set a goal of writing a 750 word story and surpassed her goal handily.  Her reply: "But I spelled 99% of the words wrong!"

 

Her father asked her why she thought that she needed to go to school to learn these things and her answer, boiled down, was the externally imposed structure.

 

So, I've added some writing and some math to our day this week, and gotten back in the habit of having her read to us at night before we read to her.  I'm wondering how long this will last, and how much structure she needs or desires, and how it will work coming from me, rather than say her piano teacher.

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#10 of 26 Old 04-17-2014, 10:27 PM
 
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My kids are too little for academic structure, but they do really seem to like predictable routine. They really like knowing which day of the week is swimming day, hiking day, skiing day, aikido day, that we go camping on the full moons, that they have time in the mornings after breakfast to work on their projects in the house, etc...  It sometimes seems too much to me -- I'd probably err towards looser if I wasn't coordinating other people in many of these activities.  But it works for them.  Somehow a kid who will often say "no" if I ask if they want to go skiing in the spur of the moment, and won't usually suggest it, will be ecstatic with anticipation for their regular weekly "ski day." And maybe I only feel OK about it because I'm setting up outdoor activities with lots of friends, rather than "practice your math at the kitchen table" day?  Is it really any different?  I kind of hope that as they get older I'll have to do less of the setting up the schedule for them, but I can't deny that it works now.    

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#11 of 26 Old 04-18-2014, 07:57 AM - Thread Starter
 
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 And maybe I only feel OK about it because I'm setting up outdoor activities with lots of friends, rather than "practice your math at the kitchen table" day?  Is it really any different?

 

This is he kind of structure my kids have always done fine with: dictated by external organizational needs and commitments. It's the "you said you wanted to do some handwriting practice every day after lunch" kind of structure that never worked for my kids. I think it can be categorically different for some kids and some families. Maybe many of them. 

 

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#12 of 26 Old 04-18-2014, 08:33 AM
 
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So, where does "rhythm" end and "structure" begin?  Because "skiing on Friday" might be very rhythmic, if it happens with regularity.  Bedtime can be a rhythm, or it can be a structure.  We have a bedtime rhythm, but I feel it is very much structured.  "We will start now.  You will complete A, B, and C.  You will comply."

 

Is there a real difference between the two, or are we making semantic choices that aren't based in something real.  

 

I would begin by arguing that they are simply on 2 different places in the spectrum of how we order our lives, and to what extent.  "Rhythm" is more or less intrinsic.  At it's root it is biologically based, and people, just like animals, have a natural rhythm through the day, the month and the seasons.  People might be able to make their rhythm look drastically different, but it can still very much be a rhythm.  Kids learn that rhythm naturally, though they might fight it.  I think the places they fight it is where biology hasn't prepared us for specifically, like brushing teeth or going to bed long before parents.  The possibility of a rhythm is there, like scheduling ski day for Fridays, because we are people and able to adapt our biology to the society we have created.  But I think the farther away from those biological leanings we go, the more struggle wwe get.  That doesn't mean to imply that the closer we get to our biological leanings, then kids will naturally "fall in" as there are so many other issues here. 

 

That leads me to the ideas of "structure".  In general, structure is extrinsic.  One can choose it and comply with it, but there is the basic assumption that if the structure were gone we would choose something else.  Structure is a means to an end.  It can honor rhythms, even become something of a rhythm itself or transform into a rhythm, like when we start imposing a rule on ourselves to change our habits of, say, getting hungry and eating at 10pm.  I think where it becomes comforting and calming to some people is perhaps--given good mental health of course-- because it serves as rhythm, but one that is continually imposed.  Perhaps this is because of some early short-circuiting when we were kids?  Especially our mothers' and grandmothers' generation where children were fed on rigid schedules, put to bed on rigid schedules, etc.  Schedule can honor biological settings, or it can completely work against it.  We cannot know whether otherwise normal people might operate better with less structure.  Structure is what we put on top of our ancient biological rhythms to cope with the needs of modern life.  It might be more than that, but I think it is definitely that.  We never needed to read before, but in our society, not reading can be incredibly difficult.  We never needed to drive before, or calculate our taxes.  But now we do, and we need all these additional skills that biology never prepared us for, but did give us the ability to adapt our existing brain capabilities to that end.  Fear that children will not navigate adulthood is a deeply rooted concern for parents.  More specifically, it is our *drive* to help our children be successful.  That can translate into an imposed structure, either on a small scale like a homeschooling parent having "Math Thursdays" to uber-scheduled children of high-achievng parents.  

 

Structure can be chosen-- I think that's wonderful because I don't think structure is so much the problem.  Like I said, structure is a means to an end.  If it is an end you choose and you can opt out at anytime, then it is useful.  And a little isn't going to be bad for kids, either, if they are generally on board and the greater purpose of easing some parental fears can produce a calmer, happier family, or perhaps fill a child's need to have a break of being in charge of so many aspects of their life.  That leads to so many questions for me that I won't embark on because I think that runs too much off the topic at hand, and while it's an interesting tangent, I'm not sure it's relevant here.  (Argh!  Just had a kick-down-drag-out fight with my spellchecker over that word!)

 

I think that kids naturally enjoy rhythms.  And being human and adaptable, that rhythm might look very modern and schedule-like.  Kids like some predictability.  My 9yo writes down what she is doing tomorrow.  Last year, they loved making a fun calendar that included all our activities so they could count down the days.  They love holidays and annual events.  They don't always love heading out the door if that's what's on the schedule, but going to far as give up activities is less desirable.  Rhythm satisfies a deep, biological drive.  Waldorf is all about rhythm.  Our rhythm might look different that even someone in our family--we are human!  Adaptability is the key to our success.  But the rhythm is there.  I think the comfort we find in it--some of us especially so-- is as wired in us as other sources of pleasure.

 

Anyway, that's my rundown.  Feel free to pick it apart, I pretty much was formulating my ideas while I typed.  


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#13 of 26 Old 04-18-2014, 06:04 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I make a distinction between rhythm and structure in terms of the amount of rigidity. I think of rhythm as being "this usually follows that, and likely will today too" while structure is more like "this will be done today at this time."

 

After lunch, we usually try to go outside or do something active = rhythm

Every day we will do 30 minutes of exercise = structure.

 

At some point in the evening we'll move towards quiet activities, and after a bit of that we'll brush teeth, wash up, change and go to bed = rhythm

Bedtime is 9:30, so at 9:00 we start getting ready = structure

 

I realize I'm applying the words in my own way. But I want to be able to communicate about different amounts of rigidity, accountability, goal-setting, autonomous and extrinsic enforcement of stated goals, so I hope explaining what I mean by these words will help people understand what I'm talking about.

 

I don't think structure is necessarily extrinsic. I think that the way the mainstream world works 99% of the structure happens to be that way, and of course group activities will typically entail extrinsic structure as an organizational necessity. But I see plenty of examples of small things I'd describe as autonomous structure. I run at least 5 times every week, making sure my mileage totals at least 30 km. My dd15 gets up at 6 a.m. Monday to Friday in order to spend a quiet 90 minutes reading and getting ready for her day. My dd11 practices violin 5 days a week for at least 45 minutes, does 50 sit-ups, 20 push-ups and 15 minutes of stretching every evening. I see self-imposed structure as a good way of identifying, committing to and accomplishing goals, and as a tool for remembering and staying firm on one's commitment when circumstances and wavering motivation might otherwise push things off course.

 

I also don't think it necessarily means that structure is there to compel you to do something you don't actually want to do. In my family structure often helps us pull ourselves up short while busy with activity A and realize that we want to switch to activity B. The desire and the gratification may not be the sort of the immediate, follow-your-bliss type. In that case structure helps propel us towards longer-term goals and desires that supersede short-term pleasures. Not that we don't want to do the expected task, just that the wanting is of a different type: it comes from a longer-term desire. As in "<sigh> I guess I should go practice violin, because I really want to finish learning the shifts in that Caprice by next lesson." On the other hand, since my kids tend to get locked into activities for very long periods of time, sometimes the structure helps them realize that they actually would rather be doing something else. As an example, Fiona likes "chill time" in her bedroom in the mornings, and sometimes she's asked me to come and get her at 10 am. Often I find her engrossed in reading or watching a video, and my face at her door causes her to look up and grin and say "Hey! I just realized, I'm hungry, and then I want to go outside for a while!"

 

The problem, of course, is when, at the moment of transition the mind says "I know I said that long-term goal was important enough to me that I wanted this kind of structure, but at this precise moment I do not feel that way." When the structure is doing what you describe, SweetSilver, which is to make you do something you don't want to do, that's where being accountable only to yourself is not necessarily enough.

 

And after dropping one's self-designed structure, days or weeks later the regret kicks in, and the self-blame sits on top of that, and one's feelings about the activity or goal in question end up tainted by all that negativity. Which I suppose is why my older three kids chose to go to school: they could see that their inability to effectively self-structure was creating a negative spiral of regret and self-blame. They wanted the non-negotiability of extrinsic structure, of clear and simple arms-length institutionally-created accountability. 

 

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Ivenotnot thorouhly read the whole thread, just skimmed briefly. I'm on my phone, so please ignore the typos and spacing issues. The editor is clunky.

I've come to appreciate pondering meyers Briggs personality studies. It's a loose tool, but a handy one, imo. Knowing the basic personalities gives me a framework for discussing traits I see in my kids.

I've often wondered if people who are "n" oriented are drawn to unschooling because it fits the way we view the world. Often this is a good fit, genetically, for our children, though occasionally there is a clash. About 80-90% of the population are "s" oriented, however, explaining why they (and their children) do much better with clear expectations and schedules. N's are big picture people, and, unless the structure is accomplishing its purpose, we find it exasperating. S feels more comfortable in the now, an n lives in the future. So, the s familes feel accomplished by completing expectarions. N families feel success when they have seen the path to new things. We are all about possiblities.

I read somewhere that you will never teach an n child to conform to societies expectations of structure.
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"So, where does "rhythm" end and "structure" begin?  Because "skiing on Friday" might be very rhythmic, if it happens with regularity.  Bedtime can be a rhythm, or it can be a structure.  We have a bedtime rhythm, but I feel it is very much structured.  "We will start now.  You will complete A, B, and C.  You will comply."

 

Is there a real difference between the two, or are we making semantic choices that aren't based in something real."

 

I don't think the two are exclusive. They can be, but they can also coexist and be one and the same, I think. I think it depends on how you choose to look at it, and maybe even the circumstances surrounding a particular instance. Friday night, bedtime might be a rhythm because the kids are tired and ready for bed, so they're absolutely willing to go along with it. But Monday night, they're not tired and they want to stay up to watch a documentary about whales, and are resisting bedtime, so now it's a structure because you insist that they need to go to bed because you know that they really are tired and will be even more tired Tuesday morning if you give in. But it can also be a rhythm because maybe you're willing to give in and let them stay up until 9:30 or 10 some nights, and still be a structure even in that sense because you come to an agreement with them that they can stay up, but only until X time. 

 

I think a lot of people tend to think that some things simply can't happen except in specific circumstances. Like so many public school parents who have this rigid idea that if they homeschooled, their kids would be socially awkward, as if they picture our kids being locked in a closet all day for school. I think some parents see structure the same way - that it has to mean, or be, this certain thing/way, and if it's not, then it's not structure. If it's not as rigid as a steel bar, then it's not structure, in their minds. But if we think about it, a skyscraper, a house and a tent are all structures - they provide different levels of support and security, but they're all structures. I think in this topic, it boils down to whether we feel our structure is a skyscraper, a house or a tent.

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#16 of 26 Old 04-19-2014, 08:59 AM
 
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I also don't think it necessarily means that structure is there to compel you to do something you don't actually want to do. 

Not something you don't want to do, but what you might not choose for yourself in the moment.  When I was in Aikido, I trained once a week at the very least.  I loved Aikido.  Ideally I wanted to train 3 times a week and my progress would have been so much faster.  Yes, there was a blackbelt goal in there.  But what happened, since I was in charge of getting myself to class (or staying for class as the case may be--see below) and it didn't really matter to anybody if I didn't show up or stay, was that I just headed for home.  I would almost have appreciated someone Up Top saying "If you want to train for blackbelt, you need to train 3 times per week.  I'll be expecting you."

 

Worse still was the sword class at 6:30am on Saurdays.  The early start time was part of the training.  I probably only went to about 1/2 the classes.  But I loved the sword work! I would have loved to find the motivation to get to that class.  The schedule did make it a structure (and an external structure that I could not change) but without the *accountability* I was at the mercy of my bed (especially in winter). 

 

I did teach the children's classes.  I was accountable for being at those--by the parents, the kids, the dojo-- and I never failed to show up.  I would usually stay to train with the adults if the classes were after the kids' classes, but not always.  I was tired.  It was a lot of work.  I was a professional gardener working 4 days per week average, then kids' classes, my own Aikido classes, yoga classes, plus trying to walk at least one day per week (this was all before kids).  It was tiring, but I did have my goal.  To get to my goal in the time I wanted it, I would have needed external accountability.  

 

So I wonder if external accountability isn't a big part of it, if not all of it.  Say you take a job keeping a local trail clear of trash.  You want this job.  It puts you with nature, and when you do it you enjoy it, you love the results.  No one sets a schedule for you or tells you how to do your job, or how much time it takes to do, but they want to see the job done.  That's not really structured at all, but you are accountable for the end result.  Some of us (though no one I know personally :2whistle) would have a hard time ignoring all the other things I would want to do or doing nothing.  I do eventually get around to things, especially if I'm accountable.  I'd have to set up my own structure to get me to get the job done (I mean, that person that I do not know personally :p).  I might even need someone to say "I need you to do this on Mondays and Fridays."

 

Now, change a simple goal--I want to play guitar and sing for my kids-- to "I want to give concerts for kids, produce children's music to support other artists and get more kids producing their own music rather than just consuming it"-- the bigger goal might lead a person to seek more external accountability.  (I purposefully chose a goal that didn't have specific educational requirements, but there are those as well.)


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#17 of 26 Old 04-19-2014, 09:18 AM - Thread Starter
 
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No, of course they're not exclusive: as I say I'm just trying to talk about expectations in a way that addresses differences in their rigidity. I tend to think of rhythm and structure as a matter of degree with plenty of grey-area stuff in the middle. Things that are more rigid I would tend to call structure. Things that are flexible / optional / vague, I'd tend to call rhythm. For my unschooled kids I think the issue of rigidity is worth taking into account, because flexible expectations are not nearly as much at odds with the assertion of contrary autonomous choices. Since autonomy is key with unschooling, and since my kids' needs for personal autonomy is quite high, whether a framework is rigid and required or flexible and optional is very relevant. 

 

We fall into and maintain a nice flexible, comforting rhythm in our home life. And we all cope pretty well with rigid external structure. What I'm interested in is why it is so difficult to incorporate more rigid pieces of internal, family-based structure, even when, in our clear-headed moments of collaborative discussion, we all want to do so. 

 

I'm interested in what FisherFamily said about Intuitive rather than Sensing personalities. I'm strongly intuitive, so is my ds, and my eldest dd is on the intuitive side but less strongly so. I definitely see that my preference for non-traditional pathways is due to the fact that I often see structure as an obstacle to a more enjoyable, more efficient route to something. On the other hand, I did excel in college and medical school, which comprised an 8-year-long experience with exceptionally high levels of structure. My ds is doing similarly well in a high school program where the structure is fairly rigid, not in a micro-managed way but in its overall organization (eg. 30% of your grade will be allocated to an essay due on this day based on these four units of course material from this textbook).

 

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#18 of 26 Old 04-19-2014, 09:33 AM - Thread Starter
 
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and it didn't really matter to anybody if I didn't show up or stay

 

I think you're definitely onto something putting the focus on accountability. Being accountable to yourself sometimes isn't enough, especially when you're young and not as mature an abstract thinker as you will be some day. But even as adults we like to feel that what we're working hard at matters to someone other than ourselves. A boss or teacher or mentor often provides the right sort of accountability. 

 

Why is it, though, that being accountable to parents has often been a toxic and unproductive situation in my unschooling family? What is it about the parent-child relationship that makes it so difficult to create productive systems of accountability. And I'm talking here about accountability that is voluntarily agreed upon. Why is it that my kids would never in a million years fail to help with cleaning up from a meal at someone else's house, but despite repeatedly fawning over the loveliness of our own kitchen when it is pristinely clean and tidy and agreeing that it is everyone's job to maintain that, and committing to not leaving the kitchen-dining area after a meal until all the mess is dealt with, they never follow through for more than three or four days? And why is it that last year Fiona hated practicing violin every day because she felt accountable to me for it, but now that her teacher is the only one she feels accountable to, she's all over it?

 

People are weird. There are no exceptions.

 

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#19 of 26 Old 04-19-2014, 02:51 PM
 
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Why is it, though, that being accountable to parents has often been a toxic and unproductive situation in my unschooling family? 

 

Miranda

Isn't it amazing?  This is often why parents send their kids to school, because other people can get kids to participate in things that they can't.  And I do refer to voluntary things.  DD2 is a more adventurous eater away from me.  That kind of thing.  We notice that with disciplinary things, kids comply more readily to non-parents and resist more with parents, but does that explain the more playful things, like trying new foods of games?

 

It's amazing that even with parents as non-hierarchal as you, this kind of resistance is as apparent as those with more traditional parent-child relationships, though possibly not as severe?


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#20 of 26 Old 04-19-2014, 04:58 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Know how medieval noble families would send their young boys off to live with other noble families to be pages at age 7 o 8? Workaround for the same phenomenon, I suppose.

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#21 of 26 Old 04-20-2014, 07:03 AM
 
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Isn't it amazing?  This is often why parents send their kids to school, because other people can get kids to participate in things that they can't.  And I do refer to voluntary things.  DD2 is a more adventurous eater away from me.  That kind of thing.  We notice that with disciplinary things, kids comply more readily to non-parents and resist more with parents, but does that explain the more playful things, like trying new foods of games?

 

It's amazing that even with parents as non-hierarchal as you, this kind of resistance is as apparent as those with more traditional parent-child relationships, though possibly not as severe?

I've noticed the same things happen when we go on a vacation... And our vacations are pretty low-end, sleeping in tents, visiting relatives sorts of things. It isn't completely being around other people because we aren't always around them. Just something about getting out of our home/routines/ruts for a while. Invariably, the boy looses whatever annoying behavior he had before the trip. Like when he was 3 and urinating in inappropriate places. We went on a trip and he never did it again. When we are all home and all together all the time, we reinforce the same ways of interacting. Getting out of town, even if we are all still together, can change that.


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#22 of 26 Old 04-21-2014, 05:20 AM
 
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The problem, of course, is when, at the moment of transition the mind says "I know I said that long-term goal was important enough to me that I wanted this kind of structure, but at this precise moment I do not feel that way." When the structure is doing what you describe, SweetSilver, which is to make you do something you don't want to do, that's where being accountable only to yourself is not necessarily enough.

 

And after dropping one's self-designed structure, days or weeks later the regret kicks in, and the self-blame sits on top of that, and one's feelings about the activity or goal in question end up tainted by all that negativity. Which I suppose is why my older three kids chose to go to school: they could see that their inability to effectively self-structure was creating a negative spiral of regret and self-blame. They wanted the non-negotiability of extrinsic structure, of clear and simple arms-length institutionally-created accountability. 

 

Miranda


I've been reading this thread with interest - thanks for starting it, Miranda!

 

We are having similar issues - for both myself and my 10yo son! I can't count the number of times I've tried to impose a structure on myself to get certain things done (things I *want* to do and things I *have* to do), and have failed miserably. Same for my son, though he seems to stick to things longer than I do if he's chosen it. But, still, the structure disappears within weeks.

 

I don't want to hijiack, so I'll start a new thread about a specific issue we are having right now, but I'm curious about the feeling of self-blame that you mention, and whether knowing that for your kids not following their structure leads to negative feelings, if it makes you wonder if you *should* be imposing a structure on them, or, 'making them' do things? What is worse - the build-up of bad feelings about oneself, or being forced to do things 'for your own good'?

 

I don't have an answer! It's just something I'm wondering about for us right now too, and this bit of the thread popped out for me. My son is very prone to feeling bad about himself, poor self-esteem etc, and I'm wondering if I should be supporting him more in being successful with certain things... but how to do that without falling back on force? Because though I bring it up, it's not something I'm wanting to do - and, honestly, I don't see how I *could* do it without massive full-on fighting and hurting our relationship, which is obviously not what I want to do, and forcing is not how I want to parent. 

 

*sigh* Parenting is complicated at times!

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#23 of 26 Old 04-22-2014, 08:07 AM
 
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Just popping in to sub so that I can come back later with a cup of tea and have a proper read.

But I will say it again, and again and again, Miranda ... PLEASE write a book.  Your ideas and experience are a winning combination, and I can most certainly steer you in the right direction for an agent and publisher, if that would be helpful.


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#24 of 26 Old 04-22-2014, 08:18 AM
 
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I wonder whether the mechanism for this contradiction-- rejecting parents' efforts and accepting another's-- isn't *very* deeply rooted in biology.  What I'm thinking of is the same mechanism that allows kids to melt down with parents and be on their best behavior with other adults: the fear of abandonment, or maybe it's more precise to say "the drive to prevent abandonment?"  Children in a healthy family are reassured that they have a place regardless of how they act.  So, they lash out emotionally with parents and are subdued with others.  And even with less- or non- emotional moments, their brains might be structured to go along with the (parent-free) crowd in order to belong and to prevent abandonment by the greater community.  This would be so deeply rooted as to be imperceptible.  Ideas really do sound better coming from someone else!  It's just a guess, but it makes sense to me.


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#25 of 26 Old 04-22-2014, 09:09 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Just thought I'd throw this little anecdote out there because I think it says something about this issue ... Though I confess I'm not sure exactly what!

My kids always got a small weekly allowance in order to learn about managing money. It was never tied to behaviour or chores or anything of the sort, and I don't think they even understood that in some families "allowance" is used as a behavioural manipulator.

My ds was about 10, and was having real trouble sticking to a good practicing regime with his viola. He wanted to practice every day, he liked being a violist, he knew his teacher expected diligent work during the week. But he'd have his lesson, procrastinate three or four days on his assignments, then realize he didn't have enough time left in the week to do as good a job as he wished, get discouraged over that and allow his self-blame over that to defeat any interest in last-minute work.

We talked about it all many times, adjusted what we could with his teacher and his assignments, and tried lots of different "rules," accountability and self-monitoring strategies. Everything would help for a few days and then fizzle.

Then one day he sighed and said "why can't you just make my allowance be for practicing?"

I've always been a big Alfie Kohn ("Punished by Rewards") fan, and that request flew in the face of so much I believed about parenting, education and motivation. I don't honestly remember the details of the outcome: I think we tried it for a couple of weeks but he decided that money was not enough of a carrot for him, since his consumer desires at the time were almost non-existent and he had already stockpiled considerable savings. But I found it very telling that this unschooled kid, completely innocent of traditional reward/punishment paradigms and incentive systems would propose something so crassly economics-based as a solution to his struggle to keep consistent with self-defined structure.

Just pondering this anew on a rainy Tuesday morning.

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#26 of 26 Old 04-22-2014, 09:57 AM
 
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But I found it very telling that this unschooled kid, completely innocent of traditional reward/punishment paradigms and incentive systems would propose something so crassly economics-based as a solution to his struggle to keep consistent with self-defined structure.

Just pondering this anew on a rainy Tuesday morning.

Miranda

This is interesting.  I do know that both my girls are on opposite ends of a spectrum-- dd9 is forever making plans and ideas for structures for herself, dd7 seems to make every effort to keep from having any structure dictating what she needs to do.

 

ETA: to clarify, she likes going to gym on Monday, allowance on Sunday, chickie chores in the morning, but she does not yearn to change her behavior and do something grander, like dd9 does.  She is perfectly content with the order of her days, sees no problem with her behavior, and has no ambitions greater than her abilities.  She is almost completely without any taint of perfectionism.  DD9 by contrast is a perfectionist, and she expects more from herself than she is able to deliver.


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