Fostering a healthy family centre while simultaneously respecting and encouraging individuality

Individuality and independence do not mean disregard or disrespect for those surrounding you.

This is a lesson and an obstacle we have had to overcome repeatedly in our parenting journey. It is a lesson and an obstacle that I personally have had to face when my own wants and ambitions have crossed the line between being something my family could and should adapt to out of love and respect for me, and being something that brought nothing positive to anyone, really, and could actually cause harm and bitterness to our centre.

We all need to be happy. We all need to be ourselves. We all need to have our thing or our things, that are just ours, be they time to sit and read, attend a club or activity, practice an instrument, or just go for bike rides. We are not cookie cutter people, regardless of similarities. Kid #4 looks like me, draws like me, and works and builds like his father. He has my dry sense of humour, and his father’s knack for sensible planning. It is like this with each child. Child #2 is much like my husband as far as organization, detail, and the need to have a place for everything and everything in it’s place. Yet she is no one but herself in so many ways…

One thing we have dealt with more than once when combining children attending school and children being homeschooled/unschooled is the alienation that can develop between the school-attending child and the rest of us. I am aware that much of this is because we are not a “normal” family in today’s society; for god’s sakes, we have seven children, not 1 or 2 (or 3 at the most). I am not a hockey mom or a softball mom, or at this point even a dance mom, because if I begin paying for lessons for one and driving them to and fro, I have to do it for all of them. For this, I am grateful for things like winter community school on PEI, where a variety of lessons are offered at a variety of different locations across the island for dirt-cheap prices. In the past we have done dance, art, and tried tai chi (which my 11-year-old was not too fond of—she would like to go back to dance next winter). There are also a whole lot of free or low cost events and activities  that come up via the pretty big homeschool group, and for the most part all ages can participate. This all works out well for our unschooled kids, but  whichever child happens to be in school at the point feels jipped that they are not involved in the same activities as their school chums. Which,  of course, breeds resentment. Which, of course, breeds attitude problems and sometimes some pretty nasty and awful behaviour towards the parents and siblings who are “not like everyone else”.

We don’t want Clone Kids, even if they are clones of us. We want them to be themselves, and develop their own unique gifts, pursue their own interests, and learn and grow in the ways that come naturally to them and allow them to thrive as human beings who are part of a society that needs more solid individuals who will give back to humanity and the earth and not just take from it without question. We try to be that way ourselves—and sometimes, often, fail. But we try.

I have a boy who loves to read, write, make lists, create stories, and has a knack for the intellectual side of things. I have a boy who forces himself to learn how to spell only because he knows it is important, but would rather be outdoors, working, building, making something. The first one is an entertainer who can devour a novel in no time and write a summary of it with his own twist for fun afterward. But I sure can’t count on him to stick out a short walk up the road with me without complaining of fatigue within the first five minutes. The second, on the other hand, will go mushroom hunting for hours in cowboy boots in the rain.

I want my children to be happy. I also want them to realize that while it is of utmost importance to be kind to others whoever they are, wherever they are, it begins at home. If you can’t handle treating your siblings with respect (aside from “normal” tiffs and annoyances and arguments), then something is wrong. If you get off the bus, walk through the door, and become Satan Incarnate to all you encounter, I do not care how nice your teachers say you are to them and to your fellow students, something is wrong. If I come home from work and can’t be nice to my own children after being nice to a few dozen customers and my co-workers all evening, then something is wrong.

Independence and individuality should be fostered and cherished, in adults and children alike. We should find beauty in our differences and celebrate them. Having seven very unique children has helped me to see people as a bit of a tapestry — unique threads, and patterns that can weave together to make something far more lovely than they could ever be on their own. But they should not be cause for division.

If school makes my child happy, and enables my child to grow, then I want that child to be there. I want to lend that child the support that they need to face the challenges that come with attending school. And when the challenge of a bad attitude aimed at the rest of us arises, we deal with it. We talk. We ask questions. We explain our concerns. We give the child a chance to alter their perspective and behaviour so that their individual wants live in harmony with the needs of their tribe. We want happiness for everyone. And we want everyone in our family to feel loved and supported. It is something that requires a lot of work and effort. But it is important to us that every child, and adult, feel respected as an individual, and yet still very much a part of a tribe. And they all have to learn to give that respect and love to each other as well. Give and take becomes a beautiful and natural thing when consciously put into practice. It is balance. But I firmly believe that it can become like breathing.

I will quickly, as a side note, add that we have experienced a great deal of division in other areas of our family due to what I am now convinced to be genuinely sociopathic behaviour on one person’s part. I am sharing this to dispel any false impressions of our family life being “all hippy-dippy hearts and flowers”. It has been a difficult journey of loss and learning.  People like this do not seek professional help, as they believe that there is nothing wrong with them to begin with. When you have dealt with the effects of  this kind of behaviour in your life, it leaves a scar that does not go away, regardless of how many times over The Universe blesses you with love, compassion, amazing people  and kindness. It is like a loved one dying—except they are not technically dead. And you become very careful as to whom you allow into your life, which can sometimes cause hurt feelings toward people who do not necessarily deserve it. So for anyone out there who thinks we may live in a constant rainbow rose-coloured world of happy-happy-joy-joy, yes, we are for the most part very content people because we choose to look on the bright side and focus on the positive, but there are aches and sadnesses as well. Perhaps these aches and sadnesses are part of what encourages us to be “present” and parent more pro-actively and intuitively than we have in previous years. Perhaps we should actually be grateful for those aches and sadnesses, painful as they have been, and weird as that may sound. We should be grateful for any experience that brings us wisdom, strength, and makes us better people after all is said and done. I am not responsible for the actions of other adults, but I am responsible for what I put out into The Universe. And I choose to put out as much good as possible.

Back to the positive. 🙂 My father’s family have always had their disagreements, dinner table arguments, etc., but on the whole they have been there for each other without question. This is what I grew up with. Relatives a few blocks over, Grandma always around when needed, cousins to hang and play with, Aunties and Uncles who loved me, and loved each other.  To both my husband and I, this is healthy. Not a “let’s all live in the same town, be miserable, and keep each other in the mud” kind of closeness. But genuine support for each other, phone calls every Sunday, gatherings… Criticisms and concerns and unwanted advice at times, of course. But knowing darn well that you could call any of them in the middle of them night if you needed anything and they’d be there. My mother and her sister are very close, regardless of living over 10 hours apart for the last 40 years or so. They were both close with their brother before he died as well. I loved all of my grandparents deeply while they were alive, and have one fabulous lady left who will celebrate her 85th next month. Much of this is foreign to my husband, whose background would be an entirely different topic altogether. But he recognizes the positive aspects that he would like our children to grow up with as well. And he himself, in his “old age” (as I like to tease him about), has mellowed into an amazing, kind-hearted and tender father from whom I could not ask for more.

Whether we are left or right brained, extroverted or introverted, scientific or musical, we need to develop our strengths and work on our weaknesses. We also need to recognize and respect the differences in each other. And we need to remember that if we cannot extend that respect to those in our immediate circle/centre, we have something to work on before we step out of that circle to freely give our love and respect to everyone else. It begins at home. I never want to silence my children’s uniqueness  yet they all need to learn how to use that individuality to enhance their centre, their tribe, as opposed to detract from it. This is a lesson and skill that will serve them for the rest of their lives, as their surroundings change and people come in and out.

This is a lesson I pray that I can exemplify in my own life as they observe me day to day.

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2 thoughts on “Fostering a healthy family centre while simultaneously respecting and encouraging individuality

  1. Very well said, Jo! We definitely can all use the reminder that our children are unique and their differences need to be fostered without creating resentment. Thanks for your honesty and insight.

  2. Thank you, Esther. I find that writing about the things that we deal with helps me to better understand everything myself. I guess it is my way of processing, and if it winds up being of help to anyone else in the process, then great. Parenting is a journey. 🙂

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