Inspired experience based college preparatory education for creative and intellectually curious students
Early childhood through twelfth grade

The Pedagogy of Mama Bear

This week’s post is from an email sent to Waverly’s art teacher, Michelle Dakan, from Anne Schiller, a colleague and friend from Pacific Oaks.
As I am away from school recovering from knee surgery, I have had a contemplative few weeks. I’ve been thinking a lot about parents who are in the thick of it and feeling great compassion for them; I’ve been looking around at old photos and feeling nostalgic for my own kids who are now grown.

Here are some thoughts.

It goes by FAST!  In the scheme of a lifetime, 18 years is short! Therefore, try to have a good time, in whatever way you can. Breathe in the moments when everything feels good, whether your kids are snuggled in with you, and there’s a sense of contentment, or times when you are alone in your car, driving away with some time for yourself stretching ahead.

I often think of a certain image when I am discussing problematic issues with parents. I think of the “cuffing” method of parenting. This method calls for a straightforward, trust- your- gut, not overthinking or fretting way of responding to your child’s behavior that mimics a mother bear who cuffs her young when she goes too far off the mark. It’s a way of saying “Stay on the path. Don’t wander off.” Or, while tussling if the baby gets too rough, the mother baby cuffs the baby. I  don’t suggest actual cuffing, just the idea that being a parent and responding to behavior that that is questionable does not need to be too complicated. The parent is the adult who is the driver and makes the plan and sometimes says “no.”

Being a parent can bring out a complex range of emotions that range from delight and ecstasy to exasperation and discouragement, particularly during “custodial” years before age 5. What does my child need? Who is this person? The child keeps changing–it’s like running behind a moving train. You feel you’ll never quite catch up. And, care-taking can feel one-way and rather endless. It’a all a lot..which brings me to…

Tedium. There are so many mundane and repetitive activities involved with having small children. When once you felt like a sharp-thinking, successful individual  whose success and sense of fun was involved with a zippy adult life and suddenly you’re doing a lot of wiping, it can be rough. Which is why…

It’s important not to feel isolated. Parents need to support one another. It’s easy to feel unsure and alone, and parents need each other to know that it’s not just you! Many others are experiencing very similar things. (See The 6 Stages of Parenthood by Ellen Galinsky. It’s a whole book that is very soul-feeding on this subject). 

Try not to compare or measure your child’s success or your own against other child/parent. It’s easy to look around and see a child who seems more advanced, polite, sophisticated, or accomplished and wonder if you should be doing something completely different. Try not to do this. None of it will matter in the end. Keep your mind on the big picture and follow your values and accept your child is who they are; you only have so much control over when they do certain things.

Take breaks from technology. Technology is getting in the way of relationships, acquisition of language, reciprocity, attention span, problem solving, eye contact, and pleasure in families. This trend is very disturbing and deserves its own chapter or book.

This brings me to the importance of reading aloud. You need to find activities that bring you all joy at the same time, and books bring ideas that you might not think of discussing or sharing otherwise. Plus, they bring HUMOR!

Parenthood is a big mirror that you look into and see yourself. Be kind.

Thanks, Anne!

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