maternal needs

Years ago I attended a teacher training workshop where the fellow leading it had a really interesting piece of advice. He said it was valuable to know all the ignoble reasons you wanted to teach. It's easy to point to the noble reasons, after all, reasons to do with helping and uplifting people, but the other reasons, the less lovely reasons are also important because they're tied up with your own needs.

That's an idea which stuck with me, and I brought it into parenting - why did I want to be a mom? Not the pretty reasons about loving someone else but the reasons I wasn't really comfortable with. Reasons having to do with me, my ego, my desire to be powerful and in control, and my fantasies about how cool I would be, how much my kid would love me because I'm just so awesome. Not exactly pretty stuff! And it has been true that those less-than-noble reasons are bound up in my needs - and as such, they're guideposts for meeting my needs; my personal needs and my maternal needs.

It's not popular to talk about maternal needs. I think sometimes there's a fear that admitting to those will diminish us, make us something less-than. I remember how shocking it was to first read advice on an unschooling list to smell my child's head as a way to relax. It seemed weird.

There's a lot of advice "out there" about getting your grown-up woman needs met away from your kids. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but meeting your needs doesn't have to be separate... and that's where knowing the dark side of why you want to be a mom (and a home/unschooling mom besides!) can be valuable. You may find you have ways to meet some of your own needs, your personal needs, right there at home already. You're popular. You're valued - so much so your kids want you to do things for them all day long. Your kids think you're pretty cool - so cool they want to show you everything that's important to them. Those kinds of requests can feel overwhelming, so it can help to re-frame them in terms of meeting your own needs, too. It's okay to be the coolest, most valuable, most popular person in your own home. It's a good thing, even.


Force for Ultimate Good

I've been reading too many comic books.

I brought up the idea of principles - or core values or whatever I called them, Force for Ulimate Good, if you prefer - in a post recently and someone suggested that wasn't a very useful idea, that someone's principles were actually her problem.

To me, that's backwards; principles are never the problem, they're exactly what's good about our human nature because they arise out of the good in our human nature - whether we define them in words or relate to them as feelings of warmth or light or lovingkindness.

Principles aren't the same as the superego - they're not the same as rules or laws or "supposed tos" but I think that's one of the places people get stuck and either "follow"/"apply" their principles like a formula or resist and rebel against what they think are principles. Some moms get stuck with ideas like "lovingkindness" as a kind of rule in their head - a good mommy is loving and kind - and then hurt themselves spiritually, mentally, even physically, trying to follow or apply that rule to their life. It doesn't work as a rule! Applying and following principles or values doesn't work well at all - it gets you stuck in one hole or another. And that's where the Force for Ulitmate Good analogy is actually useful, and more than just a silly phrase I made up after reading too many comic books with my kid. Because if you think about Applying a Force - even a force for ultimate good - it's a lot easier to see the problem.

What makes principle or values or a Force for Ultimate Good work is when it's something that rises up inside of you and motivates you in a positive way. That voice or light or feeling rising up from within - that's a person's principles at work. But it can be difficult, if you're used to applying principles (or if you're stressed!), to tell that feeling from the kind of overwhelm or frustration which says "lock the kid in the bathroom so you can eat." That's when having thought about principles can be helpful, because you can use them as a benchmark for reasonable analysis.

Joy or happiness is often held up as one of the personal principles which will support unschooling. It's not something you can apply. It is something you can look around and say "what's creating more joy in my family?" Something what creates more joy doesn't look much like some ideal of unschooling - and that's okay. Because at it's core, unschooling is about learning and the principles which support learning. Human beings can't not learn - we learn in sorrow and despair and impossible suffering - so in that sense, unschooling is about learning our own core principles so that our kids can learn Their own core principles. We can't give them a Force for Ultimate Good, but we can create an environment in which they can express their own.

That probably all sounds a bit woo if you're juggling laundry and dishes and kids who want your time and attention ;) but it can really help to pause just long enough to let the good parts of your human nature - whatever you want to call them - rise up in the presence of your children.