Back to School and the Art of Becoming
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After summer’s end, a Solo Mom makes sure that lessons of love are not forgotten
It’s that time of year again. Back to school. I wake my two daughters from their last round of summer dreams with a random good morning song. I snuggle with them briefly, mourning summer’s end. We as Solo Moms likely have mixed responses to this annual turning of the cycle: Thank God, they’re going back! Or an exasperated, Here we go again! Or maybe you’re more excited than your child for the nine-month performance they’re about to demonstrate behind the schoolroom doors. For me, back to school signals an abrupt end to our organic quality time together. No more mornings at the river playing with tadpoles under the cottonwoods. No more long conversations at night about all matters of living and loving. Instead, it’s homework; dinner; lunch prep; nightly ablutions; and then, 8:30 p.m. sharp, lights out—and up at 6:00 a.m. for the school commute.
Another year of new influences and friends, of the deep sociological learning that takes place within the culture of the classroom, the playground, and the sphere of after-school activities. While our children are away at school, they’re learning additional lessons unrelated to scholastic standards, lessons that cannot be given at home, though a child’s home life can become a nurturing container that holds all the other learning, intended and unintended.
A safe space
An important aspect of healthy self-development happens when a child is offered a safe space to land and finds himself held in unconditional positive regard. Shortly after my divorce, I was shocked when my youngest daughter said, “Sometimes it feels like school is the only safe place for me.” I became aware of just how important the climate at home was for my children. For all practical purposes, I was that climate; I was the force of nature that nurtured or dismembered their sanity. With a small yet constant war happening between their father and me, school was, indeed, at times the safer place for my daughters.
That sobering truth led me to ask myself questions about what, specifically, I wanted to offer my children as their mother in the “classroom” of our home. The guidelines of conduct at school are usually clear, spelled out, written on the board, and heralded every day. If you don’t follow them, you’ll meet some kind of known consequence. It is necessary and desirable for children and teachers to have such guidelines at school, as it establishes the boundaries of the classroom and thus promotes safety for the children as they learn.
But what about at home? As Solo Moms, what guidelines do we offer our children that allow us to support them in their totality—their spirits, emotions, hearts, minds, and bodies? Academic environments cannot always cradle the wholeness of a child. As parents, we’re privy to the larger view of our children—and sometimes not. Sometimes, we need the school environment to understand who our little person is, what she’s inclined toward, and what mysterious drive dwells within her. To be certain, we are collaborating with our children’s schools.
However, as Solo Moms, we have a special advantage in creating a nurturing environment for our children’s healthy self-development. As mothers, we are the primary nurturing force that our children have experienced since conception. Our bodies once held space for our children to grow from unicellular organisms into the grand arrangement of cells in the trillions. And so we are intimately implicated in our children’s process of learning and growth once they head off to school. Especially in their early years, children tend toward a clear identification with their mothers for this very reason because Mom is generally (and I do mean generally) the emotional and psychological homestead for the child, where deep rest and comfort can be had after returning from school. That is why our role at home is an elevated job; it is our stable and balancing influence that can anchor a child to a deep inner security. And that security is invaluable as children head out into the world of school, friends, activities, and beyond into adulthood.
This is, of course, a tall order. It speaks to a kind of idealism that we have to employ within ourselves despite the difference of opinion that teachers, other parents, and our exes have about how best to support our child’s self-development. We as Solo Moms have a unique offering for our children in the form of guidelines for the home. What are yours? What guidelines are organic to who you are and your parenting style? Or your love style?
Here are mine, posted on my office wall, where they are clearly visible to my daughters. They are by no means set in stone, but they contain a sense of the artistry that mothering is for me:
Dear A and K:
In this house, you are welcome to:
- Feel how you feel (angry, frustrated, sad, happy, anxious, disgusted, and whatever other emotion)
- Speak what’s in your heart
- Ask for what you need and want
In this house, you can count on me as your mom to:
- Listen closely to what you have to say
- Love you well, no matter what
- Come back to love after experiencing any disagreement
- Be honest about what I am feeling
- Own my mistakes
- Ask for help when I need it
- Listen to your needs and wants
- Maintain good self-care so that I can be better at taking care of you
In this house, please be exactly who you are. In this house, please speak your truth. In this house, please say how you feel. In this house, ask for what you need and want. In this house, please “call it like you see it.”
Above all, be yourself.
Know that you are always loved for exactly who you are!!
I believe in you!
After posting these guidelines, I noticed the girls upstairs in my office more often. They decided to take up playing in my space, which was once partially off-limits. A few weeks after posting the guidelines, I asked if they had read them and how they felt about them. “You love us,” my oldest said.
You can do wonders for your children. What unique gifts of support can you offer them? How would you spell it out for them in the form of guidelines for the home? What is important to you? What is the artistry of mothering that you can offer them? It will not be the same guidelines as offered by even the best teachers tending to your children. As your children head back to school, how can you support the total person they are? Let’s face it: much of what children learn at school has less to do with academics and more to do with the art of becoming—becoming the whole person that they are.
Sometime this past summer, my youngest daughter went around one morning singing the words “I believe in you, I believe in you, I believe in you.” When I asked her where the song came from, she said, “That’s what you always say to me, Mom.”
Let’s create clear, loving guidelines in our homes, guidelines like a song that gets into the head and plays over and over so that the children we love can hear the music wherever they go and know implicitly they are safe and secure in the world.
What guidelines do you emphasize in your home? Check out our Parenting section for more advice and wisdom from Solo Moms.
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