Parents: Did YOU make the Commitment or did THEY?

When Mr Hare was four and some months old, I shocked the other members of our coffee group by removing him from a music class – half way through a term. The general thought was: how would he ever learn to follow-through and complete things ?

Yet, it was not *his* commitment to attend these classes – these were something *I* thought were important. I had seen how poorly music is taught in many state classrooms and *I* didn’t want music not to be a natural part of his life. The teacher was a stunningly patient woman with impressive musical ability – *I* was impressed. The commitment was mine: the decision to stop was mine. (He clearly wasn’t coping, what on earth would be gained by forcing a four year-old to follow through on *my* commitment?)

Fast forward a few years. At around the age of seven, Mr Hare started bugging me to learn piano from a friend of ours. He begged for two years. We talked about practicing every day. We talked about practicing every day. We talked about practicing *every* day. When he got to the age of nine, I agreed and we set up the lessons. This was a mutual commitment – he wanted to play, I said it wasn’t worth the money unless he committed for a decent amount of time. His idea of a decent amount of time was a couple of weeks, my became five years. That may seem extreme – yet, once I insisted on the five-years  practise became less of an issue until eventually he practised without fuss most days – sometimes for only five minutes at a time and to begin with (that was adequate). He accepted it wasn’t going away, and he took the boundary inward – we are now in a mutual kind of discipline/ self-discipline situation, and he is loving piano to the point where he’s talking about learning for 10 years! It’s fun. It’s little stress. It’s his to own.

At the end of last year, a wonderful double-bass player came to the school to perform. Of course, after many, many years of practise and performance, he made it look easy. Mr Hare began to beg for lessons again. We talked about practicing during lunchtimes, this was our only alternative at the time. We talked about practicing during lunchtimes. We talked about practicing during *lunchtimes*. We talked about the commitment and the expense. He thought a year was an adequate amount of time to ‘give it a try’. I agreed. It was *his* commitment.

He didn’t practise. I attended a class and his behaviour was a.w.f.u.l. I realised that we had left him rudderless. He was drifting. He was lost. He wanted to quit. It was no fun. He wasn’t making any progress.

Remembering that he is now 10. Remembering he is excessively nurtured compared to most of his contemporaries. Remembering that he has LOADS of time to play and explore and lead his own learning. Remembering that this is *his* commitment…

He agreed it had been his choice to take it up. He agreed that he needed to practise and behave appropriately in class. We came up with a plan: practise during morning tea break – so that his lunchtimes were free for playing and hanging-out with his mates; and behave in class.

The consequence if he did not were firm and non-negotiable and he knew I would follow through:  no electronics whatsoever for a week. (Every week he doesn’t practise or that he mucks about in class.)

The result: after a few minutes of consideration, he told me quite happily and without coercion or ‘fishing’ – that he liked me being firm. He visibly relaxed.

He has taken the responsibility of practise seriously, he has behaved well in class and he has made great progress. There wasn’t a murmur about losing his electronic priviledges that first week after I stepped in.

He has taken the boundary inward. He also said to me that *he* wants to work hard so that he can get to the fun stuff – similar to the level is on the piano. He owns it – now.

Excessive nurturing is vital. Excessive play is essential. Children without boundaries and a sense we are the authority in their lives are rudderless and they can easily become lost at sea.

If *you’ve* made commitments for your children and they’re not working – let them quit, it’s not that big a deal – truly. Open-ended, non-electronic play is far more important.

If *they’ve* made commitments and they’re older than nine or 10: make a stand for a decent period of time, then review the situation – those are the important commitments. They will think more carefully about making the commitment next time. Whatever *they* chose to do later, they will be more likely to follow-through with, even when the going gets tough or boring. ( Finishing the University course; staying with the relationship that isn’t ‘perfect’; applying for the  job flipping burgers for which they are ‘over-qualified’ ; putting their own needs second for years and years when they have kids; etc, etc).

Think about it. Do you know any adults who can’t do the hard yards?  I sure do.

I don’t know who said it this way, but I love it: “We can’t do our children’s push-ups for them.” We must, however, teach good technique (the skills to plan and implement that plan) and ensure that they do them!

…If we want to release mature adults into the world one day.

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About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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10 Responses to Parents: Did YOU make the Commitment or did THEY?

  1. blaxter says:

    Excellent post. It is so hard to be firm when we have inner doubts ourselves. I think you have fairly and squarely explained how to sort out the ownership of commitments. I think I may have failed on this one – two of our kids refused to go to violin any more at one point, after about three years. You can’t actually force them into the car. I wonder whose initial commitment it was anyway?? Food for thought.

    • Thanks Eleanor. Yes, those inner doubts can cause us to stumble and that must confuse our kids: they are born thinking we have all the answers! (LOL) Pleased this all made sense. 🙂

  2. hakea says:

    Hi Karyn

    I’m going to mention process over product again.

    I started and stopped so many university degrees, so many. People looking on were a little bit critical. I told them that life is a journey not a destination.

    Sometimes you have to invest a lot of energy into something, only to realise that it is not the right-fit. If I’d continued with the first degree or second degree or sixth degree, yes I would have been finished but I would have been so miserable all the way through.

    I’m glad I started and stopped so many times, because those faltering steps were stepping stones to the degrees that were truly the right-fit, and when I found them I did them with gusto! Some people have to make lots of mistakes in order to learn. And what I have learnt is to follow my heart.

    I enjoyed the theme of your post. The commitment and motivation definitely has to come from the kids.

    If we have paid the monthly or term fee, we insist that the kids finish up the month or term. If the activity is not the right-fit we don’t insist on them continuing beyond the month/term.

    As flittery and fluttery I am, I have managed to raise kids who have a deep sense of who they are and what they need. That’s so very nice. And if I think about it some more, I think that comes from meeting the child’s emotional needs constantly and consistently. Thank you for another opportunity to reflect.

    • Hi Narelle,
      Thanks again for a thought provoking comment. I cogitated over night and came up with the following ideas…
      Firstly, when I dug through all Mr Hare’s complaints about the Double Bass lessons it became clear that it was the work he was wanting to avoid – he still wanted to play the Bass – underneath all his complaints, but as with the piano the actual application and hard-yards of working through the tough stuff was the issue for him. He is one of those kids who can do anything pretty much first try and actually having to work at something was a bit of a shock (both instruments), even though he’s naturally musical too. I’m sure this was not the case with you trying loads of degrees to find a good fit – I can’t imagine it was the thought of hard work that was the problem.
      Secondly, I agree that there is more process in life than product, and this is generally a good thing. However, what came to mind was the initiation of ‘attempted’ spelling in the ’70s (where any attempt at spelling words was accepted; the theory being that kids who had great vocabs orally weren’t writing their full ideas down because they couldn’t spell the jolly English language). This was a disaster here, with many people in their 30s and 40s now unable to spell common words. Introducing the process was a good idea, but many people weren’t nudged a little to reach the end of the process and therefore didn’t end up with a product.
      Thirdly, accepting we have made a commitment and following through with it is a bit like a good ritual with beginning, middle and end – although you have a smaller expectation of commitment than we do, your expectation is still there. Reaching the end is sometimes important and gives our brain that Ahhh moment. We have key aspects of our day where the end is reached, e.g. Mr Butterfly dries his two dishes, puts them away, closes the drawer and hangs up his tea-towel(after-a-fashion). He completes this task, whereas I would never ask him to complete tasks during his own self-driven and open-ended play.
      And while I agree that having well nurtured children helps them to feel anchored and more likely to finish things, I don’t think it’s a given. Mr Hare has an end point for swimming (10 years), piano and bass, but they are longer than what we would expect for a commitment to hockey which we do on a season by season basis. At high-school age the boys know they get to choose an instrument and a sport on a year by year basis. The point here is depth of learning in the middle years so they have a strong foundation from which to build – younger than three they pretty much had no ‘activities’ and only have swimming until the year they turn nine when they pick up a team sport and piano. The bass was an extra that Mr H begged to do.
      Apologies, this is both a bit formal and too long! Have an enjoyable long weekend. 🙂

      • hakea says:

        Oh yes, I am a victim of those educational policies. They had them here too. My sticking points are grammar and punctuation. I don’t understand all those rules, and now it does feel too hard to learn. It’s the reason I gave up studying my DipEd to become a teacher, curriculum is not a strength.

        I adore ‘persistence’ and ‘effort’ as qualities. but I don’t support ‘misery’ anymore. I see too many people in abusive relationships who stay because it is their ‘duty’. If one of my kids was in an unhappy relationship and there was lots of effort to correct things, I would support him to move on. His ‘duty’ would be to negotiate a fair settlement, pay child support, maintain relationship, etc., but not to live a miserable life.

        It’s a big topic this one.

        When my kids whinge because they say they are too tired to go to soccer training, I remind them of their commitment to the club and the team, how much they enjoy it when they get there, how much their skills are improving, how much money I am paying for them to be there. However, if at the end of the season they say “that’s it, no more soccer” for lots of good reasons for them, then we’ve had a good go at it.

        I think kids get it from their parents too. Modelling. When one of my kids was asked who he would give an award to, he said “Mum, because she is kind and works very hard”. Another of my kids when he was four, sat at a cardboard box (which he said was his computer) with a bunch of books, for two days “doing uni assignments, cause that’s what Mum does”. They see how persistent their parents are and that rubs off. My husband has been teaching kung fu on a volunteer basis every week for 20 years. He talks to the kids about the rewards of doing something for a long time.

        I don’t insist that the kids practice trumpet and clarinet every day, but they get up willingly at 7am to go to band practice, and every now and again they’ll get their instruments out and have a session because they are moved to, and they enjoy it.

        I’m loving this quote by Rumi at the moment “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a Joy”.

        We could talk for hours you and I, same ideals just different ways of approaching them.

        • hakea says:

          Just reading what I wrote above, and it struck me that ‘difficult’ is different to ‘miserable’. Lots of people live a difficult life but can still find joy in it.

        • We could indeed talk for hours I think! I certainly wouldnt’t be pushing misery if a decent go had been given at a relationship or job or anything else for that matter; and I agree there is a difference between misery for duty, and not being persistent and giving things a really good shot. And when I was teaching I saw so many kids who were clever or talented who couldn’t differentiate between the two and who just never ‘fired’ once they left school. It was the kids who were both well nurtured, and could work through the tough stuff and had some real-life understanding of barriers falling with persistence, that went on to do well in relationships, careers: everything. Modelling is certainly key – that mimicry is so strong. I do wonder if we are approaching things from a different perspective because of what we are each dealing with on a day to day basis. But you’re right, I think we’re both pretty much on the same page as far as ideals go.

    • This is a fantastic comment Hakea. I relate, as I have had many interest in life. I often envy people who have one really big passion throughout their lifetime because it just seems so much simpler. Yet, at the same time, I value the culmination of my life experiences which have brought me to this place in my life.
      And this post also brings into light an important point to parents- that there are times when we expose our kids to new things- hoping they might find something they connect with. Then there are times it just isn’t going to work- and that it is perfectly ok to move on. It also takes strength to know when you’re not ready for something, or just plain not into it. Last summer we exposed our son to a variety of activities and to our surprise, there was only one he really wanted to participate in. We let him feel his way through (he was only 3, so it wasn’t a big deal). He felt good for having a choice to find what suited him. 🙂

      • Good for you. It is interesting and sometimes surprising what they are interested in, isn’t it? I am like you, in that I have taken a few detours which have added to who I am. Great to hear from you. 🙂

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