Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Teaching Introspection & The Importance of Simply Being Together

The other day, I had an idea. I developed an interview, and asked each of my children a handful of questions about our family life. The oldest ones, in turn, are working on an interview for my husband and I. I had a two-fold purpose for this project.

First, I wanted to gain a sense of how the kids view our family, so that I could focus my parenting efforts playing to our strengths and emphasizing our assets. At the same time, starkly looking at our failings as a family, understanding how they affect all of us, and trying to figure out the root causes of those challenges which seem to plague us.

I think I am probably not alone as a parent getting stuck in focusing on the things going badly. We struggle with the same few things it seems over and over again. Picking up toys and projects and belongings left out is a monumental struggle Everyone seems to be vying for the attention of a parent or a sibling or a spouse almost non-stop, which can manifest itself in a plethora of negativity- ranging from hyper-competitiveness to down right cruelty. My perception (though it turns out to be a flawed one) was that we lacked a cohesive group identity, which is essential in fostering team work. I thought interviewing the kids about their perceptions of our family might give me some clues about what steps I might take to end this repetitive struggle with the same handful of issues. I was really unprepared for what I found out, but at the same time very pleased with what I found out. It will require some more self-searching and honesty on my part about the why of some of my own behaviour patterns, but what excited me was that moving forward is something that is definitely doable.

The second purpose was to encourage introspection amongst the children. Giving them a starting place and some practice thinking about their lives and communicating what they uncover. I also wanted them to have the experience of sharing their thoughts and hearts out loud with me in an environment of safety non-judgment. I began each interview telling them that there are no right or wrong answers, no better or worse answers. I just wanted the most honest answers they could give. I would not be angry or hurt by anything they had to say.

Here are the interview questions:
1.) What do you like best about being in our family?

2.) What would you change about our family if you could?

3.)What do you think you will struggle with the most as a grown up? What do you think Mommy struggles with most? Daddy?

4.) Imagine yourself as a 25 year old and someone asks you, "What was it like growing upin your family?" What is your answer to them?

5.) What do you hope our family life is like when you are all grown ups?

6.) Which one of your siblings do you feel you have the closest relationship to? Why? Which one do you wish you were closer to? Why?

7.) What do you feel is our greatest strength as a family?

8.) What do you feel is our greatest weakness?

9.) Any other thoughts or comments about growing up in our family that you think are important?

The underlying theme in all of the information I gathered was that more than anything our greatest asset as a family is just simply being together. Our greatest detriment is when we are not working together, or when any one of us is not open to togetherness. Having fun together and playing together is really important, but interestingly not something we do very well at overall. Honestly, what I found out is that the simple act of being physically together so much goes a long way, and the best way to improve what is lacking is by spending more time together having fun-both with our parent child relationships, as well as sibling to sibling relationships.

This is great news to me, and gives words to the feelings and sense of things I have been forming for several years. I have been telling people who ask why we homeschool for quite awhile now that it comes down to really just being a close knit family, with an emphasis an learning how to create and live in healthy relationships. We are all a part of one another's lives in a very intimate way. I know what my kids are doing. They know what I am doing. I know all of their friends and all of their friends' parents. They know all of my friends. I know the other adults in their lives. They watch me struggling and fighting to be the best person I can be. They witness my many, many mistakes and watch me apologize, try to make amends, and then try to gain the skills to do things differently in the future, even if that change is a long time coming. I know the things with which they are really struggling, so even if I can't help them I can be a witness to their struggle and cheer them on when they have a victory.

However, I think this information is also going to really require some more fine honed work on my part. I think I really need to understand where my disengagement comes from. I need to really seek out what the underlying shame there is, which makes me feel at times unworthy of connection with the kiddos. I need to work really diligently on balance in my life, so that I can be fully present more of the time. I need to try harder to incorporate the realities of a 1 year old into the fabric of the day of the rest of the children, instead of just sort of expecting them to wait another six months to have their mommy "back".

This has all also yielded to another project which I will share as it develops. We are going to start journaling together as a family. I will borrow a lot of other people's questions from the internet as well as create my own and encourage the kids to create questions. My husband has agreed to join us. I think it might be a great experience. I have never been much of a journal keeper, so I look forward to what will come.


  1. Very inspiring post. It is so important to be able to verbalize feelings and then communicate those feelings to others. Kudos to you and your family and especially to you for instilling this skill into your children early in life.

  2. Thanks Janet! I don't know how well I'm doing, but certainly trying to give them some skills and tools and trying *really* hard to let them know all emotions are okay.