This article first appeared in the Homeschool Journey newsletter, April 2005
One of the new and exciting challenges of living in town (as opposed to our former life on our farm) is the phenomena of friends. It seems obvious and was a huge reason for our move, but the situation of our sons suddenly having lots of friends has quickly brought issues into our family life which, well... which I wish hadn’t all come at once!
If computer time is strictly limited to 3 hours a week, do we include in that time computer viewing at friends’ houses? How do we feel about our sons spending time at the houses of people we haven’t met? How late is OK for a 13 year-old boy to be out at night riding around on bikes with friends?
Let’s backtrack a bit. This is a very small town which is heavily influenced by the local Waldorf lower school and high school – so we more or less know what kind of families our sons’ friends come from (though there are always surprises!). It is a safe place – I grew up in New York City, so the idea of 13 year-olds out at night on bikes is pretty radical to me, but seems the norm around here where the heady combination of Spring break and mild weather has had the streets full of children well past dark. And lastly, we do know some – though not all – of the families at whose homes our sons might wind up.
Further information to put our questions into context has to do with our sons’ former and very different way of being with friends. Being so isolated had meant that seeing friends involved intricate maneuvers often with 3 or more sets of parents, carpooling and careful coordination of pick-up times. Here, boys just turn up at the door – it’s quite startling! So coordinating chores around the house, things boys need to do before seeing friends, isn’t quite so easy as when seeing friends was something planned days, even weeks, in advance.
And then, when our sons did get together with others, it would often be for a 2 0r 3 day boy-fest of staying up late, roaming at will through the woods, and only showing their faces for meals. Fond memories my sons treasure are of sleeping out under the stars, ice skating at dawn, chasing coyotes through a cornfield by moonlight... oh, and watching 3 0r 4 videos in a row (not at our house, of course!). So now, when my husband and I say “10 o’clock is too late to be out”, they say “Why?” Yes, well – why? They’re not being belligerent or contrary – it really is a reasonable question given what they were used to. So, now that they are 11 and 13 they, especially the older one, need an answer. “Because I said so” isn’t quite enough any more, and though parents have final say in the Newton-Simmons household, we involve our sons now in most decisions that involve them.
Which is exhausting. Where do 13 year-olds get this never-ending well from which spring the most exasperating questions? And why are we in particular blessed with a son not only with a strong sense of right and wrong but with a philosophical bent that wants to explore all the ins and outs of every question!?
Yes, yes, isn’t it all wonderful to experience the growth of our sons’ intellectual and moral boundaries... Just don’t remind me of that when I’m bone tired at night or I’m in one of those ‘do-not-disturb-or-I-might-do-something-you’ll-regret’ moods!
So there are times when Paul and I (especially me as I was dealt a slightly less full portion of patience than my husband received) just have to say “I can’t talk about this right now. You’ll just have to accept it and we’ll discuss it at another time”. Our eldest finds this galling – but over time he’s realized that this is so, that we always willing to talk about anything – though not always to suit his schedule. And we’ve also worked hard to impress upon him that he will not always get an answer right away, or an answer which satisfies him completely. Life is not about filling in the blank or finding pat answers. Too many big questions can only be answered over time and through life’s experience. Being told this, though, when one is a choleric 13 year-old, is asking a lot of that child: and much of what is required for Daniel to accept such an answer lies in trust.
“Sometimes you just have to trust me and accept that such and such needs to be” I have said to Daniel. I avoid adding the annoying little tag, “and one day if you have children you’ll know what I mean” (though I might think it!) and I impress upon him that a) he needs to trust me and b) some things only become clear over time. I think it shows something of the depth and honesty of the relationships in our family that he accepts that.
And Paul and I trust him: we know he’s sensible and can make good choices and that he’s not going to do stupid things... and when he does do stupid things, he will be able to tell us and, more importantly, learn from his mistakes. So we don’t think he and his friends are going to find the local meth lab or watch porn videos. We know that our boy would find these things repugnant – and trust that he’ll make friends with people who share his values. It’s more a case of “computer-hopping” from one house to the next, not something we’re happy about, but which is, with imagination and perseverance, manageable. And when he does come across life’s unsavory elements – as he must if he’s going to fully enter into the world – we need to trust that the foundation of truth, beauty and goodness which we’ve so carefully cultivated will stand him in good stead.
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The following is a brief list of some of my favorite Waldorf-inspired parenting books:
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Navigating the Terrain of
Childhood: A Guidebook for Meaningful Parenting and Heartfelt Discipline, Jack Petrash
Lifeways and More Lifeways, the former by Gudrun Davy and Bons Voors and the latter by Patti Smith and Signe Eklund Schaefer
Thirteen to Nineteen: Discovering the Light, Julian Sleigh
Between Form and Freedom: A Practical Guide to the Teenage Years, Betty Staley