(So if this was a movie, I'd entitle it Early Years: The Rant Continues......!)
Do have a read through my original piece on this topic and then the follow-up. There have been many wonderful contributions by readers as well - which I am so grateful for. It is incredibly helpful for others who feel isolated or even persecuted for their beliefs about keeping their children home to have a place to go to read the words of those who have made similar choices.
In today's contribution to this theme, I want to address the question: Why might Waldorf early years educators be favorable toward including younger and younger children in their facilities? We know why conventional educators do this (it's better for children; get'em while they're young; better early than late etc). But why do some (and I must emphasize that this is ion no way universal!) Waldorf educators feel this way?
I would say that it comes down to the potentially dangerous assumption, either verbalized or implicit, that "experts" know better and can provide a healthier atmosphere for one's children.
And I think that this is an incredibly dangerous attitude - where does it end? At what point does someone (and who is that someone?) determine that a parent is not doing a good job and that others can do better? Those of us who are staunchly in favor of homeschooling know this attitude well - whether we are Waldorf folks or not. Experts - the Teachers Union, superintendents of schools, much of the court system, many social workers etc - take this opinion and do all they can to discredit and undermine homeschooling. One only has to hear the bone-chilling accounts of parents fighting a divorce where one parent is in favor of homeschooling and the other is not to see with whom the legal system in this country usually sides. One can read articles in many teachers publications and pay some small attention to policies passed by Teachers' Unions and by teachers' professional bodies to know that homeschooling is seen as an aberration at best and totally unacceptable at worst.One only has to hear the accounts of parents who got into some tangle with the public schools and then chose to homeschool and ran into problems, perhaps with a school official who decides to investigate or perhaps with a social worker who got involved to know that homeschooling is not 100% accepted in this country! And I know for a fact it is like that in most other parts of the world as well. Homeschoolers don't routinely get threatened with removal of their children by social services anymore (thanks in large part to the fact that in the '80's homeschoolers did some serious organizing and developed strategies to protect themselves) but.... it is not warmly embraced by many of the people who, in their professed interest in the welfare of children, should educate themselves and their colleagues about the benefits of homeschooling.
I have had conversations with Waldorf teachers which run along these lines:
Me: So why do you take babies into your day care?
Waldorf Person: Well, someone has to.
Me: Yes... but couldn't you try to help the mother see the problems she might be creating? Couldn't you help her keep her baby at home?
WP: But you have no idea how chaotic some people's lives are - I can provide a really healthy place for the little children and then the parents can learn how to do this themselves.
And so on.
So my answer - or retort - is yes, I am very well acquainted with the utter chaos that rules in many people's homes. But I am also well acquainted with the incredibly empowering process of helping a parent feel like she can actually provide the best for her child and get her homelife and act together! What an utter transformation I have witnessed in people - and how utterly strengthening that has been! My happiest moments in my Christopherus work have been when consulting relationships have ended because the client no longer needed me - she had gained the self confidence and just a handful of tools to be able to do it herself. How beautiful it has been on my discussion forum to read the heart warming struggles mothers have shared as they coach and encourage each other to work through their challenges.
And what is more important in adult life than to learn how to do something oneself? Can there be anything more important than for a mother to be validated in her ability to create the right kind of family life to support the needs of the people in it? Isn't human freedom about learning for oneself - and not relying on others? And can there be any realm of human life more important for people to feel empowered than in their family relationships?
So I have told my Waldorf early years friends my position. I have told them that while I can see the wonderful benefit from the examples they give and from the parent education they share with the parents of the little ones who come to them, that this is a world of difference away from teaching mothers with their children. To remove the children and effectively say "here - I can do this better - watch me" is, in the end, no matter how compassionately and gently said, wrong. And I don't care how much of a mess those parents are making!!! They remain the parents of those children and they need to learn how to be with them. They need to learn to work through their own stuff and the challenges their particular children bring and break through. By removing the children, one does not get to the root - sure, some parents, through their efforts, will learn to improve their parenting skills. But isn't it more effective and much more human centered to do this with the mother and child together and to promote the intrinsic worth of that sacred place which is a vessal for primary human relationships - the home? Mothers need to learn how to be at home with their children. This is a huge need - why on earth else do so many parents frenziedly ferry their children here and there and everywhere or buy them every thing imaginable - to stave off the sheer misery of being unable to cope with the huge difficulties that parenting entails!! And if, on top of that, they are told by the very people who are meant to hold sacred the hearthand home, ie Waldorf educators, that not-at-home meets their children's needs better, then those mothers are doubly undermined.
Do you know what one of my biggest concerns about all of this is? Teens. Yup - the teen years. If a parent can't handle the early years, isn't helped to develop the tools she needs to be able to be clear in herself and clear with her children (which, in my opinion, constitutes about 80% of the problems that parents encounter in their early years of parenting) then look out - this will return with a vengeance in the teen years. Somehow, there seems to be a lull in the middle years of childhood - children at school are more orientated toward school (which I'd say can also cause problems but that's another topic!) and life can, more or less, be easy at home - and yet no issues from the earlier years have been substantially healed.
But the teen years hit and suddenly it's like those parents have toddlers again - "I can't control him" "he is all over the place" "who is this person I am living with" and - most commonly of all - "I can't communicate with my son/daughter".
See, I think that if children are mainly in the home in their early years and if parents find the support (yes - from experts - I have nothing against expertise per se - it's how it is used!) to learn how to parent in the best ways that they can, then the hellishness of the teen years can be much reduced. And even if there are still times of hell (I speak as a parent of teens and as a high school teacher and mentor of teens) then at least some communication is possible. One can deal with this stage of life of one's child because one has suffered through all the other stages - in an up close and in your face way! YOu and your child know each other intimately - all the bumps and warts, all the uglyness. AND - all the joy, compassion, grace and love. There are no gaps - there is no possibility of feeling like strangers. One might have issues - every parent has issues with her teen and vica versa - but they are healthy issues which can be dealt with in a human and healthy way. The child - now teen - is secure in who he is because you have provided him the security of your presence and of making all the sacrifices that go along with that. Whether he admits that ot not, he knows this, somewhere in his soul. And no matter what he gets up to, this can provide an unshakeable anchor in a very scary and unsafe world.
The teachings of all great spiritual traditions tell us that problems avoided come back in one way or another. Our culture is not one which seeks the long term slow method of healing (of anything). Quick fixes do not work - especially in human relationships. Time, energy, sacrifice, steep learning curves, pain and discomfort are all a part of parenting. Identifying the bedrock needs of children can be unsettling. But little children need to be at home with their mothers. That is a primary need. Our society does not support this, does not encourage this, does not value this. It is a hard, lonely and frightening job for a parent to take on.
I wan to end this blog here - and I very much want to encourage comments to move it along. Over the next weeks and months I want to add substance to a number of my assertions - especially this core assertion that littles are best off at home. This is not what Dr Phil or Oprah or others say - so how is it that I can say it?
The other last thing I want to say is that I have plans to bring some of these questions to WECAN (the Waldorf early years association). A friend of mine is the local WECAN rep and she and I spent a couple of hours in my garden the other day discussing some of these issues. She was very open and very interested. I told her that one of things I am hearing is that parents are very, very grateful for Waldorf mother/child groups - and also how dismayed many are at being considered second class citizens if they choose to keep their littles at home. I told her that when the time is right, I want to make a formal appeal to WECAN to encourage not so much the growth of early years care, but of Waldorf parent/child groups. I am thinking of ways that other parents who would like to support this move can join me.
I will let you know more as things unfold. For now - I need to hear more from you all.