Someone asked me a question recently that began with, "When you parent..."
When don't I parent?
For years, a poster hung in my house that I'd received from a children's advocacy group. "Live your life as though someone is watching," it read, "because someone is."
Our children are watching us all the time, intelligent observers of their environments. There isn’t a time when we turn on their childhood, when they aren’t noticing the way we behave or the choices we make. Parenting doesn't happen in checklists or by chapters. In the Montessori classroom, we design spaces that are intended to evoke and support particular kinds of engagements all the time, so that children's authentic, lived experiences in the classroom can help to propel them. Parenting works in the same way. We don't parent in hour-long segments or one topic at a time. We share a space with our children, modeling for them in a thousand little messages who it is we believe they are and what we believe they are capable of becoming. And these days, as the lines between school and home have melted away, we are sharing that space with a new fluidity, as our children see us work, rest, play and parent all at the same time.
What are they noticing, as they make free use of their powers of reasoning?
For example, we often tell our children that we want them to demonstrate particular behaviors that we may not notice in ourselves. Your child leaves their plate on the kitchen counter and it's a major offense, but you might leave your own coffee mug there for hours without noticing. Your child squirms at the dining room table and they get in trouble for wiggling, but you get up and down from the table whenever you choose.
Children are watching us, all the time, and even when we don't know they're paying attention. Indeed, children are watching us even when they don't know they're paying attention! The norms of our environments become internalized for children as "How We Do Things Here." The children learn far more from what they watch us do than they'll ever learn from what they hear us say.
How could we possibly ever be intentional about all the messages we offer to children, especially when every action of ours, every inaction also, teaches them something? How can we measure what lessons we teach when they learn from all the things they observe?
It’s good practice to follow the child at the child’s own pace, to allow them the time they need to experience the world and make sense of what they see. What makes us think that the same time isn’t just as essential in our own lives? When we rush through tasks, ticking them off checklists and to-do charts, we perpetuate a busy-ness that disconnects us from the work we’re doing. When we behave as though we know someone is watching (because someone is always watching,) we are more mindful, more attentive, more thoughtful. When we behave as though we know someone is watching (because someone is always watching) we more easily become the people we hope to be for our children. We model patience with ourselves. We model attentiveness to the people around us. We model that the work we are doing is important enough that it warrants doing carefully. Mindful practices aren’t limited to your yoga mat or Sunday mornings. We preach more powerful messages to our children by how they see us behave than by the words we use, and if we want those to be the same messages, we need to be as intentional with what we do as we are with what we say. When we behave like we are already the people we hope our children will become, we give them a better model to follow and we live, ourselves, in a more peaceful, more just, more compassionate and more mindful community.
*A response to Chapter 16: Writing The Discovery of the Child. M. Montessori