Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Private Instruction

Here's a guest editorial from reader and friend, Karen Marsh. Thanks Karen!

Have you ever discovered a new hobby or talent, perhaps spurred by a class you took? After you go to class for awhile, what seems to be the next step in developing your new area of interest in an optimal way? For me, I tend to turn toward the idea of a private instructor. I don't know that I've actually had a private instructor since the days when my parents paid one to take me through my scales on the piano, but that's not to say I haven't wanted one. And I definitely believe in the potential benefits of private instruction, above and beyond what a classroom can provide, when one really wants to master a skill. In fact, one of my interests is yoga, and one of the aspects of yoga in America that I have heard lamented by yoga instructors is the classroom approach. Apparently, if we were to "do it right," as was done in the days of old in India, the practice would be a much more private and personal journey, built out of a relationship between a student and a guru. Since a private yoga instructor around here can easily command a $75/hour fee, as compared to the $9 cost of a yoga class, there must be something that truly distinguishes the experience.

Well, what if your new hobby is "life"? You are a three-year-old child in need of mastering skills that will last you a lifetime -- sharing, being nice, eating good food, finding positive roads to happiness, etc. Which would you prefer... the private instructor or the classroom experience? This is something I've been thinking about lately. I know that I could learn more effectively from the private instructor (aka a parent). I think that those of us who are staying home with kids can look at the value added to our children's lives in those terms. If you dedicate yourself to the job of raising a child the way that a yoga instructor dedicates herself to a private session with a client, then the value of which you're giving your child can be, give or take, 8x that of what the child gets from a daycare classroom. This is not to say that every waking hour with your child has the qualities of an intense private session, but it does mean that your focus is there. Unlike a paid private instructor, your performance is not contained by a designated time period. More like a contractor on a retainer, you are standing ready to perform when a job presents itself (i.e. Bobby takes a truck from Jimmy and hits Jimmy over the head with it... time for a life lesson).

By contrast, a pre-schooler learning many life lessons in a classroom is learning not only from the teacher that is trying to guide 8-10 children through a day, but also from all of the other children in that room. Recently, I read this referred to as "horizontal socialization," whereas time with a parent is "vertical socialization." The article argued that vertical socialization gave a child a much more solid footing for life. I would have to agree that in the early years, this is the case. Would you rather have Jimmy learn his life lessons from Bobby or from a loving parent? We know the benefits and drawbacks of peers, and a child has from K-12 to experience that quite fully if you opt to send your child to school, as most of us will. The first four years of life are so fleeting. And what have you got to lose if you spend them with your child, except a little cash? Even if you're not the greatest private instructor, you're definitely the one your child would choose.


Jayne Martin Dressing said...

One of the problems that we have with this debate about whether one should stay home with their children or continue to work full or part time is that we make it so personal. If we really feel that it is so important for mothers to stay home at least temporarily with young children why aren’t we talking more about public policies and less about personal choices. If we really felt that mothers need to be private instructors for their children, why as a society do we want welfare mothers to get a job? Why do we support Head Start for 2 year olds? Why don’t we have better family leave in this country so that women could go back to jobs that they like after spending a few years with their children? Why don’t we have affordable or subsidized health care so that more families could have enough money to have one parent at home for awhile? The truth is that for most families wages have not kept up with the cost of health care, education, and housing. I read recently that the average American family has negative numbers in the ole savings account. It ain’t the 50’s folks.

I didn’t read the article on vertical vs. horizontal socialization, but my thought is that children need a little bit of both and so do parents. Children need loving, caring adults in their lives. Sometimes that is a parent, sometimes a grandparent, and sometimes a child-care provider. Children learn a great deal from other children, and from having another adult invested in their well-being. In an organized environment, children learn to wait their turn, to be patient, they learn what is acceptable behavior, and what is not. I’m glad there were times that another adult reinforced my reaction to negative behavior or supported my desire to feed my kid’s good food (my son ate a lot more green beans for his babysitter than he did for me!)

I work a lot less now than I did before, and I’m glad. But even when I worked more, I still found time to teach sharing, being nice, eating good food, and finding happiness. At home more now, I don’t dedicate my time to my children; I do laundry, I work in the garden, I clean the house, and they play. We read books, I feed them, and occasionally I take them swimming or on another outing. My guess is that they get a lot more “attention” when our babysitter rides her bike over two days a week. The bottom line is that happy parents make happy kids. We should work harder as a society to find more ways to make that balance possible.

StuntMom said...

Thanks Jayne, you are so right about happy parents making happy kids. Isn't this what it's really all about? If staying home makes us happy, then really that should be enough. I often felt that growing up, if my mom worked, we would all be so much happier since she really was miserable staying home. I think she resented us since she was making such a "sacrifice".

Back when I was working, just about every non-working moment was spent playing with my kids, and having conversations without distractions. I stayed up late to do the household chores, so that I could interact with my children. Now that I stay home, often a day goes by, and I wonder if I listened enough, or played enough with them.

Thanks for another perspective and for keeping us on our toes, Jayne.

Anonymous said...

I don't entirely buy the "happy parents make happy kids." What if we were to turn that around to say "happy kids make happy parents"? If we let happiness emerge from the situation in which we find ourselves, instead of actively pursuing it, then we might find happiness where we don't expect it. I don't think that a mom who resents staying home with her kids is seeing the situation for the opportunity that it is. Such a person might just be an unhappy person, regardless of whether she is working outside or inside the home. What makes a work project any more interesting than a child development project? If you give the best part of yourself to your kids, then I think you get back the best of them. And I think that playing with them is just one example of giving to them. The Waldorf schools, for example, believe that one important teaching modality is for a teacher to sit in the middle of a roomful of kids and work on a project. The fact that the children can observe and ask questions is seen both as a valuable part of their development and of seeing adults in a role other than playmate. It gives them something to emulate.

As for the personal versus the policy on this issue, I agree entirely with Jayne that there should be policy changes to enable women to dedicate a period of time to motherhood without entirely losing their footing in the career world. But why does it have to be one or the other? Isn't it also very personal?

It's really hard to gauge whether a household is fiscally prepared to operate on one-income, but I also think that the standards of living have risen quite a bit in this country. Which items from the following list are essential to the household?
-Cell phones
-Cable, pay-per-view, etc.
-Internet connectivity
-New clothes/shoes every season
-Second car
-New car (vs. used car)
-Professional hair coloring
-Restaurant meals
-Etc., etc.
There are moms around the world for whom these options are not even on the radar, but I think you could find quite a few people here in the U.S. who would list many of those as essential items.

When you get going on this topic, it's amazing how many different points there are on which to agree/disagree. Thanks for the dialogue - it's great to be able to bat these ideas around.

Jayne Martin Dressing said...

I agree whole-heartedly about being "in the moment" with your children. I just don't think we should assume that moms who don't work outside the home are more in the moment.
What I mean by "happy parents make happy kids" is that if you love what you do, and you love your children, and your spouse loves his job and you both feel that you have enough time to devote to your children and each other, then your kids will be fine. They will know they are loved. Good parenting is not measured in the number of balls you toss or how many books you read; it's consistency, patience, joy. I think we send this message that to be a truly good mom, you must stay home-that working moms are just screwing up kids, and I don't believe this is true. Stunt-mom's comment about her mother suggests that maybe more time spent outside of her family life would have helped her to feel like a more balanced person. I just don't want moms out there to think that staying home with your kids is going to make you suddenly find some inner happiness because children are an incredible challenge everyday.

StuntBec said...

Interesting discussion. I keep thinking about the comment about an unhappy stay at home mom from our past - that perhaps if she had gone to work, she (and therefore her children) would have been much happier. I think that's too much of an oversimplification. Some people are just not able to find happiness during certain points in their lives.

Here's an example for you: I've known a mom for quite some time, before the time of her first pregnancy. She and I were pregnant with our first children at the same time. Her biggest wish was to be a stay at home mom. For the first year, this was not attainable, as she was the main breadwinner, her husband was the minor breadwinner. She was VERY unhappy about having to put her child in daycare. They finally worked it out so that she could do some internet work and other misc. revenue enhancers at home on the side, and her husband would work full time (with the insurance bennies). She did this, and guess what? She was STILL as unhappy as can be. Their finances stressed her out. My feeling was that she was just not at a point in her life where she could find or create happiness. She ended up going back to work full time. I don't know if she's finally happy, as we've sort of lost touch with each other. But my gut tells me she's the same.

There are so many factors working for and against our happiness. I like the list of "must haves" listed - I've often wondered if my friend didn't have cable, didn't always have cute clothes and a fashionable haircut, didn't love the sport of shopping so much, etc. etc., then she could have enjoyed living on a more modest income, could have lived in a house she liked more, could have been a stay at home mom, and happier. I ventured to mention this once, and was quickly shut down.

I believe that the choices I make are what make me happy. Not all are ready to accept (or cannot see) that they are in charge of their own happiness and quality of life. I hope that someday my friend finds inner happiness.

Personal happiness. I think about this a lot. I want my children to be happy, like me. I want them to feel in charge of their lives, not like victims. The victim mentality is so easy to fall into. Hope I didn't go off on too much of a tangent. Time to finish making supper: chicken curry tonight! Watch out, kids, it's spicy!