One thing I’ve learned as a parent, especially as a homeschooling parent, is the art of negotiation. I’ve tried not to be that parent that manipulates. I try to let my kids be my kids, but sometimes I really have to set my foot down on things. I hate doing it, but it’s necessary for my household to operate. Things such as bedtimes (because of neighbors) are non-negotiable. Other things? They’re a lot more up for discussing.
While there are a lot of things that are up for discussion, I’ve come to learn to choose my battles. There are some things (like lunch time) that have become fixed points in time, but other things are a lot more fluid. Even the things I try to use as fixed points have been bending a lot lately.
For example, I had curriculum that the kids were supposed to do every day. The problem with that was how incredibly daunting it was to face a day of solid block curriculum. Though I know she has the best of intentions, my aunt keeps giving us more homeschooling curriculum and supplies and it’s starting to feel like our day is turning into a solid block of structured learning, exactly what I wanted to avoid. I’ve got a lot to figure out with making it all work.
This is where negotiation comes in. Today none of us were feeling homeschooling (that happens), so I was debating on just not doing it at all today, but knowing how things would turn out if I just said they could do whatever, I opted to at least do something. We decided to do the Story of the World along with a book on Imperial China. Then the kids did their computer time (which they pretty much love), and we moved on to workbooks. Beekee was the only one that really dug the workbooks. Sander did some of his math, some sight words, and a couple easy science and geography things. Luca did nothing at all, not even Starfall today, just the computer time.
While on some days this would seem like a fail, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is what parenting is about, being able to negotiate with your child to get the things that must be done accomplished while letting go of things that don’t matter as much. This factors into everything we do. The important stuff is fixed (like bedtime), but the less important stuff (like what they wear to bed) is up to them.
In some ways this is easier than others. I hate the “You have a choice between these things and that’s just the end of it,” but there are times it’s practical. “We’re going to have dinner. These are the things I’m willing to make. Everyone gets a vote.” I don’t want to leave the kids to pick anything in the house. As much as I might not care if the kids want pancakes for breakfast, if I’m not feeling up to making it, I’m not making it. That’s just how it has to be sometimes.
And isn’t that teaching them about life anyways? Sometimes the world isn’t full of options. Sometimes you’ve got to pick from a list of things that aren’t always appealing. Maybe you have options on jobs, but none of them are going to be quite what you want to do. Doesn’t matter, you still have to have a job to pay the bills. Waiting for a fun job to come along may not be an option.
Sometimes it’s a matter of respect too. In the case of dinner, it’s respecting my boundaries. “I’m tired and I don’t feel like making anything at all, but here’s what I am willing to make. Which one do you want?” They need to understand that sometimes I’m all about the roast turkey with all the good stuff with it. Other times it’s all I can do to throw together mac and cheese. Some days Oz makes french fries from scratch. Then there’s most days, where he works and isn’t up to doing anything but being home and playing video games. It’s about respecting the other person’s needs. That’s important too, especially if it goes both ways.
Teaching kids to negotiate is also an important life skill. If they have to do a lesson they don’t want to do because they’d rather continue learning about something else, more power to them. If they want to spend all day watching YouTube videos, and I feel there’s stuff to get done, it’s good for them to learn how to get what they want, and to meet their responsibilities too. It’s healthy for them to learn to negotiate in their environment.
It’s reasons like these that I leave wiggle room in a lot of things. Lunch is always at noon, but we can make it later if the kids are really into doing something. Normally we don’t break for lunch until we’re done with what we’re doing, but sometimes they eat lunch while working. We normally do snacks when lessons are done too, but sometimes we have them with lessons. Bedtime is generally at 8pm for the younger three, but they stay up an hour later, sometimes an hour and a half when we go to jujitsu. Because of that I leave them some wiggle room on the days they don’t go to jujitsu too. I like to keep our home flexible so they can find things to practice their negotiating skills on. After all, they can’t learn how to navigate their own way in life without being allowed some freedom to flex those muscles, so to speak.
But, speaking of jujitsu, it’s almost time to get rolling out. We’ve got to get ready, especially if I want to pop into the library before class. We missed Friday last week so I’m feeling the guilt of paying for something we’re not doing bad this week. If we’re going to be paying for it…again, negotiation. I don’t really want to go, but I’m willing if the kids are willing, and they’re definitely willing. Oh the lessons we teach by example…