Keeping One Step Ahead

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.

* * * * *

The following
is a brief list of some of my favorite Waldorf-inspired parenting books:

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

All these
books are available from Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore – www.rscbookstore.com – and probably
from Bob and Nancy’s – www.waldorfbooks.com

Posted on July 13, 2005 in Family Life and Parenting, Older Children

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