My parenting convictions were put to the test a few weeks ago.
The boys and I had traveled to the Wisconsin Parents Association conference, an annual event that that refreshes, recharges and re-energizes me. I'd agreed to present three sessions at the conference: Homeschooling Boys, Let's Make Paper Airplanes and Boundless Energy: Dealing with Boy Energy. The first two were sessions I'd done before. Boundless Energy was a new one for me, created as a direct response to comments and questions from participants who attended my Homeschooling Boys session last year.
How, they wondered, does one productively co-exist with a boy (or boys) who seem to have a constant need for movement?
So this year, we talked. We agreed that boys' desire and drive for movement is not a bad thing, and that part of our job, as parents, is helping them find outlets for their energy. Our room was a testament to our beliefs: As I led the discussion, my 5-yr-old son practiced handstands at the side of the room with another boy. No one minded. We understood that the boys need to move, that they relate and build relationships through physical interactions.
But what about other, less-friendly circumstances? While we all felt quite comfortable letting our boys be boys in the safe confines of our classroom, a number of the moms expressed frustration with pre-existing playgroups back home, playgroups where their sons are judged for wanting to play lightsabers over tea party.
The experienced moms in the room talked about the need to "find your tribe," to find a network of friends and families who understand boys' predilection to play fighting and physical activity. But the deep down question remained: How do you, as a parent, balance your sons' needs for physical activity with societal expectations? How do you handle mealtimes? Social outings? It's one thing to tolerate jumping off the couch at home; it's another thing to let your sons run rampant at the public museum.
I shared my personal reality. At home, my boys rarely sit through a meal. My 10-yr-old is prone to eating on his feet; he's still my Most Likely to Fall Off a Chair for No Apparent Reason. My 8-yr-old constantly rocks his chair and all of my boys are more than happy to leap up from the table to peer out the window. And often, I let it go. I reinforce proper behavior, but I know that expecting my four boys, ages 5 to 13, to eat every meal while seated properly is a bit beyond their current capabilities. So I tolerate a certain amount of physical movement during a meal. I know that my sons are quite capable of adapting their behavior to the situation (even at this age, they understand the difference between lunch at home and Christmas dinner at Grandma's), and that their behavior will change as they grow.
But at lunch that day, in the cafeteria, my convictions were tested. Boy #4, age 5, finished eating long before the rest of us. He started turning circles 'round the column next to our table. I had a choice: I could deny his natural need for movement and shame him into his seat. Or I could tolerate his non-intrusive behavior.
I chose Choice #2, acutely aware that my actual parenting would speak far more than any words I spoke in the classroom. At the same time, I was acutely aware of fear that plagues so many boy-parents: the fear that we will be judged as inadequate or ineffective parents for letting our sons be boys.
So talk. Discuss. How do you handle parenting in public? Are you fearful of judgement? Does that fear affect your parenting?