When my youngest was about six I studied uni by distance ed and one of the subjects challenged my biases, made me realise how my own cultural upbringing and values coloured how I perceived and judged what other people do and why.
It is hard to be objective and sympathetic when it comes to the way other people chose to parent their children. I realised that caused a lot of grief in my personal life (judging my parents parenting, my sister-in-law's parenting, the way friends parent, etc).
Letting go of the need to be 'right', to judge that one method is better than others, was an important lesson. My motto now is "what works, what doesn't work, in this situation, at this particular point of time, with these people". Open-mindedness, flexibility, adaptability, honesty guide me and help to moderate my natural tendency towards intolerance and arrogance. :-)
What works for an Ethiopian mother living an agricultural subsistence life, or a mother in China juggling full time work in a crowded competitive city, or a homeschooling single parent living in Australia works for them: I trust that if it stopped working for them they'd adjust, adapt, change, grow, learn and find ways to make life and learning work again. That's what mothers everywhere do.
And that's what I did. I was an atrocious young parent, full of ideas, knew it all, was going to bring up kids the way they should be brought up. The practice of parenting brought me down to earth very quickly! I was lost, really lost, for a very long time. Little by little my wonderfully stubborn, spirited, independent, strong-willed children taught me (ever so patiently and with great forgiveness of my ignorance and slowness to learn) how I needed to parent them. I am happy with what I've learned, it seems to work for me and for lots of my friends. But not all of my friends - and because of that I'm always learning about other ways of parenting and being a parent and person and that's awesome.
There are things we can learn from everyone and everything if we open our minds to the learning opportunities embedded in every moment. The things I feel most passionate about, that arouse my emotions, seem to be the things I need to learn something about - my emotion tells me there is a need to grow in some direction. I get excited when that happens, even if the emotional intensity is unpleasant and I'd rather not go there right now... Being challenged by difference is exciting, as well as scary and confusing and annoying.
For a long time my tendency was to be critical and tear things down, break them apart, find the fault or problem. I was brought up like that - I think our culture and our educational system encourages that kind of thinking. I am working hard now to build, construct, put things together in ways that they work - aiming for mutually beneficial relationships and connections. It's easy to pick someone's life apart and point out where they are going wrong or making mistakes (in our opinion, view, perspective, values), but it distracts us from learning what we need to learn from that situation, what it can give us. I stop myself as often as I can now when I catch myself thinking and operating from that old paradigm.
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