Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Skills and Maturity

My almost 17-year-old daughter has been working the last few days on a purse for herself. The purse looks like a bustier. (While I have wondered if this is a good choice for her, I consider it best that she has a purse like one than to wear one as clothing!) In pursuit of this project, she has worked on her own. She asked me when cutting it out about how many layers each piece needed. Because she was looking for it on the pattern instruction sheet, she didn’t see the amount on the pattern pieces. Night before last she came to me and said, “I have a problem with something on the purse.” It was the end of the day and my mind had had all it could for one day, so I told her it would have to wait. (I’ve learned the wisdom in putting things off when I’m tired because I know working on something when tired only leads to more problems, not solutions.) Yesterday after a long day of errands, I asked her about the problem. She said she did the strap like the pattern instructed—made a tube to be turned right side out after completion—but when she tried to turn it right side out using their method, the material raveled. I told her my method of making things like that which doesn’t involve having to turn it right side out. Her response was, “I’d already thought of that, and that was my plan when I work on it again.”
For Mother’s Day this same daughter worked secretively with her younger (almost 14-year-old) sister on a gift for me. They found a piece of material I had in my stash that had a teddy bear pattern printed on it. I have an unfinished one in my project bucket. These are NOT easy things to sew. But they did it and did a beautiful job on it, too. They did it all without any help from me or their dad.
In the past, I have had the idea that my daughters should know all the skills of a homemaker at a young age. I have had my eye on a book called “Training Our Daughters to be Keepers at Home” for many years now, but the cost was prohibitive so I haven’t purchased it—not because I didn’t think the book was worth it, but because I thought I wouldn’t get my money’s worth out of it because my daughters are getting older. In my mind, they should have learned these things earlier. Through the two independent sewing projects mentioned above, God has shown me that I have been wrong.
Yes, other children have learned skills like this at young ages. I commend them and their mothers. But, is it right for me to expect the same from me and my children? Don’t get me wrong—I have worked on some sewing type projects with my daughters before. They have had some experience in this area, but now I am seeing the wisdom in waiting for maturity (and interest) to come. When maturity is there, the skills come more easily. I have had to help very little on this latest project. There has been no frustration on my part because she doesn’t understand what I’m trying to show her. There has been no frustration on her part because I’m forcing her to do something before she’s ready.
This is not only true in sewing, but in academic areas as well. My oldest daughter--the same one who has been working on the purse--HATES math. This is my fault. I gave in to pressure to have her learn things before she was ready to. I pressured her to learn them too soon, before the maturity was there. I almost visibly saw the light go off in her head one day when she finally “got math.” By then, though, the damage was already done in her relationship to this subject. John Taylor Gatto says, “The truth is that reading, writing, and arithmetic only take about 100 hours to transmit as long as the audience is eager and willing to learn. The trick is to wait until someone asks and then move fast while the mood is on.” This is staggering! Our children go to school for twelve years learning things that are only supposed to take 100 hours. Okay, add some extra hours in for science, history, etc. Still, the time doesn’t come close to twelve years. Of course, my goal is for my children to learn for a lifetime, but here I am speaking of the basics in education. If we will but wait until the child’s maturity is there, how much more enjoyable and meaningful learning will be to them (and to us).
The maturity comes at different ages for everyone. Just because the youngest a child has ever learned a skill is X years old doesn’t mean my child will learn it at that same age. We are all individuals, are we not? But this mentality starts when our children are first born. We read the baby books and their charts which say baby should turn over by this month, crawl by this month, walk by this month, etc. What if baby doesn’t? Even if we are at peace with baby’s timetable, there is always someone else who will say, “Oh my, shouldn’t baby be walking by now, potty trained by now...” Our lives and the lives of our children will be so much more peaceful if we will learn to shut those voices out.
I once read that Sir Isaac Newton did not excel academically until the age of 17. No one would argue against the fact that this was a brilliant scientist. But if he lived in our day, he would have been labeled “learning disabled” or some such non-sense. If he had been so labeled, would he have had the confidence to excel even at 17? Would he have just given up on learning altogether? How many children today are labeled something or other when they are really just “late bloomers”? Of course, if they are in the public or private school system, then they are required to fit into that system. But what about those who are educated at home? What can parents do for their children to accommodate their personal maturity rates?
I think the first thing we must do is to seek God to renew our minds on these issues. We cannot act upon ideas we don’t possess. We need to seek the truth not only on issues we perceive as “spiritual” but things we may perceive as “worldly” as well. As Christians, we need to lose the mentality that our lives are separate compartments—the spiritual stuff over here in this slot, the worldly over here in this one. Every area of our lives should be surrendered to God. Isn’t that what it means to be a Christian in the first place? Does God have something to say on the issue of our children’s maturity and education? I believe He does. Seek Him for these truths for your particular children; search His word and even let Him lead you to other sources to renew your mind with.
Secondly, we must learn to operate in the wisdom of seasons. Sometimes we are guilty of trying to do everything all at once. This only leads to burn-out for Mom and for the children. We all need time to digest the things we are learning. We may have a season of intense learning or activity, but that needs to be balanced by a season of reflection and solitude if the learning season is to have its full effect. There are also seasons of interests on the parts of our children. My child may have a keen interest in a subject one year that wanes as time passes. I need to allow for this to happen. I also need to allow for an interest that doesn’t wane. If my child has a passion for something, I need to allow that to develop and grow. It won’t if I am constantly distracting her with other learning pursuits. As a Christian parent, I must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. He can show me when something is out of balance—when, if ever, the other learning pursuits need to interrupt her interest. We must learn to pace ourselves in life, not trying to accomplish all that is available to us in one season. Perhaps there is something I really want my child to learn, but maybe the season is just not the right one. If I am wise, I will wait until the season is right—when the interest and maturity is there. If I am unwise, I will forge ahead and destroy any possibility of there being joy in the learning. I can even do damage to the point that when the right season does come, the joy is still not there—like I did with my older daughter and math.
This leads to my last point—we must learn to be patient in waiting for our child’s maturity to come. We must accommodate their pace. Author Cindy Rushton uses the story of Jacob meeting his brother Esau again to illustrate this. When Esau invites Jacob to journey with him, Jacob responds, “Please let my lord go on ahead before his servant. I will lead on slowly at a pace which the livestock that go before me, and the children, are able to endure, until I come to my lord in Seir.” We must not lead so quickly that our children get left behind or get discouraged with themselves. We must learn to back off from unrealistic expectations. If a child feels like she cannot keep up, she will quickly get discouraged and quit trying altogether. As parents, it is our responsibility to adjust the pace according to our children’s maturity levels.
We can rest peacefully in this approach, knowing that the maturity will come. And with the maturity, will come the eagerness and ability to learn the skills we want our children to learn.