Gifted, Homeschooling, Opinion

Modeling Healthy Balance by Modeling Healthy Behaviors

I wasn’t going to write this post. After all, what do I know about modeling healthy balance for my gifted kids? I’ve spent the last three or so years figuring out what that means, but I have not yet perfected that particular craft.

That’s just it, though–perpetual learning is necessary in today’s diverse and fast-paced society. Because I’m a life-long learner and an autodidact, I’ve learned to remain open to others’ experiences and beliefs, glean what is necessary, timely, and relevant, and leave the rest. I’ve learned that it’s OK to be unsure, to get it wrong, to say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Let’s try again.” I’ve learned how to be a cycle-breaker and how to become a positive parent. By doing so, I am modeling healthy balance by first modeling healthy behavior.

We’ve all got to start somewhere. As a child, I was not explicitly taught how important those things are, how powerful, affirming, and life-changing empathy can be. In my extremely rural area, having too much empathy, too much compassion, and too much emotion were traits to be ashamed of, to discredit, to stamp out. “Suck it up, buttercup” became my internal mantra. Yet, in increasingly homogeneous neighborhoods, where sameness undercuts empathy, the importance of modeling healthy behavior cannot be understated.

I was reminded how different from my peers I must seem when I saw a post in my local Moms’ group. Someone had shared a picture of their child’s school worksheet, and only the child’s first name appeared on top, instead of first and last. The teacher’s note hastily scrawled underneath said, “Next paper you fill out without your first and last name goes in the trash.”

Like most others who commented, I knee-jerked with appall and outrage. How can someone who dedicated their life to teaching treat their student–a child who is just beginning to learn how to relate to other humans–in this manner? Was this manner of communicating with another human being absolutely necessary for discipline? Is it even desired in a society where one ideology is automatically pitted against another, if in fact we (members of said society) are fed up with hurtful rhetoric and lack of compassion for one another? Doesn’t this manner of communicating only reinforce the notion that it’s ok to disregard another person’s feelings if it would make the perpetuator’s life easier in the short-term?

Yet, while the others expressed their outrage, I sat with my thoughts. I didn’t immediately react. And you know what? I was able to see it from multiple differing perspectives. Talk about a game-changer.

Now–I find it prudent to mention that I have been intentionally practicing this manner of positive communication for years. I didn’t automatically flip a switch and become more thoughtful, more considerate. (Those who know me are laughing right now.) The stages of this process often overlapped, but for me, they went like this:

  1. I had to be willing to learn of another way to communicate and relate to others. My children are my guides as well as my flashing yellow lights. Children, especially gifted children, have the unique ability to see through preconditioned B.S.
  2. I had to let go of those preconditioned responses and be willing to change my lenses.
  3. I had to be willing to experiment with this new way–to take it for a test run and analyze the results. I had to become what Debbie Steinberg-Kuntz, LMFT refers to as a self-scientist.
  4. I had to practice this new way on myself, thanks in part to Melanie Gillespie and her Burnout Escape Plan for Gifted Women Professionals and the many, many talented and experienced parents and teachers of gifted kids who have gone before (especially those at GHF Learners and SENG). I still have a ways to go on this step, but I’m getting there.
  5. I have arrived in the beginning-to-practice-with-others stage. Though I am not completely where I want to be, I am well on my way and am excited and energized by the possibilities.

My point is, it has taken Herculean effort on my part to fight those hard-wired impulses to react without fully considering the consequences to all parties, but I am a cycle-breaker, and every day I show up with the intention, and when things don’t go as planned, I apologize.

In the case of the worksheet response, that simple pause gave me space to think, to try to examine the entire situation and get to the root of the problem:

  • Maybe the parent should have discussed the problem with the teacher directly.
  • Maybe there are too many kids in the classroom.
  • Maybe the teacher needs a mental health day.
  • Maybe no one taught the teacher how to handle distress without an emotional reaction.
  • Maybe the child did not have enough time to write the entire name.
  • Maybe the teacher should have asked for help.
  • Maybe the parent should have asked for help.
  • Maybe the child should have asked for help.
  • Maybe the teacher is doomed to fail in a patriarchal system that values conformity and obedience above individual thought and self-expression.

I will never know the root of the problem without talking to the people involved, but that’s not the point of this exercise. I don’t need to know the root of the problem to appreciate the “other” person’s point of view because the ability to empathize neither requires complete knowledge nor demands absolute truths. Empathy forces “We the people” to value each other–not only the top 1%, or minorities, or women, or rich/old white men. Each of our voices matter, not just the loudest, most audacious or persistent ones. And children have voices, too.

In any case, no last name on a worksheet is not a do-or-die situation. If the teacher had been set up for success in a system that valued individuality over conformity (with respect and acknowledgment for certain necessities of a traditional public school environment), then this situation likely would not have happened. Punishment and shame are quick and easy, but those things don’t create a society where all of us respect each others’ opposing individual viewpoints. Empathy, kindness, and respect toward all parties can be more difficult in the short-term, but these virtues are the cornerstone of a progressive and inclusive society that appreciates diversity, values differences of opinion, and handles opposition with grace and dignity instead of malice and contempt or punishment and shame.

I realize my rationale may be uncommon or even frowned upon in some cases, and I’m OK with that. Since I began homeschooling, and especially since finding out about progressive education, experiential learning, and autodidactic learning (i.e. unschooling), I have learned the importance of empathy and openness, the benefits of positive communication, and the respect for differing values, beliefs, and circumstances. I’ve learned that being unsure, taking a chance, and getting it wrong are OK. I’ve learned that a simple “I’m sorry; let’s talk” works wonders, and even if the other person doesn’t want to talk, at least I have extended my hand. I’ve learned that forgiving myself for the things I didn’t know I didn’t know is pretty important, too.

That’s the healthy balance I’m modeling for my gifted kids.

What do you think?