Learning to Mother
I believe homeschooling is an ideal environment for children to learn mothering.
My mother had six siblings. My dad had four. They grew up in culturally disparate neighborhoods in Toronto during the war, one Italian, the other Irish. They played mostly with their cousins who resided on the same street. My nonna lived on the second floor of my cousin’s home.
After my parents’ wedding, we lived in Little Italy for a few years. Then my dad’s new job forced us to relocate to the northern reaches of our province. We had no family nearby...no cousins, no grandmas, or aunties. My younger brother and I did not see our grandparents or our cousins for years.
At the time, women were flooding the work force. Day care centers popped up, and my brother attended one while I was in first grade. Therefore, when my first daughter was born, I had had minimal contact with babies.
Can mothering be learned from a book?
Some things can be gleaned by reading: how to feed, diaper or bathe a baby, but I felt enormous pressure (as my first pregnancy advanced) to get this right, after all, the well-being of a child was at stake. I attended La Leche League meetings and enrolled in parenting classes at a local community center. I observed good mothers (and not so good ones). I learned from La Leche League that it is the experience of watching other mothers breastfeeding and hearing their stories that mirror the days of aunties and grannies dispensing parenting advice. Some of us homeschoolers adopt the same approach scholastically, insisting that our kids “do” instead of just reading facts from a text.
How many generations of mothering have we lost?
Probably about two, beginning with the exodus of women from the home into the workforce during the war. Based on La Leche League’s history, a group of stay-at-home moms in the 1950’s, all middle-class and early feminists, sought to regain an essential mothering skill that the mainstream medical community had undermined–the desire to nurture our children by breastfeeding.
Homeschoolers still lock horns with the mainstream, from family members citing imminent academic failure to complete strangers questioning socialization. Unhappy with traditional schools, homeschoolers have regained ground on the education front, many of us taking back what was once commonplace, to remain at home with our children and teach them ourselves.
Despite the tiresome comments about stunting our children’s social development, the number of homeschooling families is growing because it works. Let us not dismiss, however, that apart from the task of successfully educating our own kids, homeschooling accomplishes the broader goal of raising future parents.
Homeschooling is an ideal environment for children to learn mothering.
Homeschooling tends to be carried out by moms; the vast majority are stay or work-at-home moms. To engage socially, we organize activities, arrange play-dates, and form co-ops. This is where children interact with other children and observe how mothering is done, like in the days we hung out with our cousins.
Can mothering be learned if the child is in school all day?
Perhaps. Personally, I’m not sure how much I learned about parenting growing up in my isolated northern community. I rose at 7:00, then left for school and returned eight hours later. I was exhausted. I ate dinner with my family, watched TV, and went to bed. My own needs were paramount.
If I had spent all day immersed in the family routine, as homeschooled kids do, I would have observed when my infant brother was cranky and needed a nap, how bananas caused a rash. I would have diapered him, bathed him, and consoled him. I would have witnessed my mother breastfeeding, watched her skillful multitasking, understood the importance of making healthy food and how to do so on a budget.
As my brother got older, I would have understood the importance of age-appropriate discipline, learned how to adapt a game or activity to a younger child, and understood the no whining policy. I would have shopped, banked, and helped prepare meals with my mother. I would have learned compassion when caring for family members who were sick.
As a stay-at-home-mom, it is impossible to be oblivious to the idiosyncrasies of each child (individual food intolerances, which remedies work for sore throats, how difficult it is for my youngest to fall asleep). But I am also a stay-at-home-teacher. I know the learning style of both my kids, what their interests and passions are, and what subjects they gravitate towards.
How important is good mothering?
John Bowlby, (1907 - 1990) a British psychoanalyst, originated the “attachment theory” concept in which he postulated that babies come into this world programmed to develop emotional attachments to our mothers and that relationship affects our ability to learn. This begs the question, is it the individualized attention, the intimate awareness of learning styles, or the sense of contentment that leads homeschoolers to achieve higher than average academic performance?
The jury is still out, but the bottom line is that mothering is best learned by being mothered.
If John Bowlby’s hypothesis is correct, that good mothering leads to better learning outcomes, then homeschoolers, in the classic two birds with one stone scenario, are forming connections with their kids while teaching them. No school can do that.
I am passing on the skill of mothering to my girls, so that they will learn to be aware of their families’ needs instead of battling exhaustion like so many working families whose kids attend brick and mortar schools. They will mother their children, I hope, under the philosophy of John Bowlby, using the attachment parenting style, if they choose. In their case, they will only need to apply what they observed growing up instead of learning about it from a book and using trial and error, as I did.
I resonate with the statement by Marian Leonard Tompson, one of the founders of La Leche League.
The best gift you can give your grandchildren is mothering your children.