Monday, May 27, 2013

How School Didn't Help Me Prepare for Motherhood

A little while ago I reworked a piece from here for Real Intent, entitled "Is Education for Naught When You Just Stay Home?"  Of course it's not, but I realized after I wrote the piece that school itself really didn't help me prepare for stay-at-home motherhood of young children.

In school we're taught to complete assignments.  At home you leave things undone.  You get half the vacuuming done, half the dishes done, and half the cleaning the bathroom done.  Hopefully, though, you get the changing of the poopy diaper completed.

In school you're supposed to be efficient and fast.  At home with small children, you walk slowly, you talk slowly, you even stop to smell the roses. When our son was three, he started stuttering.  Do you know what the speech therapist told me?  To SLOW DOWN!  I talked too fast, I read stories to our son too fast.  He needed me to slow down so he could catch up and not feel like he had to be so fast, too.

In school we're supposed to strive for perfection; strive for As.  At home, when you have kids help, you're fooling yourself if you're shooting for perfection.  When they make their beds, they're not quite right.  When they do the dishes, sometimes gunk is left on them; when they wash the windows, there are still smudges here and there.  But you know what?  It's okay, they're learning.

Related to the last one, in school you're supposed to do it once and do it right.  At home there's that constant monotony of redoing things again and again and again and again.  The teachers who send kids back to fix their mistakes are the ones who have it right.  That's what happens in mom life.

In school you're taught to do your own work.  At home you work together as a team and learn from each other.  I'm becoming a bigger fan of school group work as that is more how it is at home and even in the workplace.

At school you go by the rules and structure of the school or teacher.  At home you have to be flexible, and any structure you may wish to follow just might fly out the window depending on the day.

In school you get immediate feedback and praise for a job well done.  At home it might take nine years to see the fruits of your labors.  In the short-term, you may not even get any appreciation or recognition for any of the hard work you've done.  In school we get accustomed to knowing how well we're doing; at home you hope and pray you're doing a good job.

So, if I were to design school to help me prepare for motherhood, there would at least be more group work and more re-doing assignments.  I'm not sure if I'd want to slow down the pace of school, or interrupt school studies, or discontinue grades just to make certain points about real life, but there's surely room for improvement in preparing young people for eventual parenthood/life.


5/28 Addition:  I want to think more about this, but after sharing this with some friends on Facebook, Jessica reminded me that there are some great things that come out of school such as critical thinking/reading/writing,  understanding other viewpoints, enabling curiosity, learning how to research, assimilating information, doing things you don't want to do, and realizing you can do more than you think you can.  I use all those things now, and I can greatly attribute them to my formal schooling.

I must add that I also see a big benefit of putting kids together of the same ages in school.  They're developmentally similar and teachers can reach them in so many ways -- ways I can't because I'm juggling other children of different ages (however, I'd love to see kids broken up into interests and abilities within their age groups, too).  If I had to homeschool my kids, I'd probably get the basics in, but would miss out on reaching related topics.  I'd also miss certain things because I just didn't think of them!

So, in sum, education -- any kind -- is huge to enhance one's life and make one a better person; school itself may not prepare a person for parenthood and the realities of life, but it can in ways, and there are definitely transferrable skills.  My grandmother used to say, "Don't let school interfere with your education," and I believe it in many ways to be true.


Anonymous said...

Excellent points!

For me, I learned the mothering stuff from my own mother, and my extra mothers, and didn't expect it to be much like my formal school experiences. I do use some of my formal school stuff now, but mostly? It's been a process of learning to LIVE, rather than work for external motivators or approval. Some days, I think I do an alright job. Others, the 17 years I've put into mothering don't seem to have taught me much yet. :)

swedemom said...

I don't think school is really the place to learn about parenting or motherhood. I think that needs to come from home. At home, we model the things we want to teach our children. I'm happy with the two separate spheres. I feel like my mom did a good job of teaching me chore management, cooking skills, time mangagement, working together etc. But I like how you think about traits that could be developed in a meaningful in a school setting to enhance family teachins.

But your list also raises some questions for me. Unfortunately, kids are not learning skills about parenting/homemaking/etc. at home. So should the school be the default choice? Do we emphasize it more at church?

I think we can definitely see the problems that we face in our society because these skills aren't being learned anywhere, not at home and certainly not at school.

My son is currently taking a life skills class where they have a babysitting unit, cooking unit, and budgeting and finance unit. I'm gratified that I've already taught him more than the course requires. He is enormously frustrated that despite the fact that he has demonstrated his real ability with these skills, he is still required to take the course. I keep reminding him that many of things are simply not taught at home. Many families seem to emphasize school over anything else practical.

I have long thought that one of the reasons so many women struggle with staying at home is that they aren't adequately prepared for the reality of on-site motherhood/homemaking. Formal education, while certainly great for the mind isn't always so great for the real practical skills everyone needs to know to be able to keep a clean house, deal with kids, eat well, budget, etc.

Emily said...

Yeah, I don't know that I'd want school to teach the direct motherhood/parenting stuff, but I'm just wondering if the structure could be modified to reflect real life, whether that be workforce or home.

Anyway, I couldn't agree more with your last paragraph! I have to think back, did my mom teach me? I'm sure she tried, but I think I was the one to reject it. Because I was successful at the school side of things I dismissed the home side of things, so I think I can say that some of my difficult adjustment is my own fault.

Emily said...

Just a detail: I pretty much refused to cook, yet I would clean and was pretty good at it (although I was a snot and would procrastinate until my mom finally just did it). Even now I don't mind cleaning (at least when I'm not terribly interrupted).

When I went to college, although my mom told me how to do laundry and I probably started the machine once at home prior, once I got to college I needed roommates to give me a refresher course. It wasn't hard to catch onto, but I think my mom just preferred to get it all done at once. However, we did do laundry folding (I'm sure we could have done more). So, maybe I've struggled because I rejected the teaching my mother offered, and she didn't push. She also enjoyed doing it her way and would rather keep the peace. Pros and cons there, definitely. As for budget, I felt like I went into the world with a full handle on that. My dad taught classes on budgeting and money, so I felt pretty prepared with that one.