The Great Replacement

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“No matter how hard you try,” a well-meaning person told me some time ago, with the air of delivering an eye-opening statement, “you will never be able to replace a kindergarten teacher for your children.”

I was rather short-tempered, but I wanted to be kind. I also knew that a long explanation would be futile, and would lead to yet another argument. What I said was simply, “it is the kindergarten teacher who will never be able to replace a mother.”

But going back to the original statement… two things are implied here:

1. Small children need preschool/kindergarten, and the preschool/kindergarten program is without doubt the absolute ministry-of-education-regulated best.

2. If you teach/keep your children at home, you must be trying to imitate the preschool/kindergarten/school setting, with yourself acting as the teacher.

Even people who are prepared – very cautiously – to admit that maybe learning at home isn’t a very crazy idea, are most reassured by the sight of children with workbooks, working with timetables and being graded for their work. Because of course, without daily drills and grading, there is no learning… right?

Once, a mother confided in me that she is going to put her 18-months-old child (her only child, so far) in daycare, even though she doesn’t work outside the home, because several family members insist that the boy needs more “stimulation” and “socialization”; since she looked so obviously dejected when she spoke of it, and since I was certain she knows my opinion already, I allowed myself to gently say that as far as I can see, a 6-hour-long daily period in a daycare center would be overstimulating, tiring, and overall pointless for her son.When we are talking of a baby who can’t even speak properly yet, all the needed “socialization” is covered by a daily walk to the playground where he can see and interact with other people.

Since women entered the work force en masse, the question of what to do with the young children became highly relevant in almost every family. A home can be left alone, but not a child – and so day care centers, preschools and kindergartens became a widespread solution. This is now so normal that a mother who is raising her children at home is allegedly “replacing” a preschool teacher. Let us not forget it is the other way around.

The period of having small children at home is very intense, physically and emotionally demanding; it is also finite. It may a few years if you have just one child, or a couple of decades if you have many, but either way it will come to an end some day. Some day, I will not have anyone barging into my room shouting, “Peepee!” – nor will I need to interrupt an adult conversation in order to say, “please get your finger out of your nose”. Life will be calmer, perhaps, and more rational – and a little duller as well.

So let us, mothers, savor this time with our children, and know that we are exactly where we are needed at the moment, and that no one – no one – can replace us.

The photo above is from our old home, taken when our two eldest were little. We lived in an isolated little corner with a beautiful view and raised goats, chickens and a dog. The demands of such a lifestyle were many, but there was much joy in the journey, and the memories are sweet.

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Hold On to Your Kids: book review


Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers is a book with an important message (the headline itself, I think, speaks volumes!).

By Briana LeClaire:

“The overarching theme of the book is ATTACHMENT. To whom are your children more attached? Are they attached to you, their parents, and other adults? Or are they attached to their peers? To whom do they look for guidance? Whose star have they hitched their little wagons to?”

“My son is so independent,” a neighbor proudly told me once, “he has so many friends! As soon as he gets back home, after lunch, his friends come to visit him or he visits them, and he plays together with them until it’s time for supper. He hardly needs me at all!” Want to guess how old the boy was? Only 4. And the situation described above was seen by his mother as something most natural and desirable.

There is a perspective of my own I would like to add: while the authors of the book admit that attachment between parents and children, especially young children, is vitally important, and that early enrollment in daycare and preschool is more likely to make children peer-oriented (that is, dependent upon their friends in the development of social connections, goals, values, morals, language and habits), they also say that the most obvious (and, they confess, most desirable) solution – that of young children staying at home, usually with their mothers, is in most cases an impractical, outdated measure.

Their suggested solution is creating an attachment between the child and the “parent substitute” – babysitter, daycare worker, teacher, etc. While, of course, an invested and caring daycare worker is better than a detached, unaware one, I do not think a parent-child-like connection between the child and the care provider is possible or even healthy. There are too many children per caretaker and, above all, nobody can love your child like you do. Also, there is absolutely no guarantee the caretaker/teacher passes on values and messages you approve.

I vividly remember a 3-year-old niece who kept talking to us about her preschool teacher, whose name was Ruthie. That child was evidently engrossed by Ruthie and talked about her a lot more often than she mentioned her parents. Perhaps it is better that the child was so connected to her teacher, rather than her peers, but the fact remains that Ruthie (however capable of creating the attachment) did not care about the child in the same way. It was not her child, after all. At the end of the year, the child and her teacher would part, never to meet again. Is it really good for a child to give her heart to a teacher in such a way, when we know it is to be only a temporary relationship?

Even grandparents, aunts and uncles (the relationship with whom is permanent) are not supposed to be more than auxiliary figures in child-rearing. They can provide help, plenty of help, but the biggest chunk of the job of child-rearing (in time as well as authority) should belong to the parents.

Rather than say it’s impractical for young children to remain under the care of their mothers, it is better to stress the importance of such a measure, and to encourage families to stick to it as much as possible. You know how it works: when you are convinced something is truly important, and that there is really no equally good substitute, you will move mountains to make it happen. Of course, for some parents it will not be possible to keep their child at home, and then damage-minimizing tactics, as described in this book, are in order.

While I do not think mothers at home should be directly funded by the government, I do believe that  significant tax reduction for fathers in single-income families would be a fair measure. Let people keep a larger share of their own fairly earned money and provide for their family. It would ultimately save the government a lot of money on all sorts of programs that fight violence, bullying in schools, teen pregnancy and drug abuse, and other ailments of our society.

Terrific Twos: why I love toddlers

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Israel’s second birthday is now drawing near – it has been almost two years since this wonderful little boy has joined our family, and we feel so happy and blessed to have him. Raising him is a privilege and a joy I feel keenly every day, and it just gets better and better.

Not that I can’t relate to the “Terrible Twos” discussions – after all, toddlers are indeed a handful. It’s easy to feel wiped out at the end of a long day with a little person who suddenly decides hot water and soap are his worst enemies. But I do love two-year-olds – they are full of energy, fun, enthusiasm and initiative, curious about anything and everything, always ready to explore and discover, and easy to amuse. And two is an age of amazing physical, verbal and cognitive development which is a marvel to just stand back and watch.

Furthermore, though they can definitely throw tantrums and sometimes make you want to hide yourself in a very small hole somewhere, at least toddlers won’t try to sass and outsmart you the way older children can. A six-year-old can make you feel really stupid on occasion. With a two-year-old, you can still be pretty sure of your superior intelligence.

Some of the challenges of having a toddler in the house come from clashes with older children who like to have their own space for quiet creativity and don’t like their projects to be stepped on, torn, chewed or drooled over. Some maneuvering might be necessary there, for example scheduling art projects for a toddler’s naptime or providing a place for the older child where a toddler cannot reach. My eldest (aged almost 8) likes to take her reading, drawing and cross-stitching to the top of the bunk bed she shares with her sister.

Around here, every day is an adventure and there is never a dull moment. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Weaning, attachment and separation

The following article was included in my e-booklet, Nurturing Hands

I have yet to have the experience of weaning a baby off breastfeeding; the first time, my milk just dried up because of subsequent pregnancy, but as my child was 15 months old and used to a wide variety of foods, that was alright. The second time, I went on nursing over two years, and somehow, very gradually, without my knowing how it happened, one day my daughter was weaned. I admit I was very grateful for it happening this way. Weaning is a bittersweet experience for me, even after a long and satisfying nursing relationship. I can only imagine what it must be like to intentionally wean a child who cries and frets and demands to be comforted in the best way they have known since birth, and to deny this comfort which it is in my power to give.

I realize sometimes babies or toddlers must be weaned, for a variety of reasons (medical, psychological or practical). It can, hopefully, be done gradually in order to minimize the stress and discomfort. I do feel compelled to speak out, however (at the risk of sounding judgmental), against a practice I noticed among some mothers I know – that of abrupt weaning of an older baby or toddler who is deemed “too old” to nurse, by the simple method of the mother disappearing from home for a week or so.

First off, the modern society’s idea of weaning age does not correspond at all with Jewish tradition. In the Jewish tradition, it is a matter of course that a child is nursed at least until 2 years old, and breastfeeding is quite common and acceptable until even later. In practice, today most babies are weaned off the breast at less than 1 year old (only to be given a bottle of formula in exchange).

A neighbor of mine went for a week-long vacation abroad with her friends, leaving behind her son (then 10 months old) in the vague hope that maybe he will give up on breastfeeding by the time she is back. That hope proved futile. “I don’t know what to do with him,” she complained irritably a day after returning home, “he cried and nursed all night. I didn’t get any sleep!” I had to bite my tongue to keep from retorting. How could she be surprised?

As far as this baby was concerned, his mother, who was always there to take care of him and nurse him, suddenly disappeared for a whole week – an eternity in a baby’s terms – snatching away his best source of comfort and nutrition. He had experienced the trauma of losing his mother, without any possible alleviation in the form of understanding she will be back eventually, because a 10-month-old is unable to grasp the concept of Mom going on vacation. To him, when Mom is gone, she is gone. There is no difference, as far as he is concerned, whether she is on vacation or dead. She is simply not there.

The same thing was done by several other women I know, always saying things like, “oh, he’ll be fine”, “I really need a break from it all”, “I need to wean her because she’s embarrassing me in public” and even “I need to wean because I want to get pregnant again”.

Now, I realize all babies go through the stage when they break out crying as soon as they lose sight of their mother (we’re just past that stage at this time, actually), and learn that she will come back eventually, whether in several minutes (if Mom goes to the bathroom) or several hours (if the baby is in some sort of day care). Now, if you know me, you know I’m all for home education or at least for keeping children at home well past the toddler years, and don’t think an enforced separation from Mom on a daily basis is good for the baby or toddler. Sometimes there really is no choice, however, and families adjust. A week-long separation, though, is really much too long for a baby, in my opinion. In their little minds, they are actually becoming accustomed to the idea of losing their mother forever. See quote from here:

Infants may develop attachments to other members of the family or carers, who can take mother’s place for a while. But if mother does not return soon, some infants can become quite distressed, with crying and an increase of behaviors designed to bring the mother and infant together again. If the separation lasts for some days, the first state of crying and “protest” may be replaced by a mood of quiet unhappiness or despair. In the first two or three years of life an infant has no adult sense of time, and since explanations cannot be understood, the infant seems to despair of the mother’s return, in a kind of grief or mourning reaction.”

For this very reason, quite apart from breastfeeding, I personally would never voluntarily separate overnight from a child who does not yet have good verbal communication skills and a more-or-less consistent sense of time – in other words, a child under 3 or 4 years old. It is simply impossible to explain to a very young child that “Mommy will be back in a couple of days”, and without such understanding, the enforced separation is, as far as the child is concerned, nothing short of abandonment.

I realize that sometimes, such an abrupt separation is unavoidable (in the case of sudden hospitalization, etc). But I would not put a child through such trauma for the sake of a vacation, or in order to wean as quickly as possible (which, above all else, may result in plugged ducts and mastitis for the mother). It’s far better to make an attitude switch and vacation with the baby, and wean, if weaning is necessary indeed, slowly and gradually.

Just one final word: time passes so quickly. The baby who cries when his mother goes into the bathroom will sooner than you know turn into a 4-year-old who is quite happy at the adventure of staying with Grandma and Grandpa for a couple of days. There is no need to rush. Be with your baby; you will never regret it, and really, everything else can wait.