My husband said that I should title this post "Get Out of the Funk, Get Rid of the Junk", but I just couldn't bring myself to name it that! Hence, it has no name, but it's full of good stuff!
So many people talk about “baby steps” or “taking one thing at a time” or “not letting the Urgent replace the Important”. The problem is that sometimes there are alot of things that need to be fixed and every single one of them really does need to be fixed now.
Item number one: our house. We’ve been intentionally and actively decluttering here for nearly two years. Furniture, mementos (county fair ribbons? really?) have all found new homes -- whether those were actual homes or simply the county dump. We have also been painting, refinishing, building and reconfiguring (as well as our budget allows). Even with all this work though, there is still so. much. left.
Some people would probably say that we’re carrying this simplicity thing too far, but we know that fixing the disorder in our environment will help calm the internal disorder that can plague so many family relationships.
Now, I can hear what you’re saying: “If a family loves one another, that’s all that matters.”
True, but if you were going on vacation, where would you find it easiest to truly enjoy your family’s time together: a run-down motel with leaky faucets, too much furniture and a smelly rug, or a clean, simply furnished, sunny suite overlooking a beautiful, fresh meadow?
In addition to all this decluttering and repairing, we’re also trying to make our Faith more visible in the house. My husband just made us a prayer table for this purpose and I can’t wait to set it up with the kids (and then train Grace not to eat the candle!).
We know, however, that environment alone is not going to fix everything, and that brings me to our second “urgent and important” item: charity.
I don’t simply say “love” here, because the word is so misunderstood in English. True love carries so much more meaning than just “I wish what is best for you”. True love is...well it’s what St. Paul described in I Corinthians 13 and it involves alot more than feelings. It involves respect and kindness and sacrifice. True love involves work.
I have been studying the work of Maria Montessori on/off for several years and every time the parent/child relationships break down in our family, God always brings me back to what she taught. As my understanding deepens, I have come to see that what she describes as the proper relationship between adults and children is really an expounding of I Corinthians 13.
If we are patient with our children, we will see what they truly need and what are the true intents of their actions. If we are kind to them, we will always speak to them with respect for their status as human beings made in the image and likeness of God. If we are not proud, we will not stand stubbornly by our own way of doing things, but be open to what is best for our children and our family as a whole. If we rejoice in the truth, we will firmly guide our children in Truth, not through fear, but through patience, kindness, respect and humility. We will treat our children as God treats us; not as machines to do His bidding, but as free, rational beings who must be lovingly guided, both directly and indirectly, in the development of virtue.
To this end, we are trying to eliminate yelling in our home (this is sure to make our neighbors overjoyed, nevermind the kids!). We are also trying to be attentive to what the kids need developmentally, but not in the commonly accepted sense of what toys are best for them; rather, we want to discover what work they need. For Elizabeth, that may mean letting her help me cut mushrooms for dinner even though it will take twice as long to get them on the stove. For James, it might mean letting him handle a home improvement project completely by himself. Notice that I’m using the word “let”. These are things that our kids have been begging to do. They are meaningful, constructive activities and when the kids are involved in activities like this, they are completely. different. children. Even with my ADD-suspected son who is prone to severe tantrums and argues about everything...his symptoms virtually disappear when he is involved in meaningful work.
And that brings me to item number 3: school. We have tried everything to ensure that our children retain their natural love of learning. Traditional, Charlotte Mason, Classical, Relaxed, Unschooling, and every combination of the five. Nothing works. School was a daily battle, and I use the word “battle” in its fullest sense. No matter what we did, the kids were slowly losing their love of learning and I was determined not to let that happen. The one bright spot in their educational history was the year they spent at a nearby Montessori school. To this day, their eyes shine whenever they speak about what they learned in Montessori. At the time, we only had two school-aged children and we received a huge scholarship for them to attend, but now, with more school-aged children, it would cost more than we make in a year to send everyone there. Obviously, it’s not going to happen.
As I began planning for the upcoming school year, desperately searching for the curriculum that would rekindle my children’s love of learning, I found finally found our answer. A Montessori mentorship program run by a trained, certified, Montessori teacher who is also a homeschooler. It’s for anyone who wants to learn how to teach using the Montessori method. Again, God brought us back to Montessori. My husband said I should definitely take the course (I love him!) and it has been an amazing experience for me. The downside is that Montessori teachers on tight budgets (i.e., most Montessori homeschoolers) must resort to making their materials. So I currently have stacks of cardstock piled in my room, all in various stages of printing, cutting, drawing or laminating. I already went through and determined what presentations I would like to give during the first semester (I think there are over 200 on that list), but once I get all that done, I then need to read over all the albums again and begin to plan out when I want to present the various lessons, who is ready for them, who may need more time, who may need less time, etc, etc. And all of that is just for the three older kids! Thankfully, my husband offered to handle making alot of the materials that the younger kids will need (didn’t I say I love him?!) Needless to say, while all of this is completely worth it, it’s also overwhelming!
So, yes, that’s our life right now. Preparing our home, ourselves and our way of life to give our children what they need to become the adults God has called them to be: saints.