Yes, I've just added another category of topics not to be discussed at dinner parties. "Seriously?" you might ask. "Parenting is now taboo?" Apparently, yes. I've discovered this "myself" (as my son would say) because recently, several people seem puzzled by the fact that he - my two-year-old son - isn't *gasp!* in school yet.
Um...he's two. What's the big rush? He's got years of school ahead of him. The baby stage flew by, to my great surprise, so I'm assuming that the toddler years will too, as will childhood and adolescence. (Okay, maybe adolescence might seem longer because of the hormones, but you get my point). According to Dr. David Bratt, the paediatrician and newspaper columnist who compiled a nifty little guide about bringing up children in the Caribbean called "Book of Brats", modern-day society is doing its level best to separate children and parents under the ill-informed premise of fostering independence:
"We live in the age of separation as far as children are concerned. Society and the medical profession seem intent on separating children from their parents. Then we turn around and express concern about how the 'youths an' dem' growing up bad."
In his experience, "the best place for a child under age three years to develop [his] brain is at home with a sensitive mother". That's great to hear, because I think that's what's been happening with us. My son is highly communicative, his motor and cognitive skills are on track, and he regards everything around him as an opportuity to learn. Which is exactly what he's doing. He's learning in the kitchen, in the garden, with his play group. He learns by doing things with us, going places and interacting with people. He learns through music, art, reading, dancing, travelling, playing with his cousins and friends, kicking a football, roughhousing with his dogs. His imagination and creativity are on full throttle precisely because I don't direct him as to what to do or how to do it. It's fun, actually...and I find it all a privilege not only to observe, but to be an active part of. I'm sure all parents who are engaged with their children, whether or not they're already in school, feel the same way.
Which brings me back to why you should avoid the topic of parenting styles at all costs. Sometimes, when you're doing things differently - or traditionally, for that matter - and people judge/comment/disapprove/give unsolicited advice, it makes you question yourself. Now, questioning is a good thing. It keeps you on your toes and ensures that you're considering all angles of an issue. But it can also unnerve you and make you wonder whether you're gambling away your child's future. Thank God for good friends who have got further along the road less travelled and can reassure you and calm you the hell down.
While we're busy questioning, I have a few questions of my own concering our "education system" - and from what I've seen, the challenges we're facing aren't just local, they're region-wide. We don't actually have a system that educates. With a few exceptions, we have one that schools. And I'm not making this up - this is the shared opinion of some of the best retired educators in the country, whom I've spoken with in depth about traditional versus alternative teaching methods. Children continue to be plunked behind desks, 25+ at a time, and they're all expected, boys and girls with different learning styles, interests, talents and rates of development, to "learn" - or perhaps regurgitate is a better word - information all at the same time and pace, regardless of whether it interests them or not. In most (not all) schools, there's simply a race to pass the innumerable tests that they're given to make sure they're "learning". And kids are so smart that they figure out the game really quickly and learn to either fool or comply. I'm not raising a compliant kid. If something isn't working for him, he lets me know. He resents being overly quizzed. Here's a "for instance": he already knows his colours, but if we're drawing and I ask him one time too many which colour crayon he's using, he will deliberately tell me that the yellow is blue. He's bored by it, so he'll move on to something else, as if to say, "Mummy, enough. Been there, done that. I know it. You know I know it. Stop." So you can imagine the chaos that might ensue in a traditonal classroom. But that's my child. Your son or daughter may thrive under a more structured system. Not only do I get that, I'm completely cool with it. I'm not ruling out "mainstream" school; I'm just not starting now - and once I'm being a responsible parent, I shouldn't have to defend my choice. Disscuss it? Sure. Share experiences? Absolutely. Defend? Not so much.
I understand that every child is different and what works for one doesn't for another. I also trust that you know your kid. If people want to judge my choices, fine, but as we say in the Caribbean, "it ain't going to change de price of salt." I'm putting a stop to the self-doubt and following my instinct, my gut, the voice of my Higher Power. I let my child lead, and I follow. I faciliate. I guide. I even learn from him because he's way more plugged in to his authenticity than I am, since so much of it was "educated" out of me. And the next time anyone has anything critical to say, I'll objectively consider it; if it doesn't resonate, I'll take Mother Teresa's good advice:
"No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work."