We make the rules: How we get it right

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Written by Kara S. Anderson.

When I was in second grade, I was in a split classroom with third graders.

Our school did this sometimes, and I try to imagine now how the teacher handled it. But at the time, I just knew that it allowed me to make friends with the coolest girl in school. Her name was Emily, she was 9, and she had blonde, curly hair that fell in waves down her back.

And she had her ears pierced.

She would wear tiny ice cream cone earrings, or dainty hoops; tiny gold stars, or fluorescent dots, and man – did I ever want to be just like her.

I asked my parents again and again if I could pierce my ears, and they told me “not until you’re older,” and “later,” and so I waited and while I should have been memorizing multiplication tables, I instead memorized the shape of Emily’s earlobes and her collection of tiny animal and rhinestone stud earrings, and I wondered if part of the reason Emily was so cool was because her parents clearly let her do whatever she wanted.

I was finally allowed to get my ears pierced in third grade. I went to a Claire’s Boutique with my mom, and a teen-ager shot holes into my head without so much as washing her hands.

Finally, I thought.

A month or two later, my younger sister went and got her ears pierced. She is three years younger than me, and it’s hard to explain how much of a perceived injustice this was.

Even then, I think I realized that we don’t have any control over our parents, but what we can control is how we will parent, and so I promised myself that when my kids asked to do things – things that were important to them – I would say yes.

I would be supportive.

I would be Emily’s mom – cool, a friend, the cheerleader of all my children’s hopes and dreams.

It was around then that I heard a phrase on a TV show – probably L.A. Law, that stuck with me – “Arbitrary and Capricious.”

I looked up those words and committed them to memory. Those words encapsulated the experience of being raised by my parents – they made and changed rules, and I was expected to go along with their whims.

It all felt really unfair.

I will never, ever be arbitrary and capricious, I decided.

The thing about being a 9-year-old super-parent is that you have no actual experience with parenting. It’s easy to say that you’ll let your pretend future children stay up watching Knight Rider on a school night.

What kind of monster wouldn’t?

But when the actual children come 20 years later, everything gets a bit muddled. You don’t want to make up random rules and laws, and yet you also bear the actual responsibility of raising babies and toddlers and young children into adulthood, which is essentially 4 straight years of making sure they don’t eat marbles each time.

But the marbles? That’s the easiest part. The harder parts come when they want to ditch their car seat, or sleep at a friend’s house, or pierce their own ears – their precious little perfect apricot ears.

Sometimes, the big things sneak up on me – children, who inherited my hairy genes, ask me if they can please shave, and I say, “Sure! You can definitely do that,” but I don’t give an actual date and time for a shaving lesson, and only later learn that my child was so self-conscious that they chose to go it alone, nicking their smooth skin with a brand new Bic razor.

No, I think. THIS is EXACTLY what I was trying to avoid.

But I am also trying to avoid exposing my kids to things too soon. My husband was the younger child in his family, and saw Jaws 2 in the theater, at age 4.

He still won’t go into the ocean.

Parenting, man.

And so last week, as Cait I talked about strengths and weaknesses in homeschooling, and all the pressure we feel as parents to make sure our kids are on track, I was reminded of the words arbitrary and capricious.

The “standards,” when it comes to education, are a bit arbitrary. I’m sure they are researched, and the best guesses of experts, but kids are wildly different. To feel like we have to apply those researched best guesses to every kid feels a little nuts.

Are we also going to make them all get their ears pierced at age 9? Are we going to make them shave then too?

And at what point do we take them to see Jaws 2?

Kids are different, and the best we can do is to see them as they are, and be their guide.

We get to do that in homeschooling, because we aren’t teaching rooms full of 25 kids.

So although we might not always know exactly what to do in any given moment,* it helps me to know that no one else really knows exactly what’s best for my kids either. And so I watch, and learn, and love them hard, and I keep trying.

We’ve got this sisters.

Why? Because no one cares more.

And that’s how we get it right, every single day.

* new advice recently gleaned from this amazing book – take three deep breaths before making any decision. Whew.

NOW, IT’S YOUR TURN. TELL US: Do you struggle with worrying about “standards?” Or Have you found ways to let those worries go?

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