Consider my title a tongue-in-cheek version of ‘My Summer Vacation’, ‘My New Paleo Breakfast’, ‘My Artisan Pottery’, and ‘My New Career Move’. I offer up ‘My Social Experiment’.
I was asked how the people in my sphere react to my child’s violence. It was a great question. How did peers react? Other parents? Our family? His siblings? How did it affect our marriage? Extended family? And in thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that our particular circumstances had offered me the luxury of conducting my own social experiment. I did not do this purposely; I only see it partly as such in hindsight.
When & Where
One confounding thing about my son’s violence was that he only exploded out of public view. He almost always exploded in private. Outsiders with a bias against children, and a bias toward thinking of children as naturally cunning and deceitful, will deduce that he was deliberate in his actions and carefully manipulated me. Well, if so, then I believe he possesses extremely high natural aptitude be the next Stalin or Putin. That maybe he was reincarnated from Genghis Khan or Machiavelli. And I find some parental satisfaction in having successfully identified a winning career path so early. Points for Mom!
Alas, I do not subscribe to the child-as-super-villain theory, so a nascent career direction is thwarted. I was stunned by the apparent fact that he could control his explosive rage in public until I read Ross Greene’s The Explosive Child and he related having seen/heard of the same thing. You can’t buy the kind of relief and validation that I felt upon reading that. It seemed that some kids experience the humiliation of their own rages so acutely that they just tamp their frustration down and bottle the rage, much as you would fill an old musket with gunpowder…until it has the opportunity to blow. Greene clearly didn’t have an explanation for it, either, but simply reported it.
My child did experience hurt feelings and humiliation to an extreme degree. He lashed out at us at the friendliest teasing or tiniest slight. The same thing that would make his brother laugh would make him scream in anger. He was hypersensitive in a hundred ways. So although I was amazed at how he managed to bottle the daily little embarrassments or frustrations of preschool, K, or Grades 1 and 2, I couldn’t fault him for blowing the fuse once he reached safety, that is, home.
So, we never had to face the anger or judgment or criticism or condemnation of other parents; or of teachers and school administrators, or of store clerks or random street passersby. We could have successful play dates. A dice throw insulated us from others’ reactions.
Additionally, we were too far from extended family members (or they were dead or estranged) for them to have any impact on our daily life. Another bullet dodged. And, frankly, urban life is as isolated and/or isolating a thing as you make it, so I learned that we could share — or not — as we wished. And we wished to not share. Running around advertising that you have a child who regularly tears rooms apart isn’t a thing that comes with clear comprehension from others. No, we wished to not share.
Subject in Natural Habitats
But I didn’t remove my son from society out of convenience. Preschool and Kindergarten both went smoothly enough. Sadly, Grade 1 was a disaster. Our son was placed with a group of children who were already very familiar with each other, so the alpha male of the group targeted the newest of the group — our son — to bully.
Political correctness complicated our complaint on the bullying issue since the alpha male bully’s moms were gay (1); the first-time teacher, also publicly lesbian, was completely flummoxed by the situation; and the school administrator was useless as all school administrators are, trying to placate with jargon instead of resolve a problem. Witnessing a comedy of errors in the works, we wasted no time in simply leaving the school.
I would never leave any child in a bullying situation; but a child who has no tolerance for being frustrated, harassed or teased is especially not a child that you leave with school bullies. My guess is that these are among the children who commit suicide at ten.
Act Two of our primary school comedy of errors played out in a Montessori school that we entered upon leaving the public school. There, our son had yet another newbie teacher who was unable to either make eye contact or to carry a conversation. The private school’s owner was a Santa-shaped, pasty-white, sari-dressing American midwesterner who had converted to a tiny religious sect based in India, and had changed her name accordingly. My Indian-born friend (also a school parent), had “What’s with this woman?” conversations with me.
There were plenty of peculiarities of the school. My first son had attended a Montessori preschool because it suited his quiet, studious personality; but the school owner was crazy and we were happy when it was finished. Montessori schools are no guarantee of anything at all; however, the school’s humanist, non-adversarial, non-punitive system of discipline was clearly the most advanced of any discipline methods we would find anywhere. Also, we felt it was unlikely that bullying would be as tolerated as it is in the public system.
Unfortunately, while the school did meet our hopes on the discipline front — children were made to discuss problems instead of being mindlessly disciplined for them — the teacher was incompetent. The Montessori system allows great latitude for what it means to teach, and she didn’t teach our son anything. He didn’t rage there, but when he wasn’t getting into minor scuffles each day with other hyperactive little boys he was roaming the big, multi-age school room, accomplishing nothing at all.
Montessori’s calm and gentle environment was good as far as it went for our son’s temperament, but he wasn’t learning from the teacher who couldn’t make eye contact or communicate. We gave the Montessori a solid two years before we left. Our son was a year behind academically.
(1) The bullying son of gay moms was a moment of re-education for me. I came of age with Second Wave feminism, was a deeply committed feminist, and had long accepted the notion that lesbians might be the best parents of all the parenting combinations available to humans. The situation I encountered here disabused me of that silly notion. I discovered that “The Kids [of lesbians] Are” not so much “All Right” — as the Hollywood movie propagandized — as much as they are simply exactly like everyone else. The moms did what all parents of bullies do: Deny the behaviour until it’s impossible not to, and never apologize. I later learned the child had displayed similar behaviour often in the past.
At that point, homeschooling was an untried alternative. Living in a progressive region of a progressive nation, we soon discovered a very sophisticated homeschool system. This body was registered as a virtual school and used provincially certified teachers who oversaw the province’s own education curriculum; and all of it under the rubric of the provincial ministry of education.
We were required to answer for our funding, for provincial exams, and our curriculum fulfillment. No religious nutcases, no mind-disordered or hapless teachers, no bullies and their moms, no suit-and-tie administrative bureaucrats. We were prepared to give it a go!
And that’s how we ended up having complete control over our son, without school, government or family interference. Our son isn’t alone; he has parents and a brother who support his development, and a rigorous sport (a community-based karate dojo) that he practices twice a week and that holds exams twice each year.
Karate requires him to develop focus and concentration, and to channel his considerable energy. I chose that as his sport deliberately because it answers his needs. He also has three music teachers for three instruments and their practice (more focus and concentration), and must meet their requirements as well. So he’s not in a bubble, insulated or isolated.
Controlling the Subject
We’re able to educate him in all the ways that we believe are necessary in order to see that he develops equally in all the critical areas. So that he receives a proper academic education at the same time as ensuring that his emotional, spiritual, health and brain development needs are met, too. And we’ve seen great gains in three years of homeschooling.
The time that would at best be wasted delivering discipline in a public school is instead spent having a run, or discussing emotions, reactions, brain development and behaviour. The setbacks suffered through poor teaching or being bullied are avoided completely, although we make sure to never let our son lose sight of anything about the wider world that he’ll one day rejoin.
We’re able to incorporate much learning and many age-appropriate, multi-disciplinary lessons into our day that develop our son’s whole self. In a public setting he would have tamped down his rage, but it would have leaked out symptomatically as so-called ADHD, and we would have been pressured by schools to go down the path that they have all paved for themselves on that front: expensive and ridiculous diagnostics; babysitting teacher helpers; and mind-scrambling psycho-pharmaceuticals.
He is “overactive” for a sit-down school setting, but we can accommodate his energy and his learning without vilifying him or his spark, or in wasting his academic learning hours being punished for behaviour he can’t control. Everything we do is in the service of all of his learning and development.
I expect to revisit the idea of a return to the school system once he’s more developed in the areas of frustration tolerance, problem-solving and inflexibility…and once he’s at an age where other kids are a little more developed as well. He is aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each system, and we’ll make an informed choice as time goes on.
And what about our family? Every family is a peculiar dance of actions and reactions; of connects and disconnects; of alliances and of residual ghosts of past generations; of sharing and isolation. I have long since dissected my family of origin and analyzed how it operated. I carefully examined how my husband’s family functioned. As a result, I came to certain conclusions about how I would direct my family, and even with an explosive child we function well.
We avoided the obvious pitfalls of our situation. Both children receive the same positive and negative attention; both know they’re equally valued by us. I always removed my violent son from his dad and brother in order to avoid collateral damage. Our violent son never lashed out at anyone in particular, so relationships weren’t damaged.
Nobody is pitted against anyone else. Our boys don’t fight, possibly because neither saw my husband or I react to anything with violence or counter-violence. Our marriage hasn’t suffered as a result of the stress caused by our younger son. We rode out the stormy seas of our situation and are in relatively calm waters. You can raise a violent child through nonviolent parenting. Or, it appears that way so far.
So far, My Social Experiment is working.