Are You Scared Witless

by Mary Ann on May 17, 2010

“YOU have to decide what to do. One of the hardest things about getting off the conveyor belt is becoming your own expert on matters of family concern. One of the basic assumptions of Leadership Education is that you are the expert on your own home and the education of your children.”

“Being a leader means being able to ignore all the concerned voices and “good” choices, and to commit to and follow through on the right one. Getting off the conveyor belt means that you study the guidelines of Leadership Education and then personalize them for yourself and your children.”

Do the above quotes scare you witless? I will admit that when I was a young mother they would have scared me. I want to share two things that set me up for disaster as a young parent.

First, I learned to play the conveyor belt game very well. I did well through most of the years I was in public school and higher education. I was a good test taker, I could make a dynamite poster and I was good at presentation. This meant that I was well liked by teachers and students alike and I got good grades.

Second, I was good at palaver (that is an old fashioned word meaning idle chatter). In other words, I was good with words. I remember a literature class in my senior year of high school. By the second half of the year I was done. I wanted out of school. I was involved in many activities which let me “sluff” classes legally. I did what work I had to, to get the grade. So I didn’t read many of the books we were assigned. Yet I could sit in class for 5 to10 minutes and get the gist of the story. Then I could discuss as if I had read the book.

So I learned to think that I was really intelligent. In fact, my ability to talk in class, in college, almost lost me my husband. He said, after we were married, that he thought I was just too smart to marry someone like him and so he wasn’t going to ask me. Does this sound like I was set up for a big fall when I became a parent!

You bet and the fall was great and I didn’t recover for many years. That exacted a toll on our family. In school I had learned to follow directions, to feed back what was required, to palaver. What I didn’t learn was how to think, how to problem solve and how to make a decision. Can you imagine managing a house hold of 6 to 9 people without those skills?

I bring this up because if you reference the quotes I began with, in order to get off the conveyor belt you need the very skills I lacked. In fact, the assumption of Leadership education is that you are an expert on your own home and the education of your children. It assumes that you are a leader, that you can ignore concerned voices. It assumes that you trust yourself, that you believe you are competent.

What I learned right away as a married person was just how incompetent I was. I lost faith in myself. I needed experts to tell me what to do and I read many books by them. I am going to share a funny experience with you. It is funny only in the fact that I did it. The ramifications weren’t funny at all.

As a family we used to watch the Cosby show religiously. We loved it. I was astounded by those parents. They were in control. They trusted their own judgment. They didn’t second guess themselves all the time. The parents were experts on their own family. Add that to that the fact that they were fun under pressure! I wanted so much to be like that.

In one episode they wouldn’t let their daughter get her ears pierced or wear make up until she was 12 years old. Because I admired these fictional parents so much I decided to establish that same rule. It seemed reasonable and what a good parent would do. Now up to that time no daughter had even wanted her ears pierced or to wear makeup.

Sometime later my second daughter wanted to wear lip gloss to school. She was 11. I told her no that she had to wait until she was 12. I didn’t have a good reason for it; it was just an arbitrary age I picked because I had seen it on TV. She wanted her ears pierced. I said no for the same reason.

That began a slow downward spiral in our relationship. I couldn’t see it at the time but I can see it now. Hind sight is always 20/20. You know, I think a bit of lip gloss and small pierced earrings at 11 were preferable to the following 7 years of struggle.

I share this because in my last blog I ended with the quotes that I started this one with. I realize that I am not the only parent who has felt inadequate, who has desperately wanted someone to take over their stewardship and tell them what to do. I am certain that I am not the only parent who has been in this place because I work with parents every day who are looking for just that.

So if you are a parent who feels incapable of managing your child’s education what can you do to gain confidence and ability? How do you learn to think and reason and make decisions and then not second guess every one?

I believe that you do it the way I did it. You become a leadership student. You start reading the classics. You start attending book groups with like minded people. You write some papers and have someone review them for you. You find a mentor. You start to practice leadership and you will get better at it.

When I was 46 my oldest daughter was studying at George Wythe University. I envied her the great people she was working with. I was amazed at her growing wisdom and ability to speak and influence. At that same time I felt very motivated to finish my education. I had stopped just 2 credit hours and my student teaching short of graduation. Pregnancy can do that.

So I applied to the school, was accepted and began. Finishing my BA was not hard. I loved doing my Masters program. Most of my papers were of the research variety because I was a distance student. Of course from my description of my public school years I’m sure you gather that I was really good at research. My thesis paper was in conjunction with a small private school I was running and so I didn’t have to do anything special for it. Just keep teaching and documenting. At graduation Dr. DeMille said that I was an amazing researcher and to look for me to be published. I really felt smart!!

I stayed in touch with Dr. DeMille and told him that I still didn’t feel educated, competent. In our hearts we always know what is true! So he asked me to write a couple of papers on some books. The topics were challenging. I read the books and dashed something off. He was kind, but pointed, in his response. He asked me to redo them, they were poor work! Now if you are familiar with the Leadership Model or Thomas Jefferson Education then you know that a parent’s job is to read, have the student read, discuss and then have them write. Then you hold the student to a high standard and have them rewrite until it is met. That is what Dr. DeMille was doing for me.

That was a bitter pill to swallow. I knew that I had finally come to the place where I couldn’t pretend any more. I had to become educated. I had to learn to think, to problem solve, to make decisions, to be a leader in my family. That is where some of you are. It is time to stop pretending about our own education. It is time to stop looking for someone to tell us what, when and where and become the leaders in our families; to make our own decisions based on the best information we can find and then gear it to what we know we and our children need. It’s time to model what you want your children to do.

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