…The more peaceful family life can be.
It may seem counterintuitive. Wouldn't being together with your children all the time make life more challenging? Wouldn't your children playing together so often create more chaos? Wouldn't there be more squabbles, more conflict, more raised voices?
When we spend more time together as a family, when our children spend more time together with their siblings, there is more peace and more joy.
There are likely many reasons for this phenomenon, well-known to veteran homeschoolers, but here are two primary possibilities:
Less Stress = More Calm
We all know that we have far less patience and far more conflict when we are feeling stressed. Our children experience this stress in the same way, and sometimes more dramatically. I know that if I need to scurry my children out the door for an appointment or activity, interrupting their play, it can lead to more stress for me and my children. There is a higher likelihood of a tantrum. (From my children, too.) There is more fussing and whining. Often that initial stress can set the tone for the day, making it difficult to reconnect with the simple, calm rhythms of home. As Kim John Payne writes in his powerful book, Simplicity Parenting: "Rescue their childhood from stress, and they will inevitably, remarkably, day by day, rescue you right back." Less stress in the lives of children means less stress--and more calm--for everyone in the family.
When children are under daily stress--from coercive schooling environments, from tight schedules and back-to-back structured activities, from more pressure and less play--their stress can lead to "adaptive" behaviors that cause parents greater stress. Children who are under chronic daily stress may be more volatile, more defiant, more emotional as they try to manage and make sense of the big strains in their little lives. As Boston College psychology professor, Dr. Peter Gray, writes in his book, Free To Learn:
"We are pushing the limits of children's adaptability. We have pushed children into an abnormal environment, where they are expected to spend ever greater portions of their day under adult direction, sitting at desks, listening to and reading about things that don't interest them, and answering questions that are not their own and are not, to them, real questions. We leave them ever less time and freedom to play, explore, and pursue their own interests."
Family Attachment vs. Peer Attachment
Another important reason why it may seem so much more challenging to be together as a family is that we have shifted away from a family-oriented, parent-oriented culture to a peer-oriented culture. As young children are enrolled at ever earlier ages into schooling environments that separate them from their family members, they form attachments, as is their natural instinct, with peers instead of parents. Drs. Neufeld and Mate write in their book, Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers:
"The chief and most damaging of the competing attachments that undermine parenting authority and parental love is the increasing bonding of our children with their peers…It is peer orientation that has muted our parenting instincts, eroded our natural authority, and caused us to parent not from the heart but from the head--from manuals, the advice of 'experts,' and the confused expectations of society."The shift toward peer-orientation, toward moving children away from family learning and toward institutional learning at ever younger ages, also negatively impacts sibling relationships. I often hear parents say how well their children play together by the end of the summer and how quickly that play deteriorates come fall. It is no coincidence. As play and learning shift from siblings to peers, from home to institutions, stress rises and family attachment dwindles.
Most homeschooling parents hear at one time or another: "Oh, I could never spend that much time with my children!" The stresses of modern childhood, the high-pressure demands of institutional learning, the orientation of children toward peers and away from parents make it difficult for many parents to find peace in their daily family life. Removing these stresses, eliminating these demands, and reconnecting children with parents and siblings can lead to calmer, more connected, more joyful days together with our children.