School Refusals & Family Dinners

I always thought the whole “family dinner” thing was over-rated. Seriously, I’m with my kids ALL DAY and now it’s “critical” that everyone sit down together and eat? Pfft. As if.

And then we actually started doing it. I realized that it’s not the food, or the place (although a full table we all fit around helps) – it’s the intentionality. If that’s even a word. It’s about carving out a space where we all slow down and focus on each other. It’s a safe space, a ritual that reminds us we’re bound together by love, or at least, lower levels of loathing. (siblings. Sibling squabbles, guys, what did you THINK I meant?)

Dinner has become a refuge from the constant stream of video game chatter and fighting. It’s a place to talk about the big things, the deep things, and the not-so-deep things that matter to us.

Breaking News, dinner style

One of our rituals – if I haven’t mentioned this before – is “Breaking News.” A parent explains the details of an important or interesting current news story. Then we discuss it. Today’s segment included Facebook’s unethical targeting of rival Tik-Tok, a South Dakota hotel banning Native Americans because they “can’t tell a good native from a bad native,” and the significance of a 7-hour gap in former President Trump’s phone logs during the Jan 6th insurrection. The big stuff. (the S.D. hotel quote was a direct quote. I’m not making this stuff up.)

Homeschooling woes

Last week our news segment focused on homeschooling instead. I sat there, chewing a bite, considered how I should bring this issue up. I talked about how the last few months have felt, that I was always fighting with them to do their schoolwork. I explained that feeling usually means something isn’t working, and we needed to change things around. And then I asked them what they thought we could do to fix it.

I chewed a few more bites as they mulled it over. My 7-year-old blurted out “we could stop doing school!” and every kid agreed. Problem solved, moving on! Except it’s not.

School refusal is a huge big deal in our house. For 2 of my kids, it’s a constant. Intermittent for the other. It’s not just your garden variety “I-don’t-want-to-do-school” kind of whining, it’s full-blown run-away-screaming-no-and-hiding for one kid, and extreme levels of snark, point-blank “NO,” or high levels of intense emotions for the other. It’s impossible to do anything in those moments. Certainly not learn.

Frustrating for everyone

I try to figure out the why. The trigger. Sometimes there is a trigger of anxiety, perfectionism, full-blown fear, or even anger over another totally different issue. Sometimes it’s just a kid having a bad day. But most of the time, if I’m being honest, it’s a “not-fun” kind of issue.

I’m not having fun with this task therefore I don’t want to do it and I will refuse to do it from here on. No amount of logic applies, no motivator effectively exists, nothing works except bluntly saying “you WILL do this because you NEED to do this, and if you don’t then you will not like what happens.”

Finding motivators is tricky. I once threated to turn off the power, because nowhere in the parent contract does it say that I’m obligated to provide lights. I recently promised that I would turn off their specific device in the router so that they couldn’t sneak it when I wasn’t looking.

I don’t like having to resort to that. I want them to self-motivate and crunch through the tough bits so we can get on with the fun things. I need them to learn self-control and not heap verbal abuse on the closest target.

Doesn’t matter what I want. They have to learn to deal with things they don’t want to do. Life won’t allow them the luxury of picking and choosing “fun” tasks over “not fun.” They have to learn how to cope, how to adjust, and how to push through, and it’s my job to help them.

It’s not like this is a new concept

We’ve been teaching this lesson for a long time. We keep giving them tools to help, room to learn, and guidance from experts. It’s not kicking in. That’s demoralizing and frustrating as a parent, but I think it’s probably even worse from their viewpoint. They HATE the thing, their parents force them to do the thing, and it’s not even a fun thing!

I’m trying to stay patient. I really am. But at some point, the ban-hammer of “Because I told you to do it” is going to come down. School isn’t negotiable. How we do it might be, but ‘no more math’ isn’t ever going to be an option.

Oh, and at this point we’re planning to try a modified unschooling technique. Math is unfortunately exempt, as all of my kids would happily ignore math until they graduated.

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