Tell Me Something I Don’t Know…

I just finished reading Hold onto Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. The whole premise of the book is that the problem with kids today is that they are too peer-oriented and that society has this strange idea that it is normal. My favorite quote from the book is: “But what is ‘normal’, in the sense of conforming to a norm, is not necessarily the same as ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’.” (p 9) Neufeld (and somewhat Gabor) go on to say that the reason kids are becoming so peer-oriented is because they have not been properly attached to their parents, they have lost their attachment to their parents due to some sort of trauma, or because their parents have not worked to build attachment between their child and other adult care-givers, such as teachers. Therefore, children turn their attachment to their peers to fill the “attachment void”. Peer-orientation is the root reason for the increase of disobedience, depression, over-sexualization, false sophistication, bullying, violence, apathy, and failing academics in children.

Now, since I have read a bazillion homeschooling books, I was already aware of peer-orientation and many of the negative things that come from it. Preventing peer-orientation is one of the many reasons we and many others decide to homeschool. I had read stories of kids who were nasty to their parents and siblings during the school year and suddenly became nicer during Christmas or Summer break only to revert to nastiness once schooled started again. I just didn’t realize that this was because their peer attachment had been temporarily broken and they were forced to feel the void with their family.

For the most part, I skimmed the first two-thirds of the book. Like I said, I was already pretty on top of peer-orientation, so I kind of had the attitude of “tell me something I don’t know.” I was more interested in the suggestions for countering it before it happens and recapturing peer-oriented kids, but they don’t really get to that until Chapter 14 (p 179). This is where they start really digging into the concept of attachment and start making some bold statements while at the same being afraid to offend anyone.

They make an excellent point about how we sometimes push kids to be too independent too soon and how parents often mistakenly think a child has become independent when really they have just transferred their dependence from their parents to their friends. So they talk about the importance of encouraging your child to depend on you and not push them too much. I know that I have been guilty of this sometimes with my own kids. Where they lost me is where they compare it to wooing a lover: “Can you imagine the effect on wooing if we conveyed the message ‘Don’t expect me to help you with anything I think you could or should be able to do yourself’?” (p 187) They are talking about how helpful we are with any small request when starting a new romantic relationship and we should be the same with our kids. I think, though, if a potential lover said, “Could you just drop whatever you’re doing to do something for me I can do but just don’t feel like doing it?” I would wonder if they wanted a girlfriend or a personal servant. I think this analogy falls flat because I can’t tell if they want children to be treated as less independent than adults or for adults to be treated as more dependent than children.

They go on in the chapter on discipline to say that a child will only disobey if he is unable or unwilling to do what is asked of him, and he will only be unwilling if he is not really attached to the parent who is requesting. I think there may be a certain amount of truth in this, but at the same time they discount things like temperament. I guess this really hits home due to my relationship issues with my oldest daughter. I don’t doubt that she and I have some attachment issues, but at the same time I’m not sure attachment is the underpinning of her behavior. She obeys me better than her father, to whom she is probably more attached. And she obeys her various coaches better than she obeys me, and I doubt that she is more attached to them than me. They later somewhat contradict themselves by talking about how impulsive and ego-centric children are. They also have a discussion about counterwill which doesn’t seem to completely jive with things either. Of course, maybe I just didn’t get it.

Homeschooling advocates have long noted that schooled kids seem to only feel comfortable with other kids, while homeschooled kids to feel more comfortable with adults. The best part of the book was when they talked about studies that show that more peer socializing among children does not equal better socialization; it usually equals worse. Take that all you anti-homeschooling people who go on about how we are holding our kids back by keeping them away from their peers!!! Our kids get even less peer interaction than many homeschooled kids, so I now I feel even less guilty about how little they socialize
with their friends.

The authors warn parents not to delude themselves that setting up play-dates serves any positive purpose for children other than fun. And they suggest minimizing peer contact outside of school, but they won’t dare to say that maybe it would be best not to send your kids to school at all. They compliment the social dynamics of homeschool in one breath, and then seem to forget about homeschooling as a viable option in the next one. They just assume that sending your kid to daycare, preschool, and school is the norm and disregard their earlier statement about how normal doesn’t always mean natural or healthy.

It seems like they’re saying by dropping your kids in all these peer dominant situations you’re exposing them to poison. Now we’re going to give you the antidote to the poison with all of our attachment techniques. But they never express that maybe it would be best to avoid exposing children to the poison in the first place. I don’t know if they are just trying not offend people or just don’t realize they have a blind spot. I realize that this is not a book about homeschooling, but a lot of people send their kids to preschool purely for socialization reasons. Whatever academic advantage preschool gives the child starting kindergarten, it quickly fades within a few years. But there’s not a bit of a hint about not sending kids to preschool. It’s just unthinkable.

As I was reading the book, I started making a connection way beyond the scope of the book. The way obedience is tied in with attachment really made me think about man’s relationship with God. At the same time I was reading this book, I was watching the rerun of Journey Home with Mother Angelica. She started discussing Fear of the Lord as the starting point for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. She talked about the difference between servile fear and filial fear. Servile fear is the fear of getting in trouble while filial fear is the fear of disappointing someone you love. The authors of Hold on to Your Kids make the same connection between getting your child to obey through fear of punishment (which most of us do) and obedience that comes from parental attachment and the fear of disappointing one’s parents. As parents we would rather our children obey because they love us rather than because they fear us. Why should Our Father be any different? Sadly many people only think about servile fear when it comes to obeying God (I don’t want to go to Hell).

While I didn’t absolutely love this book, I can see how this book could be very eye-opening for those who were not previously aware that peer-orientation is not natural and healthy. (I have similar feelings about 1984; it’s either eye-opening or telling you something you already know.) I did glean a few nuggets from Hold on to Your Kids to apply to my relationships with my own children. Perhaps, though, I was led to this book for the connection I was able to make beyond its original subject matter.

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One Comment on “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know…”

  1. Erin Says:

    So now I don’t feel so bad about not getting my 2 year old DD out and playing with other toddlers!! On the flip side, I was a product of a daycare, preschool, 2 income home, and I my behavior was generally based on not disappointing my parents… I suppose there always exceptions to the rule.


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