For your inspiration today we have Emily’s story, tracing her journey in parenting, homeschooling and Judaism. I am so pleased to bring it to you and hope you find joy in her words as I did. Here is her story for you:
A Mother’s Experience Growing into Motherhood – Emily Milikow
In my earlier years as a mother, when my husband would leave for work, I often felt envious as I watched him head out the door, into the world of relative freedom. At other times, my thoughts would drift into the clouds as I found myself dreaming of sitting at a quiet office desk with the morning paper and a cup of coffee (which, in reality, was an anxiety-ridden experience when I actually had this !).
Now, when my husband leaves for work, I instead feel guilty that I get to stay home with the kids, knowing that we’ll have a day filled with play, art, cooking and gardening.
The change has come about ever so slowly and I’m still changing every day, evolving into the mother I want to be.
My homeschooling journey started when my oldest son (now 6.5 years old) was still an infant. It was then that I read both “Unconditional Parenting” by Alfie Kohn and “How Children Learn” by John Holt. Those two books led me to Unconditional Unschooling – of course my son was still very little (even once I convinced my husband that we should homeschool), but I was quite headstrong in my Unschooling. I had a very painful school experience – the grades and competitiveness really did a number on me. So when I started reading about homeschooling, I knew immediately that I wanted that path for my kids (and for me, since the mere thought of a report card brings me chest pains).
Initially, I was quite dogmatic in my ways. I was certain that if I wanted my children to have no part in School, then Unschooling was clearly the best alternative. I happily touted the wonders of child-led learning to anyone who would listen.
Along with being an Unschooler, I was vehemently Unconditional in my parenting. Unconditional Parenting plus John Holt’s ideas of “messing about” often led me to err on the side of permissiveness (which I realize only in hindsight). This type of parenting led to much anxiety on my part (thus the corporate coffee daydreams). My greatest difficulty was that I never quite knew what to do in any given situation. If my son didn’t want to get dressed to go outside, I wanted to say yes to his desire, but didn’t (yet) know how to be the strong mother that he needed – so we’d stay indoors for days on end in the winter, leaving me feeling somewhat resentful (and often hungry!)
When I was pregnant with my second son, a friend convinced me to take my son to a Waldorf Mommy/Me class once a week in New York City. I loved it. Walking into the classroom gave me a sense of peace that I couldn’t find during the rest of the week. I wanted to extend this calm to my home life. I read Sharifa Oppenheimer’s “Heaven on Earth” and then Donna Simmons’ “Kindergarten for Your Three to Six Year Old”. I implemented a rhythm. I noticed that the rhythm helped! Tremendously! My son clearly was calmer and happier (as was I) when I was able to hold a rhythm together. I pared down playdates, worked on maintaining an earlier bedtime, and added transition songs. We were on our way!
And I started sewing again! I learned to sew as a teenager but hadn’t used my machine in years; I also learned to knit and started doing some embroidery and felt crafts.
Before I started sewing, my husband frequently told me that I needed a hobby but I insisted that my pile of parenting and health books was my hobby. I didn’t realize I was missing anything until I found it. The fact that I could knit during the day while my son played was such a blessing for me. I didn’t want to be a hovering mother – I believed in getting out of the way and letting children play – but that’s easier said than done when you only have one child and are living in a New York City apartment! The knitting allowed me to be simultaneously busy with my own (creative) life and physically close to my son as he played (versus cleaning or cooking which necessarily involved separation).
I was now learning about Waldorf Education and Parenting with the fervor that I had earlier put into Unschooling and Unconditional Parenting. The therapeutic nature of Waldorf was very appealing to me. Drawing, painting, sewing, knitting and hand crafts, baking, told (versus read) stories – therapeutic for me, nurturing for my children – what more could I ask of a homeschooling methodology?
As I was struggling with our daily and weekly rhythm, frustrated that I was as yet unable to nail down this most basic premise of Waldorf homeschooling, my husband started taking classes at our local synagogue (due to a long chain of events). I figured that a weekly trip to shul would help with our rhythm and the friends from shul would give my kids the sense of community that is otherwise very hard to find in a city. So I encouraged him.
We got all this and much, much more from connecting with our shul. It has been a deep and rewarding journey for us and I know I’m only at the beginning of a long path. We now keep Shabbat, which certainly helps solidify our weekly rhythm! I’ve also been studying and practicing Mussar, which could just as well be called Inner Work for Jews. It’s a fantastic method of focusing on thirteen character traits, one trait per week, cycling through the thirteen traits four times a year. I have focused primarily on traits that will simultaneously help in my parenting, as I believe that parenting is my most important Work at this point in my life. So my traits include Loving Kindness, Patience, Silence, Humility, Calmness, Truth and Trust, among others. Practicing Mussar has been a huge stepping stone for me, teaching me to focus on specific traits, and, more importantly, teaching me to be more aware of both my successes and failures and continually motivating me to strive and do better.
My most recent major step as a mother began with a fortuitous encounter with a woman who has since developed into a close friend. She has been studying with Gordon Neufeld (via the Neufeld Institute) for several years, and has slowly (through discussions of how to handle various parenting issues and correlations between Waldorf ideas and Neufeld’s ideas) helped me to see the immense wisdom in his teachings. My one-on-one studies with her have already given me confidence in some of the areas where confidence was lacking (most notably with when and how to exert boundaries since my years as an Unschooler made me very awkward with boundaries) and I’m excited to be starting one of his classes myself soon. We will be starting First Grade in three weeks with my eldest son and I know that the parenting support will be tremendously helpful as I enter into this new phase of our lives.
I am ever so thankful for this journey of Motherhood – thankful that I am able to be home with my children – always striving, always growing, always loving…together!
Thank you Emily for sharing your story! I hope all of my dear readers out there are feeling inspired.
Many blessings to all,