Monday, June 30, 2014

Learning collaboration

K goes to Montessori. I went to Montessori. As did my three siblings, my spouse, and a bunch of my friends.
For the toddler-aged group at K's school there's a focus on both independence and learning to ask others (not just the guides) for help.
There's a lot of buzz around making our kids more independent, so they don't need us so much and so they can do things on their own. Because all kids start out as heavily-dependent babies, I totally understand the desire for independence as quickly as possible.
What I am not yet able to do myself is teach collaboration at a young age (other than by example, and admittedly, it's a tough one for me, even as an adult). Yes, it doesn't make sense to collaborate regarding holding a glass oneself, in order to drink. But, short of the very basic things one needs to do oneself, collaboration is often a natural inclination in many kids.

Our culture really focuses on being independent. Move out of your parents house, get a job, go through college, get married, figure stuff out, live a good enough life. But my experience of all of those things was pretty much closer to a nightmare (getting married wasn't, but finding a spouse was!) than an easy checklist of things to do. I had no idea what I was doing almost all of the time. I was a horrible dater, I couldn't stay in college, I was completely unemployable, I figured nothing out, and I spent too much money for a life that wasn't exactly what I wanted, and it was lucky that I got anywhere.

In my late 20s, I started to learn what it was like to stop being so independent and to start collaborating and helping others with their visions, asking for help with mine, and strengthening my resources in human capital. I got a few lessons here and there in various places and programs, but ultimately, it was a lot of "figuring it out," and I wish I had done more work on learning to collaborate earlier in my life.

My parents didn't model collaboration, either. I never saw them relying on anyone. It wasn't that they didn't want to, but I guess they didn't need to. So I thought I shouldn't need to either.

Enter parenthood.

Yikes. If there was ever a time to get a crash course in collaborating and asking for help, it's right when it dawns on you that now you really can't do it all by yourself anymore.  Going on day five of no shower, trying to make a meal with only 2 ingredients in your house (and mustard and tortillas do not a meal make) to feed yourself and your baby, and losing your mind with all the details you can't keep straight, is enough to drive someone insane. We need help!

But many parents I talk to won't ask for help. Maybe they'll rely on some family here and there, but they don't really develop the collaborative muscles that I believe become more and more necessary as a family grows. I'm using 'help' and 'collaborate' interchangeably on purpose. It's common to think of help as related to neediness. But collaboration is where two or more folks work TOGETHER. Ah. So yes, I need collaboration in raising my kid and not just from my spouse.

It's hard to let go of my independence, I admit it. I don't always want to make five phone calls to folks asking advice on teething, potty training, biting, or child care. I want to read a quick book and nail it the first time. I also don't want to ask for help if I'm feeling lonely or hungry or maxed out. I don't want to burden anyone with that, or detect judgment, or worse, feel helpless/needy. I want to be optimistic and force that optimism to carry me through all sorts of trials and eventually wash up on the shore of "doing better today." And then smile at all the other (probably suffering) parents doing the same.

Recently though, when I have shared my struggle, I notice different things than what I imagined I'd feel. I notice willingness, ease, fun, connection, love, and strength. Oh, so that's what collaboration is all about! I was mistakenly under the impression that it was admitting failure at independence!

I hope that K is seeing all of that. That we are collaborating with people. That we give and take. That we also struggle a bit with what it can look like to others, too. That ultimately, it's easier and more fun to share the load. And that it shouldn't take massive catastrophe to do the sharing (it usually does...). It also brings out gifts and talents that may otherwise lay dormant. Independence isn't the ultimate goal. Interdependence is far more expansive and allows a much bigger view of the world and all it can offer.

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