To hold the fragile, innocent bundle of a newborn in our arms, knowing that we are responsible to nurture and raise them — hopefully, to be well-balanced, happy individuals, to say the least, is daunting. Parenting is tough.
Sleep, feeding, and potty training experts throw theory after theory at us — convincing us that if we don’t do things ‘just right’ our children will be unhappy, selfish, and unsuccessful.
I thought I’d follow them all. I wanted to be a good mother. I wanted my children to grow up to be happy and successful.
Many friends scheduled their daily activities around children’s nap time or feeding schedules. Others insisted that children need to learn how to comfort themselves or that they needed structure.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t let my baby cry — to sleep, with hunger, or for any other reason. And I didn’t enjoy being tied down by a schedule.
Was I putting my wants over the wellbeing of my child? Perhaps. I really had no idea. But I justified my spontaneous, unstructured approach to parenting whenever anyone felt it necessary to ‘school’ me on the detrimental choices I was making.
I quickly realized and explained to those who thought they knew better, that I didn’t know any ten-year-olds that still breastfed, wore diapers, got rocked to sleep, or slept in their parents’ bed. Everything would work out.
And as our children got older, we weren’t consistent with mealtimes, bedtimes, homework, or much else.
As educators ourselves, my husband and I knew the claims of the experts: Children need structure. We’d heard too many times about consistent homework and study habits and the importance of routine. We heard the cries of the experts: Children need structure. Children thrive in structure.
But I beg to differ —
Nowhere in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs do we find the concept of structure. Instead, we find food, water, warmth, rest, safety, security, friendship, sense of belonging, self-esteem, creativity, and self-actualization.
If we provide the most fundamental needs, the higher-level needs will come more naturally. The fact is, all of these needs can be met, and possible met best, without over-emphasizing routine and structure.
Children don’t need structure, they need security. Children need to know they are loved —
Children need to know that they will be fed, cared for, and protected.
Children need to know that when they screw up, they will be supported; when they make a mistake, they can try again. Or, sometimes even quit. Children need to know that they don’t need to be good at everything all the time and that they can choose not to pursue an activity that they don’t enjoy.
The lessons that structure doesn’t teach:
- follow your heart’s desire
- trust your intuition
- flexibility and adaptability
If everything is structured and decided for a child, how and when will they learn to take care of themselves, to trust themselves, to make decisions and change their minds, to find their own voice, to speak up and advocate for themselves?
I don’t know any young adults (unless they are living with developmental challenges) that breastfeed, wear diapers, or sleep with their parents; but I know plenty of young adults who have never learned to manage life, to go with the flow, to tough it out, to trust their gut, or to chase their dreams.
I know too many young adults who perhaps could have benefitted from a little less structure and routine as children so that they could learn to regulate their own behavior and rise to the challenges life throws at them.