Independence comes through struggle – Know it as an educator…learning it as a parent

This winter break provided an opportunity of growth for our family.  I have been a Montessori educator and leader for over 15 years and yet what I am discovering as a relatively new parent (Jakob 5, Lena 3) is that theory and advice are easy; experience is hard.
The primary goal of Montessori education is independence.  Just Google “Montessori Independence” and the Maria Montessori quotes will come flying.


    • The child seeks for independence by means of work; an independence of body and mind.”


    • “Montessori is an education for independence, preparing not just for school, but for life.”


    • Independence is not a static condition; it is a continuous conquest, and in order to reach not only freedom, but also strength, and the perfecting on one’s powers, it is necessary to follow this path of unremitting toil.” 


I could go on and on.  I know in my bones that our aim as educators is to prepare children in a way that they will no longer need us.  Children know how to ask questions, find the answers, develop skills, build relationships, persevere, and dream up new ideas! BUT, is this the goal for parents as well?!  Promote independence in our children?!  Isn’t’ that just the teacher’s job?!  Of course it is a shared goal, but I am surprised, as a seasoned Montessori educator, how hard it can be to live this truth as a Montessori parent.

Our 3-year-old daughter had her first overnight at a friend’s house.  The family has children the same ages as ours, and we have been friends for years.  The father is an educator and the mother is a community leader in the arts.  They are responsible, friendly, bright and compassionate people.  I mention all of this to demonstrate that there is no reason for any sane-minded parents to be concerned about the well-being of their daughter spending the night in the company of these good people and their darling children. And yet, we couldn’t stop checking our phones.   We sent texts reminding the family that we could come at any minute to pick her up if need be. They sent pictures, reassuring us that she was having a good time.  We stared at the photos as if our daughter had been gone for weeks instead of hours.  We enlarged them on our phone screens to better see the nuances of her expression.  She, without doubt, was having a ball!  We, on the other hand, realized we have a lot to learn .

How easy it is to convince ourselves as parents that our children need us more than they actually do.  Our attachment and great love can get in the way of their quest for independence.  Of course we want our children to be independent, and yet how difficult it is, beyond the scope of reason, to actually encourage it.  It is easier to show love through action than it is to show it through restraint.  And yet, if independence is the goal, restraint is one of the greatest demonstrations of love we can provide.  To wait as children struggle with their coat zipper.  To be quiet as they sound out sentences.  To allow moments of struggle in their friendships instead of “fixing it” for them.
Jakob, our 5-year-old, went ice skating for the first time over winter break.  He said something that brought home this point for both my wife and me.  Jakob kept falling down on the ice again and again. We kept coming to his aid, helping him up or trying to catch him until Jakob asked us to stop and let him do it himself at which point, he fell down again, got up and said, “It’s hard, but it’s fun.”  What a great sentence!


See you soon,

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