Thursday, July 26, 2007

Parenting With Objectivist Principles

"What is your work going to be today?"

I ask this question of my 5 year old each morning over breakfast. A typical answer, which can be anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes long (seriously), might be something like: "Well, first I'm going to be a Builder Peopleguy* and build a road, then I'll open up a store that sells electrical wires. After that, I'll be a Zookeeper Peopleguy and I'll specialize in snakes and lizards, and of course, I'll have to feed them...."

The 2 year old has begun to join in these conversations, too, and will usually indicate a desire to splash water in the sink or work on puzzles.

Then I talk about my own plans for the day: laundry, clean up the kitchen, the cabin business, pay bills, the garage project, any errands that need doing, etc.

I have found that having this little talk every morning and throughout the day as our plans change (as they inevitably do) helps us stay focused on our goals. I also get more cooperation when they understand that I have to do some things that aren't directly related to them. (They may not like it, but at least the older one understands. A little.) They help me stay on task, too: "Hey, Mom, weren't we going to put gas in the car today? How about that walk around the pond?"

But I think the most important benefit to them is that they see my husband and me setting goals, taking actions necessary to achieve them, using our minds to overcome obstacles, and our pride in living a productive life. Even if I don't finish each project as or when planned--sometimes they are multi-stage or we have to re-prioritize--I explain what happened and why. I share my frustrations and triumphs ("Yes! We finished assembling the bench for the garage!") and try to involve them in my own pursuits as much reasonably possible. For example, this afternoon Ryan helped me with our small furniture assembly project. I mean actually helped. He used real tools and screwed in bolts and hammered connector-thingies down and held the pieces in place when two sets of hands were necessary.

By modeling the virtue of Productiveness (as well as the other virtues), we are setting valuable examples for our kids to follow. We're showing them the way we think is right, telling them to do as we do.

And as is the case with all small children, they do want to follow our example. In the safe haven of their home, they decide on goals of their own interest, plan how to achieve them, and perform the actions necessary to achieve them, and we grownups make sure to give them space and time. The work of a child is to learn about reality, including how his own body and mind work. When kids follow the examples we set, they practice being adults, they learn and practice the habits that will help them achieve their goals as adults. Our job as their parents is to let them get on with that work. And so along the way, we answer their questions, make problem-solving suggestions, provide materials and other resources (and by that I of course mean stickers and electrical wires), and are ready with encouraging words and sympathy if necessary. But above all, we stand back and try not to interfere too much. Their work is and should be theirs.

When my kids declare that they want to read a book or build a tower or go for a walk or make cookies, they are setting goals in order to gain or keep their own values. Sometimes, no declaration is made out loud or needed (especially in preverbal kids, obviously). Kids simply do. They will jump off a step stool a hundred times. They might spend hours splashing in the sink. So they choose, sometimes they plan, always they act, and in this way even small children exercise the virtue of Productiveness.

When focused on an extremely difficult task, such as putting a puzzle together, or contending with unwieldy pillows that need to be shaped into a tunnel, or facing a sibling whose idea of "help" is somewhat different from one's own, children are exercising their own minds, their burgeoning Rationality.

When my oldest exclaims that he just loves to work hard on his own projects, when he jumps up and down after successfully hammering in a plastic dowel, when he excitedly calls me over to look at the road he designed and built, he is experiencing the result of Productiveness for himself--Pride.

Watching my kids beaming with pride is one of the supreme joys of being a parent.

"Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man's life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is the source, the precondition of his productive work--pride is the result."

--Ayn Rand, "The Objectivist Ethics," The Virtue of Selfishness, p 25
*Peopleguy is the word my son invented at the age of about 20 months. It means "worker" but we've used it for so long it just rolls of the tongue (and out of my fingers on the keyboard) automatically.


Flibbert said...

Ok. I love "peopleguy" and I'm going to start using it immediately.

Rational Jenn said...

Oh, please do! My husband wants it to sweep the nation and the world and eventually find its way into the O.E.D.

It is fun to say: Fireman Peopleguy, Landscaper Peopleguy, Zookeeper Peopleguy. And my son loves nothing better than to say "I'm working hard like Peeoopleguys!"

rootie said...

When their "work" involves things you wouldn't have them doing "I think I'll play with knives, run with scissors, and sit on the cat" what do you do?


Rational Jenn said...

Well, if what they want to do seriously compromises their own or somebody else's safety (how did you know we have cats?) then of course we redirect them to something more appropriate.

However, we generally allow them to explore their desires as fully as possible if nobody else's rights or safety is being infringed upon and as long as they remain within appropriate guidelines.

For example, I will let my older child practicing cutting things with knives if he likes. The younger one, too, although she only gets table knives at this point. Small kids are remarkably responsible when given appropriate guidance and a chance. We have "house rules" about tools and other potentially dangerous items. We show them how to use them properly and safely, such as safely transporting scissors by holding the closed blades and handing them to someone else handles-first. If they aren't able or willing to follow the guidelines then they must go find something else to do.

Eran Dror said...

Man, I wish my parents did that when I was growing up!

You're giving your kids tools now that most people end up learning much later in life, if at all.

Keep blogging, it's great!

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks, Eran! We're doing our best--it's an intellectual challenge to figure out how to apply Objectivist principles to parenting my kids, especially because I have some weird psychological in my head still from my own childhood (which wasn't terrible, just....not Objectivist.)

Appreciate the kind words. Thanks!

piscesgrrl said...

Hey there, thanks for visiting my blog - how'd you find mine? After visiting yours, then wondering about the objectivist carnival, then seeing your post there, I ended up here and I have to know - did you have an article in the latest Life Learning Magazine? It had to be you because it was all about peopleguys! Wow, I love the connections of this blogging world!

Rational Jenn said...

piscesgrrl--welcome! I think I found your blog via the carnival of homeschooling. Or possibly Po Meyomu (sp?)? Anyway, I do enjoy it!

And yep, that's me and my Ryan in Life Learning Magazine! We are so thrilled! What did you think?

I'm glad you stopped by and left a comment! Made my day! :o)

piscesgrrl said...

I thought it was a fantastic article! I'm a new subscriber and I devoured the last two issues. I'm working on an article to send out now, actually.

I thought the whole peopleguys thing was adorable, and I think it's wonderful how you've supported his passion as you have.

Were there pictures of you with the article?

so glad we've 'met'!

Rational Jenn said...

Ooh, can't wait to read your article! It's a cool magazine--lots of interesting ideas and perspectives to think about.

There was a picture of me with both of my kids in the front of the magazine. You can tell it's us, without even reading the words, because Ryan is wearing an Astronaut Peopleguy uniform in the picture. I thought that was fitting for the article!

Glad to "meet" you, too! Thanks for stopping by!


khartoum said...

Great article. Am subscribing!

jody said...

I really love this approach!!

Anonymous said...

Excellent account, enjoyed it, approve of it, learned from it.