Wet Paint!
Kelly Lovejoy

"I call that the 'wet paint' scenario. You tell them it's bad, but they have to try it for themselves to find out for sure. You tell them the bench has wet paint but they have to touch it anyway to make sure."
The “Wet Paint” scenario. That was written by a mom on Unschooling Basics back in January.

I’ve been mulling that over. Although the idea that my children would believe everything I say is attractive (that tiny little dictator inside me LOVES to be in charge!), I really, really want my boys to check that bench!

I guess I could expect them to trust everything I say. In some ways they do because I’ve tried to be really honest with them, to not give them bad information or misinformation, to not “trick” them, to say “I don’t know” when I don’t. I’ve even pulled the “trust me” card! (When you use that “trust me” card, you’ve got to hope you’ll be right!)

I want my boys to know that they have the right to question everything. They are under no obligation to believe anything anyone says. Touch the bench!

But I know that I too have touched a bench I’ve been told was wet only to find it dry. Was that person lying? Misinformed? Testing me? Pulling my leg? How would I know?

A Bee Sting Will Kill You!

I keep bees. I’ve been stung many times. It hurts, but it’s not like the painful sting of a wasp! A few months ago, after working the bees and working in the yard for hours and hours, I was stung in the head. Within seconds, I could feel my skin tightening. My eyes closed. My ears closed. My feet swelled up. My skin was itching like crazy. I ran inside, took a quick, cold shower, and popped a couple of Benadryl. Ben rushed me to the Doc-in-a-Box. They gave me a couple of shots (cortisone and more antihistamine), wrote me a prescription for an epi-pen, and assured me the next sting would kill me.

I was understandably wary about messing with my bees for a while; but after a month or so I needed to go back into the hives, so I suited up and placed my epi-pen nearby. I was attacked by a dozen or so bees through the gloves. I was stung eight times in the right hand. The stings hurt, but here I am writing an article about them! I didn’t die. I’ve been stung several times since then. Should I have taken the doctor’s advice and gotten rid of my hives? Maybe. But I do love my bees!

Absolute Obedience

Do we want obedient children?

It appears that the goal for many parents is absolute obedience. Although I like obedient dogs, I still prefer a dog that thinks. Maybe that‘s why I’m so fascinated with guide dogs. Dogs that are smarter than the average bear. Dogs that are allowed to be—and expected to be—willfully disobedient. As nice and convenient as it is to have everyone (and thing) do what I say, I really prefer to have everyone (and thing) think things through.

issue 7 Back to kids and obedience. An obedient child is not a thinking child. An obedient child doesn’t question or interrupt. An obedient child doesn’t negotiate or work to solve problems. An obedient child does what he’s told. An obedient child is a pleasure in school. Is that the goal?

It’s certainly more work when they aren’t obedient! We must answer loads more questions and think about how to work around their objections. We must be much more patient. We must be more creative and flexible. We may even have to clean lots of paint off little fingers!

I don’t want my children to automatically do what anyone says. Too many children fall prey to peer pressure and unscrupulous adults because they’ve learned not to think through situations. Herd mentality can be really strong in humans. I think it’s important to let them know early that following the herd—and even listening to the sheepdog—isn’t always in their best interest and certainly shouldn’t be done without questioning why?

I do want them to trust me though, so I try to give the most honest answers I can. It takes time to develop a deep level of trust. I’ve spent years building a tower of trust, brick by brick. By lying to them (inadvertently or on purpose), I’d be removing a brick from somewhere in that tower. Like a Jenga tower, eventually just one more brick’s removal can topple the whole thing. I want them to believe me when it’s important, so I need to be as honest as I can with the little things—like wet paint. When I pull out that “trust card,” I want them to know I’m not tricking them or lying—or even unsure of myself. There may be a time when they need to believe me NOW! Knowing they can trust me will make that decision easier for them.

From Dictator to Partner

I could have easily have remained a dictator had I not found unschooling and mindful parenting. I like when folks do what I say! Cameron has always been very compliant, so being a benevolent dictator was easy. Duncan, on the other hand, questions everything! I needed to change how I approached parenting with him—and that’s helped in my dealings with Cameron too. Stepping back and realizing that obeying orders was not in my children’s best interest was huge to me.

It’s helped me to change my language a bit. Rather than say, ”Don’t touch the bench: the paint is wet,” I’ll now say, ”That paint may be wet. You might want to be careful if you touch it.” That gives them information to think through instead of an order to follow or disregard. They might ask how I know it’s wet. Or did I see a painter leave? Is there a sign? How can we tell when it’s dry? What does “tacky” mean?

And they might go ahead and touch it. But that gives them the information they need. And that’s OK. One more brick in your tower.

Not Just for Kids

The same thing goes for the information in this e-zine as well as on the unschooling message boards and e-lists. None of us are under any obligation to believe what others write. The key is to think long and hard. To question why they’re saying that. Why are their results different from my own? How did they come to those conclusions? What’s their background? Do I trust them? Why?

Have they been honest with you in the past? Have they given you bad information? Have they given you answers to things they have experience with? If someone has given me good advice in the past and if I trust that person, I’m more likely to believe him when he says that the paint is wet.

I still might have to touch that bench though!

This article and bio originally appeared in Issue 7 of Connections, the ezine of unschooling and mindful parenting, edited by Danielle Conger.

Kelly’s already toiling under the SC sun as she plants her garden and tends her bees. She gratefully accepts the assistance and strong backs of the three men in her life: Ben, Cameron, and Duncan—all of whom are wet paint touchers!

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