The danger of "Lazy" and other thoughts

Though I called this page "...other thoughts," it was expression that brought us here—not thoughts. How would we know a mom thinks of her child as lazy? Because she said so, voluntarily, in writing, to strangers.

When someone said her son was lazy in June 2006, Joyce Fetteroll responded. It goes on to other related topics, but I love the ideas there about how thoughts affect action. Italics in color are someone else (anonymous, for this page) and straight text is Joyce.

Below that is an epiphany Robyn Coburn reported, involving a doctor, her mom, and the term "lazy."


Joyce Fetteroll responding to the quotes (on Unschooling Basics, long ago):
Goodness, I didn't realize I would be offending so many by the use of the word "lazy". The meaning of that word is "unwilling to work."
No one's offended. It's discussion. It's stepping back and discussing the concept, the *idea*, of labeling someone lazy.

If we use negative words in relation to our kids they internalize that and can live up to those words. They become the labels we put on them. Or they can decide we have no clue about who they are and decide not to listen to us.

Even if we don't say the negative words to them, if the words are there in our heads we're acting in a way towards them as if we believe the words.

How would you feel if your husband or mom or best friend called you lazy? Picture them saying it often. Or what if they never said it and you overheard them talking to their friends and they described you as lazy?

A few times might be funny and you might even agree. But after a while it would feel as though in their minds you had been branded with that label and they were seeing all of you through that word.

Part of what the list does is step back and look at the principles behind what we do. Using labels and negative words for our kids will not only damage them but damage our relationship with them. It won't turn them into monsters, though it might turn them lazy ;-), but it won't enhance who they are or enhance our relationship. Thinking of a child as lazy is one little thing but each little thing is a whittle in the relationship between us. Life does enough whittling naturally. We'll be doing enough whittling without realizing it. When we can become aware of it, why whittle when we can build? :-)

I think we've all known or worked in the past with people who are characterized in that way - willing to let others do all the laborious work, or those who jump ship when the going gets tough.
And most of the people we know have gone to school and been parenting in conventional ways. In this society we're trained to get a job to make money to pay the bills so we can be, so called, "successful". How many people have you known who put a lot of thought and action into exploring their interests to figure out their passions in life before heading off to college or a job?

Kids will spend hours trying to beat a level on a game and yet will drag their feet on homework. Kids will spend hours practicing free throws and dribbling to get better at basketball and yet spend as little time as possible studying. When I worked I would spend hours writing computer code to make a program do as much as possible so that I could avoid repetitious input.

Is that lazy? Or is that recognizing what is a useful use of time for what we want to accomplish and what is a waste? They say lazy people make the best programmers ;-) But is it lazy to have an aversion to boring repetitious tedious work?

When we have a passion for what we're doing, we'll do what needs to be done, even the tedious stuff because we see something better on the other side.

If we're trapped in a job we have to mentally and physically drag ourselves to, we're going to do as little as we can get away with. And may in fact do even less in order *to get fired* because there's this script in our heads that tells us we aren't allowed to quit something we've started!

Schools are really good at teaching kids to shove down and ignore their feelings that something is pointless and just do as they're told. People carry that lesson into adulthood and end up in jobs they find unfulfilling because the goal has been to make money not to find something that you love to do.

Is that what you want for your kids? Then school might be better for them because school is good at training them for that way of life.

But if you ask, we can tell you about something we think is better.

Unschooling and all it entails doesn't mean never having to do something you don't want to do, in my opinion.
*Life* means doing things we don't enjoy to get something better. Kids learn that just by living. We don't need to make them stick with something they're not enjoying in order for them to learn that. Life does that to them naturally.

We can, though, when they want to quit something, talk about what's wrong. We can talk about the consequences of quitting and how others will feel and what's likely to happen. (Each situation will be different. There is no rule. Quitting a softball team after a few attempts is different than quitting a play before opening night!) We can talk about the things we can change to make it better. But we don't help them learn to look at the bigger picture if we approach them with the attitude that quitting is only a last resort and that quitting something is a permanent black mark in our books.

If we assume our children are doing the best they can with the information and skills they have at the moment, they will hear what we have to say about a situation as information to help them make a decision. They will *trust* that we're on their side. *Knowing* that quitting is an option will let them hear our ideas on what the advantages of sticking it out (and quitting!) are. If we approach them with the attitude of making them stick with something because they are [lazy, irresponsible, self-centered, immature ... if they quit] and we need to make them do what we believe is right in order to make them better people what we say to them will just sound like variations of "You're not perfect." and "I won't let you quit."

If you were taking a class and after several sessions you realized it wasn't anything like you imagined and it was draining you more than it was filling you, which person would you rather have talk to you: someone who was determined to find some way to make you continue whether that be persuasion or guilt or anger or shame ... , or someone who was a willing listener who always had good ideas on how to fix things but you knew would be fine whether you quit or kept going and all they wanted was for you to be happy? Which person do you want to be remembered as by your son?

There are days where I might not want to fix breakfast, lunch, or supper, to do laundry, to clean up a child's vomit, the cat's poop mess after getting locked in the van, etc., but it's gotta be done and so I do it. Why? Because it's not just me around here - there are others to think of (we're a "team", so to speak).
That's the conventional way. It's not news to anyone here. Most of us have been there, done that or grown up with it.

We're talking about looking at life in a way that's beyond pushing through the moment because you "have to." We've found what we are certain is a better way to be with our families. And if you ask, people will tell you about it. :-)

But if you came to tell us about conventional parenting, we already know!

I made my son clean his room because we couldn't walk through it. He didn't choose to do it on his own and never would have, but I'm his Mom, it really needed to be done, and I helped him some but had him stick with it until done (diligence). Sorry if that makes someone angry.
Disagreement isn't the same thing as anger. I'm not angry at you for making your son clean is room. But I bet your son felt some anger and resentment towards you! And I am sad that society sees that as justified and a good practice. And I am sad that you will either 1) have to do a lot of work to see beyond those ingrained ideas of what is supposedly fact about how children must be related to or 2) leave because you're certain we must be clueless parents of brats who can't see the obvious (wisdom of conventional parenting) and there's nothing you can learn here.

Just because I disagree with the conventional practice of making a child clean his room *doesn't* mean that the only two options are making him or not making him. Ask and people will tell you.

Picture *choosing* to make a child unhappy as a withdrawal from our relationship with our kids and *choosing* to make a child happy as a deposit. One day I realized that I was making permanent withdrawals for something temporary (a clean living room).

No matter how much my husband valued a clean garage floor, he couldn't make me value it too by making me clean it. We assume that just because we're certain our values and ideas are right, that our kids will see the error of their ways and realize we're right if we just make them.

There *are* other choices!

Lest someone think I yell at the kids and tell them they're lazy, let me assure you I've never done so and never will;
The discussion shouldn't be about you. It should be about ideas.

Does the *idea* of thinking about a child as being lazy help a parent move closer to unschooling? No, so when it comes up, that idea gets discussed.

Will the *idea* of making our children do chores enhance our relationship and build their trust in us? Again, no.

But just like most people imagine that if you drop school that means doing "nothing", dropping making our kids do things isn't the same as doing nothing.

Here's a bit from the list description:

Ask experienced unschoolers all those niggling questions, and find out how unschooling works in real families.
Ask! Ask us how we make it work rather than assuming we're totally blind to our lazy irresponsible children's behavior because we're stuck on some rule that says "Let them do whatever they want."

In *all* new endeavors that we learn about it's always best to assume the people have the same values and to *ask* how they avoid what conventional wisdom says should happen.

Here's another bit:

this is a place for you to discuss, question, ponder and become deeply familiar with natural learning and how it affects our entire lives.
Question, yes! Ask us how it can work if we aren't doing what society insists we need to.

Ponder what we say and ask more questions.

Just as we've thrown out school for something better that works, we've thrown out conventional parenting practice for something better than works! And just as throwing out school doesn't mean throwing out learning, throwing out conventional parenting doesn't mean throwing out parenting. We're there *with* our kids, helping them, talking to them about life, helping them solve problems.


come explore the issues that unschooling families have dealt with in the past and how to get beyond "school-think" to a joyful unschooling lifestyle!
We all have the same issues as you do. Ask what we do instead. Unschoolers will share.
However, I will teach them what it takes to consider others and to follow through on choices made which do have an impact on others.
To unschool it helps to drop the *idea* of having to teach them anything. Unschoolers help them *learn*.

Unschooling is more than substituting the word learn for teach, though. We don't see the need to pour information (or behavior) into them. We are their partners, helping them navigate the world, helping them get what they want. We do kids a disservice to assume they don't care about others feelings. They're kids. Their feelings and outlook *will* be different. If we treat them as doing the best they can with the skills, outlook and information they have, they will see us as their partners in helping them make better and better decisions. IF we treat them as less than adults, they'll see us as their molders and trainers, and just as adults would, they'll do what they can to avoid the molding and training in order to try things out for themselves.

At 14 my daughter is polite and thoughtful. She thinks of other people when making decisions because that's how she's been treated: I've tried to think of her when making decisions.

There's more to unschooling than just not doing school. To make it flourish we need to look at ourselves, our relationship, the way we look at the world in a new way to clear out the thinking that's holding us back.


Robyn Coburn, from the Always Learning list, February 2009. We were talking about breastfeeding:

When I was born my mother was told that I had a "lazy mouth" and was too lazy to nurse properly and would not get enough milk so she should give it up. She went through a whole lot of different formulae, all of which I apparently violently threw up. She ended up feeding me diluted Carnation milk.

However in following this discussion, I have come to the realization that the negative label "lazy" informed Mum's belief about me and my view of myself for my whole life! That is where it came from. I'm kinda reeling a bit, like my whole life just shifted and schismed for a moment - a sort of "OMG no wonder."

Robyn L. Coburn

What is "Lazy"?

Phrases to Avoid

The Value of Choices