Parents play a crucial role in the facilitation of learning, and, according to developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld, can create the context in which learning occurs. At Clonlara, we believe building strong family relationships prepares students to realize their full potential, educationally and beyond.
Loida Cañizares Doménech, director of Clonlara School’s Spanish Program, homeschooling mother, and blogger at Galletas y Abrazos (Cookies and Hugs), highlights the necessity of giving our children the best of our time—and lots of it. Sharing from personal experience, she offers practical tips for building strong family relationships, even when the “tyranny of the urgent” threatens to distract us.
My house is dirty.
Yes, I know, you’re all thinking, “I’m sure her house isn’t that bad; mine is much, much worse.” But believe me, it is bad. Scattered around the floor, which I (more or less) manage to keep clean, are toys of various shapes and sizes, books, crayons, paper, and who knows what else? Dishes in the kitchen sink never disappear. The mountain of laundry to fold grows much faster than it shrinks, and please don’t even think about looking under the furniture! I could go on about the fridge, the oven, or the shelves that are too high to make eye contact with, but I think you get the idea.
My house is a home, not a palace. It’s cozy. It’s clean enough to keep us healthy and to host our friends. We burn scented candles, and it smells like vanilla. It’s our home, but it’s not ready for an unexpected royal visit. The reason is simple: I don’t spend my days cleaning.
Don’t get me wrong, I love order and cleanliness. From a very young age clutter created anxiety for me. I needed to have everything perfectly clean and tidy. But when our daughter was born, and we made the decision for me to homeschool her, we also made another decision: to prioritize. We determined that our daughter would take precedence over a clean house.
Our children need the best of our time, and lots of it. Sometimes we make the mistake of believing that, because we are at home with our children, we are giving them the time they need. But this is not necessarily true.
When we are constantly busy with our many obligations to the point that we lack the time and energy to sit down and play with our children, we are doing something wrong. When, at the end of the day, our house is spotless, but our shoes are not dirty from walking with our little ones, we have done something wrong. If we have managed to finish all the lessons we had prepared for the day, but our tummies don’t hurt from laughing together, we have done something wrong.
Sometimes, in our effort to give our children the best—a clean and cozy home, the perfect curriculum, and all the activities we think they need—we forget to give them the only thing they really need: us.
In his book Hold On to Your Kids, Neufeld motivates us to deepen our connection with our children. “The secret of parenting lies not in what a parent does, but in what both parents are to the child,” he explains. “When a child seeks contact and closeness with us, we become nurturers, comforters, guides, models, teachers, or coaches. For a child who is well bonded to us, we are the base from which he can venture out into the world; we are the refuge to which they can retreat; their source of inspiration.”
Our children need to be with us, to bond with us, to feel that there is nothing more important in the world to us than them. And we can only do that by spending lots of quality time together.
So yes, my house is dirty. We’ve given up on having a perfect house. But we’ve gotten so much more in return.
We have laughter and play from the moment we wake up, before we even get out of bed; we enjoy cuddle sessions at any time of the day; we spend afternoons reading books together on the sofa; we take long walks in the woods or at the beach, watching insects, picking flowers, and getting our feet wet in the water; we play ball in the garden; we engage in long conversations in which she tells me her worries and joys, and I tell her mine from when I was her age.
We have crafted an environment full of games, laughter, and hugs, without hurry and without looking at the clock. We have created a space full of love and trust, where we can rest easy knowing that people will always be the priority above everything else. We have exchanged a pristine house for a nurturing home.
We made the decision long ago that the urgent would not steal time from the important, but it is a decision we must continue to make every day, sometimes every moment. Every time I organize my tasks for the day, I need to make the same decision again.Scheduling time for my daughter’s education in addition to my work as director of Clonlara’s Spanish Program is not always easy. When the many obligations overwhelm me and make me lose sight of what is important, these little tips work for me.
Remember the Mission
It is important for us to remember why we chose this lifestyle, why we do what we do. Together, we created a “family mission” statement that details what we want to achieve with this way of living and learning. The most important part of our mission is spending a lot of time together and creating memories and connections that will last a lifetime. Reading our mission often helps me stay focused on what is most important.
Be an Early Riser
In busy times it helps me to get up a little earlier than usual. This way I have time for myself and time to get some of my work done before my daughter awakens and our day starts together.
I use my early morning time to organize the day. I create a list of tasks and rank them according to their level of importance. I use color-coding to separate the tasks that need to be done that day from those that could wait if I don’t have time to do them. I make sure that the “must-do” tasks don’t take up the entire day, and I set aside time for the unexpected needs that are sure to pop up.
Implement Family Chore Time
When my daughter was young, I tried to get her to “help” with as many chores as possible. We would play music and dance while doing the dishes or making the beds. Aside from being precious family time, it became an important learning experience. Now that she is older, she has her own chores. This helps her develop responsibility, and it relieves us of work, so we have more time for her.
As both a homeschooling mom and a program director, it has been helpful and important to find trusted resources to encourage me when I’ve lost my way and to motivate me to keep going in our educational journey. I constantly keep Neufeld’s quote about parent/child relationships in my mind. Cultivating an intimate, trusting connection with our children is our highest calling and our primary mission. That relationship is all they need to discover who they are and to find their place in the world.
As parents, our goal is not to please our children, and let’s face it, some household tasks can’t wait. When we do have to busy ourselves with chores, our children will learn the importance of responsibility, practice waiting, and develop their creativity. But we must take care that focusing on household matters remains secondary to our work of building strong family relationships through intentional time spend with our children.
Someday, my daughter will be ready to fly, and she will be gone. Then, I’ll have plenty of time again, and my house will shine like crystal. But not yet. This is her time, and I need to make sure I don’t regret a single minute that life gives me at her side; to look back and smile remembering all the things we’ve done together, without regretting all the things we didn’t do.
I hope that, after leaving our nest, my “little one” will come back from time to time to receive more of the love and attention she enjoyed while at home. And when that happens, I’ll stop what I’m doing and sit with her to laugh, cry, play, and reminisce.
What are YOUR strategies for building strong family relationships?