Thursday, March 3, 2016

When Life Gives You Twaddle

Twaddle. It is a buzz word that homeschoolers tend to be familiar with. It is part of my everyday vocabulary, as it is for most homeschoolers who admire Charlotte Mason and follow her method of education. It is a fun word to say, but it is something that we strive to avoid. So, what exactly is twaddle? defines it as trivial, feeble, silly, or tedious talk or writing. Charlotte Mason used the word twaddle when referring to dumbed down books that are mindless, senseless, or silly—books that don’t engage the mind and heart of the reader. In Charlotte’s view, education embodied a science of relations, and books that did not engage a child’s mind to help form meaningful connections were simply twaddle. Tedious, boring textbooks immediately come to mind. So do silly and pointless books, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles junior novel that I recently allowed my son to read. Although I do allow my children to read some twaddle, I mostly want them to read books that are the complete opposite—living books—books that are alive with passion and ideas. Books that will engage their minds and elevate their thoughts. I want my children’s daily lives to include a steady diet of living books to feast upon, and only a small amount of twaddle for dessert.

Several years ago, at a local homeschool meeting, the speaker expanded the word twaddle to include the excessive or meaningless activities that we often include in our lives. Such activities are unnecessary and stressful, but we frequently feel compelled to keep doing them anyway. I didn’t give her extended definition much thought at the time, but lately it has been coming to mind more often. My life is so full and busy, just like the lives of most other moms, and I have to wonder how much of my time is wasted on twaddle. For the purposes of this post, I will consider twaddle to be anything that is not worth my time at the moment and brings more stress than benefit to my family. How much that my family does is truly worth our time? What could—or should—we eliminate? This is something that I used to struggle with a lot. Well, actually, who am I kidding? I still struggle with it a lot. It is a matter of prioritization, and prioritizing is something that is well worth learning how to do.

Extracurricular activities can become twaddle. As a homeschool mom, I have always felt pressured to put my kids in a lot of extracurricular activities. I suppose my aim is to prove to the naysayers that my kids are not isolated, that they are receiving adequate social time, and that they do receive instruction from adults other than their parents. So, off we have gone, again and again over the years, to little league practices, martial arts classes, music lessons, dance classes, theater rehearsals, scout meetings, Awana clubs, homeschool co-ops, choir practices, etc. How much of this has really been valuable, and how much of it could be described as twaddle? Charlotte Mason believed that children needed downtime for exploration, play, and “masterly inactivity”. If my kids are too overscheduled, they will not have this downtime to enjoy childhood in the way that it was meant to be enjoyed. Not all extracurricular activity is twaddle, of course, and some of it is very beneficial for our children. We can ask God for wisdom to help us decide how much is too much for our family during any given season of life, and we can rest assured that it is okay to take a break when the family schedule becomes too overwhelmed. Recently, I ran into an old friend, and we conversed a bit about the challenges of parenthood. This friend reminded me that the best predictor of a well-adjusted child is for that child to live in a safe, supportive environment, and that the extras are really not important contributors to a child’s well-being. I was so thankful for that reminder! Our children need to feel loved, connected, supported, and safe. Those extras that we feel so compelled to provide for them, such as the music lessons, dance classes, sports teams, etc., are really just the icing on the cake for them. Fluff. Twaddle. There is nothing wrong with extracurricular activities; however, we can feel confident that our children would be all right without them. We don’t have to feel guilty when we must become selective about the extras in order to prevent stress within the family. Sometimes, it turns out that our children are just as happy—maybe even happier—after some of those extracurricular activities are removed. Children enjoy having downtime to play and explore! Think about that the next time you find yourself needing to eliminate some activities in order to save your family’s collective sanity. Your children really will be okay.

I can inadvertently spend my time on twaddle, even when it seems like my time is being well-spent. Until about five years ago, I automatically said yes almost every time I was asked to volunteer for anything at church or anywhere else. I did this because I was a chronic, habitual people pleaser, and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Ever. I eventually found myself involved in too much, which left me feeling tired, crabby, and overwhelmed. For me, much of my involvement had become twaddle, even though my activities may not have seemed senseless, silly, or meaningless to anyone else. I was volunteering for good causes, but I found out that something good isn’t always what is best for me. Over the past several years, some specific life circumstances have helped me to learn, albeit slowly, that people pleasing really isn’t worth it. Now, instead of answering with an automatic yes to everything I am asked to do, I always think about it first. How do I know when to say yes and when to say no? If it is something that I think I might want to do, I generally ask myself three questions to help figure it out. First, I ask myself why I want to do it. I want to make sure that it isn’t based on any remnant of my people pleasing past, which tends to rear its ugly head rather unexpectedly at times. If I am able to rule that out, I then ask myself if I actually have the time to commit to it. I think through our family’s current schedule to determine if it would interfere with our other time commitments. I also make sure that I am continuing to protect some downtime for my family, which I feel is essential to our well-being. Finally, I ask myself if the activity would be a good fit based on my family’s current goals and priorities, or if it would actually distract me from our most essential goals. This is important to consider because any activity that is distracting you from your most imperative priorities is going to lead to unnecessary stress. Please note that I am not saying that you shouldn’t volunteer for church ministries or other good causes. As believers, it is right for us to use our time to serve others. What I am saying is that it is reasonable to make sure that any decision to volunteer comes from a pure motive—not from guilt or obligation—and it also makes sense to refrain from volunteering when your ministry to your family would suffer as a result. Our time is our most important investment, and we must continually evaluate whether or not we are using it wisely. I always discuss any potential time commitment—whether for me or for my children—with my husband, just as I discuss all family issues with him. He consistently gives me wise counsel and helps me to keep my focus where it needs to be.

Twaddle can invade our downtime at home. Am I the only mother whose family members usually gravitate toward electronic devices (major twaddle) during their free time? I doubt it, so other mothers know as well as I do the importance of putting limits on electronics, for our kids and also for ourselves. When I am adequately limiting electronics, the activities that my kids will pursue on their own are so much better for them. My teenage daughter exercises, practices her dancing, or reads a book. My younger daughter plays the piano, writes stories, or reads. My son plays with Legos, shoots hoops in the driveway, or practices his martial arts. We play board games together. We have conversations together. We connect as a family. Of course, I’m still going to allow the video games sometimes. I’m going to let my teenage daughter check facebook and text her friends. We are going to watch silly movies together. But, we put limits on our electronics to make room for more positive pastimes.

Regardless of the type of twaddle that has invaded our schedule, we can easily learn to recognize the symptoms of it: We will feel weary, overwhelmed, and grouchy because it is crowding out time that is needed for something else. In other words, it stresses us out! We can deal with this in the same way that we would deal with the literary twaddle that we are so familiar with. What would you do if you came across a series of silly, nonsensical books (think Barbie or something else along those lines) taking up precious space on your child’s bookshelf? Unless it was a favorite of your child or held sentimental value, you would obviously get rid of the books! The same principle applies to the twaddle that takes up our precious time. When we recognize it, we should try to get rid of it!

I realize that this use of the word twaddle is unconventional and is likely a bit of a stretch, but for me, it is helpful to reflect on. I can’t pretend to know what Charlotte Mason would think about it, but based on what I know about her, I believe that she would approve. I can imagine her encouraging us to remove the unnecessary excesses from our lives and to preserve the precious time that we have with our children. Time just to be together, without constantly having to hurry to the next activity. Time to pursue activities that we find to be genuinely worth our time. Time for spontaneous pursuits, rather than the pressure of too many scheduled classes and lessons. Yes, I definitely think that Charlotte Mason could appreciate that. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a look at my schedule. I’m going to work at removing some of the twaddle. I know that, in our super busy, activity-driven lives, it will be a constant battle, but I will continue to make the effort. Every day. Little by little. It will be worth it. Because our families are worth it.