I thought I would cover a slightly different topic today, and from a personal angle, though it is certainly relevant to making educational choices.

You see, I am almost 34 weeks pregnant and, naturally, my mind is turning to all the changes I will experience in my life in roughly 5 to 6 weeks.

When I was pregnant with my son, Gavin, 10 years ago – hard to believe he turns 10 in less than a week! – I spent the entire time pondering what kind of parent I wanted to be.  It was a very introspective time for me.  I do not know if all expectant parents feel the same way, but I spent hours mulling over what I wanted for my son.  Looking back at my pregnancy journal and the baby journal from my son’s first year, I see that what I wrote still holds true the second time around as I eagerly await the arrival of my daughter, Rowan:

“Every morning as I drive to work, I talk to you.  Sometimes we’re listening to NPR news and I tell you about the situation in the Middle East – how I hope the world will be peaceful and there will be no war. 

Sometimes I tell you about humanity and that I hope you will be logical, kind, courteous, brave, compassionate, and respectful. 

As crazy as this world is and people get, I hope you will learn never to judge a book by its cover, that you will respect all faiths, cultures, ethnicities, and life paths. 

I hope you will be passionate about your convictions, but will not shut yourself away from others points of view or opinions. 

Work ethic is important – there is nothing more satisfying than earning rewards, paying your rent, caring for a pet.  Responsibility pays off.

 But my greatest hope is that I will be a good enough parent to mold you into a good, self-confident person and that you will understand your own self-worth.  Loving yourself is the key to being able to share love with others.”

Before he was born, I knew what I wanted for Gavin, including home education. 

It’s not that I had any problem with public school, other than issues “fitting in”.  It’s that, as an aunt, I saw the inefficiencies of the public school system, as well as the occasional teacher prejudice toward Pagans.  For me as an individual, it was simply the right parental choice to homeschool my son.

I also felt the autonomy of home education represented more of an opportunity to focus on the development of my son’s values, ethics, and personality.  Rather than expecting him to mold and fit in with peers, he could have even more freedom to find his own path.

Little moments over the past decade showed me that my way of rearing my son succeeded – at least, in my eyes. 

Seeing him defend small children on the playground, by standing up to bullies – often boys larger than my son – gave me a chance to just sit back and see how he handled conflict, as well as demonstrated his compassion.  Watching him show kindness to children less able than him to do something warmed my heart.  He told me many times he wanted to grow up to be a daddy.  He would name his stuffed animals, and refer to them as his sons and daughters… and he still does that.

Last year, he told me he wants to go to art school instead of college.  That certainly brought back memories, because I wanted to attend art school too.  My father would not permit it, and expected me to attend the local state college, which I did.  But when my son said those words to me, I responded, “If that is still your ambition when you are 16, we will make it happen.”

Those are just a few examples of how my son has exemplified some of the ideals I hoped to instill in him.  However, what matters even more to me is that he had the freedom to grow into those ideals in his own way. 

I feel the role of the parent is to guide and nurture children, not to dictate to them.  In fact, I simply cannot spank or swat at my child’s hand, only because I think it is hypocritical of me to try to rear a child who thinks violence is a bad thing by using violence to correct him.

For me, I am very comfortable on a middle ground of placing certain expectations on my son – particularly when it comes to health, safety and behavior, especially how he behaves toward other living beings – while still allowing him to face the natural consequences of his actions, and learn on his own.  It seems to have worked so far, because there are mornings I would wake up, walk downstairs, and find him at my computer doing his math or French.  Work ethic?  Check.  Compassionate?  Check.  Loving and kind?  Check.  Respectful?  Check.

I meditated on these parental hopes so long and so hard when I was pregnant with him, that they now feel like second nature to me.

The second time around as a parent feels very different.  I do not feel the need to focus consciously on these parental yearnings, because they are simply… there.  What I want for my daughter is exactly what I want for my son.  I simply no longer feel the need to put it out there in thoughts, words or discussions, because it is a part of me as a mother.

Last night, my husband said to me, “I’m so excited about bringing a new life into this world and teaching her to ponder all those big philosophical questions".

I remember that feeling with my son and it warmed my heart to hear my husband say that, as this daughter is his first – and will be his only – biological child. 

My second husband is already an amazing stepfather to my son.  He taught Gavin how to ride a bicycle.  He built him a fort.  Their favorite activity during the spring and summer was visiting the BMX track in the forest, where they could run their remote control cars together.

How my husband wanted this baby to be a son!  In fact, at 16 weeks, the doctor told us it was a boy.  However, the doctor made a mistake (he really should not have tried to guess, considering fetal genitalia does not differentiate for a few more weeks after that), and we found out only last week Rowan is a girl. 

After getting over his initial shock, my husband only got even more excited about the fact that he is officially biologically extraneous.  As my labor day marches closer and closer, I think his anticipation surpasses mine. 

And learning this is a girl instead of a boy has not changed what he wants as a father.  If anything, it has made him more adamant about teaching this child that she is not restricted by gender stereotypes.  I understand how he feels, because I’ve experienced all the gender-related expectations and stereotypes placed on boys.  Yes, they are just as restrictive as the ones on girls.  This is a very real issue for parents, and perhaps it is at the heart of what inspires me as a mother: to have children who are simply themselves, regardless of what their physical genders are. 

When I was growing up, raised by a divorced dad and with no mother figure in my life, my father told me to just be myself and not listen to other people who wanted to make me change.  This is the advice I have followed since childhood, and I have passed it on to my son.  I will pass it on to my daughter as well. 

These are ideals I no longer need to articulate again and again and again.  I just know what I want as a parent. 

I hope this, in turn, empowers my children to know what they want as people.