Stress and anxiety are not status symbols

I think a lot about how much unnecessary misery our culture creates by mandating how families spend every moment of their day. With the technology that is now easily available in developed countries, there’s no reason more of our workforce should not be able to work from home (or from a sailboat, or from a coffee shop). There’s no reason we should have millions of people sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, spewing horrible toxins into the air we breathe, just so a middle manager can pretend to babysit them all day. There’s no reason that a new mother should be putting her weeks-old infant in a day care center and pumping milk in a maintenance closet. (And politicians think the solution to all of her problems is to help her pay for the day care.)

If you look at the way our country lives now, where ordinary people are so filled with rage they become social media trolls in their private time, where kids want to do real physical harm to their peers, etc., how much of that derives from how mentally unhealthy folks’ daily lives have become? How much of that could be eliminated by allowing people to have more home-centered lives? To be able to get out and do things they love for a little chunk of their day, every day? To not be carrying around this oppressive sense that their days are being eaten away by a million meaningless endeavors? Even our children carry the anxiety of purposelessness around with them.

I’ve met a lot of people who are downright snobbish about being overworked. This is particularly true of women who need to feel good about putting their career before raising a family, as if it is even necessary for those to be antithetical in this day and age. I get depressed on their behalf every time I talk to them. I wish people would stop pretending stress is some bogus status symbol and start advocating for better, healthier, more productive ways of living for everyone – especially for children. Our society desperately needs to stop eroding family units, and as with most things, there is a technological solution for this problem.

One of the best things about being a homeschooling family is that there is no arbitrary school day schedule. You don’t have to wake your child up at 6 a.m. (which everyone agrees isn’t good for developing brains) to get ready; shove a cereal bar down their throat so they can make it until their next scheduled feeding time; hurry through morning traffic so you can sit in a car line (which only exists because schools are now common targets for violence and predators); all so they can sit at a desk and try to pay attention when they’d much rather be sleeping (as they should be). And so you can go to an office and do the exact same thing.

With homeschooling, you can cover within a few hours much of the content that is covered in a traditional school in the course of an entire week. That’s the power of having a 1:1 student-teacher ratio and not having most of the week taken up by administrative affairs, discipline, and just generally wasting time. It’s a simple change that eliminates a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety for both parents and children.

In place of all that, you can substitute things that bring your family joy. This morning, our daughter had her hunter-jumper horseback riding lessons. We drove out to the stables, let her practice, gave the pony a bath together, and returned him to his pasture. We drove back into town and picked up Dad for lunch.

For lunch, everyone wanted a cheeseburger. We live on the ocean in Florida, so we went to Whaam Burger on Flagler Beach. They have the most incredible burgers I have ever tasted, and I grew up in Los Angeles with In-N-Out. We ate our lunch on the boardwalk watching the ocean.

Elise had put on a bathing suit under her clothes so she could play in the surf for half an hour after lunch. This is our version of recess.

We stood in the surf and talked through work issues while she was swimming and chasing sandpipers. It was a gorgeous summer day. Since the traditional school year has started, there were almost no tourists around. Then we showered off all the sand, came home, then Elise hit the books and we went back to work.

We try to use our break times to get out into nature as much as possible. We often go on long hikes or walks in the morning to start the day. (You really can’t do this in the evening in Florida, unless you love the company of mosquitoes.) In fact, one of the reasons we chose to move to Palm Coast was the town has 135 miles of hiking, biking, and walking trails. If you are relatively fit, you don’t even need a car to live here. You can go everywhere in town on a bicycle. You can even take bicycle paths along the A1A to other towns, and from those towns to other towns. (Between that, the pristine beaches, and AT&T Fiber’s ultra high speed Internet, I have no idea why every tech entrepreneur in the country isn’t moving here. But I guess I should keep that to myself if I want it to last.)

This also means our daughter has the opportunity to talk to a lot of people and experience a lot of things she would be missing if she went to a traditional school. She meets people from Portugal, Italy, the Caribbean, and Mexico while out around town. She also gets to see first-hand how we earn a living and navigate the business world. I like to call this a modern apprenticeship.

It seems the biggest obstacle to this way of life being available to all or most families in the US are these archaic notions of how adults should be able to get their own work done.

As much as policymakers and other observers love to debate the seemingly intractable issues that come with having a mental health crisis in this country, it’s amazing no one ever talks about simply encouraging businesses to enable the vast majority of Americans to change their lifestyles and thereby change their kids’ lifestyles. Be around the people they love. Be genuinely social and interact with people in the real world instead of having fake fights online. Be less sedentary.

The chattering class loves the perceived enormity of cultural problems and the talking points they use to convince Americans that enriching them to guide some pointless piece of legislation through Washington will be the panacea everyone needs. Changing gun laws, for example, is not going to cure the problem that there are a lot of kids in the US now that want to hurt their peers. On some level, everyone knows that the real problem is the hate and toxicity that has come to characterize schools. The fact that social media has taken bullying from being chased away from the bus stop to being hectored 24/7, with the cumulative effect being that kids want to destroy themselves or others. The fact that girls are starting to objectify themselves from the moment they can read, to the point that women in their 20s are now the largest demographic getting Botox injections and capped teeth. We’ve created one epic destructive environment for both adults and children, and it seems so pervasive and ubiquitous that the problems it creates seem inescapable except to the most densely partisan people in our country.

The philosopher Aristotle thought the success of the polis traced back to the home. Homes are the cells of social organisms. The fundamental building blocks of life. If our country wants to fix its myriad problems, it needs to start by fixing Americans’ homes.

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