It’s Not Enough To Love Your Child

I came across this story today on facebook and I’ve been kind of a wreck ever since. I’m so sad and disgusted I don’t even know what to say. Actually, I can think of a few things…

I understand that not everyone can or is willing to Unschool. It’s a difficult idea to comprehend, and even harder to implement. Regardless of the schooling choices you make for your kids, or the rules you impose on them, respect should be implicit. Compulsory. Essential. Mandatory. I’m done pretending it’s every parents right to decide what’s best for their child. No, it’s fucking not your right to shame your child. It’s not your right to punish them, berate and humiliate. It’s not your right to strip them of their autonomy.

When you become a parent you are granted a position of honor. The incredible privilege of bearing witness as they become the person they are going to be. You are supposed to be a trusted ally to the children you bring into the world. You are tasked with preserving their spirit. Your job is to do no harm. If you have a top-down authority dynamic with your child, you are doing harm. Period. Not just if you are publicly humiliating them to the extremes we see on social media these days. Any control, manipulation, imposed consequences, etc. is harmful. Yes, all of it!

Children are born innocent. They deserve your respect and it’s your job to earn theirs, not the other way around. If you are an adult in this world, you have emotional baggage. You have problems that your child had no part in causing. If you weren’t raised free of control, you have been damaged. You might not even realize it, but it’s there. If you haven’t taken the time to examine all of that, then you are passing that on to your kids and it’s NOT OK.

As parents, we all have the choice right now to make a change. It’s never too late to seek healing for ourselves, and try to repair our relationships with our kids. I did just about everything wrong in the beginning. Somehow, despite my missteps, my son is 14 today and an incredible person. He is intelligent, hilarious, compassionate and talented. He is already a better man than I could have imagined he would be. I can say for absolute certain that if I hadn’t changed directions in my parenting, things would be so much worse. We have no teenage rebellion. No attitude problem, no slamming doors, no eye rolling, no animosity. We hug, laugh, play games, share our thoughts and feelings, ask each other for advice, help each other, trust each other, respect each other every. single. day. When there is anger or frustration it’s almost always because¬†I am being triggered by something and am forgetting to parent the way I normally do. That’s right, most of our arguments are my fault!

Most teenagers will experience some form of angst. Even if you are parenting as mindfully and peacefully as possible, there is no way for your child to be happy 100 percent of the time. But you¬†do have control over how much of that angst is caused by you and your assertion of power over them. If you are of the mind that teenagers are automatically difficult and that parenting them is inherently awful, you are dead wrong. If that’s how it is for you, it’s because YOU are choosing that. And before you argue that maybe I haven’t gotten to the hard part of teen parenting, I just spent five days with 700 families at the LIFE is Good Conference and I can promise you, it isn’t just me.

Every parent loves their kid. But love isn’t enough. Justifying control and punishment and shame and manipulation under the guise of love is bullshit and wrong and harmful. Love has to be accompanied by listening and hearing. Trusting and respecting. Freedom and partnership. Not the partnership that looks like “You do chores and I pay you allowance” or “I provide a roof over your head so you do what I tell you to”. I’m talking about partnership that looks like “I see this is important to you, I’m on your side, how can I help?” and “Hey- that isn’t a choice I would make and here’s why, but I trust you, how can I help?”.

It’s not enough to love your kids. You owe them more than that and you are capable of more than that. If you learn of an alternative and keep choosing control then you are complicit in harming your kid and you should be ashamed of yourself. If you brought a human into this world you are so fortunate to be their first line of defense and you should treat that position with the reverence it deserves. Spend your life trying to be worthy of it. Don’t squander it. Not only will your child grow into the outstanding person they were always meant to be, but you will also get to experience a beautiful bond and relationship with that person. You have no excuse!

Posted in Uncategorized

Unexpected Benefits of (Radical) Unschooling

This coming Halloween marks 5 years to the day that N left school and we jumped headfirst, into Unschooling. When we embarked down this path I didn’t know what our lives would look like 5 years in the future. We made the decision to change our ways based on the fact that traditional parenting WASN’T working. The picture of our lives then was full of conflict, stress, disrespect, and sadness. Not that we never had good times mind you, but underneath those good times was tension. Because with traditional parenting, lurking behind each joyful bonding moment, is the potential to have to go into authoritarian mode and punish, correct, degrade, embarrass and/or disconnect if your child does something off of your list of things they shouldn’t do.

That wasn’t working. It didn’t feel good for anyone and more than that, I could see the future of that path. I could see that our relationships would grow more and more strained over the years if I couldn’t get to place of acceptance. Every instinct I had was telling me to go in a different direction. We made the decision to stop controlling. Stop micro-managing. Stop reacting. Stop punishing. Stop nit-picking every little thing. Stop acting like we knew them better than they did.

We had no idea what life would look like without all that negativity. How sad is that? That was all we knew, and life without that was a foggy, cloudy, mystery. We hoped that it would be lovely. We trusted that it would work out. I had a few specific things I was crossing my fingers for- one was that my kids would be able to talk to me about relationships, puberty, drugs and alcohol, sex, and all those sensitive topics. To me that was a sign of a healthy relationship. Other than that, I really didn’t know what to expect.

I’m happy to report that life on this side, is pretty darn fabulous. Our relationships are strong, strong enough to weather the ups and downs. And of course, there are still downs. But you know what there is a whole lot more of? AWESOMENESS! Awesomeness in the form of:

Up all night snuggling and giggling, watching cartoons. So. Many. Moments that would have been missed in the world of “OK, it’s bed time.” Moments that would have been missed in the world of “that TV show is [insert negative adjective ie. stupid, worthless, pointless, weird, gross, brain-rotting, too violent, etc.].

Being asked to make salads and healthy snack trays every day. Even when there are marshmallows and ice cream and chips. Healthy decisions being made of their own accord, that wouldn’t happen if I forbid them to eat ice cream for breakfast when that is what they feel like.

Having your child, in the heat of an argument, excuse themselves to their room to cool off and then come back a while later and deliver a heartfelt apology. This! As opposed to being sent to their room for a time-out and then forced to apologize.

Having “I love you” shouted to you across the house, whispered in your ear, written on paper, mirrors and bodies, and said lovingly approximately one thousand times a day.

Your pre-teen pausing his game and Skype chats with friends to come and tell you the HILARIOUS things that just happened. Just the fact that he stops to come and share those moments with me is such a gift! It is a total bonus that they also most often involve lively language and sexual innuendo. Such as “Holy shit mom, there’s a level called the Orc-chasm, isn’t that funny?!”. That to me is a clear sign of a healthy and functioning parent-child relationship. Moments of sweet connection that would have been missed in the world of “go to your room for saying that word!”.

Watching television shows and discussing all manner of hot topics casually. Opportunities for having informative, honest, real conversations that would have been missed if we censored and avoided shows with exposure to that kind of thing.

Apologizing for your own moments of wrong-doing and being lovingly forgiven. This has been a huge life lesson for me. Learning to humble myself and fully embrace my imperfections, and model that to them is incredible. Receiving their love and acceptance in spite of my mistakes has taught me how to give that back to them.

Your children compassionately taking care of you when you’re sick. I remember the first time I woke up sick when we had fun plans for the day. I suffered through getting up and ready, packing bags and food etc. and feeling terrible. I didn’t want to disappoint them by cancelling plans. We left the house and had only been gone a few minutes when I burst into tears because I felt so miserable. They were both so kind and understanding and were completely fine postponing plans for another day. Then at home, they tucked me into bed and took care of me and each other!

Being greeted at the door after grocery shopping by kids eager to help bring the bags in. Moments that wouldn’t be so great if they were told they had to.

Getting advice *from* your kids. And taking it because they are so wise. Many, many conversations that would have been missed if I continued operating under the illusion that adults know better than kids.

Being awed by their sense of self and their dedication to being true to it. An adeptness at self-care that they wouldn’t have developed if they’d been told who, what, when, where, why and how all their lives, instead of being allowed the space to learn for themselves.

Being able to talk out disagreements intelligently, compassionately and respectfully. No shame. No imposed consequences. Witnessing their ah-ha! moments because they were able to make mistakes and realize better ways of handling situations without our interference.

Being asked permission for random things all the time. For example, E called me while I was out running errands today to ask me if she could color on the box of a board game. N, who has a million online games and accounts and probably knows more about the internet and technology than me, still asks me if he can download a free game, or enter his email address in a website. For a while, I thought that this was a sign that they still felt they were under my control. That we hadn’t got as far as I thought we had. But what I’ve realized is that they ask because they respect and trust me…and that is huge. Think about it- kids who can assume they are going to be told no, don’t ask for permission, they just sneak or hide and hope they don’t get caught. Or they ask and are sorely disappointed and angry and frustrated. Kids who are punished when they do something they aren’t supposed to, are much less likely to ask in the future or admit the truth. The fact that they ask me so much means they are used to having their wishes heard and granted often, and that they respect that there are things I have to say no to sometimes. Our relationship is based on respect and understanding, rather than fear and manipulation.

Something else I didn’t foresee was how close it would bring my husband and I. Having such powerful conversations re-evaluating our thoughts and ideas about our relationships with our kids, and how to be the best parents to these kids we can be. It has been an incredibly bonding experience for us.

And lastly, one of the most unexpected benefits is how healing it is for me, to wholeheartedly accept, love and embrace who these children are. Indulging in their passions and doing everything I can to make sure they are fulfilled and loved feels just as good to me as it does them! Giving myself the freedom to say “yes! you can eat that pizza”, “yes! you can watch that scary movie”, “yes! you can have an extra $5 allowance”, “yes! I will take you to get a milkshake you are craving”, “yes! I will take you to midnight release of a new game”, “yes! we can go get a new book”, “yes! you can wear that outfit that I would never choose in a million years”, “yes! you can bring that backpack twice your size full of stuff you don’t need just to go to one store for 5 minutes”, “yes! I will buy you a new flavor because you don’t like that one”, “yes! I will watch you play that video game that I don’t understand at all”, “yes! you can stop the sport/class/lesson that you aren’t feeling passionate about anymore”, “yes! we can go up on the roof just because”, “yes! we can go jump in rain puddles at 2am because it’s an adventure”, “yes! we can roast marshmallows over a candle in the kitchen!”, “yes! we can move all the furniture and have a Nerf battle!”…all of that YES! pleases me so much. And that was not something I could have imagined in the beginning of this journey, when I was stuck in martyrdom.

When we began on this uncharted territory, I had no idea that what I would learn is the value of doing things because “it feels good”. That isn’t something we are taught. We are taught to do things out of obligation, supposed to, should, fear of disapproval, not upsetting the status quo, not making people uncomfortable, upholding tradition etc. Those things don’t rule my life anymore, and I wont let them rule my kids’ lives either!

Looking ahead again, I don’t know what another 5 years on this path will bring. My kids will be 12 and 16 and will no doubt be continuing to blow me away. I so look forward to seeing how much more we can unfold and unfurl and become more rooted in what feels good.

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Back to Good

I see it all the time and cringe- Wonderful, amazing, loving parents being hard on themselves in times of imperfection. We are responsible for so much, and we pride ourselves on knowing how to handle everything and keep it all balanced.

When we’re in the thick of it, we often end up in a downward spiral of guilt and anger towards ourselves that is hard to recover from. Unschooling life isn’t always perfect. Unschooled kids are not without issue.

It seems to me that a lot of Unschooling parents tend to feel like when joy isn’t overflowing in the family, it all falls on us; we aren’t providing enough, we aren’t patient enough, we aren’t reacting the right way, etc.

I have come to accept and understand that the junky stuff is just the other side of balance. It’s inevitable that we’ll have off days. We are four individual people living together, and while that is often simply amazing, it can also be trying at times. My goal is not to avoid all conflict within the family. Rather, my goal is to handle it as best I can so we can all bounce back swiftly.

In the heat of the moment, I have some simple strategies. It takes a lot of re-programming myself, but I try stop a blow-up before it starts. I can’t remember who came up with “Connect before you correct” but I love it. If the kids are doing something that isn’t appropriate for the situation and I feel like I need to intervene, I try to connect first by commenting on how much fun they are having, or what I do like about what they’re doing. I also try to say in my head what my initial angry reaction is, and then speak when I’ve been able to think first.

If I have already started to raise my voice I often catch myself in the middle and launch into a melodramatic growl or yell “You’re killing me, smalls!” or “You’re fired!” and we all laugh and I take a minute to compose myself. I also frequently use the imaginary rewind button, and so do the kids. Lastly, but most importantly- I always, always apologize.

Sometimes, things dissolve from a simple moment of annoyance, into a whole day or week of what can only be described as the funk.

When things have gotten to this point I start by making sure that I’m getting what I need. I might need to take a break and go out by myself for a while, or take time to pursue my own interests before I’m able to turn my attention to de-funkifying.

Give my anger/frustration/stress Action

Tiffani just wrote about the emotional and physical connection and I wholeheartedly agree. For me with anger, more than any other emotion I have to be active. I go for a walk, do some serious stretching, ride my bike or at the very least- throw some air punches, jump, flail and yell into a pillow (or even better, out loud if I have the space to) and get that negative energy moving onward.

Then, I Sit with what’s leftover

Once that anger’s ass has been thoroughly kicked, I breathe deeply and let the thoughts and feelings wash over me without filter. I label each thought and feeling as an outside observer: guilt, annoyance, stress etc. These thoughts and feelings are a part of me, but they are not Me. They are real, valid, acceptable and worth looking at, but they don’t define me. I don’t shame myself or use words of anger towards myself. I wouldn’t do it to my partner, a child or a friend, and I wont do it to me. I remind myself that my worth does not dissolve when I’m not being super-mom. I love myself despite my perceived failure, and I accept that everything I label negative is part of this journey. I don’t want perfection from my partner, my kids or myself. I want authenticity. Being pissed off, stressed out and frustrated is authentic.

Next, I Pin-point the cause

By the time I get to this point, I’m generally calm and ready for rational thought. This is when the work begins. I dig and pick at my brain until I find the root of the issue. I talk to my husband about it. I talk to my friends about it. I read blogs about the same issues. I journal, make lists and come up with what is really bothering me.

Teresa once shared a crazy notion with me, the gist of which is- when we’re mad at someone else, it’s usually about our self.

Let me tell you, that made me squirm. I have always been a blame placer, and the idea that my issue with someone else is actually about me was a little hard to accept. This truly radicalized the way I have dealt with every conflict since. Now, when I’m angry, I know the first place I need to look is inward. It’s uncomfortable and difficult, but always dead on. It’s not blaming myself and taking responsibility for every issue; it’s discovering why I’m being affected by someone else’s actions.

Once I’ve identified the culprit, I use many tools to deal with it. Often it’s something recurring that I just need to spend some time thinking about, processing, and putting back into perspective.

Reconnect

When things are out of whack in my life, it typically boils down to disconnection- simple as that. I usually find lack of same pageness is the problem. Sometimes it’s that I’ve been busy, distracted and unavailable, yet I expected everyone else to keep cruising. Sometimes the kids have an issue they are working through, and even if I can’t figure out what it is, I can still be available, present, authentic and anger-free. I take myself out of the equation; remove myself as the victim. I remind myself that when they are off and behaving in a way that I don’t particularly enjoy, it’s because they are feeling something. It’s their own issue coming from somewhere. It’s not personal, and it’s not directed at me, even though sometimes it seems that way. Once I start feeling sympathetic to their feelings again, I’m ready to be present without taking their actions and feelings personally.

Sometimes to reconnect, I look back through my blog or photo gallery. That usually brings back the inspiration to be the mom I want to be. It reminds me of what it is we do and what we’re all about. Sometimes I write (for the millionth time) the list of goals I have for myself as a person and mother. I also read the blogs I love and recommit to living mindfully with my kids. Once I have that feeling back, I become my kids friend again!

This is the fun part; I like to lay in the middle of the living room floor. The kids inevitably join me, I make crazy faces and use funny voices. Being super silly always helps. Sometimes I turn the lights off, put on a movie we all love and let the kids come to it if they want to. I might go sit with them where they are and take an active interest in what they’re doing. Once I feel like we’ve laughed, had fun and enjoyed each other again, if I still feel like it needs to be addressed, I might initiate a conversation about what’s been going on. I apologize for my part in the conflict and suggest we get back to feeling good again. I ask if there is anything they want/need to talk about.

Enlist the kids help

I occasionally run myself ragged over-analyzing. I look to everyone and everywhere else for help when all I needed to do was ask them! When I come clean about my frustrations/fears/concerns, (without anger or blame!!) they are always incredibly insightful. After reconnecting, I lay it all out there and ask for their help handling the issue. Even if it’s about an outside stress and isn’t to do with them directly I feel like it’s really helpful for them to see me problem solving. They help me brainstorm and have great ideas that really help and, at the very least, they get a better understanding of what’s been going on with me. If it is about something in our relationship directly, they also have great ideas and are able to hear my plight more neutrally without feeling automatically defensive because of my anger. They see that I’m trying to work on solving the problem rather than blame them, and that goes a long way in getting them on board with trying to find a solution too. They often just need to be heard which I’m at times unable to do without reacting negatively. Giving them the space to say everything they need to, without judgment, goes a long way.

We are raising our children in the real world. In this big ole life that is full of all kinds of wonderful, marvelous things and also unfortunately, some bogus shit. As much as I love and adore my kids, I’m not trying to shield them from that. It’s OK for them to see me screw up. It’s OK for me to admit that sometimes, I’m lost and confused and don’t know what the next step to take is. It’s alright because it shows them that when they feel lost and confused and don’t know what the next step to take is, they aren’t alone. They have someone to turn to, someone who can relate. Someone who has shown them that it isn’t about being perfect. We need to love ourselves despite our flaws, just like we love our kids. We need to treat ourselves the way we hope they treat themselves. It’s about being real, honest and giving a middle finger to the lie that says when we feel something other than happy, we’re wrong.

We are people. Fat, tall, short, skinny, wrinkled, freckled, scarred, happy, sad, young, old, excited, inspired, bored, lazy, stressed, overwhelmed, responsible, courageous, fallible human beings. We are all of it, life is all of it, not just the “good” parts. Let’s not teach our kids that on top of feeling shitty for whatever is really going on, that we are only lovable when we’re feeling shiny and happy that we should also add a generous layer of guilt and self-hate.

Posted in blog carnival, life, unschooling | 3 Comments

Yep…that’d be me.

>-I’m the mom who proudly walks through the grocery store with her daughter who is wearing green polka dot pajamas, cow printed rain boots, a rubber pig nose and oinking her responses to everything.

-I’m the mom who drives to 17 McDonald’s locations to trade the toy we got, for the one we want.

-I’m the mom who makes herself look a fool, just to see her kids laugh.

-I’m the mom who asks “what color hair next?” to her five year old.

-I’m the mom who will happily ride bikes in the rain and jump in mucky puddles.

-I’m the mom who perches herself in precarious positions to get a photo or video of my kids, because I think every thing they do is awesome.

-I’m the mom who waves politely when the neighbor yells to my son “Does your mom know you’re on the roof?!”.

-I’m the mom who loves her kids with wild abandon.

-And right this minute, I’m the mom who gets off the computer so her son can use it.:-)

*Post inspired by the Blog Carnival here.

Posted in life, unschooling | 5 Comments

23 Facts about Unschooling- A response to the GMA segment

>The Unschooling world has been turned on its head since the airing of a (poorly edited and disgustingly biased) segment on Good Morning America. Visit here for more responses.

**********************************************************************************
Here are 23 facts about Unschooling that I fear might be misunderstood.

1. Unschoolers love learning.

2. Unschoolers have never learned that learning isn’t lovable.

3. Unschoolers are exposed to a vast variety of things because they aren’t limited to the scope and sequence of their state defined curriculum.

4. Unschooling parents serve as tour guides through life for their kids and put much thought, effort and energy into presenting their children with ample opportunities to learn and have meaningful life experiences.

5. Unschooling parents are not ‘hands-off’.

6. Unschooling parents neither shelter their kids, nor let them loose with no guidance.

7. Unschooling parents do not believe their children have the right to do whatever they want with disregard to others.

8. Unschoolers don’t need strict rules or punishments because they are with their children enough to model appropriate behavior.

9. Unschoolers learn healthy eating/sleeping/hygiene habits because they learn to listen to their bodies needs and because they have positive relationships with role-modeling adults.

10. Unschoolers don’t rebel because they have nothing to rebel against- they love learning, love life, love family, love THEMSELVES.

11. Unschoolers are successful because they’ve never failed.

12. Unschoolers are confident because they’ve never been shamed.

13. Unschoolers are prepared for the world because they’ve always lived in it.

14. Unschoolers are respectful because they’ve always been respected.

15. Unschoolers learn ‘the basics’ (and more!) purposefully, and with joy because they are relevant to life.

16. Unschooling parents don’t believe kids are only capable of making good choices if we force them to.

17. Unschoolers are not against workbooks, textbooks, curriculum, or school.

18. Unschoolers believe workbooks, textbooks, curriculum and school are most beneficial when used willingly.

19. Unschoolers can (and will) be successful in life (with or without college) because they posses the internal motivation and skills to pursue anything they desire.

20. Unschoolers believe that curiosity about the world, eagerness to learn, and the ability to use resources to find information are more important than rote memorization of facts.

21. Unchooling parents believe children have valid opinions and grow up healthier if listened to, understood, and worked with.

22. Unschoolers learn about diversity in the world and accept other ways of life because they’ve never been bullied or ridiculed.

23. Unschooling families hope that people who don’t understand our lifestyle will learn about it as openly as unschooled kids learn everything else.

Edited to add:

24. Unschoolers learn to be reliable by growing up trusted.

25. Unschoolers learn to stand on their own because they’ve been given the space to make mistakes while the stakes aren’t so high and in a guided, loving, safe environment.

26. Unschooling parents do not choose this path out of a desire to be contrary or lazy.

Posted in unschooling | 14 Comments

Beginnings

I decided to participate in the blog carnival over at Enjoy Life Unschooling, the topic of which is Beginnings.

As encouraged by my lovely unschooling mama cohorts on twitter, I think I’ll try to transcribe how we began unschooling. This may get long…and messy.

I suppose technically, I could just say we started unschooling November 1st, 2007. That wouldn’t be such an entertaining post, so I’ll go on.

I guess I should go to the real beginning-

When N was born I was only seventeen and he was launched quickly into the world of formula bottles and daycare. I was going to school and working full-time. I really didn’t have the time (or ability) to put much thought into parenting him, let alone finding an alternative path. I wanted to give him freedom, to be his friend and respect him. All the people I saw parenting at that time were pretty mainstream and it seemed that my ideas and instincts were wrong and immature and were obviously the result of being a teenage mother. My wild ideas didn’t really matter a whole lot because I had no way of putting them into action anyway- it was a survival situation, even with the help of my family. At this time I’d had zero exposure to unschooling. I had never heard of any other way of parenting and all the people in my life were very traditional parents. I had little confidence and no reason to think anything different. My instincts were on though. I felt like what we were doing wasn’t right, I just didn’t know how to steer us in a new direction. I did co-sleep with him and could never bring myself to put him on a cry-it-out nap schedule. I cling to those things now as the first glimmers of the instinctual parenting I would later be lead to.

When I met my husband, N had just turned two. We were able pretty quickly to arrange our work schedules so that N could mostly be with one or the other of us but we still used the daycare and my parents babysitting fairly often. When we got married, we moved to the suburbs near my husband’s family. I started working overnights so I could be home with N during the day. I consider that kind of the start of really being in ‘mommy mode’. I was finally experiencing full-time parenting…and I was completely lost. I felt so bad for all the time I hadn’t been there. I decided I needed to get my ass in gear and try really hard to make up for lost time. We also decided to try for E and got pregnant right away.

I know now that we could have just been together. We could have played and bonded and built a solid foundation for our relationship. I could have learned who he was and how to meet his needs. Instead, I thought what he needed from me was to show him that I was the parent and he was the child. That there are rules in life. That you need a work ethic and a punishment/reward system so that you’re motivated to do the ‘right’ thing.

So, we launched into authoritarian mode. I wanted to be a good parent. I didn’t want to fail him by being too lazy or scared to discipline him. I snuffed out my instincts and did what I thought I was supposed to. I sent him to time-out and leaned against the wall listening to him cry, and I cried too. It was the hardest time of my life. I felt horrible about what I was doing. But my feeling horrible about it just furthered my thoughts that I wasn’t a good parent. Because I didn’t want to do it the “right” (authoritarian) way. I didn’t pin-point those feelings at that time though, I didn’t realize what was happening.

Meanwhile, we were planning a homebirth for E. My sisters and I were born at home and that’s something I had always wanted to do. Enter mothering.com. I started reading about home-birth and along with that came breastfeeding and co-sleeping and baby-wearing and miracle of all miracles– Attachment Parenting. I was moving in a new direction with E but so far, had no idea how to apply it with N.

When N was four I succumbed to the pressure of pre-school. That began the fighting with him (my four year old, remember?) to go to bed early, get up early, eat breakfast quickly, get dressed!, brush teeth!, stop playing with your trains- we need to go!, get my tired-from-nursing-infant-E-all-night-self out of bed and ready, and lecturing in the car on the way to school to please not get time-outs. I hated the whole thing. He loved the friends but clearly struggled with all the regulations.
[Not because he’s some sort of defiant hooligan, but because the school system isn’t designed to meet the needs of my N. It isn’t designed to meet any one child’s individual needs, but instead of realizing that they just decide that any individual needs they can’t meet must be wrong and you know, there’s a medication for that.]
I can’t remember how long that lasted–one month? Two? Not sure. I was pretty disgusted with the whole thing and started letting him stay home a day here and there. At some point the school had to have some construction work done so they were temporarily holding class in a birthday party room at a bowling alley. One day I went to pick N up, and walked in the automatic sliding door to find him directly inside looking at a video game machine, by himself. The rest of his pre-school class was past the snack bar, past oh– I dunno 30 bowling lanes, past an arcade, and in the birthday room. We left and never went back.

We decided to try homeschooling the rest of pre-school. My sister was homeschooling (and was homeschooled for a few of her elementary years by our mom) her son so she had sort of paved the way for me.

I bought a pre-school curriculum. I can’t get over how hilarious that is now! It was all play-based of course, but it was still a scheduled, regimented program that absolutely did not work for N. Instead of just hanging out with him, I was consumed with worry about him getting a head start, not falling behind, and having a well-rounded education. But he wouldn’t cooperate or sit still. It was hard managing infant E as well as giving Nwhat I thought he needed. We were not into gentle, consensual parenting at that point. So in addition to trying to ‘school’ him, we were also having constant power struggles about eating, clothing, TV, computer, chores and behavior. We were doing time-outs and not enjoying our time together.

I began to think that I wasn’t cut out for homeschooling. That I just didn’t have to tools to make it work, or that N just wasn’t suited for it. [It didn’t occur to me that the control, control, control was the problem.]
I was still planning on homeschooling for Kindergarten, until I heard that the public school right down the street was going to have a half-day kindy program. That started sounding like worth a shot. I thought that maybe having a group of kids to do things with would help, and after all, they are professionals, they would know what to do.

N began Kindergarten in the fall and the same old stuff was, the same. Arbitrary procedures, and policies. N was ridiculed the first day of school by the other boys because he was wearing a pink shirt. It was in fact, a boy’s shirt from Old Navy but it didn’t matter, he wasn’t allowed to be a Power Ranger. He got into trouble a lot for looking out the window. He couldn’t sit still. He wanted to talk to his friends too much. My five year old boy wanted to play all day. Terrible, right? We started playing hooky a lot and after a few months, stopped going all together.

I tried a more relaxed homeschooling approach for the rest of Kindergarten. He used an exercise ball to sit on so he could bounce while we did math drills and phonics flash cards. We played games where we would jump on different numbers on the floor and did some art and science kits. It was much better but not great. We were still having power struggles and more importantly, his social needs weren’t being met. We lived pretty far on the edge of town and it was difficult to get to a home school group that met anywhere near us. There was one small group but only one family in the group we enjoyed and they left after a short while. E would scream in the car the whole drive to anywhere. We were far from the zoo and museums. N was really wanting friends and I just couldn’t make it happen. When we heard about a small charter school in town, it sounded like a good solution.

It was a ‘free’ school. There was a 10:1 teacher-student ratio. It had three multi-age classes, and a lovely campus with a great playground as well as goats, chickens etc. The work was somewhat ‘individualized’ and population was largely progressive. It was all I wanted in a school. The only problem was…it was still a school. (Do you want to shake me yet?) We actually picked up and moved into the middle of town so he could attend.

He was immediately pegged for his poor handwriting and was slightly behind in math, both of which were our biggest struggles to make happen as homeschoolers. At first, I felt that confirmed the fact that homeschooling wasn’t working. It was right around this time I started reading SouleMama and she mentioned unschooling. At the same time, my sister had a friend who was unschooling and she passed along a link to this wonderful site.
My head started reeling. I began dropping N off at school and coming home and poring over unschooling links and articles. N was loving the social life at school but not the academics or the rules.

He began hating math. He hated writing. He stopped asking questions. His temper flared in the afternoon because he was tired and wanted to play but needed to do homework. He had to go to bed earlier and earlier because he just couldn’t get up in the mornings. He was sad about some bullying situations at school, even though he wasn’t the target. The playground politics were really difficult to navigate. I thought about all the options we had tried. We had given school a fair chance. We had given homeschooling a fair chance. He was only seven years old and hating school work and starting to lose his spark and joy for learning. He had always been so curious and that had all but faded. Did we really want to do this until he was 18??

I shared the unschooling links with Bo and we both agreed it was an option.
We brought it up with N. He was a little hesitant at first because he loved his school friends, and the pirate ship on the playground. He also thought of his not-so-fun homeschooling experience and I explained that it wouldn’t be like that again, we wouldn’t have to do ”work”. Since we were now living in the city, we could go to the big homeschool group AND, there was an unschooling group! Not to mention the easy access to parks and rec classes, museums etc.
He decided to leave school after Halloween, so he didn’t miss the carnival.:)

We FINALLY started just having fun together. We did projects- just for the fun of it, not for it to be something educational. We talked and laughed. We went to the library. He started Musical Theater and Gymnastics. We made wonderful new friends in the unschooling group, and re-met the friends we enjoyed from the previous group. Most importantly, we began the long road to healing our relationship.

I’m happy to report, his spark and curiosity is back. I can hardly keep up with all the questions he asks and we have a great time finding answers together. We explore and run around and discover. We enjoy learning and we do it just for the hell of it and couldn’t stop if we tried! He no longer hates math or writing. We are meeting his needs as an individual and he is thriving and happy.

It didn’t take long before the idea of ‘bedtime’ didn’t seem to fit our new free learning style. If he was suddenly interested in sewing something at 10 P.M., why wasn’t that OK? If he could learn math and science in a natural, non-coercive way– couldn’t learn to sleep when he was tired? Couldn’t he learn to eat when/what he wanted by listening to his body?

Could I finally put away all my fear and my conditioning and take a step back and observe my wonderful son? Could I learn who he IS without thinking about who I want him to be? Could I be humble and apologize and let him teach me? It turns out, I could. And it’s the greatest thing I ever could have imagined.

We’ve been unschooling, radically, ever since. That was 2.5 years ago and we haven’t looked back. We’ve let joy find us. We welcomed freedom and mutual respect into our lives. We are finally living. N and I are still healing. I grieve the time I lost with him every day. I mourn the wasted time I spent living in fear instead of trusting and loving. I’m still angry at my ignorance because it cost us both so much.

The ‘getting here’ was tough. It makes me appreciate every moment I have with both my kids, I don’t take it for granted. It’s not all roses and sunshine. The good news is that when things get gritty, I at least have the comfort of knowing it’s hard because we’re being brave. It’s hard sometimes but that’s because we are trying something new and different. We are working through our own baggage so that our kids don’t have to carry it for the rest of their lives. We are processing where our fears are coming from so we can look at our children with our eyes towards trust. We are far from perfect, but we are worlds from where we once were. When we stumble, we have a solid foundation to land on.

So, that’s how unschooling began for us. I relish the knowledge that it never ends. Every day is a beginning. Every hour, every minute, every moment is a beginning. A new chance to start doing better. A new opportunity to examine where we are and where we want to be. The chance to choose love over fear and connection through difficult times. To really see our children and experience life with them, as partners and friends.
[I fully understand that this path isn’t right for everyone. If you are happy and your kids are happy, more power to you! We weren’t, so we tried something else. I respect all parents everywhere that are doing their best for their children.]

Posted in blog carnival, thoughts on life, unschooling | 14 Comments