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!

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Saying No To Guilt

I’m quitting guilt. It’s a terrible habit that wreaks havoc on your mind, body, and soul. There’s really no place for it in my life so I’ve decided to set myself free.

A couple years ago I began declining a lot of things. Social events, favors, work that wasn’t working, anything that didn’t feel good. If I looked at my calendar and felt overwhelmed, I started cancelling anything non-essential.

I’m an introvert and Highly Sensitive Person. Not having boundaries and the inability to say “No” was a recipe for disaster. I struggled with feeling lazy because I couldn’t, or didn’t want to do all the things everyone generally does. I would over-commit because I didn’t understand those parts of myself, and I didn’t know how to help others understand me.

I’m striving for a life of peace and ease. I enjoy waking up with a manageable to-do list. I like for that list to include a lot of things I actually want to do. Minimalism already sets the scene for calm in my home. But if I’m out in the world, constantly rushing around then I’m not able to fully appreciate the hard work I’ve done here.

When I allowed myself to start drawing boundaries, it was awkward. I would either be too blunt or too apologetic. I’d get defensive feeling like I needed to justify myself. Or depending on who it was, I would let the guilt take control and end up feeling ashamed at letting someone down. Our society is big on guilt and lacking in empathy. We are competitive with each other and ourselves. We are being held to unreasonable expectations so we hold others to those expectations.

The thing is, no one knows me better than me. No one knows you better than you. It’s up to us as individuals to figure out what works for us, what we want our lives to look like, and to take the steps to make it happen. If you want less stress, you are the only one that can make that happen for you.

We all have built-in obligations. There’s already so many things we can’t just let slide. But with all the extras, I like to be super intentional. Cancelling on people sucks, so I try very hard not to say “Yes” in the first place if it doesn’t feel doable. True friends should understand. If you’re my friend, I care about you. If you’re overwhelmed I’d rather you take care of yourself and see me when you’ve got less going on. And I absolutely don’t want you to feel guilty about it.

Being an advocate for my peace of mind is one of the best things I’ve done for myself. I encourage you to start saying “No” and not feeling guilty about it. Instead, give yourself a pat on the back for protecting your time!

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Gifts For Minimalists

My husband and I have never been big on exchanging gifts. I can’t tell you how many holidays, birthday’s, mother’s and father’s days and anniversary’s that we’ve looked at each other the night before and said “Um, I don’t have anything for you. Is that okay?”. The response is always a “ditto!” and a high five. In the beginning I felt a bit ashamed about our lack of gifting, like we were failing at relationship 101. Our culture has brainwashed us to believe that stuff like that is crucial. But I’ve grown to love the fact that we’ve never needed those consumerist expressions to affirm our relationships, and I love that we’ve gotten creative about how we give to each other.

Here are some gift alternatives for the minimalist in your life:

~Fill a box with your own items to donate. Let your partner unwrap it and check out how much you were able to part with, then take it to the donation center.

~Plan a day of low-spend activities. A favorite movie marathon. A picnic. A sunset hike.

~Fix or repair something around the house.

~Wash and Detail their car. Maybe service the A/C or something not working properly.

~Create a fundraiser in their honor.

~Grab a cheap journal and use it to write notes to each other.

~Put a dry erase marker in the bathroom medicine cabinet and start leaving notes and drawings on the mirror.

~Food! A care package of their favorite snacks and beverages.

~Candles, incense or other consumable if you know for sure they use them.

~An outdoor or potted plant, if they are into gardening.

~Replace, repair or upgrade something they have and use regularly.

~If you are artistic (and if you know your partner wouldn’t feel like it’s clutter) some handmade art makes a great gift.

~Write a love letter!

Gifts aren’t a requisite of romance. Express your feelings without a price tag. It might feel weird at first but I promise, after a while you will see how rewarding it is to give without purchasing anything!

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Start Now

Recently I’ve developed a habit of reading about something I want to do instead of, you know, doing it.

Just this morning I woke up and thought “I really want to start meditating daily” and I grabbed my phone to look up meditation and classes and retreats and books and documentaries and methods. I realized how silly I was being and decided to just start now. I popped a meditation playlist on Spotify, put my phone on silent and sat with my brain chaos for 20 minutes.

It was lovely.

When I was done I realized that because my phone was silent I missed the timer for my laundry being done and ran to switch it where I ran into a neighbor and talked about pool maintenance training and then came back home where my daughter was complaining of starvation and boredom and a cough that wont go away. Ha! Good thing I gifted myself that 20 minutes!

I’m leaving this reminder here to start now, whatever it is you (or I) have been putting off. Like now. Get off the computer and do it! :)

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Joy Is Not My Goal

I was washing dishes after putting a frittata in the oven for dinner. One of my daughters friends had just knocked on the door asking to play. I told him she was sick and he handed me a flower and said “Aww, that’s too bad. Give her this and tell her I hope she feels better.” A smile spread across my face as I went back to scraping oatmeal out of a bowl and watching my neighbor watering the plants in my front yard. I thought to myself- “What is this? What is this feeling? Joy? No. Melancholy? No.”. And then my breath caught in my chest and tears pricked my eyelids as the realization dawned.


Holy shit!

noun: contentment

a state of happiness and satisfaction.

“he found contentment in living a simple life in the country”

synonyms: contentedness, content, satisfaction, gratification, fulfillment, happiness, pleasure, cheerfulness;ease, comfort, well-being, peace, equanimity, serenity, tranquility “finally being alone brought her a contentment she’d never known”

A lot of media I see, especially for women, leads us to pursue joy. This idea that our days can be filled with joy if we simply follow our dreams, be brave, do big things, seize the day, gift ourselves luxuries, adorn our bodies and fill our spaces with magic. I see so many How To articles on the steps to take to live more fully, be more present and finally start feeling happy. But almost all of them that I’ve seen involve purchasing something, often more than one something. “Get yourself those boots, girl, you deserve it!”.

After reading many of those myself, I felt more empty than ever. Because I can’t always do big things and I don’t want to pacify myself with purchases. Sometimes, in fact most of the time, all I can do is get through the day with my kids clothed and fed and it’s 50/50 whether I’ve managed the same for myself.

Since October and then January when I did the Minimalist Game and got rid of so much more stuff, I finally saw and felt a shift. My spaces were clearer. My mind was clearer. I knew I was ready for new goals, new routines. But I didn’t want the same habits and patterns. Generally I would do something big, and then when it was over I’d feel like I was on pause until the next big thing happened. Or, I would buy something new and the thrill would pass quickly and I was adding something new to my wishlist. So, instead I asked myself what I wanted to feel, not do or buy. Contentment. I want to feel at ease, peaceful, satisfied. I wanted to feel happy even though my life isn’t all travel and new experiences constantly.

I wasn’t enjoying the day-to-day because my regular days at home didn’t feel indulgent enough, joyful enough. Not that I didn’t have happy times, I had many. Between those happy times though, I felt kind of…antsy. Life didn’t look like the articles I read about living fully. Plunging a toilet doesn’t feel joyful (trust me, I just did it). Cleaning our pet rat cage doesn’t feel joyful. Grocery shopping doesn’t feel joyful. What BIG, EXCITING, BRAVE things can I do in between breakfast, dishes, laundry, sweeping, making lunch and doing dishes again? The truth is, I can’t do joyful all the time.

But contentment? Oh, yes. I can do that. I am grateful for the simple beauty of my life. I can be content with my fewer possessions. I can sit in any chair of my sparse home and feel content. I can walk to the garden, my fingers pulling nourishment out of the soil and feel content. I can walk to the laundromat full of contentment as I smell and see the spring blooms. I can do home makeovers with my daughter (instead of shopping) and feel content. I can watch my son practice bass and revel in contentment. I can make meals and then clean them all up, full of gratitude and contentment. I can sit in my rocking chair reading, chatting with my husband while he works his second job and I can be overcome with contentment. I can stand at my kitchen window scraping oatmeal out of a bowl while my neighbor water the plants in my front yard and feel contentment.

My life is full and rich if even when all I do in a day is commonplace. And for me, it took getting rid of so much of the stuff I thought made me happy to create the space for contentment. With all the stuff around I was too distracted, too wrapped up in trying to find joy by sitting on my bed with perfect blankets and pillows with an adorable mug of fancy tea while wearing my perfectly “me” outfit/accessories. I want to feel fulfilled, satisfied, at ease and peaceful even sitting alone and naked in an empty room.

If you suffer from unattainablejoyitis, seek contentment instead. I highly recommend you start by eliminating. Eliminate stuff, obligations and commitments. Eliminate more stuff, even stuff you like a lot. Come on, more. Shop less, way less. Do less. Plan less. Read more books. Walk more. Walk slower. Sit outside without your phone/computer. Get up earlier. Talk less. Listen more. Breathe deeper. Eat more plants. Drink more water.

That’s it.*sigh* Now doesn’t that feel better?

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Don’t Surround Yourself With Things You Love

I have seen people write “surround yourself with things you love” and I think it’s terrible advice, kindly given. The notion is meant to convey that the things around you should be things that feel nice, that you enjoy. That your home should be full of what makes you feel cozy and happy. But as I pack my house for our upcoming move, taking down the remaining pieces of art that have survived the latest cull, I’m seeing how unproductive it is to surround yourself with things you love. You really can have too much of a good thing. Because with bare walls, I feel more peaceful in my house than when the walls were hung with what I loved.

If I were to make a list of what things I love in a home, it would look something like this:

  • Lush textiles. Colorful, bold art that whispers to my soul. Bells and twinkly lights. Vintage furniture. Plants and more plants. Piles of pottery dishes that beg to be ate upon. Plush pillows that invoke cuddles. Curtains that sway and filter light. Interesting lamps. Soft rugs. Unique ephemera. Books, oh goodness the books. Beautiful candles, and earthy incense. I could go on and on…

On the contrary though, to make a list of what I love in life…well it’s pretty different.

  • My family. My friends. Food. Music. Traveling. Dancing. Laughing. Sunrises. Sunsets. Trees.

Why does my house look so different from what I truly value?

Why is our outward such a contradiction from our inward?

Aside from the practicality that you cannot eat off of sunsets or cover up with a tree…

What I learn from this is that it’s easy to find stuff you love. I think it’s great that we can delight in things so easily. But it’s also easy to fool yourself thinking that you’re enjoying the ‘simple pleasures in life’ when you surround yourself with things you love e.g. a pretty mug, a floral painting, a sandalwood candle, when what you’re really doing is adding distraction and complication. Just because you like something doesn’t mean you need to own it. Owning so much stuff, even if you love it, really has a profound effect on our sense of inner peace, let alone our time and money. More “happiness” to take care of. More “simple pleasures” to spend money on.

Maybe it’s because we ‘love’ too casually. Maybe it shouldn’t be used with regard to material possessions at all. Look at your very most favorite thing in your house. Do you love it? Actually love it? It would be easy to say yes. But I hope the real answer is no.

Let’s stop loving things. Let’s stop thinking happiness comes from things. Let’s remove the distractions. Let’s surround ourselves with people we love. Let’s surround ourselves with experiences we love. Let’s stop being afraid to let go. Let’s love ourselves more than our stuff. Let’s prove it!

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Love the Dreaming, Not the Dream

I had a pretty wild experience this week. I started Monday doing some major cleaning and purging on our house, as I do in big sweeps a few times a year. I had been digging into cabinets and drawers and corners, which are already pretty organized in the first place but had the traces of lazy minimalist effort of the last few months. Living the way I strive to takes constant vigilance over what comes in and out of the door, and because I choose not to lose peace over it, I get fairly lax with it at times. But then a few months later I freak out and sort everything again.

We live in the house my grandparents bought 60 years ago. The house my father and his siblings grew up in, all six of them divided between two small bedrooms. It’s an old house and hadn’t been well maintained for the last 24 years since my grandpa died. We did some renovations to it when we moved in, but there are a lot of spaces in it that are just plain old and ugly. I love the history of this house and feeling connected to my grandma. But I have struggled to make it cozy and ‘my own’ and find ways of loving it in spite of the fact that I’d rather be living in a tiny house, or a 5th wheel traveling, or a cabin in the woods or tiny beach cottage, or a downtown loft, or, or, or…

In all those years, my grandmother accumulated enough Stuff to feed, clothe, house, medicate, and give dowry to an army. For real. It was a lot. It took my sister, father and I a long time to sort through everything after she had a stroke and went to hospice. I had already been well rooted in my love for simplicity, but that experience may have tipped me over into die-hard. It was so overwhelming and painful and frustrating. It reminded me of when we took our first dive into minimalism and purged 75% of what we owned and moved from a big house to a small apartment. It reminded me that I never want to live like that again.

Anyway, this week I was making short work of things and taking pictures of my progress as I went along, planning to start a blog series about being a minimal-ish family. I was feeling great about what I was accomplishing, but still struggling with all the parts of this place I don’t like. And the underlying feeling of sadness that this isn’t where I want to be.

On Thursday I had been at it a few days already and I spent the morning elbow deep in the kitchen cabinets, drawers and shelves. I had to pry myself away because our son had a homeschool group gathering to go to at a new friends house. I followed the directions on my phone and drove there, but my mind was still at home making piles of stuff to get rid of. We pulled on to the street and drove past the corner house, which happens to be my Favorite House of All Time. I’ve loved this house for at least 15 years. It’s green, and it used to have a pink/purple roof. I fell in love with it long ago and my mom calls it Brianna’s House. We drove down the street and couldn’t find the address, so I made a u-turn and realized, it’s the green house. On the corner. The one I love. “My” house.

We pulled up and I just sat there staring at it for a minute. This is the house I drove by for years whenever I was within a 5 mile radius. I would look at it and think that anyone that lived there must have the perfect life. And that if I was ever fortunate enough to live there, that would mean I had been successful. My dream come true. I was fighting back some very confused tears, but I had to pull it together and take him in. We went into the yard where everyone was gathered. The kids were building a giant marble run in a tree and hanging out by the chicken coop playing with the baby chicks. I sat outside with the other mom’s and composed myself. I had only met the woman who lives there a few times, but it’s funny because I told Bo the other day that I get good vibes from her and wanted to get to know her better. Now I know, she has fabulous taste!

I kind of avoided going inside but needed to eventually. I walked through the living room and family room, dining room to the kitchen. And it’s even better than I imagined. The fireplace, the brick, the wood, the built-in features that are old and lovely. *sigh* I stood in the kitchen and took stock of my feelings. I was really emotional and tears were stinging my eyes. I realized at once that I wasn’t upset at all. I kind of had no idea what the hell I was feeling. I went back outside and after a few minutes I finally said to the owner (AKA my new BFF, she just doesn’t know it yet) “So, I have to tell you that you live in the house that I’ve wanted to live in forever.” And then I told them the story and she said something like “Sorry I got it before you” and I blurted out really rudely “That’s OK, I don’t even want it anymore, it’s too big!”. I felt like an ass, because hello? It’s the best house ever and she lives there and obviously loves it! But that’s when I understood.

I wrote this message to some friends when I got home-

—–I stood in my dream house, my literal dream house and…didn’t want it. Not one part of me. It’s not my dream anymore. Surreal. Reaffirmed what I know, which is that everything that’s right for me is already in the works. My dream is waiting for me and just because I don’t know what it looks like wont stop me from moving towards it. Because I’ll know it when I’m standing in front of it. I’m so glad that I’ve been open-hearted and open-minded to growing and receiving detoured paths. I am sitting in my grandparents 60 year old beater of a house in a shitty neighborhood. Broke. Miniscule savings. No future stability. But I’m confident this is the right place for me right now.—–

It’s hard to be in limbo. It’s hard to see how things are going to work out when you’re just trying to get by. But so far, my life has taken so many twists and turns and paths I never could have expected. Curves and forks in the road snuck up on me and forced me to make split-second decisions. Decisions which have changed my course forever. And there’s any number of them still out there. That kind of thinking *could* leave me feeling like it doesn’t matter what I do, so what’s the point? But what it really leaves me thinking is that the dreaming is more valuable than the dream. I love to be inspired and cook up a plan and go for it. I love setting goals and busting my ass to accomplish them. But I don’t want to be so attached to the end result that I miss the chance to veer off the road and onto a side street if that’s what I feel called to do at any given moment.

Right now, I want to keep working on this old house and making it cozy for as long as it takes for us to be in a better financial place. But in my head I’m dreaming up all kinds of other options. And I’ve got my heart wide-open for any new dreams to wander in and make themselves at home.


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Learning To Fall Gracefully

Performing at Tucson Pride was a really great experience. I have re-capped the whole event over here. What I left out of that post though, is how I fell while on my stilts.


My stilts make me 7’4″ and if you have never experienced falling from that height, let me tell you, it ain’t fun!

The first thing you (should!) learn in stilting is how to fall properly. Falling forward is important to prevent injury. Doing that intentionally over and over again helps you get over the fear of falling, and drills what to do in your head.

I am a total novice stilter. The first time I got up on stilts I agreed to perform at a show taking place 3 days later. I just happen to have good balance and picked it up quickly. But, that was back in June and I hadn’t done it again until the day of Pride!

When I got up I was a little wobbly but not too bad. I was mostly nervous about walking through the crowds of people and the uneven park terrain. Once we started walking, hooping, dancing and mingling I was feeling great. We took pictures with a ton of people and several people asked “have you ever fallen???”, to which I replied “only on purpose!”. I should have known those words would jinx me!

I was feeling solid. And maybe, a little too comfortable. We made our way back to our booth and one of my cohorts was tossing her hoop up in the air. That’s when the brilliant idea hit me- “You throw it up really high and I’ll catch it!”. She threw it, slightly out of my reach. I reacted quickly with a response that, had I not been on stilts would have been OK. But I was.

I started stepping forward, trying to regain balance but I couldn’t do it. I stumbled probably 15′ in my attempt to save myself, but the inevitable was upon me and I was going down. Riiiiiight next to/on top of a tree. I started to panic and then in a split second, my instincts kicked in and I leaned into it and fell, somewhat gracefully. The hoop I had been holding got stuck in the tree on my way down and dangled way out of reach above my head

I assessed myself for injury. Nope, all was fine. Not a scratch on me. I said a quick prayer of gratitude for knee pads. I heard someone laughing, which could have been at something else, but c’mon!  People kindly rushed over to check on me. I’m on the ground, my hoop stuck in a tree and now I have to get up.

Picture yourself on the ground with stilts on- how do you get up? It’s HARD! I had to crawl, on my hands and knees across another 10 foot stretch of grass to get to a tall light-post I could hold onto. Then I did a super sexy just-born-giraffe pull, squirm, shimmy, climb move up on to my stilts again. Then, I walked over and pulled my hoop out of the tree. It was quite a site, I’m sure.

I waited for the embarrassment to hit me but somehow, it didn’t come. I mean, I felt silly but I was actually relieved! I got my first fall out of the way. I didn’t hurt anyone. I didn’t get hurt. Now I know what it feels like and I don’t have to worry about it. Maybe I’m totally wacky, but I take comfort in the worst-case scenario happening first. I just want to get it over with! (Like the time I did my first performance at a fancy club. We were up on this balcony, a few stories in the air. I was so afraid I would throw my hoop off the side of the building. And sure enough, I threw my friend’s $400 LED hula hoop. It first landed IN A FIRE PIT, and then fell into the crowd of people below. Now *that* was embarrassing.)

I stilted long enough to get comfortable again so that falling wasn’t my last experience.

Later that night we rocked our hoops at a club after party. We all got back up on our stilts and hooped, and danced like happy fools. I felt so confident! I was inspired by my other stilting, hooping friends who were able to move so fluidly with these awkward, heavy legs. I started doing things I didn’t know I could do! It was fantastic. Until…

We ended up in a pretty tight space dancing closely together, with a bunch of people on the ground below us, also dancing. One of the other stilters and I were dancing together. And all of a sudden, our knees did some bizarro knocking into each other thing and she lost her balance and had no choice but to fall, right at my feet. I had gotten bumped when she started falling and now I was going down, for the second time! She was on the ground right in front of me. I had the choice to throw myself sideways and risk wrenching my knees, or land of top of her. I totally chose her.

I proceeded to make my slow-motion dissent to the ground, my impact cushioned by my fallen comrade. Now in the middle of this big ole party, are two bedazzled, costumed stilters in a laughing pile on the ground. We managed to detangle our intertwined long legs and then we both had to crawl through the dancing crowd in separate directions to find something tall to grab and just-born-giraffe pull, squirm, shimmy, climb move back up. Again.


I was so glad she wasn’t hurt, so glad I wasn’t hurt, so glad the crowd parted and let us fall without hurting anyone else, and so glad that none of our lady parts came out of our costumery. Because while I managed to remain collected in the face of such steep downward trajectories, I’m not sure I could bear a nip slip or booty short split too. ;-)

I waited again for the wave of humiliation. I don’t know if I was just having so much fun, or if the life lesson analogy is true and I have come to a place of handling failures with minimal ego bruising and a sense of humor. Or maybe it’s because I can’t take myself too seriously when I’m covered in glitter, dressed in a mock marching band outfit and fake eyelashes, surrounded by a bunch of joyful, celebrating, half-naked (not to mention drunk!) people. For whatever reason, I just kept on dancing, hooping, loving life and loving myself. For taking the chance. For being brave. For allowing these opportunities in my life, and stumbling through them even when it’s hard to stay balanced.

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Guest Post

I posted over on the Cirque Roots Studio blog today~

Come check it out!

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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.

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