Saturday, May 4, 2013

black and white unschooling

I went to my very first homeschooling park day in the fall of 1995. That is almost 20 years of park days, field trips, conferences, camp outs, and sleeping on homeschooler couches in homeschooler houses. I mention this because I've been around enough of them that I have seen many trends in unschooling come in, take their turn, and flow right on back out the door. I've seen the compensating and then the overcompensating. 

Right now there is an interesting dynamic happening where I have started to see some unschooling parents decide to remove themselves, that unschooling and "child led learning" means minimal parental involvement. This makes me cringe. I wrote in a previous post about how much work I think it should take to unschool - it should take more involvement, not less. Involvement might look different than what you think, but it should all be based on your specific kids, and you should know your specific kids because of how attentive you are, which should guide your involvement. 

Other people are noticing this, and there has been a new backlash - of parents saying "oh, those froofy unschoolers are just neglectful and I am An Involved Parent which means If I Know what Is Best but my kid disagrees, they still need to do what I say." That ALSO makes me cringe. Both are so knee-jerky and reactionary to the other.

An example I saw on facebook today was that if you are trying to go somewhere, but your kid doesn't want to wear their seat belt - one type of parent would say "fine, don't wear your seat belt, I don't want to say no to you." The other type of parent is saying "the bigger picture of loving you means keeping you safe so wear your seat belt even if you are crying." 

This is so black and white it makes me crazy. And one of the problems with this type of black and white/either-or thinking is that it makes two teams. You become adversarial with your child. It's suddenly you versus them, instead of you and your child on the same team. It becomes What You Want and What They Want, and so now it's a matter of winning, and if you win your child is still unhappy. So where's the parenting win there? There are so many other things to try - that protect your child's safety and your relationship. All it takes, and that I have been seeing people lack, is creativity.

In the seat belt example, some creative ways of 
doing this, just off the top of my head are: find out if there is something physically uncomfortable with the seat belt and adjust, explain the reasoning behind seat belts, leave your kid at home with someone else, take the bus, don't go where you were going to go, take them to somewhere they want to go, decorate the seat belt with stickers..... whatever the situation is, it seems to me that with a little bit of thinking outside the box and creativity, you can come up with a solution.

The thing that kills creativity is panic and desperation. I think that's what happens when a parent is sitting there, looking at their unhappy kid, thinking "if only you understood you'd do what I asked AND be happy about it!" I can imagine the panic rising, the breath getting short, the tunnel vision zooming in, and soon the voice starts rising, and you speak in the language of your own parents, or your worst version of you. It's when the threats, commands, and punishment happens.
So instead? A deep breath. Think logically about "what is the worst thing that could happen now if we don't get in this car." Re-examine your "have to's" and "need" and "should's." Do you HAVE to pick up the dry cleaning right now? It might be inconvenient for someone? Is that worth more than your relationship with your child? Someone needs their medication ASAP? Call a friend. There are options. Go back inside (or go outside) and come up with a few. And then, after this situation has passed, think realistically about the future. Might this come up again? What can you set up or talk about or put into place now, to make the next time better? Don't wait until things are desperate again. 

my little sisters, playing backgammon at a camping trip, the year we started homeschooling

What do you think? Do you agree with this? Do you have your own examples? Post them in the comments section below.


  1. I like all your seatbelt scenarios. Mine would have LOVED putting stickers on them!
    I just wanted to add that another thing that kills creativity is rushing. When I look back and think of my least loving parent moments, I had packed too much into the day, or hadn't allowed enough time to get from Point A to Point B. So my house of cards was precariously standing there, and whoosh! three kids had other plans.
    Just thought I'd mention it.
    I like the blog and the post. :)

  2. Oh, that is a great point, Sue. That's totally the feeling I was trying to encapsulate -- that desperate, hands-full, something-spills, ack-we're-late feeling. I still have that issue... and I know that adding a good time cushion around everything helps a lot.

  3. We actually have a very similar scenario, so I am interested in how this essay doesn't quite address the problem. My son hates the car every time. So we have the gentle talks, we add the stickers and games, we make it comfortable, we buy different car seats, we open the windows, we put on music, we take the bus instead, we walk instead, we have groceries delivered instead, we moved to a city to take subways instead... but there is no "happy." There is only trying to make the car ride better, each time. There may not be a "solution". I disagree with the idea that "all it takes is creativity." Creativity helps, though.

  4. It takes changing ones mindset, and possibly the goal. If the goal is "he likes the car now" then there may never be a "solution". If the goal is a great relationship where a child feels valued even for his differences, then the solutions might include acceptance that this is how he is, validating that he hates car trips, commiserating that sometimes it's a necessary evil, and of course continuing to find creative ways around getting to places other than being in the car for him, as you are doing.

    I love this post. It's not about addressing a specific problem - seat belts - it's about the generality of a new paradigm where unschooling demands so much more from us as parents. Seat belts are just an example, not the topic.

  5. I think Robyn pretty much answered the way I would have -- and you are right, if the goal is "enjoy the car ride" then to say "all it takes is creativity" is too blithe,and ignores some of the logistical reality. But as Robyn pointed out, the goal is bigger than that -- to preserve/better your relationship, to empower your child to make decisions, etc. etc. And that is the place where I am seeing parents lacking in creativity and thinking outside of the box of that specific situation.