the network for radical unschooling families
Our oldest child (18 yrs) has difficulty accomplishing things and I guess I'm wondering how can you promote/encourage ambition? His primary interest is computer games. He recently (mths ago) bought himself an xbox and has some web membership where he talks to other players. I really don't mind all his playing, except as it conflicts with necessary farm tasks, and while he is hooked up the rest of the household has no internet service. My concern now is that he gave up his part time job and finds excuses not to work at anything, even helping at home. He'll start emptying the dishwasher, then leave some for me or his brothers to finish. When we put away laundry he simply hurls clean items into everyone's room,maybe on the floor. This time of year is BUSY on the farm, with animal births, barn cleaning, fence and pasture tending, garden, and of course the hay crop. There is A LOT to do. His younger sister helps with everything plus has a job in town. The younger kids help as they can. We allow for family fun time or personal down time; it's not like we're on him every minute. But he doesn't stay motivated to do anything--sports,work, college prep. We have always unschooled so there's been no deschooling breather. I tried to introduce him to volunteer work in the community and a local hsers group thinking he needed to get with other people but he quit on them too. He talked of living with his uncle (nearby) but told him "I'm not gonna work" and of course that didn't go over well. Has anyone any ideas?
I don't mean this to sound harsh, but as some mother birds push the fledglings out of the nest, it sounds like it's time to push this one! He is clearly taking advantage of the situation. Could I push my own son out of the home?...I don't know. But you have an adult on your hands who is basically refusing to be part of the family. He will find out very quickly that it doesn't work this way in the real world!! Short of telling him to go, I would implement some very strong consequences for non-compliance with the house rules/expectations/partnership...whatever you care to call it. Yes there is supposed to be freedom in unschooling, but I would not allow my son, living in my home (again, at this age or older) to continue on in this way.
*** how can you promote/encourage ambition ***
You can't. It's internal. Though there's lots you can do to discourage it.
Have you read Parent/Teen Breakthrough: The relationship approach. It should help you enormously. I can't recommend it highly enough. (It goes in and out of print but there's always used copies at Amazon.
*** My concern now is that he gave up his part time job and finds excuses not to work at anything ***
Is he depressed? Video games are a wonderful way of playing with ideas and experiences. They're also good for withdrawing from stress that someone has no control over.
Do you play with him?
*** His younger sister helps with everything plus has a job in town. ***
Don't compare them. Really. Even if the comparison never leaves your head, he'll feel it. If he's feeling like a failure, the comparison is far more likely to confirm it than light a fire under him. And damage his relationship with his sister.
*** it's not like we're on him every minute ***
The question, though, is what does it feel like to him? Even if it's only once a week it's likely it feels like every minute to him.
*** This time of year is BUSY on the farm ***
He didn't sift through possible lives and decide to buy a farm with all it's rewards and obligations. Fate dropped him into a family of farmers. If you make him help he will do it half-assed and grudgingly -- as you can see with the laundry -- or he might decide to leave.
*** He'll start emptying the dishwasher, then leave some for me or his brothers to finish. ***
It will help hugely not to think he's deliberately leaving it for you. From his point of view something more important has come along and he'll get back to the dishes when he can.
Practically speaking, people will need the dishes before he gets back to them. But it will help your relationship *hugely* to not assume he's abandoning the chores for others to do.
*** Our oldest child (18 yrs) ***
Lots of 18 yos are going to college. Adults generally see it as kids taking their first big step toward the adult world.
But if you look at the lives they're living, it's hardly that. Many of the college kids are out partying, drinking, throwing up, playing with sex, perhaps experimenting drugs. All while their parents are usually blissfully unaware. (Is he doing any of that?)
As far as development goes, it's more that they get to spend 4 years away from their parents breathing down their necks! They get to decide when to get up, what to eat, whether or not to go to class for the first time in their lives.
It isn't until they're 22 that they're making life choices. So, really, he's being pressured to be more adult-like and mature 4 years before college kids.
If he's not depressed, I'd say he's cocooning, trying to figure out what he'd like to do and at 18 he really isn't done growing. 18 is an arbitrary age for "being grown." Just as some kids walk at 9 mos. and some not until 12, some kids read at 4 and some not until 12, it's not reasonable to assume all kids have it figured out by 18.
The more doors you can open for him to have time to discover who he is, the better. It might be at home. (The game play *might* be a way of chilling. But it also might be his way of retreating from the pressure he feels.) Does he have any friends he can go backpacking with for several months? Might he do it himself? Funding something like that would be much cheaper than college and give him a chance to think separate from the family. (Maybe other people will have some better ideas!)
I really don't mind all his playing, except as it conflicts with necessary farm tasks
If "necessary farm tasks" have been a part of his life for some time, it may well be he's finally realizing that he actually does have a choice - he can say no. That's the downside of creating an environment in which there are "necessary tasks" for kids - it only works as long as they're willing to comply to some extent. When a person decides he or she no longer wants to be compliant, then those tasks are true chores - drudgery - and the natural resistance many people have to drudgery can then get in the way of empathy and personal motivation. So if he's been expected to help around the farm for years, his behavior is perfectly natural. Not all kids will react this way, but many do - it's one of the reasons young adults leave farms. If you want him to learn to be self motivated, he'll essentially need time to "deschool" from farming and any other "necessary tasks" around the home.
He'll start emptying the dishwasher, then leave some for me or his brothers to finish. When we put away laundry he simply hurls clean items into everyone's room,maybe on the floor.
He sounds resentful - have you told him he doesn't need to do those things? That you're happy to take care of them? Or are those some of the "necessary tasks" you expect him to perform? This kind of situation is a very good example of what happens when you unschool academics but don't extend your understanding of how people learn into the rest of life. He's reacting to household tasks (and farm tasks) the way school kids react to school work.
We allow for family fun time or personal down time; it's not like we're on him every minute. But he doesn't stay motivated to do anything--sports,work, college prep.
He's clearly motivated to play video games! He's not unmotivated at all, his priorities are different than yours. Maybe he's burned out and is using the games as a way to decompress, or maybe he loves playing games, loves the social aspect, loves the challenges, loves what he's learning while playing.
You seem to have some expectations for what he should be doing with his time and life - expectations that he do some kind of work, whether paid or academic or sports or farming. Can you let go of that for awhile? Look on the farm and household tasks as a kind of "school" you've put him through and give him time to deschool? It might help, as you're weighing out the work in your mind, to consider how you'd manage if he moved out, or went away to college, or rolled a tractor and was hospitalized. If he's retreating into games, then he's hurt, emotionally, and needs time to heal. If he's delighting in games, then he's every bit as engaged in a course of study as if he were enjoying a year of college. And since either way he Is motivated by the games, he's doing a kind of work. Can you step back from your own idea of work and see his? See his loves and needs and interests for what they are, rather than what you'd like them to be? It's hard when a kid doesn't share your loves. It's harder when a kid feels as though his parents' dream is more important than he is.
Does he have any friends he can go backpacking with for several months? Might he do it himself? Funding something like that would be much cheaper than college and give him a chance to think separate from the family. (Maybe other people will have some better ideas!)
Depending on what he's interested in, he could spend the summer travelling to various events and music festivals. Ray's done some of that. Sometimes he makes the money to go, sometimes gets it as a gift, sometimes he goes with a vendor as a helper and gets in free, sometimes he hitchhikes, sometimes he gets rides. In addition to music type festivals there are events like the Rainbow Gathering and Burning Man which attract a lot of people.
He could community hop. That's something quite a few young adults do - travel from one Intentional Community to another any way they can, staying for a few weeks to a few months. Most of the people who do that are travelling on parental money or trust funds, but some work to make the money to travel and pay expenses. There are work opportunities at some communities, but if your son is burned out on work, I wouldn't suggest that.
He could house sit. That one takes a bit of luck, but if you've been in an area for awhile, you could ask around, see who's going to be out of town for the summer and needs a house sitter. If he's willing to do a little more than just "sit" he could stay at a house with pets and take care of the critters while the people are away. Check with area Realtors, too - some folks still have "extra" houses from the housing bubble they can't sell and need a resident, someone to keep squatters from moving in.
Since you have a farm, you could build a small cabin or convert an outbuilding into temporary living space, so he could "live alone" if he wants, while also being able to have the amenities of home. That's something we did for Ray - built a little cabin a short distance away from the house and barnyard. Our house it tiny, so the cabin lets him have all the privacy he wants, but it's really just next door. It's making for a nice, low key, on and off transition from "living at home" to "living on his own".
Thank you so much for the suggestions. I've ordered the book from Amazon and I'm looking forward to reading that. My husband and I are totally comfortable with 18 yr olds not going straight to university. If our son expressed interest in doing something or going somewhere we'd encourage THAT. There as been resentment expressed by some of our relatives that he "gets out of" helping with farm stuff, but hubby and I always say "well he's doing something else right now" and don't harass him about it. But I'm sure he gets grief from others in the family. I hadn't thought of him "farm/work deschooling" so that's a very good insight. What sort of worries me tho is that he doesn't focus on things that used to interest him, like Karate. He now goes to lessons but does bare minimum and no competitions or shows, or fund raisers etc. He used to. He was all gung ho about finding jobs, making money, and then he blew off 2 jobs (didn't go) and now has run out of his own money. I know he won't be like this forever, I regard this period as a transition for him, like when they're bored bored bored and everything you suggest for them is met with "no!"
"But I'm sure he gets grief from others in the family."
Can you let other family members know that he's looking at doing something other than farm work?
"What sort of worries me tho is that he doesn't focus on things that used to interest him, like Karate. He now goes to lessons but does bare minimum and no competitions or shows, or fund raisers etc."
It's really okay to not do competitions or shows and maintain what you already know. It would be incredibly guilt inducing to force yourself to do something beyond what you want to do. It's possible that he still likes Karate and wants to continue having that skill, but doesn't want to go beyond where he is at right now. Karate dojos are really intense about maintaining competitiveness. Don't add to it.
"I know he won't be like this forever, I regard this period as a transition for him, like when they're bored bored bored and everything you suggest for them is met with "no!""
Then, by all means, don't add to it!!!! Look for ways that he's saying "yes" to life and be excited about it! Has he expressed what he wants to do? Even seemingly crazy ideas?
I think it's very normal for an 18 yr old to not want to enter the "adult" world. It's like an end to childhood and they know it, no matter how much they might try to play or party or enjoy their young-ness. They KNOW that they can't be a kid anymore and man, that STINKS! I'm 39 and I STILL WANT TO BE A KID!
My own 18 yr old is going through that right now. There are things she knows she wants to do, but at the moment she wants to play and really go at it all in her own way at her own pace and transition into adulthood without stress of "THE FUTURE", which can seem large and looming and intimidating to a young person, especially if that young person has no idea what they want to do or they believe what they want is unattainable.
There are adults who don't work and are professional couch surfers. I would never want that for myself, but there are people who actively choose that lifestyle. I can think of 2 right off hand that are mid 20's, who are smart, intelligent and completely likable and enjoyable people. They live entirely off the graciousness of others. Both of them have worked before and have given up their jobs to be transient. I don't entirely understand that lifestyle but people can and do live that way. Not everyone wants to be a work-a-day kind of person.
Give your son the opportunity to explore his options before he commits to something. If he's the kind of person who really commits to something when he has his mind to it, it's possibly why he's reluctant to work or commit without "feeling" it in his heart. It's a pretty noble quality, actually, being clear and only committing to something when he knows he can follow through with integrity. In my opinion, it's way better than half-assing it, which is what a LOT of people do.
*** There are adults who don't work and are professional couch surfers. ***
But they aren't unschoolers.
Not that unschoolers won't ever find themselves without a strong pull in a particular direction. But what looks the same on the surface with schooled kids won't have the same reasons behind it.
If a previously-schooled kid takes a break after graduating from school, it's more likely recovery. He's recovering from the pressure to do what his parents expect him to do. And figuring out who he is (what he loves and doesn't love, what sparks him, what is important to him). He's spent most of his life setting aside what he enjoyed in order to do what he was "supposed to." Unfortunately for many if they feel pulled in a direction their parents kept pushing them towards, they can resist that in a desire to make choices that don't feel like their parents' choices.
For an unschooled kid, it's more likely a period where none of the pathways seem more drawing than others. I hadn't thought of it this way before but it's a lot like writer's block or creativity blocks. If *he* actively wants to do something rather than waiting for time to change him, one of the better ways is doing things that are completely new and different.