the network for radical unschooling families
This isn't a post about unschooling success. It's not about how we surmounted challenges and became the loving, thriving family. I do not have grown kids to give me faith that everything will all work out. No, this is very much a work in progress.
I will say that both my girls love homeschooling, love unschooling. I love unschooling.
But I will also say that my girls have divergent personalities that challenge me daily to be a better, kinder, more responsive parent on a daily basis.
One, 7yo now, thrives on the open-ended possibilities of the day. She is adventurous, persistent, she isn't bound by ideals of perfection. She is wildly creative. She adores science and "science-y things", as she would say it. She enjoys doing projects with me, and she enjoys working on her own and starting projects on her own. She loves being with me, but she also shows a fair dose of independence, especially when she is exploring.
The other, nearly 9, is not so easy going. What she loves about unschooling is the control she has. She is very methodical. She is talented at retaining facts, and creating organizational systems. She arranges and categorizes. She adores doing math in her head. She can have a deep attention span and can play a game she is absorbed in for hours when she is happy and calm. She is a perfectionist. She likes following instructions when building and creating. She is strong and fleet and energetic. She has an innate talent for public speaking and leadership. She likes the idea of rhythm and schedules and planning. In many ways, she would thrive in a great school, and I have absolute faith that her best years are in front of her. She *will* be in her element as an adult.
What they have in common is a powerful idea of how they want to approach the world. It makes unschooling a natural choice for them.
My oldest has presented the biggest challenge for me as a parent. How to balance her desire for predictability from me with her intense desire to do as she pleases? She catches me up. One minute she is content and absorbed in her work and play, the next minute she desperately needs my attention. Her emotions are deep and scary and--her great fear-- beyond her control. By the time we get to this point, I cannot distract her onto something constructive. So, we read. We watch TV. It is hard for me at that point to pull away from what I have started myself.
She is "brittle". She lives through her intellect, and is overwhelmed by her emotions--so big and frightening as a child. Yet at the same time, she knows herself well and as she ages, she is able to articulate those thoughts to me. For that I am relieved.
In response to her needs, I am encouraging more intention. Not to say a schedule, curriculum or anything. But creating a habit of looking ahead, looking for more depth and dedication. They live so much in the moment and that is great-- but they are missing so much of the things they want to do. And I believe the rhythm and dedication will soothe my daughter's days, as will creating a deeper well of skills, whether it is singing or sewing or baking or playing guitar. I find great satisfaction in what my hands can generate. She loves it, too, and at these moments I see the spark of happiness, but she doesn't seek it. Again, I see that a school setting could encourage her to pick up things she enjoys.
She adores the crafts at the Waldorf Winter Faire, at 4-H and Girl Scouts, where the project is laid out for her. So, I m trying to create more intention and planning in my own rhythm so that she can anticipate projects, partly of her own choosing, that she can follow along with. But she still lives very much in the moment, and the day comes when we've planned to do something and she wants to play her own game. Other times, she the expects me to pull something all together because she has a notion to do something, yet we've dropped the planning and can't have it all set and ready when the mood takes her. I'm still trying to figure all this out, and frankly, I don't feel very successful so far. However, I keep trying.
The girls fight for a good part of the day, and another chunk of the day is soothing hurt feelings and feelings of favoritism. There is so much comparison, jostling for favoritism. Evening comes and usually high energy and great moods. That makes me grumpy because bedtime is nearing. I am tired and impatient. Bedtime becomes a game and I become grumpy mama. I hate being grumpy mama.
When something, like bedtime routines, becomes a family issue, I want to sit down and talk about how to approach it. They scream and cry and fight me. I hear what they are trying to say through the anger. I agree to give the situation more time to soothe itself. A week, two, three weeks pass. It doesn't resolve. I finally have to bulldoze a different solution--one that will create more spaciousness and freedom, but they don't want to consider it. Then they try it--stomping and growling--and behold! It works better! It's no longer such a scary option, but I have to really push to be heard.
"Pushing to be heard". It seems like that coming from a parent is what can make unschooling a challenge for me. Unschooling has always been about letting the girls find their way to ideas, games, projects, solutions. It has been about them articulating their needs and being heard as genuine and not manipulative. In the process, my voice has been lost. When I did find it, I had to project it--loudly at times-- because I had not learned to speak up earlier. When they were younger, the conversation simply was not possible as much as I tried. Now, we can talk and I am learning to speak up for myself before I am fighting for air, and the potential for more collaboration is palpable.
But still, we struggle through the process. We are 3 headstrong people, all of us brittle in our own way. Our rhythms are different. Our needs are different. What they need from me is different for each of them, and therefore it cannot be "equal" or "fair" (and, yes, oh my yes, have we ever discussed the difference between the two.) The sibling rivalry is intense and emotional. We work every day, sometimes patiently at our best, sometimes the anger gets the best of us.
I expect them to be civil. I expect them to keep their bodies contained when they rage. I want them to learn to back off when they are on the verge of losing control. I want them to recognize when they are about ready to. I don't want them to tear each other down. I want to protect them both, love them both without fostering feelings of favoritism and abandonment.
Even though I see that unschooling is what fits for our family, I see we have so many struggles. I always imagined our life to be rivers and rocks, sewing machines and baking, chickens and playtime, riding bikes and taking walks, reading together and talking together, exploring and wondering and daydreaming. That would be bliss. I'd even take a few fights and discussion and creating solutions and reexamining our needs.
But that's what I have. I have those things in tiny doses. What creates the bulk of the day is family relations. Fights. Discussions. More fights. Downtime. Playtime. Fights. Tears. Every day, every week, I am pondering what my next step is. How can I be a better parent? I am the key player here, in that I am what I have the most control over. How I move through the day can be all the difference that is needed. So I do that, and discover it is not the only key. I still have those days when it all falls apart.
In the end, as hard as it is, I am convinced that I must be an optimist. Any sane, less idealistic parent would have carted their kids off to school. Maybe that's just one more way that I let difficult situations go on too long in hopes that a natural solution presents itself. Maybe our family would be better off with the kids in school. I have considered the possibility. But then I see the ways in which our family is thriving. I remain convinced that these problems would persist, and that being together allows us to work through these issues. If I'm right, when we emerge from our cocoon, we will conquer the world!
This long post is about the daily search to be a better parent. This is about the struggle to find our footing. This is about how things can be difficult and challenging. This is about creating my own habits, rhythm and intention and become an example for my girls. I thought years ago, when they were still quite little, that I would spend a couple of years creating habits to make me a better homeschooling parent.
Years later, I am still a work in progress. I haven't become what I had hoped. We are not where I thought we would be. It is much harder work than I ever imagined. But when I put all my thoughts together, I can't help but see how much is right. Struggling and being flawed does not equal failure.
So, apologies if this post does not clarify anything for you, or inspire you to choose unschooling for your own family. I apologize if this is a heavy dose of reality from someone who has yet to figure everything out. I am a flawed mother. I don't claim perfection in practice or ideals. There will be many places where you might be tempted to say, "If you did this, if you listened to this, if you opened your heart to this..." and I would hear you and honestly say, "Yes, I am trying."