Recently I talked about how you might choose to answer questions about unschooling from relatives during family visits. I thought it might be helpful to dig a bit more into ways you can deal with relatives who are more insistent about their negative viewpoint about your lifestyle: maybe when you change the subject, they look for any opening to change it back; maybe when you leave the conversation to go somewhere else they soon seek you out and start it back up; maybe they continue to express deep concern that your choices are ruining your children.
Before your next visit, it can help to take some time to think about their childhood, their parents, their educational experiences, their life experiences, and see how that thread led them to the confident stance they are taking with you today. Their journey is definitely different from yours! Imagine all the beliefs about parenting and learning they have to question in themselves to even begin to understand the advantages and possibilities of your unschooling lifestyle.
That’s a lot to ask of them—they just may not be willing to do it right now. At this point, a heated exchange of facts and beliefs isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind, just escalate the frustration and stress. It can help to remember that they are likely acting out of concern and love for their grandchild, or niece or nephew, yet you and your family shouldn’t suffer as a result of your differing viewpoints. When negative relatives get stuck on trying to change you rather than trying to understand your choices, and you are uncomfortable with their attitude and questions, I would suggest that you show them you understand their concerns and then actively disengage. Maybe something like, “I think it’s great that you care about my kids so much, however, how we raise them is our choice and responsibility. This is working well for us right now and it’s not up for discussion.”
If possible, it’s probably better at that point to change the topic of discussion to a neutral subject rather than walk away. Walking away can imply that the entire relationship rests on resolving the disagreement over your educational choices / lifestyle, while changing the topic more leaves the impression that, though that particular topic is off-limits for now, you aren’t dismissing them as a person because of your differing points of view. So … fishing? Home decorating? Movies? How are things at work? And if they choose to leave the conversation in a huff, hey, that’s their choice too. You’ve planted the seed that this disagreement isn’t the end of the world and have tried to make it about the ideas, not the people. If they come back to the conversation you can just remind them, “Hey, we weren’t going to talk about that any more, remember?” And change the subject. Again.
If you think they would be amenable to learning more about unschooling but are, for some reason or other, discounting the information they get from you, you could loan them a book about unschooling. Or send them a couple links to websites you’ve found helpful. It puts a bit of a cushion between you, and pulls the focus away from the people and onto the ideas. Or even better, of those resources you’ve found helpful, pick a couple that you think might meet them where they are in their understanding and that will, from there, walk them through the principles and ideas behind unschooling. But don’t overwhelm them with too much information or they may not even start.
And you can leave them an opening: “I’d be happy to answer any questions you have after you’ve read some of this information.” Next time they bring up the topic ask if they’ve read the information you sent along, and if not, say you don’t want to rehash the same old conversation. Change the topic. If they have, you could say “That’s cool, do you have questions from that?” If you discover they really only read it defensively to pick out points to argue, you know they aren’t yet open to learning about unschooling. Good to know. Change the topic.
I know I keep saying change the topic, but really, it’s that simple. Or politely leave the conversation entirely. A conversation takes two people and if you don’t see any positive reason to engage, don’t. For now, just practice that. Maybe you wish your relationships with extended family were deeper, but it’s not something you can force. You don’t need them to understand your choices right now. Remember that while they may be determined to tell you why your educational and parenting choices are wrong, those aren’t the only subjects in the world. Find others. And over time, without the pressure to come to agreement, even your negative relatives will see your children blossom with unschooling; they will see the beautiful relationships you have with your children in action. Show them, don’t tell them—that works all over the place, doesn’t it? Be patient.
Meanwhile, focus on the fun and interesting ways you can connect with them. Light conversations, games, playing outside, a polite hello and good bye etc. You can try to keep the relationships cordial until the kids are old enough that child-rearing fades away as a topic altogether. At that point your relatives will likely begin to develop real relationships with your children, based on shared interests and connections. And that’s where you wanted to be all along. 🙂