… or helping the reluctant spouse/partner/other significant adult in your child’s life learn about unschooling.
It’s pretty typical that one parent takes on the bulk of responsibility for the minutiae of day-to-day parenting. Maybe one parent is working out of the home and one parent is unschooling with the children, though there are lots of different takes on that theme: maybe both are working outside the home and they alternate their hours; maybe the parent earning the bulk of the income works from home; maybe it’s a single parent working from home or using some child care, but with an ex in the mix.
Regardless of the circumstances, it’s understandable that it’s the parent who dives in and learns about homeschooling and unschooling that becomes more and more interested in moving the family in that direction. Often the spouse/partner agrees to try it out for a while, not understanding it very deeply, but trusting the more informed parent. Yet if one parent has taken the bulk of responsibility for learning about and implementing unschooling in the family, chances are the other parent will eventually start to wonder what’s going on. Maybe parenting philosophies seem to be changing and they puzzle over how they fit in. Maybe they start to worry about their children’s learning—that’s not surprising, they can’t find the school-type learning they are likely looking for anywhere!
On the other hand, it’s probably an exciting time for the unschooling-focused parent. You’re understanding unschooling more and more deeply and you can see the positive effects this lifestyle is having on your children, and yourself. Maybe you’re also feeling a bit frustrated that your spouse/partner isn’t seeing it too. Try to breathe through and release that. Be mindful not to fall into the role of teacher, doling out a reading list to be completed, the test being living under your watchful eyes. It won’t help them learn any faster and will probably cause lots of frustration in the relationship.
Keep putting yourself back in the mindset that you’re not trying to convince them, you’re trying to help them learn. With unschooling, when we look at learning the focus is on the learner, not on the teacher. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Look at things through their eyes, understand where they’re coming from. They care about their children. They want what’s best for them. Meet them where they are. What are they curious about right now? How can you support their learning about unschooling?
Well, how do they learn best? Unschooling is based on universal and lifelong learning principles, meaning there aren’t separate ways for kids and adults to learn. You’ve discovered your kids have their preferred ways of learning things—adults do too. So don’t be tempted to overwhelm your spouse/partner with information in the way you like to learn. Share the information you think they would find helpful, in the format and amount that best supports their learning style.
If they are keen readers and want to dive into the details, feel free to share the websites and forums and email lists and books you’ve probably been devouring for months. Maybe they’ll read, ask questions, and great conversations will ensue. But if they aren’t interested in learning that way that’s not a slight against you, any more than it is when your kids don’t take you up on an offer. You’re learning more about how your spouse likes to learn. And it’s to your advantage as the primary unschooling parent to help your spouse/partner understand what you’re up to so devote some of your time and energy to making that learning as easy as possible for them.
As you know, there are lots of ways to learn things! And when does learning typically best happen? When it makes a connection with some knowledge or question they already have or when they’re particularly curious about something. So notice when a piece of information about unschooling might make a connection for them.
Is there a particular issue or question your spouse/partner has right now? Let’s pick a topic, say video games, and brainstorm some ways you can share information over the next while to help them discover all the learning that your child’s doing while playing:
- Share information that directly connects to the question: sometimes sharing information online—by email, FB message etc—is less emotionally-charged than face-to-face discussions. You could forward a related unschooling discussion email, a forum post, or a link to a web page, maybe with a short preface from you about how it relates to your current discussions: “We were chatting about video games and learning the other night and I came across this information you might find interesting.” Not a long and drawn-out treatise citing a dozen sources—you’re not trying to overwhelm them, you’re trying to help them learn. Share in digestible bites.
- Point out related moments in your lives as they happen: “Hey look, Todd is reading through the game guide, figuring out how to do the puzzle he’s stuck on.” Maybe they don’t notice those moments on their own, caught up in their own things.
- Invite your spouse/partner to get directly involved: “Todd and I are trying to figure out this puzzle he’s stuck on, can you help us?” Hands on observations can be really helpful in seeing the learning that is happening. Even better, ask him to play! Often parents don’t realize how much quick thinking and analysis is going on during game play until they try it themselves and all of sudden have to manage their health level, their map, and their weapons, while quickly contemplating the most effective moves to make.
- Is there a book on the topic you think they’d find particularly helpful? If they don’t like to read, what about an audiobook? A podcast episode?
If there’s not a particular issue, you might want to generally help them feel involved and engaged in everyone’s day-to-day lives. You could snap and send a few pictures during the day, letting them see what you’re up to and including a brief description. Or you could put that information on a blog, even making it invite only so you share what the kids are up to only with close family. If you think they’d benefit from seeing other unschooling families in action, maybe find an unschooling gathering or conference through an online group with whom you feel a connection. If you have a local group, maybe set up a weekend park day so that more spouses/partners are able to attend.
The key is to share your lives with them so they feel connected, so they can see firsthand that their children aren’t being neglected but are living and learning and growing and thriving. Don’t expect it to happen overnight. Remember, they likely have less time each day to devote to learning about unschooling—but they are still fully devoted to raising their children.
And remember to support all their learning. Certainly about unschooling, but also about anything else they’re interested in. If they have a hobby, happily support that, just as you would your children’s interests. Listen to them share their joy. Share with them related things you think they might find interesting: an article online, a magazine you found at the store, a documentary you found on Netflix. Not only are those are nice and loving things to do, they are also real examples of unschooling in action.
Show them how unschooling works, don’t just tell them. Because learning is learning no matter your age.
And here’s a podcast episode that might be helpful, episode 128: Reluctant Spouse to Unschooling Advocate with Zach & Heather Lake.