Reader Question (edited for length):
My husband is very wary about unschooling. He is not convinced it is good / feasible / livable. He comes home from work with questions like “What did you do today?” Or says things like “Come here, I’m going to teach you how to …” (read, multiply etc). I’ve tried so many times to explain what we’re doing during the day, how I think it’s beneficial for our children, but he stalls. One day he asked me to follow a curriculum. I asked him which one he thought.
How can I show him better that we are learning? That academic-style learning is not the only way? That watching movies and playing video games is as much learning as burying your head in a workbook? That when you do something you love, you are learning “long term”, not just for the sake of it?
I’ve tried so many times to explain what we’re doing during the day
The frustration expressed in this question is palpable, and understandable. You’re working hard to understand and implement unschooling. You see how beneficial this learning style is for your children and you’re gaining confidence that this is the path you’d like to travel with your family. You love your children and want what’s best for them.
He comes home from work with questions like “What did you do today?”
Yet, your husband’s perspective is also understandable. It’s pretty easy to imagine that conventional school-style learning is what he knows—in his mind, that is how people learn. So when the answers to “what did you do today?” don’t match with what he believes learning looks like, his concern is reasonable. He loves his children and wants what’s best for them.
How might the two of you move together through that seeming impasse?
In my experience, when conflict arises it often helps me to take a step (or three) back and find our common ground. In this case, you both love your children and want what’s best for them. That’s a great big piece of common ground where you can both stand firmly together. Talk about this bit, remind each other that this is where you’re both starting from, that in the end you both want the same thing.
He is not convinced it is good / feasible / livable.
Standing on that firm, common ground, and as the person interested in pursuing unschooling, take a moment to think about your role in moving forward. Is it helpful to see your role as convincing your spouse/partner that unschooling is the way to go? Convincing pits one person against the other: one has to win and one has to lose. In the end either you convince them or you don’t. Is convincing a useful strategy in your unschooling communication toolbox? Would you use it with your children? Does it support their real learning?
What if you shift your role from convincing to supporting? From trying to stuff your unschooling knowledge into your spouse to supporting them as they learn about unschooling? It seems like a subtle shift, doesn’t it? I mean, in both cases you’re giving them information you’ve discovered. But when done with the intent to convince, there’s an undercurrent of power struggle that adds such challenge to the mix. When done with the intent of sharing the information, without strings attached, your husband will likely feel more free to examine the information itself, without worrying that any interest he shows means giving up ground in a battle of “will we or won’t we unschool.”
As the at-home parent you have more time each day to dedicate to the effort, and to observe your children’s learning in action, so it’s natural that your husband’s learning about unschooling will take longer. To support them, think of ways you can share your growing knowledge and experience with them.
Release your expectations. (But keep your vision!) Drop the battle. Explore unschooling together.
What might that look like in action?
Or says things like “Come here, I’m going to teach you how to …” (read, multiply etc).
Meet your husband where he is in his journey of learning about learning. This is what it looks like to him right now. He’s trying to engage with his children, and that’s great! If your children enjoy it, cool! They’re spending time with Dad. If they don’t, that will likely be clear to your husband from their reactions. Help him explore and learn from that experience.
Support him as he develops his own unique relationships with his children. Help him get to know them better. As you chat about situations, about your children’s actions and reactions, share with him your understanding of their points-of-view. The more clearly he see his children in action, their joy and their frustration and their learning, the easier it will be for him to understand the ideas behind unschooling.
I’ve tried so many times to explain what we’re doing during the day,
how I think it’s beneficial for our children, but he stalls.
Revisit your communication style. If what you’re saying isn’t being heard, try something else. Maybe try different words: often we explain things the way we’d like to hear them, but we are not our spouse. What words might work better for him? If he’s more familiar with educational language, don’t use unschooling language with him for now. Meet him where he is.
Maybe try dropping the words altogether and going with actions, actions from which he can come to his own conclusions (but don’t set him up in an “I told you so” way). Try draw him into the same kinds of situations with your children that helped you better understand unschooling. Give him the time, space, and experiences that will allow him to discover the beauty and effectiveness of unschooling.
I suspect a combination of these kinds things will help more than continuing to reiterate what you’ve already said. As you would do to understand your child’s point-of-view, do the work to understand and empathize with his perspective.
Remember, just like unschooling looks different for each child—there is no unschooling curriculum for everyone to follow—learning about unschooling looks different for every parent. Because we each have our own unique set of experiences from childhood and beyond, the pieces of information and observations that will help unschooling “click” for each person will be different. That’s why deeply understanding your unique child and their perspective helps you better support their daily learning; and why understanding your spouse and their perspective will help you better support their learning about unschooling.
One day he asked me to follow a curriculum. I asked him which one he thought.
If the disconnect has gotten this far, if this turns out to be the place you need to go to meet him, ask yourself what’s the worst that might happen? Does it feel like the end of the world? Why? I’m not belittling those feelings, I remember them well! Yet, can you can take a moment to pull up to the bigger picture? What’s important is the people in your family.
If you would like to move your family in the direction of unschooling, maybe here is where your family starts. Remember, this isn’t a forever decision. Maybe following a curriculum for a while will help your partner transition to unschooling—can you think of it more as a stepping stone? That has been the path for many unschooling families: they came through homeschooling. Maybe you can explore ways to present the curriculum so that it’s reasonably enjoyable for your children. It’s definitely more work for you, but right now moving to unschooling is your goal, so that’s understandable too.
Or, maybe you can talk with your spouse about giving unschooling, say, a year to try out. Get to that common ground of both loving your children and wanting the best for them and explain that from what you’ve learned about unschooling so far it makes a lot of sense and you’d like to explore it for a year and see what you guys discover. Ask him to observe with you during that time; not judge. Even if you’re feeling quite sure that this is where you want to go, you don’t know what the future holds. If you can release your tight grasp on unschooling as “the answer” and choose to see the next dozen or so months as exploring it together as a family, I think that can go a long way to releasing the friction with your spouse that you’re feeling right now.
Either way, it’s definitely important to keep your spouse in the loop!
For some detailed suggestions on ways to involve your reluctant spouse/partner/other significant adult in your unschooling days and help them learn more about unschooling, you can check out my post, Learning is Learning No Matter Your Age.
There’s one bit from that post that I want to reiterate here: being supportive of all your partner’s joy and learning will go a long way to helping them discover the joy and learning of unschooling:
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.
Because really, it’s not just about the unschooling. In the bigger picture, it’s about how your family chooses to approach life. 🙂