LIVING JOYFULLY NEWSLETTER
Issue #4 | Nov 30, 2012
NOVEMBER’S THEME: Parenting to support unschooling
Hi again! I hope things are well with you and your family. Things are happily busy here, as usual. Lissy arrived home from New York City last night. It’s so fun, and a bit strange. I gave her a tour of the house, pointing out what are usually those small changes that you barely notice, tweaks in things to help them flow better through our days, but after six months there’s enough of them to put on a little show!
This month I’ve been writing about parenting that supports unschooling. But parenting is a bigger picture topic than the educational philosophy that your family chooses to pursue—everyone with children is parenting.
The parenting ideas I discussed aren’t exclusive to unschooling families. Any parents with whom these ideas resonate can incorporate them into their family relationships. I wrote about them within the context of unschooling because, in my experience, they are parenting principles that best meld with and support unschooling principles. It’s hard philosophically to reconcile power struggles and punishment with unschooling. But when discussing the bigger picture of parenting values with others, the word “unschooling” needn’t come up.
That said, let’s face it—learning is a big component of childhood. (I’ll note for completeness that I think adulthood is a lot more fun if learning remains an integral part of living!) And one of the most fundamental challenges to the parent-child relationship comes if the child is required to do something they don’t want to—whether that might be to go to school or to stay home. In forcing your child do something against their will, you will invariably have to resort to using your power over them. How you make that work, how deeply you are able to understand and incorporate your child’s perspective, will determine whether it does permanent damage to your relationship. And just to give your basic assumptions a swirl, even if school is part of your family’s life (say, maybe a child has chosen to attend) you don’t have to accept the educational system’s attempts to wield power over your family through shame, intimidation, and the relentless quest for grades.
ON THE BLOG … this month
Here’s what I’ve talked about on the blog this month:
What if we don’t assume power struggles between parents and kids are inevitable? What if we drop the “us versus them” attitude and think of our family as a team with the power of everyone behind it? To feel powerful is to feel strong and capable of action, but what we can drop is the overtone of power *over* others.
Dropping the “us and them” paradigm not only better supports unschooling and long-term family relationships, it also makes parenting a less contentious and more rewarding endeavour. But at the same time, it’s important that parents express their needs too. It’s important that everyone’s needs are considered.
By experiencing real reasons, in their real life, to explore and develop character traits such as self-discipline, responsibility, fairness, honesty, and trustworthiness, children understand them better than through any lessons about character others try to teach them. And as a result of this exploration, and the support of their parents during it, unschooling children are often quite knowledgeable about themselves, their strengths and their weaknesses.
Open, honest, and clear communication best supports our goal of helping them learn about character, about discovering the person they want to be. When things don’t go well, instead of disciplining i.e. punishing them for behaviour that’s already happened, focus on the future—help them figure out what other choices they have available to them for the next time a similar situation arises.
LET’S TALK ABOUT … Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss Sunshine is a terrific 2006 film ostensibly about a family trying to get their young daughter to a beauty pageant 800 miles away. I mean, it is, and they do, but it’s really a beautiful study in people. The tagline is “Everybody just pretend to be normal.” I love that the review on RogerEbert.com welcomes the film into the membership of classic counterculture comedies, “satirical fairy tales that preached the virtues of nonconformity over the superficiality of conventional American values.”
My original plan was to pick out some of the interesting parenting scenes to talk about—I wrote four pages of notes while re-watching it. I love the push and pull of parenting in the film that ties beautifully into the running commentary on “winners and losers”. And there are some amazing scenes between the adults and children that delve into growing up and discovering yourself and pursuing dreams. So much goodness. But when I hit the climax, I knew there was one bit of dialogue I wanted to focus on because it’s at the heart of parenting that supports unschooling.
So, a quick setup. They are at the beauty pageant. It’s almost Olive’s turn for the talent portion of the competition. She’s seven. And the scene: Olive’s dad and brother, after their heroic efforts to get her to the pageant, have individually come to the conclusion that she shouldn’t go on. They don’t want her to feel judged a loser by this quintessential crowning of a winner. And Olive’s mom explains to them:
“Olive is who she is, she’s worked so hard. She’s poured everything into this. We can’t just take it away from her. I know you want to protect her but we have to let Olive be Olive.”
Just in case you haven’t seen the movie yet, I won’t spoil the ending by saying any more. It’s worth the 100 minutes. But what Sheryl says is a great reminder: as parents we really want to protect our kids from pain, both physical and emotional, but our most important job is to support them. If we stop them from exploring the world and their interests when they are eager to dive in, it can hinder their discovery of the world, themselves, and how they fit together. And that exploration and discovery and learning is the cornerstone of unschooling. Of living.
I know I have experienced times when my preconceived idea of what would happen in a situation did not pan out, and I’ve realized that my vision was clouded by my own experiences and judgments. Our children are not us. Things may go very differently for them in what may seem to us to be similar circumstances. That’s why, when my kids and I are envisioning different outcomes to a situation, I work hard to look at it from their point-of-view, to remove my judgments and filters and see more clearly what they see.
That doesn’t mean, as I talked about in the last blog post, stepping back and leaving things to play out so my child experiences the “natural consequences” of something I expected wasn’t going to work out all along. It means realizing that it’s important to my child, that they have thrown all their effort into something, even if I don’t understand why, and for that reason alone I will do my best to support them as they see it through. (And watch how that plays out in the film!)
LIVING JOYFULLY … with unschooling
I thought I’d talk a bit about my NaNoWriMo experience this month. It’s a worldwide challenge to write 50,000 words of a fiction novel in the month of November. I did it, finishing on the 24th. Yay!
I have been reading about writing for while: author blogs, books about story structure, and lots about self-publishing. It is a fascinating topic to me, but I knew it was time to actually try it. And this year, that interest meshed well with the timing of NaNoWriMo to help with that motivation to push past any doubts that might crop up in the early going.
What sitting down this month and writing did was remind me, yet again, that actually doing things produces a whole burst of learning that you just can’t get by reading about how to do things. It brought to life things I’d read but that were hard to imagine, like the characters coming to life and saying things you didn’t quite expect and the principles of story structure guiding the arrangement of scenes so they really do have more impact for the reader.
And it reminded me how so many things are connected. I didn’t just learn about stories and writing and characters. I learned more about myself: motivation and self-discipline and how much of myself, my knowledge and understanding of the world, can infuse a story. I was reminded that any interest, when pursued with energy and delight, adds a new dimension to your life. And my experience inspired me, yet again, to be as supportive as possible when my kids or my spouse are interested in something so they too experience the beauty and excitement of learning; of living joyfully. Oh yeah! That’s why I chose that name for my website all those years ago. 🙂
Wishing you a wonderful weekend with your family!