I’ve been a mama for a little over 13 years now. I started out pretty rough around the edges and it took longer than I care to admit for me to find my stride. But I did find it, and once I did I really thought it’d be smooth sailing for a while. Maybe forever barring any major catastrophes. Enter parenting a teen (and almost teen).
I guess I had this idea that little kids were hard but when they were so close to grown (both of them as tall as me!) it would be easier. In many ways it is, but in other ways it’s a whole slew of unanticipated challenges. Don’t get me wrong- I’m not about to start lamenting about these awful teenagers and blaming everything they do that I don’t like on their hormones (largely because it really irks when people, especially people without vaginas, blame my behavior on hormones). No, I really like my kids and think they’re pretty cool people. We get along just fine- this parenting a teen thing isn’t a problem because of them; it’s because of me.
The reason this difficulty is taking me by surprise is partially because we are coming out of what were the easy years for me. My kids were the age that my ideas and personality just mesh with. When I think of fun activities, crafts, outings and creative ways to learn the things that come to me easily are things that kids from about 8-11 will really enjoy (I realize now this is why, when I was teaching, I preferred 4th graders. It wasn’t because there was something magical about 9 and 10 year olds- it was just easier for me.) Keeping things fun and challenging for teens is a lot harder.
I also made the mistake of thinking that because what we’d been doing was working that it would continue working. We have a nice routine but we were in danger of it becoming a rut. When Jace started talking more about future plans and complaining more about being bored I realized some things had to change. Because this was new territory for me I started to make decisions based in fear. I was feeling stressed and conflicted and the kids were warily and begrudgingly (but certainly not excitedly) accepting my suggestions (after a bit of badgering on my part, which I hate to admit). All of this reminded me a lot of how I used to feel and the kids would respond when they were doing traditional school.
Thankfully I realized at some point that I was allowing my fear call the shots and fear is a poor decision maker. So, first I had to figure out what I was afraid of. That was pretty easy- it was the unknown. But when it comes to the future it’s all unknown. There are no guarantees in life and since we don’t have a crystal ball the best we can do is make decisions based on the information we have right now.
So, what information do I have right now? And what should I do with that information?
- Our entire household is more peaceful, healthier, happier and better adjusted since we embraced unschooling. Well, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We should continue unschooling. I know it isn’t the best choice for everyone but it is the best choice for us.
- An emphasis on rote learning from books didn’t produce a great deal of understanding in Kya. For Jace it was monotonous and squelched his desire to learn. Up to this point we’ve found age and interest appropriate ways to learn using books as a tool, not the main source of learning. My role has been as facilitator, not teacher which means I provide opportunities for stimulation and learning without expectation or agenda. We should continue doing this but with the understanding that ages and interests are changing.
- Jace has big, specific plans for his future. The plans he has will most likely mean that he needs a college degree- and lots of math and science. Interviews I’ve read with college professors in his field of interest stress understanding of mathematical principles and the scientific process above and beyond simple computation and memorization skills. I need to be sure he’s being exposed to the type of math and science he needs to reach his goal- but recognize this doesn’t mean I need to shove a math book at him out of fear. Plenty of people (Kya included) learn math from books really well but Jace never has- he has an almost intuitive understanding of math and traditional methods have proven to be a hindrance to his learning in the past (as observed by myself as well as some of his former public school teachers). There are a myriad of ways to expose him to these concepts that will invoke better understanding and excite him more. The Lego Robotics camp he’s attending this summer, for example, will immerse him in math in ways a math book never could (and he already knows basic computation).
- Kya has big, less specific dreams* for her future but is more focused on what’s happening next week than the next decade. (Recently when visiting a museum on a college campus I asked her if she could see herself going to school there. She said no, I asked her why. “Because I’m 11.” Umm, yeah- stop rushing things, Mom.) I need to allow her to be a kid and help her find activities that excite and stimulate her without an agenda. She’s attending craft camp this year and that may or may not blossom into something that will be important to her future. It doesn’t matter, it’s important to her now. And the only way that dreams become plans is when we are given the opportunity to explore them to see if they fit.
- Both of them are relatively content right now but have expressed feelings of boredom more frequently lately. Boredom isn’t necessarily bad and can be an opportunity for creativity. But too much means it’s time for me to step up and start offering some more opportunities for stimulation. They will reject more ideas than they embrace and it will be discouraging sometimes. It will be difficult to find ways to pay for things and find time for others (and sometimes one or both may be impossible). But it’s up to me to keep striving.
So, I figured out that what we’ve been doing will continue working but it has to be able to grow with my kids. To help with that growth I’ve sought out as much information as possible from other people who have been there, done that with regard to unschooling teens. I’ve been reading books and blogs, joined some online groups and am always talk, talk, talking to friends. At some point I might be able to sit back and rest, knowing that I have it all figured out- but not today.