In my previous post I included a footnote that I’d like to expand upon. In it I wrote:
… I’ve limited this post to HAES for the sake of flow but this applies to so much more. When I embrace unschooling I also accept the limitations it may impose because I feel the benefits outweigh the costs. When I embrace gentle, respectful parenting concepts I also accept the limitations they carry. When I embrace less work for more family time I have to do so while understanding and accepting the limitations this creates on our finances. You get the idea. Truly accepting any concept or philosophy implies accepting its inherent limitations.
This little footnote led me to contemplate some of the inherent limitations of some of my life choices, especially those relating to radical unschooling and peaceful parenting. I’ve come to accept them but it was a gradual process; one that Robbie is still working through in many ways. Some of these limitations are things that I get asked about A LOT from people who are new to radical unschooling/peaceful parenting. I used to go on the defensive and try to deny these limitations exist but now I realize that denial is not the answer.
Too often when we are making choices outside the mainstream we try to hide the parts people will be most critical of but I think this is a mistake. It makes us seem delusional at best, dishonest at worst. All choices have consequences, limitations and sacrifices. If we truly want to help people understand our choices then we have to help them understand why we accept the flaws associated with them. The most glaring, for us as well as for those who’ve come to me for advice/help/a compassionate ear are:
1. Radical unschooling isn’t about getting your kids to choose what you want.
Many people new to unschooling, myself included many years ago, have the mistaken idea that if they simply stop pushing traditional school that eventually kids will choose this type of learning for themselves. The truth is some do; we can read countless anecdotes of kids doing just that. However, many will not. They will actively choose a completely different type of learning that may or may not involve “core” subjects (as defined by traditional school models) and passively learn through a multitude of experiences. If you are choosing radical unschooling with the belief that your kids will eventually choose the exact same type of education you would have chosen for them you will probably be disappointed. If, however, you approach it with the understanding that radical unschooling is about them choosing their own path you will see a multitude of rewards, not the least of which is happy, confident, intelligent children
2. Peaceful parenting is not a quick fix.
When I first came to peaceful parenting, from a far more mainstream idea of discipline, I remember thinking, “This ISN’T working!” Regular meltdowns, throwing things, slamming doors, and sometimes hitting (usually me) were still rampant. It didn’t seem like much was changing and while this idea of treating my strong-willed child with respect was nice theory, in practice I had my doubts. But a small voice inside me told me to keep trying. To try to see things from his perspective. To stop looking at how difficult this was for me and focus on making things easier for him. And eventually it worked. I honestly don’t know if things improved because he felt heard, understood and respected or if he simply matured (my guess is some combination of the two). But I do know that we have a much easier relationship now. We still have our moments but they are rare and also more easily negotiable than they used to be. This didn’t happen overnight but it did happen.
3. Neither radical unschooling nor peaceful parenting are about doing things the easy way.
I feel like I should have this tattooed on my forehead since I have to say it so often. Trusting and respecting my children is simply that. Trust and respect. It is not hands off, lax, leaving them to their own devices, ignoring bad choices and hoping for the best. I am their guide, facilitator and, sometimes, voice of reason. Life isn’t a choice among tossing them into the deep end to sink or swim, keeping them safe in the shallow end or forcing them to learn with you for their own good. There’s another option- standing back to help when they ask, offering encouragement, and being their safety net as they venture into the deep end in their own time, in their own way.
This is what I try to do and how I have come to define radical unschooling/peaceful parenting within our family. But this definition means availability in a way that some of those other choices does not. Tossing them in, keeping them where it’s safe or pushing them into my time table means I get to relax when I’m “off duty”. Sitting back to watch and help when they need it means I’m never off duty. As they grow older they need me less but it’s also increasingly difficult to know when they’ll need me so even though it gets easier in some ways, in others it gets harder.
4. Neither radical unschooling nor peaceful parenting are about obedience.
I don’t really see this as a limitation but many, including Robbie, often do. He’d like to have compliant, if not obedient children. He likes the idea of them questioning the status quo but it’s difficult at times to accept that this means allowing them to question him. And they do question us. And tell us when they are unhappy with a decision we’ve made. And push our buttons. But I don’t think it happens any more (and it actually feels like much, much less) than it did when we were mainstream parenting. They still pushed back. But now they do it less often because they believe our decisions take them into consideration. And, perhaps more importantly, they know how to disagree respectfully. This not only makes our house more peaceful but I firmly believes it will benefit them more as they transition into adulthood and have to deal with difficult bosses, co-workers, etc.
On our journey into this new way of approaching family life I have learned that accepting that my kids will learn in their own way, things will progress on their timetable, that I have to be more available to them for longer, and that “because I said so” is never going to be a good answer are all part of fully embracing our life choices. These inherent consequences are inseparable from our definitions of radical unschooling and peaceful parenting. But as we watch our kids grow into responsible, competent, confident, amazing teens who still trust and respect us because we’ve done the same for them we realize that, for us at least, the limitations are definitely worth the benefits.