Sunday, November 25, 2012

Whatever They Want

I just read an article, one of many I've seen over the years, written about an unschooling family. The focus of the article is that the Mom "lets the kids do whatever they want." There are no rules. No limits, no restrictions, no bedtimes, no school, no tests. Anything the kids want to do, the Mom "supports."

Reading the article from the perspective of understanding unschooling, the information in it is true, and fairly unremarkable.

But from the perspective of most people, it hits all the triggers that they fear.

Once again, I'm pondering how to explain unschooling to people in a way that does not alarm them, that does not make them defensive and reactive. It's a challenge.

I could describe our family life much like the article did.
Kids never went to school.
No bedtimes.
No limits on food, in kind, quantity or timing. We don't all eat the same things at the same times.
No limits on TV, video games, or computer time.
Anything the kids have been interested in, I've tried to support, assist, and supply resources.
No testing or "evaluations."

But the thing is, that description doesn't really tell anyone very much about what we DO, only about how we ARE NOT LIKE THEM.

One of the mainstays of any culture is the built-in evaluation of anything different, and often, in many cultures, that includes the automatic rejection of anything "outside the lines" of what has been asserted in that culture as "the truth and the way."

As much as it is politically correct to "embrace differences," the truth is, most people don't do that very well at all.

I think one of the ways to better communicate to people how an unschooling family lives is to focus on how we are the SAME, not how we are different.

I would suggest that we are the same in that parents, generally, if they want to be "good parents," want the best for their children.
They want them to grow up happy and healthy, strong in body, mind and spirit.
They want them to be able to have a good life, one where they have what they need, and to eventually become parents themselves, should they want to, and be able to provide for their families.
They want them to have friends, to be socially comfortable, not to be "picked on" or bullied.
They want them both to do well, and to do good.

They might use different descriptions, some might say they want to raise "good, productive citizens."
Others might say they want to raise "good people."
Either way, parents want good things for their children.

I think if we could help people see that our goals are not all that different, at the heart of them, it might reduce some of the fear and incredulity around the whole "no rules" thing.

We don't have a lot of rules here.
We usually have a few, but they are somewhat fluid, changing as necessary to accomplish what we need them to do. Mostly, they are reminders of ways we want things to work together. Not things to force someone to do something they don't want to do.
I might borrow a phrase from the fire service, and describe our "rules" as "standard operating procedures." They are often simply a way we have decided to do things, rather than a restriction on someone's behavior. We use them to keep the family running more effectively for everyone.

For example, we recently added a "rule" about when to communicate that we are running low on some food item, so it needs to be added to the grocery list. We were having a problem with a difference in dietary preferences making it so I was not always aware of what others had finished or nearly finished, so we were running out of staple foods. The people eating them were expecting one of the others to make it known, and as is often the case, when there is no clear responsibility for who in a group does a thing, no one does it at all.

So it isn't, really, that we "don't have rules."
It's that we don't have rules that are imposed by one or some on someone else.
We agree on what the rules are. We change them when we need to, when something isn't working.

The same sort of thing is true for limits.
We don't have imposed, arbitrary limits.
But we DO have very real limits. Some are financial. Some are physical. Some are decided on by each individual, for their own reasons. Some are accidental- like the running out of a food item situation.
We live in the real world, and while it may sometimes seem to be so, the world is not infinite.

Those two are actually fairly easy to help people understand. When they hear yes, we have rules, and yes, we have limits, it makes them more comfortable, even if what we mean by those things are not the same.  The one that is the most challenging, the one that people have difficulty grasping, is the big one: my kids do whatever they want.


Within the natural limits of what is possible and available to them, they do, on a daily basis, all day, every day, what they want to do. They choose their goals, their activities, their ways and means of expression, their schedule.

From this angle, it isn't a big deal.
I do what I want, too.

Where this runs smack up against a brick wall of lack of understanding, is that most people are on the other side of a paradigm shift, and cannot connect with our perspective. It does not seem possible or real to them.

Sadly, most people live lives where they do NOT do what they want, much of the time- and they believe this IS LIFE, that this is the natural state of humans, or at least of good, productive citizen humans. They HAVE TO work, go to school, clean their houses, mow their lawns, etc. And they don't really want to do any of these things, They crave "vacations" and times and places when they don't have to do all those things they usually have to do.

If they begin to consider that they DON'T have to do those things, the very framework of their lives, their stability, starts to unravel, and THAT is a very big deal. So they don't want to and can't look at that, at all.

Our lives, and our focus, sidesteps that entire thing.

We find work we want to do. Since the rules we have, and the choices we make, are fundamentally based on creating a living environment that is happier, easier, more loving, for all of us, we WANT to do the things that help make it so.

I'm not sure why it is that so many people fear that relaxing external controls on children will create children who are uncontrolled (and uncontrollable). That might well be true if that "relaxing" also included no guidance, no help, no supervision. I don't make my children do things- I help them see, from their own perspective, what needs to be done. Then they want to do whatever it is. But it MUST be from THEIR perspective, their understanding.

They have, all three of them, grown up to be people who do good. They care, deeply, about the truth, about contributing to their community, about helping others, about doing the right thing. They are responsible adults, self-disciplined (the only real kind of discipline) and what most people would generally call "well behaved." They respect other people's property and rights. They stand up for what they believe, even when it is difficult to do so- and it often is challenging.

I am very much looking forward to seeing what happens as they find partners, and possibly raise children. To see what choices they make, what family dynamics they prioritize.

I was raised to believe that there is always conflict between children and parents, especially between rebellious teens and parents. That kids always "reject" how they were raised, and blame their problems on their parents.

We completely skipped the "rebellious teen" experience.
Although none of my kids are "perfect" (and neither am I!!), I enjoyed having teens, and never had to do the whole worrying, staying up late, getting angry and frustrated, fighting all the time, thing. I have kids who have always been happy to hang out, and do a lot of things together, while still having our own lives.

I am interested in seeing whether we skip the whole "reject the way I was raised and raise my own kids totally differently" phase, as well.

Yes, my kids do whatever they want.
And what they WANT, is generally pretty great.

Connected families share goals, so "doing what they want" all works towards those shared goals and priorities.
Maybe the fear of "doing what they want" is actually a fear of disconnection from each other. Else why would anyone assume that what someone else wants would always be harmful?