Monday, August 5, 2013

The Secret to Our Joyous Unschooling Life (Hint: It's not about the kids)

Dear Friends,

We are presenting at the annual Rethinking Everything Conference for the first time this year!

We have attended the RE Conference twice before. We were newer then to the ideas and practices of unschooling.

You've come a long way, baby.

When I try to describe our whole life unschooling to other families, I am sometimes at a loss for words. "Well, it's like homeschooling, but without a curriculum," I begin, looking for some common ground using terms others have at least heard before. But that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.

I asked Logan and Paige today what it means to them to be free.

Logan: "Play whatever we want. Not always, but sometimes. Because I don't get to play Mario sports mix when Daddy's watching the Tigers game. Could we go down and play that right now?"

Paige: "Eat what we want."

Their ability to simply BE in the present moment is one of my favorite things in the world. I strive to emulate this.

The longer we unschool, the more I forget in some ways that it is so novel...until I exchange dialogue with mainstream parents. And answer their fears. And get long looks from fellow restaurant-goers first to figure out if Logan is a boy or girl, and then when they get he's a boy, a long look at me as to what kind of mother I am.

Here's the kind of mother I strive to be, and most of the time am: open, loving, YES-AND..., encouraging, nurturing, joyful, peaceful.

"Be the change you want to see," I've heard. "Model the behavior you want to see in your kids." But I don't want to change Logan and Paige. And I don't even consider them "my" kids. Logan and Paige are unique individuals with whom Ben and I have been blessed with the opportunity to share our lives.

It is not my wish to point out what I do NOT do. That's a lot of negatives to keep track of. "I don't tell them what or when to eat." "I don't tell them when to go to bed." "I don't spank or dole out punishments or limit screen time."

I'm not in charge of Logan and Paige. I'm not in charge of Ben. I'm in charge of me. And my best parenting and person-ing comes when I chill. When I cut myself some slack. When I do my best to unlearn a bunch of social agreements our generation (and many before them) have decreed as necessary and desirable.

Ben introduced me to The Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz. Brilliant. I highly recommend it. The wisdom in this book is common sense and simple and profound.

Ben and I have broken innumerable small agreements. We asked ourselves, for example, what's the big deal if:

  • Paige and Logan wear pajamas to the library
  • I leave towels unfolded in the drawer
  • Logan has the longest hair in the family
  • we stay up 'til 4 a.m.
  • my face is natural and free of make-up -- unless I feel like wearing it for a special event, and then it's fun to get decorated
  • we sometimes eat popcorn for breakfast and toast for dinner and chili at midnight
  • we transformed our kitchen table into an art center
  • we eat meals on the couch
  • Logan and Paige choose all their own clothes, and food, and toys, and how to spend their money, and whether or not they leave the house
  • and so many more....
We've joyously broken bigger agreements:
  • no school
  • no rules, other than safety--no harm to yourself or others
  • Ben leaving corporate America and working from home instead
I consider myself a leader in our family. A co-leader with Ben. Yes, we have more life experience. So, wisdom can be helpful, useful, and informative. There's a time and place for it. Unsolicited advice is not necessarily appealing, just like for anyone. And I sure don't consider my life experience to give me license to be in charge of and run Logan's and Paige's lives.

Ben and I lead by example. Not to change Logan and Paige. To simply be our best selves. To shed as many of society's anti-nature agreements as we become aware of. My purpose for existence (thanks to RE presenter John Strelecky for this wisdom) is to inspire others to do and be their best. I strive to do this everywhere, all the time, to the best of my ability.

Ben and I create an environment in which Logan and Paige are able to be in their natural state as much possible. To listen to their body, their soul, their mind, their instincts, their gut. And the more aware I am about living that way myself, the better it is for all of us.

Those old agreements keep coming up in lots of ways. I remain peacefully vigilant to notice when they appear. And break them. >snap< >snap< >snap< Like little pretzels.
  • People shouldn't wear underwear under their bathing suits. >snap!<
  • Kids should be able to wipe their own bottoms when they're 7. >snap!< (Note: anything with age-related expectations -- PAY CLOSE ATTENTION. It's verrrrrrrry likely they are unnecessary and undesirable and limiting and spirit-breaking agreements that >snap!< we can easily choose to break.)
  • Mommies shouldn't wear slippers to the gas station. >snap!<
See how easy that was? Also, I'll state the obvious: should and shouldn't are often dead give-aways for agreements we can pay attention to and >snap!< break when we realize them for what they are: conforming spirit-breakers.

I have my challenges, failures, pitfalls, and blindspots, too. (Um, I'll have to let you know in the future what my blindspots are, since I don't know what they are yet.) I struggle with my own list of social agreements, usually having to do with just me. I'm a lot more chill about Logan and Paige than I am about myself. It's a good thing to pay attention to and keep working on!

  • body image (dang those magazines and photoshopped images of women's bodies)
  • age-appropriate fashion (see what I mean about the age thing?) -- however, I am proud to proclaim my reclamation of pigtails, mini-skirts, floral hair accessories and short shorts.
  • what other people think of me (I love to be loved, and I allow it to stress me out when others don't. Workin' on it.)
  • I should (there it is) spend every waking moment paying attention to Logan and Paige.
  • I should WANT to spend every waking moment paying attention to Logan and Paige. (That makes about as much sense as, since I am a vegetarian, I should love every vegetable and want to eat all of them every day.)
  • fears -- specifically germophobia, claustrophobia, moments of agoraphobia. All are improving, all are part of the ongoing process of healing; disagreeing with social agreements in the most positive, powerful way; and self-actualizing.
Bottom line: I strive to be my best possible self. Some of the stuff I carry forward is really cool and fun and carefree and joyful. Other stuff is obviously a drag and easy to let go of. A portion of stuff is continually being uncovered by living life intimately connected with Ben, Logan and Paige. I thank God for every one of those eye-opening moments, that AHA! >SNAP!< opportunity to recognize an old agreement that inhibits me and/or could inhibit Logan and Paige and Ben, too. I embrace each discovery as I embrace these wonderful children and husband in my life.

I can't wait to go to RE this year. In the past, I entered kind of bewildered, in awe, and feeling on the coattails of the unschooling movement. Now, I've been living it for eight years. The changes Ben and I have undergone to be better parents and better people are so integral to who we are, they're sometimes as difficult to describe as what my lungs and heart and brain look like.

I dunno. Ask yourself: How do you feel when you're with me? Do we resonate? Let's connect and share and support and encourage and uncover and discover and break agreements and live freely and openly and lovingly and play together. These are all super cool things to look forward to at RE 2013. See you there!



  1. Beautifully written, thank you!

  2. Thanks for the spot-on reflections! I remember reading about the decision for Ben to come home and imagining what a crazy relief it must have been. Now our family is preparing to do that very thing - so we are really looking forward to meeting your family and picking your brains/steeling our nerves for the big jump! See you at RE :)