Category Archives: Peaceful Parenting

I’m writing this in my sleep

I told my kids I was going to bed a few hours ago, and I did, I swear. I was up early and it was time for my body to rest. They tried to make me stay awake, but I needed to lay down.

Times like this make me so glad that I know I can just go to bed instead of forcing myself to stay awake while tending to the house or the kids. I can not imagine what it would have felt like to stay awake and try to be nice while reading bedtime stories or otherwise ignoring my body’s needs.

We live in a very old house and unless it’s locked, my bedroom door pops open spontaneously. The light and noise rush in and I lay there patiently. If I get up, they’ll see that I’m “awake” and have something important to tell me. If the light or noise bothers me, I can throw a blanket over the top half of my head. Without me having to ask, eventually one of the kids will come shut the door for me. Sometimes they’ll tell eachother go do it. Someone else always volunteers if they disagree. But I know that eventually someone will come and slam the door shut. It won’t shut at all if it isn’t slammed.

So I’m not catching any deep REM sleep, but it feels good to “check out” even though I can still hear their little-voice conversations and I love that they’re “taking care of me” by shutting the door and yelling at each other periodically to “Be quiet, Moms sleeping.”
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Bullying (quite possibly the longest blog post EVER)


 

Because Bullying is a LEARNED SKILL

 

These news stories about kids getting bullied are sad. But what’s even sadder is that so very few people see how bullies are rewarded and encouraged. Adults model bullying behavior in so many ways, but fail to connect the dots and see thatchildren learn by example.  As Jenna says; Bullying begins at home.

Bullying behaviors are an adult privilege in our culture.

Kids learn how to be bullies from adults

I doubt many children see themselves as bullies, just as many parents, teachers, bus drivers and kid sitcom writers don’t see themselves as bullies. Subjecting people to a constant evaluation of their actions (while ignoring other aspects of their development, namely their preferences, dreams and skills you can’t see them making a living with) is just plain rude, including the labeling of certain behaviors as “bullying.” Call it what it is, rude. When we stop tolerating and teaching rudeness- on all fronts- and stop dividing the different flavors of rudeness into “parenting” and “bullying,” recognizing that being mean to other people SUCKS, then maybe it won’t be such a problem.

 

As long as we’re a nation with compulsory schooling, bullying will never end.

Yes- you read me correctly, I attribute a lot of bullying ENTIRELY to forced schooling. The rest of the blame is with parents, parents of both the bullies AND their victims

But in order to proceed with this diatribe, I need to try to stop using the word bullying. Yes, it’s convenient to lump every form of rudeness into one nasty word. Intolerance, homophobia, domination by force, physical violence, coercion, ridiculing… these are specific types of rudeness that are often lumped together as bullying. Or discipline, if you’re a grown-up.

Let’s take a look at the dictionary definitions of Bullying:

1. the act of intimidating a weaker person to make them do something
2. repeated acts over time that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful. The power imbalance may be social power and/or physical power.
3. includes behaviors and actions that are verbal, physical and/or anti-social, such as exclusion, gossip and non-verbal body language.


How can anyone expect children to be strong in the face of behaviors like this when popular parenting practices encourage adults to be BULLIES.

Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s look at popular parenting advice:

Sara Chana at Parenting-Advice.net gives parents this advice for teaching toddlers how to share:

Be a referee. When kids play together, always expect fights. Be observant. As soon as a situation comes up, get in between the kids and play referee. Use presence of an adult could stop a scene, but if not, then it’s time to negotiate a little. Use the opportunity to teach the value of sharing. If the kids do not want to play together, then divide the toys equally.

WebMD gives this advice for parents when dealing with the grocery store tantrum:

“I call it the “Stepford Wife” approach,” Lerner says. As your child screams, say, ‘I know, I know,’ but stay completely calm as you pick him up. Don’t show any emotion.

Sometimes the best tactic is to ignore the behavior entirely. “You just literally act like they’re not doing what they’re doing. You ignore the behavior you want to stop,” Lerner says. When your child realizes that his screaming fit is not going to get him a second lollipop or your attention, eventually he’ll get tired of yelling.

Supernanny advises parents struggling with tantrums:

(OK- more than half of the article WAS quoted below, I had to choose just one, but to be honest, it was a hard decision. PLEASE avoid the insanity that is Supernanny. Her techniques are not to be used on humans, EVER)

Sometimes young children need it spelled out so they can see how their behaviour relates back to Mum and Dad pulling them up all the time. Your child reacts aggressively when you try to enforce rules and limits – so he gets told off. Explain to him in simple terms the connection between those two events: “Jack, being told off makes you cranky. But if you keep hitting and biting, I’m going to keep telling you off. If you stop doing it then I won’t tell you off.”

So a quick rundown of those expert parenting resources tells us that parents should, at times,

1. Expect kids to fight and micromanage the child’s social life so that children can’t have an honest interaction with their peers. Keep your eyes open for the slightest sign of conflict and intervene right away. Show them (by example) how to take-toys-away, then arbitrarily re-assign them. This is a good way to be sure that they don’t get emotionally attached to anything they like because that’s an adult privilege. The goal is to teach them that they’re not in control of their social life or their possessions.

Does this sound like a practice that will help kids learn how to share with one another? These kids never had much of a chance to communicate with one another and the domineering intervention was completely insensitive.

Hmmm… this kinda reminds me of bullying definition #2, where parents use the imbalance of power to “force” toddlers to share, instead of respecting that the 1st toddler isn’t done with the toy yet. Nature doesn’t often put two toddlers in the same family, naturally occurring multiple births are quite rare and toddlers should not be expected to share, nor should they be forced. Luckily, adults are creative and resourceful and there’s ALWAYS a win-win option.

Sharing is an act of love, you want your friend to experience the same joy you experience when you’re playing with your favorite toy. Forcing a toddler to give up a toy, then to watch another child enjoy it is a SUPREME INJUSTICE- it’s torture. This breeds nothing but resentments and not a sense of generosity. Think about it. When you WANT to give something, giving feels good. When you do NOT want to give something, giving feels bad. Let’s not teach our children that sharing is a punishment.

Expert parenting Advice #2 teaches children to internalize bullying in another way:

Forget about preventing tantrums at the store by maintaining an active, connected constant conversation (It’s amazing how much a toddler can talk at the store when you’re counting grocery-dollars in your head) These “experts” assume that tantrums are inevitable and advise parents to ignore it.

Can you imagine the emotional distress a child must be feeling in order to throw themselves around, kicking and screaming like that? Is it really mature to pretend that such a display isn’t distressing to witness? In her defense, the author was trying to get parents to react without violence or anger. Which is noble. But how about we remind parents that the child didn’t suddenly notice the price of peas and implode. Volcanoes don’t just blast. they rumble, they vent and THEN they blow.

Tantrums at the grocery store are generally the result of a child’s repeated requests being ignored. Yes, it’s difficult to hear “can I have a cookie?” and “can we get corn dogs?” and “I wanted the blue noodles” and “Grandma has a cat named Lucy” and “I need to pee.” Especially when you’re on a budget or in a hurry or afraid they’re out of your favorite creamer.

I have six kids ranging in age from 2-16 and I promise you, without a doubt, that EVERY SINGLE grocery store tantrum I’ve experienced was MY FAULT. Toddlers want to be heard. Sometimes it’s hard to listen, especially when you’re distracted. Communication is a basic human need, like touch, food and sleep. Communication and opposable thumbs set us apart from chimpanzees. If you don’t want your child to act like a chimpanzee at the grocery store, allow him to communicate by participating in his conversation. YES- it is that easy.

But this expert’s advice is completely insane AND- bears a striking resemblance to the “social exclusion” version of bullying. It models a forced and phony lack of emotion at just the WRONG time- the time when your kid is dying to make contact. It’s almost psychopathic, isn’t it? The author even recognizes that, by likening it to The Stepford Wives.

Put yourself in the child’s shoes. You want something stupid (no offense). You asked. You might have whined, you might have yelled. You might have whispered or sung it to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle.” But you asked. Several times. You might not even remember what it is you were pointing at 3 aisles ago, but you know that your mom is ignoring you. She might be talking to you “I know” but she’s obviously not paying attention and dammit, she’s supposed to respond. Your head is spinning, you hate this feeling, when will she answer?

So when you finally do implode and throw yourself on the ground kicking and screaming, you’re not even thinking about the whatever-it-is you wanted to begin with. You.just.want.to.be.heard.

But this expert advises parents to put on a poker face and ignore the child even more, until she is exhausted from the screaming and loses her will to try & communicate further.

Give it up, brat, no one is listening to you and they never will.

Your distress will never affect me.

Choosing a perfect cantaloupe is more important than listening to you.

I like this can of evaporated milk more than I like you.

Your emotional suffering doesn’t matter to me.

If that’s not bullying, what is?

Oh, I know.. blaming children for the parent’s lack of control, maybe. This Supernanny system teaches kids that control and order are of supreme importance, and that a parent’s job is to enforce rules. Affection, snuggling, cuddling and love, according to Suppernanny, are the perfect tools to manipulate children with, to gain their trust and cooperation. Give positive reinforcement (love) when the child is ACTING in a way that you like and take that love away (she actually advises a stern, low voice and more social exclusion) when children act in a way you don’t like.

Emotional manipulation is NOT parenting, it’s evil and twisted. Can you imagine being cornered by your boss and having him say “Every time you wear that skirt to work, something comes over me. I know you don’t like it when I grab your ass in the break room, but you keep wearing that skirt. If you want me to turn in your overtime hours, wear it tomorrow, too.”

The real world doesn’t look like that. In the real world, the boss would be slapped with a harassment lawsuit. But at home, children are just supposed to suck it up and allow parents to blame THEM for losing precious control over the situation. Even worse- they’re supposed to be cheerful and obedient throughout the social hierarchy indoctrination.

We are not here to control one another. When you seek to control another human, you are focusing on the wrong thing. When you seek to control your children, you are setting up a paradigm where your children will either become comfortable allowing others to control them, or BECOME A BULLY- using any and all of their skills to manipulate and control others.

Can’t we all just be friends?

Nope- because shortly after they’ve passed this toddler stage (all of the above advice is directed to parents of toddlers) they’re expected to go to school.

Where teachers (who were previously strangers) are suddenly the ones “in control” and by the very fact that there are now 20 kids and one adult in the room, rules get even MORE arbitrary.

By the time kids are school aged, they have mastered the art of 1- withering in submission to their parent’s rules or 2- putting on a mask of compliance when they’re being watched.

So they’re sent to school where an adult they’ve never met before is suddenly in charge of 20 of them. Naturally, social relationships will form. Teachers WILL have favorites. The socially astute will climb to the top of the class, and have a lot of friends. The kids who have trouble adapting (to this completely unnatural environment that goes against nature and psychology) will fall to the bottom.

Humans are not meant to develop under the stresses of an institutionalized setting.

School is unnatural.

PARENTS are supposed to raise children, not teachers, not talk show psychologists.

I could scream when reading my psychology book. it talks about the stress hormones that are released when people are institutionalized. Then, it lists some forms of institutionalization, in case we need examples. Throughout the book, their examples are “prisons, nursing homes, dormitories, and residential treatment centers” but NEVER public school.

It’s like the entire psychological world is blind to the fact that forcing children to go to school creates an unnatural paradigm that humans are NOT EQUIPPED to deal with.

Valedictorian Erica Goldson said it very well;

I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme”

Is that really the best use of a brilliant mind?

We’ve been so insulated from the pseudo-reality that is public schools. With my teenagers enrolled this year, I’m consistently shocked at the things kids are expected to put up with. I’m not the slightest bit worried about my girls, they’re spreading light and love, making mental notes, analyzing the social dynamics and doing just fine. I worry for the kids who have no choice. I worry for the parents who feel that they can’t pull their kids out of school. I worry that so often bullied kids suffer in silence. (Memoirs of a Bullied Kid)

I was talking to a very good friend the other day, she said that in high school there was a boy she picked on mercilessly. A few years after they got out of school, she realized how horrible it was and wondered what ever happened to that guy. She found out a few years later when she discovered her cousin was marrying him. My friend was nervous & excited – he looked sane & healthy- but she wanted to apologize, before the wedding. She met the couple for dinner and apologized- deeply. “I am so sorry for calling you names, for embarrassing you, for treating you like shit and I know I can’t take it back, but I am very very sorry.” She totally cried at the restaurant and he forgave her. Today, they are friends.

Bullies are victims, too. Without fully developed brains, their reasoning, empathizing and social skills should not be expected to handle an adverse and unnatural social environment like school. Especially when the only skills they have entering into the situation are a 5 yr old’s perception of what he’s learned at home

Through the magic of six degrees of separation, I found a friend from 5th grade on Facebook. Crystal lived around the corner from me and we’d walk to school. My parents were freshly divorced and I had no friends at this new school. Crystal was my friend for the 4 or 5 months I lived in North Hollywood. Her friendship meant a lot to me back then.

When I found her on Facebook, the first thing she did was apologize. Apparently she’d turned into a bully that year (must have been after I’d left) and terrorized people throughout the rest of her time in school. She felt horrible for not remembering me right away (honestly, I didn’t expect her to, it was such a short time) but she was so glad to be able to apologize. I’m glad she didn’t bully me, I might not have handled it well at that time in my life, but the fact remains. Bullies suffer, too. It doesn’t feel good to hurt people. It felt nice to be able to tell her how awesome she was back then, when her memory was giving her shit.

The mainstream discipline-and-control parenting paradigm, followed by the insanity of forced institutionalization for children is BREEDING hatred, intolerance, intimidation, imbalance of social power, disregard for individuality, gossip, disregard for privacy, liberty and personal freedom.

No child can reasonably be told that they are responsible for themselves when they’re not allowed to make their own decisions. No child can reasonably be told that bullying in intolerable when the adults who rule over him are manipulative and coercive.

Check out Alfie Kohn’s “Atrocious Advice from Supernanny” (quoted below)

Supernanny’s superficiality isn’t accidental; it’s ideological. What these shows are peddling is behaviorism. The point isn’t to raise a child; it’s to reinforce or extinguish discrete behaviors – which is sufficient if you believe, along with the late B.F. Skinner and his surviving minions, that there’s nothing to us other than those behaviors.

Behaviorism is as American as rewarding children with apple pie. We’re a busy people, with fortunes to make and lands to conquer. We don’t have time for theories or complications: Just give us techniques that work. If firing thousands of employees succeeds in boosting the company’s stock price; if imposing a scripted, mind-numbing curriculum succeeds in raising students’ test scores; if relying on bribes and threats succeeds in making children obey, then there’s no need to ask, “But for how long does it work? And at what cost?”

In the course of researching a book about parenting, I discovered some disconcerting research on the damaging effects of techniques like the “naughty corner” (better known as time-out), which are basically forms of love withdrawal. I also found quite a bit of evidence that parents who refrain from excessive control and rely instead on warmth and reason are more likely to have children who do what they’re asked – and who grow into responsible, compassionate, healthy people.

If you can bear to sit through them, the nanny programs provide a fairly reliable guide for how not to raise children. They also offer an invitation to think about the pervasiveness of pop-behaviorism and our hunger for the quick fix.

I like how Mr Kohn sums it up. Avoid the quick-fix in parenting. Don’t be a bully. Don’t insist on instant compliance or obedience. Model intelligent decisions. Don’t succumb to the idea that you need to know everything or control everything. YOU do not need to be in control of anyone but yourself.

Your children learn more from the way you treat them than from the words you’re saying. You can’t hit a child and say “no hitting,” you can’t lie to a child and punish them for lying and you can’t bully a child, then send them off for institutional bullying and expect them not to be bullies.

So I’ve totally failed to stop using the word and for that, I apologize. but I hope I’ve made my point.

And the only thing I have to add is that mainstream parents, who struggle to inflict those rules are suffering, too. Being a meanie doesn’t feel good, even when you don’t know another way.

Opt out.
It’s never too late.

Articles referenced here: (I’m not making clickable links to sites I disagree with. Google views outbound links as endorsements and I don’t want to endorse them. You can copy and paste the URLs if you’d like to visit those sites)

Parenting-Advice.net

http://www.parenting-advice.net/toddlers/my-child-wont-share.html

Web MD

http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/7-secrets-of-toddler-discipline?page=3

Supernanny – How to control a wild child

http://www.supernanny.co.uk/Advice/-/Parenting-Skills/-/Discipline-and-Reward/Calming-your-kids-how-do-you-tame-a-wild-child.aspx

Alfie Kohn “Atrocious Advice from Supernanny

Supreme court rules parents can sue the school district if their child is bullied – Spokane Society of Young Professionals


comments from before the server crash:

  • your sister

    Love it! You pose the question I have been asking all along – where is the parental accountability?!? It is so alarming when you realize that these kids who are bullying are just doing what they have been taught and, in a way, trying to please their parents. Wonderful article, one of my faves! Great job!

  • Your sister-in-law

    Wow! You make many valid points and I applaud the fact that parents must take partial blame for their child’s actions, but most importantly make the child accept responsibility for his/her actions as well. As a private school elementary and middle school principal I can assure you that my “institution” fosters creative thinking, exploration, responsibility, and respect for other human beings. School itself should not be the blame for bullying, rather the adults that are placed in charge of the children can either make it a place of discovery and acceptance or a place of conformity and torture.
    I am lucky to have a caring staff who do all that they can to ensure that all students feel safe and accepted and I make it a point to seek out those who are lower on the social ladder to make sure they know they are just as valuable as those who are more socially skilled.
    With that said, bullying still happens on my campus and most of it stems from home and not school. These children come from parents who make excuses(not MY perfect child, he would never lie or cheat or call names. It must have been the other child who caused it!) or are too busy or too weak to teach their child properly. Bullies come from parents who give their child everything they want, from parents who allow their child to run the household because G-d forbid their child is unhappy, or parents who want to raise “tough kids.” Don’t forget about the parents who turn a blind eye and say, “kids will be kids.” And of course those poor children who are bullied by their parents.
    I am lucky however, that when it does happen there is always some student who feels comfortable enough to tell me what is going on (most of the time the victim will come in) and their anonymity is honored by me. Middle school and high school students are caught between a rock and hard spot when it comes to bullying. They want to tell, but they are afraid. Sometimes the school is the only place that actually deals with bully. Trust me I would be a millionaire if I had a penny for every parent that does not deal with their little bully, oops “perfect child”. At least I can make it a learning experience,teach right from wrong and give out appropriate consequences. If these children were never taught empathy by the parents and never had an opportunity to perhaps learn it in an “institution” it would be a scary situation when this child grows up to be an adult.
    Not every parent can home school,the economy does not allow for it and trust me Lisa not every parent should. I cringe at the thought of some of the parents I have come across in the past 25 years ever having control of their child’s education. Not all homes are loving like yours and schools are the only form of escape for some children.
    I feel that schools should implement a solid character program that teaches empathy and respect for others. It should start in preschool and stay as a mandatory class through high school just like English and Math. Good character should be embedded into the child’s brain so it becomes second nature.
    Lord knows that so little of it is taught in the average home with reality TV, computer, texting, and video games as the main source of entertainment/babysitting tool. Schools need to hire empathic teachers and add a solid character education to the curriculum, parents need to wake up and take a more active and responsible role in their child’s life and children themselves should be held accountable for their actions. It does take a village :-)

  • Good for you. Most mainstream so-called “parenting” advice is actually child management advice – and child management is NOT parenting! It would be a better world if more parents woke up to that.

  • Administrator

    I see what you’re saying about parents who think their kids can do no wrong. We have a local mom whose son is an absolute terror, every time she turns her head. In “her world” he is perfectly trained and I’m sure she believes that he really is perfect, but whenever she’s not looking he criticizes, insults and makes fun of the other kids. Whenever she’s confronted about the way he interacts with the other kids, she is simply shocked, and says “there must be a misunderstanding” and “that’s not in his nature.” She’s a mean mommy, too. It starts at home. I’m sure she thinks her meanness (discipline) paid off, and created this perfect child.

    Come to think of it, she’s nasty to him when she thinks no one is listening. So he really is doing what he was taught; behaving only when she’s looking, because she only “makes an appearance” of being nice. She has no respect for him as a person, he’s her robot. He’s programmed that way. Yuck. I can’t imagine wanting a life like that.

    I’m glad you keep kids’ confidence when they come to you. Meagan complained about the kid next to her in Algebra talking nonstop (after asking him to be quiet a hundred times and telling him she was having trouble concentrating) and the teacher went right over to the desk and confronted the kid in front of her. Of course when the teacher walked away, the student turned to Meagan and said “You didn’t have to tell on me.”

  • Umm Sakina bint Curt Eisenman

    Whew, i wish more people could see your common sense approach to parenting! This was by far one of my favorite articles you have written. Some of these things I realized myself, over the years with my kids, listening to them and learning different strategies on parenting. As far as the typical tantrum at the store I practice two solutions for this. 1.) I made it a rule to not be where I would spend large amounts of time dragging my kids around a place filled with images and stuff that were not good for them or they couldn’t have 2) if i absolutely HAD to take them with me, i told them what was expected of them and I knew they were capable of good behavoir and IF they started screaming or whining, i knew if was because their needs were not being met. Simple. In public kids are tired, hungry, needing attention or a connection with parent or feel embarrassed wronged because other’s needs come before theirs (such as shaming your child bc ppl are watching or caring more what others think than your child’s feelings)OR they just want something they either can’t have or they are in the moment with WHAT THEY WANT or want MOM to buy. SOOOOO….if they are causing a scene…believe it or not, if I cant calm them down addressing what is the real issue, I LEAVE. Honestly, we need to wear our babies more and listen to our kids need’s… and meet them…and stop listening to “experts” Once I realized even using words like “You better” was using intimitation to get what i want. i am SERIOUSLY frustrated by people who tell my daughter to hit her brother back,,,when parents spank, they DO teach the child that who ever is bigger wins and its OK to hit!!!! how could it not? SO AS YOU SAY, EXAMPLE, EXAMPLE, EXAMPLE! keep yourself in check and your children will follow! al hamdulilah

Stop Being Consistent

Someone actually once said “Oh you must be so consistent” when my oldest was little because she was so “well behaved.” It makes me sick now, to think that I was consistently bossy and rigid enough to counteract her easygoing nature in order to force her to conform to my whim.

Consistency is ugly. Looking back, I realized this when my oldest was on time out. She’d go to time out really well, I’d say the word and she would run to the corner and stay there until I said she could come out. I put her there in front of people and they’d snicker behind her back about how compliant she was, whispering “she just stays there…hehe….wow” They were admiring my parenting skills, so I was proud. Little did I know that I’d look back at that time in our lives & wonder what the hell were we thinking. She was probably 3.

Consistency isn’t normal. It isn’t natural. The world is inconsistent. Unless children are violating laws of nature (gravity, centrifugal force) they’ll never experience consistency with humans, and that’s beautiful.

In an inconsistent home, Mom & Dad are distinctly different people, with different opinions and different perspectives, both of which are valuable. If we are to constantly grow & change and evolve as humans, and become better people every day, then what the hell are we worried about consistency for? Stop trying to be consistent and just be honest.

Do you know (you probably do) that so many parents are alienating grandparents because the grandparents have “different rules.” Consistency is supposedly so important, or maybe kids are so stupid, that they can’t be exposed to any adult who has different rules. WHAT is that all about? Different employers have different rules, different cultures have different rules. LIFE is all about understanding how to work within several different environments. HOME shouldn’t be a place you have to learn how to “be” in. At home, you should just be you. Safe, loved and growing. What rule can be more important than that?

As we prepare (which really means scrimp & save & stick to our budget) to go to the Rethinking Education Conference again this year, I’m trying to reflect upon everything we’ve learned about gentle parenting over the past 12 months. We’re not perfect. We still have a VERY LONG way to go. We’re improving every day. We’re helping each other be inconsistent. Consistently improving.

Here are three of my favorite resources that we’ve been using over the past year, to be more gentle parents.

The Daily parenting emails from Scott Noelle, called The Daily Groove it’s a really quick read. I subscribed myself and my husband, each one takes less than a minute to read. I wish I could get it via text message.

Bob Collier’s monthly Parental Intelligence Newsletter, which is absolutely HUGE- it can take all day to read but it’s so worth it.

And our kids.

I list them last not because they’re least important, but because they require a longer explanation. The concept of consistency in parenting assumes that you have a motive and a prescribed means of reaching that goal. Consistency means sticking to the plan, so that you never show your weaknesses. It’s very “Art of War.”

But our goal for the kids is that they’re able to communicate and have healthy relationships, loving each other and appreciating one another’s journey in life. I want them to spend their whole life growing and changing, evolving and improving. I don’t ever want them to feel like they’ve “figured it all out.” Most of all, I don’t want them thinking I’ve figured it out either, because no matter where I am in life, I always have more to learn.

In my opinion, the only way to reach that goal is to let them bear witness to our constant growing & changing, To not separate so much between us and them. They need to be part of our family’s changes, especially right now the older ones who know what “the other side” is like. Their transition has been an adventure because we really shook up their world when we decided to be radical unschoolers. It must have felt like having the rug pulled out from underneath them.

In life, including marriage and in business, the relationships you have with people define your level of success. A marriage without communication is likely to fail. An employer or employee who isn’t able to communicate with their co-workers, staff, clients, or vendors won’t be around for long. A person who can’t relate to others, or communicate effectively will be limited in the amount they can leverage the skills, wisdom and insight of the people around them. Relationships matter and honest, authentic communication is so important.

Consistency in discipline represents a solid and steadfast commitment to NOT communicating with the children. Or maybe it says;

Nothing you say will change my mind. Cry all you want, see if I care. Go ahead, have a fit about it. I’m not changing my mind. It doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter how you feel. I’m the parent, that’s why. Because you’re a kid. When you’re an adult, then talk to me about it.

I’ve actually heard adults saying these words to children before. Can you imagine how that would feel, to be crying and upset and to have someone you love saying things like that?

Parents may huddle together in unity, figuring out a “consequence” for some action, in an effort to represent an aligned front, but no one is communicating WITH the kids. The only REAL consistency is that the children’s voice doesn’t matter.

We just can’t do that anymore.

With six kids in the house the only way we can survive is with complete honesty.

I know you used to get punished for that when you were little, but I’ve learned that it wasn’t really fair, and it makes a lot of sense to me now.

And the thing about punishing kids is that it often teaches kids to just “not get caught” which means that they’ve really learned that they can’t have an honest relationship with you. They can’t be their true selves in front of you. I think it’s the worst sort of loneliness a person can have, the inability to be themselves in the presence of their primary relations.

or how about

I’m sorry I snapped at you for that, I really freaked out when I saw you _____ because all I could think of was _____. I love you, and I know that wasn’t very nice of me. Let’s figure out a way that you can __________ without the risk of _________ because you seem to be enjoying yourself

or most often

Because that’s how I was raised and I know it makes no sense, so let’s figure out what the root of this issue is, and let’s move on. Thank you so much for pointing it out. Really. You want this___ I’m thinking this_____ it’s really probably not a big deal, so can you just tell me when you’re done so I can clean it up. Thank you again, and I apologize for reacting so quickly.

It seems to me like so many of my parenting role models have been perfect parents the whole time they were raising their kids. Like they discovered the secret to perfect parenting while they were pregnant and have been radiant beams of sunshine ever since. Like Naomi Aldort, Alfie Kohn, Dayna Martin and Scott Noelle.

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only parent who started off with one philosophy and has learned another. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person transitioning to unschooling. In my generation we were taught to keep our mouths shut. A lot. No back-talking. Don’t whine. Don’t complain. Don’t talk like that to your mother. Don’t talk like that to your sister. Not in my house. Not in my car.

Who is going to write the parenting book that teaches us how to move FROM authoritative parenting TO consensual, non violent communication? Has it been written? Please let me know because I have an Amazon.com credit that’s burning a hole in my… um… amazon.com, credit account.

All I know is that constant, honest communication has been the best tool we have. Our kids know we’re changing, and they know that their freedom is our priority. Some days, that’s enough.

Kids and Competition – naturally

So the other day, Emilee (16) carries a very limp & teary-eyed Grace (4) into my bedroom where I’m working and says “Mom, Grace is sad.” So I stopped working and held her in my arms and asked her why she was sad. She explained, with Emilee’s help, how it bothers her that Maddy (7) always wins. She was so very sad about it, and she wanted to beat Maddy at something. So we tried to help her think of things she’s good at, so she can beat Maddy. She was amused with our suggestions, but ultimately rejected each one, including “nose picking” and “being 4″ and “jumping over floor tiles” These are things we know she’s proud of.
Maddy, trying to beat her own time
In the end, she came up with her own ideas, “a race” and “tying people up” and “making homemade band aids.”

Madelyn wouldn’t even compete in the tying people up category, which made Grace a winner by default. The look of joy & pride on Grace’s face when she beat Maddy at making homemade band-aids was priceless and I suspect Maddy let her win the race, when she realized what was going on.

Around here, we’re not much into competitive sports, where other people make up the rules. And we’re definitely not the types that wake up at the crack of dawn to drive the kids out to a field to play. I prefer that the kids engage in activities that encourage them to be their personal best, rather than focus on “beating others.” Plus, I’m not a fan of waking up & leaving the house that early anyway.

In principle, I’d let them participate in group sports, but in realty, it hasn’t happened. Sign-up dates have often eluded us, as this information gets sent home with kids at school. I’ve often wondered why these groups (soccer clubs, little league, etc..) don’t have more informative websites. Probably because they’re run by volunteers. I don’t make much of an effort to find out about these things because I’m not interested in attending practice 2-3 times a week or sitting in the sun or wind at 8am on a Saturday while they play. Now, if there was a drop-in way for the kids to play group sports, then we might reconsider.

Yes, competition is a natural part of life. Yes, competition is healthy and normal. No, we don’t need to invent situations where kids can experience competition. Life presents plenty of natural opportunities to experience competition, without expensive uniforms, ongoing repetitive “championship rounds” or anything like that. Rivals can (and should) be friends, always. There’s more to competition than warfare.

Arbitrary rules of competition set kids up to live by the other people’s definition of success, instead of creating their own happiness. This might work well for people who define success by keeping up with their neighbors, but around here, we have different expectations.

I also take issue with the idea that dressing kids up in one color and telling them that everyone in the other color is their opponent. It seems so contrived, so… unnecessary. I’m not impressed with the battle-cry that often accompanies such displays, where kids & parents express their intention to annihilate the other team.

I expect my kids to excel exactly as much as they wish, at whatever they choose to be a worthy exploit. I expect that they are in tune with their own inner longings, and find it easy to decide what games they’ll compete in and whether or not they intend to win, or just want to play. I trust that the activities they choose and the decisions they’re making today are part of their ultimate identity, something I would never dream of influencing or “shaping” that process, to do so would violate the principle of self-design.

Radical Unschooling and Food

OK- here’s how food, nutrition & shopping works in our house. Keep in mind that it’s a constantly evolving process of feeding our bodies, and we definitely didn’t start off like this. Every family has their own food issues. I believe that food shouldn’t be an issue. Human infants are born with the ability to completely control how much they eat, and when. Limiting or controlling a person’s food source, in my opinion, is inhumane. In war, attacking the enemy’s food source is always a good idea, right?

In the past, I was a food-nazi mom. I limited and controlled everything my kids ate. The decision stemmed from love, it really was the best I could do at the time and it did jive with my overall parenting philosophy at the time. I’m so glad my philosophy has changed. My kids probably are, too.

Today, philosophically, I limit nothing. In reality, I still tend to groan or subconsciously indicate displeasure when a child takes another popsicle. I’m trying to stop that. I also shop alone sometimes to avoid purchasing those items. Overall, they eat really well. My kids make diverse food choices, picking more vegetables and fruits than a lot of families and not a lot of “junk food” binges.

I feel the need to define junk food, since I used it in quotation marks. My definition of junk food is anything processed. Crackers, beef jerky, fruit jelly snacks and rolls, doritos, hoho’s, anything with high fructose corn syrup, canned fruit, anything with white flour, plus the candy and chocolate bars you’d expect.

Another theory on junk food is that NO food is junk. I have yet to embrace that one. Whenever I “get it” I’m sure I’ll blog it. I feel like the food nature provides is superior to anything man makes, and man-made food is junk. But I could be wrong :) And I try not to teach my kids that certain choices are “wrong.”

So anyways, the Radical Unschooling theory is that when restrictions are placed on certain foods, it creates an unhealthy obsession with the food. I know that when I was a child, we weren’t allowed to eat a lot of candy and sweets. We had them in the house, but they were often rationed (one coke a day)  As a teenager, when I started to have more control over my food choices, I chose more candies and treats than I probably should have. Theoretically, without any stigma, dogma or emotions assigned to foods, kids with freedom to choose will listen to their body, naturally make “better” decisions than a child who’s been taught that sweets are “for special occasions” or that “the yummiest things are bad for you” or “too much is a bad thing.”

I could see the logic in this thinking for a long time, but I’d also been sending my kids the wrong message for a long time, too. When my oldest kids were little, I definitely controlled their food options. I felt it was my responsibility to make decisions for them, believing that if they had the choice they’d eat candy all day. In fact, when I started this, I’d limit the foods that came into the house, so that I’d be OK with the kids’ ultimate freedom. I know, it’s a contradiction, but it was a stepping stone for me. I guess I still do it to some extent, since I don’t generally bring all 6 kids to the grocery store. But honestly that’s more about crowd control than food choices. My girls talk, constantly and if you’ve ever had 6 little girls chattering at you in the grocery store I imagine you’d screw up your shopping, too.

Anyway, it took a while and I’m still not perfect, but I can see the fruits of freedom, especially in my 2 year old. Her food choices are so incredibly cool for a 2 yr old. Her favorite foods are tomatoes, avocados, the Chinese hot sauce with the chicken on it and jelly. I let her eat it from the jar. She generally has about 2 bites. I would never have done this a few years ago, but why not? She also eats peanut butter from the jar and plain bread. but when you put them together, she won’t eat it at all. So what’s the harm? She can identify almost every spice in our cabinet by smelling it, thanks to Meagan’s tutoring. Smelling and tasting the spices is one of her favorite activities. Sometimes she’ll ask for a specific spice on her food. “More garlic, please” or “You put some paprika on here for me, please?” Of course I will, you deserve to have your requests honored, even if they seem silly to me.

I used to be very against the “short order cook” method of feeding a family. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, though. And it’s really nothing like being a short order cook. When we cook for everyone, we have a big meal that most of us like and if 1 or 2 people want something different, it’s really not that big of a deal to work that into the menu. Often, someone’s plate can be modified simply by skipping the sauce, picking out the meat or adding some trivial ingredient. We’re feeding 8 people, there will ALWAYS be multiple dishes. Everyone should have access to something they enjoy and it’s beyond rude to force a child to “eat what we’re having or nothing at all.” I used to do that.

Here’s how bad I was: My oldest daughter was probably 3 years old one day and didn’t want the soup we were having for lunch. So I wrapped it in plastic and served it to her for dinner and she didn’t eat it. The next day, she didn’t eat it for breakfast or lunch and I actually brought it to the restaurant for dinner again. And the whole time, I kept thinking “My goodness she’s stubborn.” I didn’t even see it at the time that I was the stubborn one, she just didn’t want the soup. It’s amazing that kid survived.

In our house, I make sure we always have fresh fruit or veggies available for snacking. Other snack foods are available, too. Gabriella’s been making homemade French fries lately. Someone is always cooking something and everyone but Grace enjoys spicy foods. When candy and treats come into the house, I just let the kids gobble them up as fast as they want. I no longer ration anything, including Halloween candy. Yep, they’ve gotten belly aches from too much candy before, but no one’s ever been killed by a belly ache. And I read an article that said a slow and constant (rationed) diet of sugar is worse for your teeth than gobbling it all up at once.

Today I’m happy with the food choices my kids make. The only rationing we do around here is calculating how many cookies are in the box, to be sure everyone gets some.

When we shop, I always let them pick a treat. This was a hard lesson to learn, too. It didn’t “click” with me until I overheard a woman tell her child “We are not here for that.” And it occurred to me- DUH- That’s the whole point of shopping, to pick stuff? Why on earth would it be fair to not allow the kids to pick something? Surprisingly, they don’t always pick candy or impulse items. They’ve picked watermelon, cereal, chocolate, fancy juice, pop, burgers, frozen pizzas, breakfast sausage and all sorts of things. When there are no restrictions, there’s no obsessions, no taboos. Oranges are just as exciting as tootsie rolls. They’re able to listen to their bodies and make decisions based upon something other than my nutrition dogma.

And everything we eat becomes a “treat” because nothing is forbidden. Nothing is for “special occasions.” No “special occasion” will be minimized by the prospect of FINALLY getting to eat something sacred. No food item is more exciting than the act of sharing a meal with one another, no matter what it is. We have thanksgiving Turkey all year round, we have birthday cake when no one is having a birthday and we grow food in our garden that’s more of a treat than chocolate bars. Imagine their excitement, discovering a ripe strawberry in the garden, hidden under the leaves like a present from the earth.

They see me reading labels. We discuss the nutrition labeling information, but I don’t often eat foods with labels. I’m about 80% raw & organic in my diet (the other 20% is deep fried, chocolate, cheese, coffee and meat) I feel filled with energy and light as a feather when I eat like this. It took me 35 years to learn how to listen to my body.

When I see the way my kids eat, I can see that allowing them to listen to their bodies is worthwhile. I can never know what their nutritional needs are, on a day-to-day basis. Contrary to what the government’s food pyramid may imply, our needs DO change from day to day and everyone’s body has different needs. My kids’ food choices reflect that. I wish I could go back time 15 years and argue with myself about that old philosophy. Imagine- bringing the soup to the restaurant.
—————————————————————
For the record, none of us are obese, or even the slightest bit overweight.

8 comments to Radical Unschooling and Food

  • Thank you for this post. I feel the position that radical unschoolers take on food is so often misunderstood among other people, even among other unsvhoolers. We used to limit food choices too, but then stopped. After a very brief period of transition, my 3-year-old daughter learned to listen to her body and she eats a well-balanced diet–and this is the child who wanted to eat sugar from the bag. Once we started letting her, it seemed she stopped wanting to do that.

  • your sister

    I don’t normally call you on things, but I must disagree with you about one thing:

    “I know that when I was a child, we weren’t allowed to eat a lot of candy and sweets.”

    There was ALWAYS sweets and other junk food in our house. Cupcakes, Twinkies, sugar cereal, soda, chips…..you name it, we had it in the house. Not to mention a whole host of other processed foods.

    I feel just the opposite. I didn’t like fruits and veggies necessarily, but I also was not ever encouraged to eat them. I was FORCED to eat them, which produces more resistance. Couple that with unsupervised eating and I always chose the unhealthy option. Because of this, and the fact that I happen to have a child whose behavior is markedly more difficult (and I do mean difficult) when he eats too much sugar, limiting “junk” food is very important in our house. Even when we allow something junky, and limit it to a very small amount, his behavior changes rather rapidly.

    I think it is great that your girls are able to deal with those kinds of foods without behavioral “problems” and still make healthy choices, but you must understand that this is not always the case.

    I am not a “food-nazi” mom, but it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure my son eats as healthy as possible. And, there is always room for improvement.

    One more note – I clearly remember you not choosing things like chocolate and soda because you said that you did not like them back then. You naturally liked a lot of foods that were good for you, not all people are like that and some need more encouragement than others to eat it.

  • Administrator

    After mom married KC, there was always treats in the house, but when I was little, I had to sneak and lie to get sweets, I used to sit in the cupboard and eat Nestle Quik or even plain sugar by the spoonful. I used to hide junk food in my room and sneak treats all the time. Don’t you remember being allotted ONE can of soda per day and things like that? And even though there were sweets in the house, we were definitely NOT raised with the freedom to choose our own foods and listen to our bodies. Everything was rationed. How that looked, and the results, are a matter of perspective, I guess.

  • I recently stumbled on to your blog and have spent the last 2 weeks reading back over all of your archives. What an amazing mum and what a wonderful childhood you are providing for your girls. I am in awe. You’ve given me some confidence to give unschooling a chance – http://ourworldwideclassroom.blogspot.com/2010/07/unschooling-experiment.html

    Thanks for blogging. :-)

  • Hi there,
    stumbled on your blog and wanted to ask:
    We do child-lead learning in our house but with regards to the development of young children, we believe that daily rhythms and family chore time and things like that are important for them. But that’s another story-
    With regards to food, I am with you – anything processed I would call junk. And for me, since it is my money, I don’t want to use my hard earned money to support the corn syrup or soy industry, for example. So I have a sort of ethical objection to buying my son candy just because he should be allowed to eat whatever. Now, when he is old enough to have a job and money of his own, I might re-address that, but for now, I can’t bring myself to see the gain in allowing him freedom to outweigh my values regarding health, economy and environment.
    In addition, I have a hard time with allowing him “that extra popsicle” or another handful of blueberries, or whatever because we have a very set income and simply can’t afford to all eat whatever we want to. I would love to have seafood every day, red wine and chocolate bars too!, but I simply can’t afford it. If we have a whole chicken and I need it to last 3 meals, I can’t allow my 5 year old to eat more than his share just because he is extra hungry for chicken that night (and who isn’t? lol). He would prefer we eat oatmeal every morning but I believe we need to balance soaked grains with protein and the only way to get him on the same page is for me to alternative egg day with oatmeal day during the week. In turn, he seems to respond positively to the idea that there is a predictable rhythm to our meals and eats what is set before him happily.
    You’re right, putting the same soup in front of her 3 different meals later is one extreme, lol! But over here I really and truly can’t work around making him mac-n-cheese just because he doesn’t like lentil stew. For one thing, the things he likes the most are more expensive (buffalo hot dogs, for example), and for another, I have chores, work, bedtimes, time with hubby, etc to consider and standing for an extra 10 minutes to make a separate meal and clean separate pots and pans is just not a sustainable choice for my own sanity. Our saying is that every one gets the same thing, and if you don’t like it, you can say no thank you, you can pick out the onions discretely and put them on your plate, etc, but the choices ends there. But you don’t get something else. Before bed each day, regardless of whether or not he ate his dinner, he is always offered bread and butter or a brown rice cake and the like, along with a cup of whole raw milk. (Thus insuring he will not actually starve or stay awake in bed hungry – which I agree is inhumane). But rarely does he truly not eat the food – even the weirdest concoctions like Thai coconut chicken stew that is spicey and full of lemongrass – he’ll turn his nose up at the offer but because we sit down to a candlelit family meal and he is truly hungry, he gives it a try, and always finds himself eating quite a bit of what is offered.
    Ok, this was a loooong comment! My main question is – how do you deal with a set budget for food and simply not having the choice to get every one their own item at the grocery store or allow expensive meats and produce to be used up too quickly, thus leaving your meal plan wrecked and barely any variety of food in the house when your waiting on the next paycheck to get more groceries?
    These are the things I just don’t understand about food and radical unschooling. It’s seems almost luxurious to me – perhaps even wasteful – when folks are struggling to afford healthy food and nourish their families.

  • Administrator

    Hi Vivian, I can relate to the financial aspect of your question. I work from home and my income IS the family income, I don’t want to work to pay for food no one eats. I tend to eat most of the leftovers in the house, I’ve always preferred leftovers to preparing something new. It sounds, though, like you’re making your food decisions from a perspective of “lacking.” We do a lot of meatless meals here. Pound-for-pound, it’s one of the most expensive things a person can eat. I also don’t plan meals, shamefully. Sometimes my kids want oatmeal for dinner, french fries for breakfast or smoothies for lunch. I guess my only advice to you would be to try & challenge the things you “have no choice” about and work in some more meals that have little or no meat. Keep your eyes open for sales and know that just because others are struggling, you don’t have to. You can opt out- and enjoy a bounty, just by being resourceful. I don’t know if you grow a garden, or have a friend who will share their overgrowth. We have a lot of commercial farms and u-pick farms nearby, so my kids an eat handfuls of berries as we pick. Try & get rid of the notion that there’s not enough to go around. There really is, so much so that tons of surplus foods are wasted every year. Cheap foods we love are… fresh produce, in season, endless veggies from our own garden, endless fruit from nearby orchards, whole grains for eating & cooking, meats on sale 4-5 times a week… and my kids know when I get paid again, so if we run out of something, they know when we can get more. Eating oatmeal 3 days in a row presents more of a lesson than my nagging at them.

  • My mother didn’t limit anything. She loved candy, chips, and soda pop. Nor did she talk about healthy eating or a connection between nutrition and how we felt physically and emotionally. I want my kids to notice those connections, so we talk about food a lot (and they have some severe allergies). I have the inclinations of a food nazi. I don’t limit food, but I do some grumbling.

    I credit the food awareness and not limiting with our fitness. I’ve had it suggested that I just come from “good stock,” but that’s definitely not the case. My dad was 350 pounds. My mom is 200 at five foot tall and comes from a long line of very obese women.

  • Umm Sakina

    I feel like the food nature provides is superior to anything man makes, and man-made food is junk.~ I agree WHOLEHEARTEDLY. We avoid the list you said as well and also all genetically engineered or modified foods. And who doesn’t love fried chicken? I abhor beef jerky but like you said with candy you cant make something so taboo they develop an obsession or neurosis over it or something. I let her have it once in a while but if I let her (and have) she’ll eat the whole canister of beef jerky. But it didn’t kill her and she was fine. i explained to her how jerky is processed and why that can be detrimental to our bodies. She is able to make her own decision. I try to do that in almost all ways. I became like this from 1. reading a book about offering choices so that the child feels more in control (not bossed around which bothers anyone’s feelings of individual rights) and listened to. 2. Just intuition of meeting my child’s needs and 3. I realized I was telling her “no” too often for stuff that wasnt REALLY that important. She was becoming very SULLEN and emotional. So I lightened up and tell her “yes” as much as i can or give her alternatives. She is much happier. I feel that some guidance is necessary for children though, but if you think about it, SAFETY is the upmost concern, next to each families belief system. Nutrition and the way modern food is processed or “boxed dinners” is not always healthy or good for us. Moderation is good in all things. In regards to safety I mean, we teach our kids to look both ways b4 crossing the street and keep harmful things out of their eyes and reach or don’t even have them in the home at all.
    A scholar once said, “Play with your children the first 7 years, the next 7, teach them, then be their friend. Puberty is an awful time IN PUBLIC SCHOOL AND MIDDLE SCHOOL however, at home or in a good environment, it’s usually when a young adult starts understanding right from wrong, can rationalize and develop arguments (logic) grows and learns, finding out what they want to do in life that makes them fulfilled and ideally realizing their unique gifts and talents and reaching their potential.
    http://www.raisingsmallsouls.com Watch the video Animal school.

Radical Unschooling and Bedtime

Radical unschooling has been getting a lot of press lately. People are genuinely shocked to learn that we don’t boss our kids around about every little thing on the planet. They assume, unfortunately, that they must be wild animals with no sense of responsibility, hygiene or social skills. On an unschooling message board the other day, one woman (who arrived simply to bash unschoolers) was flying off the handle about the fact that the kids on TV had no bedtime.

I just thought she was so silly, going on and on about how children “need” a bedtime. What on earth was she so afraid of? Did she think the kids wouldn’t sleep? Did she think they’d stay up all night long and sleep all day? Did she think it interfered with Mom & Dad’s sex life? For the life of me, I can’t imagine what all the fuss is about.

Some of our family’s favorite bonding-times have been when the rest of the world is sleeping. Remember when we shared a basket of jellyfish? Being “connected” to our children means that we’re aware of their needs and treat them the way we’d want to be treated.

Heather from Swiss Army Wife recently blogged about her family’s bedtime ritual “Wise men Sleep when they are tired.” and she made a great medical and psychological defense against crib usage and forced bedtimes.

In the Nightline Story about unschooling, the reporter focused in on bedtimes as a unique aspect of Radical Unschooling;

In this household, there is no bedtime, no alarm clocks in the morning. Eleven-year-old Devin often stays up past midnight — and Martin does not object. “I’m so happy that he does, and that he has that time to himself because his sisters go to bed at 9 or 10. He can have a nice three, four hours with Joe or just me,” she said. Instead of waking up at 7 a.m. to go to school, Devin sleeps until around 10 a.m. “It’s the same amount of sleep,” he said.

How much simpler can it get? Our bodies don’t require a bedtime. We just need to sleep. Regular periods of wakefulness and tiredness ensure that humans WILL SLEEP. Period.

Ron Paul, who plans to homeschool his own kids, blogged about the Nightline special, too. his commenters bordered hilarious; one said

The only thing the reporter seemed concerned about was these kids weren’t going to be getting up at 5 a.m. to crank up their SUV to go sit in traffic to go work for the man.

The reporter was asking about what “jobs” they’ll be able to get.
WHAT JOBS !?!?!?!
The jobs will all be in China and Mexico by then.
The only jobs in the U.S. will be Homeland Security and prison guards.

Prepare to be shocked. My kids have stayed up all night before. Emilee and Meagan did this at the RE Conference last year because they were so eager to hang out with their new unschooling friends. But, they learned more from the experience a few months ago, when they were given laptops as gifts from their grandparents. Emilee actually threw her thyroid off balance for a few weeks because her sleep habits were such a mess. But she didn’t like the way it felt. She learned her lesson. Meagan learned the lesson without medical consequence. Gabriella (9) stayed up all night a few months ago and spent the next day tired, teary and regretting it. Would any of them have understood this if I’d forced them to go to bed, taken away their computers or bullied them into sleeping? Who knows? But why fight about such a trivial, personal thing?

I’m 35 and I absolutely love being up at night when the rest of the house is asleep. I can clean and an hour later, it STILL looks perfect. I can make a dessert and no one asks for a bite. I can dance around with my iPod and not bump into anyone. Do I regret it the next day? Sometimes, Sometimes no. I tend to plan ahead, and do it when I know I don’t have plans the following day, so I can nap if I need to.

The point is, I am in control of my body. I know that I need sleep (thankfully not much, I thrive on like 4-5 hours these days) and I know how it feels to be rested vs tired. I recognize my body’s needs and do what it takes to meet them. I don’t need the same amount of sleep every night. Since I’ve stopped eating processed foods and started getting more exercise, I require about half the sleep I used to. I’m aware of my body’s changing needs on a daily basis and so are my children.

And, in case you wondered, life without bedtime totally does NOT mean parents can’t have sex. The stork didn’t bring my babies.

The following comments were pasted over from my old site, sorry they’re not in comment format 🙂

  • Hi-I read your blog all of the time but have yet to comment.

    I don’t understand why people give a flying flip about other people’s “bedtimes” and such. Are they afraid that if my children aren’t in bed by 9pm (or 7:30 pm as one teacher so intrusively told my daughter) that they are going to be running around ruining the world for the rest of them? Are they that content in their 9-5 lives that they couldn’t imagine a world where you did what you wanted to do when you wanted to do it? Or are they simply afraid to look within themselves and see what could be changed?

    Just like your jellyfishing experience some of my greatest memories lately have been when other children are in bed. Staying up late learning about Easter Island on Google Earth…not because we had to but because we wanted to…reading for as long as we want without giving a care about the time…late night video game marathons or simply cuddling on the couch watching a favorite family TV show. I wouldn’t give that up for the world-even if it means sometimes not seeing my oldest daughter until we’ve all finished lunch or not getting out to run errands until late in the day!

  • I typically announce that I’m heading to bed to lay down with my 2-yr-old until she falls asleep, and my older daughters usually follow along. Sometimes we read or listen to a rain CD and usually talk a bit. But some nights, my older daughters announce that they’re going to stay up with their dad and they seem so pleased that its their choice to do so. It’s a sweet thing. I feel proud to see them making their own decisions and feeling good about it. It’s a valuable experience, whereas making them stay in their beds for so many hours each night would undermine their confidence and growth. It seems obvious to me.

  • Marci

    Hello, we have been making a transition to the unschooling philosophy over the past month. I wanted to ask you about the bedtime issue and a few other questions. How do you get time alone with your husband? I mean we have never been uptight about an early bedtime, but we do have children settled usually by 10 or 10:30. Ages children 10,8,5,3& 7months. Our house is not large enough to afford us much privacy unless the children are settled and asleep. We look forward to the time alone together at night when all is settled. It seems very necessary to have this time together.

    Also, can you give me some advice for the transition if you have time? We have homeschooled with a variety of curriculum from the start and we started about a month ago with allowing the unschooling freedoms. They are currently overdosing on Duck Tales and Atom Ant. They have also watched a lot of old Macgyver episodes since my older son is a little gadget man. I am trying not to stress over the fact that they are not out playing in the sunshine or sticking their nose in a book. They used to do that all of the time, but are not reading now. I’m sure that is because of the control grip I had on media. They are testy with each other too after watching so much T.V. Is this normal? Anyway, do I just start putting out a lot of open ended things and just ask them what they want to learn? Should I wait until they max out on media and wait for them to gravitate towards something? I am excited about watching them learn this way. Thanks in advance for any advice.

 

Freedom from kindergarten

 

Kindergarten is useless

Grace is decorating her journal with gemstones

So the other day I posted an entire entry about my Grace. I’ve been watching her closely because she’s the first of my children to be completely and technically unschooled forever. 

If we were a schooling family, she’d be getting ready for kindergarten, which would begin in a few months. As I watch her, I’m completely blown away by her intelligence, her strong personality, her thirst for knowledge and her pride at displaying the things she’s learned. She’s clever, witty and fun to be around.

I can’t imagine sending her to school, to me that would be a completely foreign territory. None of my kids has left home for kindergarten. But now, after being involved in the usnchooling world for a few years, I can’t even imagine inflicting “lessons” upon her. She so eagerly and readily gobbles up information from the world around her. So isn’t it logical to provide a stimulating world for her, with unlimited opportunities to experience life, rather than subjecting her to my limited perspective and preferences? I don’t know what her world will be like when she’s an adult, why would I presume to limit her learning in that way? How pompous of anyone to suppose to “teach” a 5 yr old anything. They’re already learning, duh.

 

Art supplies

We went a little crazy with the art supplies, Grace likes art

We got a bunch of Magic Schoolbus Science activity kits. They’re supposed to be for older kids, but she likes to help Gabriella (9) and Maddy (7) with the experiments. If I didn’t have to work, I think my kids would do science experiments all day long. Each kit comes with 10-20 experiments and a little guidebook that explains the science behind each one. It amazes me to hear the questions she asks, the conclusions she comes to and her logic process especially when she’s explaining the experiment. “So then glue is a polymer, right, mom?” 

She loves to invent her own magic tricks (which aren’t quite magic, yet) and she’s hugely interested in how her body works. She’s taught herself how to count by 2′s and argued with me when I told her that’s what she was doing. “No, mom, I’m just skipping numbers” as if she invented it.

She likes to eyeball a situation, solve it in her mind and then execute the solution, whether she’s making sure each Barbie has matching shoes, solving a maze, or constructing a Lego Dacta project.

It amazes me that anyone who has spent time with a 4-going-on-5 year old can look at the process of development a child goes through and say- at this age- that they need to start school. I wonder what people expect of a curious, self-directed learner (and that’s what a 4.5 r old is)

I wonder how many people realize that institutionalized education actually destroys the very children it was intended to serve. I wonder how many homeschoolers see that recreating that environment crushes the little souls they’re trying to protect.

Learning- in the real world- isn’t about meeting someone else’s expectations, or reaching someone else’s goals. In the real world we learn because we want to know, we want to experience, we want to DO. Why remove a child from that?

I love that Grace has “school books” that she enjoys. She has a math book she carries around that she plays with in the same way I played with puzzle books as a kid. She turns to any random page and asks me how to do it. If I’m not around to ask, she looks at the numbers and figures out her own way. She once had an addition worksheet and decided to multiply instead. Not that she knew it was called multiplication, she just saw numbers and decided to multiply. She knew each page had roughly the same directions for each problem, so she multiplied each one. She used game pieces as manipulatives and got them all right. I can’t imagine forcing her to spend weeks and weeks adding up one problem after another when she wants to multiply. Multiplication CONTAINS addition, so why do we waste so much time breaking it down?

She likes making lists. Her letters mostly look like H’s, x’s and t’s, with periodic o’s mixed in. She learns new letters by copying words in books. Sometimes she’ll copy a word and bring it to me to ask what it says. She has it memorized for a while and then forgets. She’s putting together patterns in her mind and remembers that the letter M says mmm, the letter S says sss and she instinctively, mentally, breaks down words into phonetic syllables as she pretends to read. She’s proud to be learning to read.

In our garden, she knows that ladybugs eat aphids. She delivers ladybugs to our rosebushes every time she finds them. I need to remind her to bring some to my tomatoes, too. She takes her “job” very seriously. I love that she feels useful and important. I love that she’s empowered and outspoken. I love that she knows what she wants and expects to get it. I love watching her grow, think and explore the world.

THIS is kindergarten.

5 comments to Freedom from kindergarten

  • She sounds like she is as free as I wish all kids were able to be!

  • Great post – love it!

  • Nichol

    Great comfort to read this post. My son is also 4 and I am getting a lot of strange looks and feedback when I explain that I don’t plan to send him to preschool, or kindergarten, or any other school for that matter. Hooray for free 4 year olds :)

  • We’re just starting on this unschooling journey — and I’m glad my kids are NOT going to school. I’ve been collecting stuff for ages and have all the Magic School Bus TV episodes plus a lot of the books… So they’ll be available for when there’s an interest!

    I’ve bookmarked your site and will be back for another read soon!

  • What a great post! This will be my first year completely unschooling…we’ve been unschooly for years, but always with some sort of curriculum around that we poke on. My “kindergartener” loves experiments! It’s so great to see how kids figure things out on their own and not on ours or a school’s timetable. Sometimes it’s hard to step back, but it’s always worth it in the end!

Kids are Evil

In the book “Give me Liberty” by Gerry Spence, which isn’t about parenting at all, it’s about freedom from the profit-driven clutches of corporations and governments, he says;

“Children, as persons, are entitled to the greatest respect. Children are given to us as free-flying souls, but then we clip their wings like we domesticate the wild mallard. Children should become the role-models for us, their parents, for they are coated with the spirit from which they came- out of the ether, clean, innocent, brimming with the delight of life, aware of the beauty of the simplest thing; a snail, a bud, a shadow in the garden. Children are the closest thing to angels.”

Small children’s minds clearly live less “in their body” than adult’s. Adults are acutely aware of their own bodies and minds – analyzing its sensations, thoughts and feelings. Kids rarely think of such things. Have you ever heard a child ask “Why do I do that?” They think more about the next fun experience. Sure, some kids may have physical sensitivities to certain fabrics, sounds or foods, but they don’t THINK about it, they just seek comfort. They experience feelings, but they don’t over-analyze them. They just seek happiness. Duh.

My kids are so evil that even the snail is fooled. After this picture was taken, she ate it alive. (not really)

instead of teaching kids OUR world view, we need to allow them to see the world through the eyes they were born with, and listen intently to what they’re telling us.

Some people would have you believe that kids are selfish, sinful or naturally bad, in need of ‘training” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. At their essence, they are creators. Kids are givers. When people see “bad” in children, it’s a gross and self-centered misinterpretation of the child’s actions and NOT a representation of the child’s inner self. Parenting from a position that believes children are inherently evil will NEVER help a child to be their best, EVER. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. These people never see the true soul of their own children because they allow a preconceived notion to cloud their vision. So their children grow up doubting their own inner goodness, free from the responsibility or benefits of peaceful or happy relations because they believe that at their core, that they’re flawed. YOU are not flawed at the core. No matter what your religion has told you. You are infinitely perfect and every experience, no matter what your analytical mind has labeled it, just IS, and isn’t bad or good, it just IS. My favorite part of the audio version of Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret is the sound of Lisa Nichols’ voice saying

“And your spirit is so big that it fills a room*”
(with a blissful giggle that brings out the irony in the idea that anyone could ever feel small or insignificant)

Life isn’t about forcing people to do what you want. It should be about fully experiencing (LIVING) every minute of whatever it means to you to be ALIVE. This includes your amazing children, experiencing them while allowing them to experience their own (parallel) reality.

Children are evil monsters, right?

Are these the faces of evil?

Inherently evil?

I love how Maddy (7) asks so many questions. In 5 minutes she’s asked me a hundred. “Mom, what’s an errand?” I answered her, then she repeated it back to me in a question. “like if I said ‘I have to run an errand’ it means I need to go do something important somewhere else real quick?” and I confirmed her interpretation. I can’t imagine giving her a list of vocabulary words or asking her to write a sentence for every word on a list (which would be MY list, not hers) Talking, verbal communication, it’s one thing that makes us human, civilized. Why on earth are “schoolers” (not to be confused with scholars, whom I still respect) OK with the idea of interfering with the communication skills of a 7 yr old? How could anyone imagine that ANY list of words would ever meet my child’s need to understand the language in the world around her.

After our little conversation, she stews in her mind a bit, the wheels are turning and she asks me another random question “Did you and dad know each other when you were kids?” and a little later she says “I probably have to google this, but do you know if whales see the way people see?” I had no idea, but I made a mental note of the fact that she realizes the limitations of my knowledge and knows how to research) so we googled it. We never found the answer, because she got sidetracked by videos of whale songs.

Every question doesn’t need an answer. Sometimes questions just lead to more questions and it’s OK. Nothing in real life ever resembles an end-of-the-chapter test.

Birds fly, fish swim and humans learn. -John Holt

Her questioning takes a considerable amount of time every day. She usually hangs out with me in the evening when I’m cleaning the kitchen, grilling me on world history, US history, science, family history, word meanings and telling me all about her doll’s relationships, careers and lifestyles.

Last night, there was something stuck to the burner- I’d wiped it down earlier but I think I got something on it, so it was smoking up the kitchen and it smelled bad. I walk into the kitchen thinking “what the hell is wrong in here, yuck now I have to breathe this $#!+” but I didn’t say it because I was busy listening to her rattle on about something- a story about how our friend Nikki lost her first tooth (For the record, she bit into a taco shell when she was 7 . Nikkie & Maddy share a birthday, and she’s really fun, so it makes Maddy feel special to have her as a friend and Maddy wants to lose her tooth on a taco shell now, so we’re having tacos for dinner)

Anyway, so I keep it to myself- about the smoke- and she walks through the door right behind me. You’d think she just opened the door to the Emerald City of Oz and wasn’t sure if she wanted to go home or not. “MOM- there are a million fairies in the air,” she says, in a lowered voice, lest she break the spell. She points out the sun rays piercing through a thinner patch of smoke and suddenly she’s overcome, enchanted; she’s a fairy. Her arms are raised in bliss and her head is tilted up to the receive the light, and she’s slowly spinning and humming, like angels were singing to her in her head.

To her, the smoky kitchen is beautiful, an amazing thing of wonder. To me, she is the thing of wonder. She’s soaking up the wonder and feeding it right back to me. How can anyone think kids are bad? There’s no bliss quite like experiencing the world through the lens of a child.

*”We often get distracted with this thing called our body and our physical being. That just HOLDS your spirit. And your spirit is so big it fills a room. You are eternal life. You are God manifested in human form, made to perfection.”- Lisa Nichols, The Secret

This post was inspired by a rather heated discussion that took place in the comment section of the Home Education Magazine Facebook page.

 

Things I’ve learned from my kids

Meagan took this picture

In the unschooling community, there’s a great respect for children’s inner wisdom. This week, for me, has been filled with confirmation that I need to follow my kids’ lead more often and to value their life’s experiences and authentic reactions.

Be fearless
 

I love going to the park and often, when we’re waiting for kids to finish their dance, drama or singing classes, we wait at the park where we swing, skate, climb, run or just do gymnastics in the grass. Yesterday, Maddy and I were doing tricks and she said “Can you do a front flip?” I said “no, can you?” It didn’t look like she even had time to think about the answer, she just did it. When she was done, I clapped my hands and said “Oh my goodness, I didn’t know you could do that, wow” and to my surprise, she said “Neither did I, I just did it.” I said “have you ever done it before?” and she said “no, I just did it.” WOW. OK. SO I did it. I was amused at my inner dialog, wondering whether or not she had mentally talked herself into it or if it really was as simple as she’d made it sound. In the end, I took a deep breath, pictured myself doing it a few times and just DID it. She was so excited for me, which was sweet. It was easier than I thought it would be and we both spent the next few minutes perfecting our front flips. I just thought it was funny, though, that I tell people “just do it” all the time and here I was being “schooled” by my 7 year old. Thank you, Maddy.

Flipping, for the fun of it

Love and conflict aren’t opposites

When my kids fight with each other, I don’t always handle it well. Over the years, I’ve gotten better. By stepping back and letting them work it through, I notice they end up fighting less. By discussing anger management techniques and communication skills during peaceful times (rather than in the heat of the moment) we’ve all learned how to avoid conflict or resolve it quicker, finding win-win situations and making allowances for one another’s preferences sometimes. But sometimes, I fail. The other day, Gabriella and Madelyn were fighting and Gabriella lowered her voice to a scary tone and threatened Madelyn. I snapped and made my own voice scary and told her to get out of the room until she could communicate without being mean (Ironic and pathetic, I know) Gabriella left the room and Madelyn looked at me with the sweetest face and said “It’s OK, Mommy, she can talk to me that way. She just wants her Barbie back. We were working it out. I’m not giving it to her until she gives me my doll’s dress back. I planned it this way.” I felt about half an inch tall. I brought Gabriella back and apologized for sending her out, I apologized for using a mean voice and I explained that I am still learning how to handle things nicely and I get upset when I think someone is being mean. I should have asked if they wanted my help first. Then I thanked Maddy for helping me understand the situation.

Barbies in my house are almost never this dressed or this well-behaved


 

Forgive, forget and whistle while you work

My 2 year old LOVES to put her own laundry away. There are other household tasks she likes to do, too. She likes to scrub the kitchen table while I load the dishwasher, she loves to help push the clothes into the washing machine, she loves to help carry groceries in, she follows me around all day “helping.” Well the other day, I put her clothes into her drawer for her. She was so angry with me. She can’t reach her drawer, so when she puts her clothes away I have to lift her up (while she’s holding the folded clothes) and she puts them into the drawer. It seemed like more than I wanted to do at the moment. She was taking her shoes off and I didn’t feel like waiting until she was done, so I just put her clothes into her drawer. You would have thought I’d stabbed her with an ice pick. she grabbed her belly and screamed at me “You puttid my clothes away, I wanted to do it MYSELF.” Her little angry yell was adorable, her face was red and filled with tears. I snickered a little bit because she’s so tiny and so sweet and I loved that she was so passionate about it. I took the clothes OUT of the drawer and scooped her up to apologize (I really should have known better) Then, I helped her put her clothes away, like normal and she went on about her business, without the slightest sign of anger. Later on, she said “Mommy, I sorry I freaked out about my yaundry” and I apologized for putting it away. I really do love that she values her “work” and enjoys helping around the house. I have to remember that it’s ME who secretly wishes someone else would do the laundry, not her. I’m also proud of myself for not teaching her how to hate housework, when we clean, we sing and dance and have a very good time together. If I keep this up, she will gladly take over the responsibility one day. (not that I have any coercive ulterior motives, right)

Being in tune with my kids, communicating honestly and respecting their preferences and desires is a very important part of what goes on in our house. I am, by no means, perfect at this. Clearly, I screw up. We all screw up. But I guess we’ve been doing this long enough that we’ve established an open and constant dialog that they’ve mastered faster than I have. I will continue to be impressed and amazed by their pure love and sweet dispositions.

Grace, collecting germs from her shoeGreat opportunity to discuss germs

 

May 26th, 2010 | Category: Cleaning Kids MessesEvelynGabriellaGraceMadelyn

 

The real world needs real kids

I know people who think kids shouldn’t go to weddings or funerals. The first time I came across this perspective, I was shocked. Those are really important things in life- why shouldn’t children be included? The answer I was given is that “Old people don’t want a bunch of kids running around” in reference to the funerals and “People spend a lot of money on weddings, they don’t want to pay for other people’s kids.”

That concept was so foreign to me. I was raised in an environment where children brought joy. When I was a child, everywhere we went, old people were happy to see us. We had big family gatherings and very rarely were children banished to a “kids table” though quite often we CHOSE to sit with our cousins, rather than listen to our Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents and Parents discuss politics, sports or whatever other dumb grown-up stuff they had in mind.

At gatherings with the “no kids allowed” crowd, I noticed that there was a specific kids table, and that kids were TOLD to sit there. I also noticed that the old people actually DID want to be around the children. I wondered if any of the wedding couples actually may have enjoyed the presence of children, but were discouraged. I can’t imagine having a wedding with no children around- it would be so… detached from reality, maybe?

I stopped attending “no kids” events and decided to bring my children to things, like my heart was telling me. I stopped discussing it with the leader of the “no kids crowd” and no one said anything rude to me about it. No one was rude to my children. Sure, there were whispers. In my opinion, if you’re whispering something naughty you KNOW you shouldn’t be saying it. I don’t care if people whisper. I care that my kids are exposed to life’s rituals and experiences as children. Keeping children away from weddings and funerals is downright abusive to everyone involved.

Children bring the light.

At a funeral, children are given the opportunity to mourn with a group, to see that everyone cries, to cry with others and know that all is well. Experiencing raw human emotion is VERY HEALTHY. After the funeral, while children may not want to sit inside with the adults, eating comfort food and retelling memories, their laughter in the backyard brings a REALITY CHECK perspective to everyone inside.

Kids give good hugs
kids don’t judge, they’re honest and REAL with their feedback
Kids remind us that LIFE still exists.
Kids give us a REASON to go on.

Weddings are often a magical, love-filled environment. How can we withhold that from children? The centerpieces, the flowers, the decor, the mini lights, the music, the fabrics, the candles are as close to real-life fairytopia as it gets. Why on earth would the spirited, loving presence of children be unwelcome?

In my opinion, weddings without children are hollow, empty, and just plain depressing. Standing around getting drunk is really NOT what life is about.

I am sure that it’s one of the consequences of institutionalized education that makes people believe that children should go through life without attending weddings and funerals. The belief that childhood is about “preparing for life” rather than simply living is truly EVIL.

Imagine going through your whole life and not even seeing a baby until yours is born. It happens. Or how about never seeing a wedding until you’re an adult. No wonder we have BrideZillas. They think the wedding ACTUALLY MATTERS. It’s not the wedding that matters, dear, it’s the marriage and the life that you build together. Will it be a life of excluding children because they’re inconvenient (or more likely, can’t afford their own gift)? What next, will you exclude the elderly, too?

As a mother of six girls, I look forward to up to six amazing weddings, filled with children in pretty dresses (and a few who won’t dream of wearing a dress) My younger children will attend their older sister’s weddings (not any time soon) and my first grandchildren will probably attend their Aunt’s weddings. I have (almost) 5 nephews, 3 nieces. They’re all (but 2) very small and are already invited to my oldest daughter’s wedding (not any time soon) because my girls love kids and because if children aren’t welcome, I’m not going.

Children are an important part of society and NEED to be included in rite-of-passage events and life transitions, both for the benefit of the child AND the benefit of everyone else that’s present.

An environment without children is not natural. It’s not normal. It’s not healthy. Children provide perspective (what’s important in life) and a sense of wonder.

The inability to tolerate the presence of children is a sign of serious mental illness.

Wanna talk about children’s behavior?

I know a lot of people hate that word, a lot of unschoolers hate that word, but that’s what comes up when you talk about having children at fancy restaurants and at weddings.

Children learn by practicing and by experiencing.

A child who is allowed to make their own decisions will likely not climb on the table at a white linen restaurant. It’s painfully obvious to even the most dimwitted of humans that certain situations require a certain level of decorum. And if they do, tough beans. Help them down & point out the inconsistency, then help them climb around in the bathroom or parking lot for a minute. Kids need to climb, suppressing a body’s need for exercise isn’t very smart.

Kids feed off of the energy around them and in a quiet place where conversations are low, they will generally only make “inappropriate noise” when no one is talking to them. It’s a parent’s job to keep children engaged in activities that befit the location. THIS is socialization, not “recess.”

I have an entire rant on ‘recess” that I’m saving for another day.

Children “behave” the way they’re expected to. Period.

A culture that’s critical of children for wearing their energy-level on their sleeve is ill-equipped to handle all SORTS of reality, not just the fact that kids exist.

I am sure that if we all ran around as much as children do, we’d be more fit and healthy.

There’s absolutely NOTHING that a child can do in public that’s of much consequence in the long term. Nothing they break can’t be fixed. Their presence will NOT cause me to enjoy myself less. If anyone present finds that they are enjoying themselves less because a child is present then I would speculate that they weren’t welcome as children and are, perhaps, in need of child-therapy, to learn that children NEED to be included in life. Children are the past and the present, not JUST the future.

Kids exist. Kids are alive NOW. Kids don’t need to get older before they take part in life. Weddings and funerals are important parts of life. Kids belong at weddings and funerals. Weddings and funerals need children. Their “behavior” is irrelevant. Their presence is invaluable.