If someone asked me what I felt were the most important elements of unschooling and respectful parenting, community would be at the top of the list. Make no mistake, if you haven’t found your people, this path can feel like a lonely one. When you connect, some families ahead of you and some just starting out, what once seemed complicated and impenetrable, suddenly becomes a clear and well-trodden path, with others sharing their maps.
Last night, I went to a meetup of unschooling parents organised each month by a lovely friend. As always, I left feeling so strong in our purpose. The theme last night was ‘comparison.’ A common thread ran through the discussion. Being paralysed by comparison or the perceived judgement of others, disappears when you surround yourself with people who accept and celebrate you for who you are. When people share and believe in your mission to live respectfully with your family, your resolve to speak your truth and live your values, especially outside of your home, is no longer frightening, it is empowering.
‘Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers, but most of all surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.’ Edmund Lee
Since being a parent, I have lived on four continents and made three major international moves to locations where we knew nobody. Along the way, I have learnt a lot about building community. I see a lot of people commenting in groups I am part of or emailing me saying they ‘wished they knew other unschoolers or respectful parents in real life.’ Here are some things that I have found really helpful for connecting with like-minded parents.
Facebook Is Your Friend
There is a facebook group for nearly everything. Try searching by state/province, city or city area with terms like homeschoolers, homeschooling, attachment parenting, unschooling, peaceful parenting, respectful parenting, waldorf inspired, Montessori. It doesn’t have to be an exact match to how you see yourself, because chances are if you are open minded about connecting with these groups, other people just like you are too.
If you can’t find any local groups, try joining global facebook groups (there are many on radical unschooling, attachment parenting, respectful parenting) and asking if there are any other members local to you.
When we moved to Toronto six months ago, I joined as many facebook groups as I could find. I posted introducing my family as unschoolers wanting to meet new friends and we got so many lovely responses. Other people want to connect too! Some of those initial meet ups have turned into treasured new friendships here.
If It Doesn’t Exist, Start It
Which brings me to my next point. If you can’t find what you are looking for, start it.
Our first move from Australia was to a remote town in Zambia. There were no organised activities and no public spaces to visit like parks or recreation areas. So, I used our home and organised group activities there. And guess what, lots of people came! Many new connections were made through these groups and I made lifelong friendships with like-minded people.
Our time in Santiago was the same. I organised playgroups at our home, weekly art meet ups and another amazing friend and I started a Forest play group in the foothills of the Andes. A pile of ropes, old scraps of material, some knives and a stove and we were away. Some of these groups have been more successful than others, but in the end, where the weekly meetings have dissolved, a couple of very strong friendships have remained.
The groups I have started haven’t always been for children. Perhaps one of the most life changing groups for me, was a monthly dinner in Santiago with an incredibly important group of women close to my heart who shared the desire to parent their neuroatypical children respectfully. Wine, laughs, tears and listening in equal parts.
Be The Host
If you can’t find people who parent in the same way as you, the best way I have found to bridge that gap is to be the host. Your home sets the tone for how gatherings run.
When we were in Chile, we did a weekly play group at our house for other homeschoolers. There were lots of other families with seemingly different approaches to us, but the kids all played in a free way when they were in our home. And surprisingly, most of these parents were guiding their children in respectful ways and through our discussions and chats, we helped each other grow in confidence. We had a big yard, lots of art supplies, access to the whole house and no restraints on where their fun and ideas could take them. Very strict and structured homeschoolers turned into unschoolers in our home.
Put Yourself Out There
I met one of my best friends along the way in Chile, and we always joke that we are ‘aggressive friend makers.’ Invite yourself to stuff. People usually say yes.
Before I moved to Canada, the closest I had gotten to meeting other unschooling families in real life were people playing around with the idea. This never stopped me from connecting with an incredible network of respectful parents and making lifelong friendships with people who, despite being on a different path to us, form a vital part of my support network.
If you are feeling isolated, when there is an invitation and you are unsure if it is a good fit and you are tired and sitting at home with a cup of tea seems like a better option, still say yes. My friends were joking last night that I showed up at the unschooling monthly meetup in Toronto before our furniture had arrived. Your people are hiding in unsuspecting corners sometimes.
Join that book club, that women’s circle, that running group, that salsa class. And talk. Be bold. Be the one who breaks the ice. Be the one who sends the message checking in. Let people know you are thinking of them.
Your people are out there.
During our discussions last night about comparison, there was talk about people with ‘the perfect façade’ and how comparison will always set yourself up for failure. My advice is that people react to honesty with honesty. When you live your life in a way that is happy to share your successes and also acknowledge your failures, people around you do the same. I have always spoken openly and honestly about our family and challenges that we have faced and I am always surprised by the amount of people who say ‘I’m going through that too.’ Suddenly relationships turn from something superficial into something beautiful where you can both support and champion each other. Being real leads to real connections.
‘Surround yourself with people who add value to your life. Who challenge you to be greater than you were yesterday. Who sprinkle magic into your existence, just like you do to theirs. Life isn’t meant to be done alone.’ Alex Elle
Have you found your community?