What If It Doesn’t Work?

What if it doesn’t work?

This question makes me uncomfortable. Probably not for the reasons you think. I’m not, in any way, uneasy about the future for my children. I guess I feel that there is a lot tied up in these words. What does ‘work’ mean in this instance? Turn out like you hoped? Learn everything you think is important? Be successful based on your definition of success? It is a big red flag for me. It’s all you, you, you. It tells me that we are looking at children from different perspectives.


I am not scared of unschooling ‘not working’ because I don’t have a fixed idea of what ‘working’ would look like. I don’t have expectations that my children will fit my limited understanding of success. I don’t expect my children to follow a path that I am currently aware of or that even exists yet. I don’t even expect my children to be ‘happy’ or ‘confident’ or any other emotional state I could choose to dominate their life. My focus isn’t on highly specific outcomes, or even vague outcomes. My focus isn’t on my children fulfilling a preordained role in a script I have written. I don’t hope for them to have an ordinary life. I don’t hope for them to have an extraordinary life. It’s not about me. The vision that matters, and the one that should always influence them the most, is the one that they have for themselves.

It’s funny, because questions like ‘what if it doesn’t work?’ directed at the parent, have their basis in exactly the kind of thinking that I am trying to unlearn as an adult. It is so wrapped up in external validation.  I don’t need my children to validate the worth of my own experience. I don’t need the achievements of my children to validate the choices that I make as a parent. I mean, what a cross to bear as a child! I don’t want them to make ME proud. I don’t want their choices to be caught up in any value system except their own. I can be proud of myself and the choices I have made to live and model my values, without pushing for some kind of baseline outcome for my children to give me a big metaphorical pat on the back for being an amazing parent.


And what if the question is directed at the child? Will they regret being unschooled? Will they deem their experience a failure?

It is hard for me to fathom a situation where my children regret a free childhood. Or where they resent being given the freedom to pursue their interests in a supportive and respectful environment. I guess I anticipate that there could be a time where they feel directionless or unsure of their purpose. Or where they wish that an answer could be dictated to them. But I anticipate this not because of unschooling, but because it is almost part of the human condition. We all go through this exploration of identity at one point or another. It is part of our recalibration as we discover new parts of ourselves or as our motivations and values evolve. In fact, I see my children go through this from time to time already. The difference is, they are solely in charge of their next steps and carving out new directions for themselves. Perhaps this will mean that they are much more likely to take this in their stride as an adult.


And I am not scared of this idea of ‘missing out’. My children are curious, intelligent people who know how to access knowledge from multiple sources when they are motivated to seek answers. My focus is not on instilling a bulk of knowledge by a certain age. At any point in life, a sudden awareness that you are lacking information in an area can present itself. This does not signal that the learning ship has sailed, or that you are incapable of learning what is required to fill that gap. It just means that it hasn’t been valuable to you up until this moment. I spent eighteen years in formal education and I am still learning new things all the time. Of course! We all are. And I am constantly relearning forgotten knowledge because it is useful again.

I guess it would be easy to think, if you don’t care about something working, it can’t not work, right? But this isn’t a cop out or a trump card. I care deeply about my children. I am endlessly curious about their lives and understanding them and what lights them up inside. But the thing is, the only choices and behaviour that I can control are my own.

So I don’t fixate on ‘results’ which ultimately are not about me and are outside my control.

I focus on nurturing a strong and open connection with my children that is free of shame and manipulation.

I focus on showing my children how interested I am in THEM and everything that makes them who they are.

I focus on letting my children know that there is no shame in mistakes.

I focus on emotional growth, both my own and holding space for my children to explore their emotions.

I focus on bringing my life experience and knowledge of certain areas to help support and enrich the learning of my children when it is relevant and making sure I get out of the way when it isn’t.

We respect their interests. We celebrate their unique strengths. We marvel at their ability to learn what they need when they are ready. We watch them exist in the community and participate in life from the very beginning. We show them through every interaction that they are worthy of respect. This question of ‘what if it doesn’t work?’ makes no sense to me. My children are already exactly as they should be, living each day as the perfect expression of themselves.


5 thoughts on “What If It Doesn’t Work?

  1. Just listened to your interview with Pam Laricchia and stopped by to read. Thank you for sharing and please keep blogging! We’re also a family of 5, deep in the deschooling process and I have found blogs like this to be really helpful for me as I navigate these tough realizations. I still find myself reacting with a lot of anger about my own upbringing or seeing that controlling mindset play out in the world around me. I am trying not to delete everything I’m embarrassed about now on my own blog and just let it reflect the bumpy ride. I catch myself asking “what if it doesn’t work”, and then I realized that only really happens when I am having my own self-esteem issues. It’s not about the kids at all. The kids are great. I love your compassionate view of others, especially as it pertains to mental health, and I know that’s not easy to maintain. Thank you so much for putting yourself out here!


    • I’m so happy you haven’t decided to delete ‘the past’. I have been writing for less than a year so while my own blog is very much radical unschooling focussed, it has been a process to get here. If I had been writing for many years my early work would look very different too. What a beautiful thing to be able to see your own evolution in writing! I am still learning and still identifying my own insecurities that need focus to keep moving forward. We all are! Thank you for reading and for your kind words of support 😊


  2. This kind of parenting is the only truly selfless parenting. It takes constant conscious effort to achieve. You can be a loving, respectful, “radical” parent and still have expectations of your children. Whereas, in your approach, gratification doesn’t come from pride of from expectations being met but by getting to witness your child grow and become whoever he/she would be, untamed.
    Your thoughts are heartwarming, Courtney.
    A passage from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”: http://www.katsandogz.com/onchildren.html


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