Respectful Parenting And Unschooling: The Experience Of A Non-Primary Caregiver

Families come in a lot of shapes and sizes. It isn’t always this way, but I know for a lot of families, making decisions about education and parenting styles isn’t unilateral. These decisions are often made jointly between parents or caregivers.

Our family is pretty uncomplicated. My husband and I live together in a happy partnership and the three children we share this adventure with are all ours, so the decisions made about our family are not subject to the opinions of any other party. But along the way we have decided upon an unconventional education route in unschooling and respectful parenting and getting on the same page has involved a lot of listening, reflecting, reading and talking.

This blog is written solely by me and therefore represents my views on our journey getting to this point. I thought it would be interesting to add another perspective, especially that of a non-primary caregiver. I interviewed my husband about his views on our experience, and his views on his own role in our family. Some of the questions were submitted by my readers on Instagram, so thank you!

First, some background on our family situation and my husband. While I do a small amount of consulting work in my field, my husband is the primary earner in our family. He works in a senior corporate role that can be stressful and involves long hours, but it is typically a traditional working week of Monday to Friday. He chooses to start early so he can be home in the evenings with us. He leaves the house before we wake at around 7am and is home by 7pm most days, often a bit earlier. He also travels regularly for work, but he tries to organise his work trips so they are also during the working week.

My husband followed a very standard education path of twelve years of school education and then many years of university after that. In fact, he spent ten years at university, culminating in a PhD. Both of his parents were teachers and he grew up in a very traditional and authoritarian household.

So, let’s get into it. Here is the transcript from our little chat in the car on our recent family holiday.

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Unschooling On Tuesday

I have received a couple of emails in the last week asking for more of these posts so here we go. Another insight into our daily life.

Phew, things got off to a slow start today. I seem to be in high demand during the night at the moment, which is exhausting. We go through phases like this from time to time and as quickly as they start, they seem to end on their own. I try not to worry about it or over-analyse it and just go with the flow. Still, I am TIRED.

The kids all woke at a similar time and watched some tv while I organised everyone’s breakfast and had my coffee. My seven year old got bored quickly and wanted to go outside with his breakfast. My daughter followed. On the way outside we noticed that our last butterfly had emerged from its chrysalis which was very exciting. We moved it outside so that it could fly away when it was ready. We played and chatted for an hour or so. We played a lot of tag which they both love. My eight year old wasn’t ready to come outside and decided to finish his book instead.

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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.

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Lessons On Letting Go

Our journey into unschooling developed quite organically. It was never the intended destination and as we marched towards it, I didn’t even recognise where we were headed. Once we found ourselves here, there were times where fear set in. Will my children be ok? Is this enough? Am I letting them ‘fall behind’? Here I was, viewing my children as my greatest responsibility, and my heart was telling me to nurture them in a way that some view as irresponsible. Not sending them to school?! Not following a curriculum?! It was a contradiction I struggled with. What if I was wrong?

Letting go of this fear has been a process for me. And even though my concerns around natural learning are in the rear-view mirror, my children continue to show me not to be afraid.

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Finding A Natural Rhythm

‘Your kids have so much energy!’ she said. ‘My kids need breaks all the time, but yours just keep going.’

My beautiful friend this past weekend was watching as my kids played and played. Endless energy and enthusiasm for anything and everything.

It made me smile. She was right. They were having so much fun and they hadn’t stopped since the sun peeked through the clouds and probably wouldn’t stop until it dipped below the horizon. But I know my children and they also need that balance. Her comment saw me lost in thought for a while. Why did it look different? There was no grasping for moments of rest. And there often isn’t. Until there is.

It’s the natural rhythm. The equilibrium of high and low energy that every child can find when given space. The words have never been said out loud, but our children know that the option for rest is always there. They live in the moment. When their friends are there, they play for hours and hours and hours which my friend was observing. It is true of learning, too. When their mind is consumed by a new interest, there isn’t room for anything else. They are obsessive. They focus. They take it all in. They question. They read. They discover. The burst of energy could last minutes or hours or days. And when that opportunity or desire passes they take the time they need to recover. They stop. They rest. Just like the upper, this downer, the recovery, could last minutes or hours or days.

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Unschooling On Tuesday

I thought it might be time for another unschooling on Tuesday post.

I stopped writing these for a while for a few reasons. Firstly, it is impossible to capture everything that happens in a day. This has really been highlighted for me recently. All of my kids have had a few moments in recent weeks where they tell me about something (bees, mythical creatures, maths, architecture have been a few) and I think, I am with you all day and I have absolutely no idea where you learnt that! They are surrounded by books, the internet, movies, friends, life. Learning comes from so many different places and no matter how involved you are or how closely you feel like you are watching, it often doesn’t involve you. And, as I have learnt, sometimes the learning is instigated, researched, absorbed and then life goes on without you even noticing.

Secondly, it is hard not to make these posts sound too contrived. I’m not trying to make my kids out to be some kind of prodigies or try and make everything they do have some higher learning purpose. This isn’t the motivation. I can see how for someone who isn’t living this life, it might seem implausible for a child to suddenly really want to learn how to write in cursive, or learn about multiplying fractions or delve into the finer details of evolution. But on the other hand, this may very well be what kids get up to when everyone else gets out of the way of their learning. So even when I talk about my kids doing something quite ‘academic’, it isn’t because I care at all about the comparison, it just is what it is. Their questions and curiosity in that particular moment.

So here we are. I do think these kinds of posts are useful for people who are wondering what unschooling might look like. Or if you are like me and you take on some voyeuristic persona when it comes to reading about what other families living this wonderful life are doing, you will probably enjoy it too! I love hearing about and reading about how other families are spending their days.

We were thinking about catching up with friends today, but there wasn’t consensus amongst the ranks about what we should do, so we decided to stay close to home. I thought it might be a good day to record what we got up to.

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It’s Not Them, It’s Me

A couple of things have happened lately. Those kind of awkward goings on in public. When you parent respectfully, and your children are used to having a voice and expressing emotion and being heard, you can find yourself in situations where you stand out. Sometimes, it can feel hard to stay true to your values. The thing is, that a lot of these pressures come from situations that are fabricated in our minds. Maybe you think you caught a disapproving stare. Maybe you are being triggered by a situation because you were taught that certain normal responses were inappropriate as a child. Maybe you are reading too much into a passing comment. When we sense this judgement, what we are actually sensing is our own discomfort. It is internal work, not changing our approach, that needs to be done.

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