On Feeling Inadequate as a Parent

As I watch my sweet oldest boy turn more and more into what some might call an angsty teenager – I recall mySelf at his age.

Not so long ago, I was his age….and not long after that, I was pregnant and giving birth to him.  I was 18 the year he was born.  The only child of only children, I’d never been around kids, never babysat.  I only ever held a baby once, briefly and awkwardly, before I held my own precious child.

I tried my best at the time, but I knew I felt deeply inadequate for the task I was up against – raising another human being, when I had barely even begun to become my own true Self…

I comforted my completely befuddled teen-mom-self with thoughts like, “At least when he’s a teen, we’ll get along great, cause I won’t be so out of touch with him like my parents are with me…  It will be great – we’ll bond over music and I won’t force him to do things he hates, and I will welcome his friends…and I will have peace then, if not now.”

Not only did I miss the point of Living in the Moment, then…but I recognize now, how so absurdly naive it was for me to think that way:

Again and again, every moment, every phase of development – I realize more and more how very little I know.

How presumptuous of me, to ever think that I could “learn it all in time”…

But also, I’ve learned that It’s Okay.

His path is not mine to control, whether by threat & force, or by leading him with stifling, sugar-coated coercion down the road that looks most promising…least painful. I have to recognize, the older he gets, that his path may very well include a foray into what, in my opinion, looks like dire misery – but his lessons and his choices are not mine, and do not define me as a person.

I can lead him, guide him, love him so much it hurts – but I cannot ultimately make his choices for him.

It doesn’t get easier as they get older.

I dunno who made up that lie.. You trade diapers and sleep deprivation for much deeper, more profound, less tangible worries, the older they get. You have to make peace with who they’re becoming, and realize that so much of it is out of your hands, by the time they are 10+ years old. The million moments of babyhood and toddlerhood, whether you manage to keep the exasperation out of your voice as you read The Runaway Bunny for the 30th time…they add up to huge things, somewhere down the line.

But we can’t know what, or where.

Our kids know us better than we know ourselves, and sometimes that in itself can trigger us. As they grow, they might have memories of profound, pivotal, defining moments in their lives….that we are unaware of. What seems insignificant to us might be Earth-shattering for our child – and we won’t always be aware of it.

So if you’re feeling unprepared for this huge, monumental task of parenthood – feeling like nobody told you exactly what would be required of you….feeling often, like you’re not quite up to the task? Well, that’s good. Nobody can ever prepare themselves for parenthood “enough”.

There is no such thing as enough.

You give it your all, and then, incredibly, again and again – you find that more is required of you – so you discover more of yourSelf, and learn and grow alongside your children.

They don’t need you to be perfect – they just need you to be real, and willing to grow alongside them.

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Parenting is the most immense personal growth journey you can embark upon, in my opinion.

You just have to be open and willing to let it transform you.

Inspired by my friend, Cherise.

misconceptions about unschooling, and choosing connection

I think many parents tend to view their kids as an extension of themselves, as an embodiment of their values, or evidence that they believe/do/feel the right things.. but that’s not really healthy or fair to think of kids that way.  they are unique beings from day one.

if other people think that your child not knowing how to do fractions yet or disliking their hair to be combed MEANS SOMETHING NEGATIVE about you as a parent, well, let them think. their opinions of you as a parent or of your children do not matter.

forcing your child to do something against his will is not going to foster connection and harmony between you. You are free to prioritize the relationship with your child instead of how society may judge you and your parenting, because of what your child knows, or how he acts/looks.

they’re dependent on you, absolutely, but they must be allowed to make their own conclusions in the world–with the “safety net” of our non-judgmental, unconditional love and support when they do make mistakes. too often we think our job is to soften every blow and “help” them make (what we believe are the) “correct” choices–but really we’re keeping them dependent on us–on others, experts, to tell them what’s right and wrong, instead of listening to their own inner guidance.

this is the underlying lesson of all forced schooling:

you are too stupid to know what’s best for you + what you need to know–here, let US tell you what you need to know

it creates a culture of dependency and docility.

if a child doesn’t want to learn to read, for example, we must trust that eventually they will have one or more experiences that convince them that, actually–it’d be so nice to know how to read–and then we can help them in the way that they want to be helped. what if they don’t? well, with something as universal as reading, i can’t imagine how it wouldn’t happen, truly. can you imagine any child wanting to be illiterate?

jokes aside, sometime before they reach adulthood, they will be interested–compelled–to want to know how to read. and that desire will fuel genius-level comprehension and fervor.

we all have the potential for genius–it’s less a state of being and more of a verb.

if something’s important, your child will recognize that. my son did it at age five when he really wanted to know exactly how to play his video games–so he delved into those manuals with zeal. other kids won’t take an interest until later–occasionally much later. but contrary to popular belief, reading young, or doing anything else young, doesn’t give a child any edge in life by the time they reach adulthood.

a child who reads at 2 and a child who reads at 11 will, all other issues aside, be impossible to tell apart by age 14. i read at age 2–and i mean everything, newspapers, greeting cards, etc. i’ve always been a writer and a reader. my German-born hubby learned English at age 16, from television, and learned to read English even later than that. he’s never cared for grammar, spelling, etc–jokes that he can misspell two languages. Yet he reads much faster than me.

it only takes about 100 hours of focused, dedicated effort to go from learning the alphabet to learning to read. desire is the key for results! a child that’s internally motivated and focused on something of his own choosing can learn almost anything, thoroughly and quickly. that is an experience that hardly ever happens in the current system, and is inhibited even in school-at-home situations.

kids are intensely interested in the way their parents view and interact with the world, but to reject the possibility that they may make different choices than we do (even before they reach adulthood!) is not choosing love and connection, and can become a huge problem in your relationship, especially if you present your opinions as “correct”.

for example, vegetarianism used to be a very dear value to me. i knew i’d never allow my children to eat meat–it was just unthinkable. then i met my husband, an omnivore–and we fought bitterly about whether or not our child(ren) would be allowed to eat meat. in the end, i decided that one parent eating meat and one parent abstaining was actually going to present a very fair set of choices to the kids–even moreso than both parents being veg or both parents eating meat. no judgment, no shame, no coercion.

i strive to uphold this in all my interactions with my kids now: no judgment, shame, or coercion for their choices. i don’t make things a battleground when i can choose understanding, curiosity, and connection instead:

“Tell me what you like about that chicken …”

I don’t agree with the idea that it’s “my house, my way” until my kids are 18. I think they need the freedom to learn from their own choices as much as possible–that way they’ll be even better prepared for missteps, because they’re able to learn from many of those as a child, under the safety of our roof, as opposed to having free reign for the first time at age 18 or 21 or later, whenever they move out into their own place.

whether it’s wearing short sleeves in winter (i bring their jacket, just in case), eating something that i don’t think is the healthiest choice, or buying the heavily advertised, pricey toy that i’m sure will break within two days of purchase, i let them learn lessons from these sorts of things as much as is feasible.

that’s not to say my kids run the show–but there are many situations where i CAN give them autonomy and relinquish arbitrary control without harming others, myself/them included.

Also–unschooling is about respect. Some people take that to mean that instead of kids being forced to respect the parents, as per mainstream parenting models, the parents defer to the kids… In my opinion that’s not sustainable in the long run or fair. Respect is extended to and encouraged between every member of the family–yourSelf included. Your freedom ends where another person’s begins–no one should have the right to bulldoze or disregard another.

it’s about continually striking a balance, modeling respect for others and for ourselves, and gently intervening when necessary. for example, my 13 year old’s desire to fight with weapons does not mean that he gets to do battle with unwilling participants! my 10 year old’s desire to sing doesn’t mean she should do it in the room where others are watching a show or listening to the radio.

find ways to say YES while accommodating everyone’s comfort and desires–not just the “squeakiest wheel”–and that includes yourself!

unschooling is a family affair–so pick up that hobby you’ve always wanted to start, or read the books that you’ve been wanting to read. do what makes your heart sing–reconnect with your own desires. not because it’s good for your kids, or because they might see you doing X and want to join you (“ooh, they might learn something!”)–but simply because it’s healthy for you to take care of yourSelf–body and mind.

choosing connection and trust over coercion and fear is the basis of an unschooling lifestyle.

What is unschooling?

First off, let me clear up any confusion by saying that we are not simply homeschoolers, but unschoolers. We have always been unschoolers.

I realize that for many people reading this, the confusion has only just begun!

Many people have no idea what unschooling is–and a lot of people think they have it all figured out, but are actually in varying states of misinformation. Even among homeschoolers, there’s a lot of confusion about what the point and aim of unschooling is, and what it might look like on a daily basis.

So I’m going to give you one perspective–my own.

Unschoolers tend to believe similar broad concepts about the nature of children and of learning, that set us slightly apart from other people. There are plenty of unschoolers who may disagree on some of the finer points, but the core beliefs are, in my opinion, fairly common ground:

Unschoolers believe strongly in the innate capabilities and curiosity of the human spirit from birth. We do not see children as inferior to adults, and we strive to treat people of all ages as primarily competent, well-intentioned individuals who possess sufficient internal motivation and drive to learn and grow throughout life. In short, we believe positive, life-affirming things about human nature, and we have (or cultivate) a large amount of trust in our children as people. We honor our children’s feelings, needs, and capabilities as much as feasible, and we strive to balance these legitimate needs with the needs of the rest of our family.

We do not use punishment or try to control our children, and we strive to create an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect in our homes and families. Of course we’re human, and we don’t pretend otherwise. Sometimes we yell, or lose our tempers, as do our kids. But when we’ve overreacted or are wrong, we apologize and make amends. Everyone in our family is deserving of mutual respect, and we work daily on facilitating cooperation, understanding, and love.

Unschoolers believe that absolutely everything–every interest and experience–has value, and that learning happens best when it’s not confined to a classroom or a book. We believe that the desire to learn is nearly insatiable, inherent in a child’s being, and if left to develop naturally (without the use of coersion, punishments, bribery, grades, gold stars and the like), it will flourish and continue throughout one’s life. Unschoolers believe that grades and rewards dampen one’s internal motivation to learn for the sake of wanting or needing to know. We believe that dividing life up into subjects – and then labeling some of those subjects as universally important to know, and others as trivial or irrelevant – is a terrible disruption and hinderance to the natural flow of learning.

The end goal of unschooling is to raise children adults who are “succesful” in the sense that they have the tools necessary to make their way in the world, of course. But there’s a deeper meaning of success that’s also applied here, versus what’s applied to society in general.

Unschoolers are more likely to measure success in non-quantifiable terms.

We want our kids to grow up knowing what it means to live for themselves. To be truly happy and fulfilled, however they choose to define that. To not be afraid to go against the grain in some circumstances, yet flexible enough to go with the flow in others. In short, we strive to give our kids the tools and the opportunities to be freethinkers. To carve out their own destinies instead of being bound by expectations or someone else’s life plans for them.

Unschoolers can and do do “schoolwork”, and they can and do go to college and beyond–if they desire to. They are much more likely to possess the rare gift of believing in themselves, instead of believing what others (“experts”) have told them about themselves throughout their childhoods. They have been trusted enough that trusting themselves comes naturally. They have been able to experiment and follow the threads of their interests deeply and often, and those threads are likely to lead to consuming passions with unique, marketable skill sets.

They are often in the uncommon position, by young adulthood, of being able to create abundance by following the natural flow of their passions, having boundless enthusiasm to learn new skills, and honing skills they already possess.

I will be writing much more on unschooling theory and thought in future posts. I have kept silent long enough–the world needs to hear about this.