On limits, consequences, and valuing family

Organic learning, often called radical unschooling, is a really different paradigm of adult-child interactions. Its challenging to envision relationships outside a model of limits and testing and adult-based decision making - it sounds wacky. How can you have relationships without limits? Craziness.

Start someplace else. Start from ideas of exploration and autonomy and connections. Human beings are all about exploration and autonomy and connections - especially children.

From a radical unschooling perspective, children don't need limits in the sense that conventional parenting assumes. Limits are a natural part of life - the sun goes down, flowers fade, moms get tired, people miscommunicate. Natural limits. Organic learning isn't about ignoring those or pretending they don't exist, its about finding ways to facilitate all that exploration and autonomy and connecting over and around and through the limits. Limits aren't the tools we use to manipulate the world and each other, they're the playground equipment we get to climb on.

The nature of natural consequences

People getting frustrated and angry at one another is a natural consequence. Its not always reasonable! but its certainly natural. That's something families can talk about and problem solve around. One of the things that can lead to family members getting frustrated and angry is "disrespectful" language or behavior - but making a rule against it doesn't keep people from finding ways to be snarky at one another. Similarly, parents often get frustrated and angry by young children running away, but making a rule against it doesn't guarantee a child won't run, or find other ways to go somewhere or do something a parent dislikes.

Rather than making rules, start from the underlying reasoning. What do you want to see in your family? Be that. Young children are often said to need concrete ideas more than abstract - they need to see and touch and smell courtesy and grace, not be told about it. They need to experience win-win problem solving first hand, as a real fact of their real lives, not hear about cooperation. They need to see mom take a big, deep breath and hear her say "okay, I'm really mad now and that makes it hard for me to think" rather than "I'm the mommy!"

Forget rules. Forget authority. Dig deep down and lay out all your most basic values and try to become them.

Value based parenting

If you value authority, then embrace authority. Be the best authority you can be. I don't value authority, so I can't say much to that.

One of my values is kindness so I strive to be kind to my loved ones. Another is thoughtfulness, so I try to be thoughtful. I value trust, so I work on being trustworthy in the eyes of my children. I value joyfulness, so I strive to live joyfully, every day.

The biggest issue I have with an idea like "respect" is that it has a whole bunch of values and cultural memes all rolled up together. I found, in my own search for my basic values and how to live them better, that when I broke "respect" down into bits, I didn't really need it as a concept. I can work from the parts - which include things like thoughtfulness and trust.

My personal experience is that my kids are more likely to be kind if they have received plenty of kindness lately. They are more likely to be gracious if their needs have been met, if their "cups" of love and attention are full. My kids are most demanding when they feel a sense of lack - isn't that when we All are the most demanding? when we haven't had "enough" sleep or care or time or loving? Its good for parents to look for ways to get their own needs met so they aren't parenting from a sense of lack. Its sooooooo much easier to do all the warm-fuzzy stuff from a place of abundance! Getting to a feeling of abundance without turning it into a battle of my needs -vs- the kids' needs takes some practice, and is definitely more challenging with babies and very young children, but its possible!

It may be that your kids are happy to listen to your decisions - some are! And if so, then all this problem solving for other ways to communicate with children probably don't make much sense to you - why not just tell them? Individual temperaments and personalities have a lot to do with this. Some kids need to be listened to for a long long time before they can do much listening. Some kids need to make as many decisions of their own as possible before they feel safe trusting someone else's decisions. Some kids need a thousand small acts of kindness and service a day to feel okay about being in the world. In conventional parenting, those are "problem children". In unschooling families, they're our children, and we honor their needs and look for ways to help them meet them.

Living for today

My stepson, Ray, has only been a part of our unschooling family for a year and a half. In that time he's gone from being "the typical surly teenager" to a very gracious, sensitive young person - so I don't believe all those rules and demands that he respect authority did him "undoable harm". Humans are resilient. We grow and we heal.

As refreshing as it is to know that, at the same time, that kind of thinking ignores the reality that is our children right in this very moment. In this moment, I have the opportunity to be a gentler parent, to be more thoughtful, to make my children's lives softer and warmer, to fill their cups of love and attention a little more. That opportunity is why I decided to have kids in the first place. I could fall back on what "everyone knows" about kids and parenting, but that doesn't uphold what I really value in my heart of hearts. I value my kids for who they are right now, and want to find more and better ways to honor that right now.

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