I'm That mom

There's glitter on my ceiling. I only realized it taking picutres of the bat that flew into our house sometime during the night and decided to sleep the day away, toes tucked into the grooves between the panelling. Yeah, I'm "that" mom, the one who can "discover" a giltter-covered ceiling and think "pretty", and go on taking picutres of the sleeping wildlife, after having stopped whatever terribly-adult-important business of the moment at the excited bubblings of a little girl. Come see Mer!


Quiet, now

Quiet, now.

There’s a screech owl living in my back yard. Every evening and every dawn he sits on a branch and sings a soft voiced quavering song that makes him sound far-off and mysterious. This past spring he made camp for a time under our eaves and we’d gather in the bedroom window to watch him sit on his doorstep and blink sleepy eyes at the world. One day, when it was overcast, Mo made a set of paper stars, including a comet, which she hung in the window so that the owl could have stars no matter the weather. Six months later, the stars are still there, although the owl has relocated to a nearby tree.

Watching and listening to the owl has been an recurrent happening this year. We have clustered excitedly on the back porch to watch him take off on perfectly silent wings, taken pictures, made short videos, read about owls, and nudged each other countless times to say “Shhh… there’s our owl,” and then fallen into silence. Mo has drawn owls, made paper and Lego owls, played at being an owl, and made inevitable segues into fascination with bats, the moon and stars, other birds and the magic of flight. It almost seems like a unit-study, put like that, but that hasn’t been what it has felt like. The owl is one of our family touchstones, as it were; life swirls around and it’s there again: “shhh, there’s our owl.”

“Shh” was one of Mo’s first words. It surprised me – I still don’t know where she picked it up, but she delighted in its power as a young child. It was the perfect stop to adult wordiness, a reminder to me to be still, to look and listen instead of nattering on. Even so, as Morgan has grown older I’ve been amazed by her capacity for silence. It’s not that she’s still or quiet by nature – she’s not likely to be described as “mellow” any time soon! Although she’s not as loquacious as some she certainly can chatter about her day: games and shows and projects. But I’ve seen her sit beside a creek and watch the water go by when she could be splashing in it, or spend an afternoon snorkeling, filling her ears with quiet when there were other kids, kids she likes, to play with. I’ve seen her swing for hours, or spend hours flying a kite, or a morning trying to figure out how to meditate. There isn’t anything particularly astonishing about any of those things… except that children aren’t usually described in terms of their capacity for contemplation.

It is ironic that while children are often adjured to sit still and be quiet they aren’t encouraged to spend hours of their “own time” in contemplation. I don’t mean to imply that children should be encouraged to be quiet if they’d rather do other things. Some people are more naturally contemplative than others and so some children have little need to listen to birdsong and watch the slow tracks of stick-insects. Ray needed to be listened to when he was younger, and still does when he’s bursting at the seams with new anecdotes of his projects and adventures although he has grown more contemplative over time. But then, as unschoolers, all of Ray’s and Morgan’s time is thier own. Stillness and quiet aren’t limits in thier world – or beauty and nature for that matter. They are free to play video games or watch television for hours at a time and sometimes do exactly that. They are free to be boisterous much of the time in that we rarely take them places where childish exuberance is disallowed unless they are agreeable to the experience. Given that much freedom, at times they both choose contemplation and silence. Mo simply chooses to enjoy more of it.

Instead of encouraging Mo’s quiet observations, George and I make room for them, as we made room for Ray’s wordiness. It’s easy for me to make room for listening to owls and frogs; less easy when “making room” involves planning extra time into things I’d rather do quickly like shop or read a list or magazine. I don’t necessarily want to sit and examine every advertisement, or turn over ever candle, or look at each and every one of the over five hundred Pokemon… but Morgan does. She’ll examine each picture or object in turn with utmost attention and care and I remind myself that this is a marvel and soak in her mindfulness.

I admit that I find myself resisting all this contemplation at times and wanting progress reports: What do you See? What are you Thinking? I want prosaic statements of interest and intention, reassurances that all this quiet is Good for Something. It’s some of my baggage: schoolish worries about progress and Puritan-work-ethic worries about utility. I keep those thoughts to myself: “shh”. Morgan, following her interests into silence and back out again, doesn’t need any of that.




I promise you this is most definately not about control, it's purely about [my son's] health, at least for me it is, I can't speak for [my husband] as he does seem to hang on to control a LOT more than I do. I would gladly let go completly if I were parenting alone.

It's certainly a complex situation with a lot of factors! A big one is that you're trying to impose unschooling on your husband and extended family and it's generating conflict. It might be better for you to step away from the idea of unschooling and focus on ways to reduce conflict.
I think maybe you're reading "control" as control of people when what you're trying your hardest to do is control the environment. That's certainly something that can be kinder and gentler than controlling people directly... when it works. The trouble is, you have a number of key people in the environment who aren't on the same page with you. You don't Have your ideal environment and are stuck trying to push these other people to help you build it.

That's one of the problems with wanting to be a "gatekeeper". But from the perspective of supporting natural learning, the bigger trouble with being a gatekeeper is that its easy to focus so hard on the gate you forget why you're there. Supporting natural learning as a partner (unschooling) involves shifting your focus away from the gate, to the child and what the child wishes to learn – even if its Not something You want him to learn. There’s the rub!

Right now you're seeing a 'gate' that's all about "health" - and that's totally understandable considering the poor health of the extended family; but you've made the gate pretty slim. Maybe that's unavoidable given your circumstances. Whole life unschooling isn't possible for everyone.

A good base for ds to learn from is basically seeing that people eat healthy foods, foods that help the brain and body function properly. From there he can decide what to eat and when.

It’s a good idea, but it depends on you being able to create an environment in which that’s what he sees – and it doesn’t sound like that’s the environment you have. As I said, that’s one downside to being a gatekeeper, it doesn’t take the real world into account very well and you end up exerting a whole lot more control in order to keep your environment pure.

The thing is, you don’t need that for your child to learn about food and health and decision making. Controlling the environment, being a gatekeeper is One strategy, but it's not the only strategy. And if your goal is unschooling – supporting the process of natural learning in partnership with your child – then being a gatekeeper puts you in the way of that on a regular basis. Getting away from being the gatekeeper, though, to being your child’s partner, takes a Lot of work. It may be, with your circumstances, that it's just not something you can manage. I’m not trying to downplay your concerns about sugar, but if your goal is to be your child’s partner then limiting his sugar intake is not the way to do that. Providing more healthy options Before He’s Hungry is a fantastic way to do that, but you have consistently stated that’s too much work for you. That’s going to limit you to something more like gatekeeping than partnership.

. I don't want 'rules', I just need DH to have some consideration about his sons health and how he is influencing what ds chooses to eat.

And that’s where you slip from controlling the environment to trying to control other people. You have rules already – rules about what makes a “good base” and expectations as to how that good base will result in a better child. That’s the “school in your head” – that’s what you’ll need to deschool in order to understand how “unschooling food” actually plays out.

A lot of people get very confused by expressions like “unschooling food” – I’m trying to move away from those, and away from making statements like “what helps unschooling” because of the vast confusion that I see around those. What does it mean to “unschool food”? Unschooling is the process of supporting natural learning, so unschooling food means helping kids explore and discover their own relationship with food and health. Their own relationship, not necessarily the relationship parents want them to have. That’s scary! In a situation where other adults aren’t making “good choices” it can seem terrifying. What if your son’s choices become those of the extended family? The trouble with gatekeeping is that it won’t prevent that from happening any more than saying “no” will.

I can't expect DS to do something as natural as self regulate with foods that quite simply are not natural.

Learning about food, developing one’s own relationship with food isn’t about self regulating. Your husband and his family self regulate, they just do it differently than you’d prefer. Your son eating a box of biscuits for breakfast is self regulating and it's natural.

If you son’s self regulation doesn’t look the way you want it to look, then its important to look hard at what you want. Not that it’s a terrible thing to want your child to be healthy, but that you appear to have some very narrow ideas about how that looks, how it comes about, and what you’re willing to do to get what you want. That’s a setup for frustration. Its also a setup for binging on less nutritionally dense foods… which is what happened. I know you’re doing the best you can with the resources you have, but that’s not the same as learning to be your child’s partner. As his partner, if he wants to explore biscuits because he sees them as wonderful, then help him have more and better options to explore – that’s more and better biscuits!!!! Not fruit instead of biscuits or yogurt instead of biscuits. But you’re story is also rather contradictory because you’ve also complained about chips, pasta and sausages. Give him what he wants, lots of it, and Before He’s Too Hungry.

but surely there is room for some disagreement about something that would not be available in a natural setting?

Unschooling isn’t natural. It's perfectly natural for adults to exert control over children. It's natural for parents to use force. It's natural to say No, to set limits, to seek to control their lives and limit their worlds. That’s the history of parenting. Unschooling exists only because we live lives of luxury and abundance. Natural learning doesn’t mean learning in a “naturalistic” environment, it means allowing the process of discovery to unfold in this world of luxury and abundance. Kid are surprisingly well equipped to do that, to learn to negotiate the vast array of choices that exist in the world, but they can’t learn to negotiate vast arrays when their worlds are kept narrow. Limiting sugar teaches your son the exact same skills his father’s family has. Limiting it kindly is better than heaping him with shame and guilt for sure! Likely he’ll have an easier time deschooling than you or his dad. That’s better, and better is better. It's not the same as supporting the process of natural learning in partnership, though.

I find it great to let go and unschool...

Supporting the process of natural learning in partnership does take some letting go. Letting go of baggage, yes. Letting go of the old voices in your head saying “children need…” absolutely. Letting go of the idea that you can protect your children from the world, bingo. Letting go of expectations and outcomes, unquestionably. Your posts don’t show that you’ve let go of those things very well. That’s totally okay – you’re still deschooling! It’s a process! It's not going to ruin your kids lives if you don’t unschool one hundred percent successfully right from the start, they can deschool too, later. You’re working on being kinder, and that’s fantastic.

Step away from the idea of unschooling for awhile and focus on creating more peace and kindness in your life. You don’t need ideas about unschooling to be kinder and more peaceful, and those ideas can get in your way. Right now they seem to be keeping you from being the parent you want to be.