separation anxiety

We did recently stop nursing and that is not going well. <<

That's very likely a big part of the issue - the end of nursing can leave a child feeling very vulnerable. But another part is purely that she's 5. It's a delicate age - she's out of the toddler years but not "a big kid" yet, not really. She's starting to have a sense of the wider world around her, but that's scary! It's a big world! So it's really normal for her to want to keep tabs on her safety net, her mom, and to keep mommy close. 

>>Here is the issue: she is so attached to me that she will sometimes cry if she cannot come with me<<

What kind of crying are we talking about? Inconsolable screaming and flailing around? Is she crying so much she's getting sick or wearing herself out? Or does she weep a little and then settle down and get on with her day once you're out of sight? It's an important question because, while naturally you don't want to hurt her feelings, it's also perfectly normal for her to be upset and express that via tears. Life has real limits - real sources of frustration, disappointment, and sadness. And 5yos are often very sensitive to frustration, disappointment and sadness Because they're beginning to get a sense of the wider world. It's not uncommon for 5yos to cry because they want to fly to the moon - not pretend to fly, not go up in a balloon or airplane, but really fly to the moon. And it's impossible. And it's okay to cry about that, to be disappointed at the edges of possibility. 

Be gentle with her feelings, but also recognize that it's okay for her to feel and express them - even when they're not comfortable. One of the things she's getting a chance to learn about is emotions - negative as well as positive. How nice that she can do that with people who are sweet and kind and will try to help her, rather than being sent away someplace where her feelings are inadmissible and a kind of failure.

>> But now at play groups or at the park, etc she will not go and play without me right there.<<

It's also important to recognize that what you've done in the past may not always be workable - kids' needs change! And it's important that your parenting changes along with them. Right now, it may not be feasible for you to get work done while she's playing outside the home. Time to change the way you get work done! It might be better to plan less outings so that you can schedule more work time at home, or rearrange how you and your husband divvy up the available work-hours. 

Any advice on how to encourage her to do things on her own but still respect her feelings?

"Encouraging" her to do things without you is much more likely to make her more anxious about wanting to be close to you. In fact, with the end of nursing, it's better to plan to spend more time with her for awhile, reassuring her as much as possible by your close presence. Again, that might entail less outings - it sounds like you're out of the house a huge amount, with art and dance classes! Cut down to one or two outings a week, including things like running errands and shopping. Your daughter is letting you know that she's feeling vulnerable right now. Help her feel secure by doing a lot of nesting. 



Re:I really hoped I would get opinions from 'both sides' of the sugar issue

I have to admit, I find comments like this on a whole-life unschooling list baffling. In terms of finding ways to support the natural learning process in partnership with young children, there isn't a "sugar issue" at all. It’s a control issue - how much control do I "need" to hang onto.

That's a hard one, because we're bombarded with parenting messages about control - Laura, you seem like you're being bombarded from all sides! That's stressful, and the most natural thing in the world, under stress, is to find a way to feel in control. Its a mega-whammy and it can feel like a lose-lose.

Shifting your thinking away from control is the core of deschooling for parents. It is not possible to control what another person learns. Not about math. Not about food. Not about technology. Not about anything in the whole world. Learning is always and forever the purview of the person doing the learning.

Unschooling is about learning. Its amazing to me how often people are startled by that statement. Learning is about the flow of ideas, about connections. If there are differences of perspective, let them be about learning – what helps ideas flow freely? What helps people make connections be to care and joy?

 This is Exactly where sooooooo many parents get hung up - its the same issue with television, with games, with clothes, with money, with sleep with courtesy and responsibility. The “sides” are always the same: that parents "have to" retain a certain amount of control over the situation rather than parents Adapting to the specific needs of each individual family member to better walk at that person’s side in partnership and so support the flow of natural learning. It’s a lot of work to adapt in that way... at first. Once you get the hang of adapting it’s no more work than any other kind of parenting. Once you get the hang of it, it’s less stressful, too. Unfortunately, the transition can be too rough for a loooooot of people. I don't want to down-play that. Not every family can adapt to whole-life unschooling. It takes a lot of deschooling for parents and that can be overwhelming when children are young.

No one has to unschool. That's not a dismissive statement, it’s a gift. No one ever ever ever has to unschool. It is a choice – an ongoing choice to support natural learning as a partner rather than trying to manage it for someone else.

avoiding conflict over food

This has been sitting in the "edit me" bin for awhile - I've lost some of the original context, but it's a good summary of some of the typical food-conflict questions:

A parent  wrote:
I don't eat many sugary (refined) foods at all. I mainly snack on fruit and yogurts, eat fairly healthy dinners with meat and vegetables.

It can be really frustrating and confusing to have a child with different dietary needs than yours. Its pretty amazing how different those needs can be – and how much they change over time. If its clear that your child’s nutritional needs aren't similar to yours, look for better ways to meet his. In your other post you mentioned needing to make three different “meals” or words to that effect. There’s nothing Inherently wrong with that, its more that we've been raised with a social expectation that the cook chooses the food. It will help to step away from that idea and look to support the people in your family. Once you've stepped away from the expectation of “A Meal” its easier to plan how you’re going to budget your time so that you’re not spending more than you’d like in the kitchen. Combine meal prep with making snacks for the next day, for instance.

I was beginning to get really pissed off that just before my son and I were about to sit down to a dinner I'd spent ages cooking that my husband would pop open a bag of Monster munch

It can help to get away from making big meals and do something more mixed – do you know what a “monkey platter” is? Kind of like eating buffet-style, you provide a bunch of options and people pick and choose. It also helps to set out food before people are ravenous!Nothing sets people up to chow down on cheap snacks like having to wait while someone cooks! So get ahead of that game. If its taking you longer to cook than people want to wait, set out some snacks – crisps and veggies and biscuits and nuts right away. If no-one is hungry for the “meal” then you have food for tomorrow – hooray! You’re another step ahead! With practice, you won’t set yourself up for the big emotional drama of “they won’t eat my cooking” – bleh, who needs that never-ending baggage? It takes time to shift to another way of preparing food so its convenient for you And for your family, but when you can do that you’ll find people are more likely to eat foods that are more nutritionally dense. Here’s a link to a page on monkey platters to give you ideas:


I frequently offer to make him more filling foods but he often turns it down. He basically seems to have a fear of new foods and has issues about eating in front of people.

Offer variations on a theme rather than new things. Don't ask "should I make?" just add new things to the buffet - slowly so that he has a chance to get comfortable. Don’t say anything, don’t call any special attention, and don’t fuss if you end up throwing away a lot of trial foods for awhile. If he likes crisps see if he’s interested in dips by having some on hand – maybe get one of those serving plates that’s divided into little sections and put out a few different dips to try. Mixed platters make a good way to offer food to more than one person at a time, too – you can put out foods everyone likes, plus new things. Introduce new foods slowly and don’t push (and experiment with making your own! yes, even crisps!).

We managed like that for 2.5 yrs no problem.

Ah, yes... you've hit a developmental shift that often throws parents for a loop in big ways.
Younger toddlers are really very accommodating where food is concerned. But some time around 3 or 4 kids often enter a very very conservative stage in terms of what they eat. They gravitate toward foods that are sweet-starchy-fat for the most part. It's so very common and it's when a lot of parents move from being sanguine about food to flipping out and becoming exactly the parents they swore not to be. But you don't have to get caught in the same old parenting trap, you can choose to see the time as developmentally normal and natural. It does pass if you don't get bogged down in panic (perfectly understandable panic! but not helpful).

With younger kids, the strategy of “only good food in the house” works well up to a point. Kids are wired to have a narrow focus during the early toddler years, and have relatively adventurous palates, besides. But at 3ish their palates narrow down  - sometimes to only white or brightly colored foods - and by 4 they often have Definite Opinions about what they want you to buy. It can really push your buttons if You have very definite opinions of what children “should” eat to be healthy. Its reassuring to know that kids given a lot of freedom to say no and yes during this time are still healthy. It can help to keep your focus on health itself – look at your child, is he sparkly and energetic? Lots of curiosity? Skin and hair look good? Focus on your healthy child and rejoice. He won’t stay little forever.

Mo spent one summer living on milk, crackers and cookies – Period! It was shocking. I took lots of deep breaths, bought chewable vitamins so I wouldn't freak out, and made lots of cookies. She was robustly healthy the whole time, and continues to be healthy. Although she moved out of that stage after only a few months, she's still a very conservative eater, so much so that periodically we've had lists on the fridge of all the things she's known to eat so that George and I don't start to panic. We can look and say "oh, she eats eight different things, plus milk and juice... not so bad." Sometimes it helps to have a strategy for "talking yourself down" like that.

I totally agree it shouldn't be OK for my husband to eat them and not my son. I think they quite simply shouldn't be there so often for him to have the option all day every day.

How big of a bitch do you want to be? That sounds harsh, but it may help to clarify. Are you willing to make big divots in your relationship with your husband? To essentially turn into his parents, controlling what he eats? That won’t help your relationship, or your husband, or even your son. A home in which people are controlling and resentful about food doesn't encourage good anything, it’s no better than your own childhood experience, I promise you.

How miserably unhealthy is your husband and his family? Are they bloated with malnutrition? Lackluster, dull people with no sparkle whatsoever? If so, its well worth asking why you want to stay in those relationships. But if not, if they’re reasonably healthy by normal standards, then step back from your ideas about what people should and should not eat. Have more healthy options in the house, make nutritionally dense foods as attractive and convenient as processed foods, provide more options regularly, and get out of the way.


maternal needs

Years ago I attended a teacher training workshop where the fellow leading it had a really interesting piece of advice. He said it was valuable to know all the ignoble reasons you wanted to teach. It's easy to point to the noble reasons, after all, reasons to do with helping and uplifting people, but the other reasons, the less lovely reasons are also important because they're tied up with your own needs.

That's an idea which stuck with me, and I brought it into parenting - why did I want to be a mom? Not the pretty reasons about loving someone else but the reasons I wasn't really comfortable with. Reasons having to do with me, my ego, my desire to be powerful and in control, and my fantasies about how cool I would be, how much my kid would love me because I'm just so awesome. Not exactly pretty stuff! And it has been true that those less-than-noble reasons are bound up in my needs - and as such, they're guideposts for meeting my needs; my personal needs and my maternal needs.

It's not popular to talk about maternal needs. I think sometimes there's a fear that admitting to those will diminish us, make us something less-than. I remember how shocking it was to first read advice on an unschooling list to smell my child's head as a way to relax. It seemed weird.

There's a lot of advice "out there" about getting your grown-up woman needs met away from your kids. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but meeting your needs doesn't have to be separate... and that's where knowing the dark side of why you want to be a mom (and a home/unschooling mom besides!) can be valuable. You may find you have ways to meet some of your own needs, your personal needs, right there at home already. You're popular. You're valued - so much so your kids want you to do things for them all day long. Your kids think you're pretty cool - so cool they want to show you everything that's important to them. Those kinds of requests can feel overwhelming, so it can help to re-frame them in terms of meeting your own needs, too. It's okay to be the coolest, most valuable, most popular person in your own home. It's a good thing, even.


Force for Ultimate Good

I've been reading too many comic books.

I brought up the idea of principles - or core values or whatever I called them, Force for Ulimate Good, if you prefer - in a post recently and someone suggested that wasn't a very useful idea, that someone's principles were actually her problem.

To me, that's backwards; principles are never the problem, they're exactly what's good about our human nature because they arise out of the good in our human nature - whether we define them in words or relate to them as feelings of warmth or light or lovingkindness.

Principles aren't the same as the superego - they're not the same as rules or laws or "supposed tos" but I think that's one of the places people get stuck and either "follow"/"apply" their principles like a formula or resist and rebel against what they think are principles. Some moms get stuck with ideas like "lovingkindness" as a kind of rule in their head - a good mommy is loving and kind - and then hurt themselves spiritually, mentally, even physically, trying to follow or apply that rule to their life. It doesn't work as a rule! Applying and following principles or values doesn't work well at all - it gets you stuck in one hole or another. And that's where the Force for Ulitmate Good analogy is actually useful, and more than just a silly phrase I made up after reading too many comic books with my kid. Because if you think about Applying a Force - even a force for ultimate good - it's a lot easier to see the problem.

What makes principle or values or a Force for Ultimate Good work is when it's something that rises up inside of you and motivates you in a positive way. That voice or light or feeling rising up from within - that's a person's principles at work. But it can be difficult, if you're used to applying principles (or if you're stressed!), to tell that feeling from the kind of overwhelm or frustration which says "lock the kid in the bathroom so you can eat." That's when having thought about principles can be helpful, because you can use them as a benchmark for reasonable analysis.

Joy or happiness is often held up as one of the personal principles which will support unschooling. It's not something you can apply. It is something you can look around and say "what's creating more joy in my family?" Something what creates more joy doesn't look much like some ideal of unschooling - and that's okay. Because at it's core, unschooling is about learning and the principles which support learning. Human beings can't not learn - we learn in sorrow and despair and impossible suffering - so in that sense, unschooling is about learning our own core principles so that our kids can learn Their own core principles. We can't give them a Force for Ultimate Good, but we can create an environment in which they can express their own.

That probably all sounds a bit woo if you're juggling laundry and dishes and kids who want your time and attention ;) but it can really help to pause just long enough to let the good parts of your human nature - whatever you want to call them - rise up in the presence of your children.