Saying Yes (again)

To the question of what to do when a child wants something the parents can't afford (big things, not a toy):

Pam Sorooshian wrote:
This happens a lot, of course, to most of us. I mean, how many of us can afford everything in the whole world we might want. But, where some parents might brush off the very idea of pursuing a certain interest, unschooling parents will really try to find ways to support it, even if we can't jump in full-on right away. I know a kid who has always loved the idea of flying airplanes. Her parents could have easily said, "No WAY we can afford it, after taking one quick look at the cost of flying lessons." But, they kept looking for ideas - and taking her to events that featured airplanes - and meeting people and asking questions. She joined the Civil Air Patrol - and got some experience that way AND met others who were interested in flying, as well. She slowly, for years, took whatever little bits of flying opportunities she could get. When she got older, she got a job working in the office of a local flight school. THAT really got her a lot of opportunities. She is a pilot now. Her parents could have crushed that interest back when she was maybe 12 years old with a dismissive attitude about finances.

We can't magically afford everything - but very often we can afford something.

Sue Patterson:
Also, sometimes it depends on prioritizing. There are lots of things families can do when they're willing to readjust some spending patterns or some issues. Expensive activities can sometimes mean figuring out ways to raise more money and explore all the options. The parents have to help the kid get more creative on how to get there. That's the first step. Lots of parents (not usually unschooling parents, but sometimes) quickly dismiss the hard-to-attain goals, for all kinds of personal reasons.

Michael wanted to go to Japan, so he found ways to raise the money and go as an exchange student. He wanted to at 13. He figured it out, with a lot of help, by 16. Everything doesn't happen overnight. Katie is studying acting at a conservatory in NYC. She's wanted to do that since 12. She did a lot of acting along the way and then at 20, was able to make it happen. But we didn't even GO to NYC until she was 19. It just wasn't in the financial cards for us then.

When Alyssa and Ron got "into" horses, we took riding lessons, bartered at a stable, leased a horse, learned a ton about the work involved. Then as a family we moved from the suburbs and bought a ranch. I know that's pretty drastic, but when enough family members get on board, all kinds of things are possible!

On the Always Learning list in June, 2007, a mom came back after ten years and reported on changes in her unschooling life:
Hello. I have recently rejoined this list after a long absence (and I was just a lurker before, so I doubt anyone would remember me—although Sandra, yours was the voice that first got me started thinking about homeschooling and unschooling way back on AOL in the mid 90s, when my oldest was just an infant...I used to go to chats you hosted there). I have five children ages 12 to 1, always homeschooled, and though we started off as unschoolers I drifted into requiring this and that over the years—very gentle & Charlotte Masonish, but still some requiring.

And we have mostly been happy but often been tense, and in the past few months I've been looking around and noticing that there really is a lot more tension here in my home than I had realized. I realized I am being more critical, a scolder, and this is so far from the picture I have always had of myself that it has been something of a shock.

So I resubbed here and have spent a couple of days buried in the archives and reimmersing myself in all the helpful stuff at Sandra and Joyce's sites.

It's rather a humbling experience to take a good look at yourself and see that you've lost hold of something you once held very firmly in your heart.

But I'm a huge believer in fresh starts, and I decided to just hit my personal reset button and start fresh. I am still pondering some of the basic issues about chores, meals, etc, that I know many of you have settled for yourselves a long time ago. For now I have begun with something very simple, which is saying yes instead of no. I was reading Sandra's Yes page and I could hear myself saying no no no all the time. I used to always be a yes mom. Somewhere between kids 3 and 4 I drifted into no...

I'm seeing myself use words like "drift" and "shift" a lot, and it's strange that it feels so gradual and invisible a change in me, because that implies the opposite of mindfulness, and honestly it's not like I ever stopped thinking about parenting and education issues. Perhaps I've thought about them TOO much, read too many opposing points of view, got all muddled up in my own mind. What do I really think? I hardly know anymore. (I told you it was humbling. I'm pushing 40 and I feel way dumber than I did at 25.)

Things are not terrible here, just, as I said, sometimes full of friction. Cross words coming out of my mouth (the 25 yr old me would be shocked).

Anyway, as I said, yesterday I took a deep breath and started over, with YES. I kept a little list of all the things the kids asked for (they didn't see me doing this).

Can we have some jellybeans? Yes.
Can we watch a movie? Yes
Could you get me a pickle and a napkin in a bowl, and can I eat it on the couch? Yes. (Shushing the mom-voice in my head that wanted to say we NEVER eat on the couch, you know that. I just said 'sure' and got the pickle, and then another when she asked for a second one.)
Can we play a computer game? Yes.

Later I was looking at my list and I thought, wow, I'd have loved to have a day like that when I was a kid. Jellybeans and a movie and pickles and computer games.

I don't actually have any of the "but what if all they ever want to do is eat jellybeans and play computer games" concerns because I see how creative my kids are and how whenever they've had time on the computer or watching a video they run off and play elaborate pretend games based on whatever they were watching/playing, and they ask me to read to them a lot, and THEY read a lot, and I am constantly astonished by how much they know and how most of it is a surprise to me, not stuff I've directed. So, since I am NOT worried about that, I had to ask myself what I AM worried about—why would I have said no to those same requests the day before?

I am thinking about all this, why I became a No mom, and getting back in the habit of saying yes.

Anyway, I wanted to thank you for your illuminating discussions here.

Sara, mom of five

Pages named above: Sandra's and Joyce's sites, and Sandra's Yes page

And a few days later...
Funny that Smurfs have come up, because I cleaned out the garage just the other day and found MY old Smurf set—about a dozen of the figures and the little mushroom house. My kids went wild. They've only discovered Smurfs recently themselves; my husband saw it on the cable guide and recorded a bunch of episodes on the DVR. The kids have been watching it on Saturday mornings, and hubby and I are there going OH I REMEMBER THAT ONE! and stuff.

One episode launched a great discussion about "fairness"—whether something the Smurfs did in response to Gargamel was "fair" or not. It was a great conversation. My 8yo especially was quite animated over the whole thing, almost outraged that the "good" guys (Smurfs) were doing something she considered not good, not fair. This led my 12yo to all kinds of questions about if the good guys do something bad to achieve a good end, is that still 'good' or not. Eventually we wound up talking about the war, Iraq, all kinds of political stuff—by then the 8 and youngers were back to watching the show, but the 12yo is very interested in politics and world events, and it became quite a deep discussion—all from Smurfs.

And I kid you not—this was before my 'return to unschooling mindset' epiphany that I wrote about the other day in my 'saying yes' post, and before I had any thought of rejoining this list—I thought "this is one of those moments Sandra Dodd's always writing about." LOL!! Maybe that's what sparked the idea (weeks later) to start poking around Sandra's site again, and to come back here. I really don't know.

I have to say being back here is sort of an unsettling experience, like jumping into deep water and finding out if you still remember how to swim. I have swallowed a lot of water these past few days—am seeing more and more small moments, tiny exchanges between me and the kids, where I have (had) shifted into a more controlling, even rigid, person, and am now trying to unclench.

Sara, mom of 5

More reports of transformations: and more on saying yes and giving kids choices.