The Value of Choices

Arbitrary rules and limits have the characteristic that they entice kids to think about how they can get around them and can even entice kids to cheat and lie. I know a couple of really really great unschooled kids whose parents set limits on their computer use time. The kids used to get up in the middle of the night to use the computer while their parents were asleep. It is an unintended but very very predictable side effect of rules and limits that they always set parents and children up as adversaries (the parents are setting the rules and the children are being required to obey them - these are adversarial positions) and can lead to kids feeling guilty and sneaky when they inevitably bend or even outright break the rules. Avoiding that kind of possibility is one really good reason for not having rules or limits at all.

Pam Sorooshian

I think that when I was trying to meet everyone's needs before those of our family I was always yelling, always frustrated, always late, always cranky. Now that we are on OUR schedule, I have the patience to say yes, the patience to always answer a question, the patience always to look something up. Always focus on the positive. I tell my kids we always have a choice. Choose positive. It's easier.

Carole in CT

Joyce's balloon analogy...

• It's hard to trust, for me.

For most everyone!

• I was schooled in a school building...

As were 99% of the people! 🙂

• At this point, I CAN'T let my son have all the screen time he'd like.

Probably most of the people have something they aren't ready to let go of.

But the list is to provide help and support for the practices someone *has decided they want to change* not the practices they want to hold onto.

Unfortunately that gives the impression that everyone on the list is perfect, that it's easy to just let go of old ways and all they need is some tips on what to do instead!

But I think a better way to look at the list is to picture everyone with a dozen practices they're holding onto that make their own life easier and less fearful. The practices are like balloons that support their fears because their fears are threatening to pull them into a bottomless abyss. They *want* to hold onto the balloons and they can't understand why people find it so easy to let go.

It *isn't* easy to let go! It's scary! It takes some uncomfortable self examination to let go. But what you're seeing displayed on the list is the one balloon someone has decided to let go of. You're just not seeing the other 11 balloons they're still holding onto. ;-)

When people decide to let go, when they bring a practice to the list that they want help with, it isn't because it's easy. It's because they've been examining that practice in a new light and they don't like the new vision. The new vision makes them more uncomfortable than the fear. One of their balloons doesn't look so comforting any more. They were only seeing the balloon part of the practice that was holding them up and supporting their fears, but now they've seen the lead part that was weighing down their kids and holding themselves back. They've reached the point with that practice where they've said, "Yes, it's scary to let go, but I can now see that where this balloon is taking me is even scarier. And I want help letting go."

Don't assume that everyone has let go of all their balloons!

Don't assume that letting go is easy! You just haven't seen all the self-examination that has gone on in private as people read the list without posting. This is the list to post to when you've decided to let go.

But it's also a good list to read to help you get to the point where you want to let go of a practice.

It just isn't a good place to tell people why you aren't ready to let go.😉 Because everyone who posts regularly has let go of at least one balloon and is eager to help others let go of the ones they now see were weighing them down.

• At this point, I CAN'T let my son have all the screen time he'd like.

When you're ready to work on that, it will help yourself *hugely* to see that you are *choosing* not to let him. You don't like the consequences (they *are* temporary consequences!) of letting him have all the screen time he'd like. So you are *choosing* to limit.

If there is one piece of advice I could give people it would be to see everything they do as a choice. It is so incredibly freeing. 🙂 It seems like the only reason we do so many unpleasant things in life is because we don't have a choice. But it's the perception of not having a choice makes them doubly onerous.

As an example, I hated cleaning the toilet. It was just something you had to do every week (or month 😉). And just because I had to do it, I never wanted to and fought against it, often avoiding my responsibility for six months! But when I realized it was a choice, that I could choose to never ever ever scrub the toilet again, I realized that it was nice to see it not filthy. I could choose— when I wanted to!—to have a clean toilet. And I found that once I realized there wasn't anyone making me clean, that I cleaned it a lot more often.

If you decide to let him have all the screen time he'd like I promise you it will be hard! It will be hard to make the decision. It will be hard on you to let go of control over a piece of your life. It will be hard to see the new problems letting go creates. But the place on the other side on beyond this transition period where your son sees screen time as just another thing to do and not something precious to be coveted is a really awesome place.🙂 And it will be worth it.

But it's only when you have read enough to see that there's something better, when you've reflected on the tension in the house and feel that tension doesn't seem a good enough compromise to prevent something that isn't seeming as scary as it once was, only then will you be one of the perceived "perfect" ones who posts to the list and says "Okay, I've let go, now what?" 😉

• I hope this group is open enough for me to be able to admit that without serious accusations of being inadequate or such.

This seems to be the crux of the difficulties people have with this type of list. Many people want places to vent, where they can air their faults and have others say "Yes, I have that exact same problem. I know what you're going through because I'm going through the same thing."

That's what support lists are for. 🙂

This is a discussion list. It's a place to work out the things you've decided to work on.

Maybe there are two types of people: People who want to work out their problems in private while getting support for how hard it is. And people who recognize that not being perfect is part of life and want a place to work on being better.

I wonder if it's personality or school that causes people to think they're bad for not doing everything right? Probably personality but then school makes it worse. 😕 But no one on the list sees anyone as bad for not doing everything "right". No one expects everyone to be doing everything "right". Because there isn't "right" so much as there is actively working towards better, or moving towards unschooling instead of away. And the list is a place to work towards better. Any posts are assumed to be a request for help. It's the next step beyond "Life's hard." That's why there isn't much support for "It's hard," and "I can't." This type of list is the place to go when you want to ask "So what do I do about that? How do I make it less hard. How do I move beyond 'I can't'."

• I know I may get flamed for this but I'm working on it.

It's not flames. It's help to move on! 🙂

The list is just not a support list where people can post about how hard life is and sympathize with each other.

Yes, life's hard. Let's talk about the things we're ready to change so it's not so hard!🙂


Intentions matter. Guidance offered from the place of partnership and Trust has a different feeling, avoids rebellion, and is just plain less focused on the trivial. Guidance means optional acceptance instead of mandatory compliance. Guidance means parents being safety nets, not trap doors or examiners. Guidance facilitates mindfulness. Directives shut it down, and may even foster resentment instead.

The idea of Unschooling is for parents to be the facilitators of options, the openers of doors, the creators of environments of freedom, and the guardians of choice, not the installers of roadblocks and barriers. Unschoolers are making the huge and wonderful choice to renounce our legal entitlements to be the authoritarian controllers of our children's lives, and instead choose to be their partners.

Robyn Coburn
in the midst of a longer response
which is here


I have found that children who do not have freedom of choice, or have been controlled, become angry. Adults do not see this anger, but other children often become targets because of it.

I have listened to a mother talk proudly about how she would not let her son watch The Lord of the Rings until he read all the books. Than I have had to console another child, (not mine) on the way home because that child would not let him play with his LOTR's toy, because he hadn't read the books. This poor crying child hadn't even seen the movies, because they show wizards and magic, and his parents feel they are not Christian.

I have had to explain to my child why another child, (who's mother is proud that he is not allowed to play violent video games, or use toy swords or guns) pushed him from the top of a very high hay pile, onto the hard ground, without warning, while laughing.

I have seen pumpkins being jumped on and smashed, while they still belong to the farmer. I have seen museum pieces being kicked at under the viewing rope. I have seem a great deal of anger being acted out, while mothers discuss their wonderful theories, and curriculums.

Vicky Bennison
(in the midst of a post about boundaries at homeschooling groups)

Sandra's responses to Dire Predictions

"Of course THEY were happy watching TV all day. But reality is, we don't get to do whatever we want all day."

Can't you do what you want?
"Otherwise I'd sit here on the puter and laugh as the piles of laundry took over and the dishes grew mold and the dogs starved and....you get the picture. "
You could choose to do that, but every day you choose not to. Only because you have a choice!


On Parental Decisionmaking
Sandra Dodd responding to questions posed

"The thing that is making me crazy is having to figure out how to home/unschool our 16yr son. He would be happy to spend all day, every day, on the computer, much of it playing fps games."

If you look at the overall wage-earning situation, maybe being in nursing school isn't the best way for you AND your son to be making enough money five or ten years from now. He's sixteen. Can you wait two years to go to work? Could you and he both get jobs somewhere?
"I've been the homeschooling parent for over ten years now, and am forced back into the workforce due to our financial situation."
Please try not to see your situation in terms of "being forced." Your husband didn't die and you're not starving, right? You're working on making choices, you're not being forced at gunpoint to do something, or they wouldn't have let you come and write to us. More on the idea of "force."
"We live in a rural area, and he doesn't drive yet."
You're not studying nursing in a rural area, are you? Can he go to town with you when you go to class? Can he take some classes? Maybe not academic classes, maybe music or photography or computers, without intent to enroll in a degree program.
"Timing is everything--this was supposed to be the time when he'd really start to blossom, as he had been the past year or so."
Timing is a BIG part of life, and when you finish nursing school you will no longer have a "school-aged" child. The age of compulsory schooling will have passed you by. You won't be able to go back and have a sixteen year old, or a seventeen year old. Can you rent out your bigger rural house and live in an apartment for a bit here so he's not isolated? Maybe he can get around town on foot, or by bus, or bicycle. The cost of living rurally is about to become very expensive for you too, if you can't be there to drive him out into the larger world. Would he want to go to high school next year? They couldn't give him a diploma, but he could spend a year in the company of other kids, practicing some math and writing, without the pressures they will have to make good grades and finish their diplomas. And the bus would pick him up for free, right?
"On top of it all, I'm really trying to overcome the feeling of "being so old" and returning to school—although we feel it is the best thing to do."
Does your son feel it is the best thing for you to do?

December 26, 2005, AlwaysLearning list

On how children will make choices about how to spend money (Joyce Fetteroll, then Pam Sorooshian):

There's the common thought that if they're "indulged" they'll never understand the value of money. But with my daughter that didn't prove true and I don't think the common thought has any basis. It's just fear.


It is a left-over idea that children won't learn what we don't directly teach them. We know that's not true. They WANT to be competent and capable and they will want to live good lives in which they will think about what makes sense to get what they want and do what they want. it is once again a matter of trust—trusting that they'll "grow up" and that if we don't mess with them, if we don't warp them in some way, they'll make conscious decisions about money.

NO different than food issues at all—if we keep at them about what they eat or don't eat—if we bug them all the time, if we say, "You can eat anything you want, but, oh, honey, do you really want to eat just cake for breakfast, don't you think you should have some eggs?" then we undermine their own sense of self, their own sense of making their own choices, their own chance to make their own "little" mistakes. Their eating, as adults, will STILL be somehow controlled by that controlling mommy voice in our heads—and, as teens and adults, we very often tend to be resistant to it—which means that we find ourselves as ADULTS, eating too much cake while hearing, "You shouldn't be eating that," over and over in our heads.

Do we want our kids to grow up and find themselves spending money on the adult equivalent of junky little things while hearing, "You shouldn't be buying that," over and over in their heads?

Trust them.

Be their support system. I want so much for my kids to grow up and hear that mommy voice in their head saying positive supportive things, not tearing them down, but encouraging them—and especially not a voice to be resisted. This drives me. I don't do it all that well—but what I focus on is awareness of what they're likely hearing/saying to themselves in response to what I'm saying out loud.


I have to tell all of you that after only a couple of weeks of unlimited TV our TV has even been described as boring. It is on and then off and on and then off. It is kind of fun watching them learn to self regulate...

"Self regulate" means to make a rule and then follow it yourself.

They're not self regulating. They're making choices.
It's different. It's better!


Ds knocks the socks off me and his dad. He is so clearsighted because we struggled to parent in ways that didn't come naturally even though they made a certain sense and held a promise that was making itself evident in our lives everyday. Even his dad who is not an unschooler that *I* know of agrees with how much easier it is to allow ds the freedom of making choices and learning from them in a protected environment; so that ds has a good grasp on the decision making process before he is confronted with the world away from home. The more you use a tool (like deciding what to select from a group of choices) the more opportunities you have to learn about the process of using it, and the better you are at it. The less interruptions of seemingly well intentioned advice and distractions from the parent, the better a child can figure out where to put a piece of knowledge in the map of his/her developing worldview.

To me it's a lot about giving your child the freedom to think for himself as early as possible. You don't have to tell a child what to think when they're already learning it already! That was a concept that did not sink into me very easily in practice but I kept reminding myself to hold my eager tongue and continue seeing the fruits of my labors everyday in ds' wonderful self.

~K~ (katherand)

Decisions Options Respect Parenting

Title art by Devyn Dodd, 2024