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and its related problems

Posted on Always Learning by Schuyler Waynforth, July 22, 2011, in response to someone describing a young boy's reaction to limitations after a long day away from home:
Imagine that you'd had a really big day and were hungry and tired and came home to be told that you couldn't do something that you really wanted to do. Something that you'd thought about in moments when you were out with pleasure and anticipation. Something that you knew would help to relax you, to wind you down. Have a glass of wine, or a piece of bread that you'd baked that morning. Watch a television show that was on that evening, read the next chapter in a book that you were really enjoying. Someone who had power over you decided that you couldn't do whatever it was that you were wanting to do because you needed to eat dinner, shower and go to bed. Would you savor your meal? Would you enjoy the feeling of the warm water cascading over you in the shower? Would you fall asleep peacefully? Or would each and every one of those experiences be tainted by the power that someone else had wielded over you, poisoned by your own powerlessness, your weakness in the face of someone else's flexed muscle?
Here, but the first two paragraphs are a quote, not Schuyler's writing.

My response to part of the same story, following a quote:
-=-I helped him to process his feelings, expressed how disappointed he must feel, and reminded him of his fun day and that the game would be available tomorrow. I gave him time to calm down and eat if he chose ( he even said how hungry he was but that he was not going to eat ). -=-
I would be really angry if anyone did that to me. If I were gone all day and someone told me I couldn't check my e-mail, and then tried to feed me, I wouldn't want that food. I wouldn't want that house. I wouldn't want that person.

No one could help me process my feelings in such a case.
Someone who didn't understand that I had been polite all day, and thinking all day of when I could check e-mail, would not be my friend. They would not be my partner. If I had a choice, I would not stay at that house anymore.

If you wanted him to eat, because of the purpose of food and nutrition, the best thing to do would have been to let him get on his game and put easily-eaten food nearby. If food is important, that would have been best. If he had been waiting to do something with which he was fascinated, letting him do it would have been best. If the relationship between the parent and child is important, that would have been best.

It's not too late to do that next time.

Focus, Hobbies, Obsessions


In March 2018, a situation showed a family where shunning "control" might have gone too far. There is a link to the discussion below, but something I wrote seemed useful to include here.

-=- I don't control what, where or when my daughters eat. -=-

Parents do have more responsiblity than kids do for peace, and for preservation of furniture and floors (and walls, and equipment).

The "I don't control..." could go too far, quickly and easily.

"I don't control where or when my kids play with the hose."

"I don't control where or when my kids play baseball."

"I don't control where or when my kids use fireworks."
Protecting property isn't the same as "controlling kids."

When a family gives children the idea that they can do whatever they want to do, whenever, however—whether it comes from words or from the parents stepping back, and then stepping back again, until the parents seem backed up against a wall—it can cause problems in and out of the home.

Help your children see WHY some foods are best eaten at the table. Help your children understand how to take care of furniture and carpet before they go to visit other houses. And before they ruin yours.

Unschooling doesn't need any wild destruction. People can live gently and thoughtfully without control or rules.


Original, on facebook

Posted to the Unschooling Discussion list Thursday, February 2003, by jnjstau@... (in response to that first quote and related info, which was about TV, but applies to all controlling)

...I just can't feel ok about that....it makes me so angry....I am not willing to subject my children...
If you go back through this [topic] and count the number of posts that are about the mom and how SHE feels vs. those about the kids and any problems they appear to be having, it is difficult to believe that the tv issue is about the the kids.

I used to be a tv controller, diet controller, behavior and thought controller (at least I thought I was). I was trained as a child psychologist....my poor kids *sigh*. I no longer go with that philosophy and have witnessed with my own eyes that limiting is the problem, not the solution.

You don't even have to have "smart kids" for them to effectively self- regulate. Gee whiz, our dogs do it. We have two dogs that were raised in a suburban back yard. We now live on several acres, still anytime the gate is left open, those dogs take off and are gone for hours. We have two dogs that were raised on our front porch without any fencing. They never leave our yard. If a dog can figure it out, I think a child has a pretty good shot.


"Self regulate" is a problematical concept too, and this whole topic is difficult for people to consider because "control" and "regulation" have been considered virtue, not abuses, for so long. —Sandra

Sandra Dodd: But why would it be "self control" and not just "conscious decision-making skills"?

Someone else: It wouldn't be. I was just using crappy terminology. :/

Weeding out terminology we would prefer not to mean improves thinking.

A hundred times or more people have said "just semantics" and "stupid" about me saying "don't say teach," which I've been doing for years. Every time someone says "taught" or "teach" they can slip back into the whole school thing and be seeing the world through school-colored glasses. If they do what it takes, mentally and emotionally, to recast their reports and then their thoughts in terms of who *learned* something, then they can start to see the world in terms of learning.

The last holdout for some people is "he taught himself..." but maybe that should be the FIRST to go. Teaching comes from someone WITH skills or knowledge passing them on to those without them. If I taught myself to play guitar, I would have had to have known how first. I sure did learn how. I told people for years that Ymelda Martinez taught me to play guitar. She got me from mystery to understanding, in one lesson, by me asking her tons of questions and her pointing out physically which angles would be better for my fingers, and how hard and how close to the frets, and how to finger pick. And I had a chord book, and my mom played guitar (a different style than I wanted to do—she did flat-picking, and I wanted to do folkie finger-picking).

I learned from everything around me, from trial and error, from watching others and asking questions.

The information was being sucked in by me, not pushed in by me or anyone else. I didn't PUT the information inside me, I drew it in.

And so with "control" and "deciding"—control implies one KNOWS the right answer and if he's not "out of control" or "lacking self control," there will be no choice; he will control himself. Decisionmaking requires lots of data and thought and freedom and discernment.


Making Choices!

Someone happy about success wrote:

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..
Sandra Dodd response:
"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!

Caren, on the UnschoolingBasics list, responded to the following doubter:
I still find it hard to believe that allowing kids full rein of electronics for months on end will actually help them learn self-control. Is there anyone that has seen the end result of it?
Not to be snarky, but... how can *you* controlling someone else teach them *self*-control? I was "disciplined" as a child - meaning someone else controlled my actions (around them, anyway) through coercion and punishment. I did *not* learn self-discipline. I learned distrust of and alienation from that parent. Perhaps most harmful, distrust of my own inner voice. It has taken years (and years and years) to regain that. "The end result" of not limiting games, TV, etc. is that my kids are learning to listen to *their own* inner guidance about how much is "too much". They are learning what *they* enjoy, not what I think they should enjoy.

And the end result, for me, is not that ultimately they'll watch or play less. It used to be, before I really understood unschooling. (and when I still demonized TV) I used to think "OK, if I "let them" watch all they want, eventually they'll tire of it and move on." Now, the phrase "let them" seems foreign to me, and I have the attitude of hoping what they're doing is bringing them joy, whether that's watching TV, gaming, building a Lego city, or playing outdoors.

It's a bit difficult to explain how that shift occurred, but the word "allowing" comes to mind. I let go, then let go some more, and in the process discovered a deeper connection with my kids than I knew was possible... and because of the inner work involved, a deeper connection with myself.

Gassho ~
Caren Knox

I commented on "End Result" here. —Sandra
As of 2019... the original is archived on my site here, from Unschooling Basics, November 2007

How to Avoid Trying to Control Husbands, regarding unschooling (by De/Sanguinegirl):
You can suggest a path or invite your spouse to enjoy this unschooling path with you, hoping they choose to come with you, but if you push them toward that path, you're likely to be met with resistance. The harder you push, the more resistance you're likely to encounter—to the point that the person you're pushing is likely to walk in the opposite direction the first chance they get. If you do manage to get them on the path and you point out every tiny pebble, twig, root and bump in the path, try to physically steer them away from any possible obstacle, point out when they've stumbled what they did wrong and where they *should* have gone and how they should have acted to avoid the stumble, I don't imagine they'd want to travel along that path with you for very long. It is quite easy to see every possible tiny misstep and potential mistake if you are 1) looking for them and 2) looking down at each and ever place a foot might fall. A much more pleasant and successful way to traverse a path is to give a brief, cursory look at the condition of the path and to look forward, at the horizon—to where you're going, not "looking for possible trouble" in each footstep.

I was much more likely to do this for my children: to give them a general "heads up" (the path looks muddy and a bit slippery or it's kind of bumpy here-easy for a root to snag you up) and get on with the enjoyment of unschooling *or* a literal hiking path. With Dave, I hovered... I jumped at each possible misstep, "Pick up your foot there!"; "Don't walk over on that side, it's not the way I'd go!"; "Now, see-if you'd have walked where I said, that wouldn't have happened." Ick. Not literal hiking paths—that would be silly. How I thought it was more prudent to do that with our unschooling path, I don't know. It stirs resentment, it chases the enjoyment away, it interferes with the actual finding of that person's own way. It was *so* hard for me to sit back and shut up and let my children and their father find their own relationship. Why I thought I knew how someone *should* be a father, I don't know! How I thought I knew better how their relationship *should* unfold, I don't know. All I did was interfere in it and keep it from happening—even, at times, preventing it and undoing it.

I still find the advice I found on the unschooling groups quite valid: find an outlet. Find some other way to channel that pull, that desire, that almost-instinct. Put it to *good* use somewhere where it will do good-or at least where it will do no harm. Put it toward a hobby, revive a hobby it can be used for, *start* one, for crying out loud. Find a friend who's willing to be the receptor of that energy and when you're feeling it start to poke at you, contact that friend and let it rip! Find tiny things to sort and categorize. Needlepoint. Write. Anything that takes concentration, attention to detail and that satisfies that "it must be 'just so' urge." It will be hard at first, but your partner and your kids will be happier for it, and they will make the path that is right for *them*.

January 2009
(not published elsewhere)

Response from Brad, after he read of De's writing above:

Wow. Awesome stuff. Should be retitled to "How to Avoid Trying to Control Partners/Spouses", though. Because this time last year I, the husband, was very much "hovering" near my wife, doing the exact things mentioned in this article, picking apart almost every conversation and interaction she had with my son. I was a little ahead of her in reading about unschooling philosophy (she was concentrating on infant/toddler attachment), and to understand it I needed to talk about it a lot. But my version of talking about it was criticism of *her* and of her actions. It was so very very easy to see how *she* wasn't getting/doing unschooling. Last spring we got a marriage counselor/coach, and this was the very first thing that came up in our sessions. She was feeling micromanaged and constantly monitored, and it was a very heavy issue for her. Once I understood the effect it was having on her and on our relationship, I backed off completely. When I saw her do something that bothered me, I practiced looking inside at Me first. This is something I had "known" intellectually for several years...if some aspect of someone else is bothering you, it's cluing you in to your own trigger area. But I didn't really "get it" until we started unschooling. And now it comes very easy.

Another immensely helpful piece of information was the book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. It gave me the skills to truly concentrate on ME and forget about any illusion of control over my wife. Our home is 100% more peaceful, and conflicts related to deschooling ourselves and unschooling in general are soooooo much easier to discuss and resolve. Our Trust "bank account" had nearly bottomed, but now it's overflowing.

Brad in Boulder, CO

In Between Neglect and Control

Posted on
Always Learning, January 2011, by me (Sandra), linking to this page (Control):

I was asked a question by a new unschooler with another connection to me, and here's my last response:

There's a group of moms [in that part of the world] who do a kind of splinter sect (as it were... "sect" is a bad word for it...) of unschooling, and they use the terms "consensual" a lot, and "autonomy." I bet their kids are fine, but the terms are problematical for the way I (and many who hang out with me) discuss it. So it's a philosophical difference. If you meet up with that group, please consider looking further afield for other information too, because I think part of what they're doing is defending some of the parenting practices that I have seen cause unschooling to fail in other families.

Here's a piece of humor for you to consider. As with much humor, it's also dead-on for real.

How to Screw Up Unschooling

One phrase from that page is "Neglect disguised as freedom" and kind of in response to that occasional condition, that group. . .seems (to me, sometimes) to practice "Control disguised as consent."

For people on this list who are new to those ideas, another link is
Balancing in the Middle Ground

I think finding that balance is probably the hardest thing. It's easy to make an extreme caricature of "being an unschooler" rather than finding a way to live unschooling. Someone recently assured us she was "doing it," but having someone else say "that's it, you're balanced on that bicycle" is worthless if the bicycle falls over. There's doing, and there's being, and there's "it," and the reason this list exists and thrives is that those ideas (doing, being, "it") live in the realm of philosophy, of the examination of ideas, of the weeding out of error and fallacy.

Half of me says "bummer" and half of me says "cool!" and so at the balance point of those two, we continue to discuss unschooling.


This is about sugar—something MANY people want to "control."

In a discussion, someone wrote:
-=-We keep mostly "good for you" foods in the house.-=-
I responded:
I've never seen an unschooling family that didn't. I have seen lots whose imaginations lead them to think that when someone says "our kids can have candy if they want it," they imagine a gingerbread house in the forest, filled with barrels of all kinds of sugar. smiley face

And speaking of fairy tales, when Sleeping Beauty was a story in a book, before she was a Disney Princess, and in the days when such stories were for everyone, and not so much just for little girls, one of the main points of the story was that if a father is churlish and selfish, his daughter could be in for some trouble. And if parents thought that by removing temptation from the immediate vicinity that their daughters would be safe forever, that wasn't going to work.

In the traditional story, the curse comes because they didn't have room to invite all the fairies in the kingdom, and one was offended. In the story, the curse of death by a spindle-prick was made, and the one fairy who hadn't yet bestowed a gift moderated that curse to a hundred-year sleep, rather than death

Then, in the story, the dad ordered all spindles (not spinning wheels, but probably spindle-and-distaff combos) to be destroyed. No word of what they were going to do for thread for sewing or weaving; buy it from the neighbors maybe—that wasn't part of the story.

On the princess's 15th birthday (or different ages, maybe, depending on the oral version collected) she was exploring the castle and came to an old woman spinning (who was NOT, in the story, the cranky fairy in disguise) and asked if she could try to spin. But because she was that old and had never even seen the tool, she hurt herself and yadda yadda yadda.

If a family thinks that "having no junk food" in the house will ensure a child's health for eight or nine decades, they are incorrect in that belief. If the mother thinks that it will absolve her of any blame in future dietary choices, she is also incorrect.

Demonizing food creates a demon. Being calm creates more calm.


title art by Holly Dodd
and here it is, in French, with her title art, too:

(Things added after the page was translated won't be there, but quite a bit is!)