When Parents Have Issues

Karen James, April 2014:

I was thinking about this Sandra said last night as I lay in bed:

"If your childhood abuse and neglect have left a lot of closed-off areas inside you, it would help to get therapy—even light help, to get you started on looking, a bit at a time, at what happened, and looking with a compassionate eye—compassion for the child you were, compassion for the adults who might have done better if they could have, if they knew more, if they had support for being kind and gentle. Then that would help you spread 'kind and gentle' into the present, while you were gently untangling the snarls of your childhood memories."
I felt a lot of shame for a long time about not being a better person. I mean, I wasn't a bad person. But, I was very closed off. Very protected. I knew I couldn't give the people I cared about the kind of love they deserved because I couldn't do that for myself. I went to therapy for a number of years. It was a good start, but it only took me so far.

Being Ethan's mom changed me. I surprised myself in good ways. In learning to give to him, I grew to really like myself. The walls started coming down. I started to soften - to have compassion for myself, as Sandra shared above. I challenged myself to continue to do better, because I now knew I could. I had a found confidence in that new truth. Honesty and humility too. All good things for learning to really flourish.

As I became happier with myself and the world around me, I would say that real learning started to happen. From my experience, when trauma heals, learning begins to become more fluid again. Richer. More meaningful. More lasting.

I liked the original poster's question about will her brain grow bigger. That made me smile because I do feel like my brain has grown bigger and stronger in the past decade or so. My heart has grown bigger too. I trust this will continue. I still have lots of room to grow.

—Karen James

Debbie Regan, 2014
If parents don't heal from those kinds of issues in their own childhoods, they will likely be perpetuated onto the next generation. Parents discovering and letting go of their old baggage is essential for unschooling to flourish.

And, as well as being good for unschooling, it's also good for the parents themselves, their children, family and other relationships, and generations to come!

(original, Debbie Regan, 25 Oct 2014, Always Learning)

In a discussion on food controls, Joyce wrote, "We all have issues about something. They go deep and are tangled up around other stuff but working at them bit by bit can make them better." (Orginally on the Always Learning discussion)

I posted this to the Always Learning list October 20, 2009, and Shan suggested I put it on its own page for future expansion.

I want to use it as a jumping off place to bring together some bits and pieces of posts, chats and questions over the past few weeks.

Some people cling to their issues because they've labelled themselves and made a little secret fort (which they keep announcing) to hide in, and nurse their glorious wounds. There were a few years when I was learning about the effects of alcoholism on the non-drinking children and relatives of the alcoholics, and because I went to a meeting every week and helped other people understand it I was very definitely the Adult Child of an Alcoholic. I was vigilant and self-conscious in the choices I made, seeing them all in that light.

I had discovered I had a big issue, and I worked through it. I'm still an adult child of an alcoholic, but now the thought comes to mind two or three times a year, maybe, if someone else doesn't bring it up.

I could have lived there. I could have used it as an excuse for reactive and irrational behavior, but in working through it bit by bit, I also started to see what was a natural part of me and not caused by my mother's inconstant and unreliable presence, or by my feeling that if I helped her pay her phone bill, and let her borrow my car, somehow the alcoholism would be gone.

Because I had children, I consciously worked on those issues so the problem wouldn't be passed on to them, too.

Other parents have other issues, about abuse or neglect or bereavement or religion or guilt or higher education or class or race or body image. For the purposes of unschooling, those are the things the parents need to deal with directly and quickly, with professional help if necessary (at least indirect professional help—books, groups, webpages) to get clear what is a natural part of you and what is odd emotional rashes and baggage.

Meanwhile, while the issues are being examined, be attentive and sweet to your children. That might be one of your best healing tools. It helped me immensely, and I've seen it help some others. Don't justify reactionary treatment of your children by saying "Well, I was raped so they will be"; "I overate so they will"; "I was forced to go to church so they will never see the inside of a church ever."

When a parent's choices are based on being the same or being the opposite of their own parents or of anyone else, they're reacting. Sometimes in a healing phase that can help. It can help to have role models. It can help to have bad examples, marked like crime scenes in our memories, to remind us. Let the reactions be part of a temporary healing phase, though. Let reactions be a stepping stone toward mindful actions.

When the issues are identified and dealt with, let them fade into occasional memory, not constant reminder. Don't label yourself in ways that hurt your children. Don't declare yourself to have a handicap and keep that for life as a "get out of jail free" card that you play when you were irresponsible and want to whine, "Yeah, but..." and not be a mindful adult.

Unschooled kids can't have irresponsible parents and still have the full benefit of unschooling. Being a good unschooling parent involves being a good person, a good parent. Unschooling can't work unless the parent is there, whole and attentive and not screwing it up.


Claire Horsley wrote that beginning unschoolers should know...
Something about relationships being at the heart of a wonderful and peaceful unschooling life. About the way connecting with your child through little daily events forms the basis for something big—a profound and deeply enriching connection for both parent and child.

I think one of the best skills an unschooling parent can possess is the ability to be open. Open to other ways of doing things, other timeframes, open to admitting they made a mistake, open to change. Unschooling will only really fly if the parents face up to and deal with their shizz so it is not passed on. Parents stand between school and their kids, but also between their kids and the hurts of previous generations. If they can stop those hurts being passed on, who knows what their kids can do!

January 2011 AlwaysLearning

I had written, of someone's husband's childhood issues:
He needs to look at his childhood as something he does NOT want to repeat, and make choices that provide better situations. He should not use it as an excuse to be the same way.
Someone wrote:
Please also suggests ways to make this happen. If it is not an unschooling question please ignore.
One should no more try to make something happen in a spouse's learning than in a child's. If someone asked "How do you make a child read?" or "How do you make a child like history?" the answer would be simple. You don't. You make it interesting, You make it casual. You back off as soon as they're uncomfortable. You don't risk ruining their interest forever by trying to "make" them do something, or learn something.

If one's childhood is an issue, then recovery to the extent of using it to inform one's decisions now, with children, is important. TOTAL and complete "recovery" from childhood hurts isn't necessary; probably isn't even possible.

How one decides to act toward, be with, think about and respond to children happens inside a person with a history, a person who had a childhood. Will childhood hurt be passed on to new children? Sad childhood memories can be seen as the things NOT to do, and healing can flow, but that can't be forced by anyone else. If it's not part of the thoughts and decision making of each parent, it won't work as well as it could.

(original; later added here)

Sandra, 2018, in a discussion about a step-father who isn't as nice to the stepson as to his younger bio son.
There is a possibilty the dad had early-childhood trauma. It's also possible that when he was the age the stepson is, he had a more benign event in his life—didn't make a team, failed a grade in school, had a friend move away, had a parent leave.

Sometimes when unschoolers report that things became more difficult, or they felt more critical or agitated about their children's responses or their "progress," a review of their own lives at that age will turn something up, and it might seem not very applicable, or not so traumatic to ohers who hear it. Still, an unexamined part of our own history can be activated later by something like a child of that age, acting in ways we wouldn't have been able to have acted when we were that age. Talking back, or even just being happy. Sleeping late, in a season when we couldn't. Having someone else make breakfast for them when we were required, for some reason, to take care of others.

My two such ages were 13 and 20.

When I was 13, my mom left temporarily, leaving four girls, two of whom were foster children—her sister's two youngest. I ended up sharing breakfast duties with the other older girl—cooking for my dad before work, and feeding the younger girls. I resented it hugely. I was afraid the separation would be permanent, too, and I would need to cook breakfast for people forever. (Seems silly, probably.) When my oldest couldn't cook anything at that age, it bothered me in a deep place, but I figured it out.

I graduated from college at 20, having rushed it through because the bridge was collapsing behind me, action-movie style. My parents split up while I was in college, our house had been sold, my choice was to take care of myself immediately after moving out of the dorm (though I was going to teach, and the first teacher paycheck was not until a month after school started) or live with my mom, and her new husband, and their baby, or live with my dad who was already separated from his next wife, in another town... So when my oldest (POOR OLDEST CHILDREN!) was ever too comfortable or whiny, I needed to consciously self-talk myself into remembering that I set his situation up myself and it was great, and I could've used some of it myself at that age, and I was grateful that he was home with both his parents.

And that was good, because just as he turned 21, the company he worked for moved him to Texas, 700 miles from us, and he was there for eight years.

Looking at one single cause for an action or reaction is too simplistic.

It might be that age/memory thing, or it might NOT be.
It might be something else.
But if the family accepts that it's about stepson vs. other, the problem could recur when the younger child reaches the same age.

The best thing is to acquire more understanding and parental skills, and greater respect for the principles of unschooling.

"Emotional Challenges of Unschooling" by Amy Childs, from a presentation at a conference.

First she lists what sorts of problems unschooling parents are likely to start off with, and then has a list of simple things to do to move past and beyond.

The beginning descriptions are too long to bring here, but here are her suggestions:

What can be done about these uncomfortable feelings?
  1. Breathe
  2. Recognize that the problem is your feeling, the problem is not your child.
  3. Do not make things worse by taking out your feelings on your child, or trying to get your child to make you feel better. Do all that you can to avoid blaming, manipulating, coercing or shaming your child.
  4. Focus on your relationship with your child. If you make this your top priority, the rest will eventually follow.
  5. Ask your child: Is there anything I can do for you? Are you happy? What can we do together to make things more fun?
  6. Watch your child with curiosity and humility. If allowed, your child will show you the way.
  7. Do something you love to do. Children who see their parents enjoying life will learn about enjoying life. And people who are enjoying life cannot help but learn.
  8. Learn about how people learn. Read about unschooling in books, blogs, chat rooms and from others who are unschooling successfully.
  9. Get support. There are therapists, peer-counseling groups, 12-step groups, attachment parenting groups and many other resources to help you with your difficult, confusing, painful feelings.