Success with Later Unschooling?

In late January, 2010, someone asked on the Always Learning list about the chance of success in starting later. Responses of Joyce Fetteroll, Schuyler Waynforth and Chris Sanders are below:

Below this section is an update from the mom who wrote this original question. You'll like it.
August 18, 2014

Joyce's responses to indented questions:
Can you be truly successful in unschooling - ie. raise open, kind, generous, compassionate kids - if your foundational years of parenting them were harsh/critical/parent-centered etc.?
What are your options? Give up? -- Put them up for adoption? 😉
Continue with conventional parenting?

How could doing better be worse?

You won't help yourself and your family be happy if you keep looking at what you *imagine* life could have been had you been mindfully parenting all along. You are where you are and right this moment you have the opportunity and a growing box of tools to be better. 🙂

When buckets have been empty for so long they've developed holes, it takes a lot of filling before those holes can start closing. But in the meantime having their buckets as full as you can make them will be better than empty. Maybe they won't ever be as full or lacking in holes as they could have been, but what's the alternative you have available right now?

You can't know what life would have been like had you done this from the beginning. Maybe there would be less sniping but maybe someone would be dead. It doesn't help to imagine what could have been if you imagine only the most ideal outcome. You can't know.

their default mode is criticism, sniping, competition
Which happens with adults when resources are limited. They need to compete with each other to get their needs met and gain access to the limited resource of need-meeting power (you). It's what conventional parenting teaches kids: No doesn't just mean no, it means I won't help you. It means—though parents don't want it to!—that kids are on their own to find a way to meet their own needs.

It's perfectly normal behavior. It's perfectly expected (when someone steps away from conventional parenting but conventional parents are often blindsided!) It's what most conventional parents face. The advantage you have is that from the moment you heard about radical unschooling, you get to do better and begin to heal. 🙂

Have you read:

Parent/Teen Breakthrough: The Relationship Approach, by Mira Kirshenbaum

(It focuses on building the relationship with teens because as many parents find out in the teen years, control is an illusion 😉 It's about focusing on the only option we really have: being an influence.)
How to Talk to Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish

Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming Parent-child Relationships from Reaction And Struggle to Freedom, Power And Joy, by Naomi Aldort

Someone recently wrote about it: "This book is very child centered and helps you understand them and their perspective. It has a large focus on looking inward at yourself and how to bring out your true loving self to be a better parent."
Not one of them will be worse 🙂 All of them will help you do better with each choice you make 🙂


Schuyler Waynforth responded:
Joyce wrote: "Not one of them will be worse 🙂 All of them will help you do better with each choice you make 🙂"

Simon and Linnaea have been unschooled from school age, both of them, whole lives, so far. That doesn't mean that I haven't screwed up. I used to spank them. I used to yell. I used to parent much less well than I do now. And the changes have been incremental. I try and make better choices. I try and move toward the parent I want to be more and more all the time. That doesn't mean I don't screw up. It doesn't mean that both kids don't know what PMS (PMT for the British reader) is. But it does mean I'm quicker to change tack than I used to be and I am much less likely to screw up the same way over and over again. I'm looking for a better way all the time. And because of that things are better for Simon and Linnaea.


Chris Sanders, responding to:
Are there any unschoolers on this list who have grown children but who came to unschooling late...meaning that they first spent many years (5? 10? 15?) parenting traditionally and creating terrible memories for their children, but then turned it around by unschooling and genuinely mitigated the damage already done?
Zach is 18 and has written a bit about how his life is/was and has changed since I embraced unschooling and applied unschooling principles to our whole lives. I dabbled in academic unschooling in his early years but had resorted back to traditional eclectic homeschooling by the time he was 12. I also used traditional parenting methods, limits on media, shaming, and yelling when I was really frustrated. Basically, I was a control-freak and I didn't have many tools to implement my controls so it got ugly sometimes. I didn't spank but there was an occasional overpowering arm or shoulder grab.

Zach wrote a very sweet bit about me recently, for a college course. I'd share it here but he's asleep and I don't want to wake him for his permission. He is very aware of my traditional upbringing and that I turned that around and now parent 180ยบ differently and he wrote about that an what a difference it's made in his life.

Everything changed the year he turned 13, six years ago now. These are essays he wrote for a Comp I course he took when he was 16. His assignment was to write about a problem and a solution to that problem. He posted them on his own video game blog, that I'd encouraged him to write and helped him to set up. His two loves at that time were video games and writing.

Problem Essay: Problem Essay

Solution Essay: Solution Essay

He didn't write much about how I began playing his games with him, but it was that and our many conversations that grew out of my apologies to him for how I'd treated him previously, that led him to explore this subject for his essays.

Finally, while he and his sister have always loved and adored each other, I think that things could've been very different had they been schooled or even traditionally parented. They were born 6.5 years apart. Had he gone to school, Zach would've been starting full day school just six weeks before Zoe's birth. Instead, he was homeschooled, and that year pretty much unschooled, while we were busy adjusting and getting to know the new addition to our family. I do attachment parent and that probably affected their relationship as well as unschooling. Here is an essay Zach wrote about his feelings towards his sister: A Sibling Bond

Zach definitely has some terrible memories from his earlier years. But with embracing and living the principles of unschooling for the last six years in addition to our many conversations and my apologies, I would definitely say that the damage I'd done has been mitigated.

Chris in IA


In August 2014, Leah Rose, who wrote the original question, wrote an exuberant update, and gave me permission to share it! First, a photo of her family.

Speaking of gambles and success...at the very bottom of the "gamble" page linked above there is a link to a "success' and unschooling" page which contains this link:

When someone asked on the Always Learning list about the chance of success in starting later. Joyce Fetteroll responded. (SandraDodd.com/later/unschooling).
Since our family started "late" and I remember being very concerned about it and even asking about it, this piqued my interest so I clicked on the link and discovered that the someone referenced was in fact me, nearly five years ago, about a year into our deschooling. (I never realized you'd pulled that conversation for a page, Sandra. I'm so glad you did.)

Unschooling, deschooling, parenting peacefully, all of it called to me, deeply, but it felt like a huge risk, a giant gamble. But I'm so glad we didn't pull back, that we continued down the path. We don't have perfect relationships, there are still dynamics we're working on and more deschooling to do, but I'm happy to update the record to say that we're already living the pay off: our kids' default modes are no longer criticism, sniping, and competition. There's tons more encouragement, laughing, and sharing. Over these years I've witnessed their relationships with each other relax into real friendship, and they are very aware that their relationship with us is quite different than what most of their friends have with their parents.

Learning to parent mindfully, keeping my focus in the present, making choices towards peace, towards help and support, is not, as it turns out, much of a gamble or a risk. It is the surest path to connection and trust.

Leah Rose, writing on Radical Unschooling Info, on facebook *here*