I really can't imagine villifying anything in their lives that they
might find very exciting. Well, I can imagine it, so I guess that's
why I don't do it. —Jenny Cyphers, in TV discussion on the Always Learning list
Unschooling requires you to take joy in life. It requires you to
appreciate the wonders of the world. Every minute you spend being
cynical and paranoid is a minute of your life with your children that
you have wasted and can never get back again. During that minute, you
could have had a relationship-building experience together, but you
created negativity in your lives, instead.
A more joyful and engaged mother
Jen Keefe, in December 2015:
I am learning about negativity (and the value of not being negative anymore) from this group, and the writings of Sandra. Negativity puts up distance between me and the people I love. For a long while I complained about motherhood, and my marriage. I've (mostly) stopped, and my relationships with my husband and kids have become ones that I truly never knew could exist. They are authentic and loving, and that distance (that I really didn't know was there) seems to be gone. We are all more real, because we hide behind negativity less.
Negativity also allowed me to keep distance from myself. When I complain, or speak negatively, it justifies *not* making things better. When I recognize and acknowledge that something isn't working, or feels bad, I can change it without fanfare. This allows me, and my family, to get to a better place faster.
Negativity was a scapegoat for me—if I blamed somebody else (for anything), I didn't have to accept responsibility, I could be lazier, and could be less connected with my children.
I don't usually comment here, but I want to jump in because this may be the single biggest catalyst for my family being in the place it is today. Looking for joy doesn't mean living in la-la land. Quite the opposite. For me, it means being grounded in reality instead of fear, and connected rather than living parallel lives with my family members.
Interestingly, my once significant anxiety is disappearing too. I might even say that negativity does change reality. As someone who lived in anxiety, negativity, and fear, I can say that my children's reality was very different than it is today. What if they spent their lives with a scared and negative mother instead of a more joyful engaged one?
In a chat on positive attitudes, Renee Smock wrote something very inspiring about her journey from negativity to better unschooling and better relationships.
Renee S.: I've recently come to realize how my attitude hindered my unschooling for a long time. I felt like I "got" unschooling right away.. but could never figure out why it wasn't working for me.
Initially when we decided to homeschool - (mostly because of an article I read about unschooling when my daugher was 5) I was so happy and saw joy everywhere. Then somewhere along the way.... I started seeing a lot of negatives - I didn't like the way my husband interacted with the kids, didn't like being around people at park day, my kids were fighting a lot, and I didn't know how to make it stop. Luckily, I had someone in my life willing to tell me that it was coming from within me and If I changed my perspective on it, it would change. I think initially I thought if I unschooled, I would magically have the kids I read about online (like some of yours) ;) I thought they just wouldn't have outbursts (fights, etc) anymore.
But, now I think I have accepted that no parenting/schooling/unschooling will change some of the stages, emotions, etc. of the kids. But, as I am more aware of my own reactions to it all—it passes more peacefully and I feel better about myself and how Im interacting with the kids—which of course has led to better interactions with my husband and he is interacting with the kids differently. I really feel like the biggest shift is how I see it and how I am reacting. But, the complaining about it was pretty comfortable for a long time..... but never brought me any happy results.
Rebecca Allen: Renee, complaining about what?
Complaining about my husband, how long it took to get out of the house, how I didn't want to go to the store on the way home, how I was cold at the park... you name it, I complained about it.
It was done in humor and I told myself it was innocent venting to friends, but it was shaping my attitude about parenting, homeschooling, etc..... which led to more unhappiness and more complaining ;)
Sandra Dodd: How long ago did you see that negativity and start to change?
Renee S.: I started seeing it more than 6 months ago.. and have only really shifted my attitude in the last 3 months or so. (the catalyst for change was your talk at the HSC conf)
It was the closing talk—it was Sandra's talk. Specifically she said that each relationship can only withstand so many mean comments, actions, etc. and I started taking stock of how many of those things I had done (mostly to my husband) but also to the kids. It was a wake up call.
[Some discussion of where to find that talk to buy, and I called Pam Sorooshian to ask her to check.]
Sandra Dodd: Renee, so now that you're settled into believing that being positive is (what... crucial? Necessary? Beneficial?), what advice would you give to a new unschooler?
Renee S.: First... I would follow the advice you're already giving -- go gradually and learn before doing. I didn't go all "no rules, go crazy" but I did get rid of somethings (like a pretty good, non-arbitrary bedtime routine) that were really working - and caused a lot of disruption in the meantime. If I would have gone at it a bit more gradually I think I would have had less frustration and less conflict with my husband.
JulieD: How old are your children Renee (sorry if I missed that)
Sandra Dodd: And were they in school before?
Renee S.: My kids are 7 and 5. They were 5 and 3 when I found unschooling and decided not to send my daughter to school. Never been in school
I think that I have also shifted from looking for a result (like tradtional parenting sort of produces) - to accepting that is more about a way of being.
JulieD: I love that whole "way of being". My mother in law is with us at the moment and she commented this afternoon on how much learning Adam has done today.
And she's right - he has - but I kind of take that for granted these days because it's all part of our way of being. Which is nice.
And all the learning was just part of what we happened to be doing today.
But when she listed it all out it sounded quite impressive!!
Renee S. I used to read stuff like that and think all that learning would just happen..... I now know that way of being and all that learning comes from a lot of time together. That is what I was unprepared for I think... all the time we'd be spending together. - even though the reason I didn't want Kaitlyn to go to school was because I wasn't ready to be away from her.
I see that sometimes at museums.. parents wanting kids to "learn" and they miss what the kids are really wanting to discover or look at. ... That part of unschooling (stopping to watch the escalator for 30 mins. or something) has always been easy for me. It's the parenting stuff that has always been hard for me.
Renee had agreed to be quoted. I e-mailed her:
Okay, THANK YOU for all this great writing.
I don't know whether to put it on "gradual change" or "getting it" or "negativity" or its own page with a link from each of those. Maybe you could look at these and see if you have a preference or suggestion.
She responded (and let me keep the response):
What Jenny says on the "getting it" page seems very close to my experience, so maybe that is a good page. But, I never felt that it was a problem of getting it as much as it was doing it.
Negativity would be a good place, since my issues I think pretty much came directly from negativity.
I don't think my issues really come from not going more gradually. There are a few minor things that should have gone more gradually, but I think our issues are coming directly from my attitude and the tone that it sets in the home. And, definitely my negativity. It's my negativity that leads to everyone else's negativity. (my husband accurately accused me once of being the only wife to complain about her husband doing the dishes)—I don't complain about that anymore. but, imagine the tone that sets: doing something nice for someone and they get irritated.
Karen James, 2014:
When I first moved to Pittsburgh from Vancouver, BC, I was seven months pregnant with my son Ethan and a bit intimidated by our new home. Every night on the news, stories of aggression and crime fed my fears. It got so that I was nervous to go outside.
But I needed to go outside. I needed to make a home for this new baby I was carrying. And, more importantly, I needed to stay calm for the wellbeing of my unborn son.
So, I turned off the news, and started meeting real people. I quickly started seeing for myself that Pittsburgh was a very friendly place (more friendly a place than I have ever lived), with warm hearted people, and a wealth of rich experiences to share.
I learned something from that whole experience. I learned that it was in my own best interest to look at the positive parts of any experience. The negative can't easily hide. It's nearly impossible to miss. But the positive *can* be overshadowed and overlooked by our hyper-focused attention on the negative.
Schuyler Waynforth, February 2010:
Often if I'm stuck not being able to see the positive in something, I need to quit looking at it. I need to look at other things. I need to find something to move forward to instead of whirling and twirling around the angsty thing. Make the angry thing small and insignificant, turn away from it, look for bright and shiny things to distract you, look at tiny things that give you pleasure, look at large things that you didn't appreciate fully the first time around. Turning toward joy will definitely make it harder to feel stymied in the negative.
In April 2011, Schuyler wrote this, about a mom feeling underappreciated in her marriage:
What makes you feel good? I like a root beer float and a chip butty when I'm feeling particularly low. It doesn't make anything external better, but it does help a lot with my internals. Stock your cupboards with things that bring you pleasure, fix meals that make you happy, play games that you enjoy. Smile, laugh, swing, skip, dance, listen to music and play. Sometimes it may feel contrived, but try not to dwell on that, try and move it forward to not being contrived, like laugh therapy.
When your husband feels bad, bring him something nice, a piece of cake, a hug, a gentle touch, a thank you for something. Don't see his low point as something that you have to compete with for attention. And don't see it as a personal attack. Just see it as an unhappy moment, a point of stress, a need to express something to a safe ear. It isn't self-sacrifice to work for your team. It's teamwork.
What made you consider unschooling? Why did you decide against school?
It's not our job to convince you of anything. We offer ideas to people
who are interested in how unschooling works. But if you think there is something of value in this philosophy then it's up to you to do the research *you* require to be convinced either way. To either say, yes there's something here or no, it's not for me. We can answer questions along the way.
***Because some just watch TV. End. Then just play video games.
Period. No tangents. No inspired learning. No pursuits, no follow up.
No questions. No discussions. ***
I've asked you before and I think others have too, tell us what your kid
Really, it helps some people to focus on the positive. Because I really
get from your posts that you're very negative. Maybe you're not in real
life, but the way these posts come through you're showing us a lot of
negativity about your kid.
I don't mean to be harsh. I think it's an important part of why you're
struggling with some of these unschooling concepts. I can't remember
last nice thing you wrote about your child.
It's not always easy to stay positive when we're worried (especially
about our kids) but we can't help you with the worry if you're stuck in
a moment you can't get out of. (Plagiarism!) (Thank you Bono)
Please tell us what your kid likes to do, what does he consider to be
themost fun, what does he like to eat, what does he think about? It will
help, I promise.
I will bet you quantities of cash that there are untold connections in
your child's mind when he's watching his favorite shows and playing his
favorite games. Just because an interest doesn't take off and take
tangible form doesn't mean it's not real. Just because you're not
seeing a physical manifestation of his intellectual life doesn't mean there's
nothing going on.
***And all the cool stuff your kids did only makes me feel that much
Your son is nine? I think we start comparing our kids to other kids
about this age, some before, but really about this age because they seem
so big in so many ways. We're saying goodbye to our babies and we're
looking for our grown kids and missing this incredible person in
between. And it can be, for the child, a difficult time when the most beloved
toys and games of childhood are losing their appeal and the very cool
stuff of the world of adults still seems too hard and too far away.
What kinds of things do you do with him? What do you talk about? What
are some of *your* interests and how do they manifest themselves in your
family life? What example do you set for your child? Do you love life
or are you bored? Do you love to learn or are you dispassionate? When
you see a bug do you wonder what it is or do you squish it? These are
all things to consider when we're wondering whether we're providing the
most interesting life possible for our kids. It starts with us.
I like what Sandra said about trying not to dwell on negative stuff. I can
get negative sometimes...that's usually the time I take a nap. Always helps.
Or I go for a walk outside, or take a small amount of time for myself.
Sometimes I just go to my husband and say, "I'm getting really stressed out, I
am feeling like I'm on the edge of losing it" which is honest to God, the
truth, with having a large family and farm and business. He will usually then
find something for the kids to do, or put a movie no one's seen on, or he'll
ask them to help us out with this or that. We don't have set chores, but
everyone does help with things. And we make sure the kids share in the bounty.
Knowing they're appreciated really kindles their enthusiasm to help, as well as
money (they keep most of the money from the farmer's market) and freedoms.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and
hatred therewith.—Proverbs 15:17
Verse provided by Nancy Wooton, who knows these things.
Tina Bragdon wrote:
The "moments", "negativity" and "nest" links that Sandra shares.....I would encourage everyone to read it. I am not ashamed to share this testimonial here with you all, in hopes it will help someone.
Over the course of my life, from childhood onward, I have tended to turn to negativity, and it has taken me much effort to break that pattern and not make that my default. I have much enjoyed going to those mentioned pages of Sandra's, and REALLY soaking those words in, and making tangible steps, such as not reading negative news items, and consciously focusing on it only being a bad moment and not letting it ruin my whole day. Another one of Sandra's pages that had spoke to me the most and was most beneficial to me was this one (especially the parts near the end about being negative about something trivial like the laundry and wasting an hour of your life, and the idea of small steps, even a second of practicing joy, leading to gradual improvement):
I didn't want to waste any more hours. I realized my children were getting so much older....where had the time gone? I had regrets about when they were younger. Looking back, it could have been better. My positive see-the-bright-side-of-life husband was getting dragged down along with me and confronted me, for which I was grateful in the long run. My oldest child, my daughter, never afraid to be honest with me, called me out on it as well, which really opened my eyes.
When I could get past my initial defensiveness, and fully understand the implications of what Sandra and other unschoolers were saying on these pages, I wanted to be more joyful...being negative got me no where except grumpy, sweating too much of the small stuff, and dwelling in my own head at times. How draining that was! Also, that state was not really conducive to unschooling as fully as I potentially could....it meant I sadly had lost all those moments where I could just really "be" fully with my kids, seeing their learning and their joy in life and smelling the roses more with them.
Yes, at times I could stop, and breathe and have fun, but the negative slightly outweighed the positive (overall) for quite a number of years. That slight bit was enough though.
As I worked on this aspect of myself... I saw choosing joy was SO much better....really...unschooling and life just flowed....the relationships piece of an unschooling lifestyle was so much more full and sweet. My mind was calmer. It helped me deal better with those niggling fears that popped up about unschooling when I chose to be in THIS MOMENT....seeing the joy and the fun of the moment settled me instead of me stewing for days about if my kids were learning or what about this, or that....
I am not perfect. Yes, I have had fears, even some as recently as in this last year, as my children reach different stages in their lives, or it is homeschool report time or some other issue, but with a more positive mindset it is easier to see the beautiful forest overall, and not focus on that single gnarled misshapen tree. Instead of wallowing, being proactive and taking some steps like reading here or at the Always Learning list archives, and asking a question or two, and just reflecting, sitting with my kids and really SEEING them. Being more positive helped me release the worry much more quickly than I used to. It's the difference, for example, in the common fear of "kids watching TV all the time" vs. sitting and seeing the learning and all the rabbit trails and connections and talking and questions and laughter that can be had. And with being more positive somehow life magically starts to fall into a good place again.
For all you negative people out there, you really can change, but you have to want to change. That concept of changing the next moment is so powerful, especially if you feel overwhelmed like I did at the thought of a total life overhaul all at once. You can chose to read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch, and "climb up a notch". And even if it is "just" a tiiiiiinnny notch at first, the positivity and joy builds on the next moment and perpetuates itself, an beautiful ongoing circle as you climb up out of being cynical and negative .
"Find the best in each moment, the best moments in each hour, and by focusing on what is sweet and good, you will help others see the sweetness and goodness, too." —Sandra (from e-mail, to Just Add Light and Stir, to here, and all around the world between)
"It sounds too good to be true, but it isn't. Being connected is better than being controlling. Being interested is better than being bored. Being fun is more fun than not being fun!" —Melissa Wiley
Here's a quote Chris Sanders saved from a post I wrote:
"When people are very cynical, they seem to imagine that if all the things they think are stupid are eliminated, what's left will be non-stupid. Smartness. Cleverness. Art. Good music. But once so many things are eliminated, what's left is a cynical person who has rejected half the world, and has the memories of all the details of that negativity." ~ Sandra Dodd
(I changed one "think" to "imagine" so it wasn't so much they think they think that the things they think... I think that was better. :-)
President Cohen, when I told him I was going to do this talk, he said, please tell them about having
fun, because that's what I remember you for. And I said, I can do that, but it's kind of like a fish
talking about the importance of water. I mean I don't know how to not have fun. I'm dying and I'm
having fun. And I'm going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there's no other way to
So my next piece of advice is, you just have to decide if you're a Tigger or and Eeyore. [shows slide
with an image of Tigger and Eeyore with the phrase "Decide if you're Tigger or Eeyore"] I think I'm
clear where I stand on the great Tigger/Eeyore debate. [laughter] Never lose the childlike wonder.
Its just too important. It's what drives us. Help others.
Someone full of negativity posted to AlwaysLearning:
***I agree with you wholeheatedly, that corporations are evil and that they can be unscrupulous in their advertising AND that
this can have negative impacts on our children as they grow. The impact may not be obvious and unless you yourself are
aware of these strategies you may unwittingly make your children pawns in the corporations evil intentions. ***
Jenny Cyphers responded:
Good Golly! So the impacts aren't obvious unless one is aware of them... That speaks volumes!
I suppose if one goes out to look for evil in the world, they will undoubtedly find it, it's there all right, all around us. There's war and crime and hunger and catastrophic destruction and volcanic eruptions and tsunamis and earthquakes and and and and.......
Why IN THE WORLD would anyone want to live in a place like that, we should all just kill ourselves now?! OR we could find peace and happiness and thrive in that world, the one that has sunshine and rainbows and beautiful children and friendly dogs and libraries and art and tasty garden vegetables and home made hot chocolate and fire places to curl up next to. I'll take the latter thank you very much!
When people ask about being happier and more positive, the answer can't help but be the same. BE happier. BE positive.
But as with any accounting (think a bank account), withdrawals deplete your reserves. Every negative word, thought or deed takes peace and positivity out of your account. Cynicism, sarcasm—which some people enjoy and defend—are costly, if your goal is peace.
Biochemically / emotionally (those two are separate in language, but physically they are the same), calmer is healthier. I don't know of any physical condition that is made better by freaking out or crying hard or losing sleep or reciting fears. I know LOTS of things that are made better—entire lives, and lives of grandchildren not yet born—by thoughtful, mindful clarity.
It's okay for mothers to be calm. There are plenty of childless people to flip out. Peek out every few days, from your calm place, and check whether their ranting freak-out is making the world a more peaceful place. If not, be grateful you weren't out there ignoring (or frightening) your children helping them fail to create peace from chaos.
New York Times article on how a workplace can become "a complaining culture": How Offices Become Complaint Departments (Thanks, Cara Barlow, for that link.)
TED-Ed, How Stress Affects your Brain Madhumita Murgia
Note from Sandra: Right at the end, it says "Get in control of your stress..." I think "control" should not be the goal, but avoidance. Turn away from negativity, repeatedly, until it's easier, by making more peaceful choices in many small ways, day and night, as you move toward being better, more mindful parents.
Here's its page on Ted-Ed, if you want to see credits and background.
This is some serious humor, from The Onion. [Language Warning!]
Virginia Warren: I have been the hypothetical person addressed in this video. I spent a lot of time in my 20s bonding with people over hating things that other people loved. That kind of "bonding" is ultimately alienating. Turns out that disdain isn't much to build a relationship upon.