"Partners," examined

Sandra Dodd:
In another topic, a phrase was used that I'd like to set out on the table here all by itself. "If we are to treat our children as partners..."

"Just words," some people would say, but let's look anyway. I don't treat my children as partners. I was, from the time they were babies, partnered with them. I was the older, more experienced, more responsible partner. I protected our team, which often meant I sheltered them from things that would have upset them or that they didn't care anything in the world about. I've done that for my husband, too, who's been my official legal partner since 1984 when we declared our partnership in front of relatives and friends, God and the State of New Mexico.

With my kids, it was a posture I took, partly physical, partly mental, in which I accepted and recognized that I had the power to make them unhappy, and the easy ability to allow them to be in danger (from me, in part) if I wasn't really mindful and careful to focus on their safety, comfort and joy.

Some of the same relatives and friends who were greatly in favor of my partnership with Keith seemed critical of our kindness to our children. There is a wide stripe of anti-child tradition in the world. I didn't treat my child as a real person. I acknowledged from the beginning that he WAS a real person. I recognized and nurtured his wholeness and tried not to screw him up. I became his partner, rather than acting like his partner or "treating him" as a partner. It's not just semantics, though it is semantics. It's about the power of words to show, affect and clarify thought and belief.

An idea, expressed in words, changed my life. "Be your child's partner, not his adversary."

About semantics: What is "just semantics"?

Originally at at Radical Unschooling Info on facebook, November 21, 2012.

Pam Clark:

I'm glad you pulled it out and commented as you did. I think the seemingly little things like this really is often bigger than appears. There is a difference between treating something as if... and intrinsically believing something is.


Someone made a side comment earlier: "I hadn't thought about the difference between 'treating someone as a partner' and really being their partner from one's core. Acting one way from a set of rules vs. working on oneself to be a better parent/partner/supporter."

That's what I meant. I'm sure I would feel nervous if someone I thought of as a friend said she was treating me as a friend. 🙂

But I do know that some people don't love words as much as I do, and aren't as analytical about words. I can watch athletes and think very little about the subtleties of what they're doing. Music, not so much. That I perceive in more detail.

The comment that I care more because I was a teacher was an odd one. I haven't gotten that insult for a long time. I taught English because I loved words from childhood, and loved writing. I didn't come to love words because I had taught English.

The ideas that make unschooling discussions deep and useful in personal growth are in the realm of philosophy and psychology, anyway—interpersonal, intrapersonal business. Why do some things strike us one way or the other? How can we be direct with our children and not have the filter of something else between us? Direct seeing, direct knowing, clarity... Sometimes a phrase reveals subconscious thought. Sometimes it's just a quick and unfortunate word choice.

Kim Zerbe:

I've been thinking about this very thing lately along with the idea of being your child's friend or that some people say you should not be your child's friend. Thanks for putting this out there. I'm working on BEING my child's partner from the core and not just treating him "like" a partner. It's important to embody that mentally. I can't imagine not being friends with my child, but I've seen parents like that, always in charge and in control, it is sad what all is missed! I appreciate seeing this here today as it is something I needed to read and absorb.

Emily Ferguson:

That's helpful to me, Sandra. My attempts at being my children's partner sometimes come out awkward or.... just not very helpful. I sometimes end up talking TO them instead of working WITH them, even when I'm trying so hard to work with them. Maybe it will help to focus on BEING my child's partner in those moments instead of trying to ACT like a partner.

Natalie Ovanin:

This distinction, between "acting as" and *being* has really been the core of my parental progression. I could not figure out how to try and be their partner while I still expected to be the one in charge. Once I knew that I didn't have to be the boss, that the whole world wouldn't crumble down around us if I "allowed" mistakes, wow.

I feel that words and their meanings have truly been the key to opening my eyes to the pure love, wonder, and joy of being a mother. I wish it was a gift I could hand each new mom and dad, open eyes, pure connected love.

Being a parent is more wonderful than I ever could have known, were it not for the challenging words that started the thought process that changed my internal monologue. I love words, and yet, as I reread what I'm typing, I wish they could be *more*... hold more, affect more... I wish they could communicate to my children exactly how much I love them....

I'm thankful for hugs and snuggles as communication tools. 🙂

Julie Sweeney Bogart:

A quick thought: School does a lot of "acting as though" and "treating as though"— Treat the paper as though it were published by posting it on a wall or sharing it in the classroom. Act as though you are in charge of a large group—how might you make a decision that is good for all? To the teacher: Act as though grades are not more important than effort.

Home provides the chance to really do/be the things school taught us to pretend.

Sandra Dodd:

Good point, Julie. 🙂

It's been a long time since I was acting that way! That writing done in school is practice writing, mostly. That "math" done in school is the calculations of other people's math. It's all at least two steps from "real world," while saying "this is the real world."

[Originally at at Radical Unschooling Info on facebook, November 21, 2012.]

Nine years later, I added one note:

Natalie wrote, above: "I wish it was a gift I could hand each new mom and dad, open eyes, pure connected love."

It's nearly Christmas, nine years later, and that is one pure, lovely gift idea.

The defensive angle

The quote about "acting as" came from someone who was not always a friend of mine. She was close with someone problematic to unschooling, for a while. Years later, while I'm creating this page, though, everything is different, and we are very friendly. The post below was removed from facebook to prevent the identification, but it's referenced, a bit, in some of the other posts later (those above), so I've brought it here.
The person I had anonymously quoted:

More like semantics, not just words. I think it's important to be clear, yes. And I understand you were an English teacher and how things are worded are especially important to you. I'm more concerned with the ideas and I think it was clear in the context of the rest of what I wrote that my intent with those words is what you go on to describe.

And, no, I'm not offended. I just think it's funny how whenever I post you seem to go out of your way to not agree in some manner or another.

Seriously, I could go back through and find one thing you've liked, with regards to unschooling anyway. I don't remember what it was but I remember it happened. 😉

if you think it makes people understand unschooling better, great. Have at it, because I'm really more concerned about bringing peace, compassion to more kids lives than anything else. So, if this helps that I'm happy to be a part of that even if it's my words that are being picked apart.

TIME OUT: 2021 note

Having been an English teacher didn't make ANYthing especially important to me. I became an English teacher because I LOVED words—their sounds, meanings, histories, their appearance and textures and subtleties—from early childhood. The first book I bought with my own money was a dictionary. I bought a book about the history of English words when I was nine.

So it was a gratuitous insult, or a defensive flail, but as it's my website, I get a two-paragraph rebuttal. I taught English because I loved it, and understood it, and knew the value of understanding subtleties, and the joy of frolicking in words and ideas that can only be expressed in words.

Sandra, the owner of that discussion:

I wasn't bringing a name or particular reference with this for the reason that it didn't have anything to do with the other topic or with an individual. I'm sorry you came and claimed that quote. It doesn't help.

This is the way I've been discussing things for a long, long time now. Twenty years. And not just me. Joyce Fetteroll described it really well here:

Think of ideas like balls and the list like a ball court. If someone tosses an idea worth discussing into the court it's going to get batted about. At that point what's going on is no longer about the person who tossed the idea in. It's about the idea and how well and cleanly it's being tossed about. (Unless the tosser keeps jumping in and grabbing the idea ball saying "Mine!")
Joyce wrote tht for Always Learning (about that group)

This isn't the Always Learning list, but the purpose and style have been the same in any discussion I've created, and many of the same folks are active and are moderating.


-=-I think it was clear in the context of the rest of what I wrote that my intent with those words is what you go on to describe. -=-

I wasn't taking issue with the intent or meaning in the context where it was. I was pulling one phrase to look at. Maybe a hundred people will read this. Maybe a thousand, eventually. Maybe ten. 🙂 If One single ONE of them finds more clarity in being a child's partner, then it was worth having written.

Don't post to get positive feedback. Post to help other people understand unschooling better.

The person I had anonymously quoted:

As I said, I'm not offended. It's your list. This is your space. I don't need to post here. This was a good reminder.

Thank you for your efforts in helping people be better parents. I'm going to go enjoy my daughter's birthday! 🙂


I hope the birthday celebration goes well, ______. I considered deleting your first response quickly, rather than responding to it, but I didn't figure you would appreciate that. I didn't want to discuss any individuals, just the idea.

[SO MANY WORDS to defend and sooth, about "treat as partners" rather than "be partners." And I knew even that day that it wasn't the time to point at "More like semantics, not just words." 😉]

Being Clarity Semantics

Being your child's partner, not his adversary