Someone in a discussion had been asked to consider which was more important to her, health food or her child's happiness. She wrote:
Health food is not more important to me than my children's happiness. Health food is one way to promote a healthy body and the health of my children is very important to me. So is their happiness. You seem to be saying that the two priorities are mutually exclusive. I would like to find a way to promote their health without sacrificing their happiness and vice versa.
Joyce Fetteroll responded:
When we're trying to achieve two goals there will be times when a decision will lead towards one but away from another.

When conventional parents are faced with deciding between happiness and another goal more often than not the goal of children's happiness becomes secondary.

If you've ever made your child cry because of something else that you wanted, then your child's happiness was secondary.

One time I was upset about a spill or something and my daughter said "It seems like you care more about the rug than you do me." I, of course, said "No, of course not." And yet she was right. For that moment the fact that she was upset was less important than the need to get the spill mopped up.

And with conventional parenting that happens a *lot*. It's pretty much taken for granted that what kids want is secondary to what parents are trying to accomplish. Kids are just another task, and not particularly high priority tasks, to get done in the day.

It doesn't feel that way when you're in the middle of conventional parenting! It feels like you're spending your life doing things for the kids like good meals, clean clothes, neat house and so on. But once outside it, conventional parenting looks very very selfish from the point of view of the kids. It feels to them like all the things we're running around doing are more important than they are because the things they ask of us get put low on our list and sometimes fall off the list when we run out of time after getting all the things we "need" to get done.

We can provide healthy food and make them happy. But sometimes we'll come up against a conflict between the two -- like counting/ignoring the cookies they're eating -- and a message about good eating is going to seem more important than the delight a child is getting from the cookies.

There's plenty of time throughout the day to model what we believe to be healthy eating that we don't need to steal a moment of their happiness to give them "an important service announcement."


What's near seems Big! Stay close to your children so they will be big in your life. —Sandra

Debbie Regan wrote, in 2015:

What is important for your family - peace? joy? doing fun things? well-being? growing and learning? comfort? delight?

What can you do to enhance what's important - more flexibility? more listening? more engagement? more calm? more kindness? more fun ideas? more soft places? more interesting/happy options? more generosity? more creativity?

From the outside, unschooling may look like no chores, no bedtimes, no education, no discipline, no structure, no limits, etc. But from the inside, it's about learning, relationships, living with real parameters, partnership, navigating turbulence, making connections, joy, curiosity, focus, enthusiasm, options, following trails, fun, growing understanding, opening doors.

"Eliminating chores" won't, of itself, bring unschooling closer. The conditions which led to and continued the imposition of 'chores', need to change. And that takes time and deschooling. Many steps in the direction of understanding about learning, of awareness of control in relationships, of relationship-building. "Eliminating chores" can be done with a few words. Getting to unschooling takes more - it requires parents to change significantly. Step by step is usually more effective than trying to leap across. More tortoise, less hare. 🙂

—Debbie Regan

Sandra Dodd: For a single person to dedicate himself or herself to "a cause" is all well and good, but for a parent to take one moment from his child's peaceful life to try to make theoretical peace 10,000 miles away is bad.

Robin Bentley: And filling kids' heads with the misery of others doesn't make them happier.

AlexPolikowsky: NO it does not!

Elaine G-H: I think filling adults heads with misery isn't a good thing either. It's contagious

Sandra Dodd: I know the argument, that there is no peace until all have peace, but that is a big old fallacy and foolishness. There never has been universal peace and never, ever could be.

Wonder and Awe (a chat transcript from July 2012)

I think Radical Unschooling attracts people who are against the system. against the mainstrean, people that like to buck at any kind of authority and that want to be totally free.

I did not come to unschooling because of any of those reasons but I have seen many that did and many of those have a way of thinking that is not very clear. Instead of going towards learning and mindfulness, they are moving against of what they feel is oppression and society control (not saying those do not exist!)

If the focus is not your children, family, peacefulness and learning then things seem to get a little crazy.

—Alex Polikowsky, 2011

Sandra Dodd wrote:

If your child is more important than your vision of your child, life becomes easier.

This needs to be said again and again... it's a great mantra!


~diana :)

Caren Knox wrote in 2011:
Any time another value comes before learning and your relationship, unschooling won't flow as well. That goes for valuing vegetarianism, college, law of attraction, or minimalism and simplicity. There are ways to find the 'yes' while holding those values, too, but it takes a lot of discussion and working things out. For example, if you value a clutter-free space, you could maybe get one of those cabinets where everything folds up when it's not being used (like a murphy bed, but it's a desk), and the space would be more clear at times. Or you could have one room that remains "stuff-free" that you can enjoy. When push comes to shove, though, and a choice has to be made, if the values the parents hold are what "win out", the unschooling in that home will suffer.

From a chat on October 8, 2010; Pamela Corkey started the list and others contributed:

Example of priorities than can hamper unschooling:

"Everyone has a lifestyle, but putting that first ahead of your relationships can destroy things fast."
—Pamela Corkey

Some later additions:

Pam Sorooshian:

Sandra Dodd:

Specific parenting/communication strategies! Like Non-violent communication (NVC), or consensus processing. When sticking to a particular format for problem solving becomes more important than real people with real needs. Somewhat ironically, the NVC, consensus, and non-coercion folks seem to be the most likely to try to talk their kids into submission, explaining and explaining and explaining until the kids give in (if they're lucky).

Schuyler Waynforth:

Sandra once upon a time wrote that life is about priorities. I can't remember what it was in reference to, maybe somebody worrying about McDonalds and not allowing her/his child(ren) to support a multi-national conglomerate being more important than supporting her/his families ability to make choices.

I think that with all of these things it is about priorities. If your priority is no or little television than allowing freedom of access to television isn't going to result in no or little television. My son Simon (8), who has had freedom of access to television since he was five and for whom we controlled it very little before that can and does watch television for hours. However, of late, he has been turning it off and walking away from it far more than ever before. If someone were to walk into our home who believed that television was a corrupting influence we are clearly corrupted.

There is free access to food in our house. There are two bowlfuls of starburst fruit chews on the kitchen table and carrots and celery cut up and floating in water in the fridge as per my Grandmother; there are packets of crisps in the cupboard with weetabix cereal and muesli cereal and whatever other kind of cereal; there is dried squid and sheets of nori and crackers and peanut butter and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and ice cream and, and, and... All things get eaten. At the moment Linnaea (5) and Simon are sitting in front of the television watching a video of The Flintstones eating spaghetti noodles and raw carrots and drinking kool-aid (imported) and talking to me about what "balance" means, based I would guess on the balance of a sword in "Pirates of the Caribbean". If your priority is not letting your children have certain "e numbers" in food or to be vegetarian or vegan or to eat only things without additives, than allowing food choice isn't necessarily going to end up with a family that eats the way you want them to eat. It might, but it probably won't.

If you choose to follow the unschooling lifestyle, as opposed to just being an unschooling homeschooler, than you have to accept that these people who are your children will enjoy things in ways you may not like. Yesterday Simon ate three doughnuts. He had a couple of bites of egg fried rice and a couple of bites of bagel with cream cheese, but really, he only ate three doughnuts. It drove me mad. But David (husband) said sometimes you only want three doughnuts. Tomorrow he'll eat other things. Do you think he is going to starve himself? And he was right. Today he is eating other things and yesterday he only wanted three doughnuts. And the coercion I attempted was short-sighted and mean.

If your priority is perfectly behaved children who read at an early age and who impress your friends and family with their knowledge and deportment, you may find unschooling a hard path to follow (not that any other method will necessarily get you these things). If your priority is to respect your children as people and to help them to explore the world in an engaging way than it is also important to understand that as romantic as these things sound it is hard and on bad days it is easy to note that they only ate three doughnuts or that every time you go to the store they have to buy something or that they are watching loads of television. It all depends on your priorities.


Thanks, Schuyler.

If your priority is perfectly behaved children who read at an early age and who impress your friends and family with their knowledge and deportment, you may find unschooling a hard path to follow (not that any other method will necessarily get you these things).
In such a case, though the mom could say "At least I tried," and look down at us, the slackers. 🙂 There's a cost to pressing children to do things early and better and perfectly, though, and that comes straight off the top of the relationship between parent and child.

It's 5:00 in the morning in Albuquerque. I got up at 4:30, having been awake an hour. I started bread, made tea, changed out the dishwasher, started washing the stove parts, and Kirby (18) came in (in Bart Simpson boxer shorts).

"You couldn't sleep?"

"No. Sorry if I woke you up."

"I was still up."

"If you're up when Keith comes through, he wants to talk to you about the dash lights on the van. Were they out Saturday night when we went to Pirates of Penzance?" (He drove one van and I drove the other as we had more attendees than would fit in either one.)

"Dim. They've always been dim, though. I thought that's just how the van was.
"Leif is camping out tonight at Century Rio [a theatre] with his boss to get tickets for Star Wars."

"But it's..."

"Yeah, it's tomorrow night at midnight."

"Cameron called to ask where you're going to see Star Wars. Marty and I didn't know."

"Cottonwood. Michelle got free tickets."

"Oh, right. I remember you told me that. If Cameron calls I'll tell him you're unavailable to assist him."

"Okay, thanks."

So he went to bed, and I came to sit and drink tea.

I KNOW that whole conversation could have gone differently. I could have been grouchy that he was still up at nearly 5:00 a.m. Some moms might've been uncomfortable (or worse) at an 18 year old appearing in his underwear with no self consciousness. He didn't ask to go to the movies (though he did tell me weeks ago).

My priority is helping him live at peace in his own home, and letting him know that I care about him, and his comfort is part of that.

Cameron is younger than Kirby and often tags along. He got a job two days ago and is feeling older and bigger, and has recently started to drive.

Michelle is in her 20's and Kirby knows her from the Anime club. Her boyfriend works early and doesn't want to go to a midnight showing of Star Wars, so she's taking Kirby with the complimentary tickets she got working at Suncoast Video.

Kirby was out late at a friend's house helping him prepare for an L5R (Legend of Five Rings) tournament he's running this coming weekend. The friend is 30 or older, has a wife and two children, very organized and responsible, and his assistant of choice was Kirby.

And about that reading... Kirby was reading aloud the other night from a gaming manual to that big batch of guys who went to see Pirates of Penzance with us. Kirby and Marty really wanted to go to the play. As things turned out, three unexpected others went with us. That was fine. They went because they were involved in a roleplaying game, and wanted to continue it later, and because they trust Kirby and Marty's judgement about what's cool. They had fun, and came back and played several hours longer afterward. But Kirby, one of the youngest of the seven there, and one of the "least educated," was reading difficult material aloud to attentive others, one of whom (Leif, who's camped in the Star Wars line) has a college degree, one of whom has two years of college, and none of whom had any reason to say, "Let me read that." He could've been reading it for taping, or radio. Expressive, clear, no hesitation.

He's confident in his skin, in his mind, and in his being.
He's not afraid of his parents.
He goes to sleep happy and he wakes up glad.

My priorities could have been different.


On valuing children's activities:
Generally speaking, kids are Busy people. Its good to see that and value what they are doing. When we don't, its easy to slip into resenting them for "just goofing off" while we grown ups are busy doing the "important" stuff. An important aspect of radical unschooling is valuing kids as kids, not adults-in-training, and so valuing kid-stuff. Playing Green Dinosaur smashes Legoland, watching tv, daydreaming, all are just as important as cleaning the kitchen.
Meredith (Mo 7, Ray 15)
(UnschoolingBasics list, November 2008)

Note on something in the very top quote:
"You seem to be saying that the two priorities are mutually exclusive."
Priorities have literally to do with rankings. Two "priorities" can't be equal, or there is no "priority" (first-in-lineness, precedence). So if they are to be called "priorities" then I suppose one has to exclude the other at that point of decision making. But people can have two favorite causes or missions or concerns, and lots of times the precedence of them won't matter. When it does, that's when they learn their priorities.

Some people's priority is keeping the neighbors happy or satisfying their mom's questions. That tends to put the kids way, way down the list, especially if yardwork and housework and auto care and nice coats and groomed pets are priorities (being on the real or imagined neighborly or parental checklists).

Sometimes all that's needed to clarify thinking is to look at the words we use and what they really mean. "Equal priorities" means "no priorities."


Joyce Fetteroll, responding to a situation about a young child wanting to stay and play at the laundramat, when his dad really wanted to go.
The mom was torn:

Just this one thing, again: Why does my husband's want/need to go make us need to go? I understand that it'll show my respect for my husband if we go, but prioritizing his need doesn't seem fair to S.

And wouldn't leaving be sending the message to S "Daddy's needs are more important than yours"?

Because hunger has a greater priority than play. Sleep has a greater priority than someone playing loud music. Going to the emergency room for a broken leg has a greater priority even than finishing the last chapter of the last book of Harry Potter ;-)

Some needs *are* more important.

Adults can be more accommodating of their own needs because of age and greater power of manipulating the world. But one partner deciding the other must accommodate the child won't build a partnership with a spouse. It's up to you to find a way to transition. In this case, your child has a need to explore and play, but he doesn't need to play at the laundromat. Your husband did need some food!

And if a husband isn't totally on board with unschooling, it helps to see unschooling as a privilege. If a husband trusts his wife to make the big decisions for how the kids will be raised *but* she chooses a way that makes life more difficult and irritating for him, how long should he put up with it before saying "Whoa!" Sometimes husbands wait way too long and don't say something until the last straw has been placed. So it's polite and relationship building to help him get some real food instead of pointing to the vending machine or telling him he's a big boy who can wait or something ;-)

(The sexes aren't important in the above. The dynamics of human relationships work regardless of sex.)

Instead of thinking in terms of doing exactly what your child is asking, look at the bigger need and figure out how you can work that into meeting more important needs.


IF a family's first priority is politics, unschooling will come in second, even if they are unschooling with a passion, because it will be a political passion, and so at least once removed from a direct response to that particular child in that particular family.

What if a child really wants school, and would thrive in school and the parents are too busy being incensed and indignant to really relax into a peaceful routine with the child, but by GOD the parents are NOT going to have any child of THEIRS in a government school?

Sandra Dodd

from a 2013 discussion about principles, at Radical Unschooling Info

Factors, Problems, Odd Considerations

When Parents Have Issues


Choices rather than "Have To"

Principles, not Rules

Parenting Issues

Title art by Holly Dodd