Helping Resistant Spouses

and reluctant others

Sandra Dodd, with additional input

This first part is older than the rest. Read it all and use as much as you can.

Someone wrote, of her husband, at [the now defunct unschooling[.]com discussion]:

It gets lonely when I read these boards and get so much encouragement and want to share it with him and all he can say is he doesn't need anyone else's opinions or experiences.

Would he feel the same way about building a shed or rebuilding a carburetor or running phone lines? Doesn't need anyone else's opinions or experiences?

Lyle's advice is good. Stall and hush about unschooling. Don't even use the term at all. [Lyle's ideas are at the bottom of this page.]

Try to buy a copy of The Homeschool Book of Answers. It doesn't say "unschooling," but most of it is.

Try to get him where other unschoolers are, whether he knows it or not. If you know anyone with older unschooled kids, get them over to "teach" your kids something. Art. A game. Cooking. Get them into your house, and don't say "unschooling," just get them where your husband will meet them and like them. Spring the truth on him later when you need it.

Keep a list of "expected competencies." Check off what she can do already.

Go "interdisciplinary" as much as you can so you can checklist two or three things at once. Songs about history. Recipes from other countries. Science that requires measurement (size/weight/temperature, whatever) and double-dip on your listings so that your daughter will NOT separate the subjects into separate categories as schooled kids tend to do. Don't use the "science/history" terms with her when you don't have to. Just on the paper your husband sees.

You can find checklists here (and other places online):

It's World Book Encyclopedia's "course of study" listings. Typical Course of Study

You can probably check some stuff off the grades she's wouldn't be in yet. No problem. No reason to "finish first grade" before moving to any 2nd grade stuff. That's something he needs to figure out too.

Get the "What Your First Grader Needs to Know" books, and instead of going through them like textbooks, find places in her life where she's already learned those things and document that. Maybe write it right in the book, in the margin, every exposure to that story or factoid or concept, whether she got it from PBS or a cartoon or playing in the yard or a sculpture in a public park.

Put your frustrated energy into a burst of mixing it up.

Unschooling can prove itself if it's not thwarted.

You might be able to find some coloring books about pirates or the middle ages or something also history/geography. You might find workbooks you don't despise. Holly had an Animaniacs math workbook she liked. All the pages were funny and in color, and much had to do with fractions and money and time.

Go toward it, not away from it, for your daughter's comfort and to buy time for unschooling to work.

DO "FIELD TRIPS"—be out and away from the house as much as you can be. Document what you see and do and discuss, and the questions she asks. Look things up on the internet when you get home.

You won't have to document like that forever.

That's what I would do.

September 2003

A mom reported problems with her husband's approval level. First is some of Robin Bentley's response, and then a really great report by Mary Whited. Italics show the original poster's quotes.

It is getting frustrating because life is so different when he's at work--the kids are MUCH more likely to help out when I ask then, but as soon as he comes home things get tense. And I feel awful because the kids tell me, "We like you much better than Daddy." and that is the last thing I want!!

Maybe you have inadvertently set this up by being the "good guy". The tension probably is set by you. You're thinking "oh, no—here comes a battle about something".

Maybe you could work with the kids to do something special for dad before he comes home. It might not have to be the 'menial task that builds character' (whatever the heck that is). It could be something they initiate or agree on. Help them understand that a little effort can go a long way to calming the waters. They'll see that dad gets more relaxed and happy, which will be easier on them and you. And will it might make it easier for your husband to be more open to alternatives to the do-what-I-say model.

At this point, I don't know what to do other than keep doing what I'm doing?? We've agreed that we don't agree but that we need to. Ugh, I'm tired of butting heads, but have no desire to take on such an authoritative role. I would be extremely grateful for any input.

I think you might mean authoritarian. Being authoritative is a good thing - it means you're to be trusted and that you're reliable!

I think you're seeing you and your husband on opposite sides. You don't have to be, because you both want your kids to be happy and probably competent. You just have different understandings of how that's accomplished.

You can bring him along gently as part of the team by doing what Sandra suggests "Read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch". Report to him by email or blog post or photos about what your kids are doing that he would like to see, plus other really cool stuff they do. He can't see it when he's at work and things are tense when he gets home. Keeping him in the loop can ease that tension for both of you, and for your kids. You will then become the authority in the house on how unschooling works. It's about learning all kinds of things, too, not just obedience to the person in the corner office! He'll trust you more when he see some results.

—Robin Bentley
Always Learning

This seems quite similar to a troubling dynamic that had developed in our home a few years ago. My husband was away for about 12 hours each work day and it was eroding that connection we all had to and with him.

It was painful for me to see that during the times he was at home with us, he and the children were in conflict much of the time. it wasn't over what they were learning— it was about things like keeping their rooms tidy, eating their dinners, not snacking before meals, going to bed at a particular time—and all of these (and other) things were to be done without 'talking back' or questioning parental authority.

It had gotten to the point where the children and I were relaxed and happy when papa was away and tense and anxious when he was home. It was not a good situation at all.

I brought a question here and got such awesome feedback. It helped me to see that my husband's needs were not getting met and that I was setting up a dynamic that encouraged the children to see papa as 'the problem.'

That feedback helped me to sit and think and observe and make some changes. We worked as a team, the children and I, to make our home a more peaceful place so that when papa came home he was embraced in a loving 'nest' and welcomed there.

I modeled being compassionate about my husband's need for a calm, tidy and (at least at times) peaceful home. The children and I had various, short conversations about how hard it was for papa to be away from home so much, knowing that he was missing out on the 'good stuff' with them and how we could rearrange things (physical and priorities) to help him participate.

Those were tiny changes in terms of effort and HUGE changes in terms of outcome. Having a more peaceful & tidy home kept papa's stress levels lower meaning he was interacting with us instead of reacting to his own stress. Getting more of the 'daily life maintenance' stuff taken care of (cooking, cleaning, etc.) while he was away meant that we had time and space for fun when papa was home.

It was my responsibility, I finally understood to set up the best possible situations for all of us. It was my responsibility to set the tone for how the children viewed papa's involvement in our lives. Because falling into a dynamic where it was us vs. papa was bad for everyone.

Our family is far stronger now for these changes. My husband is no longer the outsider. The children welcome and encourage his involvement and presence. I am happy he is with us....and he feels it. :D

—Mary Whited
Always Learning

Lyle's Advice:

I don't have this problem with my spouse, but I've read alot of posts here from people who do.

He needs 'proof' that she's learning. I think that's a lot of people's problem with unschooling at first. There is no grade to look at, or handfuls of completed worksheets to either praise or complain about. A person that is sold on 'formal' education either cannot or will not see the learning any other way.

So, try to start keeping a journal of everything your daughter does. Translate her actions, projects, discussions, etc., into 'school language' so he will be able to see it better.

Don't spend so much energy trying to discuss unschooling with him, it sounds like he's already slammed the door. He's looking for proof that your daughter is learning, so give him proof.

This will take time. It sounds like he's built a pretty tall wall around his idea of education, and you're going to have to keep chipping away at it piece by piece, and eventually, hopefully, the wall will come crumbling down.

Maybe as long as you can provide him with some proof of her learning, he will let up a bit and let you and your dd get on with things. I wouldn't spend so much time worrying about him 'getting it', and go about your business of LETTING your daughter learn.

Hopefully others will chime in and have something more.

Good luck!


Jenny Cyphers added:

I just wanted to say that my dh had the exact same reaction to unschooling as yours did. That was about 4 years ago. Well, over the last 4yrs, he's seen other kids her age in ps and hasn't been impressed. He has seen how curious our children are and how they strive to know things. He isn't totally sold on the unschooling idea still, but he does see the value in our children. He gets insecure about all of it, but doesn't read anything to ease his fears, so he has nothing to say for himself. I read and know sooooo much more about education, laws, learning, homeschooling, unschooling, that there is no way he could have a discussion about it without feeling a little inept. That is part of our problem, I am so far one way because I have grown into it, where he has either stood still or moved really sssslllloooowwwwllllyyyy. It is partially his fault for not having open dialog or reading and understanding, but partially not, because he is so busy making a living for us by being gone everyday working.

Hindsight, I would say really keep trying to have an open dialog about education and learning in general maybe not even mentioning unschooling, but just the way children learn. I think if we had more of that over the past 4yrs, my dh would be a little more advanced and understanding at this point in our life. Don't give up on him! Just help him in subtle ways by creating open dialog about your children and everything that goes with it. If it were me, I would definitely start with the genius idea he has, because that could be so harmful for your dd as she will try to measure up even if she's not aware that she's doing it. Help him see that she can't be ahead or behind herself, that she just is who she is. My dh said a lot of those things to me too about the genius part, alluding to the fact that I wasn't doing her justice and that I was actually doing her harm by not challenging her enough. It is so absurd, but yet he felt so strongly about it. I asked him for what I should do to challenge her. He didn't have any ideas, so it held no weight. He still gets into these doubting modes and it is really disturbing, but I know so much more that I can handle it better.

Hang in there! The journaling is a good idea, although I never did it. I'm just stubborn about it I guess. Perhaps I'll start now, it might be fun.

Jenny Cyphers

Responding to others' questions



Tension (not the bad kind)