Responses to the Question about Service

Here's what's in The Big Book of Unschooling, and some of the responses I've received are below.


STOP! Cover up the rest of the page past this paragraph. Don't look down before you think about the word "service." What emotions or images arise?

Feel those emotions; breathe; what are those emotions?

I know service has been mentioned before, in this book, but I also know it's something at which very many new unschoolers (and some of the older ones) balk. It stops them dead in their thoughts.

Did you really think about it? Was it difficult to even think about? If not, I'm guessing you're involved in a service organization of some sort, or a group with an emphasis on virtues. I could be wrong. I'd be interested in collecting some reactions and thoughts on this. My e-mail address is [email protected] if you'd be willing to share.

[then I quoted some parts of the transcript here]

It is amazing when you don't need to hear thank you. Doing it was enough. "Service as a gift" can be a gift to the server, as well.

Even with grown kids who could absolutely take care of themselves if I died or if they moved away, I'm still doing laundry for them because I want to free their time up to do more interesting things. I started running out of ways to express my affection and to support their interests when they had jobs and cars, but this is a thing I can still do. If I decided it was hurting me, I could turn around and hurt them. Lots of parents do that.

If I decide it's a way to show affection, I turn around and show them affection.

Part of creating a learning environment is creating a safe, generous, loving environment.

(above is me, Sandra; below are messages from others)

I just reached your section on service, where you ask for thoughts - so I thought I'd send them quickly while the children are reading with their uncle and before I read the rest of the page and colour my thoughts.

When I read the word 'service' the first thing I think of is my great grandmother who went into 'service' at a big house when she was 14 (I think). Much of my family would have been in service if you go back a way. My thoughts about that are not of servitude, from family stories I think they saw it as a vocation — to Serve — maybe the same family through the generations. Something they felt themselves innately good at as members of their class, and of their family. So it leads me to thoughts of vocations, people who are dedicated to a principle or a profession, who see their whole lives as coloured by and built around one thing.

Hope that's useful to you — very much coloured by my family history, my nationality and class.

Sarah Dickinson, U.K. (the first response I ever received)

Service reminds me of the way my mother used the word: she saw herself having spent almost all her life in service to others particularly to her mother.

As a child I resented the amount of time she cheerfully spent with my grandmother. As a teen and through my twenties, the feelings deepened as I also became aware of how unkind and harsh my grandmother was towards her.

Service stirred negative feelings for many years, until I had my first child.

Being with my children, giving them in each moment all I can, learning and growing with them, changed my understanding of "service."

I have chosen to give, help and serve my children. I feel being with them has contributed towards a new understanding of the word as well as a way of building a connection with them. I can also see how it can be extended to others.

I realize how much weight a word can carry, how changes in my own feelings have lightened that weight and thrown a new light on the word itself. Service now stirs up and brings great feelings of joy.

Parvine Shahid, March 2015

Dear Sandra:

I just got your big book of unschooling and I came to the service page. I did the exercise you proposed about pausing, breathing and feeling what that word/concept made me feel. And I felt immense joy and positiveness. I continued reading and I was surprised to read that for some people it might have a negative connotation. And then I thought about what made me feel the way I feel.

Me and my husband are colombian but lived in India for 7 years, in an ashram where my children were born (they are 6 and 3 now). In India, and specially in an ashram, people do work as an offering to a Divine source, without any expectations. As you serve others, you receive a tremendous amount of joy and your heart is at the same time filled with gratitude, because that Divine source, or life itself (the name does not matter) has given you that opportunity. It is a matter of choice. You choose to serve others, to see it as a divine gift and to be filled with joy, awe and magic.

You could also see it as a simple unpaid chore and feel miserable and make everyone miserable. The act is the same; the attitude is different and so the atmosphere you create is different. Only with an attitude change.

I choose to be positive and to take every opportunity as a gift. So serving others (and many other things) becomes a great spiritual endeavor.

I just wanted to share this with you and also thank you for the inspiration of your words.

Manuela (2014)

I wanted to share my reaction to the word service. May be my strong draw toward Eastern philosophies, such as Taoism and Buddhism and Hinduism, but I felt strong compassion and giving a gift. I felt the phrase "may I be of service?" while leaning down to aid my child with something. I felt love, being, kindness, gentleness. I also felt a bit of "doormat", because the dishes section was so fresh and I was trying to really explore what bothered me about doing them and tease it out and understand it better. I know that I felt very powerless as a child, searched for a voice as a way to heal and feel powerful, and am now really working on finding a balance and remembering that I can give of myself in ways that does not mean I am trampling over myself or being trampled over. I must be doing pretty well on that, because I was having trouble "inducing" that feeling, as an attempt to try to feel it enough to understand it better. Just love and offering and assisting/helping - offering being a big one.

free mama to Kass, Noble, and Jai
This is my greatest adventure

My first image when I got to your section on service was of Downton Abbey. I guess the feelings attached were somewhat romanticized, and spurred by a recent marathon viewing. The characters seem to have pride and honor in their service, and it is done with grace and efficiency. When I really think about it in my own life, I do love the idea of being in service.

Although I do not operate with the grace or efficiency of the Downton staff, I do have joy in being a part of our family, and being here for them, in service. The joy is in the day to day filling of each other's cups. In my case, you are right on the money about being involved in a service organization. I would agree that my positive thoughts on service come from a childhood of community service and then later serving with AmeriCorps in early adulthood. But until I read your book, I don't think I really connected it to family life. It is a beautiful idea, that I will keep in the forefront from now on.

Shannon Chang, 2014

One of the things that has shifted for me in recent months that I suddenly realised was one of the things that has enabled me to really begin to understand unschooling has been a new understanding of the word 'service'.

I have spent a lot of time over the past two years while I recovered from serious mental illness, in women's circles and exploring life purpose and meaning. I also recently decided to go back to nursing and have been surprised to find myself finding care of the elderly hugely rewarding. I asked myself why and realised that, as my changing awareness of women's cycles grew, my feeling of needing to be of service to our society's elders, particularly, being a woman, the older women (the crones!) became part of my purpose.

With four daughters, I also realised that I had the opportunity to also be of service to some of our society's maidens as well. My personal, and I guess spiritual, beliefs about women's cycles (beliefs that are 'home grown' - an eclectic jumble of learning about what feels right and not part of a religion or movement), all came together to a point at which being of service stopped feeling like a chore and became a privilege, a beautiful way to honour our elders and support our daughters.

So now the word 'service' has only positive associations for me and is linked with the words 'honour' and 'privilege' and 'joy'. And I think also 'gratitude'. There is nothing richer than making someone's life more joyful and I get to do that at home and at work for the people in our society who need it the most.

Clare Kirkpatrick

I read the bit about service today and you asked people to share what they thought about it.

Here are my thoughts;

Those were a few of my immediate thoughts, there were others, but to me service is about the provision of something — not resentfully or unwillingly but gratefully and joyfully. Service is a good thing — good service is a great thing!

Morag Donnachie, Edinburgh

When I read the word "service" I felt warm and positive. I love to serve as it is a way to give and express love. So for me service is a positive word, not a "must do" at all. It is also a choice. If I feel under the weather I don't think "I must serve and cook dinner". If I am really not up for it then I call my husband and discuss it (either get take away or if he is up for it he can cook). Service is an expression of love for me. It really depends on the attitude, doesn't it? Like the half full or half empty cup....although for me it is neither but plenty in it to go around 🙂

Nicole Kenyon, Cairns

The word service means a lot to me. I used to be one of those moms that hated housework and even though I never demanded help I did not have a good attitude about it. But after reading something on some unschooling site everything changed. It was probably on your site. Someone said that since you have to do it anyway you might as well enjoy it and not waste your time being miserable and complaining about it. But to live your life with joy and with the knowledge that you are doing it for the people you love. That has changed my whole attitude.

Just this summer my husband and I decided to sell our house and travel the country doing acts of kindness. My husband sings country gospel music and we have heard of other families that sold everything and live in an RV and help other people. We just knew that that was the next step for us. The beautiful thing about helping others whether they are your family or strangers is the way it makes you feel. It is hard to be depressed or angry while you are reaching out to others. Also, the bible says when you do something for others or give something, you should not do it to someone that can return the favor. When the favor is returned, it is unexpected and part of the blessing of giving. Anytime we give of ourselves or our recources we always receive more than we give away.

Sorry that I went so long but I just wanted to respond when I read the word "service".

Thank you for sharing your life with a bunch of strangers and for making the world a more happy, peaceful place for families.

Diane Marcengill
South Carolina

From a blog post on monkey platters, by Shan Burton: Food you want, served to you by someone who loves you and brings it to you with a smile and a hug, has magical powers to heal and replenish the soul as well as the body. **

About the bonding of people who serve together:

Lori Odhner, one of my La Leche League leaders when Kirby was a baby, writes a marriage enrichment blog called Marriage Motes." I have said that one of the things that most strengthened my marriage was the shared satisfaction Keith and I gained from having worked together to be good parents. Lori wrote about the bonding of performing service together:

Marriage Moats-Leave a Mark
It makes sense really. I read of yet another study that says volunteering together as a couple increases your feeling of connection.

Working with someone on a project you care about, helps you to care for each other as well. It has been true for me. I can still pull up the affection I felt for my co leader in Brownies, or my team creating a children's program six years ago for a church assembly. We showed up together, dreamed a little, made some mistakes and fixed them, witnessed the results of our efforts, grew. I have a permanent warm spot for the choirs I have sung with, from the joy of making beautiful music together. My quilt guild made baby quilts to donate to Project Linus, and it felt much more nourishing to my soul than when I landed an order for 100 doll quilts that paid me $22 each and sold for $69 through a pricey catalogue. Don't tell the little girls who opened them on Christmas morning, but I resented those quilts fiercely.

There is a shift when we show up to serve. Instead of the slice of our personality that critiques and expects to get our money's worth, we rotate to a more vulnerable side that zeros in on the needs around us. Entitlement dissolves into thin air, leaving space for more nourishing emotions like altruism.

It feels good to make a mark, side by side, and to high five each other over the success.

Giving in meaningful ways bonds you to the people you are working with, so you are wise to have your partner on the other side of the adhesive.

Keith and I met in a madrigal group. Singing together was bonding, as Lori mentions. Before we had children, we organized many events together, and helped each other with projects variously involving writing, printing and mailing, all as a service to others.

So though the primary focus of this page is to encourage parents to reconsider what they do and how they do it, in regards to their parenting, sharing outside service might be considered, as long as the children are serving voluntarily. Otherwise it's like Lori's story of the doll quilts for too little money. There will be no real giving and no joy.

Joyce and her daughter volunteered at a small local animal shelter for a long time. Jill and her children delivered meals for people who couldn't get out. Once when Kirby was five or six and Marty was younger, I was picking trash up in a public park and putting it in a trash bag I had brought for that purpose. Kirby started helping me. After a while he asked if they were paying us to do this. I said no, we were just doing it to be nice, so the park would be cleaner for other little kids. He smiled slowly, thinking, and said that was nice of us. [I looked for exact words, but didn't find a report from those days, and it's been nearly 20 years.]

Service (main page)

Service as a Gift

Generosity begets generosity