What support is and isn't

I went to my support generator to add "You've got this!!!"
The phrase was already in there, so I gave it the three exclamation points.

Saying "positive things" when someone is having problems is likely to keep them from making changes that would improve the situation. Assuring an absolute stranger that she's a great mom is not only useless—it can be harmful.

I thought it might be powerful to see all of the quotes in that support generator in one place. If it's too much, don't read them all. In my experience, even one of them can be too much, when a mom has asked for help.

  • Go with your gut

  • You are the mama, follow your gut. You know what is best for your son ❤️
  • You can do this, mama.❤️
  • Much love to the family. She will get there.
  • It is so hard.
    The challenging things we tackle to raise our children in a different way then we were raised.
  • FOURTEEN?! You are a super woman. Thank you for working so hard, and loving so fiercely, so that the world receives fourteen amazing humans at the end of your parenting task.
  • Some of the best support women can offer each other sometimes is a simple "Great job. You're doing amazing work!"
  • You know your child better than anyone.
  • Don't listen to those unschoolers.
  • No two families unschool the same way.
  • You're SUCH a good mother!
  • You can unschool part time; don't worry about what other people say.
  • It won't hurt your kids to do chores and have an early bedtime.
  • Kids are really very selfish.
  • The TV was giving me a headache, so I unplugged it and told the kids it was broken.
  • Once your kids can read and do math, then it would be okay to unschool them.
  • Being a mother is just the hardest job on earth.
  • You're not their servant. Make them clean up after themselves.
  • I hope they're not killing each other. Ha, ha, ha!
    These quotes have been collected over a dozen years of discussions. Most were deposited right in an unschooling discussion I was moderating. Some were in more general homeschooling discussions. Some were cleaned up, for spelling or grammar.

    Every one of these was posted in public, by someone who did not know the person they were "supporting." They didn't know about the safety of the children or the mental health or the abilities of the mothers. Some of the statements make no sense in the best of situations. Many are more harmful than helpful, but they sound good for a few seconds.

    Here's the support generator where they come up randomly, two at a time, if this page is too much for anyone.

  • Children are very resilient.
  • Your kids will be fine. They need to learn to get along without you.
  • Don't feel guilty; little kids won't remember what you do to them.
  • Your children really should appreciate you more.
  • Some people take unschooling much too seriously.
  • There really is no good definition of unschooling, you know.
  • Whatever unschooling is for you, that's unschooling!
  • Perhaps you could just unschool on the weekends and in the summer.
  • There's really no hurry to take your kids out of school. They might as well finish the school year so they'll learn to finish what they start.
  • Your children should be able to play by themselves without bothering you.
  • I just tell them to go to bed, if they know what's good for them.
  • Your children are so lucky to have you as their mother!
  • Oooh! You all are sooo creative!!
  • Your family is very lucky.
  • Kids are just kids.
  • You're an amazing mother.
  • There's more than one way to parent.
  • In truth, it is you and your children who are the ones who know what's best for you.
  • Follow your heart.
  • Just follow your heart and your own intentions.
  • Mother knows best.
  • No one knows a child better than his parents.
  • You are the perfect parent for this child for this moment.
  • You're not a short-order cook. Let them find their own food.
  • You know your son and family; you really do know what is best for all of you.
  • Children are resilient creatures.
  • Do not dwell on the past. There is enough worry in the future.
  • I totally commiserate with you. Parenting is hard.
  • You're doing your best and that's what counts.
  • You know your child best so whatever you decide will be the best thing for him.
  • No one knows what your child needs but you.
  • I know you are parenting your children the way that you FEEL is right, in your soul. This is enough.
  • Everyone's path is different, valuable and worthy.
  • (((HUGS)))
  • I love your thoughts and questions.
  • I think we all do what is right *for us.*
  • Your kids are so lucky to have you!
  • You are such a good mom, [your first name here]
  • Everyone's input is valuable.
  • We all have different needs, and all of them are valid.
  • You're a much better mom than that other woman.
  • wow, you're on this site, you're doing a lot for your children, you're trying to find out more and know you can grow... let's see how we can help...
  • Now there, there; you're doing fine.
  • You just need some time alone. All of this is normal.
  • We all do our best. You're obviously doing a great job with your children.
  • Trust that you are doing the best you can, and that is always good enough.
  • I'm sure it will all work out.
  • You are amazing! There is so much to think about here.
  • BTDT too! Hugs to you.";
  • Hang in there. You know something, I believe in you too. :) FWIW.
  • It sounds to me like you are doing great, you have great kids, and you are dealing well with things as they come up.
  • 51% is good enough.
  • Different things work for different families.
  • I can tell that you are a great Mommy and you love your children very much!
  • I can tell you are an amazing Mom!
  • u r an awesome mama!
  • I'm doing the best I can, like all of you.
  • You are so AMAZING and you just can't win - how unlucky.
  • You are in an impossible situation and you are doing everything you can.
  • What a beautiful story. Thank you so much. I really get what you are saying.
  • Only you and your family know what is best for you.
  • Please know that you are not alone, that you are an excellent, caring mom and you doing your very best!
  • I'm sure your child will shine his awesome light and grow and all things good will come of it! :)
  • It will all work out for the best, don't be to hard on yourself.
  • Forgive yourself and just move forward in parenting them the way you believe you should.
  • We are all parents on a journey of learning and trying our best.
  • You're obviously a caring person.
  • Of course, each and every mama knows what is best for her own children.
  • You are an incredible mom and person in general who always does her best. Nothing more can be expected!!
  • Just look at yourself in the mirror and see amazing YOU!
  • All you need is to calm down, rest, refill your tank and carry on doing things the best you can. Good luck.
  • As long as you attempt to do your best, you are doing it.
  • None of it's easy and there is no easy answer. We just do the best we can, all the time.
  • You're a real person. You are being your best self. Most definitely honest. Be the same, real honest person with your kids.
  • You are your child's mother and already know what is best and don't need anyone here to tell you the 'right' way.
  • Hugs to you mamma it sounds like you are doing great.
  • Just remember to each their own opinion.
  • So long as no harm comes to anyone.
  • The only approval one needs is their own.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • It's your family and you know what is best for it.
  • Your child is perfect just as he is.
  • The short and simple answer is usually the best.
  • No one can tell you if you are doing the right thing; only you know that.
  • We are all not perfect! Being a mom is hard!!!!
  • I hear you. I know you're feeling hurt and confused.
  • Dont worry about it. Just do what feels right.
  • Good job mama!
  • You should be proud because it shows you are an excellent mother if your son won't waiver in his beliefs even when there is social pressure.
  • Frankly you are absolutely WINNING at parenting.
  • Have faith that you ARE the perfect parent for this child for this moment.
  • You've got this!!! _____________________________
  • You're a wonderful mother and doing an amazing job with your kids. And I suspect you're more patient than you give yourself credit for.
  • There is no wrong way to do it. You know your child.
  • Regardless of your decision to work in or out of the home it will be right for your family.
  • Everything in moderation I say! Trust in yourself as a mother, everyone's different, you know better than a text discussion/encouragements.
  • You are a great mom. Hugs!
  • You are one of the most amazing moms ever.
  • Keep your chin up. Everyone's house is different. Keep on rocking lady!!
  • It sounds like you are doing a great job.
  • Good luck, momma! You've got this!
  • Sounds like you are doing a great job meeting their needs and yours!

(Note to self for future—the last several are not on the randomizer; some could be broken up.)

Once upon a time, a mom asked for advice about teens, and several unschoolers offered their experiences and advice.

To "defend" the mom from the answers to her questions, someone wrote:

"I can tell already you have a sweet, tender, sensitive heart [name of original poster]! May the LORD bless you abundantly and grant you much wisdom as you live and learn joyfully with your wonderful children that HE has BLESSED you with. I can tell you are an amazing Mom!" The original poster wrote:
"I cannot tell you how much your words meant to me...*sniff*...thank you"
I/Sandra Dodd wrote:
If you prefer people saying they can tell you're an amazing mother to having people help you discover what you might do differently, there's a collection of those messages here:
sandradodd.com/support ( a link to the support generator)
The original poster's response was:
"I'm a little offend on the last line from you. I don't prefer to only hear I'm great, compared to ways I can parent differently.... But someone telling me that they can tell I'm a good mom, that is support and encouraging."
Meredith wrote:
"But someone telling me that they can tell I'm a good mom, that is support and encouraging."
Its not based in anything, though. Its polite social "noise". There's no way at all for someone who "knows" you only through a handful of posts online to have any idea what kind of parent you are. While it might feel good, its empty, like a random compliment about the color of your car.

The point isn't that you should feel bad about yourself as a parent, but that its good to question ideas about parenting - good in that there's a whoooooole lot of pure "noise" where parenting is concerned, things that everyone knows only becauses everyone says them. "Children need rules" is one example, and "you need to be a parent not a friend" and "the most important thing is love". Most parenting discussions consist of nothing but those sort of empty "truisms" repeated back and forth mindlessly, with much nodding and affirmation so that everyone feels like she's part of the conversation - but parenting remains essentially the same and we're all good mommies if our kids survive the experience and if they don't we did our best, right? We all have to do what works for us, right? (irony)

Unschooling starts at a different place than other kinds of parenting, though, and to understand that it's important to question everything you think you know about parenting, including the idea of being "a good parent". Step away from "good mom" and look at your individual children. What will, right this moment, allow their lives to be warmer and softer and more pleasant? A scolding won't. A lecture won't. Worrying over their future won't. The most wonderful - and startling - thing about unschooling is that you get to be someone your kids feel good about. But you won't get there being a "good mom". You're more likely to get there by being a good friend.

Meredith was a star, that day

From a discussion at Always Learning, 2008:
I was reading e-mail from Pam Sorooshian about the difference between philosophical discussion and support, and how some people can't seem to understand the difference.

Holly (16) came in to talk to me about a project she's working on. I had helped her brainstorm yesterday, and printed some things out for her she might use as a basis for some of the art. While we were talking, I was taking notes on a napkin and when I showed them to her later she said "these are really good!" and I said "Well I'm a writer, so I wrote some stuff." It was happy and busy and fun.

So when Holly came in today to talk about her progress, she told me what she had just done, and I nodded and kept looking at her, and she said something like "You're my writer, so I need you to help me say this better."

"Oh! I thought I was being your mom. 'Okay, dear,'" I said in an approving, supportive mom-way.

And in the sing-songiest of poodle voices, Holly imitated a supportive mom, and she said "That's a good iDEEa! Follow your dreams."

It was hilarious and I wrote it down. At sixteen she knows what moms can do to "be supportive" in a way that doesn't really help.

In writing that down, I'm aware that some people might read this and say that I said not to tell a kid her idea is good, and not to encourage a child to follow her dreams.

If anyone is tempted to think that way, please consider that few things in the world are all or nothing. If all a parent does is voice pre-spoken platitudes, it won't be as helpful as if real words are spoken. If you use a phrase others have used, use it with awareness and intent, for a good and specific reason.

There are times to say "You know John better than the coach does," but that's not to say it's very helpful to tell an unseen, unknown mom "You know your child better than anyone." First, it might not be true. Second, she might be in the midst of a very neglectful or clueless or delusional season, and it can't help for a stranger, by e-mail, to say "You're a great mom and your child is lucky to have you."

I'm willing to support people in their quest to understand natural learning and mindful parenting, but that support involves helping them understand the principles behind why it works, and finding ways to adapt their lives in ways that will help it flourish in their families.


2016, some thoughts about why people want "support"
Sandra, except the quote:

Anna Black wrote:

The other thread felt like the original poster was trying to get experienced unschoolers to agree that limiting tv was right in her situation. This one feels like trying to find support for forcing children to tidy up and do chores. Or maybe for sending them to school.

SO often, questions here are really that. People want us to tell them that what they're doing is just as good as it could possibly be. They want a blessing, or a pass, or an exception, or an exemption. They want a certification. They want a Get out of Jail Free card they can show to a partner when he/she returns.

Too often, people want us to tell them they are unschoolers, but they don't actually want to do what's involved in learning and changing and becoming unschoolers. And so every time anyone is "supportive" to those people in those situations, it hurts them more than helps them. Any "I know how you feel," even, can cause them to relax rather than to look for a way to change things in a direction that would be better for life for ALL of them.

That support seems invariably to come from someone else who came here for the same reason.

"I want my own child to do more than just survive."

Shannon McClendon:

I have some long-term issues that have to do with how I was raised. I had a counselor who repeatedly said, "your mother was doing the best she could with what she knew." It took me years (and the experience of having my own child) to admit that no, she wasn't doing the best she could. Some of the decisions she made were selfish and did not take me into consideration at all. She was dismissive of my emotions, sometimes cruel, often leaving me to my own devices. These were things she could have changed, but she believed I was "resilient," and that conveniently gave her a lot of latitude. She loved me, but she also didn't do much to examine her own issues and how they might be affecting me. Loving your children is not enough, knowing your children is not enough. Yes, I survived. But I want my own child to do more than just survive.

Sandra Dodd :
Beautiful: " I want my own child to do more than just survive."

When Kirby was a baby, I had a rough day, home alone, and when Keith came home I cried. I said I didn't feel like I was doing a good job, and the house was a mess (and all that stuff). He said "Is the baby still alive? Then you did a good job."

That was a nice thought for that one day, but I'm glad I didn't settle for that, with three kids over the next 20+ years.

There was more before and after that, on facebook: Bad advice. Sometimes "support" is the same as very bad advice.

What do people "have to" do, regarding actually being supportive?

No one owes any other unschoolers support or assistance. Luckily, there are many people willing to offer help, information, assistance and ideas. But neither online nor in park meet-ups nor at their own kitchen tables is it ever *required* that someone help you.

I have a page of information on people who will help you for money, but even they are volunteering to put that service forth and could decide halfway through a session to send you a refund instead of finishing it.

This group won't last forever. I've been in groups and on forums I WISH still existed, for my own sake and new unschoolers', but they are, several, serially, gone. My strongest personal discussion, Always Learning, is quieter than it used to be. It is over a dozen years old, and solid, and waning. Radical Unschooling Info is only worth doing if it's done well and solidly—with the intention of helping people, and without the time-sink and confusion of the sort of "support" that hampers rather than helps.

Please be grateful for the help others provide, because they really don't have to help you. When people write here and share their lives, and photos, and best ideas, and experiences, they are doing it out of the joyful hope that your children can have happier lives. It's not to make the mom feel better this moment, but to help her change her life in ways that will make her feel immeasurably better later on.

Sandra Dodd, November 2014, Radical Unschooling Info on Facebook
When I brought it here in 2019, Always Learning was difficult to use and to search,
because yahoogroups is not being supported as it once was. It is in demise.
Increasingly, links to blogs and discussions are leading to abandoned sites.

Take and appreciate good help when you can get it!!

(I have also put this "no one has to help you" section on a page called I'm Not Your Mom.)

Zero patience for "it's all good"

An unschooling mom I know in person wrote:

I can't believe how quickly I went to having zero patience for the "it's all good" discussions.
I responded:
For me, it was quick, too. When I saw that "You're an awesome mom" caused people to withdraw their request for help sometimes, I wanted it to stop THEN and forever.

And a couple of times it DID come in a situation when I knew lots more about the mom in question than others there did, and I knew what bullcrap was being sugar-coated by a total stranger thinking she was balancing or making up for what she perceived as the meanness and coldness of the unschooling advice.

If someone writes "You're doing a great job," they might be writing that to someone who is neglectful or abusive (or both).
How bad can it be to just support a mom?

Pretty bad.

I moved this story to its own page, because it's harsh and involves death.
If you can handle sorrow and frustration, here some is.

When parents have issues Neediness—when a mom wants external validation, or mothering

Problems with groups set up specifically to "be supportive"—the purest of "support groups"
—and an example of a support chain letter:
Peaceful Support Groups and some reasons for their failure to become either

The Problem with Being Supportive Generic Support

Support randomizer with tea-party quotes Phrases to hear and avoid Clarity

The danger of negativity Stop battling and fighting your children and your problems