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.

Every one of these was posted in public, by someone who did not know the person they were "supporting."

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

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.

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 responded to this first quote:

"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 it's 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

Once when linking this page, from a discussion, I wrote:

If people here or anywhere else tell you it's no problem to be a boring mom or to expect your kids to learn without attention, don't listen to them. Women speak those kinds of words ("it's okay, don't worry") without even thinking. It's no more real than the conversations strangers have with kids that involve "hi, what's your name, where do you go to school, what's your teacher's name."

I'm glad you asked your question, but please don't settle for soothing noise, if what you want is to create an unschooling nest that really benefits your children.

(original, 2011, Always Learning)

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.


Harsh advice and happiness—a few words.

Yesterday was really busy in here, and critical (not as in "make it or break it" but as in "That's not a good idea"). So I want to bring out the salve, the balm, the reminder.

There are groups (thousands of them) where women write whatever falls out of their heads, and other women coo and soothe and badmouth men, or insult children, or denounce other women, mothers-in-law, mothers, grandmothers, little old ladies at grocery stores—they will insult ANYone and everyone for the momentary effect of making the complainer feel better. "You poor thing; you're right, they're wrong."

That adds to unhappiness right after the initial "comfort" wears off.

People come to this group sometimes expecting that. Then they get cranky and leave, insulting us (or me) on the way out, and they go find some "supportive" group.

Here, the response is more likely to be

—Here's what you might do instead, since what you're doing now led to a situation in which you came to strangers for advice.

—No, seriously. Stop defending what you were doing.

—Don't tell us you understand and then explain something that will ALSO not help; that's not what anyone said.

—You can't fix it all in one day. Read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch.

—No, all ideas are NOT equal.

But if people try these ideas and their lives DO become more peaceful, and their thinking does clear up, then it was worth the initial confusion and frustration they felt when they read the first shocking lack of "support."

We're supporting peace, growth and the potential to unschool. We're supporting your kids—the possibility of an improved mom. 🙂

Stick around, even if you think we're being mean. We're not.

2018, Radical Unschooling Info, facebook
There are some helpful comments, there, too, and some touching ones.

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
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.

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

When parents have issues

Neediness—when a mom wants external validation, or mothering

The Problem with Being Supportive

Generic Support

Support randomizer with tea-party quotes

Phrases to hear and avoid


The danger of negativity

Stop battling and fighting your children and your problems