On the Always Learning list in June, 2007, a mom named Sara came back after ten years and reported on changes in her unschooling life:
Hello. I have recently rejoined this list after a long absence (and I was just a lurker before, so I doubt anyone would remember me—although Sandra, yours was the voice that first got me started thinking about homeschooling and unschooling way back on AOL in the mid 90s, when my oldest was just an infant...I used to go to chats you hosted there). I have five children ages 12 to 1, always homeschooled, and though we started off as unschoolers I drifted into requiring this and that over the years—very gentle & Charlotte Masonish, but still some requiring.
And we have mostly been happy but often been tense, and in the past few months I've been looking around and noticing that there really is a lot more tension here in my home than I had realized. I realized I am being more critical, a scolder, and this is so far from the picture I have always had of myself that it has been something of a shock.
So I resubbed here and have spent a couple of days buried in the archives and reimmersing myself in all the helpful stuff at Sandra and Joyce's sites.
It's rather a humbling experience to take a good look at yourself and see that you've lost hold of something you once held very firmly in your heart.
But I'm a huge believer in fresh starts, and I decided to just hit my personal reset button and start fresh. I am still pondering some of the basic issues about chores, meals, etc, that I know many of you have settled for yourselves a long time ago. For now I have begun with something very simple, which is saying yes instead of no. I was reading Sandra's Yes page and I could hear myself saying no no no all the time. I used to always be a yes mom. Somewhere between kids 3 and 4 I drifted into no...
I'm seeing myself use words like "drift" and "shift" a lot, and it's strange that it feels so gradual and invisible a change in me, because that implies the opposite of mindfulness, and honestly it's not like I ever stopped thinking about parenting and education issues. Perhaps I've thought about them TOO much, read too many opposing points of view, got all muddled up in my own mind. What do I really think? I hardly know anymore. (I told you it was humbling. I'm pushing 40 and I feel way dumber than I did at 25.)
Things are not terrible here, just, as I said, sometimes full of friction. Cross words coming out of my mouth (the 25 yr old me would be shocked).
Anyway, as I said, yesterday I took a deep breath and started over, with YES. I kept a little list of all the things the kids asked for (they didn't see me doing this).
Can we have some jellybeans? Yes.
Can we watch a movie? Yes
Could you get me a pickle and a napkin in a bowl, and can I eat it on the couch? Yes. (Shushing the mom-voice in my head that wanted to say we NEVER eat on the couch, you know that. I just said 'sure' and got the pickle, and then another when she asked for a second one.)
Can we play a computer game? Yes.
Later I was looking at my list and I thought, wow, I'd have loved to have a day like that when I was a kid. Jellybeans and a movie and pickles and computer games.
I don't actually have any of the "but what if all they ever want to do is eat jellybeans and play computer games" concerns because I see how creative my kids are and how whenever they've had time on the computer or watching a video they run off and play elaborate pretend games based on whatever they were watching/playing, and they ask me to read to them a lot, and THEY read a lot, and I am constantly astonished by how much they know and how most of it is a surprise to me, not stuff I've directed. So, since I am NOT worried about that, I had to ask myself what I AM worried about—why would I have said no to those same requests the day before?
I am thinking about all this, why I became a No mom, and getting back in the habit of saying yes.
Anyway, I wanted to thank you for your illuminating discussions here.
Sara, mom of five
Funny that Smurfs have come up, because I cleaned out the garage just the other day and found MY old Smurf set—about a dozen of the figures and the little mushroom house. My kids went wild. They've only discovered Smurfs recently themselves; my husband saw it on the cable guide and recorded a bunch of episodes on the DVR. The kids have been watching it on Saturday mornings, and hubby and I are there going OH I REMEMBER THAT ONE! and stuff.
One episode launched a great discussion about "fairness"—whether something the Smurfs did in response to Gargamel was "fair" or not. It was a great conversation. My 8yo especially was quite animated over the whole thing, almost outraged that the "good" guys (Smurfs) were doing something she considered not good, not fair. This led my 12yo to all kinds of questions about if the good guys do something bad to achieve a good end, is that still 'good' or not. Eventually we wound up talking about the war, Iraq, all kinds of political stuff—by then the 8 and youngers were back to watching the show, but the 12yo is very interested in politics and world events, and it became quite a deep discussion—all from Smurfs.
And I kid you not—this was before my 'return to unschooling mindset' epiphany that I wrote about the other day in my 'saying yes' post, and before I had any thought of rejoining this list—I thought "this is one of those moments Sandra Dodd's always writing about." LOL!! Maybe that's what sparked the idea (weeks later) to start poking around Sandra's site again, and to come back here. I really don't know.
I have to say being back here is sort of an unsettling experience, like jumping into deep water and finding out if you still remember how to swim. I have swallowed a lot of water these past few days—am seeing more and more small moments, tiny exchanges between me and the kids, where I have (had) shifted into a more controlling, even rigid, person, and am now trying to unclench.
Sara, mom of 5
Unschooling: Getting It
and more on saying yes
and giving kids choices.