Tag Archives: unschooling

Lean Into the Love

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Lean Into the Love

Parents with children older than mine would look at me when I expressed concerns and say, “Don’t worry,” or “They’ll figure it out.” Sometimes they’d tack on, “Just have fun with them.” They were so right. And I LOVE that they were!

Still, I worried about gaps. I worried about getting into college, or whatever higher learning they’d want to pursue. I didn’t want doors to close on them – I wanted them to have all the choices in the world. And in spite of my lapses in trust, or my occasional meltdowns about facts, they did have every opportunity they wanted. After a (mostly) radical way of unschooling our lives, they have been able to pursue whatever they want.

I applaud those moms of babies who are reading and learning about unschooling BEFORE they need to know. So many of their school-induced thoughts about learning can be dealt with before their kids are even school age. To deschool themselves before they’re in the thick of it will help so much. I didn’t know any homeschooling, let alone unschooling, families the year before we decided to take the plunge. The idea that keeping your kids home to learn and live would actually be good for them – and not just an act of self-indulgence by a mom who couldn’t let go – was not on my radar at all. I was a complete suburban soccer mom – although then it was T-ball and Tiger Cubs. I was surrounded by moms who were trying to find the right preschool or mother’s day out. I only knew people who encouraged distance from children so they could go back to work or follow their own pursuits or just get a little sleep! No one talked to me back then about leaning into all these feelings that come with having children.

This month, I’m hear to tell you to just lean into the LOVE. Look at your babies and toddlers and children and teens. See how they trust you. See how they look to you for support. See how you are their rock.

Please notice the math: You will probably live to be about 80. Your kids will need you as their sole support for maybe 20 years of that. That’s only 25% of your life. Most likely you’re over 20, so you’ve already spent the 1st 25%, kids are the next. That leaves 50% of your life to pursue whatever you want! And regardless of your first 20 years, if you REALLY focus on your children for the next 20, the second half of your life will be full of wonderful relationships with them as well as memories and plans for the future. It will be so much richer for focusing that one little 25% on them.

So here’s my list of LOVE…

Some of it I did well. Some of it, I wish I had done so much better. And if you’re still raising little ones, you have such an opportunity to learn from our choices and have an even better experience at this.

❤ LOVE who they are now.

Don’t try to shape them. Just sit with them and listen to their ideas. Share your opinions without squashing theirs. Stop yourself when you feel like you’re making judgements about them. Let them unfold naturally. If you focus on the LOVE you can let go of the FEAR.

❤ LOVE that you have the entire day to do with as you wish.

Create a home that is full of excitement and interesting things to explore – be it books or videos or pinecones or magnets. Play with them yourself. You’d be surprised how your own ability to play can come back. It’s human nature to play with things. It’s just that if you had to go to school, you were told to stop playing and settle down in your seat. In order to succeed in that setting, you had to learn to curb all your enthusiasm. It might take some time to entice those feelings back. But they’re there.

❤ LOVE that you live in a time and place where so many opportunities abound.

Use your community, and the community next to yours! Find cool places to explore. Learn with your children. Even if you think, “I’m not that interested in that,” it’s worth a try to check it out. There might be something there that you DO like. Or it might spark a new passion for your child. Show them that there are all KINDS of interesting adventures just outside your door. And now, looking them up on the internet makes it so much easier to find.

❤ LOVE that they can go see and touch and hear things in the real world.

Children who are tied to lesson plans or curriculum – whether they’re in the school or the home – can only read about these adventures. They have to wait to start their exploring later in their life, or after their “real work” is done when their brains are exhausted or worse.

❤ LOVE their interests.

Even if you’re not into video games or horses or Justin Bieber or BMXing, love it anyway. Show them you value their choices. Ask them questions about it. Nurture their passion instead of putting timers on to say how long they get to enjoy that. Take them to get that game they’re longing for. Ask them what game could you start on to learn what they love. Take them to horse stables. Take them with a friend to concert of their choice. Drop by the bike shop with them once a week to see what’s the latest. Find a magazine on BMX-ing.

Before you say, “I don’t want to put more money toward those choices,” maybe you should rethink that. It’s their passion! Even if it’s fleeting. It really will lead to something else – it always does. And they will have had the opportunity of seeing that they can look for passions without someone telling them how to find it or where to find it. Or what’s a good passion to have and what’s not.

Your LOVE will build their CONFIDENCE.

And as an unschooling parent, your job is to create an environment for them to learn and grow. They’ll need tools to do that.

AND it will improve your relationship. In the end, that’s what matters most: the LOVE between everyone in your family. When there’s a disconnect there, look to see what you’re afraid of happening. Because it all boils down to two things: Fear or LOVE. Just practice bringing it back to love. After all, learning their times tables by a certain age really doesn’t matter that much at all – their phones have calculators and for anything else, there’s GOOGLE.

“And in the end…the love you take…
Is Equal to…the Love you Make”

~Paul McCartney

6 Steps to Parenting Teens and Young Adults

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6 Steps to Parenting Teens and Young Adults

The internet is full of tips for parenting younger children. Either they expect that you’ve figured it all out by the time they’re teens, or you’ve just put up the white flag of surrender. Unschooling families tend to prioritize the relationships between parents and children, so hopefully this transition to adulthood can go more smoothly. How you deal with teens and young adults and the situations they present will make all the difference in how your relationship is going to be. Even if your child is younger, these tips will help you as your children approach adolescence and beyond.

1. Let go of the story you have in your head for how everything will be.

Some of us learned this early on with parenting teens and younger, but we may need a refresher course. As a parent, you may have created scenarios in your head of how it will be when they get jobs, find a mate, move into a place of their own. Maybe because these stories often warm our hearts, we get locked into them. We think that if we nudge a little bit, we might get it to work out the way we envision. There’s a price to pay for all that nudging though. You may just be pushing them away from you, instead of toward what you had hoped.
AND, you might not even have the best story in your head – they are, frankly, creating one for themselves. Sit back and watch it unfold.

2. Get out of the way, even if you can read the handwriting on the wall.

Mistakes happen. But usually, they present the biggest learning opportunities. I know it can be scary, because some of these mistakes can be life-altering. Try to remember back when you were in your own 20’s. If you’re like me, you made a TON of mistakes. But it helped shape me into a really interesting multi-dimensional adult. We can’t get in the way and undermine our young adult’s opportunity to make the same progress. Also, who’s to say we are right and the young adult is wrong? Many times, they’ve morphed their decision into something really wonderful that I didn’t even see coming.

3. Giving Advice or Not.

Lot’s of people say that a good way to share all that wisdom you have, is to cloak it with “Would you like my advice?” And I suppose for some kids, this works. Not for mine. That simple question – depending on the situation, mood, people involved – can be seen as wonderfully helpful or full of judgement about the direction they’re heading. Still, others say that they have young adults who are fine with simply saying, “Nope!” and walking away. Even if mine did say that (because I have tried this approach), they circle back later asking, “OK. So what was it you were dying to tell me?” And suddenly, the dynamic has shifted in a bad way. My new way – or at least what I aspire to – is to say, “You know what? I think you’ve got this. You are a good decision-maker overall. And, sure, you’ll make mistakes – I did. But unless you out-and-out ASK me for advice, I’m not going to give it unsolicited.” So, my own young adults laugh and say, “Oh REALLY? THIS is what you’ve been working on? Could use a little more focus here, Mom!”  Obviously, this is the one that trips me up the most. But when I get it right, we have a lot smoother sailing.

4. Who they choose to be with is THEIR choice. Embrace it.

Years ago, a friend of mine was struggling with her mother-in-law. The M-I-L was super critical of her and adored “her baby boy.” She simply didn’t think this woman was good enough for her son. As time passed, my friend and her growing family included the mother-in-law less and less. At best, they saw the mother-in-law, and eventually grandmother only once or twice per year.  My friend shared the lesson she learned from this: “When my sons grow up, I will befriend the daughters-in-law! I will be their BEST FRIEND – even no matter how I feel. I’ll focus on what my son loves about them. Because what I know is that I never want my boys out of my life. And if I alienate the women they choose, that is exactly the path I will be putting us all on.” Very sage advice.

5. Don’t allow your own anxiety to crowd out the love.

At the risk of turning people off with too much hippy-dippy talk, I have to include this. Sometimes I get irritated with my grown kids’ decisions and I SOOO wish they would simply do it my way. I have to admit, not only do I think I’m right, but I also know that it will remove my anxiety if they will make the decision I want. Truth is, that’s not THEIR job, it’s mine. Anxiety can be felt by other people and it really pushes them away. As parents, when we show our anxiety at their decision-making, it’s undermining their confidence and conveys that we don’t have faith in them. It’s the start of the communication line shutting down. That’s not what either of you need or want at all. Instead, when you’re really wishing they would “do it my way!” take a deep breath. Or two. Or three. And look at them. Think about how much you love them. If it’s their friend/spouse/partner, think about how much your child loves them. Think about how far they’ve come and all the wonderful things that will happen to them in the future. Remember something cute and sweet from their childhood – because that little boy or girl is still in there. And he or she really does care what you think about them.

6. This is your new Mantra: “Not my path.”

You will want to repeat this over and over to get it to sink in. You had your opportunities for mistakes and successes in your young adulthood – now it’s time for theirs! And, if you’re like me, you may have even put off some of the more difficult activities that you’d like to do for yourself – because you were focused on parenting. Now is the best time of all to dive into that hobby you neglected, or that interest you were a little nervous about pursuing. Time to focus on your own path!  You’ve got a lot to do!

Unschooling: Teens & Sleep

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Unschooling: Teens & Sleep

Years ago, your child was up at 6 a.m., peeling eyelids back, ready for you to help him greet the day. But not so with your teen. Maybe you’ve been up puttering around all morning, fixing yourself some lunch when you notice your teen is still snoozing. What the heck is going on here?

It turns out, quite a few things.

We all know that when children reach puberty, their hormones change. What we sometimes don’t know or remember is that these hormones have an effect on a person’s sleep cycle. Nocturnal melatonin production decreases significantly during adolescence.  It actually shifts, making the adolescent’s body more awake in the evenings, not feeling ready for an early bedtime, and then leaves them groggy in the mornings with the melatonin still onboard. Add to that, light – artificial or natural – also inhibits the production of melatonin. Teen body clocks, their circadian rhythms, are shifting.sleeping teen

Translation: Teens’ bodies are physically geared to staying up later at night. Because they still need a good nine hours of sleep, that means they’ll need to sleep later in the mornings. Lots of data on this can be found at the National Sleep Foundation.

This certainly doesn’t correlate with a typical high school schedule. Research shows that teens in school settings are basically sleep deprived.  This sleep deprivation can lead to increased stress, impaired memory, and inhibited creativity. It certainly interferes with learning! And those behaviors that people consider “typical teen difficulties?” They’re worsened if teens are in desperate need of more sleep. They may even be created by their lack of adequate rest!  It’s not about power struggles or undermining authority, as some parents fear. It’s something physical happening to their bodies.

When parents of teens opt out of school, their families are no longer forced to duplicate high school schedules. Teens can stay up late and then sleep in. This ensures that they get a full night’s sleep to be well rested and ready to explore and learn. A new study by National Jewish Health found that homeschooled teens had a big advantage because of their healthier sleep habits.

When parents ask their children to go to bed earlier so they can all get up earlier, they may be working against nature.  It’s not the end of the world to do it, but why set up a problem situation? Why turn it into a power struggle?

mother daughterAnother benefit to parents working with their teen’s natural, inner body rhythm is that some of the best teen-parent conversations happen during those late hours! My teens were often feeling more relaxed and winding down from their day around 11 p.m. Those late night conversations were real treasures, often giving insight into what was happening in their lives – what they were nervous about or looking forward to. They were open to listening to my suggestions or stories about what I’d seen in the past.

When my kids were teens at home, I let them sleep late in the mornings and go to bed at whatever hour they chose. It often looked upside down when compared to the rest of the world’s schedules. Homeschoolers (and “schoolers” – as my kids used to call them) would ask me, “How will they be able to hold down a job, follow a schedule, adhere to expectations, if I never impose any schedules on them as children?”

It’s a non-issue. It would have been like practicing the act of waiting in line. Do we really need to set up an arbitrary practice for this?Don’t we do that at grocery stores, at the post office, at the DMV, at the restaurant… multiple opportunities every day? Or maybe they’d suggest that everyone practice eating or sleeping or walking? Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?

Honestly, when they were younger, I’d think, “Well, they just won’t work a job that conflicts with their natural rhythm. Lots of people work evening and night shifts.” I kind of expected that they’d continue to follow their internal body clocks.

But that’s not what happened.

My teens found jobs they wanted and made their rhythm cooperate. They learned what “a good night’s sleep” felt like, and they wanted it! So if they had to get up early on some mornings, they’d go to bed a little earlier the night before. They’d set their alarm clock, take their showers, and head out the door. It wasn’t long before they were poking their head into my room, waking me briefly to say they were off to their 7 a.m. shift! The naysayers’ predictions just didn’t play out. My teenagers managed just fine.

One summer, my daughter Katie went to stay with her grandmother in Dallas so she could attend a month-long intensive drama program. She got herself up at 5 a.m., checked her email, fixed her own breakfast, showered, got dressed and caught the city bus to go downtown. She was 15. My daughter Alyssa attended cheerleading competitions and had to be completely ready and backstage by 7 a.m. This meant getting ready before 6 a.m.! Two of my teens worked early shifts at Barnes and Noble for several years and never had any problem with being punctual. They took early morning classes in college and had no problems making it on time.

I share all of this to reassure you about your teens and their “wacky” sleep schedules. Parents really have nothing to worry about. Take advantage of those late nights with your teens. Chat with them about life, in the kitchen over nachos – even if it’s midnight! Talk to them about what you’ve read or learned about sleep and body rhythms. No one needs to rehearse getting up early. They will do it when they need to.

teensleeping

“I’m Not Your Friend, I’m Your Mother!”

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Sue and Michael PattersonWhen people are uncomfortable, they tend to rely on axioms and phrases that may or may not have any validity at all. Raising teenagers can sometimes put parents in this position. But if we really look at the advice people have shared through generations, we might discover that much of it isn’t even applicable. For instance, we’ve all heard, “I’m not your friend! I’m your mother!” But what does that really mean? Is it impossible to be both? Do we really want both?

Instead of getting caught up in some globalized phrase about parents not being friends, let’s examine both to see if we could implement the characteristics or if there’s a conflict.

Friends trust each other, share information about what they’re doing, who they’re with, what they’re trying – why would a parent not want that? If you have your child’s trust, you will be in so much better position to guide or offer advice from your experience. As parents, you will be able to react to situations with less anxiety, if you have spent time developing that relationship. Building trust takes time, and how we parented them when they were younger will have a direct effect on the relationship we have with them as teenagers.

Katie & Me at Venice Beach

When parents find themselves pulling The Mom Card, often what they are saying is that they want blind obedience. They want their teen to value what they have to say, and follow their instructions. But remember when they were three and they were making their bed on their own (or fixing a sandwich later, or building a fort), we recognized the importance of not jumping in “fix” what they had done. We realized that that was how they learned, their confidence would grow, and they would get better with time. The same applies with teens. Getting more confidant with their ability to make decisions in their world, comes from getting to make those decisions.

Operating from an authoritarian position creates obstacles in the relationship. When teens know they can bring their problems and concerns to you and not fear your judgement or punishment for choosing something different, they will be more likely to listen to what you have to say. And, as parents, you’ll get another glimpse into their world and how they’re handling it.

Alyssa & me in Austin

We can’t expect our teens to tell us everything. That’s part of their development. Nor can we, as parents, share our own problems with them – that’s something we need to do with our own peers and friends. So, while I wouldn’t call it a two-way street, I would suggest that becoming friends with your teenager is a good thing.

And, think about how you define being their mom. What characteristics are important to you? And maybe it’s time to share that with your teens. Is it something they see or want from you? Opening up this communication will be so helpful for both parents and teens to understand each other.

Take a look at some of those parental tips that get passed down through the generations and see if they really apply. Don’t buy into them, just because it’s an easy phrase to use to basically dismiss looking at a situation more closely. There is no need for either/or, us against them, friend vs. mom.