Thursday, January 26, 2012

If I Knew Then, What I Know NOW...

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!

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. 

Michael did go to college and actually graduated Magna Cum Laude. He had never written a term paper or book report, and he ended up with a degree in Journalism. And the real reason he pressed hard to go to college was that he wanted to join the Peace Corps, and they required a bachelor's degree. Now he's teaching English in Nicaragua...with the Peace Corps.  

Katie loved performing. It didn't matter where or what. She loved dance, and singing and acting. What started as singing in the mirror on the bathroom counter, progressed to backyard musicals with friends, 4H performances, community theater, commercials and movies.  She didn't study spelling words or math facts and family members worried. "What if she doesn't make it?" "What if she puts all her eggs in one basket and fails?"  Katie once told me, "I have a plan. I don't want a Plan B. Putting any stock in a Plan B means you have doubts about your Plan A. And I have no room to have any doubts. If I ever need a Plan B, one will surface."  I love that about her. This year, she moved to New York and is studying Acting for Film at a Conservatory in Manhattan.  

Alyssa always loved everything Pop: Make-up, music, fashion, gossip.  While she was once passionate about animals, she shifted to more girly things when she got older. She has always been the kind of person that notices everyone's nuances in a room.  She loves to be around people - ALL the time.  She's very pretty, so people often came to her for advice on hair and make-up. After taking a year internship at a natural make-up store in Austin, she enrolled in a Vidal Sassoon Cosmetology program last summer. She'll graduate from that this Spring, ready to launch her career at 18.

Even though they're happily skipping along their own path now, I still wish I could take all the knowledge and experience I've accumulated, and parent with that. I know. No "Do-Overs" in Life. But we could have avoided some self-induced totally unnecessary stress if I had just trusted a little more, realized how resilient children really are, and kept my own disaster mind and negative "what-if's" from spilling over onto them.

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 - the good and the bad.  Because I'm not going to deny that sometimes I felt cheated out of my own time or my own career path or my own hobbies. Not often, but in weak moments, absolutely!

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, check yourself. Why not? 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.  Because learning their times tables by a certain age really doesn't matter that much at all - their phones have calculators on them for that.


"And in the end...the love you take
         Is Equal to... the Love you Make"     ~Paul McCartney