Shifting My Focus Away From Perfect Parenting

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I’m call myself an unschooler.  A gentle and peaceful parent.  An empathetic parent.  And most of the time, I am.  But sometimes my actions don’t quite line up with my declared parenting style.  Honestly, there are times when my actions are diametrically opposed to my declared parenting style.  I’m selfish.  I put my own needs before the needs of my children.  I yell.  I get agitated by things that don’t matter.  I fail to see things from my child’s perspective.  My fear of imaginary things that might happen causes me to harm the relationship I have with my children.  Sometimes I worry that by the time I figure out how to be a decent parent, my children will be grown.

Since achieving parental perfection seems to be out of the question, my focus is now on three main areas.

Admitting and Apologizing

What I did was wrong.  I shouldn’t have behaved so poorly.  I’m sorry.  No reason to try to cover it up, justify it, or ignore it.  We all make mistakes, and my children appreciate my willingness to be open, genuine, and vulnerable.

Learning and Improving

I am committed to constant improvement as a parent, and nothing helps more than making mistakes and learning from them.  Its hard to feel down about being a bad dad when I look at how far I have come in such a short amount of time.

Remembering and Empathizing

My imperfections remind me that we are all human.  Remembering this helps me to be more understanding when others exhibit imperfect behavior, and to respond appropriately.

So, I can’t teach my children how to be perfect, but I can set an example in repairing relationships, using failure as a stepping stone to success, and showing empathy and compassion to broken, hurting, imperfect people.  And I think that is just as good.

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My Kids Are Better Teachers Than I Could Ever Hope To Be

10257268_768654803153707_6684229888910505074_oChildren.  Kids.  The next generation.  Progeny.  Offspring.  The genetic mashup of you and your partner.  The little people who completely change your life, who completely change you.  Children.

I am in absolute awe of my children.  For as long as I have known them, they have been teaching me, and helping me grow as a person.  I owe them a debt that I can never repay, and I am deeply grateful to them.

As they were growing inside of their mother, locked away where I couldn’t see, they taught me that there are some things I cannot control.  When they decided to break free, and join us on the outside, they helped me to see what an amazing person my wife is; and what it is like to care for someone who offered you nothing in return.  As I changed diaper, after diaper, after diaper, after diaper, My intestinal fortitude increased dramatically, and as the urine splashed me, an unsuspecting new father, I learned to change those diapers with lighting ninja speed.  When I was waiting anxiously for the next milestone, they taught me to be patient, that life is not a contest, and that everyone learns at their own pace.

Soon they began walking, and talking.  they taught me to watch, and they taught me to listen.  I learned that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure.  I learned the number for poison control.  I learned to follow my instincts, and ignore the critics, to do what is best for my family.

And as they grew older, they showed me how to play, sing, dance, and laugh without being ashamed.  They modeled creativity, and originality.  They taught me that its okay to make a mess, and that most things come out in the wash.  I learned to love what they loved, only because they loved it.  They taught me sacrifice, and over and over they taught me unconditional love.  They showed me that I have something to live for, that I matter, and that I am needed.

Every time I hear those little voices saying, “Will you play with me,” or “Can you get me a glass of water.”  When I find a sandwich in the couch.  When I am at my wits end, I try to remember how much they have taught me, and how much they have given me, and what my life would be without them.

Oh, and they taught me to play Minecraft.

Looking back at the person I used to be, I can’t believe I have made it this far.  There is no way I could have done it without them.  Thank you kids.  Thank you.  I love you.

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Replacing Your Unfounded Parenting Fears With Empathy for Your Child

If I had to sum up what is wrong with our society in one sentence it would be this:  “Too much fear, and not enough empathy.”  This is especially true in our dealings with children.  I struggled for far to long (and still do at times) with the misguided and unfounded fears of parenting.

What if someone yells at my child?
What if he turns out to be ungrateful?
What if people think I am a bad parent?

All these concerns are not centered around the well being of my child, but my own personal fears, prejudices, and desire for comfort.

I strive now to replace these with more important questions.

What is best for my child?
How must my child be feeling in this situation?
What might she be thinking?
How would I feel if it was me?

Being empathetic toward your children not only allows you to care for and protect our societies most vulnerable individuals, but also shows your child the importance of being compassionate.  It empowers them, and helps them to realize that it is okay to have feelings and emotions, and they are not something to be afraid of, hidden, bottled up, or dismissed.  It creates a healthy environment where burdens are shared collectively, and conflicts are resolved respectfully.

Conversely, hitting, time-outs, yelling, control, bribery and artificial rewards (which in my experience are almost always rooted in fear) let children know that their feelings are unimportant and insignificant.  Children learn to keep their emotions, desires, and thoughts to themselves.  Either out of fear of being labeled a whiner (or worse), or simply because they don’t think anyone cares.

Daddy, Why Aren’t You Helping Me?

When I was a new father my wife and I lived quite far from our families.  We made a trip to our home town when our first child was about a year old.  Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were excited to see her.  So when someone reached to take her, I gave her up right away.  She grabbed onto my shirt and started to cry, but was pulled away into the arms of someone who to her was a stranger.  She looked at me, confused at first, then her eyes filled with terror as she continued to cry and reach out to me.  My family assured me that this is just what kids do, and you have to let them cry sometimes.  But she wasn’t “just crying,” She was telling me something.  She was trying to communicate.  “I’m scared, daddy,”  “I don’t know what’s going on,” “I’m not sure who these people are,” “Daddy, why aren’t you helping me?”  But her pleas fell on deaf ears.  I did not want to make waves or upset my family.  What would they think of me or say about me if I wouldn’t allow them to hold my child?  I figured it wouldn’t do much harm, so I did my best to ignore her crying.  My wife, however, did not share this sentiment.  She put our daughters needs before her own fears, and refused to ignore her desperate cries.

The Result?  I severely damaged the relationship I had been building with my daughter, and she learned that she couldn’t trust me.  She didn’t feel safe with me anymore.  For some time after if I was holding her, and something made her feel uncomfortable, she would seek out my wife, someone she knew would listen and understand.  Someone she could trust.

Even though a lot has changed since then, we still don’t live in a perfect house where it’s all daisy chains and unicorns.  We are haunted by the ghosts and scars of fear and control.  But every day we increase the love, the compassion, the respect, and the empathy, and every day we grow a little closer.

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3 Reasons People Are Complaining About Your Parenting

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When our children were younger, we were very conscientious about their care.  They didn’t drink “Kool-Aid.”  We mixed their juice half and half with water.  There was not often candy in our house.  We didn’t have network or cable television, and they would occasionally watch something from our collection of age appropriate DVDs (and by age appropriate, I don’t necessarily mean G rated, Cartoons, or Disney movies, many of which are extremely confusing and traumatic for a very young child)  We weren’t denying them anything they were asking for, but simply not giving them anything that was potentially damaging to their health and happiness when they weren’t even asking for it.

For some reason, this upset people.  A chorus of “You can’t shelter them forever!” was constantly ringing in my ears.  A phrase that never made much sense to me, because all parents “shelter” their children to a certain extent.  You don’t sit your 3 year old down to watch hard core pornography.  You don’t offer your 5 year old a shot of vodka.  You don’t drop your 2 year old off on the outskirts of town and see if they can find their way home.  Oh, and then there was the story of so-and-so.  You remember s0-and-so, don’t you?  Their mother never allowed them to have such-and-such, and when they finally got ahold of it they were obsessed with it and never did anything else!  You don’t want your kid to be like so-and-so, do you?  People were also constantly trying to undermine our parenting decisions.  Thrusting spoonsful of ice cream toward my 8 month old daughter, or putting on movies they knew we wouldn’t want the kids watching.  In short, it was extreme disrespect for my children’s wellness, and extreme disrespect for my wife and I as parents.  Obviously, we didn’t know what we were doing, so they had to correct it for us.

Well, some years and a few kids later, things have changed.  The kids are older, candy is inevitable, and we now have a TV with Netflix and a computer with the internet.  But one thing hasn’t changed, we are still upsetting people with the way we raise our children.  The problem now?  Too much freedom.  We don’t force them to dress a certain way, we let them eat when and what they would like, they do not have a fixed bedtime, they decide who they do and don’t want to hug and kiss, and we have no limits on screen time.

Why then, are people still upset?  Isn’t this what they wanted?  For us to stop sheltering our children and to stop being so “controlling”?  But that was never really the issue.  The issue was that we were doing something different.  We were going against the grain, and we still are.  That is a problem for three reasons:

1. By doing something different we must be implying that the way they raised their children was wrong.

2. They are jealous because they wanted to do something different, but gave in to pressure to maintain the status quo.

3.  Society has taught them to fear what they do not understand.

So, to all you different parents out there, I say be yourself, do what’s best for your family, and don’t listen for one second to the jerks who try to bring you down.  Your children will thank you, and you won’t have to ever wonder what would have happened if you had raised them the way you knew was right.

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My Kids Are Better Teachers Than I Could Ever Hope To Be

10257268_768654803153707_6684229888910505074_oChildren.  Kids.  The next generation.  Progeny.  Offspring.  The genetic mashup of you and your partner.  The little people who completely change your life, who completely change you.  Children.

I am in absolute awe of my children.  For as long as I have known them, they have been teaching me, and helping me grow as a person.  I owe them a debt that I can never repay, and I am deeply grateful to them.

As they were growing inside of their mother, locked away where I couldn’t see, they taught me that there are some things I cannot control.  When they decided to break free, and join us on the outside, they helped me to see what an amazing person my wife is; and what it is like to care for someone who offered you nothing in return.  As I changed diaper, after diaper, after diaper, after diaper, My intestinal fortitude increased dramatically, and as the urine splashed me, an unsuspecting new father, I learned to change those diapers with lighting ninja speed.  When I was waiting anxiously for the next milestone, they taught me to be patient, that life is not a contest, and that everyone learns at their own pace.

Soon they began walking, and talking.  they taught me to watch, and they taught me to listen.  I learned that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure.  I learned the number for poison control.  I learned to follow my instincts, and ignore the critics, to do what is best for my family.

And as they grew older, they showed me how to play, sing, dance, and laugh without being ashamed.  They modeled creativity, and originality.  They taught me that its okay to make a mess, and that most things come out in the wash.  I learned to love what they loved, only because they loved it.  They taught me sacrifice, and over and over they taught me unconditional love.  They showed me that I have something to live for, that I matter, and that I am needed.

Every time I hear those little voices saying, “Will you play with me,” or “Can you get me a glass of water.”  When I find a sandwich in the couch.  When I am at my wits end, I try to remember how much they have taught me, and how much they have given me, and what my life would be without them.

Oh, and they taught me to play Minecraft.

Looking back at the person I used to be, I can’t believe I have made it this far.  There is no way I could have done it without them.  Thank you kids.  Thank you.  I love you.

What Unschooling Means For Our Family (Part 1)

I spend a lot of my “Social Media Time” in unschooling groups, and on unschooling pages, sharing unschooling memes, and reading unschooling articles.  Because of this, I forget that there are people out there who might not think unschooling is the best idea, and some who don’t even know what it is.  For a long time I have been putting off writing an article about what unschooling means to us and why we uncshool.  But I think it is time.  It is kind of overwhelming, so I am going to tackle it in smaller chunks, starting with a basic idea of what unschooling is, and how unschoolers learn without a curriculum.

What is Unschooling:

I used to tell people who asked that unschooling was “Homeschooling without the curriculum,” but calling Unschooling a lack of curriculum is like calling the ocean a lack of air.  Unschooling is journey, it is an intimate relationship with your children where all parties are treated with equal respect.  Unschooling fosters creativity, encourages curiosity, follows passions, and chases dreams.

So, what is unschooling?  It is learning from real life, in the real world.  There is no distinction made between life and learning.  Life is learning, and learning is life.

“When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear.”  ~John Holt

The World is Your Textbook

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Humans are always learning.  It’s what we do.  If you’re not learning, you’re dead.  So I chuckle a little inside when people ask how our children learn.  To give you an idea, here are a few of the “pages” from our “Unschooling Textbook”

  • Microscopes
  • Nature Centers
  • Bird Feeders
  • Cooking
  • Neighbors
  • Legos
  • Youtube (MinuteEarth and CrashCourse are two of my favorite channels)
  • Minecraft
  • Parks
  • Rocks
  • Ponds
  • Libraries
  • Books, Books, and more Books! (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Pictures, No Pictures)
  • Wandering
  • The woods
  • Caterpillars, ants, worms, slugs, snails
  • Grandparents
  • People at the grocery store
  • Archery
  • The University of Utah
  • Dancing
  • Museums
  • Google
  • Trees
  • Magnifying Glasses
  • Binoculars
  • Telescopes
  • Cleaning
  • Paper
  • Gardens
  • Taking things apart
  • Forts
  • Wikipedia
  • Reading Eggs

There is no shortage of knowledge out there, and it doesn’t have to be funneled through a teacher, a professor, a priest, or anyone else.  It is available to anyone who looks for it.  Any activity is an opportunity for discussion.  Something as simple as bird watching can lead to learning about animal behavior, biology, anatomy, the diversity of life, the history of aviation, light and color, the properties of air, or phases of matter.

But the most important part of unschool learning is the motivation.  Instead of being motivated by fear, coercion, or imaginary rewards (such as grades) they are driven by their passions, desires, dreams and goals.

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Harnessing Homeschool Fears

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As a dad* who has chosen not to send his kids to school, my children’s future is always on my mind.  Will they be successful?  Will they be happy?  Will they be ashamed?  Will they want to homeschool their kids?  Will they regret being homeschooled?  I know that homeschooling was the right choice for my family, and I believe that homeschooling is the best choice for most any family, but I still have plenty of room for doubt, and that is a good thing.

If my children turn out illiterate, ignorant, or worse, I cannot blame bad teachers.  I cannot blame stingy tax-payers who refuse to fund better schools.  I cannot blame politicians who care only for standardized test scores.  I cannot blame bullies, I cannot blame behavioral specialists, I cannot blame the lunch lady.  I cannot be irate that my child was not in the gifted program, or complain that they should have been in the remedial program.  I cannot be outraged that they cut band or art.  I cannot say that someone else has robbed my child of their education, their childhood, or their future.  If something goes wrong I cannot blame anyone.  Anyone, that is, except myself.

Because of this, I have a drive and motivation that I would not have if I was counting on someone else to educate my child.  I am always re-evaluating my approaches, reading articles, asking questions on forums, asking the kids for feedback, and trying any means possible to improve the educational experience my children receive.   I have a much more vested interest in my children than any teacher ever could.  Being directly involved in the lives of my children is one of the many reasons I choose to homeschool.

*I’m writing this from my perspective, but we mustn’t forget my lovely wife.  Just know that any time I say “I” I really mean “we.”

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