Giving in to My Kids (or, Why I Unschool)

A friend who replicates school at home in her homeschool once said to me, in a comparison of our parenting and homeschooling styles, “I know you give in to your children, and that’s okay, that’s your choice …”

Frankly, I was too taken aback at the flat statement to respond at the time, but I thought about it a lot afterward. And here’s what I thought: I don’t give in to my kids … but I can see why she thinks that I do.

What My Friend Sees

My friend carefully and thoughtfully selects a curriculum for each subject she is teaching. If she chooses to put her kids in a co-op class, they are in it full throttle until the end of the year. I don’t use curricula or give my children a schedule of learning. If they don’t want to join a co-op class, I don’t make them; or if they want to drop out, I let them.

Now, I’m the first to admit I am a very laid-back person and my friend is a very regimented, by-the-book, type-A personality. So when she sees me not making choices for my children’s education and not pushing them to reach a standard in something, her assumption is that I’m just letting them walk all over me because of my laid-back-itude. I am “giving in” to my children.

Unschooling my kidsWhat I See

The reason we can still be friends is she doesn’t get mad about it or try to convince me I’m wrong. When she says, “That’s okay, that’s your choice,” she means it. But she cannot look past her own personality to see that in fact I am parenting quite strictly … in accordance with my own goals for my children. My goals and the paths I’ve chosen to reach them differ so much from hers that all she sees is what I do not do as a parent.

I don’t select a curriculum to teach my kids. Instead we talk about what they want to learn and their goals for the future, then together we decide how to achieve the goals they set for themselves. Through about mid-junior high, that means they don’t generally do a whole lot in the “structured academics” department. As they get closer to high school and have a better idea what they may want to do as adults, we start looking for ways to work on those goals. If they change their goals, then what we are doing changes too.

I don’t make my kids join or stay in co-ops. My youngest (8) will join anything her friends are in, whether it is appropriate for her age and abilities or not; my next youngest (10) won’t join anything new or different. Instead of stopping the joiner if I think she will be more of a distraction than a student, or forcing the nonjoiner because I know he’ll like it, we talk. We go over what will be happening and discuss if it is something appropriate and interesting. I may tell my joiner we’ll try it for a week or two and decide if it works. I may urge my nonjoiner to try it out, just twice, to see if it is something he’ll enjoy.

After the trial, we’ll decide together if it is appropriate, interesting, or worth the drive. To me this is not letting them quit, and it’s not giving in to my kids … it is keeping my promises to them. If I urge my son to just try it out because I really think he’ll enjoy it, but then I don’t let him drop out if he doesn’t, I’ve broken my word to him.

Why I Unschool

I want my children to grow up being able to think for themselves and make good decisions, and I firmly believe that the best way to learn those skills is to practice them. Call me crazy, but I prefer the practicing of decision-making to take place in a safe environment rather than starting the day the child moves out of my house. So I model out loud when I make my own decisions, and I walk them through the decision-making process when they have one to make, and once they’ve done that I honor their decision by letting it be their own decision.

Children who are accustomed to weighing options and having the power to make their own choices are less likely to go wild with making decisions just for the sake of making them. Children who are never allowed to make choices often end up making a whole slew of them – too frequently bad ones – the first shake out of the box when they move away from home, just to prove that they can.

ViperBites by Smittens91. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Snakebite Piercing

For instance, I know one homeschooled kid whose father pre-read every book before he was allowed to read it, even as an older teen, and the father maintained that kind of control over everything in the boy’s life. The boy’s first decision upon moving out was to get snakebites (fang piercings). I have nothing much against snakebites, and maybe he would have gotten them anyway, but I’m pretty sure in this particular case, it was totally aimed at making a decision he knew his dad would disapprove because he was desperate to own his own decision about something, for once.

The Bible Tells Me So

Do not exasperate your children (Eph 6:4). I take that to mean, among other things: Don’t lie to them. Do keep faith and trust with them. Don’t force them into things they really don’t want to do. Do seek ways to involve them meaningfully in decisions for their own future – it is their own future, after all. Do teach them the things that are more important to their future than fact memorization.

And then there is the entire chapter of Genesis 18. You remember, it’s the one where God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham obeyed. Oh, wait – that was a different story. This time, Abraham argued with God … and God gave in.

So I parent consistently according to my standards and objectives for my family, and I don’t give in to my children. Except, of course, for the times when I do give in to them. Because if God can do it, then it’s good enough for me.

10,000 Hours
Finishing What You Start

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