Our children don’t have a bedtime. They don’t have to sit down with us for meals. We don’t make them get dressed, wear certain clothes when we go out, or brush their hair. There are a lot of reasons why we don’t force them to do these, and other, things. Whatever our reasons, we’ve been accused of cheating.
We’ve been told we’re taking the easy way out. That we’re bigger, stronger, that we’re the boss and should make sure our children know it.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the past year or so. It started out as a decision to practice attachment parenting. With an infant it was easy. Cuddle up with a sweet smelling little bundle all night long, wake up and attach baby to front of back of mom or dad and get on with your day. Easy. No crying, no fussing and everyone’s needs were met. As our children got older things weren’t so easy. They wanted to walk! And run. And climb. They didn’t stop moving. They didn’t stop learning.
We were suddenly faced with a dilemma. Ella, then just shy of three, knew her letters, numbers, colours, full name and her relationship to extended family members. She could point out England, Canada, and the US on a map. She already showed interest in addition and subtraction. She loved to learn.The problem wasn’t that she loved to learn. The problem was that she was already learning things that the headstart program only briefly touched upon. She was already learning things the kindergarten class was meant to teach.
I was at a loss. At first I was worried. How would I keep up with her learning? Weren’t children supposed to be in school when they started learning these things? Wasn’t someone else supposed to teach them the next step? We quickly learned that a class able to support her didn’t exist. We also quickly learned that she doesn’t like being forced to practice stuff she already knows. She refuses and tries to move on. We were told that wouldn’t be allowed. She’d have to demonstrate that she could count before she’d be allowed to tackle addition.
A small thought of homeschooling grew into a bigger idea. We began our research. We liked what we found. However I knew there was no way I could ever sit at a table and do workbooks. I knew I didn’t want to sit and ‘teach’ at every opportunity. So I looked deeper. We discovered unschooling.
Unschooling has many different definitions. To us it means we follow our children’s lead. Ella loves animals. So we enrolled her in horseback ridding lessons. We go to the zoo. We talk to people we meet about the animals they own. We watch Diego on TV. We read books about particular animals that interest her. She plays Pet Pad on her Leapster Explorer.
For us, unschooling goes a bit deeper than just school subjects. We whole life unschool (or at least that’s our goal). Whole life unschooling, radical unschooling, whole life learning or what ever term you choose to use means that the entire family lives in a consensual relationship. Children have as much voice as the parents do as far as how the family operates. We believe they know themselves and their needs better than we do. They know when their hungry and what their body needs. They know when to sleep.
And that is why the girls are not ordered to bed at a certain time. Though when they appear tired we suggest they go to bed, we offer them an environment conducive to sleep. But if they resist or insist they need to stay up, we don’t push the issue. They get up, run around, play, eat. In general they do what they need to do.
This doesn’t mean they have free reign to do as they please. It does mean we don’t say, “No, because I said so.” If we say no to something we have a reason. We give them our reason, and they’re allowed to voice their thoughts on our reasoning. Tonight Ella wanted to watch shows after dinner. Ryan said, “No.” Ella calmly told us she was upset that we told her no, when it was something she really wanted to do. The reason Ryan said no was because he thought it was an hour later than it actually was. In other words, he didn’t have a good reason to say no. So Ella watched shows while Agatha and Daddy played a game and read some books. I happily enjoyed a nice long soak in the tub, without a single interruption. : )
But we’ve been told this method of parenting is cheating. That we ‘give in’ too much, that real parents make the rules and enforce them consistently. No discussions.
Looking at the definitions of cheating I think the other parents have it wrong. We’re not the cheaters, they are. We do not deceive our children. We don’t tell them something will be fun, when we know it won’t be. We don’t make promises we don’t intend, or are unable to, keep. We clearly tell them our reasoning, and commiserate with them when it isn’t what they want. We don’t deprive our children of ‘privledges’ to make them do as we want. We do not mislead or fool them into doing what we want. We offer honesty and respect.
It isn’t always easy. We don’t always manage to parent as well as we’d like, but we try. In exchange the girls also offer us honesty and respect. Tonight there was no tantrum when Ella was told no. Instead she articulated clearly that she didn’t like our answer and wanted us to rethink it (her words were closer to: “I get angry when you tell me I can’t do what I want. I want to watch shows.”) No raised voice, no hitting, kicking, just a clear statement we could address.
We don’t need to cheat; we’ve already won.