Before I became an unschooler, I wasn’t the best listener when it came to my children. The oldest was eight years old when we began our unschooling journey and I remember having trouble concentrating on what he was saying when he would talk about his comic book ideas, video game scenarios, and really most anything else which I deemed “unimportant” or “bad”. Looking back, it breaks my heart knowing that so many of his precious words never really entered into my consciousness, but I don’t stay stuck in that guilt. Instead, I have allowed it to transform me into the mother I want to be. I also see my experiences, especially the negative ones, as an important part of my learning process, which I enjoy sharing with others in hopes that even one parent may glean something useful and forge a more loving relationship with their child. One does not need be an “unschooler” in order to use the principles of unschooling to create a better relationship with their child. These beautiful principles, including things like kindness, comfort, love, and respect for the self-sovereignty of our children are on offer to all parents, everywhere, all the time.
Connecting with our children over something they love takes effort on the part of the parent because often it’s not something we love--yet. It may even be something we’re afraid of. In order to really hear and understand the child, the parent must reserve judgement and the urge to interject opinion, especially if the opinion is negative. When your child speaks to you, are you truly listening? Or perhaps you’re silently (or not so silently) judging your child’s interests with thoughts like, “too much screen -time, too much violence, too gross, not cool!” If you do notice yourself thinking negative thoughts about whatever your child is interested in, I suggest pausing for a moment to take a deep breath and question where that negative judgement is really coming from? If you’re thinking about an article you read arguing how detrimental video games are and yet are witnessing your very own unique child having a blast playing said game, do you go with your own experience or that opinion of someone else? So many parents put the opinions of “experts” ahead of their own real-life experience with their children, which is not only a disservice to the child, but to the parent as well. Get to be your own expert on your child. Learning to trust ourselves and our children is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and others. Instead of raising another generation of adults who hardly trust themselves, let’s empower ourselves and our children. There’s a powerful quote by the late great John Holt that I would like to share: “Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”
Possibly, you love whatever your kid is into and feel good about it, but you also happen to be thinking about the forty things on your never-ending to-do list. I know the feeling. To be really present with our children might mean dissolving distraction for the time we are with them. For example, putting our phones away and really tucking into the moment with them. Not every activity needs to be documented and posted on social media to make it real. Also, these times need not be huge experiences! Don’t overwhelm yourself. Even a solid fifteen minutes with your child can be transformative. These dedicated moments have the potential to create deep bonding between the parent and child, remembered and cherished for years to come.
Like I mentioned in the beginning, I used to have a hard time focusing on what my children were saying. When I began learning about the principles of unschooling, I knew something had to change and that something was me. I began really paying attention and asking questions. Why do you like this comic book? What do you like about this movie? May I play a video game with you? Asking questions with an open mind is an amazing way to not only learn, but to get to know someone as well, even your own child! Soon, my kids and I were playing video games, reading comics, watching movies, and discussing the different characters, plots, and humorous oddities together. I realized, wow, I know my kids! And the understanding I developed from learning more about their interests really helped dissolve many of the fears I had accumulated over the years from outside sources. Now that I am on the inside and my own source, I really feel good about what my kids are into, knowing it contributes to their happiness and well being.
Being with our children can be exhausting, but it can also be exhilarating and ever so rewarding. By allowing ourselves to simply become an observer for a while, to really get to know our kids, we gain knowledge and understanding, which helps us relate better with our family. When we allow ourselves to loosen up a little, we open to the possibilities of connection with these little people we call our children. I would love to hear from you and the ways in which you foster connection with your kids!