There’s this belief in unschooling circles that if you feel uncomfortable with something your children are doing, you just need to deschool more.
This sounds really good in theory. Challenging our beliefs is good. We want to trust children and their ability to learn and figure out what is right for them. Absolutely! Our own experience with being a child and parented in a certain way, and our experience at school, has saddled us with certain beliefs about children and it’s absolutely time to throw those outdated and unhelpful beliefs in the bin!
It’s always a good idea to make sure we’re getting to the root of our feelings and beliefs, and to examine whether some underlying conditioning might be influencing our thoughts or ability to trust our children.
But, here is your reminder to also trust yourself. If you’ve done that important work, if you’re conscious of your actions, intentions, and beliefs, if you’ve been deschooling for a while now, it’s probably ok to trust your gut feelings. In fact, it’s really important you do.
Unschooling is living authentically with children. And if you are feeling that every little thought or feeling you have is wrong and that you must keep it secret and not trust it, how can you live authentically? How can you guide and support your children if you are afraid of your influence?
Sometimes I will see people ask questions in unschooling groups along the lines of, ‘My child is choosing to spend all of their time doing something that seems unhealthy to me and I’m worried, they seem really unhappy’, to which they will get replies saying ‘you just need to deschool more’ and ‘this is fine, just trust them’.
Maybe some deschooling is needed, but maybe we also need to trust that if a mother with good intentions, who believes in unschooling and knows her child, and has been on this path for a while, is feeling uneasy and worried that her child is not thriving, that concern is valid.
Other times I see questions like… ‘Is it ok to ask my child if they want me to read them a book?’ And I can see how we got here. Afraid of our own influence, and our intentions. Asking if your child wants to read a story is a completely natural and lovely thing to do. Absolutely it is ok! I never want anyone to think that they are unable to even invite a child to do any kind of activity with them that they think they might enjoy. That is definitely not what unschooling is about.
So, in case you need to hear it, you do not have to deschool everything. It is not always the answer. I trust you to know where you are at on this journey, the progress you have made, your intentions, your understanding of unschooling, your knowledge of your own child, and your commitment to trusting your child and protecting their freedom and autonomy.
You can trust yourself, your connection to your children, your instincts, and your intuition.
Sometimes, people give out unschooling advice with the very best of intentions, but nevertheless, it comes across as if there are a set of rules to follow. A way you have to be with your children. The truth is, there are no rules, there are only principles and beliefs. How that looks in your family may be similar or different to how it looks in mine. But, don’t set out to stick to a set of rules. Instead, have the goal of knowing your children and family deeply. If something truly doesn’t feel right, even after you’ve thoroughly explored your underlying beliefs, then listen to that.
It is ok to act on those feelings, the difference comes in how. Instead of reverting to arbitrary rules and demands, we simply open up a conversation and offer support, guidance, and experience. We may give our opinion, but also equally value our children’s thoughts, and then work on problem-solving a solution together that everyone feels comfortable with.
If you had to choose between following the ‘rules’ and what felt right, I’d rather you chose the latter anyway. Ideas, research, and beliefs change over time. There is far less chance of regret if you’re always coming from a place of what you feel is right, rather than what other people who don’t know your family think. Actually, that’s kind of like school, isn’t it? We were always taught that others knew better what we needed, what we should believe, and how we should spend our time. It’s time to listen to ourselves now.
Deschooling is an important and crucial part of successful unschooling. But, it’s not always the answer. Sometimes you have those uncomfortable feelings that something isn’t right for a reason. It’s ok to listen to that and act on it in a way that aligns with your values.
Unschooling should work with our instincts, not against them. Yes, please do the work of deschooling. And then, trust your children and yourself.