Unschooling, Parenting and Teen Rebellion?
I have always thought the bond between Miro and myself was quite unique. We’ve always been very close and have established a relationship based on a tremendous amount of love and respect.
When I was pregnant, I read a lot of parenting books, as I was entering into this journey as a single mom. My intention: Be prepared. With all I had read, the concepts surrounding the “attachment parenting” resonated with me the strongest. And so, that’s the approach I took (and still take today).
Some of the conscious choices I made as a parent early on, are part of our lives to this day. I had decided from the start to never speak to Miro using ‘baby talk’. The underlying belief is to treat your child as if they were your equal, versus the common approach: Treating your child is a ‘half-person’, incapable of understanding because of their ‘disability’ of being young. By not respecting their capabilities of understanding, children learn that they are incapable, and that’s not what I want to teach my child. Bleh!!!
My approach was consistent and throughout Miro’s life whenever he’d ask me a question, I always honor him with a complete answer as if I was supplying an answer that was within his comprehension. I never dumbed down my responses and of course when he didn’t understand, I tried to explain things the best I could. Finally I always invited him to open up the subject with me anytime he wished to explore it again, either in the next five minutes or anytime in the future.
This is the show of respect he’s become accustomed to, and this has created the foundation of our relationship, which I see that paying off every day.
(+We’ve had some pretty amazing conversations about everything from politics, consciousness, humanity, death and dying to sex! And I have to say, it’s been a pure joy!)
Anger & Frustration
From an early age, I treated my role of the parent as the nurturer, a person who guided and facilitate my son, not the authoritarian. I looked upon the role of being my son’s parent as a distinct honor. The need for punishment or discipline comes from the child challenging or reacting to a set of circumstances. But what about normal anger & frustration? I never saw this as being an inconvenience, rather I see it as being a part of life.
When my son was a toddler and had a reaction to something and either got angry or upset, I was there, present with him and those emotions. My first reaction was always to affirm what he was feeling was real, that the way he perceived the situation was valid and most importantly, he was allowed to feel what he was feeling. I would sit with him while he scrunched up his little face and felt anger or frustration. I would just be there for him while he was experiencing that. In situations where he was really upset, I told him to feel what that felt like, gave him permission to be as angry as he needed to be, but when he was done, I’d be there waiting to talk about it. No rush, and total permission to be ok with the emotions he was feeling. And he always proceed though them on his own, as we always spoke about it after the anger had passed. And I feel the secret to raising a emotionally healthy child is to honor the feelings when they come up, allowing space to feel them and talk about the feelings without judgement.
Permission & Empowerment
As we’ve grown more comfortably into the unschooling lifestyle, I’ve consciously adapted the partnership approach. Miro knows he’s empowered to make his own choices in his life, and always has permission to do what he wants. Last week, I invited him to go to the ballet with me, he politely declined. That was his choice and I honored that. On the other hand, when he wants to spend time with his friends instead of going on a hike with me, I honor that too. My part of the partnership is to express my preferences to him and as long as he honors me by hearing them, acknowledging them and makes a choice based on his preferences, we’ve then successfully communicated. No guilt, no manipulation, no coercing. And through that empowerment, Miro always has my permission to do what he wants, and is empowered to make whatever choices he sees fit. Unconditional empowerment, all the time. And yes, I am willing to let him make mistakes too.
Stuff (the physical kind)
As we are talking about partnership, this flows into all aspects of our lives. If Miro wants something, he can have it. Sounds pretty simple, right? We have declared our journey (on or off the road) as a ‘partnership’. This covers the financial aspects of our lives as well. Miro always knows how much money we have in the bank, which frankly isn’t very much, as we pretty much live, month to month. He knows what it costs to live our lives here, in Peru. He knows what our expenses are and what we have left at the end of the month. And when he wants something, or asks for something, he consciously considers those factors. If WE can afford it, of course he can have it. It’s my pleasure to make sure he has it. And he never needs to jump through hoops, make promises, work for the money, or any other form of manipulation. Simply by being in partnership in our relationship, he is entitled to any or all of our money.
As far as rebelling? What does he have to rebel against? I was really rebellious when I was his age, talked to him about what I was feeling. Identified those things so when / if it comes up, he knows I understand. Sometimes he tells me he is experiencing overwhelming frustration over no reason. Asks to be alone and excuses himself because it must be ‘hormones’. That is self awareness. I am so honored to experience his development with him as a partner, versus the enemy.
I think the mainstream perceives ‘discipline’ in the family as the act of rigid rules being imposed from the parents and enforced either through corporal punishment or the stripping of privileges. However, this is not how discipline looks in our family.
For us, discipline in the traditional sense is non-existant. The closest thing for our family is our commitment to define our individual boundaries based on our individual needs, preferences and desires. I admit, there are only two of us, so it is likely simpler than with a larger family, but I believe the foundation of these approaches can work in almost every situation.
Have we ever had discipline problems? No. Are we prepared for them? Yes.
Do I think serious acts of rebellion will ever come up? Not really, because we have established an open line of communication, and it is seeded with respect and trust. But if it does, we can handle it.
We developed respect and space for emotions over the 13 years of our lives together and continue to practice these choices each and every day.
Here is a related blog posts about how I approach parenting & unschooling: This Mom’s Top 20 List for Parenting, Unschooling, Life & Learning and here’s one about how we discovered this movement called unschooling: The Accidental Unschooler.