Unschooling, Parenting and Teen Rebellion?

Unschooling, Parenting and Teen Rebellion?
December 3, 2012 Lainie Liberti

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.

Want more?

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.



  1. Mary 11 years ago

    Great job Lainie! I feel the same type of relationship with my boys and I can see it already being such a more positive force then the way I was raised. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and philosophy!

  2. Elizabeth 11 years ago

    Exactly. When you treat a kid with respect, they don’t rebel. People rebel when they’re being treated like they’re less-than.

  3. Melanie Murrish 11 years ago

    You have made me feel so good about my parenting skills (I have had major guilt issues); I hadn’t realised that certain ways I have spoken and listened to my kids have made our lives so much more harmonious than many other families I know e.g. I never forced them to wear a coat when it was freezing, but the coat,hat and gloves was always produced without reprimand when they said,”Mammy, I wish I’d got wrapped up.” I was told by close friends that I was mollycoddling them, and they would never respect me and would treat me like a doormat! How wrong they were; I have the greatest relationship with my two girls and I’m still a work in progress! Thank you for reminding me to listen to my gut instinct-I haven’t always in the past and regret that, but the past is in the past-onwards and upwards.x

  4. Catherine Forest 11 years ago

    It’s so awesome to have other parents-mentors with older kids to look up too, especially in our small traveling crowd! We are radical unschoolers too and it warms my heart to read yours and Miro’s story. Such a beautiful partnership!

  5. Scott Hartman 11 years ago

    Been following the two of you for some years now (thanks for the ride:) ) and believe more and more every time I read of your journey and about what it’s teaching you, that you are on your road. There is no other place for you to be. Safe travels. Walk on . . . Scott

  6. Toni 11 years ago

    I’m not even a mum and I LOVE this post Lainie. This is the kind of parenting I would like to think that I’d aspire to whether I was travelling or ‘settled in a base’. Thank you for this!!

  7. marianney 11 years ago

    I think I needed to read this right now. My 20mo old son and I are struggling with anger issues, tantrums and power struggles right now. I know I have not been handling it well and I hope that I can have the same lightness towards him as you do with your son. It’s very inspiring.

  8. Shara 10 years ago

    Love this piece, thank you for sharing! I find the discipline section to speak out to me the most. The part I find most difficult is living with others who feel that discipline is the only answer. The feeling that children don’t “have a voice” and if they express opinion, frustration or anger, it is expected that I “yell” or “handle the situation”.
    Personally, I like to let it ride out most of the time….. then discuss later. Usually my daughters figure it out, the wave of emotions pass, and on to the next thing. Sometimes I even laugh about it while standing in the distance. I am there, present, more like the “over seeker” to make sure nothing gets “out of control”.
    This leads to the thought of, is it different when there are other siblings around? I wouldn’t know because my girls are twins, so I have always had 2 at once.
    To circle back to my original thought. How would one handle the “others” in the household that feel an authoritarian approach is THE answer. Remember, this has always been the upbringing, even for me. Maybe that is why I TRY to make my approach to parenting the opposite. Yes, TRY in bold BIG face….. because for me, it doesn’t always happen that way because of the frustration inhibited by others around me.
    Truly beautiful piece Lainie. I look forward to hearing responses from others! 🙂 Much Love!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.