Unschooling is NOT Unparenting

Unschooling is NOT Unparenting
February 20, 2013 Lainie Liberti

…and Involved Parenting does not mean CONTROLLING

The idea of “unparenting” has come up every time I read a critical article about the unschooling movement. It’s difficult for many conventional thinkers to comprehend the engaged, hands on approach that is needed to create a loving and learning environment for a child. The unschooling paradigm does not start and stop with the intentional act of learning, it’s a complete concept defining the parent / child relationship. As an unschooling parent, I take my role as Miro’s learning facilitator seriously, and have never opted out of being engaged in his learning or life.

Unschooling is NOT unparenting.

“Unschooling is not unparenting; freedom to learn is not license to do whatever you want. People find different ways and means to get comfortable with John Holt’s ideas about children and learning and no one style of unschooling or parenting defines unschooling.”
~Pat Farenga


Before we began on our travels, I was working 60+ hours a week running my boutique branding agency, managing clients and accounts, the creative team and campaigns and taking care of administrative and marketing tasks. I took care of everything that needed to be taken care of and kept to a schedule which was the only way I could juggle all the responsibility in my life. I thought I was a good provider and I perceived my role as a parent as being successful.

My day started early, as I got Miro off to school at 7:30 in the morning. Miro was one of  lucky kids who was accepted to a state funded afterschool program, where he was able to work on his homework or read until I picked him up at 5:30 each day. (That was a long day for anyone, especially for a child under 10).

At that point, I was not involved in his education nor did I believe it was my role to interfere in the state provided methods, as I just believed, they did what was best for the children of California. Sadly, I was I truly uninvolved in his life. We were tasked, scheduled, productive and disconnected. For the first 10 years of Miro’s life, I was an uninvolved parent. I would have never admitted it then because I was achieving a respectable level of success and we were highly functioning within the system and that was what we were supposed to do. But an involved parent in Miro’s life? I know now, that was a superficial illusion.

But now I am a highly involved parent.

But there is a huge difference between highly involved and controlling. In fact, I’d say my involvement is completely and totally uncontroling How could those two concepts work?

Unschooling is not unparenting, in fact it is highly involved parenting. But it si parenting without having to control the situation, parenting through involvement and presence, something I talk about as being the key to making all of this work. But by not being controlling, I am not being neglectful.

Get it?

Unschooling, is not unparenting, it an attached and highly involved form of parenting. Some would characterize it as a state of permissive parenting, but others might object to the use of that word. At the root of the relationship though is a sense of trust. The underlying belief through the unschooling approach is that when a parent is highly involved in supporting their child’s learning processes, control is not necessary.

Because I allow my son to make his own choices about his focus of study, his time, his hygiene, his life, I am not unparenting him. I am actually empowering his to make choices, and through not controlling his time or choices, life learning happens. Accountability. He’s accountable for his choices now, and that is a lesson that he will carry through the rest of his life.


  1. Shara 11 years ago

    So interesting Lainie, and thank you for sharing your story with all of us! I think what you two do is wonderful and a learning experience for me, even. I would love to hear examples of situations that you too go through as parent and son. I think the perception from non- unschoolers is that unschoolers allow their children to run free and wild and do as they please. My perception is that there is structure and guidance but also a freedom to explore. Am I wrong? I know it can mean many things for many people, that’s the beauty of our world, to be free. 🙂
    Always looking forward to the next post! Hope your Peru project is coming along nicely!! 🙂 Peace!

  2. Amy 11 years ago

    I’m so glad you wrote this! It has been on my mind for some time, as I am often perceived as permissive by other parents based on the most superficial things (like my6 yr-olds hair being a mess!). I too am so much more actively involved in my three daughter’s lives than I was when they were in school. It’s tough when people don’t see that – or can’t understand how they are missing out. 🙂

  3. Rob 11 years ago

    My son Luke is 8 and carries a knife in a sheath. It at times strikes people a bit odd. He has been shooting a bow and arrow for a couple of years. He also is fairly good at throwing knives. He has built and lit campfires. He has used power drills.

    None of this has been without some guidance of course.

    The thing is we have built the trust. I’m not concerned that he is going to use them in any destructive way. He is a young adult at the age of 8.

    I reckon we will just keep on schooling him our way and not spend much time wondering about the opinions of others.

    I commend you for what you are doing! The very best education of all.

  4. Julio Moreno 11 years ago

    This is very unique. I have always had this dilemma in my mind. I agree that children can learn a lot from a life on the road, but I don’t know everything. Schooling, overall, gives a child the choice to follow and develop from listening and learning from ‘experts’ in fields. As smart as I am, I would be completely inept to teach art, which could be my child’s muse. But does that matter? I had found that I learned a lot more from being abroad than in all my grade school, maybe even college.
    Definitely a difficult thing to do, but kudos to you. 🙂

    • Jeremy 10 years ago

      I agree that parents most likely do not know everything and therefore you would think that homeschooled or unschooled kids would be lacking in some area. But actually the stats show that kids that are home or unschooled or schooled on the road, do better in SAT scores when entering university or a higher institution of learning.
      Also placing your children in the hands of ‘experts’ teaching from a direct planned and enforced education plan is not the better idea. The entire education system is too focused on teaching what they think is best for the children, not what actually may be best for the children.
      In my field, we have done extensive studies on how children learn best. It has been found a hundred times over that children learn best by seeing, feeling, touching and doing as they are learning. To which our education system does not do efficiently. Also it has been found that children learn better when they are allowed to try many different things and decide on their own what they want to do. Why do we treat children as babies? Treat them as little adults whith choices and desires just like you and I. They area after all just little versions of us!

  5. Maddie 11 years ago

    I think what you’re doing is great in terms of unschooling and giving your child experiences that he’ll never forget and that will help him grow on so many levels. The issue I take with some unschooling families (and of course I have no way of knowing if this applies to you) is that they do not set any boundaries for their children. I believe that folks are not doing their children any favors if they aren’t helping them to understand how to get along comfortably with others. Yes, we lead by example, but what if you’re setting a great example of how to be kind and get along with most people and your child just isn’t picking that up?

    What if they become rude and unsociable? I’m not saying this is what is going on in YOUR situation, but I have seen it in some unschooling homes. The idea that the child will “work it out themselves” is hard to accept for those of us who are trying to help our children act appropriately in public – to learn when it’s OK to state your opinion, and when it might be best to keep it to oneself. If we want our children to get along well in the world, we want to help guide them in behaviors that will help their global family want to actually spend time with them.

    I agree that we should allow more freedoms for our children to study what they are interested in, as well as more freedoms to spend their free time according to their interests, but I also feel that some basics should be introduced whether the child shows “interest” in them or not: basic math (for examples), basic reading, a general idea of civics (if we understand history, we can help prevent it from repeating itself), basic spelling (your child will have a tougher time getting a job, filling out loan applications, and other important actions if their spelling is not decent), and an understanding of the scientific process.

    We can find ways of sneaking these into their learning while still allowing them to have much more freedom regarding their curriculum than public-schooled children typically have. We want to set our children up to have as many options as possible by the time they become adults, including the option for further education (which would require a well-rounded basic understanding of “the three r’s”, if you will)

    I just think there can be a balance struck – learning the basics while maintaining a great deal of freedom and allowing more choices in life while setting some guidelines and boundaries as a way to help them become great citizens of the world.

    • Meredith 11 years ago


      I agree that there are Unschoolers who display some of these characteristics, for certain. But I do feel compelled to say that I have seen far more schooled kids that displayed them. Their parents’ explanations to me (we did not allow my step kids, who were schooled, to go over to homes like this because we did not feel that they would be appropriately supervised and safe) were that they were just to busy to set boundaries, since they were at work all day and their kids were at school all day. Too much work, etc. my step-kids went throu e school system and are now outt, so I saw plenty of schooled kids through the years. We chose to unschool my daughter, and there are far more involved unschooling parents who set boundaries than there were schooling parents who did. For what it’s worth.

    • Jeremy 10 years ago

      Well I have to respectfully disagree with you on a few things…Firstly, studies have proven that unschooled, homeschooled, road schooled, basically alternatively schooled children are leaps ahead of their peers in terms of social skills. The reasoning is that they haven’t learned that terrible habits that occur daily in the current schooling system, and are usually taught to interact properly with others in real life situations. If any parent doesn’t catch bad habits and bad behaviour, then they are just plain bad parents.
      I would think that common sense would indicate that parents that don’t see their kids from 7am to 4, 5 or 6 pm because of work, are tremendously lacking in any measurable input into their kids lives compared to a parent that is there for them the majority of the day
      As for the basics of schooling, of course again any half decent parent will make sure their kids have the basics of education no matter what. A funny study to pass along…kids in high school are taught advanced math techniques, graphing & plotting, advanced algebra, advanced trigonometry, etc., but yet in surveys of adults in their 30’s a recent study showed that 95 percent of them did not use ANY of that math in their life and/or career. This random survey was done in 10 cities around the world from every race, job sector and career that was surveyed. Interesting that the education system focuses on advanced math so much, yet 5 percent use it! Maybe if they taught basic psychology and philosophy then kids woould grow up to have common sense and think creatively and realize there is more to life thatn what they force on you in school. .

  6. Atlas Educational 10 years ago

    Unschooling is actually more difficult and more fulfilling than handing your kid over to a school or following a boxed curriculum. It’s about taking the time to build a good relationship, model values, have long and in depth discussions with everything about your child, allow him to make mistakes and be there to support him in his successes and failures. It’s about giving your child a sliding scale of autonomy as he grows and matures. I’ve taught thousands of kids in a classroom setting working 70 hour weeks on school stuff. I dig deeper and work harder with one child than I’ve ever done in my life. It’s a huge responsibility to not have someone else to hand your kid off to. Unschooling is all that and more.

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