The Unschooling Mother He
|"Elijah is pensive, analytical, calculating, sweet, soft-spoken, sensitive and self-directed. He has never been interested in anyone else’s direction, encouragement or desires. He is not here to entertain but to experience and his actions are rooted in his desire to learn or express himself."|
The resulting scenario was similar to the first but now coupled with the distraction of the incomplete first project that he was focused on completing. Anxiety was building in both of us. My inner eager-to-please student residing (apparently) just below the surface felt compelled to rush him along, became frustrated with his intensity and desperately wanted him to turn out a product that was pleasing to the instructor. I wanted him to shine because, in truth, society tells us that our children are a reflection of ourselves. This instructor would not celebrate the fascination in the process, the joy of building, the focus or the planning. What she was looking for was a finished product and we (we?) had nothing tangibly complete to show for the time that we had been there. I was relieved when my friend from the waiting area popped in for the last few minutes of the class to see how her kids were doing. I retreated to the corner with her for moral support regarding this frustration that I was feeling. What was this compulsion that I had to pressure rather than to support my child in this clearly uncomfortable situation?
The ensuing conversation centered on my current frustration with my son’s slow progress on the assignments and my desire for him to be able to keep pace with the other kids. In her response, she spoke of her own children and her own experiences and I awaited the wisdom that would reassure and support me along my path to continually seek and understand the heart lessons of my children. I was at odds with myself and, more importantly, with my child’s needs. My heart sank and tears welled as I realized that her stories were being spun into a thread that was completely foreign to my core beliefs as a gentle parent and life learner. She told me of the child’s need to be pushed in order to excel and of severing maternal ties so that they may gain security and self-confidence via forced independence. She pointed out that no other mothers were in the tiny classroom and that Elijah should be made to understand that his separation was an expectation from which I could be assured that he would achieve personal growth. She encouraged me to see that turning the learning aspect of life over to other adults was probably the answer for us so that Elijah could gain independence and confidence while getting the education that he “needs.”
My core felt darker and heavier as she spoke and I focused less and less on her words and more on not crying in a room full of LEGO and children. The support I had sought in redirection of my own insecurities had actually been aimed at capitalizing on them. The betrayal and enlightenment was punctuated by her final sentence, “Sometimes you’re not the mother he needs.” My son left the center with an even firmer disdain for classroom settings. I was left feeling hurt and bewildered.
I pondered her final words and the source of the hurt. Both of us felt so strongly about natural living and health. I had thought that the deep care and understanding of our children would have come to her along with the desire to care holistically for their bodies. I knew that my friend had differing parenting philosophies but I had felt that she respected mine. I heard her words over and over again in my mind and gradually felt a shift in energy. “Sometimes you’re not the mother he needs.” I knew there was truth in it but not in the way that she had meant.
So what is the truth? The truth is sometimes I’m not the mother he needs me to be. The overwhelming truth is that parenting is not about me. I become compromised by my own insecurities, my childhood desire to shine and to be recognized, the feeling that a finished product should be displayed such that others realize the brilliance – of this child, of this life. This situation is one of many that have created the tremendous discomfort and life change that often accompanies growth. Although we see each other only in passing now, I hold gratitude in my heart for this friend who held the mirror to me so that I could see myself and what it means to me to be Elijah’s mother – to truly consider each moment as a choice to support him. Thanks to her, these instances of insecurity are few and far between now. Her words continue to echo in me and act as a touchpoint during the times of instability and doubt. Anytime I feel myself waiver and take a downturn into self-consciousness, I hear those words, remember, and ask myself, “How will I be the mother he needs me to be?”
I recall a lesson from undergraduate nursing school. It
was a chapter focusing on cultural diversity in which we were encouraged
not to follow the Golden Rule – treating others as we would like to be
treated – but rather that we should truly consider that particular
individual (with regard to their cultural, ethnic, familial and personal
needs) and treat them as they would like to be treated. I take this into
account when I consider what Elijah needs from me as a mother. He needs
support, patience, kindness, regard for his positive intent and
disregard for the expectations of others. This is the kind of mother I
will be – the kind that he needs to grow in the light of love and
support, to grow and experience self-confidence, learning in joy and
taking on challenges in his own brilliant way.
"The truth is sometimes I’m not the mother he needs me
to be. The overwhelming truth is that parenting is not about me.
I become compromised by my own insecurities, my childhood desire
to shine and to be recognized, the feeling that a finished
product should be displayed such that others realize the
brilliance – of this child, of this life."
Finding Your Guiding Principle
What is a Guiding Principle?
A Guiding Principle for raising our children is imperative for a life driven by the intention to live a peaceful familial existence and support our children’s healthy, independent development. When challenges arise, the Guiding Principle acts as the crux to which we can refer to assist us in our communications or decision making and/or to help us get back on track when we feel that our parenting or relationships are just not going in a positive direction. Having a Guiding Principle keeps us centered in presence with our families fostering connected relationships through a constant awareness of whether our communications and behavior reflect our core beliefs and desires.
Forming a Guiding Principle
Guiding Principles can be used for any area of your life for which you care deeply and for which you wish to be present and accountable. In the consensual living/life learning context, Guiding Principles are useful as a foundation for familial relationships and the supporting of children as they grow and learn. Ask yourself these questions:
What do I want for my family?
What do I want for my children?
Are these desires pure and rooted in fulfilling meaning for us as a whole?
There are many answers to the first two questions. They are different for all of us but may be: happiness, freedom, financial security, etc. The last question will flush out your perfect truth. There can be only one true Guiding Principle by which your actions dictate the direction of your parenting and the ways in which your support the growth of your family.
Use and hone this truth as the basis for a statement a mission
statement. This will be the most important statement in your life. How
you choose to communicate and behave within your family to connect and
support each other will be reflected in life outside your home as well.
Using Your Guiding Principle
Whenever life gets challenging, it is easy – though increasingly uncomfortable – to fall back into old patterns that cause disconnect and mistrust. Use your Guiding Principle as a touchstone often to assist you in brainstorming better ways to handle these situations to foster current or future growth. Write it down and post it in several places in the house so that you and those around you see it often. Use it as a mantra during tough days to see the light for which you are striving. In the often inconsistent world of life learning, our vision can easily become clouded with life situations that frustrate or overwhelm us. Having your Guiding Principle as a constant will assist you to align the life you lead with the result that you desire.
Here are examples of guiding principles for the raising of our children:
My own: “I wish for my children to grow and learn in freedom and joy such that they will always maintain the authenticity of their individuality without regard for social norms and stigmas. I believe in my heart that the way to happiness and positive world change is to encourage difference through support of each child’s personal needs and desires.”
My husband Chris’ “I wish to trust the children to make decisions about
what they want or desire. I wish to provide guidance as needed and
options for them to explore but never to exert pressure or direct their
Sarah Parent is the free-living, life learning mama to Elijah and Sadie who were seven and five years old when this article was written. Ten years of labor and birth nursing, mindful childbirth preparation, advocacy for women and families, which culminated in a master’s degree in nursing, clashed head-on with motherhood when the realization hit that money and degrees were no match for her sensitive, pensive son and spunky, wild-child daughter when it came down to where to spend her time. She and her husband Chris found whole-life unschooling and gentle parenting, traveling over bumpy roads of doubt and steep ravines of fear. She has found her voice in advocating for peaceful families and authentic children through gentle parenting and unschooling if only to support others in navigating those bumpy roads and ravines.