Apr 19

Six Things My Kids Are Allowed to Say to Adults

167183_471596638308_3379574_nThere’s a blog post out there garnering a lot of attention titled 6 Things My Kids Aren’t Allowed to Say to Adults. After seeing it come through my Facebook newsfeed for the 27th time, I finally took a look.  Then I took another look. Then another.  Interestingly, each time I read it (3 times in total), there was another new edit, update, or clarification from the author. Clearly feeling the stress of negative comments, she defended, expanded on, and added specific examples for all of her original points.  She added a disclaimer.  She closed the comments.

As someone who is intimately and painfully familiar with the frustration of feeling like my words are being misconstrued, I am definitely sensitive to this mom’s plight.  Unfortunately, her additions to the post just made me disagree with it all the more, and were actually the impetus I needed to write a response.  Still, it somehow seems important to me to state right from the start that what follows is in response to words, ideas, and concepts…. not to one individual person.  I don’t know her, and had never read her blog prior to this one post.

I will list the six specific words/phrases in a minute, but the biggest reason that I disagree (and the overwhelming thought that clung to me as I read) is this:

I’m not interested in raising robots.  My kids are not mine to control, or to train.  They are human beings.  Lovely, perfectly imperfect, unique human beings with their own personalities, their own thoughts, and their own opinions.  I want to recognize and embrace and honor who they are, not who I want them to be.  I want my kids to feel free to say anything to me, to express any emotion to me….. and I want them to trust that I’ll always provide a safe space for them to do so.

{A quick but necessary little side note here, because for some reason my being open about my faith seems to invite people to employ Bible verses as weapons:  I’m aware of the scripture that reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It’s a great verse!  I don’t refute it.  I do however refute the way it is so often twisted to advocate for a dehumanizing, literal “training” akin to something that you would do with dogs.  Children are not dogs.  This scripture – and others like it – simply serve as a reminder of our responsibility as parents.   Not just as Christians, but as caring, invested parents in general.  It’s our responsibility to parent in such a way that models kindness and respect, both for ourselves and for others.  It’s our responsibility to parent in such a way that models grace and forgiveness, both for ourselves and for others.  It’s our responsibility to parent in such a way that models love and gentleness, both for ourselves and for others. Those are the values that I want to live out loud, and by extension, show my children.  Those are the values from which I trust that my children “will not depart.”  And if we live it, they will learn it….. no “training” necessary.}

First and foremost, we were created as human beings… with a full range of personalities, emotions, and styles of communication.  I want my kids to be authentically themselves at any given moment, not some straight-edged, boxed-in version of themselves that I created through force, coercion and control.  And if there is anyone that I want them to feel free to be REAL with, it’s me!!

(Have I mentioned I’m not interested in raising robots?)

Here then, is the original list of words the author won’t allow her children to say, and why I feel very differently.

1.  ”No”

A word that the author calls “the ultimate defiance towards authority,” I find the word, “no” to be a hugely important word for everyone to have at his or her disposal.  My youngest is now seven, so it’s been awhile, but I remember well when she and all three of her brothers discovered the word as toddlers.  In one memorable incident, we were all hanging out on our king bed one night, and it was getting late.  We told Tegan (who was barely two at the time) that it was probably time to put on her pajamas.  She looked at us with a little gleam in her eye, took her finger, and clearly traced the letters N O on the surface of the bed.  Not only were we not offended by her “defiance”, we thought it was awesome!  We had no idea she could spell, or even knew what the letters looked like, and she was immensely proud of herself.  What a powerful word!   We laughed, she laughed, and then she put on her pajamas.

Being able to set boundaries for yourself – in all kinds of situations – is an invaluable skill, and it often starts with the ability and the confidence to say no.  I’m a recovering people-pleaser, so I have often found myself burnt out and spread too thin.  Learning to say “no” as an adult was a huge step to protect my space, my health, and my sanity.  My kids know how to say no, and they are welcome to do so.

Does that mean then, that every time I ask them to do something, they say no?  NO!  (Ha, see what I did there?) They really never say no in that context, because our house doesn’t work like that.  We operate as a partnership, not a dictatorship.  We respect each other.  If I say to one of the kids, “Hey, can you help me pick up for a couple of minutes?” they’ll gladly help, much in the same way that I’ll gladly help when one of the kids asks me to bring them a drink when I’m in the kitchen.  Mutual respect and communication go a long way towards maintaining peace and unity within the home.

2.  ”Just a minute”

She wrote:

When I tell my kids to do something, I expect them to obey immediately.

But “just a minute”  is something that we say as adults all the time.  All. The. Time.  I do try not to say it too often, because I want to stay present and engaged with my kids, but if I’m asked to do something when I’m really involved in a project, at a minimum I’m going to need to jot down whatever thought/word/project I was working on a sticky note (because I’m 41 and sleep deprived and my brain is full…. so if I don’t write it down, I risk losing it forever)  So while I’m happy to help with whatever’s asked of me, this is real life, so I don’t often jump up the exact instant that I’m asked…. which makes it categorically unfair to expect something different of my kids.

The author did say that her children were allowed to ask if they could, for example, finish reading their chapter in their book before they did whatever it was she’d asked them to do. But why should the onus be on the kids to ask permission?  Why can’t we as parents have enough respect for our kids to recognize that their time is just as valuable as ours?  Why can’t we as parents have enough respect for our kids to recognize that they don’t exist to be at our beck and call?  Unless time is of a serious essence (ie: someone’s on fire), “just a minute” is a perfectly acceptable response.

And I don’t expect my kids to be “obedient” (I actually can’t stand the word obedience)  What I expect is that my kids will treat me with the same level of care and respect that I extend to them. And they do.

3.  ”Yeah”

She wrote:

Opinions on this may vary depending on your geographical location, but where I’m from, it is incredibly disrespectful to answer any adult with anything but “Yes ma’am”; “Yes sir”; “No ma’am”; and “No Sir”. My kids will definitely be corrected if they answer with a flippant “Yeah” in response to any question.

I agree with the author that opinions on this one likely vary based largely on geography.  I was raised in New England – not in the south – so I was not raised to address adults with “Yes, Ma”am” and “Yes, Sir” (what the author requires of her children.)  I’m actually not a fan of being addressed in that way myself.  It sounds awkwardly formal, and it makes me feel old.  I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to feel pressured or required to respond to me in that manner, particularly not in their own home.  If they want to answer me in the affirmative, “Yeah, yes, yep, yup, uh-huh, and right on” all work for me.

I don’t worry that they’ll not know when to use more formally respectful language either.   I speak in a different way to my friends to my husband to my mother to my boss to a police officer.  I adjust my level of formality and familiarity depending on the situation, as do most of us. We learn about being polite in a variety of settings as we grow, and as we mature.  It’s really not that complicated.

I’m their MOM, the most familiar person in their life. They really don’t need need to address me the same way they’d address a judge if they were arguing a speeding ticket in court.

4.  ”I don’t want to”

Very similar to #1.  When the author tells her children to do something, the only acceptable response is immediate obedience.  ”I don’t want to” is rarely an issue in that context in our house – remember, this is a partnership, not a dictatorship – but when I ask my kids to do something (that’s one huge difference between myself and the parenting philosophy employed by this author:  I ASK.  She TELLS)  When I ask my kids to do something, I’m genuinely asking, and while nine times out of ten the answer is yes, they always have the option to respond how they’d like.

Like the word, “no”, “I don’t want to” is a hugely important and empowering thing to be able to say, across many different circumstances.  I never want to give my children the disadvantage – and possibly put them in an unhealthy or unsafe situation – by telling them it’s not an appropriate thing to say.

And to hopefully head off some inevitable comments:  No, I don’t worry at all that my children will grow up to tell an employer “I don’t want to” when they’re told to complete a reasonable but unpleasant or boring task.   (Although, to be honest, if my children ever find themselves miserable, unfulfilled, or generally unhappy with their life choices, whether it be work or anything else:  I would hope that they would have the courage and the confidence to say, whether through words or actions, “You know what, I don’t want to do this anymore”, so that they could seek to create change.)

5.  ”I don’t like this”

She says:

If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat what is set before them.

I’ve written at length about my philosophy of food when it comes to my family (most recently here), but in short: We try to make foods we all like.  We’re all members of the family, and we all get to have a voice:  from the foods we buy, to the snacks we have on hand, to the dinners we cook.  Everyone gets to have, and express, an opinion.  And on the rare cases when we happen to have a dinner that someone doesn’t like?  No problem! They’re free to have a sandwich, make an egg, fix a bowl of cereal, whatever they’d like – something that the author deems a no-no.  My kids eat all kinds of foods, and are always game to try something new.Sure, they each have a few things they don’t care for.  Don’t we all?  As an adult, I generally simply avoid buying/eating the things I don’t like.  Why wouldn’t I extend my kids the same courtesy?  If they don’t like something, they’re always free to express it, especially in the safety of their own home.  Now, if we were visiting new friends for dinner, would they stab something with a fork, hold it up for the whole table to see, and announce, “This stuff is gross”? (something that a grown adult actually did to me once, after my woefully botched first attempt to make seitan when I was a vegan)  Absolutely not!  As with #3, it’s simply a social nuance that they learn with time, maturity, and involved parents.

One more point about the food.  There was much ado made about the fact that there are starving children out there who have nothing to eat, and therefore children should be thankful for what they have, and eat whatever’s placed in front of them.  Yikes.  Yes, it’s wonderful to have an attitude of gratefulness.  And yes – unfortunately – there are starving children out there. It’s an important thing to be aware of, to be sure.  Even better is to do something about it, and to help out whether by donating your time or your money to people who are in need.But using it as a vehicle to shame and coerce your children to eat what is put in front of them?  That isn’t fair, respectful, or helpful to anyone.

6.  Nothing 

She says:

When an adult speaks to my children, hiding behind mama and refusing to speak is not acceptable behavior

Much like saying “Yes, Ma’am” when the situation calls for it, and not telling the nice neighbor that the food she just made you is gross, learning to talk and interact respectfully with adults is something that comes with time and practice.  Just like adults, some kids are naturally outgoing from the beginning, and others start out by wanting to hide behind mom.  Both are okay!  I’m 41 years old, and I can think of many a social situation where I wish I could hide behind my mom.   But I don’t.  I’ve learned to shake hands, and smile politely, and say “It’s nice to meet you”, even if my voice shakes when I say it.  And kids will learn too.    But requiring them to interact in a way that they’re not ready for is no different than requiring them to hug and kiss grandma even if they don’t want to.  It’s a violation of their right to personal autonomy, and it seriously blurs the line of when they can and cannot say “no”, and who they do or do not have to listen to.

Their body = their choice

Their voice = their choice

If your child doesn’t want to talk to me for whatever reason, please don’t insist that they do!  I don’t need or want a forced “hello” or a forced “thank you” or a forced “I’m sorry.”   I’ll just be happy to know that you’re honoring your child’s wishes, and respecting his right to trust and make judgments about new people in his own time, in his own way.  It’s an important skill to have, and forcing them to interact in the way that you deem appropriate is stripping them of the practice they need to hone that skill for themselves.

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If you’ll indulge me while I say it for a third and final time:  I’m not raising robots.  These are HUMAN BEINGS. This is a relationship we’re forming here, not boot camp.  The idea of censoring, controlling, and requiring certain narrow words and reactions from children not only saddens me but quite honestly genuinely frightens me.  It feels more like programming than parenting.  Kids aren’t ours to program.  They are ours for but a short time, to nurture, protect, and guide through our example…. but also to sit back and watch, while they unfold into the perfectly unique and already-laid-out version of themselves, which I guarantee you is far better than anything you or I could ever orchestrate on their behalf.  

My kids can say anything to me.  They can express any emotion.  Share any feeling.  Give any opinion.  In short, they can be real.

No matter what else a home may be, shouldn’t it at least start with being a place where you can be yourself?


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Apr 06

Do-Overs

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I’m not personally really big on video games, but my kids are all passionate players of video games of all kinds. One of the things I like about video games is that the game is never truly over.  If you’re killed, you’ve often got another life in your queue.  Even if you’ve used up all your lives, you get that sad “Womp womp womp” music, and the words “Game Over” flash on the screen, it’s still just a matter of re-starting the game,  Sure, you might have to start over from the beginning, but you’re never really done.

In Star Stable, one of the games I play with the seven year old, your horse never dies.  It gets sad if you don’t feed it and brush it often enough…. but it always forgives you once you start taking better care of it.  And you can fall off of cliffs (something I do a lot, because apparently I’m as clumsy in pixelated-horse-rider form as I am in real life, walking-down-the-street form), but it just results in a whinny and a little pop-up message that says you’ve “taken a dangerous fall, but your horse has miraculously survived.”   Then it spawns you and your horse back to the top of the cliff, no worse for the wear.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because for the past month or so, my real life has been way off-line. I’ve been fighting off some sort of virus for what feels like forever, one that’s so persistent I’m still coughing a good four weeks after it all started.   I’ve gotten completely out of my normal routine.  I haven’t been sleeping. Housework has piled up, projects have piled up, emails have piled up.   This past weekend, I was so distracted that I did something I never do and flaked out on something I promised I’d help someone with.  Just straight-up forgot about it. And even though I apologized, I’m still heavy with the guilt of having let someone I care about down.  I feel stressed out and frustrated, but beyond that I feel a disproportionate sense of…. failure. Perfectionism kicks in, and I feel like I’ve been failing on all fronts.  And when that happens, I have a tendency to get depressed and defeatist, which of course only exacerbates the problem.  I literally start to feel like I’ll never get back in my groove, even though I know intellectually that that’s not the case.

So, I’ve decided I need to start giving myself more grace, and treating life like a video game. Yeah, there will be times I’ll get off track, get lost, use up all my energy pellets, fall off the cliff. But it doesn’t mean it’s time to quit the game.  It’s just time to re-group, that’s all.  And to give it a positive spin, it’s the best opportunity to re-establish goals, adjust priorities, and assess what sort of prize you’re actually pursuing,  It’s a chance to return your focus to where it needs to be, and not let it be complicated by the pesky little distractions of the game.

I’ve been reading a lot about meditation lately, and one thing that I find really interesting is that most people mistakenly think that the real work of meditation is emptying your mind of all thoughts, when really the opposite is true.  Your meditation muscle is flexed when all the random, fleeting, unhelpful thoughts do come…. and you gently and persistently (and over and over and over again) return your thoughts to peace and quiet, or to God, or to your mantra.  It’s something that gets easier over time, but it needs to be practiced, to be sure.

That’s where I am right now.  I’ve fallen off the cliff and I’ve gotten distracted by the proverbial fly buzzing in the yoga practitioner’s ear.  IT’S OKAY.  It’s just time to re-focus.  To get ready to re-start.  To gently accept the negative thoughts, but then let them go.  To breathe deeply, to shake off the insecurities, and trust….. trust that it’s okay to be human,  trust that there’s nothing wrong with having to start over, trust that starting over just means another chance to get it right.

Trust that if you just hang tight, your horse will re-spawn to the top of the cliff, and you’ll be off and riding again.


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Apr 02

Q & A Video: How Do Unschoolers Get Into College?

A new video for you guys, answering a very common question.

For more of what I talked about at the end, read this post.

Also, my nails are really bright. My daughter picked the color :)


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Mar 25

An Open Letter To Phil Robertson Supporters

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To my fellow Christians,

I’ve never been a fan of Duck Dynasty.  Let me just admit my bias right up front and start there. I watched the show once – well before all the controversial headlines – and I would rather walk barefoot through a forest of Legos than be subjected to watching it again.  But people have different tastes, and I understand that.  And when you find a TV show or an artist or a public figure who you can relate to in some way, it’s a powerful thing.  I think as a Christian, there’s something particularly alluring about seeing a fellow believer in such a prominent way in mainstream society.  And I understand that too.

Hey this is a cool!  This guy’s on this popular quirky reality show, and he’s a strong believer! What a nice change of pace!

I think we all want to feel we belong to something larger than ourselves.  We want to feel that we FIT somewhere. So when someone like Phil Robertson comes along, with his beard and his ducks and his “good biblical values”, people desperately latch onto him….. and they hold on so tight that they can’t even see what it is they’re grasping.

Oh how ardently people defend him!!  But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not HIM they’re defending so much as the idea of the Christian ideal that they (mistakenly) think he represents. We should encourage and support and defend the rights of those who are putting themselves in the public eye as a representative of Christ-like behavior.  Absolutely.

The problem is….. his behavior is pretty much the antithesis of Christ-like love.   I’m literally embarrassed that Christians are so steadfastly standing behind this man, hailing him as a role model for Christian values.  I have to ask, because I just cannot understand, even a little bit….

Seriously?  THIS guy?  THIS is who you choose to hold up as an ambassador of our faith? THIS is how you want to represent Christianity?

Honestly, it’s no wonder that so very very many people are turned off by religion.

This is a crass, vulgar, hate-filled man who made graphic comments about what kind of sex gay people must be having, as well as comparing homosexuality to bestiality and stating that AIDS was God’s punishment for immorality.  This is not Christ-like!!  (In case you’re wondering, you can find out what Jesus actually had to say about homosexuality here.)

He blames STDs on “beatniks and hippies.”  Sex apparently is a very big issue for him, as it’s something he rails about often.

And most recently, he recounted a graphic, disturbing hypothetical story (pulled from his own imagination, for reasons I fail to understand) about atheists getting raped and murdered in their home.

Again, I have to ask:  THIS GUY?

Now, I’m one of those rare Christians who doesn’t believe that homosexuality in and of itself is a sin (and honestly, even if I did, I have better things to be concerned about then who someone else is attracted to) but even if we disagree on that, can we agree that vulgar and hate-filled rants aimed at gay people are not the answer?

I have many atheist friends whom I love dearly, and I don’t think it’s my job to convert them.  (I think it’s my job to LOVE them, and to live out my own faith to the best of my ability)  But even if we disagree on that, can we agree that graphic fantasies about raping and murdering entire families of atheists are not the answer?

Can we agree that if we’re really going to represent Jesus, we need to start with LOVING people, instead of damning them all to hell?

Can we agree that if we’re going to hold someone up as a role model for our faith that it should be someone who models kindness, and grace, and actual love towards mankind?

My fellow Christians, I think we need to take a collective step back, and take a good long look at what it is we’re doing, how we’re representing Christianity, and who we’re hailing as our heroes. For me, I’ll look to Jesus for my example.  But if you need a human example, there are people out there to emulate.  There are kind people, loving people, people who use their platforms to spread positivity, not hatred.

I ask you though, in all sincerity, to stop looking for them on Duck Dynasty.  Stop telling yourself (and others!) that Phil Robertson’s words or actions represent the true nature of Christianity, because they do not.  He doesn’t represent the God that I know.  He doesn’t represent the Jesus that I know.  He doesn’t represent any of the loving, giving Christians that I am privileged enough to call friends.

The state of American Christianity has gotten so far off the mark that I don’t even know that it is fixable anymore.  I see the worship and admiration of people like Phil Robertson, and I genuinely fear that we’ve lost our collective heads all together.

Let’s bring humanity – and some common sense! – back into our faith.  Let’s give a little more effort towards “loving your neighbor as yourself”, and a WHOLE LOT LESS credence to sad, confused reality stars who are bent on persecuting others.

Sincerely,

Fed Up and Frustrated


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Mar 16

Mom Guilt, And Why You Need To Lose It

Photo Credit:  Nina H

Photo Credit: Nina H

Last week, another blogger whose opinion I greatly respect and admire, posted an update that read in part:

I will never, ever forgive myself for allowing my precious baby to be circumcised. I don’t believe I should ever be forgiven by anybody for it. The buck stops here.

I genuinely think it was the first time I ever disagreed with her (which is exactly what I said when I commented). She and I both share the same – very real – regret.   It is my biggest parental regret to be sure.  I’m thankful we were given the opportunity to make different decisions for our younger boys.

But I’ve forgiven myself.

I believe very strongly that you have to forgive yourself if you want to be a healthy and vibrant and positive parent….. whether your regret is an unnecessary cosmetic surgery, or inadvertently snapping at your daughter when you were sleep deprived.   You simply cannot be the parent (or the person, for that matter) you were meant to be if you stubbornly refuse to forgive yourself for your offenses.

Forgiving yourself does not mean you’re letting yourself off the hook.  It does not mean that what you did is suddenly okay.  It does not mean that you’re not taking accountability for your actions.

It means:

to give up resentment against.  To stop wanting to punish.  To stop feeling angry or resentful for an offense, flaw or mistake.

In other words, it simply means you release yourself from the negative and destructive feelings – you guys, these feelings are so destructive! – about the event in question.  It means that you show yourself grace… that you recognize you’re a human being who makes mistakes, and that you deserve to conduct your life without carrying around a heavy burden of guilt.  No good ever comes from guilt.

If you let guilt take residence, it eats you from the inside.  When it remains unchecked, you become that guilt.   Everything you do, say, and feel is then filtered through that guilt.  It colors everything.  It darkens everything.  It affects the way you interact with yourself, with the world around you, and with your children.

When my kids make mistakes (and they do make mistakes, because they’re human), I don’t want them to ever live under guilt.  Self-reflection, yes.  Self-responsibility, yes.  But never guilt. So it’s not something I want to model for them.   I don’t want my children seeing mom view life through a lens of guilt.  I want my children seeing mom owning her mistakes, learning from them, and doing better the next time.

I want to tell my kids,

You’re not a product of your mistakes.  You’re a product of your triumphs.

Our mistakes teach us.  They help refine us.  They help shape us.  But they do NOT define us. Living under guilt and failing to forgive ourselves for our mistakes makes our life become about the very mistake that we want to move beyond.  And how can you ever truly grow and heal and move beyond a mistake if you refuse to release it? (Spoiler:  you can’t)

Guilt does not serve you.  Guilt is self-centered and narcissistic.  It wants to steal from you.  And as long as you allow it to stay, it will do exactly that.

If you’re going to offer your children grace, and kindness, and forgiveness (and I’d like to believe that if you’re here reading this that you do in fact want to offer those things to your children), you need to first extend it to yourself.


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Mar 13

How I Learned to Read: Four Unschooled Kids, Four Stories

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Photo credit: Ben O’Bryan

One of the first concerns of those new to the idea of unschooling is one of a basic skill: Reading. How they will learn to read without lessons?  Without phonics?  Without spelling tests and quizzes?  How will they learn to read if you don’t teach them?  

Well, some of the beauty of unschooling is that the journey of learning to read (and virtually every other skill) is going to be an individual one for each and every child, although the principles remain the same for each.

For my four kids, this is how they learned… with no stress, no pressure, in their own time, in their own way:

Spencer - who’s 18 at the time of this writing, and currently mostly reads for information. Everything from engine repair to running a server on Minecraft to keeping up with the latest national news.

Spencer was our earliest reader, which was reassuring to these brand-new unschooling parents.  He was 4 or 5 when he really started reading, and his biggest impetus by far was good old Dr Seuss.  We’d started one of those book-of-the-month clubs when he was a baby, so he got a new Seuss book every month, and his little library grew quickly.  Every day from the time he was tiny, he’d a pick a book (or 2 or 7), and we’d snuggle up on the couch and read to him.  He loved to be read to, and oh how he adored Dr Seuss!  One of the great things about Seuss for emerging readers is that his books are filled with simple, fun words, and tons of repetition.  It wasn’t long before he was reading along with us.   After Seuss came one of my own personal favorites:  Beverly Cleary. Ramona, Beezus, and Henry Huggins were like treasured friends in our house, and their books were read often… both by us reading to Spencer, and him eventually reading all by himself.  He loved stories of all kinds when he was little, and would often write his own (usually based on his favorite TV show at the time, Dukes of Hazzard :))

On a more practical level, he learned to read because he wanted to.  Because he saw his dad and I reading. Because he saw words and letters on street signs and t-shirts and cereal boxes. He asked questions and we answered.   We played with those refrigerator letter magnets.   We wrote our names in chalk and with our fingers in the sand.   We played matching games and kids’ card games.   We looked at license plates and street signs when we traveled.

We provided lots of opportunities to explore words and letters, we read to him when he wanted, we helped when he needed it…. and he learned to read.

Paxton – who’s 14 at the time of this writing, and loves a good novel.  He’s currently in the middle of reading his first Stephen King book, Cujo

Paxton was around 6 when he started to read well, and he took a completely different path than Spencer.  He was – and if you know him, this will come with absolutely zero shock – our little computer boy.  We read to him of course, and did all the same sorts of things we did with Spencer, but the thing he loved most was that computer. He was able to use the mouse to navigate simple games by the time he was 18 months old, and it was one of his favorite things to do.  It only makes sense then, that most of his early reading experiences came from his computer games.   He loved the Reader Rabbit series, and eventually moved on to the Tycoon and Sims games.

One notable difference between Spencer and Paxton is that Spencer has always been a sharer, and Paxton tends to hold things closer to his chest.  So when he was an emerging reader, Spencer was comfortable asking lots of questions, reading aloud with no embarrassment at the normal mistakes, and just generally involved us in his learning process.   Paxton kept it all a bit more private.  So we weren’t always sure exactly where he was at in terms of reading.   He wanted to learn how to do it on his own, and didn’t feel much like sharing until he felt he had it just right.  And learn he did.   The first few times we heard him read out loud it was without a single missed word (while still being slow and careful).  The fun thing about that kind of learner is that even though they’re learning all along, it appears to happen overnight. Suddenly, one day, he was reading, and a whole new world had opened up.

We provided lots of opportunities to explore words and letters, we read to him when he wanted, we helped when he needed it…. and he learned to read.

Everett – who’s 10.5 at the time of this writing, and enjoys reading fun, adventurous, and light-hearted books. The last book I saw him read was called, “I Can Pee on This,” a hilarious (and frighteningly accurate) collection of letters written from the perspective of cats to their owners.

Everett was around nine when he started reading well (although, like Paxton, he didn’t really want to share until he was super confident in his abilities, so it’s likely that it happened before then)  One of the nice things about unschooling, and homeschooling in general, is that they are able to learn in their own time and keep their confidence intact.  There is no being told you’re “behind”, no special classes, no extra pushing.  Just time, and learning.  He was in cub scouts for several years – the only place where his lack of reading might have been an issue – and his den leader was wonderfully respectful, never putting him on the spot, or causing him embarrassment in any way.

I didn’t doubt for a second that Everett would learn to read when he was ready, and not a minute sooner.  He just focused on other skills first.  That kid was BUSY.  The most physically active of the three boys, he played baseball, played basketball, took gymnastics, started karate (he’s currently working on his purple belt), tried fencing, dabbled in some musical instruments, learned a whole bunch of magic tricks, and just generally enjoyed trying new, exciting things.

As he got older, I was super careful to make sure that our language stayed positive and accurate.  If he would say for instance, “I can’t read,” I would remind him that he could - because I could see that he was starting to read simple things – but that he was just still learning and getting better.

As far as learning style, he was squarely in the middle of Spencer and Paxton, in terms of being equally motivated by the computer and by words on paper.  He did love the computer.  He liked to be read to more than Paxton had, but less than Spencer.  He liked word games and letters and fun active things that engaged both mind and body.  I think the thing that ultimately gave him the biggest motivation when it came to reading was his desire to chat with his friends when he played cooperative games online.  That was when I really saw the switch flip, and – just like Paxton – he was suddenly reading well, seemingly overnight.

We provided lots of opportunities to explore words and letters, we read to him when he wanted, we helped when he needed it…. and he learned to read.

Tegan – who’s newly 7 at the time of this writing, and enjoys reading anything she can get her little hands on.

Watching Tegan learn to read was FUN.  Watching all the kids learn to read was fun, but there is just something so heightened and bittersweet about those milestones with the last child.

Like Spencer, she really enjoyed being read to from the time she was tiny.  Her favorites were those Usborne touchy-feely books, and other board books with bright colors and fun pictures, especially animals.  I remember she had one ABC book with animals in it that she especially loved, and she would squeal with excitement every time she got to the page with the lion on it. Another favorite area of early letter exploration was her dad’s t-shirts, especially the shirts with sports teams on them.  She loved to sit on his lap and point to the letters one by one as he named them.  I’m pretty sure she knew the letters in the word, “Cardinals” before her own name.  :)  She enjoyed letters in general from a young age, and loved looking for “T for Tegan” everywhere we went.

Her big explosion in reading and language started about six months ago, prompted largely by her desire to chat, Skype, and email with her friends online.  Tegan is all about the socialization. I set her up with her own email account on Tocomail - a great service if you’re looking for a starter email account for your young ones – and helped her with sending emails and pictures to her friends and family.  It opened up a whole new exciting world for her.  These days, she barely even asks for my help anymore.  Yesterday, my husband forwarded me this message she sent him, all on her own:

Hi Daddy im feeling bedder i had candy today how is it at work

Heart. Melted.  I’m not the slightest bit concerned about the lack of punctuation, or the misspelled word.  It’ll all come with time.  Just like her brothers, she’s reading and writing and so enjoying using words to communicate. It’s a beautiful and exciting thing.

We provided lots of opportunities to explore words and letters, we read to her when she wanted, we helped when she needed it…. and she learned to read.

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Four different kids, four different stories, but with one big similarity that is ultimately the one simple answer to the question, “But how will they learn to read?”:

When they’re immersed and involved and allowed to explore a world that’s rich with language and words and letters…… they just learn.


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Mar 10

Computers, Technology, and the Language of the Future

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I was at Target the other day (buying a new broom, because my current broom was about a jillion years old and produced far more frustration than it did actual cleaning) and I overheard a conversation between a Target associate and a rather befuddled-looking older gentleman in the electronics department.    In a discussion that was somehow both sweet and amusing, the kid working at Target was trying to explain the concept of digital user manuals to the skeptical customer, who wondered why the item he was purchasing didn’t come with a paper manual.

“More and more companies are doing away with the paper manuals completely.”

Skeptical look.

“You don’t need them.  You can download the entire manual online.”

Skeptical look.

“Or, if you have a specific question about the product, you can just Google:  ”How do I……….. ”

Skeptical look.

I didn’t stick around long enough to hear whether or not he was ever convinced, but it’s a conversation that I imagine takes place in various forms at Targets and cell phone stores and Best Buys every day, all over the world.

Life is just done differently than it was 50 years ago.  Even 20 years ago.  TEN years ago!

My dad, who’s in his late 60′s and is a very intelligent man, can use a computer to do basic things like send email….. but only if my mom helps him get to the “compose an email” screen first.

And when I last saw my 88 year old grandmother, she asked me to send her copies of some pictures I was taking.  ”But you have to send them in the mail.  None of this air mail (aka email) stuff;  I don’t even know how to open it.”

Not that it’s unique to older people.  I’m 41, reasonably adept at handling a computer, and I still balk at learning something new.  I stayed on MySpace long after everyone else had fled to Facebook.  And now that Facebook is comfortable and familiar and I know how to use it, I’ll probably stay there too, long after everyone else has moved on to MeWe, or Ello, or whatever the Next Great Thing happens to be.

Learning new things technology-wise as an adult can be intimidating.  I get it.

But my kids don’t have that problem.  They’re so computer literate, and learn new platforms and programs and website navigation with such ease, that it’s both astounding and inspiring.

This is life in 2015.

We cannot be afraid of it.  This is education.  This is networking. This is communication.  This is the workforce. This is entertainment.  A whole big wide digital world at our fingertips.  We’re doing ourselves a huge disservice if we’re not allowing ourselves to take advantage of all – or much – of what it has to offer.

The world is only going to get more technology-heavy, not less.  My kids think it’s crazy that I remember my family’s first VCR.  And that if we wanted to watch a show that came on at 8:00 on a Friday night that we had to actually be at the TV at 8:00 on a Friday night.   And that early cell phones were about the size of a brick.  And that the internet didn’t even exist until I was in my 20′s.  And that there was no such thing as Netflix or Google or iTunes.

I can’t even imagine what amazingly cool technology – still just a pipe-dream of some go-getting entrepreneurial kid in his parents’ basement – is going to exist for my future grandchildren.

Life is different now.  We need to know about different things now.

Which is exactly why I can’t understand the push to actually limit a child’s use of technology.  I see parents stressing out about their kids spending enough time practicing things like handwriting, which is becoming less and less necessary;  or even hand-writing math problems, another practice that’s changing in our current society, since despite what your teacher may have told you as a child – look at that! – we all DO carry calculators around in our pockets.  In what I can only see as a stubborn refusal to move forward, people want to cling to the old, and only dole out the new in tightly controlled, highly restricted little portions.  But limiting a child’s “screen time” (which – it has to be said – is one of the stupidest and most meaningless phrases to come out of the 21st century) is sort of like planning an extended, indefinite stay in a foreign country, and then limiting how much and how often your children can study the language.

“Of course you can learn Spanish!  But only for a half an hour a night.  Maybe for an hour on the weekend.  You can earn an extra ten minutes a day if you do all your chores.  But if you screw up?  That’s it, I’m taking away all your Spanish time away until you can earn it back.”

I just can’t understand limiting access to the very language in which your child needs to be fluent.

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As for me and my house, we’ve chosen the opposite tack.  Whether the subject at hand is Spain or computers, I want my kids to be able to completely IMMERSE themselves in it.  Play with it. Explore it.  Live it.  Learn it and learn from it and understand it.

I want my kids to be all in.  I want them to be eager learners, enthusiastic explorers, and lovers of new information.  I want them to be confident in their abilities, humble enough to ask for help when they need it, and brave enough to take on even the most daunting of tasks.

I want them to be primed and ready and raring to go, so that when the time comes for the next new overwhelmingly complicated bit of technological advancement (and that time will come… again and again and again) they’ll take it in stride.  They’ll be able to look square in the face of the next generation’s cell phone or email or digital User’s Manual….

and they won’t be afraid.


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Mar 05

I’m Pretty

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Last night when she was getting ready for dance class, Tegan looked in the mirror and said (as matter-of-factly as if she were commenting on the weather),

“I’m pretty.”

“You’re very pretty,” I told her, and the words came easily and confidently, not just as her mother but also as a human being who knows beauty when I see it.

Her statement was so lovely.  So simple, so accepting, as if there were never a question in her mind.  Of course I’m pretty.

And I couldn’t help but think…. when did I stop believing I was pretty?  Did I ever think I was pretty?  Did I think I was pretty when I was seven?  Did someone tell me I was pretty?

All I could remember were the negatives, like holes left from nails in a piece of driftwood.  The surface has long since healed, but the scars remain.

The comments that I was chubby, and (ironically) at other times in my life, too thin.

The reminders about calories, and fat grams, and exercising.

The girl at school who told me was my nose was too big.

The teasing that came when puberty hit, and along with it, horrible skin.

The friend who asked if it made me feel bad that I wasn’t as pretty as my sister.

The other friend who told me I was ugly when I didn’t pull my hair back.

The abusive boyfriend who told me my hair was too long and too poufy, my thighs were too big, and my boobs were too small.  And seriously, when was I going to cut my %&$@! hair?

The coworker who complained that I was stupid (which has nothing to do with physical appearance, but is somehow always there, along with the others)

When did I decide to accept this?  When did I start letting any of it define me?  All I knew was that at some point along the way, it shaped my truth.  It became my internal dialogue.  Did I ever make the conscious choice to CHOOSE to believe it?  Or was I powerless to stop it?   I didn’t know anymore.

“I’m pretty.”

And here is my daughter.  This confident, innocent, beautiful child, who I would do anything to protect.  I am careful – so careful!! – not to verbalize my issues in front of her.  No complaining. No degrading.  No self-deprecation.   When people have told me she looks like me I’ve completely resisted the urge to respond, “Are you kidding? She looks nothing like me.  Look at her, she’s gorgeous!”  And when she looks at me, in her honesty and her love and all her seven-year wisdom and says, “You’re so pretty Mommy”, I smile, and I say thank you. And in that moment… I feel pretty.

But it’s not enough, is it?  To pretend and smile and say the right things and grab the fleeting moments when they come?

I want what she has.  That thing I lost, so long ago.

It’s a lesson she’s teaching me, and will continue to teach me until I get it right.  Not just to feel comfortable in my skin, but to feel fabulous in my skin.  To OWN my skin.  To be able to look back at all those negative voices and say,

“YOU DON’T DEFINE ME.”

I’m working on it.  And if the lessons I’ve already learned, both from Tegan and the boys, are any indication, I’ll get there.  I’ll be able to join her in that mirror, and see a face that’s strong and confident and kind and smart and be able to say,

“I’m pretty”, and mean it.


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Mar 03

Q & A – What Do You Do When The Other Parent Isn’t On Board?

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Carrie asks,

What are your suggestions when the other parent isn’t on board with unschooling and gentle parenting?

First, an example of what not to do:

Several years ago, my family went to an unschooling conference in San Diego.  We’d been unschooling for many years, but the inspiration and experienced words you hear at conferences often gives you the little push you need to take it to the “next level.”   I’d heard something that really resonated, and I was all pumped up and excited in my resolve to further support my kids in their autonomy.  Unfortunately,  I sometimes have trouble toning down the “pumped up and excited” and have a tendency to jump headfirst, and expect everyone else to jump with me. Anyway, we went to lunch late that day.  We were all starving, and probably a little bit grumpy, and there was some sort of issue with one of the kids and what they wanted to order.  I – in all my new-found wisdom – wanted to handle it one way, and my husband wanted to handle it another way.   I (in retrospect, most likely not very kindly) said something along the lines of, “Remember what so-and-so just said??  That’s not respectful!  We need to give him more of a voice!  We need to do it this way!”

My husband immediately – and understandably – told me to relax please, that changes took time, and that I couldn’t expect him to immediately overhaul his parenting techniques.  And he was right. (He’s often right.)

So, first, I recommend not picking a fight in the middle of a sandwich shop.  Changes do take time, and you can’t expect them to happen overnight… or, in the case of my own lofty and misguided expectations, in 30 minutes.

The heart of a successful, peaceful, cohesive unschooling family is a strong, healthy relationship between Mom and Dad.    That’s where it starts.  Not in a “united front” against the kids kind of way, but in a loving, connected, “we’re both on your side” kind of way.  Even parents who are no longer a couple need to work together to peacefully and respectfully co-parent as a team. Unschooling will not work if there are major disagreements between parents that have been allowed to become an area of contention between both parties. The relationship needs to come first.

On a practical level, let him see through your actions the benefits of what it is you’re wanting to do.  Be the kind of gentle parent that you want to be.  Don’t bombard him with information, but share when/if he’s receptive, in a way that’s appropriate to his style of learning (some people do better with reading, others with watching, others with listening, etc).  Wait until everything’s calm and peaceful to bring up the tough subjects. Don’t accuse.  Listen to what he has to say. Decide what areas you can compromise on, and what areas will really be a non-negotiable. I could personally compromise in a lot of ways if it meant keeping the peace in my relationship – and by extension, the peace in the family –  but I wouldn’t compromise on spanking, for instance. There would be no circumstance where that would be okay with me.

Give it lots of time, and give him lots of grace.  Treat him with kindness. Be patient.

And whatever you do, don’t broach the subject when one or both of you is hungry.


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Feb 28

Dear Parents: Don’t Be An Asshole

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Last night, before I went to bed, I read another article about the latest parent to publicly shame their child as so-called discipline.  Because the parent’s humiliating and degrading behavior was not enough on its own, photographic evidence of said “discipline” was then splashed about on social media as though it was entertainment.  Thousands of other wounded parents banded together to clap their collective hands.  ”Bravo! Way to stand up and be a parent!!”

Different parents, different places…. but it’s the same story every time.   The first parent does something really cruel and hurtful to their child, they share it for the world to see, and people laud them as parent of the year.  The first parent then feels vindicated in his or her behavior, and scores of people feel proudly right in their wrongness.

You guys, I am so very tired of this.

And I learned after the 5th or 6th time that it happened, that I can’t open up a dialogue about it either. Doing so inevitably leads to my getting chastised for judging, and – ironically – my getting shamed for shaming the parent for shaming the child. And I’m so very tired of that too.

Because it’s not about shaming a parent. It’s not about one specific parent at all. It’s about having the conversation, the important conversation, that starts with:

Hey. Do the right thing. BE NICE TO YOUR KIDS.

And yes, I understand that we need to have compassion for these parents as well. As someone always reminds me, “Hurt people hurt others.” Absolutely. These parents’ friends and loved ones need to be reaching out to them, and they need to be helping them with tools and alternatives. They need support. Perhaps they need therapy.

But the thing is, someone also needs to be a voice for the children, who society just won’t give a voice of their own. And if I have to choose between standing up for the children and possibly stepping on a few toes, or staying silent to spare feelings…. I’m going to choose the children. Every time.

There’s a time for niceties. There’s a time for soft words and understanding and back-patting.

There’s also a time for honesty.

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There’s a time to tell people to grow up, to get real, to deal with their own issues, and stop freaking taking them out on their kid.

We’re all coming into this parenting gig with baggage. God knows I’ve got my own issues to deal with. We’ve all been hurt. We’re all wounded. But the days are ticking and our kids are growing up no matter how we treat them. We’re never going to get back this time in their lives. There is no time for tip-toeing. Kids should not have to pay the price for our refusal or inability to deal with our own crap and move on from our own old wounds.

We have to do right by our kids. Period. Full stop.

A friend of mine has adopted the wonderfully succinct parenting motto of “Don’t be an asshole.” I can’t help but think if more people informed their parenting with that philosophy in mind that the world would be a softer, kinder, gentler place. Don’t be an asshole to your kids.

Don’t like the word choice? Call it something else. Call it the Golden Rule. Call it doing unto others the way you’d have them do unto you. Call it treating your kids the way you’d like to be treated. Call it whatever you want, but do it.

Yes, deal with your own issues. Yes, give grace to yourself. Yes, offer yourself forgiveness for past mistakes. Yes, reach out to others who can support you and help you in your efforts to do better. But be nice to your kids. For all the flowery advice and philosophical waxing and wordy prose can be boiled down to that one simple phrase. That’s where it starts. That’s the first step to more connected, more compassionate parenting.

No more excuses, no more bullshit. Just a decision. Right now, today:

Be nice to your kids.


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