Thursday, March 28, 2013

On Child-Centeredness: Ain't Nobody Got Time For That

I grow weary of the way unschooling is sold. I have grown weary of beating myself up as a parent. I have grown weary of assuming that some mystical, joyful, always-kind-and-generous-and-patient ideal exists or is possible. I live in the world. Where there is poverty, inequality, injustice, torture, abuse, and all manner of nasty things, but also where there are other people whose boundaries are breach-able.

My boundaries get all sorts of breached all the damn time. Especially thanks to having children, especially since they're at home all.   the.   time. I used to believe the hype that there was some appropriate way to deal with this - something born of Non-violent Communication where I could perfect my speech so as to make sure my children were fully unconditionally loved all the time and thus grew up knowing that they were valuable, thus could go out and conquer the world with their love or some such.

I tried. It didn't stick. I don't sound like that. I don't communicate non-violently. It's kind of what's totally awesome about me. I am fierce. I say shit that don't nobody wanna say. I am opinionated and loud and stand up for myself and those I love. So at the end of the day, it was inauthentic of me to assume that I could adopt a voice that was not my own.

I'm not trying to suggest that being abusive instead is okay. I'm not trying to suggest that that's what I do. I do yell though. I do say things messily. I make demands. I curse. My kids do too. We also talk about our feelings and cuddle and say fun, adorable and loving things to one another and ask nicely and apologize (a lot). That is because authentic feelings and behaviors exist on a spectrum. As we move through our days, we frustrate, perplex, and anger one another in addition to inspiring, surprising, and delighting.

This is probably obvious to everyone in their real lives. Everyone probably regularly experiences all of these emotions and more. Discovery largely includes failure, after all, and children are in the most constant process of discovery as they are new people, learning and experiencing life for the first time, raucously and haphazardly.

It would be lovely if I, in my older, more experienced age, could appreciate and delight in that all the time. But I can't.

Yet this is the very thing we're encouraged, as unschoolers, to do - to delight and appreciate, to hold space for the children to be precious in. Of course they're precious. They're also annoying. I also want them to hurry the eff up and figure some of this stuff out so they can stop breaching all my boundaries all the time. I also want to delight  raucously and haphazardly in exploring the world at the place in life that I am at. Honestly, that place is not all about my children.

While technically I am an unschooling mother in the home without full-time outside employment, I hesitate to declare that my primary occupation. My primary occupation is about my life, my exploration of the world, being who I am, having my experience. Sometimes that's about raising my children. Often it's about my other relationships with my family, husband, friends, and community. It's about writing and making art. It's about knitting and gardening. It's about managing groups and vegetables. It's about cooking and cleaning. My life and exploration is about my dreams, my goals, my desires, my struggle. My children's life is about theirs.

A simpler way to put this is that I get the feeling from the unschooling community that our job as parents is to be child-centered. That a child-centered approach is appropriate, righteous even. That doesn't sit well with me. I don't dig it. We are family-centered. I consider our family a collective. We work and live in collaboration, but we also promote space for autonomy. There's a lot of boundaries to hit in that. Each of us have our boundaries and each of our separate relationships with one another have boundaries. Our space has boundaries. We spend a huge portion of our lives negotiating those boundaries. It can get nasty. But so it goes.

If unschooling is about being in the world instead of having the world divided and categorized into streams of data, then a family life should reflect the goals we have for our larger world. Our family is a safe space where we support one another. Our family is also comprised of autonomous individuals whose desires and goals come into conflict. Being honest and authentic within those conflicts is paramount to helping our children navigate the larger world and the relationships they inhabit there.

Aleks, pissed at me for forcing him to pose for more photos


Rachel said...

Oh, Anna Kiss. You came back! I missed you so. damn. much. I just raced through those two long posts like someone who has been starved for food and is offered something too rich and delicious to even appreciate it, they just have to eat and eat and fill themselves up. And so then I had to go back and read them again, so I could savor them properly. I'm going to digest a little and come back for more tomorrow. But I hope there will be more and more. And more.

beedie said...

This is very germane to my recent parenting fail post. Yes.

pdxmama said...

Thank you so much for writing that! It feels so good to have another parent say it aloud. Here is to messy and authentic!

Tina said...

Thank you.

Tina said...

Thank you.