Confessions – Our Unschooling Journey – Part 3

in #parenting5 years ago


One day I woke up and realized I’d been doing almost everything “parenty” all wrong. Okay, so it didn’t happen all at once like that but indulge me in a bit of creative license.

Once things have turned around and are going so well, it’s easy to tell people stories like the one I shared in Part 2 about my 17-year-old son’s unprompted and sincere apology for being short with me the other day. To someone still trying to find the magic formula for perfect parenting (full disclosure: I don't have it), I worry that I sound like I’ve had it all together for so long and the environment in our house is some unattainable bliss. I know when I was starting to examine Peaceful Parenting and Radical Unschooling, that’s how I felt. I spent a lot of time thinking things like, “What the hell do you mean ‘Stop struggling?!’ How the hell am I supposed to get them to brush their teeth when they don’t want to AND stop struggling?!”

Pictured: A Fairy Tale come to life. Not Pictured: Our family life

So today I want to share some uncomfortable truths about where my family was before I stopped struggling and started – well – just loving my family. I’m going to share these things because people like me need to know there is a better way, a happier way. I don’t want anyone who is still struggling to read me gushing about my wonderful kids/hubby and assume that we started in an easy place and that they can’t get to where we are.

The last funny gif. Because none of what I have to say after this is funny.

I’m going to resist the urge to explain the awful logic that led to each of these mistakes. I have a lot to confess and if I also explain this post will be even longer and more agonizing than it already is. Everything on the list to follow has a story that could be a post on its own, and at some point they likely will be.

1. I spanked my sons with a spatula when they were little.

Whew! I’m just throwing that one out there to get it over with and I have to say, it hurts. Just like spanking advocates advise, I did it calmly while explaining that I loved them but they needed to understand that bad choices have bad consequences. I am literally nauseous and my eyes are filling with tears just writing this.

I lied. I've decided I need the levity.

2. I cared a lot what other people thought of my parenting.

Back then I thought it was “what they thought of my kids” but really it was about me. I wanted people around me to see that I could take toddlers through the toy store who didn’t throw fits; who knew better than to throw fits. If they did anything at all that might have earned a dour look from the old lady at the checkout, I made sure to discipline them loudly for all to hear. I was terrified of being seen as a bad mother with out of control kids and I allowed my concern for what those people thought of my parenting to have a greater impact on my behavior than what I wanted my relationship with my children to be.

Pictured: Me, every time someone said, "Your children are so well-behaved!"

3. I was an intellectual toy snob.

I’ll never forget the first Christmas my now-husband spent with us. We had married in November so we could be settled as a family unit in time for the holidays. As we shopped for gifts for our 3 and 6 year old boys I stuck to the V-Tech and learning sections. Suddenly, Micah came around the corner of the aisle in a Darth Vader mask with a voice changer and growled, “Can we please buy just one fun thing?!” I was reluctant. We didn’t have much to spend and I wanted the kids to be always learning. Back then I thought that only meant reading the “right” books and “making math fun.” I shudder to think what our home would be like without the relaxing influence of my darling hubby.

He's always been this kind of dad, while I was the "You're going to let the water out!" kind of mom

4. I thought if the kids didn’t have it “as bad” as I did, I was succeeding as a mother.

This one really baffles me, because my mom had it much worse than I did. Some of the things done to her would cause nightmares. But in the aftermath of a fight with her that was devastating to me, she would sometimes say bitterly, “You don’t have it so bad. You should have had my mother.” And I would just seethe with the injustice of that remark. I would think, “Being better than a woman like her doesn’t make you a good mother.” How is it that I was able to adopt the same bullshit justification that so enraged me as a child?

My morning mirror motivational line

5. I vocally detested the things they loved.

I’m a reader. I love books and I totally bought into the idea that books are somehow superior to other things like video games, movies, or TV shows. I used to limit the kids to an hour or two on the computer each day. Then I had a scheme where they could have “electronics” like computer or TV for as long as they spent outside because I also believed the outside was superior to the inside. I’d tell them to go outside, get off the computers, and they’d always need to get to a save point and it would take longer and longer and they’d be whining and crying about having to do anything other than the game and half the time I’d totally lose my shit and be yelling about how I would throw every fucking game and computer in the fucking garbage if they didn’t get off NOW!

Strangely, this attitude did not make them crave more time outdoors

6. By the time I found Radical Unschooling, my sons were 9 and 11 and neither of them wanted anything to do with us.

They fought with one another constantly: brutal physical altercations that would sometimes end with the younger being choked or the older being bitten until he bruised. Hubby and I had a four-year-old daughter by then and she seemed to be the only one in the house they liked, but they fought with each other over her attention as well. The younger, now a middle-child, became so unhappy that I seriously considered therapy. I would hear him crying in his room but he wouldn’t share with me what was wrong. I was afraid he would try to hurt himself, but also afraid to stigmatize him in his own eyes by taking him to someone. My eldest was so self-contained it was disturbing. I spent a night sleeping outside his bedroom door after he threatened to run away, terrified he may have found someone online to help him “escape.”

It was probably 3 months into that final stage of misery that I found and immediately embraced Radical Unschooling. I had already abandoned any kind of physical “discipline” years before, but my need to control hadn’t gone away. I genuinely believed that controlling children was the bare minimum of parenting.

Hmmmm. That moment when Severus Snape agrees with you...

This was the first group of people I had ever encountered who claimed control was not necessary. They claimed to have happy, helpful, generous, kind, well-behaved children without rules, without artificial limits, and without a system of reward or punishment. I guess there’s one more confession to make:

I didn’t actually believe it was true. I didn’t believe that kids would learn without teaching or that they would become respectful without rules delineating what respect is and consequences for not following them. But I think deep down I knew that it was the constant tethering of their spirits that made them angry and bitter toward us. I showed hubby what I’d found and we decided to give it 6 months. For 6 months we would loosen our grasp and see what happened. At the time my greatest fear was not that they wouldn’t make it into a good college or have a great, lucrative career; my greatest fear was far more immediate: Suicide.

From the time he was a baby, my now-15-year-old has had this incredibly infectious laugh. He would erupt with complete abandon and you would just have to laugh right along with him no matter what. For a span of months that laughter was gone but it’s been back for years and I never, ever get tired of hearing it. I also never forget how close I may have come to losing it forever and how lucky we all were that we made the decision to change our family dynamic so drastically.

Yes, yes it was.

Well this has been a brutally honest post to write and brutally long for you to read, I’m sure. If you’ve stuck around this long I thank you and invite your comment. I hope you will follow so we don’t end our time on such a low note. In my next post I’ll address the small, incremental changes as well as the big decisions we made that allowed this story to end so much more happily than I would have believed 6 years ago was possible. Today all three kids are happy, bright, inquisitive, well-rounded, well educated for their ages, polite, generous, and demonstratively loving. At 10, 15, and 17 they spend time with us voluntarily and share with us things they’ve learned, games they’ve played, and goals they’ve achieved. I’d love to share with you how we got there in spite of the confessions above. If there's anyone else you think might enjoy our journey, please resteem.


Beautifully written. Parenting is a non-stop learning process. Just when u think u know, u don't. Every child is different and challenging, to say the least.

Thank you. I absolutely agree that parenting is a learning process. The sad part is, I spent a lot of time reading books on parenting, but all of them advocated a control-based model. I am really happy to see a more widespread acceptance of the idea that it doesn't have to be that way.

Amazing story. You convey your point so well. To me, this is a thousand dollar post. You can affect parents and future parents in such a positive way.

Control is most definitely an illusion. For many of us we "think" we're in control, but we're not. There is a bigger and better plan waiting for us when we learn to just be and let go.

Your children will look back and know what an amazing woman you are for putting aside your ego and following your heart. I've made mistakes, too. Then learned that my need to make sure that my kids turn out to be happy, productive, successful adults was my ego having a stronghold on me. When I listened to my heart and realized that there was no way I wanted my kids to remember me as a controlling bitch, everything changed. Everything. And it was all for the better.

Thank you for being so candid and for truly making this world a better place.
I will be off line for a week starting tomorrow but will look for your posts when I return.

You're very kind and I can't say how wonderful it is to have connected with you here! Enjoy your down time, it will give me a chance to catch up on reading your past posts :)

Thank you so much!

This is EXCELLENT. Yes, I read it all.

I'm going to resteem it for you, because you need a heck of a lot more exposure than it received.

Thank you so much! I really wanted to be open about the bad times and I hope many people who need to will see it. I think Facebook has encouraged us to present a very sanitized view of our lives. Someone who read my post about my son apologizing had made a comment that got me thinking how important it is for people still afraid like I was, to know that it isn't just the magazine cover mom who can have a successful relationship with her children. Even one who's messed up a lot can start right now making better choices. But that's for the next post, lol!

Love to read this. I have eight of my own kids, and I teach homeschool co-ops and at a charter school almost totally populated by homeschool and unschool kids. I learned so many of these things myself, and I did all of them wrong. All of them, and hundreds more. Kudos to you for seeing this, and learning from it. Following for sure.

Thank you, it's great to hear from others who have learned from mistakes. Being able to share that with others so they can learn to avoid them is a blessing I think too many parents are loathe to bestow ;)

But 8 of your own and teaching too? You are truly in the thick of it. Just think what an amazing impact your children will have when they've grown up with so much love and acceptance and are able to bring that into the world around them. How peace and kindness can spread exponentially through the simple act of being better parents. With 8 and a teaching gig, you're practically saving the world all on your own ;)

Okay, THAT'S too much praise, but I do hope they'll be bringing peace and light into the world in their own unique ways. We have far too much of the other kind of vibe. Glad to have met you. I'll be around.

Wow! Très beau témoignage! Merci de le partager avec nous. Je comprends très bien ce dont vous parlez, ma famille et moi sommes dans cette aventure aussi et nous apprennons chaque jour à lâcher prise et être nous-même.

Wow! Very good testimony! Thank you for sharing it with us. I understand very well what you are talking about, my family and I are on this adventure as well and we learn every day to let go and be ourselves.

Merci beaucoup. Je parle seulement un peu de francais, mais c'est fantastique pour avez la chance ecriver avec un person qui parle francais fluement. Je suis desole si j'ecrit avec grammaire pauvre. So I'll switch to English and say I'm so happy to hear you are also on this adventure. Letting go is such a big step: letting go of the fear that if you don't mold the kids they'll just be beasts, lol.

Me too. Took me 14 years of apologizing for spanking my boy before i got some peace. I was the only one in his life who protected him, but then he acted out, trying to vent all of the bad things that had been done to him, i saw it as disobedience and beleived that if i didnt spank him he would somehow become a criminal. I know it makes no sense. Its what fear and stupidity did for me.

Very few of us were taught or really even allowed to make thinking for ourselves a habit. School and traditional parenting are all about compliance and obedience so I understand feeling badly - I certainly do - but to some extent it's only to be expected considering the years we are conditioned to just carry on the same old way.

Am seeing a lot of, "I wish I would have known this when my kids were young..." thats a sign there is a market, a need for the info you are presenting. You should throw up a website...let new parents read your writing...maybe do a audible audiobook! Its easy. I can help you get started!

I don't know that I have the time right now. Just started a new job and it's been hard to even get these up here, but maybe in the future.

Great post, wish I'd heard of it when my kids were young, will copy it out for future use- maybe there is a God, and maybe I will have grandchildren. This post also makes me wonder if there is an analogy to government being foisted on us by the academic controlling types, and if most of us can't just do very well without it.

I hope it will help someone. I do think that the acceptance that we "need" someone to be in an authoritative position over us is probably largely due to the way we are raised.

I really like this post. As a dad of two girls, one bio and one step child, each coming with some some hairy history with the other bio parent, I feel like I am only learning new ways to fail. No one has written the owner's manual though. The best we can do is share with other parents so we can all fail better and sometimes even suceed!

I'm glad you found it 😊
Steps can be hard I think. My hubby is step to our boys but he's their father in every important way. I think eschewing the notion of control is even more beneficial with steps because it erases the possibility of that "You're not my real parent" antagonism. I hope you stick around for upcoming posts on the actual nuts and bolts changes we made that have led to a far more peaceful and joyous family unit. Best of luck to you and yours 😊

Yes I am looking forward to more posts. Mine are still young so we've got a lot of new adventures ahead!

Great post. Im not a parent yet and the idea of being a parent absolutely terrifies me. I know parents always say that you learn as you go(?). But it just seems so daunting. I like that you highlighted the control thing in particular. As adults we hate when people try to control us, so of course children would resent it as well. I think the most important traits of treating others well and being good people can be taught without beating ones child over the head(figuratively) over every thing they do. However, it seems like a skill in an of itself to convey this to them without hurting their spirits.

Thank you! Parents say a lot of platitudinous things that aren't really helpful lol. I mean, sure you learn but preferably before putting your kids through the kind of torment mine went through early on. It's definitely better to be prepared ;) I think the fact that you don't have children but are reading about them says great things about the kind of parent you'd be. You're way ahead of the curve already :D

"However, it seems like a skill in an of itself to convey this to them without hurting their spirits"

I think if you become a parent you will be pleasantly surprised at how many of the best traits our children learn simply by example.

Thanks for your confidence! Im afraid it will be a case of theory versus practice! Poor kids, I hear the oldest kid always has it the hardest as they are the "guinea pig" to their parents inexperience.

Wow, that was different. I have got a lot of solutions and comments about what you went through (as I am an expert parent), but here is the short version.

I am so happy that you have actually given thought to parenting beyond the social, religious, scientific, and new age garbage that is out there. The art of being a parent starts with a heart that cares.

I mean, you had a part in creating life. You might as well get go beyond the procreation stage and get engaged in fulfilling the ultimate calling of parenthood: passing on wisdom to your children.

You've got to have some yourself of course!

Nice post. I'd like to start a series on parenting.

"I mean, you had a part in creating life. You might as well get go beyond the procreation stage and get engaged in fulfilling the ultimate calling of parenthood: passing on wisdom to your children."

Thank you, that's a great point, I like it!


The modern trend is to pass on foolishness. I figured somebody's got to try something a little different!

Thanks for your honesty, and I'm so glad your family is happy and healthy now. I must have been inconsistent, or bipolar, or something, because from the firstborn to the third, I was not one to enforce rules, impose artificial limits, or use a system of reward or punishment. Clean up your own mess because it's the logical (or "right") thing to do, not because you'll be rewarded if you do what you should, or punished if you don't. So, they didn't pick up their messes or help with dishes, and I didn't issue consequences. I allowed them so much freedom - such a long leash - and to this day I look back and wonder if I shouldn't have run a tight ship and cracked down on this, that, and the other.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world. Most days, I'd rather have a root canal. without novocaine. Than hear the stressing out of daughters.
My mom had five girls, all a year apart in age. We were practically feral. She managed to instill some social skills and manners, but run a tight ship? I never learned that. And I've often wished I had.
May your three continue to thrive and be the kind, generous souls they are!

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