Sunday, May 5, 2019

Modeling Improper Mental Health Care

Imagine you're in a job you hate, doing things you don't care about, your boss is a jerk, and your days are over-scheduled and out of your hands entirely.  How would your mental health be?  Probably pretty crappy.  This very phenomenon, though still not considered a medical diagnosis, has symptoms and risks, and a treatment plan.  I give you Job burnout (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2019).

Job burnout symptoms

Ask yourself:
  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be experiencing job burnout. Consider talking to a doctor or a mental health provider because these symptoms can also be related to health conditions, such as depression.

Job burnout risk factors

You might be more likely to experience job burnout if:
  • You identify so strongly with work that you lack balance between your work life and your personal life
  • You have a high workload, including overtime work
  • You try to be everything to everyone
  • You work in a helping profession, such as health care
  • You feel you have little or no control over your work
  • Your job is monotonous

Consequences of job burnout

Ignored or unaddressed job burnout can have significant consequences, including:
  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness, anger or irritability
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Vulnerability to illnesses
If you experience job burnout some intervention can help, but sometimes the only answer is to leave the environment altogether (Valcour, 2018).  Job burnout is on the rise, with an estimated 44% of people reporting an unsafe level of burnout (Kraft, 2018).  Why are we all doing this to ourselves?  Why do our employers think it's OK to have these unreasonable expectations of us anyway?  Where did we hear these messages?  We feel trapped by financial need, social expectations, and the belief that work is supposed to be miserable.  That's our social model, and it starts very early in our lives. 

Think back to your own childhood and your own school experience.  Read these possible causes of job burnout and ask yourself if your experience with school felt this way. 

  • Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of the resources you need to do your work.
  • Unclear job expectations. If you're unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you're not likely to feel comfortable at work.
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Perhaps you work with an office bully, or you feel undermined by colleagues or your boss micromanages your work. This can contribute to job stress.
  • Extremes of activity. When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.
  • Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.
  • Work-life imbalance. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don't have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly. 

I felt every one of these, and what's worse, I never felt like telling any adult was an option for dealing with it, since every adult in my life was responsible for creating the environment in the first place.  I am still hearing new stories about my kids old schools that shock the hell out of me... drunk substitute teachers, physical abuse, entire class periods sitting in darkness and silence because someone spoke, hiding during lunch and recess to avoid people, spending entire days never saying a word to anyone.  They never told me when it happened.  Why?  Because it was something that was normal and acceptable in that environment.  Being told over and over again that you don't know what's best for yourself leads to some pretty intense feelings of inadequacy as an adult.  How can we advocate for ourselves if we were taught that others' expectations of us matter more than our own feelings and wants?  I don't think this is perpetrated intentionally to harm children, I just think we haven't truly considered why we do it this way and how it's affecting us because we've been doing it for so long.

Some people are fine with schooling and can thrive in that environment, but not all of us.  I think it's an incredibly dangerous practice that leads to continued mental health crises to force children into environments that are stressful to them because we think we know what's best.  Schools systems try to push the burden onto the child's home-life, but children aren't home nearly as much as they're at school.  This is not a sufficient solution.  They are still being subjected to the detrimental environment all day, every day... exactly like a job... oh and let's add homework too!  Our current compulsory school model doesn't fit into the recommendations for good mental health.

"Children need to have a good mental health status if they are going to live up to their full potential and truly live a life that is filled with positive experiences and the willingness to do what is best for themselves and the people around them.
There are a myriad of factors that can impact a child's mental health status, both positively and negatively. Providing children with an environment that demonstrates lovecompassiontrust, and understanding will greatly impact a child so that they can build on these stepping stones to have a productive lifestyle. Many children do not receive that type of lifestyle though. Some children have to deal with a childhood that is filled with angst, resentment, hatred, distrust, and constant negativity. " (
If school is not providing that type of environment, quit.  If children are in an environment that elicits feelings of stress or depression, what happens?  Are we telling them this is "just how it is" and teaching them to expect misery, expect that they will not be allowed to exercise autonomy or control over their own lives until they are 18?  Have we told them how they should feel rather than letting them tell us how they actually feel, and listening?  We model to them that they are never good at making decisions for themselves: deciding what is important for them to learn, to wear, to do with their free time, to watch, to say.  At no point do we grant children the opportunity to say no to schooling.  It is mandatory, expected, required... no matter how it makes them feel.  Our personal feelings become even less important in a group situation where everyone seems to be dealing.  After 13 years of this environment, no wonder we're such pros at dealing with abuse, even in the worst of circumstances.

Some mental health issues don't require interventions, but disruptions.  We may not need to add medications and therapy, but simply remove them from the stressful environment entirely.  Let them quit the job they hate and find something that they love.  Let's model better mental health in practice, not just in required assemblies about suicide and bullying.  Remember, our children aren't less-than-people, they're people and they deserve respect and consideration.  How would we advise a best friend who is miserable in a relationship or a job?  Why are children not worthy of the same levels or respect and consideration?  We must model the actions we want them to take! 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Mini Moments

Choosing unschooling has so many moments of uncertainty.  You begin to question your choices and actions, even when you see the improvements.  I had a few little moments with our 11yr old who I was most worried about taking the reins and being comfortable in this process.

1. I got 3 comments on different days from completely different people about how hilarious he is when he talks to other kids, and how inclusive and kind.  I have known this about my son, but his boldness has increased and he has the courage to speak to others and be himself far more often than he ever did before!  He knows his voice is valuable and he's using it again.

2. One of his friends spent the night.  In the morning they awoke really early on their own to walk our dog (he was very proud to showcase his independence).  His friend grabbed a flier for a home for sale on our street to bring to his parents.  They were making plans to figure out how he can also attend our "unschool" and they couldn't figure out the transportation so moving was the next possibility.  That means our boy went from reluctant unschooler to ambassador and recruiter of unschooling.  I know parents will want to tell me "well of course, any kid would love to stop going to school"... right, and why is this an acceptable thing to force kids to do for 8+ hours everyday.  Just because you're miserable at work doesn't mean it's necessary or OK.  Be brave.  Do less.

3. He has stopped insulting himself so much and comparing his abilities to his brothers.  I used to always hear him tell me how much he sucked at spelling, reading, writing, and art.  He will still throw that information out there, but now he accompanies it with "but I'm great at soccer".

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Benefits of Passive Communication

When it comes to teens and electronics, every parent seems to have a complaint about the time spent on it.  Well, lemme share with you some experiences that helped me realize the massive benefits for our relationships we tend to never talk about.

Our teenager has been going through the typical teen issues: trying to figure out what type of schedule is best for his health, how to balance his wants and needs, what to talk about with friends and how, who he really is, who he wants to be.  There are so many things that pop up in a teen's brain that they may want to talk about, but dealing with the inconvenience and discomfort of finding a time to sit down face-to-face with a parent or adult and speak openly about any of it seems insurmountable.  That's why we love texting, emailing, blogging, and other forms of passive communication.  Suddenly we have the opportunity to speak to each other at completely different times and the anxiety of having that awkward conversation can melt away (or at least be decreased a bit).  We don't even have to be in the same country to have a conversation now!  With that physical distance comes comfort. 

When I was a teenager the internet was dial-up and we all used chatrooms.  We couldn't even upload pictures yet.  It was liberating.  I flirted and opened up and used language I'd never use in person!  It was a place to experiment with communication and its consequences and I learned a lot.  I had a billion questions, but there was no google to answer any of them.  I never asked anything anyway.  I lived in fear that I had cancers and was going to hell for a billion different reasons.  I had massive anxiety, probably depression.  I felt trapped, alone, and terrified, but it never seemed that way to anyone else.

What I love about passive communication is that I can choose whether or not to be communicative.  If I'm not feeling like talking to a particular person, I can just not read their email/text yet.  I don't have to respond.  I don't have to go through the agony of trying to figure out what to emote or say.  I get crazy stressed when someone complains to me about someone else because I feel like I'm being asked to agree, or gossip, or mirror their emotions and sentiments towards that person.  I realize this is all in my own head and I'm not actually being asked to do any of those things.  I have my own issues with thinking I am disappointing everyone and not living up to expectations they have of me, so it triggers this downward spiral of self-loathing and anxiety about myself.  Phone calls... I won't answer them if they are from people I'm not comfortable with, which are usually people who seem to go out of their way to make me uncomfortable by trying to force me into social situations, or bringing up the same divisive topics over and over, or reacting negatively to any attempt I make at asserting my boundaries: "you're just stubborn" or "you'll change your mind later" or "you just don't understand me" or "you're overreacting".  Of course I never tell them and they may never know because they insist on only communicating with me in active ways that make me too uncomfortable to be honest with them.  It's a process.  I'm working on a great many things haha.  Suffice it to say - I really like that there's passive communication. 

My husband and I dealt with marital issues using only passive communication.  We had to build up to more active face-to-face communication with various topics.  As adults.  Because sometimes your physical reactions to an issue or a topic can be influenced by your deep fears, expectations and insecurities, and having the physical space to let those insecurities exist is just what the doctor ordered.  Sometimes using our actual voice is just not an option.  At first I only wrote to myself about some of my concerns!  We hand-wrote letters, moved to emails, then texting, and eventually were able to do phone calls... and finally face-to-face.  We still have times where we take advantage of the comfort and security of distance that passive communication provides.  We still slide into insecurity and fear and can't face each other.  We still have certain topics we can't even use literal language, but choose metaphors or text symbols.  And we're adults! 

So next time you're thinking about banning phone use, try texting your kid instead of yelling at them and see what comes out.  Remember that being a teenager sucks far more than being the parent of one.  Be the adult, have the patience, quit feeling sorry for yourself, and try to be there for this defensive and terrified coming-of-age human being.  What works best for me is admitting my own mistakes of the past and acknowledging that crappy time of my life, hugs, and inviting him to join us in adult conversations.

Friday, August 17, 2018

7 Drafts

As it stands right now I have 7 draft blog posts waiting in the queue.  I don't know if they'll ever be finished.  I didn't like the last post, and it was written months ago... but, I decided to let it live anyway.  I want to delete it.  It's passive aggressive and I don't like it.  I agree with the content, but I don't like it.  I have a really hard time allowing "imperfect ideas" to be broadcast.  I am constantly changing and growing, and writing has always been a place for me to reflect back and learn something about myself.  Generally speaking, it's not what I've done right, but what I've done wrong.  So, there are plenty of things I say that I don't feel I explained well or that I don't even agree with anymore.  They are these weird over-exaggerations or reactions to ideas that I haven't fully processed.  I get super nervous about sharing, no matter how favorable the reactions have been.

I have a hard time deciding whether or not to publish imperfection, even though I logically know that nothing will ever be perfect!  Here I am, trying to model "mistakes are normal" behavior, but I know I have a hard time acting on that truth in certain areas of my own life.  I say expressing personal boundaries is very important, but I routinely practice avoidance of expressing those boundaries.  I am especially unsure about intellectual and social boundaries.  I do not speak my mind like... ever... when I am in uncomfortable situations.  I want to model behavior to my kids that says "your opinions and wants are valuable", but I have a really hard time buying into that for myself.  Lately I have been doing a pretty awesome job at saying what is bothering me, and the response has never been the gigantic emotional outburst I feared.  But, I also have realized I am in some pretty emotionally abusive relationships and am unsure of where to go from here.  I have also had the displeasure of realizing I myself am guilty of being emotionally abusive and am working to repair those mindsets and behaviors.  I'm stuck not knowing whether my reactions are the result of creating healthy boundaries, or whether I am still operating out of fear.  I don't feel healthy enough to be honest in the moment, and I avoid people who would test me.  I find myself not understanding how I actually feel because I have no practice with it.  I have a lot of questions I cannot answer.  This of course all plays out in relationships with other people.  Communicating honestly and directly with others has never been my strong point.  But I'm working on it.

This has kept me from being able to maintain friendships.  My friendships that did last for any period of time tended to be with mentally-ill people and I focused on helping them or fixing them.  I could be honest with them because they were "more messed up than me" so it was safeBut, I still would justify not expressing my wants in those relationships as a means to help the other person.  I would spend all of my time with them, avoiding self-reflection, avoiding living my own life.  It's not helpful.  Those relationships were about avoiding my own self-analysis and self-discovery by focusing on someone else.  Those relationships were about being linked to someone who makes me feel superior and bolsters my self esteem a little.  Sometimes those relationships were about being more comfortable as a codependent and pushover rather than an equal partner.  I in no way regret those friendships and I love those people.  I learned a lot from those relationships, but I am ready for healthy friends now.  I'm ready to be a healthier friend now.

How do I know?  I have healthy friends!  I've been fostering new relationships with healthy people and it is completely new to me!  I remember when I first tried to reach out to people I actually admired I was filled with the dread of rejection.  No way am I worthy of this friendship!  It took me weeks of conversations before the voice in my head stopped telling me the person was only there because they "felt bad for me".  Now I see that's because my old friendships were mainly built on feigned guilt and a need to feel like the better person so I would have control in the relationship (like that ever really happens).  Any healthy friends I had in the past I never speak to... why would I?  They don't want to hear from me!  I don't know what a healthy friendship looks like because all I have to go off of are movies, TV, and trial and error.  I find myself asking questions that shouldn't be so difficult to answer.

Do I really feel this way or do I just think this is how I am supposed to feel?
Have I chosen this friend because I actually like them and benefit from this friendship, or do I feel an obligation to mirror their emotions about me?
Have I chosen this friend at all or am I being forced into a relationship?
Can I trust myself to know how I feel and stand up for myself with this person?
Do I want this relationship or am I allowing it out of guilt?

Where did this come from?  I've never seen my parents with friends.  Ever.  Only family members.  I've been shamed for spending time with friends or having friends in my life and I've heard my siblings get shamed for the same reason.  Discouraging outsiders is a way to control family dynamics, to keep things hidden, keep abuse alive, contain the shame of being abused.  There is a lot of substance abuse, compulsive behaviors, and depression in my family.  We don't feel like love and acceptance is a given and we don't trust one another with personal information, especially if it's "bad news" because we all can't stand complainers... just go freakin' do something about it!!  We suppress our inner victim and invalidate our pain so we've grown to hate seeing it in anyone else.  We were taught to suffer in silence.  Love is earned by acceptable behavior only.  This is the result of having an alcoholic in the house with PTSD and an enabler who made excuses for abuse by placing his issues above the health and safety of others.  Those broken children had children and raised us to hide things, to "get over it", not to expect anyone other than family to understand, to be ashamed if you're a victim of abuse.  Admitting to abuse embarrasses the family.  Contain the abuse.  Protect the abuser.  Take responsibility for causing the abuse and never expect any respect from them.  It's our job to understand and accept abuse, not to expect the abuser to take responsibility for healing.  No wonder we have a hard time.  We will stop talking to someone completely rather than have a fight.  When we finally do fight it's releasing years of repression, super explosive, and can effectively terminate the relationship.  Many of us have been working on trusting each other with our true selves and it's rebuilding our relationships.  Many of us have come to accept the fact that some relationships will never be healthy, and sharing DNA is not a good enough reason to feel guilty about that.

As I've come to take responsibility for my own emotions, and not the emotions of everyone else it's been a lot easier to listen to people when they're having a hard time and not take it personally.  I would have panic attacks if I felt like someone was about to express criticism, no matter if it was directed towards me or not.  That's no longer the case.  I used to hate being around healthy, secure people because it took so much work to appear normal.  Now I let my crazy out, listen when they tell me I'm reacting inappropriately, and let go of that burden of fulfilling the expectations of others that's usually driving my behavior.  I definitely still am a little crazy, but I see a lot of positive changes!  Now I'm dealing with my boundary issues and trying to get a hold of what I want and who I am.  I'm working on convincing myself that I deserve to be respected, and that rejection is not a given.  I'm working on accepting my own boundaries as acceptable and not as unfair burdens to place on others.  My "just deal with it" attitude is being replaced... slowly but surely.  I realized people with healthy boundaries have no problem listening to and respecting the boundaries of others.

The level of respect, freedom of choice, and autonomy we have granted our kids is allowing me to do the same for myself.  I recently listened to Pam Laricchia's podcast with Jessica Hughes and this experience between Jessica and her husband really resonated with me:

"We talked about our own childhoods because we have an inner child that was wounded. It’s healing through the unschooling journey and through the closeness we’ve had with our own children. It’s almost like mothering and fathering ourselves, to an extent, as well... "

Amen.  Starting unschooling really kicked the personal growth into high gear for me.  It's been wild.  I'm putting myself out into the community more as I accept that my words have value.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Confusing Correlation with Causation

I am tired of the articles shaming kids for being all into their cell phones and gaming, and shaming their parents for not controlling them better.  They log the time spent on phones in school, and then point to it as a cause instead of a symptom.  Maybe kids are on their phones and in games because we've increasingly tightened our collective grip on all their decision making and sociability.  We've taken all their free time.  We force them to do what we say... all damn day and night.  Children are to be controlled.  Newsflash: that's abuse.  How do victims of emotional abuse react to their abusers

"While staying in an abusive relationship the victim uses coping strategies.  These coping strategies tend to be self-protective in nature; they include denial, minimization, addictions, arguing, defensiveness, rationalization, compliance, detachment, and dissociation."

"The relationship will end up being a system, where the abuser does whatever the hell he or she wants and the victims become programmed to cope with it in some way.  Victims may comply, “numb out,” take anti-depressants, live in a detached state of being, pretend that everything’s fine, etc. "

Sounds like school-aged kids to me.  Stop focusing on the device and look at the ONE COMMONALITY all these kids have.  School.  Same goes for school shootings.  It's not the presence of guns.  We've had the 2nd amendment since the constitution was written so I highly doubt it's suddenly becoming a problem because of a legal issue.  We've had schooling for a long time... what has changed?  What has actually changed?  I think it's our values and schedules.  It's our lack of mental health awareness and self-care.  It's our institutions that promote depression and abuse and prime us to expect misery.

I can read through this list and spot many times I felt like school was guilty of being emotionally abusive towards myself (when I was younger) and towards my kids.  Then of course there's this little chestnut:

"19. Treats you like a child and tries to control you.
Your abuser doesn't see you as an equal partner. He or she views you as a child who needs to be managed and controlled.
You aren't as smart, wise, or competent as your abuser, so he or she thinks it is necessary to manage all of the decisions and rules in the household."
My question is this: at what point are our children NOT to be managed or controlled?  Why is control and management of young people the expected practice, rather than guidance and connection?  When do we stop being our parent's problem and have personal responsibility for ourselves?  Are we as a society allowing kids to slowly come to this adult stage, letting them learn the lessons they need to become adults?  What tools/strategies should kids learn to become successful adults?  Is their schooling a part of this process?

I just ask you all to check in with your child and make sure school is a place they want to be.  If they are not feeling respected or engaged, valuable, or feel what they're doing is going to benefit them later on... please consider other options.  There are many schools out there not guilty of this at all!  Many wonderful teachers and amazing places who value children and foster real learning (and some of them are indeed public schools).  I'm not against all schooling.  I'm against schooling as a means to control and indoctrinate children.  I'm against detachment from the process itself.  School is not the only option and no one should feel trapped by lack of choices, whether parent or child.  Misery should not be "just the way it is".  If schooling is helping guide a child into adulthood by giving them opportunities to learn valuable skills like negotiating social situations, dealing with emotions, critical thinking, self-reliance... I'm all for a school that cares about whole child development.  Check in and make sure your child is being helped by school, not harmed.

Thursday, June 14, 2018


Brennan's 8th birthday interview
We really didn't want more pets, but honestly, I think letting Brennan get a parakeet was one of the best parenting decision we've ever made.  Letting him get a 2nd one was another great decision.  The third one... well she's kind of a jerk, but we love her anyway.  And the 4th one helped them all simmer down a little.  4 is where we draw the line! hahaha
No more fighting parakeets
This kid literally cries with happiness when he holds his birds.  He tells me all about how each one makes him feel different energies, and how they comfort him.  He cried when we were away for the weekend because he missed Bubbles.  Then he got Kiwi to keep her company, and she's a completely different personality.
Coco is very anti-social, but he always tells me he never once thought of giving her back.  Even though she bites really hard and is afraid of people "she bonded to the other birds and she'd be too sad... it's not her fault she got traumatized by being caught in a net".  She has mellowed out a ton since we got the new cage and a 4th bird.
This parakeet adopted Brennan. Its name is Cyan (pronounced ki-ann)
Cyan (he says it's pronounced Ki-Ann) walked up to him in the pet store so she technically adopted Brennan.  He has learned a lot from being a budgie owner over this past year.  He also builds  interesting play areas for them.
Brennan's parakeets Brennan's bird cage
Brennan is thoroughly enjoying the differences between his budgies, how they feel, how they make him feel, how they interact with each other.  He is being their parent, which carries with it the added bonus of a sneak preview into the type of Dad he's going to be (should he choose that path).  I'd also like to think some of what he does is emulating his own parents.  If that's the case we rock at this!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

First Year Reflections

I started writing this a long time ago, but am only just now finishing it up...

One of the most difficult undertakings for all people, is that of critical self analysis.  As April approaches and we near our first official meeting with the school board to justify our learning philosophy, I'm both excited and terrified.  I still struggle very much with my own feelings of self-doubt, especially as it relates to my intellectual abilities, but I'm getting a little better every day.  This year has been an amazing experience for all of us, trying at times, but overall very beneficial for our little family.  So what are my perceptions on what were the highlights?

Mental Health:  We now have 3 happy kids who feel confident, loved, valuable, and respected as people with their own agency.  Before we began this process we had one very depressed child, one incredibly angry child, and one overwhelmed and confused child.  What I've realized is that traditional schooling was inhibiting their ability to form personal boundaries: physical, intellectual, social, and emotional boundaries were being drawn for them or worse, they were forming boundaries and having them completely disrespected or crossed in the name of "that's just how it is".  Well, that doesn't mean it's right.

I was so sure the portfolio review process was going to be awful.  I had convinced myself the whole education system was against me and was going to interrogate me under a critical spotlight.  My own insecurities activated that saboteur side of me that was going to basically show up as a suicide bomber and destroy myself and everything around me.  Thankfully, I spoke to reasonable and knowledgeable people ahead of time to calm myself down and just get ready like a normal person.  If you're wondering how to do a review as an unschooling family, here's what I did.

I went back and looked at my photos, and made an album specifically for all our field trips accompanied by a printed out list of them and what subjects(s) they were focused on.  I did a write-up for all three of the boys in each subject of what they have been up to during this time and how they have shown their learning in each area.  I also made a watch list of what they have all seen and what subject(s) were covered and a little write-up of what we learned from each.

Next review I am going to bring more examples of writing or art (if they actually have done any) and bring a reading list of the books they have looked into.

The reviewers were so kind and accepting of alternative ideas.  They didn't judge me at all.  They wanted the assessment to go well and for everything to be approved.  They were incredibly helpful and positive.  I will not be nervous again for sure.  I'm annoyed with myself that I go to that place of expecting criticism when I'm feeling vulnerable.  However, I know I'm not alone!  It's just how humans are.  Getting to know ourselves is paramount to being able to work within our limits.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


I haven't posted in forever. This first "semester" of unschooling has been quite a learning experience. I didn't realize it would be the parents, not the kids, who had the most difficulty deschooling!

I have to laugh at my previous post.  Those charts didn't even last a day, and they definitely weren't for the kids. Those charts were for my own comfort. The anxiety about having to DO SOMETHING or I'm somehow neglecting the kids was really pervasive and insistent.  The reactions and concerns from others influenced our comfort level.  We parents had some heated debates... and fights.

Eventually something changed. We were able to look back and see how much happier we ALL are because of this. Most of the reactions I get from people when I tell them we're self directed learners, is "my kids would drive me crazy".  If your goal is support instead of control, it's pretty easy actually.  It's so much easier than school!  We had spent our entire lives trying to live in the approved societal time slot 9 to 6 on weekdays and weekends.  That's just not enough life for me.  I don't want to wait until I'm retired to live.  As we are deschooling (because I'm not sure it ever really finishes) I find myself asking questions.

I found a lot of interesting patterns in the information I was seeking.  The ideas of  "obedience" and "compliance" are pushed really hard onto children (and onto their mothers), but are not considered beneficial to mental health.  Personal boundaries are definitely important to mental health!!  However, having someone else set your personal boundaries, or not allow you any input whatsoever about your own comfort, is the definition of an abusive relationship.

Picture a successful adult.  Are they mindlessly droning on and following orders?  Hell no!  So, why are we pushing this on our children?  Do we expect to raise them to be compliant and then they'll magically become independent, confident, and creative?  There's a huge difference between moral and obedient.  Obedient children are more likely to be targeted for molestation because they are taught to never question adults, to keep their voices down, and never say NO to a grown-up.  Why do you think predators flock to religious organizations to find their victims?  Compliant, obedient, defeated people are easy targets.  We are hurting our children by projecting our own fears onto them.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Building Achievers - Part of How I Came to Embrace SDE

Five years ago I was struggling with some pretty severe depression so I entered therapy.  I was introduced to a character strengths test that was developed by Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, and used the results to begin my arduous road to recovery and self-discovery.  I shifted my focus and continued to grow and change... still am.  So what does this have to do with unschooling?  I'm currently reading the book Flourish by Seligman, who is one of the founders of positive psychology and well-being theory.  This book is taking me forever to read because I can't stop taking notes, pausing to think, and looking up additional information.  Here's a nice tidbit taken from page 80:

He outlines a formula for achievement and goes into great detail about how his team has defined each element, and how anyone can build the strengths needed to achieve.  Grit (perseverance), patience, and resilience are huge factors in achievement and in well-being.  As a parent, I feel it's my responsibility to encourage my kids to build these strengths, to recognize their own personal strengths, and to find any number of ways to use those strengths to achieve.  I think developing these strengths will help them as adults far more than learning typical school subjects.  I definitely find value in facts and knowledge, but I don't think so much emphasis should be placed on these subjects anymore.

Consider the rise in school shootings, intense bullying, drug usage, and child suicides.  It's obviously time for a shift in goals and priorities... ACTIVELY, not passively.  It's not enough for us to say words like "family values" but expect people to work 10+ hour days, not treat children with respect, put money on a pedestal, serve your job first, buy all the right things, and expect misery as a part of working adult life.  What are our actual goals?  Are we actively pursuing them in ways that are proven effective?  There are 2 ways to change behavior: incentivize change or de-incentivize the behavior.  Our school system is all about de-incentivizing (punishments), which don't effectively target the behavior and foster more negativity in the environment.  Punishment creates incentive to avoid the punisher, not the behavior.  It encourages lying and secrecy.  Look at any moment in history (or even the present) - illegal behaviors are surrounded by violence and shrouded in secrecy, and illegalization doesn't decrease their use/abuse.  If we expect punishment to work, why do we teach at all?  Why not just keep punishing someone until they learn to read or do better in math... because we know that's insane and it would never work.  We are making things worse.  The more you were repressed as a child, the more likely you are to take it out on your kids and hide behind the labels "discipline" or "punishment" to justify violence.  I know because I did it.

We used punishment with our first son and we're still trying to mend our relationship with him at 13.  He was so miserable in school, and we never knew until he couldn't hold in the pain anymore and broke down in front of us.  He doesn't trust us and he's gotten very good about lying or joking his way out of a tense situation.  He never chooses to talk to us about difficult topics.  Punishment has broken our relationship and it never worked to change his behavior.  He still never did homework no matter how long he was grounded.  Punishment made him feel unaccepted by everyone in his life... isolation lead to depression.  Now we're working on figuring out his motivations so he can help himself change his own behavior (if he even wants to), and it will last beyond his time around his parents.  Hopefully we can reestablish communication with him by fostering an environment of love and acceptance that will allow him to openly come to us with issues.

I'm not a parent who doesn't believe in consequences or discipline, but punishment is not an effective tool for changing behavior.  It's been tested many times, and it doesn't work.  Why do we still use this?  I desire a learning environment that is open and inviting, and encourages children to explore their interests and consider their own motivations, beliefs, and values.  Our school system didn't offer that kind of environment for the grades our children are in, it was more about punishment and control being the answer to these problems.  Worse, the school system makes rules that assume children will be bad and therefore need to be controlled: dress codes, 0 touching policies, 0 talking in lunchrooms, enrollment in classes without student input.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Friday, September 1, 2017

Scheduling Routines to Make Room for Creative Chaos

Did you ever notice how everything seems to function on a bell curve?  Instinctively we know this to be true, which is why we have sayings like "too much of a good thing is bad".  I believe there is a point at which every relationship within a system hits its capacity for positive increase and begins falling (which sounds an awful lot like Newton's 3rd Law of Motion).  We have bell curve models for household income and happiness, class size and student achievement, and number of choices and satisfaction (to name a few).  Overarching message is: applying limits to the infinite is the only way we create any definition (and there's Newton's 1st Law of Motion).  Physics, y'all.  There are universal laws of energy and structure AND entropy and chaos all around us.  I'm going to try really hard now not to diverge off-topic into all the other realms where I see this playing out!  It's painful.  My brain really wants to share.  Find me later and we'll talk.  Ahemmm.

Free Bell Curve Vector

Freedom to choose is great, but only to a point.  Having every single option in the world available to us actually creates an intense pressure to "choose correctly" and overwhelms us with anxiety over perceived expectations.  To mitigate the anxiety of endless choice unschooling offers, I felt there should be at least some scheduling, limits, and expectations.  Expectations provide comfort in the chaos.  I came up with some ideas to relieve us in the places we were feeling anxiety.

What do we learn?  When?  How?  I chose 9 possibilities for the kids.  Why?  Because 8 is the number of subjects on which the State wants to do portfolio checks, but 9 fits nicely in a 3x3 table and it's a perfect square: science, mathematics, art, music, health, physical education, writing, and reading.  The kids have experience with all these "subjects" so it's a nice comfortable middle ground to begin the de-schooling process.  Already they're finding their own lessons that incorporate more than one subject (because that's exactly how the world functions) and they're excited about the connections.  I made them each a chart and laminated it so they can use it as a checklist.  I also gave them daily limits I felt were necessary for the well-being aspects of our goals: 1hr of alone time, 1hr of physical exercise, 1hr of unplugged time, and chores.  They can combine whatever they want, however they want or not at all... including their "subject" learning.  Daily, weekly?... not important.  They have all chosen different ways to check their subjects off the chart.  They have goals, but they still feel free to choose, and they're learning how to find those connections between subjects.

What if I can't think of anything to do?  If they run out of ideas, we have idea jars with vocabulary words and people known in those fields of study that they can research.  There are also lists of pre-approved websites where they can find theme-appropriate materials and idea lists: watch a show or documentary, read a book or article, play a game, build something, design something etc.  We're still working on them so no photos yet.

How do we get the ball rolling?  There was also the problem of introducing new information as a catalyst for learning.  At first I assumed it would present itself through everyday life, and while that is often times true, it also helps to try new things.  I know college has fueled many of my own follow-on research.  Field Trip Friday was born!  The kids are on the schedule and know what day they each get to choose and plan a field trip for all of us.  We get to enjoy each others interests and learn new things, and the pre-planning relieved a lot of anxiety in me about where to go and when.

Who's in charge of food?!  Tuesdays and Thursdays are my school days so the kids were concerned about lunches.  It's funny because while they were going to school I never made their lunches, but now that the option for hot food is there everything has changed.  So, we have planned lunches chosen from a small selection of meals I know they can handle.  They take their 10 options and place them however they'd like in the calendar... or just randomly choose one for the day.  The first official week has been great!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Summer is Ending

With every new "1st day of school" photo in my newsfeed, I'm admittedly more nervous about unschooling.  I'm also really excited about my own schooling starting back up.  This is going to be an interesting adventure for us all.  Rather than focusing on my doubt and discomfort, I'm going to remind myself that we are capable and resourceful.

Here's just a few of the resources I've found over the summer that we might be giving a try.  Most of them are science... because I love science.  There's a broad smattering of everything else, including Minecraft and Legos!

The most creative community for kids in the galaxy. Use DIY to learn new skills and keep a portfolio.      MEL Science       advanced learning developed by Stanford University – Discover the premier online resource for helping students unleash their inner genius!      

Great for ages 8 and up. Skills you can't get in school. Minecraft, Illustration, Animation, Engineering, Cooking. Learn what you love and love what you learn.               Steve Spangler Science        My dashboard - School Yourself

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Fear of Losing Control

I can tell there has been a parenting shift in our house because the kids are so different!  They still ask permission for everything (because I am still the parent), but their requests have gotten more bold and interesting.  Not only that, but they do these things without hesitation or trepidation when I say yes.  Tristan's self confidence level has risen enough that he will not only try something new, but he'll do it without supervision!  This is a remarkable shift for him especially.

"Mom can I make a scented hand sanitizer from herbs outside?" -B
"Mom can we buy lemons so I can make lemonade for everyone?" -T
"Mom can we go on a jog through the neighborhood in the morning?  It just feels right." -T
"Mom can I make a cake?" -B
"Mom can we make a video of how many rubber bands it would take to break a lemon?" -T
"Mom have you ever been obsessed with something and you just couldn't stop until you beat it?" -N
"Mom can I have a YouTube channel?" -N

The most difficult task has been to let the obsessions happen.  I really really want to kick Noah off of his games, but why?  If he was building with Legos instead of Minecraft would I feel the same?  No... because I would see him and what he is doing, and because Legos don't have a negative connotation in society.  Minecraft is social at least.  When I let him be, he takes breaks.  In fact, he spent an entire day off of the games without it being Saturday because he had run out of achievements to earn and it had become boring to him.  He's about to be 13, and I remember everything about all those teenage years.  None of it centered around my family.  I remember watching my older sister go through it and she was the same, all about friends, and that's when I got very close to my younger brother.  This is a natural part of the process of growing up.

Teen-hood is the time we begin exploring beyond our family unit and into the realm of how do I want to interact with the world outside.  I remember the freedom I had!  What a gift!  All I did all summer long was call my friends and take off on my bike... no cell phone required.  Come home when the street lights come on.  We were all over the place, meeting up with other kids from the neighborhood.  I couldn't tell you what most of their parents looked like.  We were far from home and unafraid, and we rarely spoke to an adult.  We came home when we were starving and couldn't take it anymore.  I learned a lot of valuable lessons about interaction, emotions, what motivates people, and communication.  I screwed up a bunch of times and I had to fix it myself or move on.  I stayed up all night long in chatrooms and on fake worlds where I felt liberated by people liking me for my personality, not my appearance.  I was empowered by the lack of physical threat if I flirted and didn't follow through.  When Josh was 13 he had his own business mowing lawns complete with employees, self-bought equipment, regular clients, and he used all his profits for video games and Legos.  He was driving and dating very early and juggling full schedules of work and play.  We both joined the military young and got married really early because we were lucky to have parents who let us grow up.  Technology is how they meet up now, and it's not necessarily better or worse.  It's where we are as a society.  Maybe this generation will be the ones who finally are OK with everyone working from home.  No more traffic or commutes or set working hours.  No more buildings to maintain... food for thought.

When I look back at those memories they help me re-gain perspective and re-dedicate myself to the self-directed cause.  We do not need to control our children.  They will be safe and fine.  They can be trusted not to be total jerks or wildly dangerous.  They can be trusted not to jump into a paneled pervy van or play with a loaded gun.  They just want to go be kids and play at being adults.  They will play all the dumb games we did like Truth or Dare, Spin the Bottle, 7 Minutes in Heaven, sneak peeks at nudie pictures and each other, and have ridiculous secret conversations about sex... because exploring that aspect of ourselves requires outside motivation to overcome the fear.  We don't have to catch them or prevent them.  We don't have to outsmart them (we already know).  We protect and we guide.  The hardest part about being a parent for me is allowing mistakes to happen so they can learn about the process of fixing it and moving on... resiliency doesn't come from discussions, it comes from experience.

They cannot learn to fly if they never leave the nest.  Teenagers are those fledgling birds hopping around on the ground, finding places to hide and wait until Mom comes around to feed them once in awhile.