We weren’t scared

Note: Thank you everyone for the amazing comments on Katie’s guest post! I am thrilled, reading them. I’m also kind of proud, because you guys are here, on my blog, being awesome and smart and eloquent. I know I can’t take a huge amount of credit, but I am pretty tempted… :) I want to write a response to the guest post, too, and to the question “what about everyone else?” But I’m running all over the country for three weeks, since Bear’s new job doesn’t start until the beginning of June, and we are trying to see all of the relatives we’ve missed, and some of the places we fantasize about. So that’s my excuse. I’ll do it when I get a chance. But for now, here’s a post I wrote while waiting for a delayed flight in the Columbus airport:

(view from the airport window)

No offense, Mom, but in a lot of ways, we were better homeschoolers than you. I know why. It’s because we weren’t scared.

As a kid, you aren’t scared of messing up all the time. At least, I wasn’t. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about how I might not be acceptable, or I might fail, or I might not be as good as other kids at things. I knew I was awesome, and I had big goals, like playing Carnegie Hall at fourteen. I thought I was totally capable of that. I was going to publish a lot of books too. I thought the hardest part of getting published was writing the book. So I wrote the book.

My mom was worried that we might not get everything we needed. Parents are like that. They’re always worrying about their kids. And when you’re a homeschooling, or an unschooling parent, you might feel especially responsible, because, you know, you can’t blame a lot of other people for stuff.

I think one of the best things about school is that it shifts blame. It’s convenient like that. Whatever your kid is doing that’s weird; they picked it up at school. If they don’t do well in classes, it’s because of their teachers.

And then I see parents who are still blaming themselves, even though they aren’t even there with their kid, or their blaming themselves BECAUSE they aren’t there, and life feels depressing, because they had such a perfect opportunity to not feel guilty and they missed it. Being a parent looks really hard. Oh my god.

But when you’re a homeschooling parent, you’re doing something weird already. You’re already a weird parent, according to the world, and so you have to prove yourself, and you have to produce great kids who prove themselves and you by being obviously successful.

I mean, you don’t really have to do that, but you might feel like you should. You might feel like all of these other people are looking through the living room window at your kids, to see what they’re like at home. To see if they’re smart and polite and talented and social.

The Today Show approached my mom three times when we were growing up. They wanted to come film in our home. They wanted to follow us around with cameras, and see what we were like. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun. She said no.

I thought it sounded like a lot of fun because I had nothing to be afraid of. So what, I was different? I was different and AMAZING.

One of the things my mom did wrong as a homeschooling parent was try to be there all the time. She wanted to make sure everything was OK, so she was almost always around, checking in, asking us what we were doing. Sometimes we were just playing with Beanie Babies or building a fort. You know what? Those are some of my best memories. Just hanging out with my brothers. She wanted to make sure we did more than that. And I’m glad she was there to encourage us to try other things, but I also know that she didn’t have to worry as much as she did. We were actually fine. She could’ve been writing a novel on the side, disappearing for whole days into her office. We would’ve been happy to hang out undisturbed. We would’ve been fine. We would’ve been happier, really.

I don’t want to sound mean, here. My mom is incredible. When something is difficult for me, I talk with her for four hours straight, until it feels easier. I tell her everything. I love her more than anything. I also think it’s interesting to think about the things that I would do differently, homeschooling my future children. I think it’s interesting to think about how her choices shaped my life.

I wonder how things will be when I am a homeschooling mom. Will I be less afraid? Will I be scared anyway? My mom was a pioneer. I am following a blazed trail. But no two unschooled trails are the same. That much I definitely know.

Life is strange in an uncharted wilderness of possibility. You anticipate chaos and lawlessness. You might find peace instead.

25 comments to We weren’t scared

  • WONDERFUL post!! I remember freaking out a time or two, trying some “necessary” schoolish curriculum- (which would last all of a day)some years ago. I’d let the way I was raised (traditional schooling)and some of the people in homeschool groups make me feel like I wasn’t doing enough. I’m over that now.

    It was very refreshing to hear from someone who’s been there and done that, that it’s ok to not be ever present mama looming over the children. I used to be that way but have since written a book and started my own business as a doula, placenta encapsulation specialist and more. My girls are in and out of my business as much as they choose to be and as a result, my 12 year old knows how to make herbal soap, lotions, salves, lip balms and much more and my 7 year old girl could totally encapsulate a placenta by herself and make a quick $250 if she so desired. :)

    I absolutely love our lifestyle and it’s always refreshing (and reassuring)to hear from adults like yourself who have grown up this way.
    Thank you for sharing!

  • Your mom is awesome. I wonder if she is available to homeschool my kids! You touched on every fear of mine, by the way. It is with great fear and trembling that I go down this narrow path. That you for continuing to tell us that they are going to be fine.

  • Thanks Kate for this. The fact that you, as a grown unschooler can offer unschooling parents your insights is wonderful. Don’t worry so much. Don’t hover. I hear this quite a bit from parents of grown unschooled kids- that they wish that they had given their kids even MORE freedom. Yes. Even more freedom.

  • Colleen

    Kate – You are amazing. This is my absolute favorite blog to read these days. Reading about your life as a grown homeschooler is so inspiring to this in-the-trenches homeschooling mom who has a lot of the same worries that your mom probably did. It’s so nice to see that you came out the other side of homeschooling happy and passionate about life. This is all I want for my girls and I find it reassuring that I can possibly be less worried that I’m ruining their lives. Thanks again for sharing your life with us.

  • I teared up reading this. Thank you.

    I worry so much that I am messing things up, messing them up. And illogically, I worry more now than when at school, where someone else could mess them up.

    I may print out this post and hang it on the fridge. Thank you!

  • CarmenRio

    I stumbled upon your blog about a month ago. I have been going through some personal struggles with my 7 year old son, who attends a Montessori school and is having difficulties because of inattention issues. Being in the Montessori environment I thought was perfect for him as he has access to the materials which are manipulative and has freedom of choice and of movement in the classroom along with the structure that the set curriculum and “prepared environment” that the Montessori classroom offers. Unfortunately I am faced with a group of inflexible teachers and school administrator who are not willing to make slight adjustments in the way they run the classroom to help make my son’s school experience and the teacher’s handling of the class easier. Yesterday my heart broke for him as I was told that we should meet to discuss essentially that he will not be welcomed back into the classroom in the fall as his teacher (who is currently receiving her training as a Montessori Elementary teacher), based on a 10 minute telephone conversation with his psychologist and with out even taking one look at the very thorough report (25 to 30 pages) generated after the evaluation, cannot make the adjustments he briefly recommended (after an extensive and expensive evaluation performed at the school’s request), because she will have about 24 students in her class and “it will just be to difficult” for her to make adjustments.

    To make a long story short, since we have been going back and forth with the teachers and the director, feeling pressure to place my son on medication (which we are adamantly opposed to – and by the way his psychologist doesn’t think he needs), I’ve been thinking that home schooling might be the next logical approach for him. Needless to say, I’m terrified! I think that your blog came to me for a reason, and I value your stories, and guest posts immensely as now I’m starting to believe that this is the right path for us. Thank you for sharing your experience and your memories! You have helped me realize that home schooling is not that scary and that I may actually be able to pull it off.

    P.S.: Please note that I still think that the Montessori approach is one of the best models of education out there, my issue is with the inflexibility on the part of this particular group of individuals.

    • kate

      I’m so sorry you’re going through that! Montessori sounds great to me, and I’m really surprised to hear about the push to medicate your son. That doesn’t sound like the sort of thing they’re supposed to stand for!

      I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Brooklyn Free School, but I met some kids at the Manhattan Free School who had gone there, and they said the dynamic had become unpleasant for them because of some of the teachers’ personalities. Even in an environment that is based on kids being totally independent, ultimately everything really depends on who is there that day/month/year. And you might just get unlucky and end up with the wrong people.

      I don’t think that homeschooling should be any scarier than Montessori, though. It should be less so! You already know that things are going wrong at school, and you seem to have strong, clear opinions about what is healthy and unhealthy for your child. If you like the Montessori model, then maybe you can start homeschooling by copying some aspects of it. Montessori, if I remember correctly, trusts kids to learn without being forced. That’s what homeschooling is all about.

      Anyway, I definitely don’t mean to lecture you, or tell you what you should do. Obviously, everyone needs to make these decisions for themselves. But I do want to make it really clear that if you choose homeschooling, there are a LOT of resources and a ton of encouragement out there. And no decision is permanent. If you end up feeling like it doesn’t work for your family, maybe Montessori, or another school, will be a better choice later on. It might just not be the right time now.

    • CarmenRio,

      Unfortunately, a lot of people who run and teach in Montessori schools do not truly grasp what Maria Montessori was trying to get across. They mess it up and still get away with calling it Montessori.

      Trust your instincts. Even if homeschooling doesn’t work out, I’d take your son out of that particular school and never look back.

      One wonderful aspect of homeschooling, however, is each child can develop at their own pace. There is not the pressure to make a child fit in for the sake of classroom management.

      P.S. Maria Montessori never developed an elementary curriculum; in Montessori elementary schools that exist today it’s an attempt to take her ideas and stretch them to those ages. That makes them twice removed from her brilliance and even more likely to be messed up.

      Good luck!

  • What a great post! As a homeschool graduate AND a homeschool mom, I have fewer fears than the homeschool mom whose own education wasn’t at home. But, yeah, sometimes I do think I have to prove something.

  • Kim

    Thank you, Kate. I love your blog. As a mother of a 4-year-old son who I have recently decided to unschool your post resonates with me as I watch my fears leap out of me and sometimes spill onto my son. I see that he is fearless and amazing. His preschool didn’t which is why I pulled him out. I remember being fearless and amazing as a child and have to keep reminding myself that he will learn through his own experiences. My job is not to impart everything I’ve learned onto/into him, but to allow him to experience, reflect, absorb and learn for himself. I keep getting little messages that confirm our family’s decision to unschool. Most recently at an informal book club meeting some mothers were talking about gearing their kids up for kindergarten when a seasoned schooling mother was asked if she misses her children terribly while they are at school. The pained look on her face as she answered that she feels the teachers get more of her children than she does was heartbreaking. I felt such a sense of relief that we are going in this direction. It takes a lot of old fears out of the equation, but adds new ones, most pressing for me is that my son will more than likely be an only child so I worry that it’s my responsibility to provide social entertainment as he won’t have brothers and sisters to build forts with him. That’s one I can’t identify with so it’s hard to quell. Any wisdom out there would be most appreciated. I usually read rather than write, but just wanted to say thanks. You and Bear make such an awesome couple! Enjoy!

    • kate

      Hey Kim! I love the words “fearless and amazing” to describe your son.

      Does he have close friends? People he likes to hang out with? Being a member of a homeschool group helped me find friends my age, though I never really felt a huge need to be around other kids often. I don’t know if there’s a group in your area. I actually knew a lot of only children who were homeschooled, and they were totally fine. If I’m perfectly honest, I have to say that I think hanging out with peers is pretty overrated. People can and do make friends at all different points in their lives, and the need to have a lot of them early on seems pretty unfounded. Your son will definitely find plenty of friends as he goes, but if you feel uncomfortable now, and there’s no group, maybe you can consider founding one (like my mom did!), or finding someone in the community he likes to be around. Again, even if these things don’t happen right now, I don’t think it will impact him negatively at all. He’s getting a chance to spend a lot of time with YOU, and that relationship will always nourish him!

      • Kim

        Thanks Kate. My son does have what he considers close friends (this is compounded by the fact that we will move in the next month to be closer to family). He is great at making friends and when I take him to parks he usually connects with at least one kid to run around with. We have a pretty good time by ourselves too. He is one of the most empathic and nurturing people I know and as of yet I have not seen him act agressively toward another child. Deep in my heart I believe he is going to be just fine, it’s just hard to let go of what I know of life and once you step out of what’s expected it’s a little daunting, yet exciting. There seems to be an intact unschooling community in the Northern Virginia area where we will be settling and my old supervisor homeschooled his children and has offered some wisdom. I’ve felt fairly isolated where we live now, even though I have reached out to create a community it just doesn’t feel the same as home, so I think once I’m back in my element things will unfold the way they should. Your mom is inspirational and thanks to her for allowing you to be who you are. This is so helpful.

    • Stephanie

      Hi Kim- I am not one to post comments or give my opinion in a public forum. However the reason for that is directly connected to public school socialization and a big factor in my choice to home educate my children. I guess you could say it is a pet peave of mine. The word ‘socialization’ esp. when used in connection with kids and schools,is like fingernails down a chalk board to me. I have seen so so so much damage done to people in the name of socialization. Social “skills”,I believe, are as individual as each person. Not all people need to or thrive in environments with lots of people,indeed,it is too much and harder to learn for some. Maybe your son,as an only child, will get to know himself with less (negative) interference and influence. Perhaps he will have stronger social ‘skills’ because he will not have to ‘prove’ himself to his peers everyday. For what it’s worth, that is my current view (the short version) on socialization for my ‘unschooled’ boys. I feel that my kids, being in an environment where they are given unconditional love and their learning choices are supported and not graded, almost everyday, all day, is fostering orgainic social interaction. Maybe they’ll spend less time wondering what others think of them (or judging others)and more time creating meaningful relationships with people. My boys(age10&6)are far more social than I was at their ages and make friends pretty easy,everywhere we go.
      That said don’t forget with todays technology social interaction is on a whole new level! Just about anyone can be a social hermit. Plus, I can’t help thinking about all the major academic(and other)influences from all genres scientist to writers,who were not “social”. Infact their “genius” was actually influenced because of isolation due to circumstances or by choice. Hope that helps alittle. Welcome to an incredible life path btw, for you and your son! Stephanie

      • Kim

        Thank you, Stephanie. You are speaking to all of my concerns about the institutionalized socialization that I just can’t turn my son over to. My son definitely responds more naturally in smaller groups where he feels comfortable so I want to honor that aspect of his personality. I don’t believe the public school setting would respect his or anyone’s individuality (we already experienced this with his preschool, where he was just shut down and my expectation was that they would meet him where he was and draw him out, but they just left him to play on his own, which is not usually his preference, and then told us he was not a very social kid – not true). It was heartbreaking and I realized that if he is introverted in public school he is going to be labeled slow or defiant. I can’t tell you how many people try to tell me it will be good for him to be in school so he can toughen up. I’d rather let him not have to change who he is to suit the masses. Thanks for the welcome. I think we will enjoy it!

  • This? This is gorgeous. And this is just what I was talking about when I posted that I talk about your writing to my unschooling friends in Columbus all the time. A while back you posted somewhere that you’d homeschool your own kids and probably just not freak out as much. That really hit home because I used to have biannual freak outs when my now 12-year-old daughters were younger. I also used to use a math curriculum until I finally realized, when they were about 9, that they loved (or at least didn’t fear/hate/avoid/think they sucked at) and were proficient in every other “subject” just by living life, but the math curriculum was giving them the same math phobia that I was trying to make sure they didn’t get. Ugh. I wish I could undo it.

    Next time you’re in Columbus, come speak at our loosey goosey unschoolers co-op. Please! We’ll feed you Jeni’s ice cream and take you to any food truck you want! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Abby, thank you so much for posting about the math struggle. I too have biannual freakouts regarding math. My latest mathematical torture device is Teaching Textbooks. My son hates it and math and everything to do with math. And probably whoever created math. He too is proficient and enjoys every other subject. And lo and behold, we don’t use curriculum for any other subject. We gave up Teaching Textbooks yesterday. I told him I’m finally going to allow him to have responsibility for his own math learning. Hurray!

      • Ah, Teaching Textbooks. “If your kids like playing on the computer, they’ll love Teaching Textbooks!” Hahahahahaha! Liars! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Congratulations on moving on.

    • kate

      I have always hated math. It’s embarrassing sometimes. People sometimes say, “If I hadn’t had to take math in school, maybe I would’ve liked it!” So I feel like I should like it. But I just never did. And you know what— it doesn’t matter!! The only times in my life when math has really mattered were when I took the SAT and the GRE. I studied really hard for both, and did well on both, and that was it.

      You know what I regret? Feeling inadequate because I was bad at math. Such a waste of time. Not everyone is good at everything, and that’s totally fine. In fact, the world would be better if people focused on what they enjoyed and were good at!

      So I love your comment. And I would LOVE to hang out, the next time I’m in Columbus :)

      • “You know what I regret? Feeling inadequate…” So true. I’m showing this to my girls. Math is put on such a pedestal and it’s really unfair. It just isn’t all that interesting or important to a lot of people, and that’s just fine.

  • Linnea

    Great post, Kate! Your insight is always helpful to me. As my son begins his High School years as a home schooler…I’m full of worry. I’ve never been a hovery Mom, but I find myself fretting over him more and more. Thank you for reminding me that one of the best things I can probably do for him right now is give him some space. He’ll do just fine. So now all I have to do is figure out what I’m going to do with all my free time!

  • […] a confirmation that I’m on the right track and I’m always grateful for those moments. A blog post from an adult who was unschooled had me thinking. Two particular points in her post struck a cord […]

  • […] but she has something I hope my kids will have, even if I can’t quite name it yet. ย This post came at just the right time this […]

  • Thanks for sharing this perspective…it’s invaluable to those of us living outside traditional schooling. I’ve noticed that whenever I’m fearful or doubtful, I always start contemplating curriculums or more specified structure and goals. Then I remind myself that I don’t make decisions about my children based on fear – and I go on-line to get pumped up by others choosing the same path…so I forge ahead.
    I came across your blog by listening to you tonight on the futureofeductaion.com panel discussion. Thanks for your insight and clarity! I look forward to reading more of your musings and pearls :)

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