By Leo Babauta
When you start out as a new unschooling family, or even if you're just contemplating it, one of the biggest obstacles are not "how to do it" or "will this even work" but the other people in your life.
Your family and friends can be incredibly negative about the idea of homeschooling/unschooling.
And that's perfectly understandable, actually. Anytime we do something that's very out of the mainstream, we face resistance from others. Especially when it comes to raising kids, which is a hugely emotional issue for most people.
Why do other people react so negatively? Consider:
- When you decide to unschool your kids, you are doing it differently than they are, or than they did. This often feels like an attack on their way of doing things. In effect, they feel like you're saying they are/were raising their kids in the wrong way -- that they're bad parents. Nobody likes that.
- When you do something so different from the mainstream, you are taking a risk. Doing it the way everyone else does it is safe. But when you take a risk with your kids' education, then you are potentially ruining their lives. If your family cares about the kids (they do), then they'll be concerned.
- When you're very different from the mainstream, people worry that you're doing something wacko. That's fine if you just want to do some weird cleanse for a month (useless but mostly harmless), but taking your kids out of school might be crossing the line for most people.
Now, I happen to have good answers for all those things, but you can see how other people would be concerned. Should you be outraged that they even question your beliefs and motives? No. Be grateful you have people who care.
And instead of arguing or getting mad, I suggest you take their concern/criticism as an opportunity to educate. And to ask for their help.
Educating Family & Friends
When people ask questions, criticize, or otherwise show concern, this is a good thing! It's an opportunity. It's a teaching moment.
Here's what I suggest:
- Thank them for being concerned. Tell them you understand. Tell them you had the same concerns at first, but then you started to learn more. It's OK to share your own concerns here.
- Share the things that convinced you. What was attractive? What helped you overcome your worries?
- Share success stories. These are very convincing. People eat that stuff up.
- Talk about socialization, college, math, etc. Point them to some of the posts on this blog.
- Talk about how you all learn as adults -- it's very different than how we learned in school. The way we learn as adults is exactly how kids learn as unschoolers. This convinces so many people it's cray cray.
- Ask them to be involved. If they're involved, maybe they can help make the experience awesome. (More on this in the next section.)
Above all, remain calm, smile, be positive. Show that this is something that's good for you and the family. Tell them if they don't understand, that's OK, but just give you a chance to show how it works. Ask for six months, and then at the end of the six months, they'll see more about what you're doing. And ask that they not be negative about it in front of the kids, because that will only make it more difficult.
Talk to the kids as well -- they'll hear questions and criticisms from your family and friends. They should be aware of why this happens, and how to deal with it compassionately. It'll be difficult at first, but eventually your kids will be able to brush it off, because not everyone is going to understand, and you shouldn't let the lack of understanding of others dictate how you'll live your life.
Asking for Help
It's possible to unschool your kids even if everyone around you hates what you're doing. But it's much, much easier to do it if they support you, and if they're pitching in, that's amazing.
Here's what you might do:
- Get people in on the discussion and decision-making early on. That includes family and anyone else close to you.
- Share articles and books that you've been reading, so they know where you're coming from and what you're trying to do.
- Think about the expertise that your family and friends have. Is your dad an artist, or your step-dad a forester, or your mom a historian, or your aunt a gardener, or your uncle a marine biologist? Those are amazing experts that your kids can learn from! For free! Man, the world is a brilliant place to live.
- Let the kids spend time with family whenever possible. This is a good way for them to socialize. They're learning from family just by being with them.
- When someone you know is super passionate about something, ask them to share that with your kids. Passion is so contagious, it should be regulated by the CDC.
- Have a friend come over and teach your kids something awesome. This weekend, my friend Tynan is going to teach the kids poker and lock picking. I know, how cool is that?
- Invite family/friends over for your kids to show off something they've been working on -- a new song on the guitar, a new gymnastics or ballet routine, a play they wrote, a movie they made.
- Share your kids' blog with your family and friends.
Your family might be resistant at first, but keep at it. Eventually their resistance might crumble in the face of your immense awesomity, and then, when they get involved, it changes the game forever.