(Above: Horus at about age 2.5, while we were in France. This shot captures so much of his salty, independent personality. I just love that kid so much.)
Well, I was kicked out of another Facebook group in recent weeks (sob). (No, actually, I think I actually removed myself with perhaps a shred of dignity left–so enough with the melodrama. I don’t have much interest in hanging out where I clearly don’t belong, and genuinely don’t want to cramp anyone else’s style). Apparently, I’m not a “whole life unschooler” which, to some surprise (and dismay) seems to be quite an identity. Of course, every parenting choice is now twisted into identity, and adopted as lifestyle, and clung to, and defended. I’ve done this, I do it still to an extent, and I don’t think it’s all bad–I like that perspectives are discussed, and sometimes labels are useful. But I also abhor rigidity and dogma. The dogma of the “whole life unschooling” movement is astonishing rigidity, wrapped up in the pretence of “freedom”, and while I accept and even support other parents in their ideals and objectives, even if those may be very different from mine, I don’t agree with the WLU (whole life unschooling) approach for some very specific reasons.
“Whole Life Unschooling” is based on the notion that *any* limits that parents impose on their children’s behaviour or activities are arbitrary, and constitute a form of “violence”. In WLU families, the children decide when they want to wake up, if they want to wake up. The children decide what they will eat and when, the children decide which activities they will engage in, the children decide whether they want to brush their teeth or not (and if they will). Every choice that a child makes is the choice that is right for them, and it is the parents’ job to “honour” all of the child’s choices. According to WLU, parents have as much a right to make decisions and to guide their kids’ behaviour as children do vis a vis their parents (i.e.: they don’t). If Sally wants to sit in front of the computer all day eating bonbons and playing grand theft auto, well then this is what Sally has a “right” to do. After all, what could possibly explain a parent’s desire to determine the appropriate kind and quantity of media or chocolate consumption, other than outright dictatorial power-madness? Children need to be trusted!!
I hope you can tell I think this is ridiculous. I also think this approach is deceptive, disingenuous and fallacious: parents themselves are subject to limits, and all parents create limits, whether we like to think we do or not. Those limits have to do with the income we generate, the groceries we buy, the mortgages and rents we pay, the bills we are responsible for, the societal limits that are imposed on us, which we automatically take into our homes as parents. Parents purchase computers or televisions (or they don’t!) and obviously, the possessions we have or do not have (which parents are the gatekeepers of) bear a great influence over how we spend our time. It is delusional to pretend that any of us truly have completely egalitarian relationships with our children–it’s just not possible. Needs and desire are very different. Ultimately, I doubt very much that WLU parents actually provide their children with the degree of so-called “freedom” that they claim to. Do wholehearted WLU parents hand over the household finances to their children? Well why not? Are not most purchases “arbitrary”? Do your children make all medical decisions for themselves? At some point, every single parent, even the most “progressive” must impose limits, even if they have deluded themselves into believing that this isn’t the case.
I think it’s entirely possible to “unschooled” (or not, or to a degree) with respect, and partnership, and while honouring the preferences, desires, and needs of our children, while still acknowledging that I am the person who creates a context that gives my children the variety of choices they have, but not all choices. I don’t have pornography in my house, for example, and if that sounds like a ridiculous example, let’s think about it for a moment: If the WLU paradigm states that children have the intelligence to decipher for themselves material that is appropriate or not for their consumption, then what is the distinction? Pornography (sadly) is not illegal. And I have (sadly) encountered some parents do in fact think it is appropriate to “introduce” their young teenagers to supposedly “good” pornography, to, you know, aid their children in their sexual awakening. (Let me just emphasize how repugnant, morally bankrupt and wrong this is, in my view–and check out episode #1 of The Bauhauswife Podcast to learn more about my stance on pornography). Perhaps the prevalence of 11-year olds who are themselves “addicted” to pornography is just an indication that porn is positively filling a void in their lives! (No.)
But let’s pull back from the completely insane, to look at an example that I hope for most of us is slightly less macabre and also closer to home: I don’t have candy in my house. Other than at Christmas, I just don’t buy it. My children may desire to eat donuts all day, but those are not purchased or available in my home–sorry! In our family, smartphones are not for children. My kids don’t use computers at all. That technology–for kids–is just not part of our reality. There isn’t a computer available to them, and thus they don’t see computer use or video games as part of their possible repertoire of activities. It’s pretty simple. We also don’t have a yacht, so luxury boating tends not to be an option either. We do have a car, but they don’t freaking drive, because, well, that’s for grown-ups (like the computer).
No one–no child or adult–has an opportunity to explore all choices. Choices are generated thanks to context, circumstances, environment, education, class, privilege, etc. I am raising my children in a family setting, and the comportment of the individual affects the collective. if the behaviour of one person is creating a negative atmosphere in the home for whatever reason, that’s a problem that affects everyone, and needs to be addressed (respectfully) with all parties involved, certainly. But when I read about a well-meaning WLU mother asking for advice because her 12 year old daughter spends 9 hours a day in her bedroom playing video games, and the response from the WLU community is “she’ll be fine! Maybe that’s just what she enjoys doing! Let her be free! If she is spending that much time on the computer, then clearly she *needs* to be spending that much time on the computer!” I have to seriously scratch my head. Because there is certainly a part of me that would love to put a lock on my bedroom door and sit for the next three days eating gummy bears and ice cream while watching all of seasons 2 and 3 of The Americans without interruption, and I’m pretty sure that I could make that happen if I put a mammoth bowl of popcorn on the floor of the family room and gave in to my kids’ burning desire to sit in front of 19 hours’ worth of scooby do on netflix, but that’s not going to happen, because it’s my job as a parent to give my children an example of choosing needs over wants, and it’s my job to create a familial atmosphere in which a certain degree of rigour is the norm, both modelled and expected.
I actively want my children to grow up with a sense of responsibility to others. I want them growing up knowing that in fact, we are all beholden to someone else. I want them to understand the paradoxical and conflicting aspects of freedom. I want them to grow to comprehend that freedom is always a “notion” and an elusive and changeable one, rather than an actuality, or a state. I want my kids to know that the most moral and maybe the loftiest expression of freedom lies in making choices that we may actually be pushed to make by a sense of responsibility, and by the real pressures of living in community. I don’t see this as restrictive, but real; and if this can be argued with a straight face to be “violent”, then, excuse the obnoxious expression, but your astonishing privilege and entitlement is showing, big-time.
Most adults ourselves do not have the maturity to make choices that are healthy and beneficial. I fully acknowledge this, and I take responsibility for the many ways that my own decision-making is flawed, and pleasure-seeking, and lazy, without feeling that there is a corresponding necessity for me to abdicate my responsibility to provide limits, and guidance, and boundaries for my children in terms of their behaviour and activities.
There we go. My two cents.