“I would feel so great about our daughter’s unschooling if only my in-laws weren’t driving me nuts with their doubts and criticism,” says an exasperated father at his phone session.
“Why do you discuss your daughter’s education with them?” I ask.
Bob is silent. Finally he says shyly, “Well, shouldn’t I?”
“Sure, if it adds joy and clarity to your life… but does it?” I question.
“No. It just ruins my confidence and joy. Dina is doing so great, playing, creating, dancing, but then their doubts rub off on me and I get worried.” Says Bob and continues, “The talk about the fact that she is not reading yet and she doesn’t do math. She seems busy all day long collecting slugs and feeding them.” Bob laughs, obviously cherishing his image of his child’s current passion for slugs.
Many of the parents who call for my guidance are complaining about relatives who insist on sending the children to school. These relatives cannot imagine that a child will actually grow into a capable, social and educated adult, unless we lock her for hours a day, for thirteen years, with groups of peers, and recite useless information into her ears. How little they think of the miracle called: child.
“If discussing Dina’s unschooling brings you stress and doubt, why do you do it?” I ask Bob. “I assumed I am supposed to. They seem to insist,” he said.
Yet, relatives respond to the way we treat them and take the cues from us. Without realizing it, Bob invites his relatives to vote on his child’s educational choices.
It is best not to explain your parenting ideas to friends and relatives. The moment you try to convince them, you lose their respect and, more importantly, you invite them to vote on the way you parent. You don’t owe them an explanation or justification. Your need to convince them takes away your sense of confidence in yourself and they see themselves as part of the board of trusties.
Instead, just hear them out, validate by repeating and showing that you understand their concern, and provide no “defense” for your ideas. Defense is an invitation to participate.
It is like saying, “I need to convince you because you have a say.” You don’t need their approval, only your own.
Mock dialogue with an opposing grandma:
I asked Bob to pretend be the critical grandma in his family and I would respond as Bob who respects and trusts himself:
Grandma (Bob acting): Dina should be in school, socializing and leaning. How will she learn everything she needs to know if she feeds slugs all day long?
Bob (me acting): I hear how concerned you are. It must be hard to watch Dina play all day when you think she needs to be in school. I love that you are so involved with her.
Grandma: Well, so why not listen to me? I know something too. How will she ever learn? Look at her, she can’t even read!”
Bob: Are you worried that she will be illiterate and unable to fit in society?
G: Yes, I am. And she won’t become independent. Look how clingy she is to you. She needs to be with children in school and learn social skills, reading, history and math…
B: I hear you. You worry that she is too close to me, that she won’t know to relate to people and that she will be ignorant and unfit for life, is that it?
G: Well. Not so dramatic, but something like it. I think she should go to school.
B: I understand. You are sure that she should go to school. Obviously you find it difficult to watch Dina going about her days freely, with no classes or homework. You know, this is not going to get easier. We are going on a different path than what you see as best. I am not sure how I can help you feel better.
G: Well, just explain your crazy idea.
B: I love how much you care. But, I am not good at speaking about these topics. I am learning. So, the best I can help you is by offering some reading, or a CD you can listen to. There is a set of CDs by Aldort, her keynotes from an unschooling conference. Let me know if you are interested in listening to those. And it is fine if you are not. I don’t expect you to engage yourself in this subject. You did your job when you were a mother, we are doing ours.
In real life, Grandma won’t last this long. When I do these mock conversations in phone sessions, letting the parent be the grandma, they often stop after the first two interactions, with laughter. By never getting into the subject, never defending your position, but always loving, appreciating and understanding your relatives, you create a connection without inviting them to be on your parenting committee.