article is not about your kids. My guess is that the majority of the
books and articles that you read are about your kids. This is about you,
because you deserve it. I swear, you do.
“I feel like I’m failing them,
they fight all the time.…that can’t be right,” says my friend, and
neighbor, J, as she stands in my entry hall. It’s nine pm, and it’s been
a long day for her. “Sometimes it’s hard,” she says, as tears well up.
“Maybe pulling them out of school was a huge mistake.”
Thankfully, we both have
wonderful husbands who get that life learning is not always the
delightful endeavor it appears to always be in many books. She and I hit
the craft store, tooling around, venting.
She’s not alone; we have our
issues at our house, too. We both have multiple children – me three
biological, one stepchild and J with four kids age eleven and younger.
Days are rarely quiet; both of us have very spirited children.
Our friend, S, also a life
learning mother of four small children, has a wonderful habit of saying,
within a few minutes of sitting down for a visit, “How’s unschooling
working out for you right now?” It’s actually a wonderful tool. So many
places we go we have to act like everything is perfect all the time;
otherwise, why would we chose to take on this “extra” work? So having
someone totally be like, “Lay it out, we’re cool,” – it helps.
“My job satisfaction is low
right now,” said J, the last time the three of us got together. There
were knowing and understanding nods. While we all agree that this life
is beneficial and a wonderful experience for our children and ourselves,
it can be unbelievably confusing and exhausting sometimes. Having
friends – especially those who “get it” and don’t judge – helps a lot.
So why can it be so hard? And
why, when we feel tired and worn to the bone, do we first and foremost
blame ourselves? “I feel like I’m failing them,” says J, and “I feel
like someday they may be laying on a therapist’s couch talking about
what I did to them.” Why is this where we turn first? Why not, instead,
realize that this is normal kid behavior that we can help them to learn
to work through? Why? Because that’s not what society tells us to do
with those feelings.
Parenting is hard work,
especially when you’re trying to live as consensually as possible with
your children. It means everyone gets a say and, when the adults are
outnumbered by the kids, that can be really hard. It gets even more
difficult when the kids don’t always get along, and when some of the
kids are toddlers, while others are starting on the road to puberty, or
when your kids may not be the most easy going of children.
Let’s face it, kids fight, even
kids living consensually, and with parents who are committed to peaceful
life learning. Sometimes they fight with other kids, sometimes they
fight with their siblings, sometimes they fight with their parents. Our
job as parents is not to make the fighting disappear, but to make sure
everyone feels safe and heard, and to try, if possible, to help find a
solution that appeases everyone.
Conflict is a part of a healthy
society. We, as a family, are our own micro-society. It is how that
conflict is expressed that makes the difference between whether we enjoy
living in our society or not. So how can we assuage our own guilt over
the conflict, and make life more enjoyable for everyone involved? It
isn’t easy, my friends, but it can be done, at least somewhat
First, we mothers (and fathers,
too, but mothers especially), need to stop blaming ourselves. Not
everything is our “fault.” We need to stop focusing on blame and fault,
and start focusing on positive solutions. Taking blame doesn’t make
things better. It simply gives you guilt. It’s the “what if,” “maybe I
should have,” “if only I had done this or not done that.” Guilt is the
voice that creeps in when you’re tired, or frustrated, or feeling like
something’s not working. It gnaws at your confidence as a parent and a
life learner, and erodes living in peace with your family.
That guilt comes from many
places – our families, our friends, how we were raised, the schools our
kids may have left, the messages that come constantly from the media
around us, the fact that there are few representations of our lifestyle
in any mainstream forum. The guilt makes us afraid. It puts the blame on
us, the mothers (yep, guys, it’s almost always mom who gets the blame),
for not doing enough, being enough, trying hard enough. That guilt tells
us our children “should be reading now,” “should know their
multiplication tables,” “will never get into a good college.” That guilt
convinces us that our children would “not argue,” “would be better
socialized,” “or be more involved,” if they were in public school. It
tells us our kids would be different, better, less difficult, if only we
were not their parents, or were better parents, or didn’t unschool.
Be prepared, I’m going to shout:
LET THE GUILT GO!!!
It’s not helping you at all.
Letting it go is easier said than done, of course. I struggle with it
everyday. In fact, I am pretty sure that my husband may laugh out loud
when he realizes that I am writing a piece about letting go of guilt, as
he has spent the better part of our marriage trying to get me to do the
same thing. I was raised in a culture with some heavy guilt overtones.
So for me, it’s a struggle not to first blame myself, but it’s necessary
— for me, and for you — if we’re going to truly enjoy our life as it is.
If you are able to do the
following, the guilt will lessen. It will, I swear, but you have to
commit to these things in the same wholehearted manner that you have
committed to unschooling your children.
Own your Decisions
Honestly, they are yours, they
are important to your life. Stop apologizing for them and rationalizing
them, and just own them as yours, and right for your family. You don’t
have to explain them to anyone. You are an adult. This is your family,
no one else’s.
Find a Non-Judgmental,
Sometimes that’s also easier
said than done, but it’s important. I’m talking about someone that you
don’t have to clean your house for when they visit. Someone who isn’t
going to talk constantly about how much better their kids are than
yours. Someone who is okay with how you parent, even if it’s not how
they parent. You deserve it. You owe it to yourself. Find them! You can
search online, join local groups, talk to people at your kids’
activities, whatever; just don’t give up looking. I can guarantee you:
That person may save your sanity, and allow you enough space to see that
you’re not caught in the swirling vortex of crazy life that it sometimes
Realize That Life Isn’t Always
It’s true. For a couple of
years, I worked full time, had kids in day care, preschool, and public
school. I was exhausted and felt crazy all the time. I never had time
with my kids; we were always just revolving through our separate days. I
felt like I could be good at my job, or a good mom, but never both.
School always needed something, homework was horrible, and my kids
weren’t happy or thriving. Every time I feel like I am nearing the end
of my rope, my husband generally needs to only remind me that life
wasn’t better then. In fact, now since my son, who has special needs,
would also be in school, life would be even harder than before. I get
it, I do, but in moments of difficulty, another’s grass always seems
greener. I’m here to remind you, though, that it’s not. Not for you, or
I would say eighty percent of my
crazy days stem from me doing too much, planning too much, expecting too
much, or trying to be Super Mom. Some of you are nodding. I know you
are. The days when I slow down, when I truly follow my kids’ lead, when
we aren’t over-scheduled, or I don’t try and grocery shop with cranky
kids, are better. Of course, sometimes, it’s not an option to just stay
home; I get that. I am there often myself, but if you can slow down in
any way, do it. Stay at home for the day. Sit and watch your kids invent
a new game or build a castle with the couch cushions. It will be better.
Find Something That is Yours
I mean find a hobby, something
you have a passion for, something you love doing, or have always wanted
to learn how to do. Maybe you like to knit, or garden, or write. Maybe
it’s just reading romance novels. Maybe you work a few hours a week, or
want to learn how to take better photographs, or spend some time
Whatever it is, protect it.
Don’t feel guilty about carving out time for yourself to be able to do
it. Being a life learner doesn’t mean just facilitating your children’s
learning; it means learning for an entire lifetime, including yours! You
deserve to do that, too. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. In fact, it
doesn’t have to cost anything, but it needs to be something you really
like to do. I have several things, because I am one of those people who
does not sit still well. When I need to relax, I knit. In the spring and
summer, I love my garden. I also like to cook. My kids don’t always eat
it, and I have come to be okay with that, because the cooking is really
for me, not for them.
There’s always going to be
someone out there who does more than you, or at least they seem to. They
are infinitely patient, their house is spotless, they have brilliant
children who are quiet, patient, do volunteer work, and have already
written their first novel. Their kids read at three, and do long
division in their head. That mom bakes her own bread, buys her family’s
food from local sustainable sources, and grows the rest of their
vegetables in their backyard. They volunteer at local farms. They make
all their own clothing, and their kids have no desire to ever watch TV.
They have gone off the grid, and their son built the family’s electric
car from spare parts. You can read about these people on a host of blogs
throughout the Internet, and you may think you know some in real life.
These aren’t your kids. This
isn’t your family, and that’s okay. The guilt over what you could be, or
could be doing, or who your kids should be, is no different than any
other guilt. It’s not doing anybody any good. Do what you can, without
going crazy. If reading those blogs or magazines, or talking to that
person frequently makes you feel twitchy, if you’ve starting making a
list of your and your children’s accomplishments, or you’re pushing your
kids to do things just so you can add things to your list, that’s not
healthy. Back away. Stop reading that stuff. Limit your time with that
friend. Save your sanity. Stop comparing. Enjoy your kids and your life
as it is. That’s better than competition anyway.
Take Time for Yourself
Perhaps no phrase in the English
language has been uttered more, and given less actual meaning for
mothers, ever. I am absolutely giving you permission to actually make it
mean something. Without guilt. Ask a friend to watch your kids so you
can grocery shop alone – it’s amazing! Don’t call to check on them; they
won’t die, I promise. Drop your kids off at the day care at the gym.
Work out, or don’t. Take the whole hour. Don’t go by to check on them.
They will be fine, I promise. Go to knitting night. I don’t care if your
husband just worked a twelve hour shift, and looks tired. You just
worked a twenty four, and you look even more tired. I promise.
I do understand that not
everyone has tons of support or kids who are easy to leave. I’ve been
there, too. I was a single mom for several years, and I have some
wickedly active kiddos, but this is important. I have a friend who says
that mental health is at the top of her hierarchy of needs. She budgets
it in like she would groceries or the rent.
If you have to hire a sitter, do
it! It will get better. Maybe not right away, but it will. You will be a
better mom, a better life learning parent, a more sane and happy person.
If you can’t leave, then try and stay up past the kids for half hour
every now and again. Turn off the TV, light some candles, take a minute
and meditate, or sit quietly. Don’t do anything. Just be you. Not
anyone’s mom, but just you. You’ve forgotten that that person is there.
I know that you have.
Life with kids is not always
easy, but it is rewarding. Living as a life learning family is even more
rewarding. I am going to leave you with a snippet of a recent day in our
family’s life, which will illuminate why I live this way, and why
slowing down and letting go of the guilt is absolutely worth it in the
A Day in Our Life
It was cold, and so we couldn’t
really do much outside; instead, we did this. In the morning, Angus and
Wednesday decided to build a ball pit. They turned the coffee table
upside down (oh yeah, not having nice furniture is extremely helpful for
guilt-less parenting). Then they encased it in blankets and pillows (the
only breakdown was when I tried to step in and help. Once I abandoned
that attempt, things went much smoother). They filled it with balls and
played in it for awhile.
Then Angus decided that if he
put the big comforter over the top, he could hibernate in it like a
bear. They even stored food in there, but Angus quickly became annoyed
with little sister Wednesday’s presence inside, and she was ejected from
the den. I helped her, at her request, to build her own den out of the
dining room chairs. She spent some time “sunning” herself on the roof.
After lunch, the kids decided it
would be better if the coffee table was a speaking podium for a king.
They stood it up long ways. Each of the kids gave speeches, even Zhara.
Then Angus went downstairs and got the hobby horse, and they took turns
rescuing the princess/prince from the castle tower, which the podium had
become. They even had to battle a dragon to do it, which required me to
light candles, and them to blow them out to “defeat” the dragon. I
insisted on being a part of the fire-related play – I figured that was
All of this went on throughout
the day. People took breaks for snacks, to watch TV, to play on the
computer, to play with dolls, and to occasionally fight with their
siblings, but it all came from them. They worked together, and despite
having a TV on in the background, they were incredibly productive.
We recently moved into a new
house, and it happens to have a hot tub in the backyard. We use it a
lot. That day, in the late afternoon, we braved the cold to get into the
hot tub, and I watched the steam rise off of my crazy kids as they
jumped in off the side from the frigid cold. It was just one more part
of the day. I suggested it, but the two youngest jumped at it and Zhara
sat out this time. No one was angry because she chose TV over swimming;
it just was. At that moment, she was practicing taking time for herself,
and we knew it wouldn’t be forever.
As the weak winter sun started to set through
the trees, and I watched my kids jump, steaming, into the hot tub,
reflected in the pale yellow of that sunset, with dinner cooking inside
the house, and another day of learning about life behind us, I realized
that this is one kick ass life I get to lead. And guilt be damned!
Jerritt Dayhoff is the mother of three amazing
unschooled children – Zhara, Angus, and Wednesday, (who were nine, six
and three when this article was written in 2011) and step-mother to
Dalton who was ten and attending public school. Jerritt and her husband
Adam, a civil engineer, were living in Utah, but becoming accustomed to
the frequent relocation that accompanies the life of a civil engineer.
The kids have become happy nomads, and are making friends all over the
country. In a former life, Jerritt was an attorney for the Public
Defender’s Office of Missouri. These days, she spends her time exploring
the wild lands of Utah with her kids, playing in the garden, knitting,
reading, watching bad TV with her remarkable husband, and living as
naturally as possible. You can read more at