Worst Case Scenario:
Parenting From Strength, Not Fear
By Angela Doll Carlson
I will offer this disclaimer right now so that
I’m clear, friends: This is how we’re doing things over here at the Carlson
Unschooling Academy. Just because we’re doing it this way doesn’t mean I
believe that you have to do it this way too. I try to remember that comparison
is the enemy of joy and that often releases the judgment I carry around
with me regarding other people’s choices… so there’s that. We all need to
find our own path in this whole parenting gig. There is no one size fits
all here. It’s what makes us interesting to each other.
We’re experimenting over here in the education department.
We’re offering a new course in our life learning (non) curriculum called “Free
Play.” It’s a lot like the “Independent Study” course we began offering
two years ago only this one does not have a project due at the end of the
In Free Play there is no set objective, no measure
of success, no oversight…except if knives or flammable liquids are requested.
So far we’ve had a phenomenal turnout. All three boys signed up immediately.
I know that my traditional-schooling friends already
question my methods of education. I mean, it’s true that my eight-year-old
is still struggling with his reading and my six-year-old won’t wear clothes
at home. I know that if they were in school or had been in school both of
those things would be solved pretty quickly.
The real question I had to ask myself was this: Do
I need them “solved?” Is that what I’m doing here? The fear I carry is that
“something” will happen in our circumstances and I’ll have to put them in
school. Not that I’ll change my mind or get burned out…the fear is that
something will happen and I won’t have time to sort it all out. If I had
to put them in school mid-year, immediately, as a response to a bad situation,
would they be ready?
No. Absolutely, I know they would not be ready. My
thirteen-year-old and ten-year-old would probably be fine; they’d adapt.
But the other two would probably be struggling academically according to
public school standards.
This is quite a confession. I don’t take it lightly.
I’m not flaunting it, I promise. So you’ll probably ask yourself: Why, oh
why would I add this “Free Play course” to our already structure-challenged
“school day?” I’m tempted to say that after the winter season hits I get
worn down and ready for a break but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate.
I think the reason I eased up on our already eased-up life is because I’m
reading a lot about the value of play to a child.
Play is a child’s work. When children are playing
they are working. Brain connections are happening, relationship connections
are happening, imagination is expanding, a sense of security comes in this
free play. I can see it on their faces and in their hands when they’re building
things for fun, not for some other form of gain.
I just have this wacky idea from all the reading
I’m doing that the longer they understand their lives as play – the longer
they get to use the faculties they came with, prewired, to explore and understand
the world – the better they’ll be in the long run. I love this idea, especially
when I see it in action at home. And I do see it working. It’s amazing really,
how they play, how they explore and learn.
The fear is high though; I’m still thinking about
what I’d do if something “bad” happens and I have to stick them in school
without any preparation. And then I come to this thought: Bad things do
happen. Will I be a person who organized my life so that I’ll be prepared
for bad things to happen? Really? Is that who I want to be? Does that make
me a more loving parent or a more loving person?
I don’t think so. I don’t want to be the one who
thinks, feels, and acts that way. I see me as an old woman, having lived
in favor of the worst-case scenario and I am wrinkled and hunched over.
I am folded in on myself and I am frail, breakable, and afraid of every
noise I hear in the dark.
I don’t want to be that old woman. I want to be open,
steady, and free. I want to be smiling more than frowning; I want to be
trusting and trusted. I think I can be that old woman if I don’t let myself
be ruled by the fear now. It’s not only my fears around schooling that gnaw
at me. It’s everything. It’s how I handle every element in my life in which
fear makes a case: my friendships, my marriage, my approach to faith, my
overall parenting. It’s all-important. This is a battle I’m fighting everywhere
in my life.
So is it responsible parenting to let them play like
this? I believe it is. Yes. It is. It’s responsible because I’m parenting
out of strength, not out of fear. There are times when my fear may have
some basis. I don’t let them run around the mall by themselves, yet. I don’t
let them go online without my supervision, yet. I don’t let them use big
knives and flammable liquids without my supervision, yet. I do have some
boundaries, I promise.
Reading this over, it sounds an awful lot like it’s
about me...and truthfully, it is about me. To see my parenting as only about
my children would be like seeing my marriage as only about my spouse. And
that wouldn’t be forward thinking nor truthful, in my estimation. If I want
to be a strong, loving, and confident parent, then I need to act like a
strong, loving, and confident parent and make decisions out of that space.
That’s what I’m aiming for and for the first time in a long time I’m beginning
to see its fruit. That feels pretty good.
I’m not afraid any longer about bad things that might
happen or about how I’d handle that...or how they’d handle it. We’d figure
it out, I know that much. I’d rather go into a bad situation having already
been a strong and loving parent. And if I were a child I’d rather go into
it knowing I have a strong and loving parent.
Angela Doll Carlson is a poet and essayist.
She posts most of her work on her blog
www.mrsmetaphor.com. She lives
in the Nashville, TN area with her husband and four immensely spirited and
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