I’m naturally a worrier. I’ve always been drawn toward the idea of a carefree lifestyle, travel, wild children, living off of a little work, a little instinct, and a little luck. But, for most of my life, I was just too plain worried to do any of that. My internal dialogue was a constant cycle of “what ifs” and catastrophes. It was like this for the first 30ish years of my life. Until, I noticed my worrying affecting my kids. My son inherited my anxiety to the point that sometimes he can’t leave the house. “There are too many people out there,” he’ll tell me. My oldest daughter is full of self-criticism. She worries, “what if I hurt their feelings? What if they don’t like me? What if…..”
When we started homeschooling, we tried the traditional “school at home” method. We had a curriculum, workbooks, a schedule, and worries. I worried about keeping up with the kids that were in school. I worried about future possible standardized tests. I worried about all of us appearing “successful.” And we fought, a lot. There were tears, and thrown books, and many days struggling to get through my planned lessons. It was possibly worse than school.
Thank goodness I had a friend who unschooled her daughters. Her story of coming to unschooling played in the back of my mind. I wasn’t quite ready to jump off of the school bandwagon. So, I researched. I read several books, like Peter Grey’s “Free to Learn,” and Ben Hewitt’s “Home Grown.” I listened to Podcasts, and TED talks, joined Facebook groups. And, slowly I began to set our daily schedule aside. Then our workbooks moved off of the dining room table and onto a forgotten shelf. Eventually, we were unschooling.
The beginning of our unschooling life was just learning based. Of course, once you open the door to unschooling it is hard to ignore the alluring idea of Radical Unschooling. One of the main ideas of radical unschooling is “never say no.” This sounds crazy. It is crazy. What it means for my family is no arbitrary “no’s” or “because I said so’s.” It means saying, “yes” more often, and the necessary “no’s” come with an explanation.
Once we were radically unschooling for a while, really magical things started to happen. My kids relaxed. My son still has a bit of anxiety, but he can talk about it now. We stay home when he needs to, and go out when he can. My oldest daughter now loves learning, but only what she wants to learn. She recently went through a phase of disliking the way she looked, so she shaved the side of her head, and feels like she is the coolest kid around! And my youngest, who has grown up with almost no rules or school is the most free spirited child I have ever known. Radical unschooling is healing my family.
The funny thing is, once I started telling the kids, “yes” more, my internal dialogue changed. Something inside of my mind switched from “what if?” to “why not?” This didn’t just apply to my kids lives. It started to apply to mine and my husband’s wants and needs. When Jason started to think about changing jobs, the “what if’s?” whispered in fear, but the “why not?” mindset won. When I realized that I needed more travel in my life, we plowed forward using “why not?” as our motivation.
“Why not?” doesn’t always mean “yes.” It just mean saying “yes” more often. It means that if you have to say “no” there is a clear reason. Having a reason behind the “no’s” gives you a game plan to make it possibly work in the future. Saying “yes” to our dreams wasn’t taken lightly. We planned, laid out all of our “why not’s” and took them down one by one until the path to our dream lifestyle was paved.
I feel a little crazy writing this, but choosing to radically unschool our kids gave us permission to live radically. Raising empowered children, empowered us. I’m still working on quieting my worrying mind. I get anxious over silly things, like what the kids need to wear when we go out to dinner. But then I look at my three amazing children, and know that I want them to have the same rights that I have. If I can wear what I want, than they can. Some days that means they eat a lot of chocolate, or spend all day in their underwear. But every day it means that they are given permission to be themselves, learn what they want to learn, and live the life they want to live.