Unschooling the School of Me

by Rachael on September 14, 2010

Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: We’re all home schoolers

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month participants have shared how their children learn at home as a natural part of their day. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Tuesdays at The Variegated Life: a look at how I’m making this working-at-home-while-mothering thing work. Or how I’m trying to make it work, anyway …

One of the Zen master’s five modes of teaching is through ordinary encounters with the student — a chat about the changing seasons, a phone call about an upcoming retreat, anything. Recently, it struck me that parenting is the same way: I am always teaching the Critter, through my ordinary interactions with him as well as through my very presence. The realization freaked me out. I am no Zen master, and whatever wisdom I may have tends to come and go.

Nevertheless, I have to believe that I am not only the mother the Critter has, but also the mother the Critter needs. My job is to teach him not how to be perfect, but how to be human: flawed, but finding a way through the world. For this reason, a recent post on unschooling your whole life by The Organic Sister has stuck with me in the weeks since I first read it. I may be taking the word unschooling to mean something much smaller than what she means by it in this context, but for now it means this to me: to unlearn some of the stupid stuff I’ve learned and take up new, healthier ways of being, all the while showing the Critter that you are never just one thing. Change is always possible. In fact, it’s inevitable.

I am probably most unhappy about the way I take up work. Beckett says I have a strong work ethic; I think I’m a little nuts. And, because I work at home, the way I take up work permeates our home, where the Critter can’t help but see it — and I’m not sure I even want to know what he makes of it, as a two-year-old. I do know that I don’t want him to learn what I learned in school.

On vacation, but working

What I learned about work in school: The work is more important than my need for sleep. The work is more important than my relationships. The work is more important than my feelings. I can take a break, but only to catch up on the work. Life is rife with unpleasant tasks. I must strive to excel at all things, no matter whether or not I actually care about them. Excelling at the work is who I am. If I don’t do my best, I am nobody.

How do I teach the Critter otherwise? I can teach the Critter otherwise only insofar as I learn to take up work otherwise. (It should be noted, too, that thank goodness I am hardly the Critter’s only model. Beckett, for example, has a strong work ethic, without the nuts.) And so:

  • We go outside every morning — to the tot lot, to the park, to watch the trains go by, to take care of errands. Because it is important to have the sky over our heads, and to run.
  • I put the work down when something important comes up. Important things can include the Critter’s wanting water, or milk, or to dance.
  • I am seeking (as Robert Frost put it) “to unite / My avocation and my vocation.” In other words, I am striving (slowly, steadily) to change my means of earning an income so that it is truly an expression of what I want to give of myself to the world.

I have so many weaknesses in this arena. I should go to bed earlier. I shouldn’t take work along on our vacations. I should be in more frequent touch with friends. I (we) should take better care of our home. But I’m trying to change the karma of thirtysomething years — of course it’s going to take time! And I’m pleased with how much I’ve changed already. Every morning that we go to the park, for example, I feel like I’m getting away with something. After all, I’ve accomplished nothing but going for a run, looking at the ducks, geese, and turtles with the Critter, and maybe throwing his ball around with him. And then usually the twenty-minute walk home takes at least twice as long: there’s a water fountain to play with, horses to watch, and sticks to poke through the holes in a manhole cover. As for the Critter, he probably doesn’t feel like he’s getting away with anything. As far as he knows, all of this is just life.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated September 14 with all the carnival links.)

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren @ Hobo Mama September 14, 2010 at 5:34 AM

This post means so much to me, as a fellow work-at-home mama. It’s so hard to balance the working and the not when it’s all just there all the time. Sometimes I’m grateful to Mikko for the breaks, and too often I’m grumpy that I’ve been distracted. Your last paragraph and last sentence really sent chills through me and make me want to recommit to putting work in its proper place. Because, yes, what am I teaching my little one about work if I don’t do it joyfully and moderately as I hope he will?
Lauren @ Hobo Mama recently posted… September Carnival of Natural Parenting- Too lazy to unschool


Dionna @ Code Name: Mama September 14, 2010 at 10:54 AM

Your post really struck a chord in me. I don’t do much paying work from home, but I do work on my parenting sites. They don’t make me any money, but they are subjects near and dear to my heart. For most of my life, work has been like that too – my work consumes me because I’ve always loved it! Now that I have a family, I’m getting lessons in prioritizing my time – it’s not just mine (read – my work’s) anymore. Luckily, I love spending time with my family too, so I don’t mind having to set the work aside 🙂
Dionna @ Code Name: Mama recently posted… Learning Through Play- September Carnival of Natural Parenting


Kat September 14, 2010 at 2:23 PM

Great post. You bring up a very important issue…our kids learn from us and from what we do. When they are older they will certainly realize our mistakes and want to do things differently than what we did, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could pass along lessons in life that they actually want to follow? Sounds like you are on the path of making a very beneficial change in your life!

Another thing I thought while reading your post was that children really are a blessing in more ways than one! They not only bring joy into our lives, but they make us see ourselves through their eyes so we may strive to improve ourselves for the better.


Summer September 14, 2010 at 3:09 PM

I’m another that struggles to balance kids and working from home. It is hard, but feels worth it to be here and a part of their days.
Summer recently posted… Every Day Is A School Day


~Tara September 14, 2010 at 5:42 PM

I can’t tell you how much I love this post. I especially love that a post that links to me as an inspiration is actually an inspiration to me! <3

It is such a delicate balance of doing what I feel I must and recognizing when those feelings are unfounded. Either side can win depending on the day.

On a side note, I loved how you referenced "karma" here – it made me envision karma as something we do, rather than something done to us.


Rachael October 9, 2010 at 11:51 AM

Oh, gosh, I’m so happy that you stopped by here that I’ve been too shy to reply! Thanks!

The bit about “karma” — in Sanskrit the word means just “action,” and the idea in Buddhism is that what you do IS what is done to you. For me, it’s been a powerful idea: by taking responsibility, I also have the power to make change.


Amy September 14, 2010 at 8:41 PM

This is a beautiful post. I think we all struggle with balance in life: work, play, chores, having fun–it’s hard. I hope to be able to learn from my son as he grows, to learn how to slow down and appreciate the little things, enjoy the process as much as the result. Thanks for inspiring me to think deeply about this.
Amy recently posted… Baby Talks


Marita September 16, 2010 at 2:53 AM

Such a fantastic message. I’m often stopping and reminding myself that my girls won’t remember the dirty dishes and floors but they will remember mummy playing with them. Everything they see me do is teaching them unconsciously about adult life, I do not want to unintentionally teach my girls that they come second place.
Marita recently posted… Blogers


BluebirdMama September 17, 2010 at 12:47 AM

Really lovely post. All of it. I have to read it again now.
BluebirdMama recently posted… What We Do All Day


Erin@MultipleMusings April 8, 2011 at 6:37 AM

I love how you look at unschooling as unlearning things you learned in school. I think that may be what I’m struggling with now. I wasn’t competitive in school (referring to your comment on my post here), I think I just ignored that part. Although I remember feeling inferior because I wasn’t good at sports. I did well only when I was interested in the topic. Which is why I liked university :).

I love how you are trying to teach by example with the Critter. The message from what we do, is so much stronger that what we say. I think I have a fairly balanced work ethic now, however, because I work outside the home, I find it difficult to find me time. I include blogging and reading blogs in that. I do a fair bit of reading them, I struggle with posting enough. I think that my girls often feel neglected and surplanted by the computer. It’s something I need to work on. I think step one should be save it until after they are in bed on weekdays. Focus on them for the two hours between home time and bed time routine.
Erin@MultipleMusings recently posted… School – Full Disclosure


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