If you have sensitive, free-spirited children like I do, then you know that rules and restrictions create problems.
If you place yourself in the role of the controlling parent whose job it is to make and enforce the rules you create a lot of conflict and emotional pain. You’re also going to be the one inflicting punishments and “consequences” and I bet you know how awful that feels.
But what happens when you get hemmed in by rules imposed by others?
We live in a society with law-making processes and enforcement through punishment. It’s stressful to live in fear of punishment, so I aim to follow the law or at least to find a way to live in harmony with it.
Living in harmony with the law doesn’t have to mean the end of freedom in family life.
For over 15 years I’ve lived with my husband and two sons in a “family bubble” of freedom, play and learning.
We chose a path of self-directed learning or “unschooling” with our sons and we found a way to do this while meeting all the legal requirements. We’ve spent a lot of time at home but we aren’t socially isolated or cut off from society. Both of my sons have chosen to explore mainstream schooling at an age that suited them (17 and 15).
Within our “family bubble” there are no rules imposed by my husband or by me. There are no attempts to control behaviour with bribes or rewards. There is no emotional blackmail or threats of love withdrawal if a child’s behaviour isn’t considered “appropriate”. There is an acceptance of each others’ emotions.
I have always supported my children in their natural creativity, curiosity and desire to play. When they were young we played wrestling games, video games, sword-fighting games, board games and sand-pit games. We watched movies and documentaries. We mucked around with musical instruments, paints and pets and dug holes in the garden. We learned new skills in writing, listening and expressing ourselves.
I never forced my children to do anything they didn’t want to do or put pressure on them to learn. They learned in their own time and pace and followed their inner motivation.
If you are homeschooling, unschooling or have your children home temporarily, there is no legal requirement in Australia that you force them to do schoolwork. I offered my children abundant learning opportunities, support and encouragement – that is all the law requires.
Of course there was conflict at times. There was crying, screaming and fighting too. It wasn’t all peace and harmony. But I learned some very valuable skills in nonviolent communication and creative problem solving. I discovered that with practice, time and an open mind it’s ALWAYS possible to bring people together to find a solution that everyone is happy with or can at least accept.
To maintain our bubble of freedom I had to be willing to question many beliefs I had about “how things should be done” and the role of the “good parent”.
I had to deal with my own fears about how my children would “turn out”. Like most people, I was conditioned to believe that unless I trained and forced my children to behave and learn in a certain way that they would be “ruined” or “spoilt” and would end up anti-social and illiterate. None of these beliefs turned out to be true and I’m so glad I questioned them early on instead of letting them run my life.
There were many challenges over the years. Learning at home can be a messy, loud and chaotic process for all family members. I’ve learned how to take care of myself and to be honest with my children about my own emotions and limits. People-pleasing and believing that you are responsible for your children’s happiness isn’t a sustainable strategy.
There are many benefits to raising children in freedom. They are highly self-motivated and they have become very good at listening to their own inner guidance. They are experts at being true to themselves and are open and honest in their communication. There is a strong bond of trust and connection between us that has weathered many storms.
I didn’t choose this path just for my children’s freedom. I’ve learned new skills and I’ve also unlearned a huge number of beliefs that were getting in the way of my own peace of mind and freedom of thinking. I feel liberated, even in a time when so much of the outside world is closed down.
Within our family bubble the laws of the “outside world” can be examined and explained. We don’t blindly obey; we look for the reasoning and sense behind the rules. Most times we can find it and have a clear understanding of why the law is there. Don’t underestimate children’s ability to comprehend the world around them or their desire to live in harmony with a broader social framework.
At the same time, I hope that bringing children up in family relationships based on respect and freedom will help to change that world “out there”. I want more people to know that it’s OK to trust their inner calling to live peacefully with their children without being ruled by fear and punishment.