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When it's time to back off..

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

One of the things that still challenges me is sitting back when I think I know a way to help, even when my 'help' has already been refused. This is quite a learning edge for me and I've been guilty twice (at least) of this in the last couple of days. I should know better by now, but old habits die hard.

So, one of my over enthusiastic moments concerned a club I thought D would love as it's centred around one of his interests. The other was an online class/debating group that I thought would suit E. Both a perfect fit and the result of a significant amount of research on my part. Both turned down. Zero interest.

I probably mentioned both these ideas about three times. By the third time, my sons were joking that it was dangerous to mention these interests without me selling a course or club to them. Maybe I was on commission? Certainly time to back off, and also a welcome moment to think about why these things meant so much to me and are of no interest right now to them.

I think this is fascinating terrain for anyone exploring unschooling. The idea of facilitating does mean that we look for things that will interest our children, guided by their particular interests and passions. But this is a delicate process and it's easy to do too little or too much if we're not in tune with our children. It's also worth mentioning that it isn't always easy to 'facilitate interests', because these interests can be quite unusual and specific. So, when you find a good fit it's hard not to be disappointed when it gets rebuffed.

Imagine your child says all they want to do is learn about photographing birds. You dutifully spend several evenings online looking for a class that specialises in photographing birds. You find one. Hallelujah! Not only that, but there are just six children in the class and it's held in your favourite park. You get a warm smug feeling. You are the best unschooling parent - managing to facilitate even the most niche of interests. You're baffled (and perhaps a little disappointed) when your child says they don't want to do it. Because, you reason, if you were a child and interested in photographing birds your first stop would certainly be to take that class.

But, of course, I am not my children. And although these directed activities seem entirely logical to me, they may not coincide with where my children are at in their particular journeys. They may still be enjoying gathering information at their own pace and simply have no desire for instruction or sharing. Who knows. It may be that a couple of weeks or months down the line the suggestion is more than welcome, or not. So, why would I insist? Because I think they're wrong? Because I'm the adult so I know better?

When disappointment comes up, it's our learning edge, not our children's, and it's worth looking at our reasons for pushing for things to happen. Is it some insecurity creeping in? Are we doubting their ability to design their own process? Is there a desire to prove that things are happening by means of some kind of social or external yardstick. "Look, my child doesn't go to school, but she does all these things!" In my case, there is probably a little of all of these things happening.

The morning after I backed off, the usual conversations were taking place, and they included these particular interests. I was impressed, as always, by the depth of knowledge and thought that they were putting into them.

So, I'll keep doing my research and bringing things to them when they look like they could be interesting. That's part of this of course. But, I'll also remind myself to sometimes just back off and enjoy watching them go at their own pace.

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