Living Life & Learning!

Friday, September 18, 2015

In anticipation of the next Unschooling Conference

We are a few weeks away from attending Life Without Instructions in E Rutherford, NJ.  I will be hosting a session on deschooling at this conference and I am so excited to go!!

Unschooling conferences offer our family a great way to meet adults and kids who are on this path.  This is what I love about conferences:

1) Unschooling conferences offer us the opportunity to sit in a room with hundreds of people who are on the same journey as us.  We get to find common interests, forge new friendships and play amongst a gaggle of kids who are engaging, independent and free.  It is so refreshing.

2) Unschooling conferences stretch our minds to think about our lives and how we might change our mindsets for the better.  We are challenged to understand how we can encourage even more freedom in our living and learning.

3) Unschooling conferences let us face our insecurities head on with people who share the common experience.  When we can admit to being vulnerable, we can achieve personal growth and personal growth is one of the best outcomes of raising kids let alone raising them consciously through unschooling.

4) Unschooling conferences are fun!  There are tons of activities which my kids can engage in or ignore!  No one keeps score, no one has issues if my child chooses to stay in our hotel room and play Roblox on a Skype call!  There are many different, interesting ways to tap into our creativity and passions.

5) Unschooling conferences give us an excuse to hang out with the friends we've met in our travels to unschooling conferences!!  We get more time to develop the kindred spirit that has drawn us together, we have fantastic conversations and we can laugh and cry and create our own kind of family - right there under one roof.  There is nothing like it!!

6) Unschooling conferences expand our minds, offer up new and interesting activities and they let us immerse ourselves in the aura of amazing energy.  Not much compares!

So if you get a chance to go to an unschooling conference, jump at the chance.  If you can make it to E Rutherford, NJ for the Life Without Instructions Conference on October 4th through 8th, definitely do so.  This conference lineup is epic.  The speakers, sessions, fun shops, hang outs and the hosts are the best of the season!!

Hope to see you there!!

Monday, August 31, 2015

When Unschooling Works

I'm coming off of a couple of big social activities for our family (my twin sons' birthday party, a local unschooling conference) my 10 year wedding anniversary and other non-regular get togethers that my family had the chance in which to participate.  It is when I see my kids interact amongst a larger, less familiar community that I get to see what amazing human beings my children are and continue to become and it reinforces, loud and clear, that the path on which we walk is the perfect one for our family.

There is nothing more poignant that having other moms pull you aside to tell you about an interaction they had with one of your kids that made them realize our kids are very different from the average kid out there.  My children spend time thinking about their friends and how they can make their friends' experiences in our home be the best.  Whether its loading a bowl full of extra candy a few days before the party to offer up to the kids who might not have had a chance to grab an equitable stash from the broken piƱata, or to do a check in with a friend who is having an emotional moment during a visit to ensure that the friend is ok and to offer up their support.  Or maybe it's joining the adults at the table to interact in the conversation, offering up salient discussion and interesting insights into the dialog.

Sometimes the pearls of living this life are not outwardly focused interactions at all, but watching your child handle a situation with more poise and grace than the adults with whom he or she is interfacing.  To see your kid recognize that his/her point of view is being ignored and devalued because the spiral of "assumption" is well at hand.  To watch them hold their tongue so as not to be disrespectful, but knowing inside that they were not wrong, that they wish they were granted the grace to be heard without the spiral of judgement.  To recognize that they are being treated unfairly and that they are angry, and not emotionally distraught as I might have originally thought.  And in the end, watching your kid boldly reengage in the same community to show that those adults can't break his spirit.

It is these experiences that are the gifts of unschooling that no one could ever predict or strive for or "demand" of their kids.  It is the pure manifestation of living unschooling principles, treating your children with grace and respect, then watching them offer up that respect and caring to others and to demand similar from everyone (especially the adults) with which they interact.  My heart is filled with pride and love - and I am so filled with gratitude that I have been shown the path to this amazing lifestyle.

I am coming to realize that it is not unschooling per se that has enabled our family to end up here, though...  It is realizing that FEAR begets CONTROL - and that in order to unschool well, it is imperative that we parents focus on the inner work to peel the onion of our own psyches and understand from where our FEARs come.  I am so thankful that I found Parenting for Social Change. I feel it has accelerated our family's ability to see the fruits of unschooling so quickly in our tenure. I cannot thank Teresa Graham Brett enough for her boldness and insight into how to change our family dynamic and ultimately our society!!  This stuff really does work and I'm so glad I found her and her ideas so early on in our journey.  It's important to know where FEAR manifests.  FEAR makes us act in ways that runs counter to the principles of unschooling and FEAR wants us to impart influence and coercion techniques to help bring stasis back to ourselves -- no matter what the collateral damage that trails in its wake.   So it is my personal work in studying, contemplating and living the principles of of peaceful parenting and unschooling that is bearing fruit.

Monday, July 13, 2015

More on the detrimental affects of Helicopter Parenting

Another article pointing to the detrimental affects of Helicopter Parenting.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Choosing Home!

I was asked to participate in this wonderful book highlighting the many paths moms take to making the decision to stay at home with their kids.  It's a quick, interesting and enlightening read.  Download it today from Amazon.  

Choosing Home - 20 Mothers Celebrate Staying Home, Raising Children, and Changing the World

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Unschooling Conference Recharge!!

We are just back from the Unschoolers Waterpark Gathering at Kalahari Water Park in Sandusky, OH having had a wonderful week connecting with, watching and interacting with other unschooling families.  I love doing the conference circuit, I always meet interesting people (adults and kids) and I get a chance to recharge while sitting in a room of many other parents with whom I don't have to explain what our lives look like at home.  It's cathartic.

Both Edwin and I got to do yoga every day and attend many of the discussions together. We made a bunch of new connections with other parents who have followed this path.  I was able to re-connect with some folks whom I'd met in the past and I was able to forge some new relationships.  My daughter made a friend within minutes of entering our hotel room and as is common for an unschooling conference, we hardly saw her for more than 10 minute intervals for the rest of the week.
Two of my children, however, didn't attend any of the many conference activities or funshops. One of my sons enjoyed the waterpark and hung out gaming with a long-time Skype friend whom he had never met, in person, before this week. And my other son avoided the water park and kept the home-fires burning but rarely ventured out of the room. Although I expected my boys to pick and choose the activities in which they'd participate, I am still sometimes surprised by the realization that big social "to do's" (even those with kids who come up in a similar family life) are not where they gravitate at this time.  But that's ok.

I choose to do mini vacations at the various unschooling conventions/events for just this reason.  The venues are very kid friendly and the participants are all very respectful of honoring kids where they are an not forcing them to "engage" for engagement sake.  Like me, other unschooling parents don't get all upset or fearful when a child opts to stand apart instead of join in.   And I knew we were not the only family who had kids who chose to lay low.  I love that I am part of a community that understands that each kid interacts with the world in their own way and I love that my son who stayed close to home wasn't made to feel shame or lack in his choice.

What I do walk away with, every time I come home from an event like this, is a firm reminder that we are doing exactly what is right for our family.  I am bolstered in the fact that my husband is fully on board with our decision to follow this journey and we get to walk the path together as our kids find their authentic voices.  Nothing could be better, we are so very lucky.

Friday, May 15, 2015


Many of the challenges that we have being urban folk revolve around creating community.  Add to it that some of us chose to forego public school (or any school) which becomes a key "community" for most parents in any city or town.  I've spent much of the past few years really thinking about community and trying to understand how we find our tribe, how we connect to more folks in our city and how I can help others leverage that network.

One success I've had personally was started back in 2012 when I wanted suggestions from other moms about piano teachers in my town.  I knew I could ask my friends, but I also knew that many of my friends were far more "strict" or "rigid" about what they'd expect from a teacher, so I wanted to throw a wider net and see if I could find someone who might fit our family's needs better.  I chose to start a Facebook Group called NewtonMoms.  I added all my local mom friends and I told folks to invite their friends to the page.  Fast forward 3 yrs and we now have nearly 1,200 members with about 25 or more new members requesting access each week.  Many members are very happy to have such a resource available to them and we share not only recommendations for local service offerings, we sell gently used items, discuss topics relevant to raising kids and help inform some people who are looking to move to Newton of the local flavor, neighborhoods and schools.

As administrator of the group, I have been sure to allow only parents who live in or around Newton to join.  I personally vet each member request and make sure that we keep the solicitations to a minimum and I actively keep an eye on conversations that might be a little wonky so as to ensure no one gets their feelings hurt.  So what started as a way to network some local moms has resulted in a wonderful community of members who rely on the group as a valuable resource.  Some staunchly defend the goals of the group and support decisions that have had to be made regarding what's allowed or disallowed on the page.  But what's interesting is that the group has taken on its own personality that I could never have envisioned back when I started the page.  I love that.  I have been pulled aside in the grocery store by strangers who recognize me from the group to thank me for setting this up and I get lots of positive feedback when I post out announcements.

Yesterday I added a page called Newton Babysitting to leverage the Newton Moms network and local babysitting resources.  With all the college kids coming back into town, it seemed an appropriate step to take to connect sitters and parents.  In less than 24 hours we already have over 150 members on that group.  Folks are very excited to have a grassroots, free way to connect with local sitters who can help them out.  It just makes sense.

I decided to write about this because even though I tend to socialize with other home or unschoolers locally, there is a huge benefit to having connections with the local moms in my area.  There are so many things we have in common outside of the choice of how to school our kids.  And on occasion, I post links to some approachable and informative articles that show how our schools are failing our kids.  In the end, I love that this small idea I had back in 2012 is now a staple forum in our community.  The barrier to entry is small and the payback is big.

Any person out there can create a similar page in their own community.  And in the end, isn't it this that our world needs more of?  If parents feel more connected to their towns and more connected to the other parents there, won't we have more compassion and empathy when we are faced with those folks in the real world?  Changing the world does not happen by launching BIG ideas with BIG launch plans -- it happens one day at a time with one small step toward bringing people together and over time, the seeds of change begin to happen.

Here's to one small step in changing the world!!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


I spend a lot of time thinking about unintended consequences.  I look at the seemingly innocuous actions that our government, schools, communities and parents take and think about the implications of these actions in the aggregate or "macro" over time.  I am often horrified by the wealth of bad ideas that are perpetuated upon people and wonder why these smart, mostly highly educated, people either miss the unintended consequences or if they just choose to ignore them because it's easier.

I'm sure I'll write about many examples of unintended consequences in this blog, but today, the main theme that comes to mind is helicopter parents.  Certainly, helicopter parents have been vilified by the media and some parenting gurus and every parent wants to think that they don't belong to the species, but I go to playgrounds and play spaces and I see these people every day.  So let's talk about unintended consequences of helicopter parenting.

~~You are not capable~~
The most insidious outcome of helicopter parenting is the message it sends to our kids:  "You are not capable."   Now, no parent would believe that they want to send that specific message, but often with parenting, what we do, how we react and how we interact with our kids communicates subtle clues to our children that we may not intend.   A parent who dutifully follows a child around the playground, with one hand out and fear exuding from his/her pores in anticipation of a fall or stumble is doing their child a gross injustice.  That same parent should sit to the side (within sight) and watch, with a supportive energy, their child do the dance of experimentation and challenge.  Allow the child to freely execute their check-ins and dive back into the fray.

Having watched so many kids freely explore a playground or play space, I can attest that kids, given the freedom, will approach most all new experiences with a level of excitement and caution.  Kids will step toward the new challenge, and often come running back, to check-in, then run back to go just a little farther and repeat the check-in again.  This is how kids acclimate to their world and it is the key to building confidence and competence.

~~The world is a scary place~~
Another unintended consequence of staying too close to our kids when they explore is communicating the message that the world is a scary place.  Communicating that pitfalls and danger abound at every turn can be easily accomplished if we have fear or anxiety in our own energy while our children explore.  You see, children are very attuned to the energy and emotions of their caregivers.  If a caregiver has fear about an activity, the kid will assimilate that fear and either abstain from trying or try and have conflicting emotions around the experience.

Playgrounds are so much safer now than they ever were when I grew up, but kids seem to have more issues and less competence around them.  I attribute this to the fact that few children are granted the ability to play at the park alone without caregivers close at hand.  Kids need to challenge their own mettle to understand, deeply, what their limits are and what they can feel confident about.  Practice in this area hones a child's intuition and lets them experience all the emotions that come from pushing oneself outside of their comfort zone.

~~An adult must help you, always~~
We grant way too much power to the "adult-in-the-room" when we raise our kids.  Our children are with us for around 18 years.  The first fourteen of which are malleable years where we can influence our children's' view of the world and their confidence in interacting with it.  That is a very short time in which we need to prepare our kids for existing in the real world.  However, when I say "prepare" I do not mean "telling" kids how to speak and behave.  I view this time more as modeling the behavior that is important for success.  Modeling is the parent's responsibility to show kids how they interact with the world.  But more importantly, it involves granting kids the freedom to experiment, try and fail at interacting with the world themselves with no repercussions but with a large net into which to fall.

Too many parents are way too involved in the everyday lives of their kids.  Some of this is a result of the school demanding that parents step up and ensure that a child meets their expectations.  Some of this is a result of the fact that we fear failure and shame so much we believe we can help our kids avoid failure and shame if we step in and demand their compliance.  I think both of these common outcomes deliver the unintended message to our kids that adults (or any authoritative power) are far more knowing than us and as a result, we grant others power over us throughout our lives, never recognizing that we can claim this power over ourselves.  Living in a world where someone lords power over you creates apathy and disillusionment, kind of like what we're experiencing in the current state of our government and society.

~~Adults are required to solve conflict~~ 
We have a culture that has lost its ability to resolve conflict amicably.   As we've allowed more and more adult management of children, we have ended up with a belief that conflicts are either resolved by someone else (aka: the adult) or we believe conflicts are unresolvable and people must pick sides. Conflict resolution skills develop young and it's important to recognize that it takes two (or more) kids to tango and that rarely does an act of aggression go unprovoked.  It's also important for the adult either not to step in and resolve the issue, or to help facilitate and model correct conflict resolution skills.  Punishing kids for disagreeing or disallowing both sides to feel heard (validated) only models that no one wins in conflict and that's not beneficial nor a true model of reality.

When adults step into our kids' disagreements and conflicts, we rob our children of the chance to experiment with resolving issues on their own.  Kids are amazingly capable of resolving conflict when granted the opportunity to do so, but rob them of this skill early on, and they will never develop the understanding of negotiation, meeting needs and figuring out win-win outcomes.   In general, all kids want the play to continue, so they will work to resolve issues to ensure that they can all still play.

Unintended consequences plague our world today.  Actions we've taken that have perpetuated unexpected outcomes happen in our families, our communities and our world.  I believe that we can change the world by recognizing that the way we raise kids fundamentally affects their ability to interface with the world, to feel confident, to feel self-reliant and to have success navigating personal relationships.  Conventional wisdom for raising kids in the US has had detrimental affect on achieving these outcomes.  Fight convention and instead, provide a safe landing pad for your kids to test out different ideas, experience differing levels of success and safely hone their personal guideposts.  The impact on our society will be long-lasting and profound.

Video Gaming Addiction??

Peter Gray has a new article out dispelling the belief that video gaming is addictive.  I completely agree with his assertions and wanted to send this along in case you haven't seen it.

Peter Gray: Video Game Addiction - Does it Occur, If so, Why?

Professor Gray's main point is about how different video gaming is from gambling and how many people want to liken excessive video gaming to gambling addiction. He argues this point well.

But in case you missed it, he hits on one key point that I often see when our family interacts with the general population; the War on Fun.  For some reason, anytime kids seem to be having fun in some way that is not "sanctioned" by the adults around them, this fun becomes suspect. I also see parents trying to "calm" their kids when their kids are exuberant or noisily enjoying themselves, I see parents mis-interpreting what their kids are doing and interfere in play all because the joy is getting a little too amped up.

What happened to us all that we distrust joy so much?  Something to think about.

Monday, April 27, 2015


I hang out with a lot of homeschoolers and unschoolers. Most of us are aware of the Educational Industrial Complex. The process, that started in the 1980's, that began funneling large amounts of tax dollars into private companies in response to a booklet created by the Reagan Administration called "A Nation at Risk." In this document, policy wonks laid out how public education was failing our kids and how they believed we could fix this very important system to encourage the results we wanted. And so began a slow march toward standardized testing and teacher accountability standards or as I like to refer to it: the horrific state of affairs we now have. On aggregate, adding tests and accountability to our schools makes tons of logical sense - we need to define standard metrics that allow us to compare schools and districts across the US so that we can hold these systems accountable to the tax payers, parents and students they serve. Unfortunately, you have to "beware what you ask for, because you will likely get it." The push to testing and teacher accountability has been the focus of the districts' efforts and the students are the collateral damage. Schools shifted their focus away from a broad, liberal arts mindset of learning to a hyper focused, teach to the test model that makes it very hard for a school system to meet the needs of more than a small percentage of students. This has rendered large swaths of kids unserved and many underserved by their schools, leading many students to believe that they are somehow deficient and unworthy - just because #1 they don't learn in the way that schools choose to teach #2 they are not excited by the subject matter at the time (or ever) and prefer different subjects. or #3 they are not developmentally ready for the learning that is being required. The teachers have little time to bring the lagging students along so in the affluent districts, aides and helper staff is brought in to move the laggards up to acceptable levels and in the less well-funded districts, the capable kids are forced to be bored while the teacher works to bolster the kids who are falling behind. In both cases, students are losing. But this system of testing and accountability does not benefit the children, it was never supposed to, it was put into place to benefit corporations.
Prior to 1983 when "A Nation at Risk" was published, school was a very diverse place where kids from all backgrounds and capabilities could find a place to survive if not thrive. For some it would be on a college-track, for others it would be a vocational track - but many students found a place that would fit their unique style. Now we have a system that has pretty much obliterated the vocational track and placed value only on the college-bound track much to the detriment of our economy, the middle class and the students themselves as they struggle to pay for, finance and complete a college education that may or may not set them up for a future gainful employment. Joshua Katz speaks to the issues that teachers face and the powers (lobbyists, corporations and pundits) who have gotten us here in this TedX talk. Joshua Katz
While I don't agree with everything that Joshua Katz says in this video, he does lay out the challenges that teachers face and the reasons why we ended up here. I just don' think that many parents actually understand where the trend toward testing and accountability came from (I certainly didn't) and the corporate interests who are making billions in the process. In the end, changing this terrible reality seems almost impossible. Mainly because the constituents are either all so invested in maintaining their fiefdoms or they prefer to play the victim - which puts everyone on the defensive, so change from within will likely be elusive. That said, parents can be the catalyst that forces this 10 headed beast to stop the madness. The drive to step away from the Common Core standards is gaining momentum - and parents can have a big influence on pushing back on a system that is no longer working for their kids. My kids aren't even in school, but I have signed every petition I've seen. Any parent who has their kid in public school should sign as well.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


The Jesuits are credited with saying...

"Give me a child for for his first seven years and I'll give you the man"

The Jesuits had it right long before neuroscience and epigenetic research figured out why this is the case. Brain research has shown that young humans essentially exist in Delta Brain mode (first 2 yrs) and Theta Brain mode (2-6 yrs) for the first 6 years of life. Dr. Bruce Lipton, an epigeneticist explains all of this in the article found here:

Excerpted from the article referenced above...
The first six years of a child’s life is spent in a hypnotic trance. Its perceptions of the world are directly downloaded into the subconscious during this time, without the discrimination of the, as yet, dormant self-conscious mind. Consequently, our fundamental perceptions about life and our role in it are learned before we express the capacity to choose or reject those beliefs. We were simply “programmed.” The Jesuits were aware of this programmable state and proudly boasted, “Give us a child until it is six or seven years old and it will belong to the Church for the rest of its life.” They knew that once the dogma of the Church was implanted into the child’s subconscious mind, that information would inevitably influence 95% of that individual’s behaviour for the rest of their life.

What is very interesting about this fact is that because these brain frequencies are dominant in the early years, we parents have a direct impact on the sub-conscious minds of our children. What mores, values and ideas (dogma) we "download" into our children in these early years of development will stay with them for their entire lives, and they are somewhat difficult to change. These traits mix with their innate temperament to create their auto-reactions, their triggers and their default stance.

Let me repeat that... The mores, values and ideas we "download" into our children in these early years of development will stay with them for their entire lives and they are somewhat difficult to change.

This programming has an impact on how we view our worthiness, our capabilities and our ability to succeed. Our willingness to explore, to feel safe and to push ourselves out of our comfort zone all set their seeds in the first 6 yrs of life.

I'm surprised that few parenting resources mention this, and it's certainly not in common knowledge, so few parents recognize that they play such a critical role in the brain development of their children. But an example is that when our kids are young, we often see them talking about imaginary friends or imaginary worlds as if they are real. For my kids, each had a house they talked about. For one it was his Red House, for another son it was my blue house and for my daughter it's her Pink House and her Purple House. My kids can talk, in detail, about things that have happened at these houses. At or around age 7 all this vivid recollection stopped and my kids become firmly planted in reality of living in our house!

As most connected parents know, our kids learn more from us when we are not in a "teaching moment" than when we consciously want to impart some wisdom on them. This is called modeling. We teach our kids about themselves, about their world and about what is acceptable behavior by what we model to them. It is the opposite of that old pearl "Do as I say, not as I do."

So in terms of how to expose our children to the values and mores that we want them to imprint, I suggest starting with the outcome/traits you want to encourage in your children and work back from there. For me these traits are:

Happiness & Joy

Confidence, Perseverance, Resilience and Independence stem from free exploration when we are young. To a baby and toddler, these come from exploring the world with our caregivers nearby (but not too close), taking chances, pushing outside our comfort zone and then coming back to check-in periodically to reinforce our safety. It involves experiencing success at things we try, but most importantly at being granted the space and time to interact with our worlds in a way that allows for us to step out of our comfort zones for a little bit, then ricochet back to feel safe, then push a little further, then come back - and repeat this process as many times as we need to conquer a new task. No new skill is acquired without lots of practice. Gaining confidence, perseverance, resilience and independence involves lots of missteps, mistakes and lots of practice. I think it's important to point out that confidence, resilience and independence do not mean comfort or ease in all situations - it means knowing our capabilities and not allowing others to diminish our capabilities when we are challenging ourselves.

Empathy, Authenticity, Happiness and Joy come from presence, connection and playfulness. Parents need to interact with their kids without distraction. We need to listen to our kids, accept them for who they are and meet them where they are. A kids' main method of learning is through play - parents need to learn how to engage their kids' through playfulness to share their happiness and joy. As kids grow they will feel confident in "being ok" with themselves and they will transfer that inner feeling to others in their lives. When they mess up or have a bad day, we need to rise above and offer our love and support, not our judgement or dissatisfaction. Essentially if they are exposed to our empathy when they are not at their best and we can authentically help them experience happiness and joy, then they, too, will have these skills later in life.

As parents, the way we interact with our children during these formative years will solidify how our kids interface with the world in which they live. If we act fearful during our kids' explorations, our kids will take on that fear and be less willing to take risks and chances. If we say no and redirect our kids all the time, we teach them that curiosity is wrong or worse, dangerous. If we try to "teach lessons" - we often push our kids to ignore their inner guidance and they either stop trying or push beyond their own limits. If kids are never treated empathetically the opportunity to imprint empathy, happiness, joy and authenticity can be greatly hindered.

Which poses challenges for families with two working parents, where a young child must be cared for by someone from outside the immediate family. It's important to recognize that when you hire outside caregivers you not only have to know your own pecadillos, you have to know those of the people who will be managing your kids day to day. This is probably why John Bowlby, the father of Attachment Theory, believed there was a hierarchy of caregivers that ensured better attachment in general - parents have much more knowledge of a local caregiver like a grandparent or aunt or nanny in the home vs a staff member at a daycare facility. Regardless, it's important to recognize that hired help (nanny or daycare worker) will always exert more caution with children and have more safety rules because the consequences of not being cautious will outweigh their willingness to grant free play. The question will be to what extent that caution or rule enforcement affects the free exploration or testing of mettle that little kids do every day. I recognize that many parents don't feel they have a choice or financial wherewithal to stay home but knowing that the choice of caregiver can have direct impact on your child is important whatever reality you face.

So, if you sitting there saying - wow, my kids are older than 7 now, I didn't know all this stuff, is it game over? Have I missed a critical opportunity? I'd say emphatically, no. But changing these imprinted sub-conscious ideas will be a little harder for older kids. Just keep in mind that it will take consistency and time to rewrite the messages.

As with all things I've learned on my parenting journey, the more I work on myself to understand the programming and the unintended messages I received as a child the more aware I am of avoiding passing those ideas down to my kids. I'm sure some of my programming has imprinted on them- like all moms, I'm am fallible and imperfect. But I've always believed that knowledge is power and that we parent the best we can with the information we have, then, as we learn more, we adapt and do better.

In the end, I believe that my knowledge of brain development will not guarantee that my kids will be unaffected by the harsh world in which they live, but I do believe that I have inoculated them against the ills that commonly affect kids coming up today. When their life gets hard, they will know inherently that the discomfort they feel is not a good stasis and they will have tools to change their situation in order to better support joy and happiness.

Monday, April 20, 2015


I had kids late in life.  I was 39 when my twin boys were born.  Prior to their birth, I had all the conventional attitudes about raising children.  Most of these insights came from friends/family who had had children before me.

I don't know when my attitude about childrearing changed, but there were probably a few catalysts. One was when my in-laws sent us a book called The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland. This book focused on the brain science of early childhood development.  Another was the fact that I was determined to breastfeed my twins and I knew that I would not use formula.  And the third was that I was having twins and it became evident very early that the medical community had very explicit ideas about twins, when to give birth to twins, and how to give birth to twins and how quickly I could hold and breastfeed them once they were born.  The system was mostly about the dr's and the nurses, and had very little to do with the actual human beings (mom and babies) who were involved.  Suffice it to say, I realized very early on that my choices in raising my kids would have us swimming upstream.

The next book I read was Becoming Attached by Robert Karen.  Karen discusses, from a historical perspective, the genesis of Attachment Theory.  The importance of understanding our babies' cries and responding to their needs seemed a completely natural impulse.  Securely attached kids are more confident, independent and have strong self-esteem.  These were all things that I wanted to promote in my kids.

I soon picked up Alfie Kohn's  Unconditional Parenting and I have to say that I nearly put it down a few times as the ideas presented within pushed me outside of my comfort zone.  Common wisdom promoted behavior modification as its main method to "train" children - praise the behavior you want more of, and punish the behavior you'd rather eliminate.  This style of parenting is determined by something called Behaviorism or Behavior Theory.  Alfie Kohn threw water on the tenets of Behaviorism and offered a different perspective, one that suggested that children thrive when our love is not offered conditionally.  What an interesting idea.

In the end I practiced my own form of attachment parenting and responded to my kids' needs which worked great through one more pregnancy and the birth of a daughter, not quite 2 yrs after the birth of the boys.  Then my sons turned 3 and I was forced back to the well of knowledge to learn how I could continue the essence of attachment parenting with kids who were more mobile, head strong and wonderfully curious.  I've always believed that you really cannot call yourself a true parent until your kids turn 3!  Three year olds will push every button you have.  I realized, pretty quickly, that I needed more tools in my bag to maintain their unique personalities while figuring out why I was triggered by things that happened in our daily lives.

Around this time, I found a few valuable resources that changed my path forever.  Rebecca Thompson of Consciously Parenting showed me what was really happening when my son dug in and decided to become immovable when we were out and about.  Rebecca emphasizes the importance of loving connection with our kids and she now has a number of books that discuss how to create strong connection in the family.  It is really an extension of Attachment Parenting beyond the baby and toddler years and is the basis for a strong parent/child relationship.

I was also introduced to Bonnie Harris of Connective Parenting at the same time and devoured two of her books:  Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids  and When Kids Push Your Buttons and What You Can Do About It .  Bonnie Harris talks about reframing a child's misbehavior.  Instead of a child being a problem we need to look at it as a child is having a problem.  Her books really move parents to step inside their kids' shoes and look at things from their perspective.  She urges parents to realize that when we are triggered viscerally, it is usually something from our own upbringing that is coming up.  If we can identify what that might be, we can learn to respond to our kids and not react to our kids.  These ideas were life changing for our family and I have huge gratitude for Bonnie Harris and her writings. Incorporating her ideas into my parenting have made me a better mom and a better person.  I recommend her books to hundreds of moms every year!

And so we set forth on a very respectful style of parenting - when my kids were exhibiting behavior that was not so great, I went into sleuth mode to understand what was happening in their world around them and set out to see if I could help fix it.  Often presence and connection time could solve many of the ills.  I also became well-versed in repairing our connection when my reactions were less than stellar.  As parents we all have days when our patience is less available and we react poorly to our kids.  The key is to come back around later that day or the next day and apologize for our own outbursts.   Not only does this repair the relationship with our kids, it models for them the power and importance of admitting our own mistakes.

After honing my skills at connection parenting I recognized that children are full-fledged members of the family albeit slightly immature.  I often offered this insight to many moms who threaded on forums and groups on which I participated.  When you recognize your child as a valuable member of the family, this means that you offer them the same level of respect you would a spouse or an employee or friend.  It was important to me that my children recognize that their age should not determine their importance and their needs were treated equally to the needs of all the others in our family.  When those needs are in conflict we have to negotiate and communicate about how to compromise to get everyone's needs met.

Respecting kids quickly required me to evaluate the level of control and authority I exerted in the family.  I'd always been very supportive of my kids' curiosity and investigation and was willing to stand back and let my kids navigate their world with as much or as little help as they needed.  I've always been a champion of creating a world for kids where there are few no's - and making the home and environment safe for exploration.  Essentially, I never wanted to break my kids curiosity or add fear to their explorations.  Their experiences were their own and I got to enjoy the show.

But when our kids ended up in preschool and elementary school, we realized that there was very little free play or free investigation, it was all overseen by adults and kids' natural curiosity was trampled by an overarching need to "teach" an intended outcome.  Not to mention that the school environment is based on authoritarian control where kids have no rights and little respect.  It was then that the family life we had deliberately cultivated for years ended up being poisoned by forces outside of our control. It was obvious that having our kids in school ran counter to so many of the principles we felt important (you can read more about this in my previous blog post)

It was when we realized that we could no longer keep our kids in school that I was introduced to Teresa Graham Brett and her book Parenting for Social Change  If you haven't read this book, I encourage you to stop everything right now and buy it.  This was one of the most profound books I have ever read and it provided me a framework on which to hang all the research, ideas and tools I'd honed in my parenting journey.  Teresa discusses how when we exert control in parenting we are disempowering our children and setting them up for accepting the control of others in their lives. She pins much of our need for control back to our fears and disempowerment from our own upbringing and emphasizes the need to be honest with ourselves about why we feel we need to control things/people in our lives.  The book posits that if we can learn to respect children, trust them and work consensually with them, we will produce adults who are whole and who will be empowered to take on the problems of the world.  Profound thoughts in a profound book from a wonderfully visionary and loving author. Parenting for Social Change solidified all the ideas I'd captured along this parenting path and brought them to light for their higher purpose; that of creating whole children. Children who know themselves, who are empowered and empathetic and who know how to communicate and compromise because they've lived this way from the start.  These are the kids who will change the world and I am so glad that I am investing in our future in the most important way.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


This is an article I wrote back in February on my friend Kerry MacDonald's blog, called The Slow Parenting Movement.



I often think of Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as the epitome of a spoiled child.  In this example, her father was a pushover.  He was so afraid of Veruca throwing a fit or embarrassing him that he gave into her immediately.  To me, this is a child who is spoiled.  And it’s not the fault of the child whatsoever, it is the fault of the parent.  

To that end, I don’t think the stories I hear described as "spoiled kid" stories like the unwillingness to help out around the house or demanding something when we are out are truly about spoiling like I see with the example of Veruca Salt.  They are common stories that all parents have experienced or will experience some time in their parenting career.  But, they certainly can give us pause and cause us to believe that we’ve created ungrateful kids who don’t understand social norms.  But, as with the idea of Veruca Salt, there may be a level of culpability here that needs to be explored.

Peter Gray, is a professor at BC and a researcher into evolutionary development and educational psychology.  He posits that we have created a narcissistic trend because of the way we devalue childhood & play.  We’ve allowed schools to override our evolutionary instincts on childhood.  We stick kids into a system where achievement and doing things for the sake of doing vs for intrinsic benefit has altered our ability to end up with the traits that we actually want to promote.  We proceed to disrespect those kids for years and we wonder why we have kids who don’t want to help out around the house or why they feel they deserve anything that’s offered them.  He discusses this in his recent article below

So to get back to the idea of spoiling a child, this is a cultural concept of scarcity and denial and its tied to the belief that “everything in moderation” or “good things come to those who wait” “spare the rod, spoil the child” — these are religious concepts and came into play to help mollify the masses - and justify a ruling class.  But they have no place in developmental psychology.  It’s been proven by science and brain research that babies should be responded to when they are in need.  And those children who do get their needs met have much stronger attachment and therefore are set up to have stronger self–esteem and independence and strong emotional relationships as they grow.  And I would question whether people would truly believe that “everything in moderation" is a true in all cases — do you want to have love in moderation?  Or have happiness in moderation?  Or health in moderation.  The argument just doesn’t hold up.  

Conventional wisdom in childrearing these days is to over control children (have kids in adult managed activities for many hours a day).  As a result kids don’t get much time to think or experiment with their own attitudes or ideas about things like they did in the past when kids played independently in the neighborhood. They now just tend to view adults as arbiters of work and requirement and that they need to hide from them to get freedom.  When parents ask for help, kids may be trying to defend the little amount of self-directed time they get in a week — so their refusal to help out around the house is not a reflection of spoiling, but a reflection of a system that grants so little self-directed time that this time is held onto like a precious gem and they are loathe to give it over for even a few minutes.  Parents, view this as “spoiled kid” but I see it as a rebellion against a system that devalues childhood and disrespects kids in general.  So when a child, after finally being given free time to do with what they want, is asked to participate in yet another adult controlled/motivated activity, they are often loathe to willingly comply.  Especially at the younger ages (pre teen).  Some of this is age appropriate as kids don’t really gain the ability to see things from another’s point of view until around age 7 – 10.  Some is just that the timing of the request is not optimal and kids should be granted the same respect a spouse would be granted when a request is made.  (Hon, can you empty the dishwasher? - usually means, can you do it today… not RIGHT NOW!)

A key element I see missing in many kids these days is empathy.  When kids are treated empathetically by their parents and extended family, they will gain the skills to be empathetic. Unfortunately, conventional parenting styles are not empathetic, so children are not modeled empathy and therefore do not know how to be empathetic.  This all goes back to attachment theory and the benefit of responding to infant needs early on in the first 2 yrs of life.  But modeling empathy continues to be critical long after the first 2 yrs.  As Peter Gray discusses in the article above, narcissistic behavior is highlighted by a lack of empathy.  It is when we can put ourselves into another’s shoes that we begin to be able to understand their motivation and needs.  When others have treated us well, we can much more easily treat others well as a result.  

Brain (Neuro) research is relatively new (really coming into play in the last 20 yrs) –  so many of the ideas we have around raising kids come from anecdotal evidence and hearsay, much from religious roots where control and pacification were the main goal.  Here in the US, our childrearing instincts are horrifically off base and we’ve lost touch with how children were raised and educated over the centuries.   

The behaviorist theory (behaviorism) promotes the idea that all learning is caused by external stimuli and all behavior can be shaped through positive or negative reinforcement.  It is at the root of many childrearing strategies that have become mainstream in our society.  Time-outs, sticker charts, grades, groundings, threats, 123 magic, and on and on are foisted on parents around the US as the status quo for raising a “good” child.  But beyond the fact that behavior modification is not a great way to raise kids, a key lack of behaviorism techniques is that they actually do not model empathy at all.  They never try to figure out why a child is misbehaving, they never validate the emotions being felt and they often miss the core issue at hand – because ending the “behavior” trumps helping the child to manage through the emotional turmoil they feel.   A child whose emotional life is disregarded will have no willingness to care about others in his/her life, no one has cared about his/hers.   

One of the largest organizations that uses a behaviorist model is the institution of school.  School focuses on achievement, doing things for rewards, punishing/shaming for those things we don’t want to promote and pretty much foregoing play for sitting at a desk doing repetitive tasks that have marginal value to a child (although huge value to the adults around them).  In essence kids are often asked to forego their own motivations, passions and interests to please the will of adults and to get judged, assessed and ranked for their achievement.  This is the world in which most children in the U.S. grow up.   

So when I think about spoiling a child, I think more of the unintended consequences of Behaviorism that children are exposed to from earlier and earlier ages and the level of control these systems impart over our kids and the implications of that reward and punishment system on their broader lives and their ability to understand empathy and to act empathetically.

I think simply looking at the easy, “we parents have such bratty kids” mentality is missing the larger issue that our societal choices are a key factor in creating the outcome that we are seeing with our kids.  Kids are disrespected every day of their lives, they are yelled at, they are misunderstood and they are trying to survive and find a way to protect their fragile egos every day.  They end up finding only these rudimentary methods that look, to the casual observer, like “being spoiled” but I see these as the only method left to them to assert their authentic selves into the mix and to be heard.  Kids are left only with “refusal” and “digging in” because they are the only tools in their bag that are left.  A sorry state of affairs, when kids are amazingly capable of compromise and negotiation. 

But to change this state of affairs, it takes flipping conventional notions of kids and their willingness to come along.  I know many kids, most homeschooled, who are treated with respect, who are valued for their age-appropriate contribution to their families and who are not raised in a behaviorist model and they are amazingly empathetic, helpful, happy kids who have the capacity to give to others because they have all their needs met.  Sawyer Fredericks, a current participant on The Voice – is just one of these types of kids.  It’s wonderful that when we actually do SPOIL and I define spoil as "give to our kids unconditionally” we end up with children who understand that the family is a supportive organism that accepts everyone’s limitations and contributions.  A place where everyone has each other’s backs. 

I hope some of this helps frame a conversation that may be a little more vibrant than just the “kids these days” mentality that justifies more of the same disrespect that is rampant out there.  Our kids deserve  a life of respect and in granting it to them, we will gain a generation of adults who can actually solve hard problems and work to fix our political system.  Without this change, we’ll get more of the same and lots more of parents feeling justified in treating their kids as second class citizens.  I personally don’t want to see that continue to be reality.

Friday, April 17, 2015


When we first chose to pull our twin sons out of 1st grade in public school, I often articulated five key reasons why this decision was the right one for our family.  We (my husband, my sons and I) each had our own reasons for wanting to forego the structure of school and rediscover our love of learning. These were...

1) One son, an introvert, struggled with the rapid fire interactions from teachers and was disinterested in many of the mundane and repetitive tasks asked of him.  He is the kind of kid who seems to be learning nothing until one day he masters the task at hand.  School wants all kids to be willing to go along (aka: obey) and to show consistent "up and to the right" progress every day.  It was obvious that we'd be in constant conflict with the teachers and the system every year of this kids' school experience.
2) One son, eager to have a strong and unique friendship, fell in with a kid who was for all intents and purposes a bully.  This kid assessed the commitment of each friend in his posse daily and often communicated the acceptability of their commitment to him on his own or through minions.  Add to it that wrong answers he gave in class were laughed at by the other older kids in class (with no intervention by the teacher) and his once exuberant, empathetic personality seemed dulled by the 6 hours of strife a day.  I got to experience his weekly, after school tantrums, general unhappiness and the deterioration of his relationship with his twin brother, with whom he was always very close and rarely fought.
3) I found out very quickly that the school schedule and special activities trumped everything else on our once very manageable daily routine.  There was always some reason for me, a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM), to be asked to volunteer my limited free time as well as our cash reserves at the school as room parent or library volunteer or art room helper.  For someone who had limited extracurriculars with my family to let my kids enjoy tons of free play and self-directed activities, this was a huge adjustment for me.
4) My husband and I were also expected to become de facto "Agents of the School."  This meant that I needed to take the side of the school when my children fought against doing homework or projects that they knew were busywork and uninteresting.  I was expected to strongly encourage (aka: force) my children to complete this busywork every week, which adversely affected my ability to act as a safe haven for my children to come home to every day.  This broke the relationship of trust that I had fostered with my kids since birth and it felt horrible to have to sacrifice my relationship with my children to get them to complete tasks that were not useful in the learning process no matter what teachers might want to believe.
5) Having raised our children in a respectful, conscious way since birth, the utter disrespect for children in school was the final straw for me.  I watched children be lorded over by adults, yelled at, ignored and undervalued for the wonderful energy and unstoppable curiosity that young kids can have.  I watched teachers take away recess when the kids were acting rambunctious - a little counterintuitive.   I saw a child physically restrained, screaming to have the aide "let him go" during a parent/child activity one day.  I watched school staff belittle and shame children every day as I walked through the halls.

So all of this made it evident that school was not going to work for our family, but how did we move toward unschooling?

I knew out of the gate that I would never want to replicate school at home.  I watched my children, who always loved learning and exploring, wilt when I tried to lead them to some sort of learning.  I read a ton on how kids learn.  John Holt and Peter Gray were some of the first books that really confirmed for me that human beings learned what they needed to know to live for centuries before compulsory school.  And I set out to create a rich learning environment in our home and to foster a community of like minded souls with which to socialize.   But I also knew that we needed to slough off the damage that school inflicted on my sons and reinvigorate their joy of learning that was nearly lost in their short stint in public school.  Unschoolers call this deschooling and it's the time for kids to find their own passions and interests again without having an expectation that the day or weeks have any goals or achievements.  For me, it was a time to read the writings of those who have come before and to check the schoolish thoughts that I may have had regarding how kids learn.  I needed to really get on board with the belief that my kids will self-identify interests and that I was a passenger on their journey but they were steering the boat.

We passed the 2 year anniversary of leaving the public schools just a few weeks ago and I am in awe every day of the joy, excitement and wonder that my children experience in their daily activities, most of which never take us out of the house!!  My sons are now expert readers but school pretty much killed the love of reading books for them.  My daughter is being granted the ability to learn to read on her own schedule and at her own pace.  She is nearly 7 and not quite reading, but I know that she will read when she is motivated to do so and it's wonderful to see her work through the process of reading the words she chooses to decipher.  My kids have a wonderful grasp of mathematical concepts and add, subtract, multiply and divide in their heads naturally even though they have never had formal instruction from me in this area (except for the horrific worksheets from school ;).  And their grasp of history and mythology is better than mine!  We often discuss politics or what happened in wars or the stories of religions.  My kids are interested in computers, engineering, sword play, weapons, war, feats of strength and many more topics.

I cannot predict where the future will take us, my kids know that they can choose to re-enter school at any time.  But I know that for now our lives will continue without school or overly structured learning - as it just kills the joy of figuring things out.  Over time my children may choose to engage mentors and experts to help them deep dive into topics that hold their interest and I will eagerly help them find those helpers, but for now we enjoy our very simple, yet rich lives close to home.

The joy, wonder and happiness experienced when kids are allowed the freedom to be kids, to be explorers and to be respected as full fledged participants in their lives is something that fuels more joy, wonder and happiness.  Our unschooling journey, while still in its infancy, has brought us closer and we rejoice in the freedom it affords us every day!