Here we are in the holiday season celebrating with friends and family, some of whom we haven’t seen in a while. While that’s exciting, it can also be a little nerve-wracking. No one can push our buttons like family, right?
When your sister asks why your 9-year-old isn’t reading yet or your uncle wants to know when your teen is starting classes for the college prep track, you begin to shrink a little. Some of us are quickly transported back to old social patterns with relatives. But you’re not a kid anymore, and your own children need you to step up to the plate and help them navigate through this family maze.
I’ve often found deflecting to be the better alternative to engaging with these naysayers. It’s worth it to take a few minutes beforehand to figure out what’s going on with you when these situations arise. Do you feel judged or criticized? Is this an issue that occurs in other areas as well? Do you feel uncertain about your decisions, and they sense it? Does your family compare the “success stories” of the children of similar age? Try to figure out what triggers you in these situations and then you’ll be in a much better position to work on it.
The truth is, you have something at stake here. You’re more at risk of getting your feelings hurt as they insensitively lob potshots at your choices. Try to remember that you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. They don’t get a vote in your family choices.
Sometimes family members want to know more about this approach to education. Ask them if they’d like some reading suggestions – books or online. This will separate out those who were simply making conversation from those who are truly curious and want to learn more about unschooling. Maybe their child isn’t having the best school experience?
Remember that sometimes they are simply uninformed and worried about you and your kids. If this is the case, thank them for their concern and tell them that for now, it seems to be working. Remind them that school will always take them back if it stops working for your family. This might reassure them that even though you’re making what they consider to be a wacky decision, you’re still the reasonable person they know you to be.
Then change the subject.
People love to talk about themselves. Take the opportunity to find out what’s happening with them!
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to convince your naysayers of the brilliance of your decision to unschool. That may be your cue to simply ask them, “Could you Pass the Bean Dip, please?” This is a familiar trick used by many unschoolers through the years.
And remember, as your children continue to grow and thrive with your unschooling approach, criticisms will decrease. Time will pass and your own confidence will grow. Don’t be surprised when, down the road, doubting relatives offer you as the example to a parent whose kid is struggling.
To arm your kids with some snappy comebacks and help them cope with the naysayers that may cross their path this month (or any time!), check out the When People Quiz Your Kids.
First published in Texas Unschoolers’ newsletter
TexUns December 2014.