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Worst Case Scenario - Parenting From Strength, Not Fear

Worst Case Scenario:
Parenting From Strength, Not Fear

By Angela Doll Carlson

I will offer this disclaimer right now so that I’m clear, friends: This is how we’re doing things over here at the Carlson Unschooling Academy. Just because we’re doing it this way doesn’t mean I believe that you have to do it this way too. I try to remember that comparison is the enemy of joy and that often releases the judgment I carry around with me regarding other people’s choices… so there’s that. We all need to find our own path in this whole parenting gig. There is no one size fits all here. It’s what makes us interesting to each other.

We’re experimenting over here in the education department. We’re offering a new course in our life learning (non) curriculum called “Free Play.” It’s a lot like the “Independent Study” course we began offering two years ago only this one does not have a project due at the end of the imaginary semester.

In Free Play there is no set objective, no measure of success, no oversight…except if knives or flammable liquids are requested. So far we’ve had a phenomenal turnout. All three boys signed up immediately.

I know that my traditional-schooling friends already question my methods of education. I mean, it’s true that my eight-year-old is still struggling with his reading and my six-year-old won’t wear clothes at home. I know that if they were in school or had been in school both of those things would be solved pretty quickly.

The real question I had to ask myself was this: Do I need them “solved?” Is that what I’m doing here? The fear I carry is that “something” will happen in our circumstances and I’ll have to put them in school. Not that I’ll change my mind or get burned out…the fear is that something will happen and I won’t have time to sort it all out. If I had to put them in school mid-year, immediately, as a response to a bad situation, would they be ready?

No. Absolutely, I know they would not be ready. My thirteen-year-old and ten-year-old would probably be fine; they’d adapt. But the other two would probably be struggling academically according to public school standards.

This is quite a confession. I don’t take it lightly. I’m not flaunting it, I promise. So you’ll probably ask yourself: Why, oh why would I add this “Free Play course” to our already structure-challenged “school day?” I’m tempted to say that after the winter season hits I get worn down and ready for a break but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. I think the reason I eased up on our already eased-up life is because I’m reading a lot about the value of play to a child.

Play is a child’s work. When children are playing they are working. Brain connections are happening, relationship connections are happening, imagination is expanding, a sense of security comes in this free play. I can see it on their faces and in their hands when they’re building things for fun, not for some other form of gain.

I just have this wacky idea from all the reading I’m doing that the longer they understand their lives as play – the longer they get to use the faculties they came with, prewired, to explore and understand the world – the better they’ll be in the long run. I love this idea, especially when I see it in action at home. And I do see it working. It’s amazing really, how they play, how they explore and learn.

The fear is high though; I’m still thinking about what I’d do if something “bad” happens and I have to stick them in school without any preparation. And then I come to this thought: Bad things do happen. Will I be a person who organized my life so that I’ll be prepared for bad things to happen? Really? Is that who I want to be? Does that make me a more loving parent or a more loving person?

I don’t think so. I don’t want to be the one who thinks, feels, and acts that way. I see me as an old woman, having lived in favor of the worst-case scenario and I am wrinkled and hunched over. I am folded in on myself and I am frail, breakable, and afraid of every noise I hear in the dark.

I don’t want to be that old woman. I want to be open, steady, and free. I want to be smiling more than frowning; I want to be trusting and trusted. I think I can be that old woman if I don’t let myself be ruled by the fear now. It’s not only my fears around schooling that gnaw at me. It’s everything. It’s how I handle every element in my life in which fear makes a case: my friendships, my marriage, my approach to faith, my overall parenting. It’s all-important. This is a battle I’m fighting everywhere in my life.

So is it responsible parenting to let them play like this? I believe it is. Yes. It is. It’s responsible because I’m parenting out of strength, not out of fear. There are times when my fear may have some basis. I don’t let them run around the mall by themselves, yet. I don’t let them go online without my supervision, yet. I don’t let them use big knives and flammable liquids without my supervision, yet. I do have some boundaries, I promise.

Reading this over, it sounds an awful lot like it’s about me...and truthfully, it is about me. To see my parenting as only about my children would be like seeing my marriage as only about my spouse. And that wouldn’t be forward thinking nor truthful, in my estimation. If I want to be a strong, loving, and confident parent, then I need to act like a strong, loving, and confident parent and make decisions out of that space. That’s what I’m aiming for and for the first time in a long time I’m beginning to see its fruit. That feels pretty good.

I’m not afraid any longer about bad things that might happen or about how I’d handle that...or how they’d handle it. We’d figure it out, I know that much. I’d rather go into a bad situation having already been a strong and loving parent. And if I were a child I’d rather go into it knowing I have a strong and loving parent.

Like me.

Angela Doll Carlson is a poet and essayist. She posts most of her work on her blog She lives in the Nashville, TN area with her husband and four immensely spirited and brilliant children.

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