I have always thought that the bond between my son Miro and I is quite
unique. We’ve always been very close and have established a relationship
based on a tremendous amount of love and respect.
When I was pregnant, I read a lot of parenting books, as I was entering
into this journey as a single mom. My intention: Be prepared. With all I
had read, the concepts surrounding attachment parenting resonated with me
the strongest. And so, that’s the approach I took (and still take today,
now that he’s a young teen).
Some of the conscious choices I made as a parent early on are part of
our lives to this day. I had decided from the start never to speak to Miro
using “baby talk.” The underlying belief is to treat your child as if they
are your equal, versus the common approach of treating your child as a half-person,
incapable of understanding because of their “disability” of being young.
When we don’t respect their capabilities of understanding, children learn
that they are incapable, and that’s not what I want to teach my child. Bleh!!!
My approach was consistent and, throughout Miro’s early life, whenever
he’d ask me a question I would always honor him with a complete answer,
even if I was supplying an answer that was beyond his comprehension. I never
dumbed down my responses and, of course, when he didn’t understand, I tried
to explain things the best I could. Finally, I always invited him to open
up the subject with me anytime he wished to explore it again, either in
the next five minutes or anytime in the future.
This is the show of respect he’s become accustomed to, and this has created
the foundation of our relationship, which I see that paying off every day.
(We’ve had some pretty amazing conversations about everything from politics,
consciousness, humanity, death and dying, to sex! And I have to say, it’s
been a pure joy.)
Anger & Frustration
From my son’s early age, I treated my parenting role as being the nurturer
– a person who guided and facilitate my son – not the authoritarian. I looked
upon the role of being my son’s parent as a distinct honor. The need for
punishment or discipline comes from the child challenging or reacting to
a set of circumstances. I see this reaction as a part of life, not an inconvenience
or something that needs punishment.
When my son was a toddler and had a reaction to something and either
got angry or upset, I was there, present with him and with those emotions.
My first reaction was always to affirm that what he was feeling was real,
that the way he perceived the situation was valid and, most importantly,
he was allowed to feel what he was feeling. I would sit with him while he
scrunched up his little face and felt anger or frustration. I would just
be there for him while he was experiencing that. In situations where he
was really upset, I told him to feel what that felt like, gave him permission
to be as angry as he needed to be, and when he was done, I was there waiting
to talk about it. No rush, and total permission to be okay with the emotions
he was feeling. And he always proceeded through them on his own, as we always
spoke about it after the anger had passed. And I feel the secret to raising
an emotionally healthy child is to honor the feelings when they come up,
allowing space to feel them and talk about the feelings without judgment.
Permission & Empowerment
As we’ve grown more comfortably into the unschooling lifestyle, I’ve
consciously adapted the partnership approach. Miro knows he’s empowered
to make his own choices in his life, and always has permission to do what
he wants. Last week, I invited him to go to the ballet with me; he politely
declined. That was his choice and I honored that. When he wants to spend
time with his friends instead of going on a hike with me, I honor that too.
My part of the partnership is to express my preferences to him and as long
as he honors me by hearing them and acknowledging them, we’ve successfully
communicated, even when he makes a choice based on his preferences. No guilt,
no manipulation, no coercing. And through that empowerment, Miro always
has my permission to do what he wants, and is empowered to make whatever
choices he sees fit: unconditional empowerment, all the time. And yes, I
am willing to let him make mistakes too.
Stuff (the physical kind)
As we are talking about partnership, this flows into all aspects of our
lives. If Miro wants something, he can have it. Sounds pretty simple, right?
We have declared our journey (on or off the road) as a partnership. This
covers the financial aspects of our lives as well. Miro always knows how
much money we have in the bank, which frankly isn’t a lot, as we pretty
much live month-to-month. He knows what it costs to live our lives here
in Peru. He knows what our expenses are and what we have left at the end
of the month. And when he wants something, or asks for something, he consciously
considers those factors. If we can afford it, of course he can have it.
It’s my pleasure to make sure he has it. And he never needs to jump through
hoops, make promises, work for the money, or any other form of manipulation.
Simply by being in partnership in our relationship, he is entitled to any
or all of our money.
As far as rebelling: What does he have to rebel against? I was really
rebellious when I was his age, and I have talked to him about what I was
feeling then. I have identified those things so when/if it comes up, he
knows I understand. Sometimes he tells me he is experiencing overwhelming
frustration for no reason. He will ask to be alone and excuses himself because
it must be “hormones.” That is self-awareness. I am so honored to experience
his development with him as a partner, versus being the enemy.
I think the mainstream perceives discipline in
the family as the act of rigid rules being imposed by the parents and enforced
either through corporal punishment or the stripping of privileges. However,
this is not how discipline looks in our family.
For us, discipline in the traditional sense is
non-existent. The closest thing for our family is our commitment to define
our individual boundaries based on our individual needs, preferences, and
desires. I admit that since there are only two of us it is likely simpler
than with a larger family, but I believe the foundation of these approaches
can work in almost every situation.
Have we ever had discipline problems? No. Are
we prepared for them? Yes. Do I think serious acts of rebellion will ever
come up? Not really, because we have established an open line of communication,
and it is seeded with respect and trust. But if it does, we can handle it.
Miro and I have developed respect and space for
emotions over the thirteen years of our lives together and continue to practice
these choices each and every day.
Lainie Liberti is a recovering branding expert, whose 18-year
career once focused on creating campaigns for green/eco business, non-profits,
and conscious business. In 2008, California’s economy took a turn and Lainie
decided to “be the change” instead of a victim. She and her then nine-year-old
son Miro began the process of redesigning their lives, with the dream of
spending stress-free quality time together. After closing her business,
and selling and giving away all of their possessions, the pair hit the road
for a permanent adventure in mid-2009. Many years, twelve countries, and
a lot of personal changes later, Lainie and Miro continue to slowly travel
around the globe, living an inspired possession-free lifestyle, volunteering,
and learning naturally. They are both following their interests on the road,
as the planet has been transformed into their classroom. Lainie says they
are “accidental unschoolers” and she has become an advocate for life learning
at any age. Lainie and Miro describe their greatest accomplishment as the
ability to participate in the world without fear. They invite you to follow
along and learn more about the new Project World School at Lainie’s