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How Unschooling My Son Also Changed Me

How Unschooling My Son Also Changed Me
By Susie Maguire

I chose life learning – or, as we call it, love-based learning – for my son because I believe that it is the most beautiful and natural way to learn and grow. Choosing it felt like a gift to him. I didn’t realize how much of a gift it would be for me too.

As a person and as a parent my life has been deeply enriched by the journey we have been, and continue to be on, together. These are my top three favorite ways that my life is better:

I slowed down to live life at the pace of my son.

Life is short and precious and it goes by way too fast. Choosing this path has meant choosing again and again to go at the pace of my son and that means slowly, deliberately, gently, and consciously.

My son is twelve, and walking hand-in-hand with him has always been, and still is, one of my favorite things. We chat. We laugh. We jump in puddles. We smell flowers, rescue squirrels, hug trees, watch clouds, tell stories, ask each other questions, role play. I can’t seem to stop The Beatles popping into my head every time we set out: “I want to hold your haaaaaaaand, I want to hold your hand”. I do. And I have and I will until the day he no longer wants to. And I will never regret one slow motion moment spent with his hand in mine.

Choosing to live in the flow of life, in the flow of our natural inclinations, without schedule or stricture has given us the freedom to go slow … to live deliberately and lay claim to all the magic inherent within each moment. To savor everything … to savor who we are to each other … to really see each other and feel seen.

It’s not just the walks and the hand holding – it’s the long chats, the morning snuggles, the midnight feasts and the triple movie nights, the camping in the garden, the movies under the stars, the moon grabbing, the hours spent making messes with paint or corn starch or cardboard, the days we’ve spent in Narnia or inside a cardboard box. It’s in all the times when the answer was yes instead of no.

We make moments into memories by taking our time. Is there is a greater gift?

I learned to trust.

In the early days of our journey, I thought that I would teach and Will would be taught. It feels funny to think of that now.

It very quickly became obvious that my son had his own internal guidance, a deep inner knowing of who he is and who he came here to be. That meant that he knew what he needed to know, and when he needed to know it.

Imposing my ideas of what he should know and do always created tension and unhappiness. Despite that, it wasn't easy to let go of this way of doing things.

“Cause you’re free to do what you want to do.” ~Ultra Nate

I needed to learn to trust him and accept that every life has its own plan and the thing we most need to do is not get in the way of it. When I came to see that my job was not to be the captain of his ship, but rather to hold a space for him to navigate by his own joy, everything felt peaceful and easy and right.

In the space that I hold, there is love, encouragement, belief, and genuine admiration. I truly love –, and feel honored to witness – his life unfold and the beauty and joy inherent in that unfolding. To the space, I add support, advice, and guidance when he asks for it. And I join him in that space and listen as he shares his passions, triumphs, frustrations, desires, and dreams. We have fun there, as he sends me on missions in Minecraft, laughs at my ineptitude in Roblox, or trains me how to be a better ninja.

Sometimes, I need to remind myself to not get in the way and it’s at those times that I tell myself I still have no idea how my extremely articulate son learned to spell. That always does the trick!

I learned to be accepting and respectful.

There was a time when I had a mental list of good things and bad things. Things I wanted my son to do and like. Things I did not want him to do and like. It covered TV and video games and sleeping and food and pretty much everything else. I didn’t keep my opinions about what was good and bad to myself and my son either. My family used to refer to me as the food police and I often poked my nose into other people’s bins and pulled out recycling, or sent everyone books about better ways to live. I was in search of the “best way “’ to live and I wanted to share what I learned. I was very well intentioned. That didn’t make it ok.

The journey with my son has challenged the controller in me. It has challenged the know-it-all in me. It has challenged me to see the value in all things even if there is no value in it for me. For example, my son loves all and every kind of computer and video game; he can and will sit for hours playing them to the exclusion of all else. I do sit and play with him, because he loves me to, and we do have fun together and it makes us both happy. Left to my own devices however, I would never choose to spend my time playing these games. I just don’t see the point. Because of this, there was a time when I would try and control how he spent his time, limiting this and directing him to do that instead. It makes me shudder a bit now to think of it.

There have been times beyond count when he has astounded me with the things he has learned from a computer game, a TV show, the mountainous pile of comics he has read. And not just what he’s learned at a superficial level, but the deeper things he observes and tells me about: the evolution of a graphics style, the role stereotyping inherent within the stories, the characterizations he sees repeated in different formats, and the connections he makes tying together history, technology, genres, art, cosmology, medicine, and pretty much every scientific field I can think of.

“It’s my life.”
~Jon Bon Jovi

It became obvious to me one day that the range and depth of his inquiry into a topic that interested him went far beyond anything that I had previously understood. He wasn’t just watching a TV show, or reading a comic, or playing a game. He was doing far more. And in that realization, I came to question everything I thought about the value of a thing and to understand that it does not matter one tiny bit what I think. It matters only what the person who values the thing thinks.

And that realization led to these:

  • There is always purpose, even if I cannot see it.
  • You never know where doing what you love will take you and what you will learn along the way, but you can be sure that it will be awesome and you will love it!
  • Life is so much easier when you are only minding your own business.
  • This planet supports seven billion lives, and there are seven billion ways to do life.

I learned the importance of accepting, honoring and respecting all my son’s interests, but more, I saw how important it was to honor and respect every life, and every choice of how to live.

This former control freak, food critic, and bin rummager is reformed. And so much happier for it. As is everyone around me I suspect!

When I was in my early twenties, I was told I would never be able to have child, but the kind-hearted doctor who delivered this devastating news told me that miracles were always possible. In my late thirties I got my miracle.

our life together is characterized by the things that I have come to believe matter most. Time. Trust. Acceptance. Respect.

I bought him a baby-grow at one of my favorite places in the world: Walden Pond. It had a quote from Henry David Thoreau on it that said, “I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.” Something about that quote seemed true to me, but I didn't know how true until I began the journey of learning with my son, when his wisdom, far great than my own, was revealed to me again and again.

He has reminded me of my wisdom, and while far from perfect, our life together is characterized by the things that I have come to believe matter most. Time. Trust. Acceptance. Respect.

I thought I would give him the world. But in truth it was he who gave it to me.

* * * *

P.S. I decided I would write about my three most favorite ways that my life has been enriched and that’s what I did. But I woke up with an itch in my brain to say one more thing!! And it’s kind of huge so I feel I really must say it.

I have learned absolutely tons of cool things that I never knew before - that my own education and subsequent life learning had never introduced me to. There is an endless list of examples but here are a few:

  • I never knew that there used to be one giant continent called Pangea and that we sit atop tectonic plates which means the continents are constantly moving.
  • I did not know that the universe was expanding - or any of the physics, cosmology and astronomy that I now know. I never knew that I would find this utterly absorbing
  • Dinosaurs! I have learned unbelievable amounts about dinosaurs and our earth’s early history and extinction and evolution. How did I not know anything of this before?
  • I never knew pretty much all of the British, European, and World history that I now know - or that I could LOVE history.
  • My understanding of all things "elemental" has expanded exponentially and the periodic table has taken on a whole new meaning and I learned that I actually love chemistry, when I absolutely would have sworn blind that I hated it.
  • My inner geek has been stretched and continues to be stretched almost daily by the forays into answering ‘how can I do that?’ I failed Computer Science at A-level, but it turns out I am a gadget girl with a really good grasp of technology. Go figure!
  • I have learned more about metallurgy and its evolution alongside humanity’s evolution than I could have imagined was possible to learn.
  • I learned that the big bang theory is just a theory and that lots of scientists don’t accept that version of events. And more, I learned that science is not full of facts and knowing and having figured everything out, it is really full of questions and quests to explore the many, many things we do not yet understand. This was a truly wonderful and thrilling discovery!

The list goes on and on. The most important thing that I have learned on the journey of learning with my son is that there are an infinite number of things to learn and pretty much everything is infinitely fascinating when you are interested to know about it.

Learning when you are free to, rather than forced to, is effortless and so much fun!

My life is enriched not just by the new knowledge, but by the certain knowledge that there is always something new and wonderful to know and that what we, as human beings, are constantly on the edge of discovery and exploration in so many fields of endeavor. The sense of excitement and possibility that this has given me truly has been life expanding. And all of this has come from holding the hand and following the heart of a very curious little boy.

I feel beyond blessed.

Susie Maguire is a momma first and a traveler, writer, speaker, coach and workshop leader second. Her motto is “make more love” and she seeks to do that in every aspect of her life – from raising her son to follow his heart with love-based learning, to working with businesses to help create more love@work, and most recently through her work with women as a one-to-one and group coach, leader of the WILD RUMPUS dance gathering, creator of the MOTHER NURTURE sessions (designed give mothers some space to stop and breathe), leader of the #lovebombyourlife – EPIC day of awesomeness, one day workshops, and host of Sacred Space weekend retreats. Susie believes in the magical power of naps, chocolate, teddy bears, and morning snuggles. She also believes that the most beautiful and amazing thing she has ever, or will ever do, is to love and live alongside the beautiful being who calls her mummy.

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