“Mother knows best.”
I’ll be very honest with you. I’m a mom to a 14 and 7-year-old and nope, I don’t always know what’s best for my kids. Hang on, momma. Hear me out.
I used to believe that I had to be in control of everything because….“Mom knows best.” Man, I was such a control freak. Everything had to be according to my plan because I believed that God put me in charge of molding my kids. I had set expectations for the kids and it was either my way or the highway. I was uptight. I was a nagger. My kids cried all the time. We fought a lot. It was ugly. I knew my husband thought that I was always too much (and too noisy). Man, it was really ugly.
I mean, we had happy and fun moments. I showered my kids with love as much as I let loose my thunderous nags on them. I thought it was a good balance. Looking back, I was wrong in so many ways. I was a full-time homeschool mom and we have definitely made a lot of good memories as a family but I also can’t deny that I was working hard to control my kids so other people would think I was doing a good job at being a parent. It was about me. It was about pleasing other people. My kids’ happiness wasn’t the top priority. I needed to make sure that this homeschooling thing worked so others wouldn’t have a chance to say: “I told you so…(homeschooling was a bad idea)”
My son and I were constantly fighting. Our relationship was strained. He was no longer bubbly, funny and full of life. He wasn’t reading the way I wanted him to read. He wasn’t writing the way I wanted him to write. In fact, he didn’t enjoy writing at all. He wasn’t as engrossed in studying as I expected him to be. He wasn’t like the other poster-homeschool kids I saw. He had no passion for anything. No fire. Nothing. It was frustrating. I felt like a complete failure. He was 12. I was acting like I was 12.
Our turning point happened when I decided to let go, specifically in homeschooling.
A movie called Captain Fantastic made me realize so much about my parenting and homeschooling style. The movie is about a homeschooling/unschooling family and their ways were pretty radical…and I loved it. I wanted it. I had my son watch the movie too and asked him if he wanted us to let go and unschool. He said yes and that was it.
The next day we kept our thick books and I emailed our homeschool provider about dropping out. He was in the middle of sixth grade. It would have been our very first graduation as homeschoolers. It could have been something we could have shown the world — “Look guys! We did it! He graduated with other homeschoolers! We’re legit!” BUT the graduation ceremony wasn’t something that appealed to him anyway. So that was that.
I told him that from them on, he could do whatever he wanted. We’ll support him in whatever he wants to learn. I had set him free so he could discover what he really wants to learn and get into. No need to worry about grades, tests, quizzes, etc. No pressure from anyone. He was free.
It was a season of letting go. It was scary in some ways but I remember thinking that the worst that could happen was us losing one academic year. If that year of letting go brought us healing and if it allowed him to discover something he’s passionate about, if it ignites a flame in him – then that year of unschooling would be well worth it.
Before unschooling, my son hated it when I asked him to draw anything for homeschool. He’d always get frustrated. He often cried when his drawing never turned out the way he had hoped it would. My heart sank when I slowly started to see that he wasn’t an artist. He wasn’t into music much either. Nope. Not an artist, I thought. Oh well.
I honestly believed that my son would end up being some sort of scientist. I even had a hashtag for all my posts about him – #raisingascientist. The plan was to send him to a science high school because he was fascinated with science during his early years so we got him all these science kits and he spent a summer at a science museum. I thought we had it all figured it out for him. Duh.
When we unschooled and when he had control over whatever he could study, he started spending time learning how to draw. He spent hours and hours and hours drawing. He had found a way to find lessons on youtube. There were no more tears. Just pure determination to get better at it. Eventually, I walked in on him as he was learning anatomy from an app and a website (which he also found on his own). When I asked why he was studying it, he said he wanted his drawings to look accurate, so he knew he needed to learn anatomy.
He still doesn’t read as much but I learned that he listens to a lot of audiobooks and he watches documentaries on youtube. I know a lot of adults who aren’t readers and they’re doing great. They find other ways to feed their mind, and that’s exactly what my son has figured out (on his own).
He has also put in a lot of time and effort into writing. He is currently working on a graphic novel. He’d decline going out sometimes because of the deadlines he has set for himself. I think he has more discipline in writing that I do.
He also got into cosplaying and he found a way to make his own costumes and masks out of whatever he could find here at home. Recently, he has taken interest in sculpting. His work is pretty impressive. I can’t do the things he does.
He figured out how to play the guitar and he practices diligently. We are continuously amazed by the music he listens to. He’s into a lot of rock, a lot of 80’s and 90’s but most recently, he’s been listening to jazz. Just the other day he finally bought his first-ever guitar and I don’t think there’s been a day that he hasn’t played it.
I am so glad I let go and let him discover and figure out everything I just told you about. I am so relieved that I stopped controlling him when I did. I would never have encouraged him to get into the arts – coz I thought it frustrated him. I already said “Oh, he isn’t an artist. Oh well.” Boy was I wrong!
I’m glad I didn’t force him or encourage him to work towards going to a science high school and eventually take up a science-related course. If I had pushed for what I thought would be best for him — he wouldn’t be the person he is now.
Looking back, my son somehow knew what was best for him. He just needed the time and space to figure it out. He needed us to trust him and support him. He had it in him because God had put it in him. Knowing that made it much easier to let go. I didn’t have to be in control because God’s got his back for sure.
But what about academics you may ask? I’ll be honest. He talks about a lot of things, academic and non-academic, which I don’t know about. He enjoys learning in unconventional ways and that’s what’s gonna see him through, I believe. If he wants or needs to know something, he always finds a way to learn about it. He has learned to be pretty resourceful. I am so happy to say that he is self-directed as early as now. (An important life skill, if you ask me!)
Does he know everything a 14-year-old should know? Well, should he? I really question the importance of making sure that he knows what every textbook-raised kid his age knows. I don’t think that’s what life is about. I don’t think that’s our priority, really.
I think the more important questions to ask are: Is he passionate about anything? Absolutely. Is he a good person and does he treat others right? Is he kind? Does he have manners? Does he respect the people around him? I believe he is and he does. When I asked him about this the other night he said he believes he is the person that he is because of the environment he grew up in. He said he was constantly with his family and that made a huge difference. He said we supported him and we were firm about manners and teaching him what’s right and wrong and that’s what keeps him in check. I wanted to cry when he was explaining it. Is he happy? He said he is and it really looks like it. Is he independent and does he know enough life skills to survive on his own? We’re getting there. He’s pretty independent. He knows how to figure stuff out and he’s good with budgeting his money and he’s interested in learning how to invest his money wisely. He’s pretty low maintenance, so yeah, I know he’ll survive without us.
What about going to university and getting a stable job? If he wants to do that one day, there are ways to get into university even if you’re unschooled. If he doesn’t want to go to university, that’s okay too. (That doesn’t translate to him living with us and not working and just relying on us for everything.)
If he doesn’t go to university, then he can spend time working on whatever skill he wants to master so he can start working or doing something he really loves and earn from it at the same time. I’d rather that he be sure of what he’ll go to university for and really make the most of it instead of him going to university just for the sake of getting a degree to make the people around him happy.
My kids aren’t my trophies. They aren’t my property. I don’t have the right to control their every move or decision. It isn’t healthy for them, nor is it healthy for me. How can I constantly know what’s best for them when I am still getting to know them — as they get to know themselves.
All I’m sure of is I will pray for them and support them in whatever they want to get into. I don’t think I’ll ever have the heart to say “You won’t earn from that job or career. There’s no money there.” I think that line is so unfair to the person who is dreaming. I always wanted to be a teacher and a writer but people told me there was no money in being a teacher or a writer. I am the happiest I’ve ever been because I’m in the world of alternative education (through Abot Tala) and I still get writing gigs! Hooray! My husband is a musician. People will often say that there is no money in being a full-time musician too. But my husband has never worked any other job. We’re alive and we live well. We live a simple life and we are happy. We’re doing what we love to do and that makes a world of difference.
Our kids know that they can talk to us about anything. They can seek our advice and guidance, but ultimately, the goal is to give them the space they need to make their own decisions as early as now. I have to continuously remind myself that they need time and space to make mistakes, lots and lots of them. That’s how they’ll learn. That’s how we learned.
We don’t do everything for them even if we can because we have been encouraging them to be independent. One day when they’re ready, they can fly away from our crazy little nest and discover the world. It’s their life, their journey. We don’t give them everything they want. We want to give them that opportunity to want something so bad that they’re willing to work for it and save up for it. We want them to taste satisfaction when they finally buy or get something they’ve always wanted because of their diligence and hard work.
I am grateful that we get front row seats as we watch them get up and fall, over and over. They too get front row seats to watch our journey as adults who are still trying to figure things out. We are all learning from each other and that’s what’s important. Aha! There! That’s one thing I know that’s best for all of us! 🙂
I am grateful that he gets the support he needs not just from his family, but also from mentors and friends he has chosen at Abot Tala, the Self-Directed Learning Center for Teens he currently goes to. We still unschool, but now it’s with fellow unschoolers and homeschoolers.
Oh and my son is finally back to being his funny self. I often tease him about being a stand-up comedian one day. I said he has lots of material — thanks to the crazy, nagging mom I was when he was growing up! Ayayay! Oh well. We shall see.