Sunday, October 7, 2007

What's Your Motivation?

I had the opportunity to talk with a mom new to homeschooling today. She shared with me that the first 6 weeks have been good in lots of ways, but that she is really struggling with a few key issues. Like many new to homeschooling, they are trying to find their style. Unschooling makes sense to her, but her partner is not ready to consider it. School at home doesn't appeal to her. Her son is bright and creative and yet struggled immensely in the rigid confines of the classroom. She is ready to follow up on his personal strengths and interests and create an educational plan for him that emphasizes these interests. The problem here is that she is very attached to the success of her plan. When she puts time and thought and energy into planning a morning full of exciting, creative activities for him, she is quite disappointed when he's not interested.

We talked about the classic power struggles that she and her son engage in on a daily basis. She is very clear that school was incredibly boring to her son, so she has made a point of following his lead and keeping the focus on some of his favorite activities. Yet the power struggles continue. She knows that I am a committed unschooler. She knows that I don't require my kids to do particular activities throughout the day. But she wanted to know what I thought about unschooling some aspects of their time together and not others. As she explained their situation, I remembered something I heard a few years ago. Whenever I am struggling with how to handle a particular parenting conflict, it's important to ask myself, "What's my motivation?"

A few posts ago I shared about a time when I was harping on my kids to put away their laundry. In the beginning, I was convinced that they needed to put it away because they should be helpful and responsive when I ask them to do something. In the end I realized that this line of thinking didn't match my desire to consider their needs as important as mine. I had a need to not trip over the laundry baskets anymore. They had a need to not have to stop what they were doing in order to meet my need. My motivation (or need, in this case) was to get the baskets of laundry out of the kitchen and out of my sight. As soon as I realized that it didn't matter if they got put away right away, the kids stopped what they were doing for a moment to move the baskets to their rooms, and we all got our needs met.

I shared this with the new homeschooling mom. I suggested that she could homeschool in any way that felt authentic to her. If that meant unschooling some aspects and not others, so be it. But determining the motivation is a good way to check in to find out why we make the choices we do. I asked her to think about what her motivation was in spending time planning creative and educational activities for her son. Was it because she had a desire to spend quality time with him? Was it because she felt he should take direction from her and do what he is told? Was it because she was afraid that if she doesn't plan anything there won't be anything to do? Does she have a need that he accomplish certain tasks each day?

As the conversation progressed, she became aware of her motivations. She shared that their situation is still so new, it is hard to be clear about which path is right for them. I don't think this is the end of the story for her. They have made a radical change in their educational choices and it will take loads of time before they find the right fit. I am grateful to her for the opportunity to remind myself of this important question. Even though we have always unschooled as a family, I wasn't unschooled myself. It is taking years for me to re-learn how to parent with the principles of unschooling in mind. When faced with a parenting conflict, it helps to ask myself, "What's my motivation?"

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