"It is not what you learn, but how you learn," my son announced the other day. My kids are chock full of insight and they are the catalyst to our bizarro way of living. They influence my writing and view of the world and they have changed me forever as a person and definitely as a mother. Their quirks reflect who I am and who I must have been as a child. It is hard to remember my childhood but I certainly was not provided with the kind of love and support that I offer to my own children. My past has shaped me for better or worse and I am who I am but probably not who I was meant to be.
So, what I am learning is that reading, writing and media are a central theme for me which parallels and complements my children's interests. Our stay-at-home lifestyle allows me to satisfy my own creative and intellectual needs as much as it does for my offspring. Schedules may once have worked for all of us but now that seems stifling and a distant memory. Though our life is far from perfect, it certainly suits us. It is hard to remember what I envisioned when I thought of becoming a parent, but it certainly was not this. I had some unrealistic ideas of maintaining my super social lifestyle of parties, movie premieres and going out on the town with girlfriends. That type of lifestyle ended full stop upon the birth of my first child but my ideas at that point were still fairly traditional in nature. My circumstances have helped shape my parenting style for the better. Lack of space and round the clock nursing dictated that I co-slept with my baby which started me off on a more hippie mom type parenting style than many other moms I knew living on the westside of Los Angeles.
Fast forward several years after participating in the typical school and summer camp route and I have and continue to evolve into the most radical parent I know. Our alternative lifestyle is certainly enjoyable and creatively free which allows for a lot of self reflection. Spending nearly every waking moment with my two gifted, loquacious kooks is never dull. I am pretty sure a quiet introvert would feel assaulted by the verbosity of my progeny; however, I embrace rapid fire communication and join in on the fun. We, as a family, are a lot to take in which is hardest on my husband who is that quiet introvert. Our talkative nature causes him anxiety but we are who we are so he deals with it. It is a love/tolerate thing.
Parenting gifted children is certainly a learning experience that I could never have been prepared for until I realized I was in the midst of it and I had to figure it out. Fortunately, it didn't take too long for me to understand my children and their needs but I had to experience a plethora of missteps before the light bulb went on. It is empowering once you appreciate and understand your child's true temperament and are able to nurture it. Radical unschooling allows my children the freedom to develop into exactly who they are meant to be on their own time frame without having to endure boredom, coercion, psychological or physical abuse. I may be sacrificing a big paycheck but I do so happily knowing that I am providing my children with exactly what they need. Many of us are forced to integrate some form of alternative education because of our exceptional chidren's atypical needs. I cherish the time we spend together and love that we have developed a deeply connected relationship with unique opportunities that would never manifest if I went to an office and they were stuck in school.
Our days are unscheduled. That thought scares many parents but it is comforting for us. The kids sometimes take classes but generally our days are free and open to discover whatever comes our way. We follow our passions which are constantly evolving and we enjoy our ability to do that which we please. My parenting style is based more on offering suggestions and then backing off. Whether my kids heed my advice is up to them. Nothing is required. Nothing is forced. I influence their choices to a small degree but I certainly do not make them do anything they don't want to do. This approach is very different than virtually all parenting books out there which suggest tips and tricks in order to have well behaved kids who follow all the rules. Oh, that's right. I am not striving for well behaved, obedient kids. They are respectful much of the time but they certainly are not perfect little robots that do as they are told. They challenge me constantly much like how I used to challenge my parents. I am pretty sure I infuriated them at times but they survived and I turned into an adult who speaks her mind and influences people.
Most adults don't embrace children who are oppositional and opinionated. Part of the make-up of gifted children is that they have so many ideas and theories and are generally stickler for facts. Factual correctness oftentimes trumps polite social behavior. They have a need to be right and usually have an arsenal of factoids at their fingertips. The thing is...they are usually right which can be even more infuriating. I often provide reminders of how one may need to tame their personality based on the context of the situation. Or, rather, I model another way of disseminating the factually correct information in such a manner so as not to alienate or frustrate anyone within earshot.
My oldest needs constant reminders when it comes to this and I try to explain how environment and one's age must factor in to the delivery of his abundance of knowledge about nearly everything. He is a kid who knows the source material, origins story, history and evolution of so many things and he naturally launches into the back story of whatever the subject at hand is. I can dig it as I live it daily but his overly articulated content is too much for some people who prefer things quiet and simple. This kid doesn't take anything at face value. He has a knack for taking something simple and elevating it to the overly complex and he has the same adeptness at breaking down complex ideas and making them simple and digestible all in a fairly long winded manner. He is a garrulous kid who was a self-proclaimed talker as a baby. The content changes but the dissertation style delivery remains constant.
The little one, who is about to turn 6, needs a slightly different type of guidance. He, too, has a facility with the English language but he is overly confident with his use of curse words. They flow so effortlessly from his mouth and he is not apologetic about his abundant use of off-putting phrases. His older brother has never uttered a curse word in his life, which he takes pride in, but the youngest sees no problem embracing drunk sailor type banter along with engaging in violent dramatic play. He breaks all molds when it comes parenting a young child. After having a goodie two shoes type of first child, I was not at all prepared for parenting this kid. He has no desire to propitiate for the sake of social harmony and his attraction toward weapons and violence scares me. On the flip-side, he is the most cuddly, lovey, emotionally connected, syrup sweet boy that enjoys colorful, iconic characters and wears his heart on his sleeve. He is highly creative, entirely selfless and eager to help anyone in need. His uniqueness and charisma fascinate me and his zeal for life is contagious.
There are days when I cannot believe this is our life and then others where I am thrilled with how everything turned out. Since I am not a planner, I couldn't tell you what the future holds and yet I never worry about how my children will fare as adults. They have the tools to be successful and the ability to think creatively and critically which I believe are some of the most important skills for this generation. For some outsiders whose kids endure public school, watching us radically unschool is like watching a train wreck. Parenting freethinkers may appear risky to some but for me it is imperative. Gifted children do not fit any pre-conceived mold, and moreover, why would you want them to. Parenting outliers is not easy, but it is real, it is entertaining and it is our life.
FB: Amy Golden Harrington / Gifted Unschooling