Unparenting and Unschooling

From a comment I posted on this blog. (As always, if you comment, please be respectful.)

The term “unparenting” is often used in inappropriate contexts when related to unschooling. If a parent is there and engaged with their child in some way, it’s parenting of some kind or another. It can’t be unparenting. It might be extremely relaxed parenting, but it’s still parenting.

The only thing that constitutes unparenting is when a parent is not there, and not engaged at all.

Seems to me, that this is a much bigger problem with kids who go to school than kids who are unschooled. How can a parent parent when their kids aren’t even there?

Unschooling doesn’t mean walking away and letting a kid do things without parental support; it’s the opposite – letting a kid be who they are and do what they do best with parental support securely in place. Unschooling means not basing a child’s education on school, which has a very specific and directed process. Just like a parent who uses negotiation and understanding to deal with bickering children is unangering, or unyelling. Anger and yelling aren’t the only way to deal with children bickering, just as school isn’t the only way to learn.

So, extreme unschooling isn’t unparenting, just as extreme unyelling isn’t unmediating.

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12 Responses to “Unparenting and Unschooling”

  1. Sunnymom Says:

    It really does frost my taters when someone equates unschooling with lazy parenting. As if not wishing to establish strict schedules or train children to respond to bells and buzzers is somehow equal to complete chaos and anarchy.

    I once read an article where the author had cut&paste phrases from different homeschooling websites, forums, and blogs. They all had to do with schooling in pajamas, or going on a nature walk, or setting school aside altogether to respond to a situation- and all these were used as accusational ammo against HSing parents, who obviously were undisciplined and just WAY too relaxed about schooling, which of course should be done in uncomfortable clothes after only four hours of sleep so that everyone is miserable, and the school work itself should be incredibly difficult so that the child feels stupid and inadequate. And of course there’s that all important experience of raising one’s hand and announcing to thirty people that one needs to respond to a necessary biological function.

    I am really suspicious of people who think they should be able to just go pee whenever they want to.

  2. Tammy Says:

    Tee heee… Isn’t learning to raise our hand before we pee part of learning to get along in the real world?

    The author asked me a question. So I responded. It’s about lazy parenting.

  3. Sunnymom Says:

    I asked the author what he defines as ‘lazy’ parenting. What looks lazy to some might just be a lack of hysteria.

    My dh is an example of that. When the kids get hurt he can go from 0 to full-scale panic in .03 seconds. I am standing at the sink still washing dishes because the kitchen floor isn’t covered with blood, and an emergency IMO involves copious amounts of blood, or at the very least lots of screaming. Does that mean he cares more about the kids? No- we just have different approaches to handling certain situations.

  4. Kimberly Says:

    I’ve used the tern “unparenting” before, in relation to people I have known personally who say they are unschooling, when all they are really doing is hoping that their children don’t bother them during their waking hours. There is no interest in the education. I suppose “lazy parenting” is a better term; certainly the parents I am speaking of are still present and would presumably get the children out of the house if it was on fire.

    In one case, taking the children to school would be more work than just existing in the house with them.

    Many times this has been the result of deep depression in the at-home parent, in which case it isn’t a decision to “unparent”, it is simply a reality. “Lazy” doesn’t apply in the case of mental illness.

    I’ve also used the term “unparenting” in relation to parents I know whose children attend public school, but who once again would rather that the children not interact with them in any way if possible. Again, perhaps lazy parenting is a better term. Or even better, “unaware” or “detached” parenting.

    The desire to have meaningful relationships with one’s children doesn’t depend on how the parents and children decide the children will learn. Public schoolers, private schoolers, school-at-home families, and unschoolers can all have attached relationships, and can all (sadly) exist within the framework of detached parenting. It has been my experience, however, that attached parents seem more interested in unschooling than authoritarian parents or “lazy” parents.

    But all of this is just based on my experience, in real life (not web relationships), and is a tiny snapshot of one person’s opinion.

  5. ruthfrost Says:

    In the West – especially Anglophone countries – we have a very engaged model of parenting. The nuclear family is the bedrock of society and the parents take responsibility for actively raising, entertaining, educating, nurturing our children.

    Some of what is described as ‘lazy parenting’ above would constitute normal behaviour in some other countries.

    I live in Madagascar where there are some big differences.

    1. many adults don’t run off to work every day – a large proportion of the adults stay near the home either working or doing domestic tasks. Thus it’s not just the 2 parents that are involved in raising the children – everybody is. And children don’t need to be dealt with during daytime hours – they can just hang around.

    2. there is a higher ratio of children to adults so children spend a lot of time with other children instead of adults – this looks like lazy parenting to us, “They just let them run wild.”

    3. Children have lower status than they do in the West. Children ‘grow up’ rather than being raised and are seen as their own people with their own personalities much sooner. If they’re a pain – everyone says they’re a pain. If they’re shy, they’re shy. It’s just seen as their character.

    4. There is a high level of school attendance here but it is generally not to the same standard as in the west

    I’ve written about the approach in a post called ‘Should we be nice to children?’ on my blog

    http://vazahagasy.wordpress.com/2007/11/01/should-we-be-nice-to-children/

    Note the link to ‘‘Is Maman mean or magnifique?’ about 2 thirds down describing how it’s different in France too.

    I’m not disagreeing with people’s comments from my own personal view (as I say in my post, I’m a middle class, ‘fully-engaged’ Anglophone) but I am being forced to realise that there are lots of different ways to view raising kids. I am also realising that there are flaws with our approach.

    From a recent mother not yet sure how she’ll raise her own children.

  6. sunniemom Says:

    Mr. Davidsen seems to believe that we misunderstood the intent of his post. I am not a ‘dedicated unschooling blogger’, and I perceived his post to be about the relation of ‘unparenting’ to ‘unschooling’. Silly me. I guess I need a new pair of sunglasses.

    I agree, Kimberly, although I have never seen the relation of ‘unparenting’ to ‘unschooling’, because, as you pointed out, uninvolved and detached parents are not exclusive to any educational method, or for that matter any economic status, any ethnic group, or any geographical location.

    IMO this is the same as when a homeschooling child has a problem, and it is blamed on homeschooling- when in all likelihood, the child would experience that problem regardless of their educational experience. Educational methods don’t fix domestic issues or mental/emotional problems.

  7. Daycare Says:

    does sending a child to a child care classified as unparenting or lazy parenting?…

    Hmm for some months, I do send my kid to childcare because I care for his uneventful hours after school which I’m still at work.

    With dual income family, It’s quite common for parents to leave their child in childcare or student care while both parents work.

    anyway, I’m not too bothered about the term unparenting.. just find it interesting..

  8. Tammy Says:

    Daycare – it depends who you ask. :) In my opinion, sending a child to daycare isn’t in and of itself lazy parenting. If I were a lazy parent, though (whatever that is), daycare would look appealing.

    ruthfrost – you have an excellent point. It’s a great example of how “lazy” and “poor” parenting is a matter of personal opinion. It really doesn’t exist as some kind of black/white thing. What one person considers “lazy”, another person considers “respectful” or “developmental”.

    I have this idea in my head of what I think “lazy” parenting is. I have yet to actually meet someone who fills this description. I’ll meet someone along the way who seems like it, but once I get to know them, I realize that it’s not “lazy” parenting.. it’s some other thing, like a difference in culture, personal problems, learned helplessness. Who gets to decide what’s “lazy”? Just because someone doesn’t do things the way we do them or the way we think that they should be doing them?

    sunniemom – ya, I’m really not sure what his question is. He even asked me a question, I answered it, then he told me that he wasn’t talking about unschooling. What is he talking about then? I dunno.

    Kimberly – It’s true – our views and opinions really are a tiny snapshot into the world. Even though I’ve met hundreds of families IRL and thousands online, I still only see a teeny fraction of the different kinds of families out there. The more families I meet, the more I realize that nobody has a privileged seat. People are doing the best they can with what they have, and their world view comes from somewhere. And that our own world view, as much as we love it, will make someone, somewhere, think we’re a bad parent. The farther we are from the expected cultural norm, the more likely we are to meet with disapproval – no matter if what we are doing makes us happy or not.

  9. thedeezone Says:

    I clicked on this post because it sounded interesting. To be unparenting would be those who for whatever reason chose not to care for their children or neglect their children.

    The issue of unschooling is something about which I am undecided. I can see where a totatlly child directed curriculm could have pitfalls. If had chosen my own course of study as a young child I would have never learned to read or write instead focusing on art, Leggos and puzzles. At the same time I believe just because a child attends a traditonal classroom means any learning is taking place or at least learning desired objectives.

    If you practice unschooling how do you ensure all of the bases are covered and there are no gaps in learning?

    DH

  10. Stephanie Says:

    All right, I give up. This just looked like a poorly written post to me. He says that he’s beginning to grasp the concept that not pushing a child isn’t the same as not teaching a child, but then irretrievably links the two concepts with “If unschooling can be a good philosophy, how about un-parenting?” This is comparing apples and orcas.

    Unschooling isn’t about removing limitations, or pretending that they aren’t there. It is a response to limitations, i.e., my children cannot be pushed (in my case it’s genetic) therefore I don’t push them. I leave bait around instead and see what lights up their beady little eyes.

    Unparenting has a name. It’s called Neglect.

  11. arun Says:

    Appreciate this post & discussion – good on you for stirring it up Tammy!

    In my experience having shifted from relatively mainstream thoughts and approaches on parenting to an unschooling approach… i find what i do now to be incredibly proactive. In fact I often describe unschooling as the most hands on way of being hands off that i have seen.

    re. DH your question about covering bases. From my observation one interest which is fully explored will cover many, many bases. And they will gain confidence in their ability to learn further… even better :)

  12. annie b Says:

    what about the situation where a parent allows severely disrespectful behavior from their children? If their children hurt or bully other children


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