Question: A callous parent?

On May 30th a reader writes:
So, I was thinking about your post yesterday after a little accident on the beach yesterday. [My friend] G. and I make a great team with her kids. I know her kids and I know how she parents, and since we’re together all the time she gives me the right to draw boundaries and set consequences if need be for her girls. It works for us. Her kids are tough and if one hits the other and the other punches back, she just sits back and waits for them to work it out. I’ve learned to be comfortable with that.

So, another woman comes down to the beach with her two boys. They live there, so I’m sure they are much more familiar with the terrain. She seemed largely unconcerned that her one year old was tottering around near the quarry sans life jacket. Okay. Then her oldest sits down on the swing and the littlest toddles over and gets a little too close and bam! The bar on the bottom of the swing beans him on the head and he goes tumbling several feet. I jump up because the mom is nowhere to be seen and then the whole swing collapses and falls backward, most notably knocking the wind out of the oldest. I run over and no one’s crying, everyone seems fine and the mom saunters over and asks if everyone’s okay. I tell her that the youngest got hit on the head and went tumbling and she asks if everyone is okay and then walks away, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. I do likewise. Because – it’s not my deal. I feel like it was okay for me to run to the rescue, should someone have been bleeding or unconscious, but since she seems unconcerned, I have to do the same. But I felt weird about it.

Anyway, just wondered what you thought about it in light of what you wrote.

A story like this is rather hard to get a read on because I wasn’t there. First off, of course it was okay for you to run to the little one’s rescue. Had they been hysterical and hurt, you could have helped (although most young children usually want their mommies/daddies/carers when they are hurt and frightened). When I was a child I liked knowing grownups noticed when one of us had trouble, and I was comforted when they stepped in to assist whether I took them up on it or not.

As for the mother and your thoughts on her, I will say many parents I observe run the gamut of heavily managing injuries/crying to barely reacting. If I were being judged from outside by someone who did not know me I would likely often look like more of the “barely reacting” type. Not so much my kids don’t seek me out, though: they come to me for a hug and wipe their tears on my clothes and move on, and I always give them exactly how much love they need (How do I know? While I am still there, present, holding them, they release me and move on.)

Funnily enough when the kids have a huge throwdown (like what people call “a tantrum”) I am also usually pretty calm through that too. Last night we had a dinner guest (childfree) and I could tell she was watching me like a hawk to see how I’d handle my daughter’s “drama”. But the thing is, it is the very part of me that “allows” drama that also enables my children to move through it quickly and for the most part remain quite even-keeled through many stressors (as far as I can tell). My daughter had a few upsets at the beginning of the dinner and then she was calm and happy throughout the evening beyond 11 o’clock when our guest left. Not that I think anyone has the right to judge my parenting and my child based on her “convenience” for guests; my point is that I did not need to lecture my daughter about her “bad behavior” (or whatever) for her to move on to “better behavior” – but I often feel a social pressure to do so.

Back to the beach: those kids sounded pretty young and when I had young babies I tended to react more than I do now. It isn’t just because I love(d) them, it’s because I felt expected to (or else be judged a “bad mother”). I now believe I did not need to react and rescue and moderate as much as I did. But then, I was new to the whole bit too. Now instead of social mores I have my intense knowledge of my own children. A parent in tune with their kids recognizes relatively quickly when they really do need cuddling, a bandaid, some attention, etc. and when they don’t.

Was that mother in tune with her kids? I can’t tell because I wasn’t there, but you might be able to make a reasonable guess if you think back on what happened. I do see people here where I live who seem almost callous to their children. But often these people have a look like things are rough, their lives are rough, or at least they’re having some sort of terrible clusterfuck of a day. A sort of drawn look not to mention their clothing and their cars (or lack thereof) or their tone of voice or what they’re talking about or the look in their eyes – it reminds me I have things more fortunate than many others. I am not saying everyone who’s an ass-hat to their kids has some tragic story as to why. But I’m far less likely to jump to any conclusions than I used to be.

Another possibility is the mother felt shamed for not being there or shamed/angry for having another person “infringe” on her territory (I hasten to add again, you did nothing wrong) and she might have responded from a hardened place. I just don’t know but you might have a sense.

And finally, the life jacket thing. Well this is not only cultural but varies within families and if we needed to keep our kids safe 24/7 we, well, we wouldn’t HAVE kids. Anecdotally I am very, VERY paranoid with my children around water – and they both can swim. Since they were babies I’ve worried about drowning; even when I had them strapped to my body and was crossing a safe bridge I’d have terrible fantasies about them plunging in. At a quarry I’d probably have crazy-eye with worry over my baby.

And finally, off-topic a bit, anytime I hear adults judging one another about parenting I think of this video:

The truth is parenting is a hard job and most people are doing the best we can. It is wonderful you help your friend out and you are one of those valued friends who shares family life with us. I have several of those childfree (or childless, depending on your preference) friends and they are very treasured by myself, my husband, and my children. G. is lucky to have you.

From formspring: Corporate women & breeder hate

Asked on formspring by a reader of Underbellie. Keep in mind I am no expert on high finance but was asked to weigh in on an article that concerns this world:

Along the lines of your posts on underbellie on society devaluing mothers, two thoughts – The first, best summed up here:

“Wall Street’s Disappearing Women” at

And the second, this whole hatred for “breeders”. Discuss!

I am just now getting to this question as I found that Forbes article difficult to wade through. My first thought: even despite data, facts, and many (heretofore unimpeachable) professional women’s testimonies, it is still impressive how many people will try to come up with ANY possible reason these women “deserve” a disproportionate rate of firing and or (fake) “layoffs” (my favorite line of reasoning: new mothers categorically “lose their edge”. Complete and utter bullshyt).

The story of Rosenberg and Bostjancic at Merrill (and Bostjancic’s immediate replacement after years of “stellar” work) is a very telling (and predictable, and depressing) one. In fact all the stories are depressing(ly familiar) and I wish these fighting women luck in their suits brought against these companies. As women in powerful positions the battle they’re waging has far-reaching implications for all professional women and (I’d hope) even working- and middle-class women.

As long as women are still expected to do most of the childrearing, and then punished when they *do* have children (or evidence of family life), it’s pretty obvious how severely the deck is stacked against them. I had some of this fallout in my career as an engineer but for brevity’s sake I will not go into it now; if you’d like to chat more do re-question or send me an email at kelly AT hogaboom DOT org.

Back to the Forbes article: compare the reactions to professional women and their marginalization especially when it comes to family life with the reactions regarding suggested changes at Downing Street (not corporate but the highest gov’t office in Britian):

Notice anything similar? Women are expected to be doing all the at-home stuff, and expected not to lead, to be paid, or afforded status for their “less important” work.

If you are interested in more evidence regarding our less-than-egalitarian country regarding men and women’s roles in the workplace and family, I recommend adding this blog to your feed reader:

I’m sure there are better ones but this is one I enjoy.

“This whole hatred for ‘breeders'”: goodness. This is where I lose my chipper optimism and just begin to feel despair. First of all, the hatred of “breeders” is of course disproportionally heaped on A. women and B. children (OMG you childfree grownup you are *so awesome* for picking on a four year old!). Secondly, it’s about the most short-sided kind of hatred I can think of, by turns insensitive, callous, and selfish. Only miliseconds ago according to the calendar of our Earth YOU were born and cared for and fed and raised up and clothed; mere milliseconds from now you will be aging and dying, your body failing and nurses and family and friends ushering you on with kindness and compassion (if you are fortunate to live a natural life). In addition, any of us are only one accident away or one illness away from disability. Boy, in all THOSE cases (infancy, illness, old age, disability, our death bed) we sure will be happy for those nice people who give selflessly to care for us!

But for now? F*ck those snot-nosed brats and their cattle-like parents (moms).

So, so sad. I’m glad breeder-hate is a rare and vocal minority, but I do feel so down when I see it. It demonstrates some of the worst qualities human beings can evidence.

Thank you very much for your input; your article was a good one to share.

Question: How do you handle whining?

On June 8th a friend writes,

Do you have any advise or book suggestions when it comes to whining? I just picked up “Easy to Love Difficult to Discipline” hoping that helps.

I allow “whining” because in truth children are often so disempowered it seems unfair to me to require they do not voice their displeasure. That said, of course “whining” occasionally gets to me and I snap or demand the child to stop. My feelings of overwhelm with whining are usually triggered when I’m hungry or tired or upset or preoccupied about something else.

I apologize to my children after I snap (when I’m ready to do so; usually within about fifteen minutes).  I notice my children “whine” less and less the more freedoms I give them and the more I let them be authors of their own life. My policies and my genuine apologies go a long way when my kids are cranky and tired and they start “whining” and I ask them to please be quiet because I am having a hard time. They almost always experience this as a reasonable request and through their well-developed empathy they will be silent and give me the time I need.

This works far better than back when I used to engage primarily in policing “whining”.[1. I will also add it is interesting we designate children’s vocal protestations as “whining” and give it a negative slant. When adults object to policies they believe are unfair we do not categorically designate it as “whining” unless we feel a degree of entitlement about their rights to complain.]

With regards to your book title, I should elaborate that I don’t aim to discipline (I stop my kids from harming and breaking things they shouldn’t harm or break, but I do not punish them). When it comes to “bad behavior” I try to look at the underlying issues happening for all parties and correct those. This usually makes discipline irrelevant. That said, Ralph and I still employ “disciplinary” measures because that’s how we were raised (and that’s how most people we know parent) and it’s hard to break our programming.  We keep trying.

We are learning to practice Consensual Living and it’s going pretty well, although since I am a beginner I am not perfect. Here are two sites/blogs that introduce the concepts and have book reviews.

Unschooling: How do I provide my kids the rich environment they need?

Posted on an online forum June 5th, 2010:
So I have a 3yr old boy and a 1yr old boy. I am in the midst of researching all the various educational avenues for my 3 year old. I know a few homeschoolers nearby and have been inspired by their experiences to the point where I feel like sending my 3 year old to a regular school would be just SUCH a disservice to him. And now in discovering the concept of unschooling, I am even further intrigued. It makes a lot of sense and fits my philosophy well… BUT… I am torn.

I feel like I can’t give my older boy the attention I would need to give him when I am with the baby… and I’m even thinking of having another baby next year if I can. I feel like there are a million things I’d love to do with my son in theory, but then I have so little energy and attention to give him during the day around it. (Especially when baby isn’t sleeping through the night…and I feel like a zombie….) I am not a single mom, but I live sort of like one, as my husband travels and is gone about 90% of the time.

I am seriously wondering how I could have another baby and still give my oldest son a “rich” experience here at home. In exploring all my options, I found a local montessori school that seemed WAY more interesting than what I can provide for him right now. Or at least, what I *think* I can provide for him. Also, he is a pretty sociable little guy, and we don’t have any neighbors with kids… so that too is a concern – how do I make sure he meets friends? Maybe I could have him go to Montessori til the babies are no longer babies?

So…my questions for you guys are… how do you give your older kids the sort of “educational attention” they need when you’re dealing with a baby or babies?

I read on here that one woman unschooled all her children, and I think she said she had 7 kids…. That sounds verrry interesting. But it has me wondering how she did it with babies and all… How do you have the energy for creative projects with a 5 year old if you’re sleep deprived from dealing with a newborn?

Trying to wrap my brain around all this… so any advice is greatly appreciated!

Many unschoolers hold the theory you don’t need to “provide” arts and crafts and science and writing lessons and all that to a passive student (as school does). Most children, given a supportive environment, take on their own interests (which include these subjects and more). They come to you with what they want or need (or you intuit it) and so unschool “planning” is not much of an issue. My children in this last week have been reading National Geographic and a set of encyclopedias, learning to skateboard, teaching themselves chess, and working on math problems of their own volition. My youngest is becoming an experienced street biker (my older already is one), and tonight my oldest helped me patch a dress of hers with bright fabrics. They love going to the library and while we’re there they pick out their own books and read, read, read at the library. I have to tear them away and they bring home books and DVDs which in turn spark more art projects and fields of “study”. In fact my kids are so independent I am often thrilled when they do come to me for something. This independence began in earnest when we began unschooling.

There’s a concept that if you don’t give your kids the “rich” environment all kids will sit on the couch and eat Chee-tohs and play video games. That just hasn’t been my experience.

Some aspects of our family life have made my kids’ autodidactic interests easier. For instance we don’t have a television set (I know many U/Sers are not at all opposed to TV but it’s not a good fit for our family; I grew up without one and loved it). We also bike a lot and being out and about on our bikes, running errands and visiting people always delivers a wonderful series of lessons and rich experiences. At home I’m mostly working on my own things (writing and sewing) as well as doing the cooking and cleaning and my children are hardly what I’d call underfoot.

As for a social life, this varies according to your values, your locale, and your willingness to organize or drive/walk/bike/bus to events. In our case our kids see tons of other children because they’re in sports programs and also the neighborhood kids are over at our house every day of the week; also many of my friends’ children come here for sleepovers because we’re so kid-friendly and my children are well-liked. I don’t know what we’d be doing if we were more isolated in our neighborhood, but given all four of us are so social I have a feeling we’d be finding those avenues.

I do not mean to sound completely clueless about how difficult life is with young children who are still in diapers and/or nursing and still need so much of us physically – I’ve been there and I too thought I’d “need” school to give myself some respite and give my children what they need (like a social life, etc). Your children are still very young and mostly just need lots of love, good food if you have it, TLC, and patience. Soon enough they will be out the door and running to the park or the corner grocery store or visiting friends on their own. I know with young children it can feel overwhelming but you will sleep again someday! (And by the way, the unschooling life is wonderful when it comes to sleep!) Find the things you love to do and try to be present with your children; that sets the best foundation for unschooling I can think of.

From the vault: Why haven’t we heard of “life learning” before?

A reader writes me an email, May 2010:
I subscribed to PhD in Parenting a few days ago so read your great comment.[1. This one: “Lots of theories on what WILL happen…”] The more I read, the more convinced I get that homeschooling is not this terrible thing – and when I say that I mean all homeschooling, not just homeschooling done by “forward-thinking” people like you who “do it right”.

What I do wonder though, specifically WRT unschooling, is either what has changed or is the way the collective We think of the history of education off? We tend to think of public education bringing literacy and more knowledge to everyone, giving them a little more power. Is that off? Or is that true, and something like unschooling works because the cycle of illiteracy has been broken, so the coupling of adequate access to information (books, internet, etc.) with parents’ ability to pass literacy on to children is enough to teach kids any of the fact-based things they need to learn?

From my place in this (and yours is clearly different), it seems like most people can accept that it is possible to “adequately” homeschool children to a certain age – 4th grade for some, or 6th, or whatever – because adults still have that information in their heads, so they can pass it on. But then there is also this belief that once you have exhausted your knowledge as a parent (which I’m much more inclined to believe happens long before a child is “supposed” to be in school), you have to send them to the professionals, because you won’t be able to keep up. With this model, it makes perfect sense that somewhere along the line, all of that knowledge had to be injected so it could be passed down. It seems to rely on a parent or a grandparent having had a more formal education and passing it along down the generations.

Unschooling does not rely on these assumptions, so I’m wondering why didn’t life learning work before public education but it does now? Or did it work, and if so, why is our societal story about education so off?

(Ed note – Keep in mind my response is an email from one white college-educated middle class female to another and relies on some of our shared experiences.)

Thanks so much for your email. The PhD in Parenting post makes me feel a little bit of the Crazy. It aims in tone to sound “fair and balanced” but in reality it’s just full of half-arsed theories re: home education by someone who hasn’t bothered to delve deep. I’m glad several people commented and called many of these out. I don’t think the author is going to change their tone or worldview, which is one of, “Oh, just a few concerns I want to point out” – even tho’ she herself admitted she hasn’t looked into home education at all. Hey, if you don’t know anything about something, you wanna keep talking prescriptively?

In addition the author seems terrified of uber-religious types (a fear I see often). In my view the way we treat or think about religious sects or groups is not to just wish they WOULDN’T EXIST and then slap an earnest (and false) belief on the whole business: that somehow throwing their kids in the melting pot of Society will ameliorate the concerns of religious fanaticism and exclusionary lifestyle (yeah… it doesn’t).

If nothing else I’m glad in any way that my comment spurs on good conversation for people who are willing to look past mainstream thought and bias. Whether or not these readers homeschool, the deconstruction of school’s “rightness” is good for all parents and children who – and this is important – are in the position to take up more of the reins re: their child’s education.

OK, so you had a few questions.

I am not an expert on history of education in this country (although I’m studying up)[2. In fact when I think about it I know in a short time my very writings on the subject will seem trifling and underdeveloped, but I am working to learn.] but of course life learning “worked” before the public school (PS) model. The education system as we know it in America is actually quite new – mass schooling came to the fore at the turn of the century. It’s also not as nice and egalitarian and awesome as the “story” we’ve been told. I am planning on reading John Taylor Gatto’s books on the subject because I, like you, enjoyed school and think of school as a “good” thing and for most of my life did not question the latter mindset. In fact not that many years ago school was this kind of holy thing to me and even if I could allow bits and pieces of it weren’t “perfect” I still believed in it’s general goals (now I’m far less enthusiastic, but committed to improvement and justice for all kids, including the 98% in school).

Also, life learning is happening and has ALWAYS happened! What is happening now with you and your new job and passion as cheesemaker and your work learning to cook new cuisines, with me and my sewing and writing, with Nels writing music and building and literally gardening better than most adults I know, with Phoenix’s dragon-drawing and building expertise and writing and swim team? In fact most people recognize life learning as being the best kind of learning (the most fun, the most retained, the most efficient) but we somehow think we all need to go through years and years of this “other” kind of education first to earn the right to pursue what we want to do. To bad that “other” kind of education often alienates us from what we want and how to pursue it; it often eunuchs us and keeps us second-guessing what we want and what our abilities are (we trust others to tell us this).

And that leads me to the concept of “experts”. Because your questions about how one needs to go to “real” school to learn from the “experts” is awesome! I am currently writing an article for Life Learning Magazine that touches on the “expertise” in school; and yesterday I read one of Wendy Priesntiz’ wonderful articles on the subject:

“Knowledge and the Cult of Experts”

This little essay on Unschooling is probably a bit 101 for you, but toward the end it deconstructs some of the “expert” and “teacher” stuff with some nice, brief analogies:

“Unschooling or Homeschooling?” by Billy Greer

Of course as a result of school I know calculus and chemistry and… but wait, do I? If I had to perform some of these problems in a test I think I would do poorly. If I studied up a bit first I would regain my rusty skills. So that begs a few questions. Um, why did I have to learn this stuff? Oh, for college which led to my job (or as we liked to call it, my “career”). Well, the job was worth it back when I had it. Second question: did I have to go through all the rigamarole of the many formal classes I was required to take to get the requisite chemistry and calculus needed for engineering work? Oh hell no. Had I wanted the job I wanted I could have selected and with focus built my own education, got there my own way (half the foremen in my workplace – the job I attained before quitting – worked up through blue collar routes). This “build my own career” route is hard to even imagine now as when I was in high school and college I was still very much a product of the passive learning model in school. I not only willingly jumped through hoops, I was glad they were there because the concepts of thinking for myself, of “proving myself” and striking out on my own, truly, was quite terrifying to me.

American college students change their major an average of 5 times; much higher for kids straight out of HS than returning “adults”. I can’t help but think part of the reason this is due to the near total passivity that school encourages while simultaneously imposing socio-economic hierarchies in a zero-sum game. You’re supposed to be smart and an independent thinker but not TOO smart or TOO independent. You’re supposed to take responsibility for yourself but of course, if you were allowed that responsiblity (and you had the support of parents and adults) one might be inclined to leave and pursue a better education, which is rather frowned upon. There’s “not enough for everybody” so you’d better play your cards right to end up on top of the pile.

I was a good student in school. I liked to perform well and it became easy enough for me most of the time. However school teaches kids such lessons in external validation, cosmetic success, regurgitating (as opposed to true knowledge) it did not help me develop as fully as so many would like to believe about school. Children impress me, despite these obstacles. They have no “right” not to go, so I think they make the best of it they can.

I am looking forward to reading a couple of John Taylor Gotto’s books. This little bit on his site walks through the original three purposes of school vs. the fourth purpose: “American Education History Tour”. It’s a bit funny and may sound paranoid to those used to mainstream views but… well… I can’t say I disagree with the fellow (and I look forward to reading more of his work). A particular sentence struck home with me:

“What better way to habituate kids to abandoning trust in their peers (and themselves) than to create an atmosphere of constant low-level stress and danger, relief from which is only available by appeal to authority?”

I did well in school as I’ve said. Even though I felt I enjoyed school I know exactly what he means about low-level stress. Schools are also more dangerous than they used to be (not because kids are bad kids either; this is subject for a whole other conversation). And “authority”? What bullocks. Of course we know Authority is out there and we run across it every day. Playing the game, bowing to authority (no matter how unjust), learning to bully as corporate and personal policy? These are enforced in school, whatever other positive experiences we may have there.

I could talk (rant?) for much longer. Finally I want to say something more personal.

If I didn’t have my two “data points” of Phoenix and Nels I think I would be a lot more fearful of h/sing and a lot more trusting of public and private schooling. If I didn’t see how much better off they were socially, physically, academically, morally, emotionally out of school, I’d be tempted to think of school as workable, and I’d be assisting them in prevailing. After all, my kids were clearly on the “teacher’s pet” track (at least in these early years) just as I was. What a lot of nice pats on the head for me.

But school is only an “it needs work but it’s basically okay and everyone should do it” situation if you believe it’s normal and required. Once I had cause to believe it’s a choice like anything else and knew my rights to abstain, school became less of a no-brainer. I am a passionate believer in encouraging improvements for all children (this is why I write about kids so much). But of course, I also can exercise my right not to public school and once I realized school had more harm than good to offer my kids, it was an easier choice. I still have doubts and I enjoy exploring and talking about them.

I am late in getting us out the door for swimming. I’d like to continue the conversation. Many people are close-minded to H/Sing and U/Sing. I hope my radicalism doesn’t scare open minds off.

From the vault: Thank you

A reader writes me an email on May 3, 2010.

As a first time reader who found your blog via a link from two Facebook friends, I just wanted to say an enormous thank you for your post written on March 5th 2010 about the devaluation of domestic work.[1. found at Underbellie]

I’ve been an at-home mom for nearly 13 years, raising three amazing boys. I love what I do, believe passionately in what I do, and feel strongly that it provides my family and myself (as a woman and writer) a better life than we would have as a dual-income family. Yet, lately, I’ve been feeling a little edgy about being at home, like maybe I don’t really need to be here anymore, that I “should” be doing something else. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but I think what it really comes down to is that I’m struggling against an undercurrent of devaluation. I’ve had 33 years of people telling me that a good education and a good career define me, and yet I have neither of those things. After over a decade of doing “lesser work,” that undercurrent is starting to hurt.

But when I cook – oh goodness, when I cook! – or declutter a closet, or sort everyone’s laundry, or go on my son’s field trip without a second thought… Nothing compares to that. And I’ve come to know myself without all the smokescreens I could easily hide behind in the world of paid work. At home I’m just A., and A. loves her life and her family, and doesn’t need anything else to make her happy.

Anyway, that’s the a-ha moment your blog post reminded me of. I really, really thank you for that. I’m feeling rejuvenated and proud of what I do tonight. You rock.

Thanks 🙂

OMG Kids running in parking lots!

A reader writes me an email, May 2010.


Somehow I got off on a tangent when replying to your post and typed out what you see below. I felt like I was hijacking your post, so I pulled it and decided to email it to you instead:

This is merely an observation about kids and parenting in general, so please don’t take it the wrong way (I know you won’t). I’m trying to point out the thought process that many parents must go through when they witness things outside of their comfort zone.

When I see these pictures[1. These.], I put [my child] K. in Nels’ place. I see my daughter sitting precariously on the edge of a table with some large scissors that are most likely hella sharp. Because I know K., my fear is that she may leap (or fall) from the table with these sharp blades or might cut herself while using them. This is because she is almost always in motion and isn’t very good with scissors yet.

Now, some parents take the next step and assume (subconsciously or not) that Nels may meet similar consequences by projecting their own child’s abilities onto him. In my case, I am aware that Nels is most likely around hella sharp scissors all the time and probably uses them relatively skillfully as well, so I can let go of my anxiety. If I had witnessed this in person and didn’t know anything about Kelly and Nels I might ask a question that would direct Kelly’s attention to Nels. If Kelly shows no indication of danger, I would assume that Nels is capable of handling the scissors safely, again letting go of my anxiety.

Time and again I see this from the other side when we visit “the Walmart”. We typically walk down the sidewalk between parked cars toward the store. As we approach the crosswalk that crosses the main drag of the parking lot in front of the store, K. breaks into a sprint. Here’s the problem, I know that she will stop before reaching the crosswalk because we have gone over it many times and she always stops, but the people driving by don’t know this. Often, they freak out and slam on their brakes, then direct their anger toward K. and me. At no time was she in danger, but because they assumed she would run into the street, they respond with their own anxiety about the situation. In fact, I think they are actually angrier because she stopped. They feel stupid for overreacting, but somehow it’s still my fault.

Here is how I handle this differently. If I am driving and I see a kid running toward the street (even if it’s at the last moment and I slam on my brakes), I don’t get angry or think the kid is dumb or the parent is neglectful. I just stop and wait for the road to be clear. I don’t see the point in getting all worked up over something that ended well. How is me honking or yelling going to make the situation better? I’m not saying that I’m always Mr. Cool. If I’m having a bad day I may overreact, but that’s my own deal, not theirs.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I wish people could calm down and consider situations before reacting. Whether it’s in traffic, or while witnessing a child being disciplined in public, or whatever, consider the fact that you don’t know the whole story and leave room for the possibility that although it may not be “ideal” behavior, there may be a reason for it that you don’t understand.

I can’t remember what book it’s from (probably a Malcolm Gladwell book), but I can try to paraphrase the story.

The writer described a scene on a subway train where a father was letting his kids run wild. They were climbing on the seats, bumping into people, making a lot of noise…being kids. The writer could see the other passengers getting more and more irritated, so he decided to say something to the father. I can’t remember what he said, but the father responded with, “Yes, you’re right. I suppose I should be doing something. They lost their mother this morning and we’re still in shock about the whole thing.” The writer of course felt like crap and offered to help if he could.

Obviously, this extreme example isn’t always the case. But whether the person is dealing with a crisis or is simply being a jerk, how does getting angry about it help anyone?

Ok…that was kinda convoluted and irrelevant. Sorry about that. I’ve just been getting fed up with people passing judgement and getting angry for no reason lately.

Hello R.,

I’m sorry it took a while for me to email back. I have been swamped with correspondance and writing and emails!

I think your assessment is spot-on. Some people live with these assumptions (usually to the lowest common denominator of “You can’t/shouldn’t trust kids to do anything, because they can’t/shouldn’t”) and this becomes a toxic element. Instead of opening their minds or asking questions or taking a lighter touch in these situations, they assume the worst (about kids and parents) and operate from there.

Your experience with K. in parking lots is a precise experience I’ve had myself with my children. I recently had another parent write who’d had an identical issue in a parking lot in DC. Here’s the funny thing. Parking lots are a place where cars, pedestrians, people in wheelchairs and scooters, those with carts, and bicycles all negotiate space. In these stories with children, space was successfully negotiated. Why then the hate?[2. Because in America, cars are blameless, holy creatures and the rest shall scurry and scatter like chaff from golden wheat.]

I read the most wonderful articles referring to “adult privilege” today. I share them here and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

“Mothers to BHG Author – Thou Shalt Not Tell Us You Hate Our Kids” at

“My Child Takes Up Space at

Thank you again for writing, as always!

Q: Will unschooled children be limited by their parents’/carers’ worldview?

Today from formspring:

I’m thinking about unschooling my kids, but I’m concerned that my kids will be limited by only getting my perspective on things. To be solely responsible for educating my kids means that I need to address thing I don’t know much about. How do you do that?

I think this is a common concern for those open to unschool/homeschool lifestyles. They begin to become open and interested but remain fearful. I’m here to help put to rest some of those fears and assist you (as best I can) with any support you might need.

Of course as an unschooler (I prefer the term life learner) I kind of laugh at the thought of unschooling kids “only getting my perspective on things”. When I see how much exposure and education my kids get daily to many lifestyles and subjects and people (in far more walks of life than school affords) and varied social situations it occurs to me the last thing they’re getting is “just me”. And they’re only 6 and 8, not yet old enough or interested in driving/bus/bike themselves to concerts and museums and community events or take up paid or volunteer work they’re interested in (which I have an inkling they’ll do earlier and more willingly than most of their schooled peers). They are both on the verge of these activities though and of course, they both have a compass at getting around town (via walking, busing, and biking) better than some adults I know.

In other words, with an autodidactic learning environment I get to watch my children educate themselves (with my support and guidance and funds when they are needed). You remember how amazing it is to watch a baby teach itself to walk (make no mistake, they do it on their own)? Learning is no different. Give most children the supportive environment to lead the way, and they pursue most subjects with alacrity and ability that is a joy to watch (and I do believe this to be true of most children; I don’t believe mine to be particularly “gifted”). This lifestyle is not something that most American parents today accept, so most children aren’t given these environs.

It’s funny also you’d say unschooling means you will have to “[address] things [you] don’t know much about”. Two things come to mind, first off my biology teacher in high school who was mostly a football coach. I loved him, he was a sweetie. He read out of a book to “teach” us, a book nearly identical to the ones we had on the desk, open in front of us. Often he’d stumble over a word and someone would correct him (or we’d sit there with our eyes glazed, bored as hell). Guess who I know who’d be far more better at teaching my 8 year old daughter biology? My 8 year old daughter. In fact she is currently working her way through a Time Life series on the subject. Trust me, she is retaining more knowledge than I did (and I was a straight-A student)!

The second thing that comes to mind regarding “things I don’t know much about” is that as my children learn things on their own steam I have the opportunity to learn them as well or at the very least experience the joy in watching them learn the way they do. My son Nels started gardening at 4 and all I know about plant-growing is mostly due to him. My daughter humbles me, absolutely humbles me with her abilities at drawing. As a result I’ve been poring through more books and comic books (or graphic novels if you prefer) and re-connecting with my artistic self, a person I thought I’d lost years ago (back when I was voted “Most Artistic” a few times in my school career).

If you’re thinking about what we often consider the “advanced” academic subjects, such as chemistry or calculus, please. Should your child be interested in math (as both mine are; my son especially shows joy in the subject) you’ll pick up books as your child expresses interest and your learning will bloom alongside theirs. (Keep in mind a grasp of “math” is not limited whatsoever to doing problems in a book.) Or if they really take off to some high-level and you don’t want to work with them you’ll find them a tutor or another parent or another person to work alongside them. Or they’ll surprise you and won’t need help – or will seek it out on their own. I’m always kind of gobsmacked when I come across some amazing, detailed Lego structure they’ve built or some musical instrument they’ve created or a rich storyline they’ve put on paper or an email formatted beautifully – correct grammar and sentence structure and all. Part of me is so amazed at this beautiful thing, part of me feels guilty I wasn’t “around” for some of this learning, and part of me feels like an Old Person because I swear my brain is not this elastic and incredible!

A parent who is concerned their child gets good exposure to the subjects the child is interested in, and who has the tools to support the child (in other words enough money to pay the bills for the most part, a supportive group of friends and family or partner) is going to do a good enough job and hello, I’d wager a better job than any school I’ve set foot in. Autodidactic kids let us know exactly what they need from us; our exposure to them and life alongside them helps us keep in touch.

One thing I’d point out here is that I have heard kids who’ve spent time in school often have an adjustment period when you bring them out. They don’t immediately go start a garden or embark on a self-study of animal drawings, for instance (like my kids have). This process is sometimes called “deschooling” and can involve a child relearning that learning is fun – or how to be less of a passive consumer and more the author of one’s own life. I only know a bit about “deschooling” as I didn’t really have to deal with it in my family. If your children have been in school for some time and you are interested in removing them, please do re-question here or email me (kelly AT hogaboom DOT org) and I will help find some sources who have expertise and experience.

Thanks again for your questions and please don’t hesitate to write back if you like.

Kids’ safety: “one conversation at a time”

Originally posted as a comment on FreeRangeKids’ post, “One (Frustrating, Makes Me Want to Yank My Hair Out) Conversation At A Time”:

Just an hour ago I was with my youngest shopping for thread at the quilt store.  The proprietress – whom I *adore*, she and I have a great friendship – asked about my eldest child (we homeschool so I often have the kids with me out and about).  I said she was out and about riding a bus to the bakery and back home.

So then the proprietress does the – “[gasp!] You let her out ALONE?” and I’m feeling pretty confident – because I really do feel good about our lifestyle – so I say, “Yeah, we ride the bus together all the time. She knows what’s she’s doing.” and the woman responds, “Well, I’m sure she does.  But I’d be nervous about *predators*!”

I’ve had the most success in conversations like this saying, “Yeah, many people really *do* worry about that,” and not saying anything more and listening to the response.  Because usually people just seem to want to vent their fears.  They aren’t ALWAYS (or even that often) responding to me and my choices, they’re venting a bit of that “world is a scary place” stuff they live with.  (I’m not excusing those who perpetrate fear from their role in the larger picture of a fear-based culture, fear-based news, etc…  I’m just saying that I have compassion for people needing to vent).  So anyway, usually I just kind of bounce back with, “I hear this is a concern of yours,” type of response, and that seems to keep the friendship and conversation intact without going into a content debate – FACTS about dangers to children, etc.  Which a surprising number of people seem not that interested in discussing (as I’ve also seen here on this site with some of the comments).

Back to my conversation with the proprietress.  This time I went a bit further and I responded by saying:  “Well, I don’t really worry about that.” The problem is I feel like I came off worse for saying that.  She gave me a goggle-eyed stare and I swear I looked like a mom who is Woefully Naive or maybe, Doesn’t Care About Her Children.  I mean for all I know my worldview IS rubbing off on this woman – who knows.  But at the time I felt pretty judged and Othered.

What I’ve noticed though is that if I quote safety statistics (thank you, Lenore and many others!) in a conversation like this, THAT doesn’t seem to impress or convince anyone…  so honestly sometimes I don’t know what response I *should* have.

(I have also tried the, “Wow, it sounds like you think you care more about the safety of my child than *I* do,” which also works very well – I say it nicely, not like a jerk, promise).

Would love any feedback from the smart readers and commentators here.