I've been doing a lot of reading on unschooling this past year. I love the whole idea of letting my kid be a kid and following her interests. I will admit that I struggle with this sometimes, as many I know who also unschool have admitted to me as well. (Especially as our children get older and seem more out of tune, so to speak, with other kids their age.) Then, of course, there are the Radical Unschoolers, who have a whole following of their own. This group contains some people who are almost cult-like in their zeal to allow the child to choose absolutely everything in their lives, from clothes and food to education and bedtimes. I admire these people, who have such trust in their child's ability to always pick the right thing. I fully admit that I'm not there yet and that we are trying to decide how far "there" we will go. Take bedtime, for instance, I know without a doubt that my second would stay up really late if I let her. She would run herself into the ground--probably throwing a tantrum at the end, just because. As the parent, I choose to not let her do that. We get her into her pjs early, read to her for quite a long time, then tuck her in with a relaxing meditation CD. She goes to sleep easily and usually sleeps all night. None of it feels forced, coerced, or fixed, nor does it seem disingenuous with regard to her needs. So the fact that she doesn't necessarily have the freedom to choose her own bedtime doesn't feel "wrong" to us somehow. Radical Unschoolers would tell me I don't trust her to do what feels right in her body. And perhaps they are right...as the parent I have lived longer, have more experience in this area and I have definitely seen the results of letting her stay up too late. Trying to balance her needs and her freedom and independence can be a delicate balance, can't it? And should I feel guilty for not "allowing" this freedom? Because I don't...I feel like a responsible parent.
Food choice is another major area of discrepancy for Radical Unschoolers and regular unschoolers, like us. My kids have total freedom with anything in the house. Rarely do I ask them not to eat something at whatever time of the day...if it is in the house, it is fair game. The trick? I am very careful about what comes into our house. My husband and I are passionate about eating locally, organically, and growing our own when we can. We know our local farmers, get food from local markets and buying clubs and raw milk from a good, clean, local dairy. We have researched this topic a LOT. As a result, our kids have grown up able to appreciate limits on their food consumption. We have NEVER (and I truly mean NEVER) taken our kids to any fast food restaurants. Why? Because we have a major problem with how food is raised in this country and taking them to a restaurant like that would simply be telling them that yes, we talk about food and how important it is to know your food source, but just this once (or twice or however many times), we'll ignore that value and eat here. That gives such a HUGE mixed message to kids and I don't think it is fair. At some point in their lives, when they are older, they will be on a field trip or team sports trip or whatever, and the bus will stop at McDonald's for dinner. We know this. At that point, they will be more than welcome to choose what they want to do. If they ask us to pack them a dinner because they don't want to eat the food, we'll be more than happy to do that. If they ask us for money to buy something so they don't feel different from their peers, we'll do that as well. Because at that point, they will have the understanding they need to make their own choices. I know I'm going against all Radical Unschooling policy when I say that I just don't believe my 5yo has a good enough grasp of the complexities of the food system to make that choice right now. Of COURSE she would pick a McDonald's chicken nugget...they taste good. Duh...they are supposed to. They are marketed specifically for the 5yo...the chemicals have been tested especially for them! RUs tell me that if I don't give her the choice now, she'll "never" be able to make the choice later. Sorry, I just don't buy that. (It has a similar ring to the idea that if I don't wean my son, he'll "never" stop nursing. Again, I just don't buy that.)
So I guess I'm still floundering in this world of "regular" unschooling while being bombarded with messages about the positives of Radical unschooling. I mean, I think of the time my son, at age 5-months, did a face plant into my husband's ice cream cone. Until that moment he was exclusively breastfed, but apparently a little Moose Tracks ice cream was just want he wanted. Now, we had been fighting a dairy allergy for a while, but that aside, should I have just let him have it? Or would even RUs understand that 5-months is a little too young to make food choices? I say again, I'm stuck with what some say is my "need" to control the situation and what others would call my son's need to control what goes into his body (or my daughter's need for bedtime freedom, etc.)
Anyway, I know these are just the ramblings of a mom trying to make her way through this adventure of parenting and now homeschooling. At some point my kids will be adults...at that point I'll know if it worked or not, if my guidance was reasonable or if they are permanently messed up. But by then I'll probably be living in Hawaii, enjoying my retirement with ease. And a houseboy...I'll definitely have a houseboy who does the laundry.