The unschooling diaries: week thirty-six
Finding balance is at the heart of any parenting journey, whichever way you choose to do things.
But I feel like having headed off down the unschooling path there’s a whole other challenge to be faced – because it’s not just your own views and needs and desires you’re trying to factor in, and those of the people whose opinions you value, but those of your child(ren) as well.
I thought, when Arthur was just a hypothetical, that I knew exactly what kind of parent I’d be. My experience as a teacher had taught me that I was likely to be fairly child-led, but I also knew (or thought I knew) that I would eschew screen-time in favour of more ‘wholesome’ pursuits, and envisaged hours spent elbow-deep in arts and crafts (to satisfy my own desires as much of those of my hypothetical child).
It turns out that, apart from in very special circumstances, Arthur’s not super keen on painting and gluing and sticking. And he really, really loves his iPad. I guess that’s partly my fault for letting him loose on it in the first place, but there was always a niggle in the back of my mind (birthed both by my genuine belief in the power of cinema (teaching again), and by the residual resentment left by my own television-starved childhood) that suggested that maybe moving image (and video games) has a potentially vital part to play in the development of a modern child.
So he watches things. Movies, mainly – and more recently a few TV shows. I favour retro offerings: there’s something about modern editing that reminds me a little too much of the addictive appeal of drugs – hallucinogenic, exciting, but ultimately leaving you hollow and empty. And so yes, I curate the range of films and TV shows I give him access to.
I also refuse to let him sit and watch as much as he might like to. For most parents I imagine that’s not especially controversial – the idea of setting strict limits on the amount of screen time a child should have is pretty much a given – but in the unschooling community it’s enough to make me at the very best an outlier.
It comes back to the whole addiction thing though, for me. To that innate human tendency (maybe not all humans, but certainly lots I know) to do the thing that’s bad for you even when you know you’d be better off doing something else. With Arthur, I see the switch from real engagement to glazed-over eyes, the prickliness when I ask him if he would like to do something else, the closing down of perspective on the ‘real’ world as the virtual world becomes increasingly compelling – and it is then that, for better or for worse, I intervene.
I get the whole unschooling thing about letting kids find their own way through the multitude of distractions on offer. I get that it has huge payback for their self-efficacy to genuinely get to choose how they spend their time. I get that I might not always get it right when I make a choice for my son – and that the impact of that on him goes beyond my simple error to something deeper in his developing personality.
And yet, I will still push to get him outside. I will fight his desire to stay cocooned on the sofa on a sunny day, because I know that once he crosses the threshold he will remember how good it feels to breathe fresh air and have the space to run.
We had a day like this last week. Arthur basically wanted to hibernate: stay in his pyjamas, cover himself in soft things, and hunker down in his nest. And we did that, for a bit. I hunkered down with him – because more than often when he wants to sit and watch a movie he wants one of us to watch it with him – and we watched Peter Pan, and we talked about it.
And then he wanted me to to put something else on, and despite the fact it was getting close to lunchtime he wanted to stay in his pyjamas: and I said no.
So instead we got up, and got dressed, and got out of the house. We took the aerobie to the green, and raced each other through our giggles, and looked for blackberries. And it was awesome. And he loved it.
And part of me thinks (or at least thought, in that moment) that we should be doing that all of the time, because of course being outdoors is way better than being cooped up inside with a screen. But then part of me knows that his imagination is relishing in the inspiration it is getting, day in day out, from its exposure to the Disney and Studio Ghibli back catalogue.
Ultimately I have to remind myself that it is all about balance. And my balance won’t necessarily look like yours, or my mum’s, or my friend’s, or my sister in law’s.
But that’s ok, because if there’s one thing that I am learning about this parenting business it’s that we all get to do it the way we want to – and it’s only when we’re persuaded to make decisions that we really don’t believe in that the trouble really starts.