Sometimes, as I go around the upper middle class, densely populated, slightly conservative but not-as-much-as others suburb I live in, I become a ball of bitterness. People driving their sportscars make me angry. I try to remind myself that maybe this is their joy in life–surely, hopefully it is–and I don’t know if they are on call at any second to go to heart surgeries to save children’s lives. I don’t know anything about them, which is why I shouldn’t be a ball of bitterness all the time about ostentatious wealth and other people’s parenting styles. Yet, it keeps happening.
I also watch parents in the library instruct their kid to sit down, then go through several shelves of children’s library books picking out ones for their child, by what criteria I don’t know. Maybe they know what brings their child joy, and the child would really rather play with puzzles. I try to tell myself that, but for the most part I think they are combing for “age appropriate” and decent books, perhaps programming their child’s vocabulary acquisition step-by-step. There I go with the bitterness again. I sit smugly and let my daughter tear through the books section, piling things on the floor next to me that I will read if asked. She loves it, and I believe it makes her love books. But I have to realize that the smugness–and the bitterness–come from a combination of me feeling ostracized and my own privilege. First, in our community I tend to be the only one letting my daughter do anything in public–stop and look at flowers, walk on the sidewalk at all, pick her own books, pick up rocks. I’ve been lectured about things I shouldn’t be letting her do–like go down a slide that because of insurance policies is designated for kids twice her age or more. I have trouble finding other parents who match my style. So I become bitter and judgmental.
Really, the answer is what we’re already doing–moving to a community where we culturally fit in more. Hopefully listening to myself and my needs, taking the next step, removes the constant impulse to feel bitter and superior.
At the same time, I need to recognize the great effort parents in my current community go to for their children to be successful. It’s a primarily immigrant community made up of people with advanced degrees and good jobs. The schools are good good good. People work hard to provide that opportunity for their children, and housing prices are so high you can feel the pressure–go to a good school, read the right library books, do well again and again, and maybe you’ll get a job that pays enough to afford housing and be safe when you grow up.
The pressure is intense, which makes me want to talk about capitalism more than parenting. Housing marketed hard along with schools. PTA meetings about housing values and whether they will go up or down with a new curriculum. That’s part of the reason to keep kids out of school, but I see a lot of unschooling literature that’s equally capitalistic–the only way your child will beat that system is to find a totally unique sense of self and passion, to be entirely self-motivated and able to sell themselves as unique or create something unique. I see this in Clark Aldrich’s Unschooling Rules, which is itself trying to sell a private school in Texas, or at least it’s curricular model.
With all these thoughts churning I nearly took this blog off public just now–I see so many blogs that are SELL SELL SELL! And so many unschooling blogs that are intensely instructive, creating this fictional author who operates only as a parent, without a lens on any other element that informs unschooling or parenting–like capitalism. I see so much in unschooling literature about how “schooled kids to this/unschoolers do this” that it fuels my smug ball of bitterness.
I will try my best not to be that way. I have a privileged white middle-class background; I had access to good schools, could afford to give my child access to them, and can also spend time at home and at the library. I can afford to own 50 children’s books but I can also afford to spend time sitting on a sidewalk watching her stack up rocks. I felt bitter about people’s brand-new sports cars while sitting in the parking lot of whole foods, getting ready to spend hundreds of dollars on food because I can afford to buy my food ethics–hope that workers are not getting sprayed with cancer-causing pesticides quite as much if I buy these peppers and not those.
What I like about unschooling is the time–the time for me to reflect, and time for my daughter to reflect and process on our adventures in the world. I hope that both of us can practice more kind-heartedness than bitterness that way.