What I’m feeling could be described as just post-vacation blues. Or I could write a novel about family histories, poverty, capitalism, abuse, misogyny, white supremacy. Or I could tell the story of my kids and their small joys, challenges, victories, discoveries. Or the romance of my husband and I, moving between cities and states, searching for joy and peace and a comfortable, affirming community. Or the story of myself, quietly writing in diaries and blogs, attempting to express what it means to not want to speak to anyone for most of my childhood and too much of my adulthood.
I’ve noticed that many unschooling parents describe their childhoods as quite strict and often emotionally or even physically abusive. At first, I thought that maybe these painful experiences pushed people toward unschooling, pushed them to reject the promises of the standard, schooled, middle class life and to risk it all for joy.
But then I saw a friend post this discussion about domestic violence.
And it made me feel able to say for myself, for my own story: I witnessed so much domestic violence in my childhood. And my adulthood.
So instead of unschooling families disproportionately coming from abusive homes, now I think that unschooling enables parents to name the abuses and coercion they experienced in childhood. I had to find the homeschooling community to hear and know that “if it makes you feel unsafe, it’s ok to say no.” As I continue deep into my unschooling journey–you could say four years into deschooling now–I’ve found that being able to identify and act on my wants, my joy, being able to have fun, also allows me to identify my pain. If I can name and choose to act on my desires, I can also name what’s blocking those desires. And I can move those walls out of the way. I can even start to tell the story of what has been holding me back and spinning me in circles, disorienting me.
The thing is, those walls are deep in me, and they are sometimes the people I love. At this moment in my story (my kids’ stories? my family history? my country’s story?), I’m feeling like being myself, following my joy, and especially expressing myself, means losing people.
We had a marvelous, joyful few weeks with family visiting from far away. Family who let their kids be, who let me be, who don’t try to change how we live our lives, who seek out and enable joy for themselves and their kids. Who (for the most part) don’t push their pain onto my shoulders. These family members aren’t unschooling, but they are parenting and living as peacefully as they can.
In response, I not only enjoyed myself but made healthier choices (about food, exercise, stimming habits, daily activities) than I ever make at home. My kids responded and played and interacted all day. They loved it. And while my kids also love video games and youtube and all that, the trip made me realize that I need to keep seeking out joyful, easy social interactions that my kids run towards rather than shrink from.
And now it’s hard to go back. Not only because I miss the cousins and aunties and uncles who are now so far away, but because going back means going back to the many people I am close to who try to control my personal choices and my relationships with my kids. It’s hard to go back to the fear of keeping up a relationship with an angry person and the people who continue to enable abuse. I try to practice empathy and see that this anger comes from pain, comes from a family history of abuse, comes from fear and and feeling trapped. But it’s hard to go back, it doesn’t feel right to invite that back in my life. It’s hard to feel at home.
I wish the people I love could all find joy. I have a vision of what freedom and peace would look like for the people in my life, but I can’t tell them to live that dream. It’s my dream, not theirs. I can’t be the punching bag or the rescuer. And if not being the punching bag or the rescuer means losing people, so be it. All I can do is chose my own dream for myself.