By AKILAH S. RICHARDS
Validation is for Parking.
Word. That quote is full of Radical Self-Expression mojo, and offers the perfect segue into my current life design as an unschooling parent. The quote came from Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like An Artist – 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. It’s a #radicalselfie quote for sure, as it nudges us toward the idea of external validation, and asks:
“Hey, do you actually need that shit? Do you need to feel like they get you, agree with you, or find you relevant? Do you need their attention, or their approval?
And the truth is, we do. But only because we’ve been conditioned to believe we do. And much like any other radical idea, wrapping your brain around it will help you to see it for what it is; an option, but not a requirement. In our need to be validated by others lies the opportunity to explore how we want to feel, and why outside validation may be where we are now, but need not be where we stay.
I found myself wrapping my brain around the idea of validation as it relates to my beliefs where learning and education are concerned. Kris and I transitioned our daughters (and ourselves) into unschooling back in June of 2012. The shift was inspired by our oldest daughter’s challenges with school, and further massaged by both girls’ constant assertion that they liked their friends, but didn’t like sitting in class all day and learning a “bunch of stuff we don’t even care about.” I researched for months, calling on my circle of homeschooling parents for perspectives, and finally decided—after much dialogue with Kris and our girls—that unschooling, not homeschooling, was worth exploring.
I’d like to say that we haven’t looked back since, but we have. Unschooling is a contact sport! We spend time together, exploring our interests, as opposed to dictating our daughters’ interests. That is fun and engaging, but it’s also challenging. It calls for the four of us to constantly check in with ourselves in ways that traditional school never did. We need that, so while this is not a complaint, it is an element of self-inquiry that helps Kris and me to see our daughters as people, on their own paths, who need guidance, love, and boundaries as opposed to a pre-determined curriculum to fit into and attempt to excel within.
Parent IN, Not ON
Unschooling, for us, is about exploration; exploration of ourselves and of our environments. The primary challenge that Kris and I face in this (relatively new) space is the work of shifting from the traditional style of parenting with firm pre-set ideas of what our daughters should know, will need, and must do. It’s the dilemma of parenting onto the supposed blank slate that is a child, versus developing our parenting style by immersing ourselves in our daughters’ worlds (their interests, their highest curiosities, their personalities).
When we approach any relationship with a set notion of what should be, we miss the opportunity to create something based on the reality of what already is. In parenting, much like any other relationship, I’ve found that it doesn’t work well to place my expectations on my daughters, without significant consideration for the people they already are. I believe every human being comes fully formed. We each have our own blueprint, our own fabric, and though my daughters chose Kris and me to come through, they are not here to become versions of us. They are on their own journeys, and they are not blank slates to be drawn upon with the colors, lines, and ideas that I or their father have gathered throughout our lives. They are not blank; they are full. Full of curiosity, innate tendencies, and unique perspectives. Kris’ and my jobs are to guide, nurture, and most importantly LEARN who our daughters are. In doing so, we help them to connect with their own organic interests and characteristics, and to define what it means to take full ownership of those experiences.
Ultimately, our jobs as parents is to help our children practice excellence within their own unique life design. I am still needing to check in with myself daily to correct course with my tendency to parent on my daughters, instead of in their worlds.
Let me give you a few examples of what Kris and I do to turn ON to IN:
ON – Assigning the girls math from a book because, dammit, they’ll need math in life.
IN – Knowing that Sage (age 8) loves to bake, we assign her a project of researching a four-ingredient baking recipe online, asking us to take her to the store to buy those ingredients, put her in charge of purchasing those ingredients (counting the money, adding up the costs, telling us the U.S. conversion amount while we’re here in Jamaica), and altering the measurements of the recipe to serve 4 people.
ON – Revoking computer privileges from both girls because all they want to do is play games and design outfits.
IN – Knowing that Marley (age 9) is deeply in love with all-things anime, manga, and WordPress (odd combo, right—haha!), we introduce her to Scratch, Code Academy, and ThemeForest, where she can channel her interests into projects. This way, she will need to set goals, manage her time, follow through, and expand her computer and design knowledge in ways that are connected to her interests.
See the difference? ON is about pre-conceived notion, and about worrying that the girls won’t “get smarter” if we’re not dictating what they learn. IN is about staying attuned to their interests, and introducing them to tools to explore their interests. That’s tough for a recovering control addict like me, but I’m up for it. We encourage our daughters to seek validation through effort. Instead of asking whether we are happy with what they did, we are guiding them towards asking themselves whether they did the best they could. We are guiding them toward personal excellence, and not pats on the head from an adult or a peer. The last thing I want to do is to send a message to my daughters that they need to be something other than they are. I believe life is about exploration and expansion, and for us, the IN, not ON approach is how we stay true to that belief.
Seth Godin asked a pertinent question: Are we teaching our children to connect the dots, or just to collect them? Degrees, accolades, and high GPA’s don’t mean what they used to. In this time, we need critical thinkers, creative entrepreneurs, and confident women and men. We need radical thinkers who are versed in the practice of excellence, and keenly aware of their talents, their abilities, and how they want to feel while they’re immersed in living. This takes time, and as the girls are so young, they still need validation in this developmental stage. We’re okay with that. And we do our best to walk alongside them (and in some cases, in front of them) as they seek validation from their own souls and less from the outside world.
What do you do to move yourself (and the young people in your life) toward internal joy and away from external validation?
Words by Akilah S. Richards :: Author, Educator, and Creator of Radicalselfie.com