One of the most oft repeated questions I get as an unschooling Mom, besides “What do you do all day?” is , “Don’t you get tired of being with your kids all the time?” Sandra Dodd, in one of her website entries, talked about this, saying that the amount of hours in the day spent with your children grows proportionately less as they get older. When they are infants and toddlers, almost all your time is spent with them, but as they grow older, opportunities arise for a few hours spent away, either in a class of some sort (we do Art and Martial Arts, for example), or at a friends home, or just on their own. Now that my kids are 10 and 6, they will often opt to stay behind when I run errands in our neighborhood, knowing that if needed, I am only a phone call away. I no longer need to spend 24 hours a day with them, and they enjoy the opportunities for independence.
This, I think, is important, and something often lacking both in schooled and homeschooled children. The time together is what people ask about, but that is just a matter of learning the rhythms of the family. (and really, they are not thinking of the kids at all with that question. What they really mean is, ‘don’t you ever want someone else to take care of them? ) So when do kids learn about time on their own? People who send their kids to school know that adults will be supervising them all day. When school ends, someone else takes over that supervision. With homeschooled children, it is often the parent who insists on being with the child all the time. This constant supervision continues even when the child is old enough to spend short periods of time on his/her own, or with a sibling. When do they get their wings?
By the time a person is 18 years old, they are considered an adult in almost every way (except in the ability to consume alcohol, which seems a little weird, when you think about it). They can live on their own, vote, drive, fight in a war…. But I know kids who at the age of 11 still have never attended a class of any sort without the presence of their parent and are not allowed to go to a friends house without their parent present. Many others are not allowed to walk even a short distance in a neighborhood they know without an adult present. At 11 or even 12, if no time is spent apart, no opportunities for independence given, how will the child develop the confidence and security to be an adult a mere 6 or 7 years later?
Part of unschooling, for us – a big part – is functioning in the world. Maya can walk to friends who live 3 or 4 blocks away, on her own. She has a cell phone if she needs me. She and Ben often walk ahead of me if we are on our way home and I stop for a coffee at Starbucks. Ben of course is still too young to go out on his own, but with his sister, he is fine. These are small steps. Obviously they are not yet old enough to ride the subway alone (or I should say Maya is not ready – I do know of children who were confident enough at 10 to go a few stops unattended – she’s not there yet), or go far outside our neighborhood without an adult, but the process has started. Eventually they will be able to travel about the city on their own, and it will be well before they are 18.
So do I get tired of spending time with my kids? Well, yes, sometimes. Doesn’t everybody? But the thing is, if I’m having one of those days, I can leave the kids at home and go out for a walk to clear my head, or go for coffee or on some errand. Maya and Ben are no longer helpless beings who need an adult present at all times, overseeing their every movement to keep them from harm. Roots we have in abundance. It is with a sensation of wonder and pride that I start to see them getting their wings.