5 June 2014

A note of (probably unnecessary) clarification to my Waldorf readers

(This post will make almost no sense to you if you are not an avid consumer of parenting philosophies. Feel free to move along if you prefer not to hear the usual parcel of philosophical rambling and self-examination! It isn't compulsory to enjoy this kind of thing.)

Somewhere in the last two years, I have stopped calling myself a Waldorf-inspired Unschooler, and started calling myself a Radical Unschooler.

(Oh yes, I still believe there is value in labels - that there is use in finding the clearest most precise words to describe our interests, preferences, fascinations, and philosophies. Dissecting words and meanings and ideals has been part of my path, and helpful to me. If you want to know my perspective, I can offer a shorthand version in the form of a "label". If you want to know whether the jar in your hand contains strawberry jam or spicy tomato chutney, better read the label!)

Why did I drop the "Waldorf Inspired"? Am I still living a Waldorf-inspired life? Will you find a kindred spirit, a companion on the journey, or relevant ideas here if you DO consider yourself a Waldorf parent? It's complicated, sort of, and maybe. ;)

I was always a bit of a Waldorf-sceptic. Some of the philosophy strikes me as nuttier than the average fruitcake (sorry), and the guy himself was genuinely ahead of his time in some ways and a genuine ignorant arse in other ways (no, I'm not sorry). Even the ways in which he was ahead of his time are now frequently behind *this* actual time. Children have not changed all that much, but our understanding of them in terms of their capabilities and personhood has changed; and the world for which we are helping them prepare has changed beyond the imaginings of the very best of us a hundered years ago. I am not, and have never been, a follower of Steiner or of anthrosophy.

I owned all the Steiner schooling books though - in spite of not being interested in perfectly replicating Waldorf-at-home. To be fair, I did actually even buy a Waldorf curriculum and offer it - but my eldest was not interested and I was already more unschooly than Waldorfy. I was not prepared to push, control, or coerce. We had, and have, main lesson books - the children were, and are, free to use them as they wish to. There was, and is, a lot in Waldorf to love. The asethetic is, I believe, what draws so many people - and it's still a huge inspiration to my own arts and crafts. I truly love the physical beauty and simplicity in Waldorf-inspired art and design. It soothes my eyes and speaks to my soul.

There is also a lot of fear; and control, the eventual result of too much fear.

For the first few years of Jenna's life I was keen to be "in control" of the usual suspects as far as thinking was concerned - food, television, computer gaming ("educational" use would be allowed), bedtimes, clothing. I wanted a soft, sweet, simple life for her. Wooden toys, no branded or character clothing, minimal television. I wanted, I suppose, my own childhood over again. Nothing that jarred my personal sensibilities. And it worked, because for a very long time she didn't *want* anything outside of that. I heard other people suggesting that perhaps she wouldn't always have values and preferences that were so in line with mine, and I knew it intellectually but also felt that I needed to simply cross that bridge when we came to it.

I read a lot of gentle parenting advice and very gradually started to see a strong thread of "this is a nice way to force your child do what they will neither want to do of their own accord OR eventually learn to do without being taught". This pushed me back to the (more radical) unschooling boards, which I had previously read with an air of "are you freaking kidding me?!" When I occasionally came across radical unschooling, I felt genuinely pissed off. It jarred, at a deep level. Whilst also pulling me back to look, again and again.

The bridge, when it came, I almost didn't even notice. It came by stealth, and Jenna and I had almost a year of quiet warfare. She wanted more independance of movement, make-up, clothes I didn't believe were appropriate. It was sooner than I expected, and so I missed what it was I was facing - rebellion against my "nice" control. So, about two years ago, I was facing a choice. Which principle was more important to me? Which fears had a genuine basis and which were figments of too much reading? Would I honour my own thoughts about what was safe and suitable and pleasing above hers, and where would I draw the line?

When something makes me feel ragingly angry for no reason I can identify, it's usually something I truly *need* to properly explore and understand. I had already had the experience with elimination communication (nappy free baby): from "NO WAY" - to feeling strangely annoyed and picked on by the EXISTANCE of such a thing - to feeling like I couldn't get it out of my head until I tried it - to fully living it and thinking "no way - it works!" So when I started feeling like every radical unschooling thing I read was poking holes in me and deliberately insulting everything I believed, I shortcut the process and started cautiously saying "yes" more often. And more often.

My relationship with Jenna stopped being adversarial very quickly. She's still the child I'm most likely to get into an, ahem, argument with. We're very alike in personality, and both very stubborn, articulate, vocal, strong-minded, and passionate. Only, three years ago, we argued like parent and child (with me certain that I could force her to do what I wanted if it came to that, and her determined to resist me on principle because she was so determined not to be forced to do anything EVER). The irony! I started off trying to replicate exactly the parts of my childhood that I loved, and ended up also replicating the parts that I hated.

Now, we argue more rarely - more like best friends who wind each other up or strongly disagree sometimes, but neither feels they have the casting vote and neither feels oppressed by the difference of opinion. In case you're wondering, it's like that with Morgan too (and she's just as stubborn, albeit more quietly so). My parenting world has subtly shifted from being concerned with how best to pass on my values and bring up my children in a way that will produce perfectly moulded adults, to being concerned with how best to allow my children to develop their own values (and trusting that if mine do actually have value, they will be adopted without force).

So that's how I changed my mind, one yes at a time. I still love the feel of Waldorf - it's like a heart-pull to something that is wholly beautiful in its own way - but I'm intellectually convinced, and further convinced by experience, that for me and for these children control and coercion don't work (even "nice" coercion). I'm still constantly learning and knowing I can be a better facilitator, kinder, softer, sweeter, balance everyone's needs better, come to true consensus more often and more easily. I'm still evaluating on a case-by-case basis when, and whether, it is ever acceptable to control or coerce another human being. It is a thoughtful, involved, inventive, pragmatic, disturbing, and important question. I don't imagine I will ever have arrived at some perfect-parenting destination.

So, I feel that I have stepped out of a camp I enjoyed holidaying in but that was not quite home. The gilded cage still confined with lists of rules and should nots and oughts. Since it seems disingenuous to imply that I still consider my philosophy to be in line with Waldorf, and a lie by ommission to just drop mention of it without a word, I'm oversharing (again). I still love people in all camps and none, and love to hear their stories. I still find inspiration and much to interest me in some Waldorf resources. I may even still talk about Waldorfy things sometimes. :) I hope you still feel welcome here whatever your label, or lack thereof! Let's start again:

Hi. I'm an attachment parenting, radical unschooling, liberal, non-denominational Christian, pacifist, anarchist-leaning, imperfect, messy human being. Nice to meet you. Stay a while and share a story, a step on your journey, a cup of tea (or beverage of choice, dear Mormon friends and tea-haters alike), and a snapshot of beautiful ordinary life.


  1. Haha you caught me by surprise about the tea then that was more of a piggy snort laugh lol. We live by standards of 'nice' and I can see exactly whatyou are talking about. Sometimes there are churchy murmurs when someone is dressed a bit 'not nice' adults and children. I never want to be a pushover but a bit of rebelliousness is perfectly healthy. Your blog tells the story of you and Jenna but the steep decline in which you mention a 'difficult' day with her specifically. I am so glad you have found the next foothold for your family, and the next and the next, it really is an upward climb this parenting milarky. V xxx

    1. Couldn't resist throwing a bit of love your way! :)

      Thank you, that is a beautiful way of looking at it too - a foothold on the mountain. xxx

  2. I started following your blog on Ivillage and you were my inspiration for parenthood. I know that F and I argue more because she really is a younger me, and it is hard to see myself reflected back. Children are children NOW, not when we were little (in my case,a SAHM and a dad who worked all hours), or when Steiner was around. They have different needs NOW to 20 or 30 years ago, and, as parents, we try to meet those needs, based on our own children and our own circumstances, not on half remembered ideals from our childhoods.

    (Sorry, I'm philosophical and tipsy on scrumpy tonight!)

    1. There is nothing so annoying in another person as our own annoying habits and hangups!

      (Laughing about the scrumpy, it doesn't seem to have made you incoherant yet! :) )

  3. I should have had another then! (HIC!)

  4. Oh mama, sometimes I feel like we are living parallel lives! I too was so keen to follow the steiner path, Charlie even went to kindergarten (which really pushed us financially). As I 'grew' in motherhood and Charlie grew as a person we both realised what we both need is to be true to ourselves, to live, learn and not follow someone else's rules, that life is the life we live now, I guess it's a radical unschooling kind of life.
    Relationships change as children grow and never stay the same, I think this is what keeps us searching and growing with them thus the there isn't a perfect ciriculum, it's just learning to let go of expectations that's hard.
    Mama, you are doing just fine <3 xx

    1. Lovely Sue, you too are doing fine - just as you are, where you are, with all of the challenges of your everyday lives. (I think you probably need to hear that as much as I do sometimes!) xx

  5. "So when I started feeling like every radical unschooling thing I read was poking holes in me and deliberately insulting everything I believed, I shortcut the process and started cautiously saying "yes" more often. And more often."

    Once again beautifully articulating what I've thought and felt.

    I do love your blog.

    1. Aw thank you, it is seriously good to hear that I am in fact making sense and helping you to process your own journey too. :)

      Letting an idea challenge us without taking it personally is a difficult thing to do! My approach has sometimes been to LALALALA loudly with my fingers in my ears... I am loving seeing how graciously you are traversing testing things out and letting yourself grow - and how well you protect yourself from pushing too far too fast for your own comfort! Wisdom indeed. xx

  6. Hello, just popped over to say hello and THS! Good for you. You might be practicing something that is more Waldorf than ever since it is so authentic and out of your own freedom. :-) xoxo Lisa

    1. Oh, lovely lovely Lisa I *knew* you would understand. Thank you, always, for helping me to see more clearly and stay honest about what worked for us and what didn't. <3

  7. I'm entering the world of home ed/homees/unschooling/....oh the labels they drive me nuts and I suspect it is because I haven't found one that defines me yet!!! then again, do I need one? ...what about..."doing it our way"? Is that one good enough?...sorry I know I don't make any sense but you made lots of sense to me...thanks ...it came at the right time.....


Penny for your thoughts? :)