(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.