One Strategy for Practicing Unconditional Love

I’ve had a few hard conversations this week and witnessed some other folk’s difficult situations.

Parenting, eldercare, working with people, relationships of all kinds give us opportunities to learn.

Opportunities to be present.

To see and be seen.

To accept.

To love.

Sometimes in my exuberance and enthusiasm for the possibilities about what can be learned and changed, I don’t realize that what someone might be hearing or feeling is:   Continue reading “One Strategy for Practicing Unconditional Love”

Gratitude and Hope

I am feeling a lot of gratitude these days for all the gifts and opportunities I have in my life. As we head into Thanksgiving weekend in the the US, I don’t want the frenzy of sales to overshadow this opportunity to reflect on the Ferguson decision, and critical questions of racism and inequality in the world and what actions we can take.

What I am so grateful for at this moment in time:

beautiful squash volunteers Gifts of Gratitude and Hope
An abundance of volunteers in my garden this year. Photo: J.Pierre Stephens

That I have plenty.

A garden of abundance. I can fill my belly, quench my thirst, keep warm and lay down my head when I need without worry.

That I have choices.

So many choices about how I use my time, how I relate to my loved ones, my community, strangers. I have choices about how I parent and relate to my child, how to learn, what I want to pursue at this point in life and how I want to do it.   Continue reading “Gratitude and Hope”

How Can I Teach my Kids if I’m Not a Teacher?

But what if I’m not a teacher?

I often hear this question from parents.  When we began homeschooling, even though I HAD a credential,  people constantly asked, “But how will you teach high school when you are only an elementary teacher ?” I know how intimidating it feels.  Don’t let it stop you.

how can I teach my kids if I am not a teacher?
photo credit: Suzie, @unschool

Breaking news: Like it or not, if you are a parent you already are a teacher.

Becoming more aware of what you are teaching and improving how you do it will make you a better parent and help your child learn. It’s kind of scary once you understand that how you live and interact everyday is what you are really teaching your child.

It’s okay. Breathe.

I am not trying to denigrate teachers. But I would like you to consider a few points:

  1. There is no reason to teach the way you were taught, and many well documented reasons from brain research to help learners in new ways.
  2. At one point all teachers were not teachers yet. They started somewhere.
  3. The best “teachers” in our lives are not  always a person or necessarily some one person with a degree in teaching.  
  4. Supporting the learner’s needs and the processes of exploration, growth and connection is more important than teacher training skills or subject matter expertise.
  5. The most important quality of a great teacher is the willingness to be learning all the time, along with and from the student.
  6. One of the most important things we can teach someone is to love learning and how they can learn for themselves, without needing us to plan, manage or direct learning.
  7. We teach the most by how we live our lives.

You may have lots that you want to learn. That’s a good thing.

You may need to have courage to stand up for yourself and kids and go against the grain. This is a great lesson to model for your kids.

There will always be challenges. Just because you make the decision to unschool or homeschool doesn’t mean issues, difficulties and challenges will disappear. They may change, They lessen. But life is full of challenges and opportunities. Every problem is an opportunity for learning and adventure. Showing our kids how to deal with difficulties, determine our priorities, and make decisions in line with our values is some of the most important teaching we can do.

I assure you, if you pay attention, are honest, reflect, and are willing to learn, then you can figure it out.

I give you permission to teach.

But what is most important is that you give yourself permission to learn.

Thiel Fellow Closing Ceremony: Questioning the Experiment

As a parent of Dale Stephens, a  2011 Thiel Fellow, I was excited about attending the closing ceremonies for the group.

This first group of fellows were guinea pigs–quite fortunate guinea pigs–who had forged the Thiel fellowship program along with the foundation staff.  They had been supported financially, skillfully mentored, and emotionally bolstered for two years. Most importantly, they had all learned so much about their own projects, about persistence, and about the business world. Would closing mean losing much of that opportunity for dramatic growth?

 Family, friends, foundation representatives, mentors, and current finalists gathered in the Yerba Buena Center Theatre in San Francisco. The room, alive with energy, emotion, and excitement, quieted as Foundation program director and representatives took the stage.

As I sat in the audience, I thought about how I had been in my son’s audience for the last two years, watching from a distance as he grew in leaps and bounds. Onstage the speakers talked about guiding the first Fellows through challenges and about the gifts they’d given each other in the community they created. The Thiel Foundation representative explained that the Fellows were encouraged to continue to participate in this community of support, with Thiel and each other, even though their official fellowship, with the very helpful monthly stipend, was over. The foundation didn’t see this closing as severing ties, he explained, rather it saw it as a transition in their role within the community.

I heaved a parental sigh of relief. Okay, no more money and no degree, but continued access to a network of support and community. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that losing the network was what I feared the most for Dale.

Representatives of the class of  2011 Fellows spoke to express their appreciation for the Thiel Foundation, staff, and mentors. Each fellow spoke briefly about his/her journey. I was fascinated by the individual stories.  I didn’t expect to need kleenex, but I did.

Next came the questions from the audience. You could hear curiosity and trepidation from the finalists, as well as questions, concern, and skepticism from some of the parents and other attendees.

What next? What about? What if? Many were expressions of fear and concerns that there were “no guarantees.”

There are no guarantees.

There are risks, opportunity, choices, and challenges. There is the possibility of growth, success, failure, and learning. And this is true every day of every child’s life. We like to pretend that it isn’t, that getting into the right college, or onto the sport’s team, or into a job means the end of risk, but it doesn’t and more importantly, it shouldn’t.

So my questions are for the parents reading here.

Are we brave enough to let our children try something that did not exist when we were the age of our kids?

Can we let go of our fears?

Our sense of how life “should” look, what goals are “worth” achieving?

Are we open and trusting enough to support them while they try something new? Difficult? Unknown? Different? Remixed?

Can we navigate this new territory of parenting passionate young adults?

Can we help them learn to balance pursuing new experiences and exciting demands on their attention with taking care of themselves?

The world is different for them than it was for us.

The choices, costs, and opportunities make it seem like a new universe.

The speed, intensity and demand on our children’s time and attention barely compares to the demands of our college experience.

The Thiel Fellowship, like and other alternative learning experiences that take place in the real world, demand more of our kids than following a neat, well-trodden path. The increased responsibility and access to a high-powered network of mentors speeds up the process of learning and maturing. Suddenly our babies are fending for themselves. And, yes, It is scary.

As parents can we let them go?

Even though we wonder if what they are choosing–usually choosing instead of college–provides the kind of structure yet freedom that will support personal development as well as academic and professional development, can we let them try?

Can we collaborate with rather than control our children?  Can we encourage them to define success in a way that includes all aspects of a fulfilling life?

The closing ceremonies ended and I looked around the room abuzz with people making connections, sharing their dreams, giving advice.

I smiled and raised my imaginary glass of bubbly: here’s to the experiment!