"Great" Expectations

Grab a cup of tea; this is a long one.

Ginger and I have had an interesting couple of weeks. We're fine - still madly in love. But we've had a few curve balls cross our plate lately that have made us stop and think. The other night, we were talking about love in general, and I remembered a saying I used to use a lot when I was younger - "The greatest gift we can ever have is to be able to receive love in the way the sender needs us to, even if we would choose a different way for ourselves." In other words, it would be great if we could feel love despite our expectations about what love should feel like.

That theme has been stuck in my mind for weeks, but has come to the forefront lately as I sit down and try to prepare my presentation for Life is Good. I went back and reread some of my blog posts and other notes I've kept over the past few years, as well as looked back at my childhood and some of the history behind why I parent the way I do. This morning on the way to work, it finally hit me: much of what I believe and am, much of what I strive to be, both at home and at work, has to do with a single word - "expectations."

Expectations are very powerful, very tricky things.

It's easy for me to think back to all of the expectations I had, and sometimes still have, about how a family is supposed to operate. In my head, I had mapped out exactly what it takes to raise a child, be a husband, have a productive household, and be an accepted member of society. For me, it was pretty simple, really. Dad works, mom works; breakfast as a family with a healthy meal; lunches and book bags all packed the night before; kids on the bus and doing well at school; work being hard but rewarding; home by 6:00, kids all there, dinner together then chores; some time to play, then homework; then time to brush your teeth and put on your PJs, and off to bed by 9:30 or so. Of course, the kids would play sports, and I'd be a member of the Jaycees, mom would be on the Chamber of Commerce, etc, etc, etc. We might even go to church on Sundays and sing in the choir.

It's important to note that these "expectations" of what my life would be like were not some mere abstract, or some societal norm that I simply bought into. These were things I wanted; they were what mattered; they were the way it was done. If we did it this way, everyone would be happy, no one would get hurt, and we would raise our kids to be responsible members of society. And as a Dad, my role was critical - I had to be the driver to ensure all of this happened on schedule. Lord, I'm almost crying as I write this, because that's really just how I felt.

But this isn't about me. It's about Dads. I would venture to guess that most Dads either are like this or have been like this at some point. If you can put yourself in that place for a few minutes, and then contrast that world view with unschooling; you can understand the magnitude of the change that many people have to go through. Some of us are completely oblivious to the role our expectations play in the change we have to go through to make unschooling work. Some of us are fighting to get past our own expectations so we can move toward unschooling more quickly or deeply. Think about the change:
  • from perfect control to letting go
  • from fear to courage
  • from defined "success" to redefining success
  • from relying on process to having faith and trust
  • from rigidity to flexibility
  • from tidy to messy
  • from ready to waiting
  • from scheduled to chaotic
Even those changes can boiled down to something even simpler:
  • from my past to my present and future
  • from the way I was raised to the way I raise
And those can be best summed up as:
  • from my shackles to my freedom
When we move into unschooling, we have to be ready to accept the above changes in our lives; we have to break the shackles of the expectations that have played so strong a role in who were are (or who we think we are.) It's hard; we feel we need control, structure, fear, cleanliness, scheduling, etc, just to get through the day - and especially to get what we want, which is "success." When we change, we enter a world of wonder and worry: will our partners still love us, will our parents approve, will our friends and neighbors desert us, will our coworkers abandon us, will our children grow up "wrong", will we succeed?
Most Dads relish and exercise control, but not because we like to be controlling. We need it because we need to keep our lives in order and in pace with our expectations, and with the expectations others have of us. And as we make the change to unschooling, and we feel control slipping, it's scary.
But here's the creepy thing; I think we actually have more control when we unschool than if we don't. We like to think we can control things like what a child learns, what job they have, how happy they are, how healthy they are. We infuse our children constantly with what our expectations of them are. And then we send them to off to school, where we have no control over what they learn; we send them off to college, where we have no control over the direction their lives will take; we control what they eat in our house, where they only spend 20% of their waking hours; and we control what activities they participate in in pursuit of happiness. What we do not do is give them the trust and tools they need to make their own choices and set their own course, thereby putting them in the exact same position as we were once in - unsure, fearful, with the parent's definition of happiness and success. And then, when they become parents, they'll have to start at the top of this page and read the whole damned blog just to catch up. We create the illusion of control for ourselves and our children, and then we use it to build a house of cards that we pray won't fall down until the kids are too distracted to notice.
So, in our efforts to control we actually do a great job; we control the rest of their lives for them in fact, unless they can break the shackles. What is a Dad to do? We want and in many ways need to control and share our expectations, but we risk screwing things up if we do so. So let's go back to the words I used above to summarize the change that many unschooling Dads have to go through:
  • from my shackles to my freedom
What if we change the words slightly:
  • from their shackles to their freedom
What we can definitely control is the way we help our beautiful children navigate through this world, and the way we help them chart and steer the course that is best for them. We can share our expectations like these: "I want you to be happy. I want you to see the world for all it can be. I want you to find the things you love to do and do them as much as you want. I want you to develop your own definition of success, and then pursue it like a dog on a bone. I want you to know that I will support and love you, even if you're down. And I have only one real expectation and hope - that you believe what I just said, and that you call bullshit on me when I deviate."
I do not recall taking an oath when I became a parent, but if I were to craft one for the world it would definitely involve a phrase like "It's not just about me anymore." Most folks recognize the need to change when they become parents, and most do. But there should be another oath for parents who are beginning to unschool, in which we commit to redefining the expectations we have of our children, our lives, and ourselves, and in which we provide an environment in which we can break our shackles and embrace our freedom together as families. This is no easy journey; it takes patience, time, introspection, and a willingness to change. But it also gives us a great chance for a "do over", as we help our children see the amazing choices they have in this world that will help them be happy on their own terms.
And isn't that what unschooling is all about?


  1. So beautifully said! No, beyond beautifully said!
    Bravo and thanks....I may print this out for my husband....but then maybe not.
    Trick line to walk!

  2. This is why you cannot stop writting on your blog!

  3. I love this:

    "I want you to be happy. I want you to see the world for all it can be. I want you to find the things you love to do and do them as much as you want. I want you to develop your own definition of success, and then pursue it like a dog on a bone. I want you to know that I will support and love you, even if you're down. And I have only one real expectation and hope - that you believe what I just said, and that you call bullshit on me when I deviate."

    This is the msg. I hope my children are getting from me. I know I'm not 100% successful, but I hope that, all in all, that's what they're hearing.


  4. I love you (and Ginger)...:-) Please keep on writing.

  5. This is fantastic! I agree with the whole 'creepy' part you mentioned... LOL. I used to feel awkward around the controlling parents in the early days, wondering if I was doing my kids a disservice by NOT being controlling, but it just isn't me to be like that. Well, now, those uber-controlled kids are either giving their parents all sorts of hell or hate their parents - whose only solutions are to try to control more (and in far ickier ways); whereas my kids are happy and engaged and they like me! And all because I didn't pull rank on them. It can be a hard journey to get to unschooling, for sure, but it's a darn fun one too. Lucky us, huh?

  6. This rocks, Jeff! I'm linking to it on my blog, in hopes to spread the message about how control doesn't work. THANK YOU! See you in a few weeks!

  7. Thanks for the inspiration!! Can I re-post this on my blog???? Wonderful. I hope my hubby has a chance to read it. He is wrapped up in finals this week. I know my husband will get a lot out of the conference next month--so will I.

    ~Heather's Moving Castle

  8. Well said, Jeff! Thanks! You are an inspiration.

  9. Thanks for posting this Jeff. It is both thought provoking and inspiring. It makes me take a long look to see what I really believe, and an even longer look to see if I am acting on those beliefs or not.

  10. Fabulous! I really need to stop by your blog more often. You are a gem.

  11. It is, indeed. Wonderful post.

  12. Reckless Love and Bold AdventureMay 26, 2009 at 10:05 PM

    This is what I find, cruising the internet TRYING to be the best mom I can after spending a wonderful 6th bday with my lil guy??? THIS??? LOL. I hope you know I love you guys and am SO SO SO glad our families are friends. Thanks for the boost tonight, I needed that!