Say it Now, Say it Loud

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy that now seems far away, before we had ever even heard of unschooling, our parenting practices were pretty far out of the mainstream. Cloth diapers, washed at home? Check. No vaccinations, no circumcision, breastfeeding? Check. Baby slings? Yep. And more, much more.

One of our least conventional choices has been our decision to co-sleep. We sleep in a family bed, a giant room-consuming contraption composed of two queen-sized mattresses pushed together to form one giant mega-bed. We've been doing this in one form or another from the beginning, and it definitely works for all of us. After a number of different combos over the years, we settled into an sleep order about three years ago that we're all comfortable with: me on the left, followed by Kai, Ging, and Kade. The boys have an option to change, or to have their own room, but they are very happy with the current arrangement. So we're happy, too.

The other night, Ginger was out very late, Annie went to bed relatively early, and the boys and I were flying solo as midnight turned into 1:00am, then 2:00am, and finally 3:15am before the yawns began. As the three of us climbed into our family bed, we quickly realized that Ginger's absence would leave an open space between Kai and Kade. That doesn't really work for either of them; they have always enjoyed having someone to touch while they fall asleep. So I took my seven pillows and quilted blanket over to Ginger's space, and we talked and told stories and held hands until we were all finally and thoroughly on our way to the land of Nod.

As they began drifting off, I found myself enjoying the comfort of being surrounded by these two amazing boys with whom I have shared so much. They have seen me at my worst, for sure, but they have also inspired me to be at my best on so many occasions. And while their love and presence have been comforting to me, I like to think that I have comforted them a few times too. Once they were asleep and I was lying there afraid to move lest I wake them up, I began thinking of all of the times when I was at my best, and I could not help but feel a strong tinge of pride at all that I have been able to do as a father, even though I am far from perfect.

In a culture which, in many way, values quiet humility over pride, allowing yourself a moment or two to be proud of your accomplishments can be a very rare luxury. We are taught to focus on what could be better about ourselves, on all of the things we need to change, and on all of the things we do wrong that prevent us from being perfect. When we do something well, we are taught to be humble about it. Don't get me wrong, humble is good; but when humility and a desire to improve provide an obstacle to being able to see and appreciate your own goodness, not only does that hinder your own self-image and self-worth, it sets a potentially negative example for your children. Think about it; how will your kids ever be satisfied with the amazing things they do if they are not allowed to take pride in them, to celebrate what they are and what they do? I'm not saying that we should demonstrate cockiness, but there is something very relieving and rejuvenating about taking pride in a job well done.

So as I lay there surrounded wrapped in a blanket of security woven by the love of my children, I allowed myself a few moments to remember some of the things I did right in the early years - and I took pride in them.

I am proud of all of the times that I went to sleep with just the boys, reading a few books and telling a few made-up stories, sometimes falling asleep along the way, and sometimes staying awake to hold their hands and caress their heads while they fell asleep snuggled close to me.

I am proud of all of the times I was able let go of my expectations and my arbitrary "must do"s and focus instead on what everyone's needs were.

I am proud of hunting down our pediatrician and knocking on the door to her house when she blew us off about a diagnosis; bet she still remembers that visit.

I am proud of silly songs, crazy dances, dressing up, and weird voices.

I am proud of eating the cookie on the Oreo while the boys ate the centers.

I am proud of the times when my head gave up thoughts of the past and the future and allowed my heart to live in the present.

I am proud of the times when I was the only one who could put my boys in a sling, walk them gently around the neighborhood softly humming lullabies or show tunes, and get them to fall asleep. And I am proud that when we got back home, I would usually sit in a comfy chair and fall asleep myself with them still slung to my body, our breathing patterns falling in together.

I am proud of losing a brand new $60 shirt to a giant milk burp without the slightest concern.

I am proud of the times I lost at races and wrestling, of all the times I played Fire Trucks or Space Destroyer on a piece of playground equipment even though I was the only Dad at the park, and of all of the times I let them bury me in the sand.

I am proud of the times when I said "yes" when I felt "no", when I said "more" when I felt "less", and when I said "thank you" when I felt "you're welcome."

I am proud of giving up an amazing Army career because they wanted me to leave my wife and baby for 12 months.

I am proud of seeing mud and mess and temporary and fixable.

I am proud of the fact that I usually never raised an eyebrow during the thousands of books we read, stories we told, and episodes of "Thomas the Tank Engine" and "Dora the Explorer" we watched.

I am proud of skipping in malls, taking off my shoes in the library, and cuddling little boys who were scared of Santa.

I am proud of riding carousels like a cowboy, shouting "Yee Haw!!!" for three minutes straight while the other grown-ups avoided making eye contact.

I am proud of never resenting changing a diaper; I didn't enjoy it, really, but I didn't resent it.

I am proud of always going back and admitting a mistake, and asking for forgiveness while never expecting it.

I am proud of listening instead of speaking, following instead of leading, learning instead of teaching, and moving instead of digging in.

I am not perfect and I will never be perfect; frankly, I'm not really sure what a "perfect" parent is. I have warts, I have quirks, I have things at which I both excel and absolutely suck. But I appreciate the amazing gift of being a parent, of helping these children through their good times and bad, of being allowed the privilege of watching them grow each day. And even on the worst days, I cannot wait to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

And I am proud of that, too.


  1. I so needed to read this today!! Just the other day I was pondering how far I still have to go on this parenting journey, how much MORE free I want to help my children be and how much MORE patience I need to grow in order to be able to do that. I was stuck in those thoughts for a good half-hour before I finally stopped myself, thought about the mother I used to be, and celebrated how far I've come in just a few short years. We really do need to give ourselves a pat on the back sometimes, or we'll begin to think the journey is pointless.

  2. What a gift it is to be a parent. My boys have helped me to grow so much, and it humbles me to think of all the times I've been less than graceful in that growth.

    I LOVE our family bed too. It is now three futons making one massive sleeping cushion which takes up one side of the bedroom from wall to wall. Our arrangement is...boy(7), papa, boy(1), mama, boy(4). Funny how we all just sleep better in that order.

  3. I'm so glad to read your acknowledgement of all you do and have done in your family.

    When "I'm *that* Mom" (or Dad) was going around, this is the direction mine went... and it was so empowering. I'm so used to looking at what I need to do better (and feeling glum about it) that I never realized that looking at what I do well already is far more productive and encouraging... and leads to more "doing it well" in a very natural and effortless way.

    I think we all need to "say it LOUD".

    Thanks for the inspiration, Jeff. (You Rock.)

  4. Yet another fabulous read, thank you.

    I am right with Brownie Girl the first commenter.

    As a homeschooling parent, whilst you get be a part of every high you are also there for every low and at times I do feel that it is easy to put the lows out of context and focus on them too much. I especially need to remind myself of all of the wonderful highs we experince as individuals and together as a family.

  5. Best part:
    'I am proud of riding carousels like a cowboy, shouting "Yee Haw!!!" for three minutes straight while the other grown-ups avoided making eye contact.'

    Oh, and we moved our daughter's bed next to ours in March (she is six) after she had a hospital stay and didn't want to sleep without us. I wish we would have done co-sleeping from the's so marvelous having her right there. Every night is like a mini slumber party...stories and giggles and cuddles. Love it.

  6. I needed to read this today.
    Thank you for this post. I'm dealing with depression again, and feeling not so hot about myself.
    I'm so proud of the way we parent.

  7. Another positively empowering article! Go Jeff!
    I bet every parent has at least one thing each they they're proud off, but for many, it just gets lost in the drag

  8. This is wonderful! I am one of those that is always trying to do better and beat myself up when I screw up. I have done a lot *right* and I should enjoy that :)

  9. When I am feeling controlled by the people around me I tend to control my children more. At those times, I ask myself what is more important. Pleasing strangers or instilling self love in my children. I have to constantly remind myself to not look around at insignificant faces and look at my children instead.
    We all sleep in the same room (all 7 of us) and we wouldn't have it any other way.
    We feel very confident in our parenting decisions yet it is still hard to face the sea of judging comments and rolling eyes.
    I am so happy to have found your blog.

  10. The snuggling with the boys at this age AND taking a walk for the boys to fall asleep in the sling, to come home, sit down and fall asleep with them on you, hit home. Loved that you didn't want to move afraid they might are an amazing Dad, Jeff.


  11. I'm so glad you are some of my children's other mother :)

  12. Wonderful post. And it's nice to "meet" another long-term cosleeping family!

  13. I'm proud of all the times I got funny looks at the grocery store because I was wearing my daughter under my coat. none of them meant anything compared to the way she could (and can) melt my heart with a single look.

    Well said, and while I haven't had a chance at all those things yet, I hope to one day have such a long list of proud moments.

  14. Hi Jeff and fellow unschoolers!
    I just wanted to let you know about a new unschooling forum for all to join. It is a place to connect with other unschooling families.
    I did not create this website but it looks like it is going to be a great place for us!

  15. This was wonderful. I especially loved that you gave up your army career to be with your family. My husband is about to get out and while I'm scared of what will happen next, I'm so glad to not have that worry of deployments! You're such a wonderful father, I'll definitely be following your blog from now on, so glad I happened upon it. Everything about this part made my day, the co sleeping (our daughter is 3 and has never been an amazing sleeper) and we've just recently started letting her sleep in our bed again.. Its so wonderful not to have a bedtime fight every single evening and to just jay with her and cuddle every night. This came at a great time, as I've been really hard on myself lately. I think we all need to sit and think once in a while about the good things we do instead of always wondering what we could do better! You're amazing jeff. :)

  16. We love co-sleeping in our family too. Great to read about it from a Dad's POV.