Acquiring Bucketfuls of Unschooling Trust

Everyone knows we need loads of trust to unschool. But how do we get it? Where does it come from? Trust isn’t something you can buy. It’s not something you can apply your will to: I want to trust therefore I trust. It’s something some people seem to have in abundance and others have great difficulty acquiring.

So where does trust come from?

I could tell you that all we need to do is observe the fruits of trusting. But not everyone has grown up unschooled children. Not everyone can say, “I was right to trust. Look at my kids! They did okay.”

I could tell you to look at other people’s grown up unschooled children. But you might think, “But they’re not my kids. All children are different. What if mine don’t turn out so well?”

I could tell you to read as much as you can about unschooling so you understand the principles. And this might be good except reading and real life could be two different things.

So what would I say? I’d say if you know, without a doubt, you are doing the right thing, then trust won’t be an issue.

But how do we know what’s the right thing to do? How do we know if unschooling is the right choice for us? Should we try it? Or maybe not?

I don’t think we actually have to make a decision to unschool. We don’t have to ‘give unschooling a go’ to see if it works for us. All we have to do is stop doing all the things that aren’t working for our families.

It was easy for me to recognise the things that weren’t working for my family. There were many times when I thought, “My kids won’t do what I want if I don’t yell… threaten… punish…” Life was stressful. I was often angry and upset. And unkind.

Yes, I was often unkind to my children, but I felt my unkindness was justified. It was my children’s fault I acted without gentleness. If only they’d do what they were told. It was my duty as a mother to persist pushing them, even when I didn’t like what was happening to our relationships. I had to be tough and teach them what was right.

But then one day, I’d had enough. I decided that unkindness is never justified. The problem wasn’t with my kids. And it wasn’t with me either. (Things wouldn’t be fixed if I smiled gently and refused to get upset when my kids protested.) I realised we just weren’t living life the way it is meant to be lived. I should have been listening to my kids, and not to all those outside voices that bombarded me each and every day. So I changed things. I stopped making my kids do all those things other people told me were important. The conflict dissolved away. And without me realising we became unschoolers.

Now some people might think I gave in. Could it be my kids rule the house? Perhaps they don’t do anything now I’m not pushing them. I might be a lazy mother who’s avoiding the sometimes disagreeable job of disciplining her kids. But none of that’s true. I could write a lot about how unschooled children work hard and are considerate and helpful. Those stories would back up my claim. But I won’t. All I have to say is this: If I were avoiding my duty and my kids were out of control, I would feel guilty. I wouldn’t feel at peace. There would be no joy in our lives. And we have loads of love and peace and joy. Things feel right. I know this is the way we should be living.

So I trust because I’m not willing to not unschool. I am not willing to give up the joy, love and peace we have. I am not going back to a life where I found myself being unkind so often because there was so much conflict within my family.

Where does trust come from? How do we get it? We consider the option of not trusting and choose to live the life that brings us peace.

So if someone said to me, “How will I ever trust enough?”, this is what I’d suggest:

Throw out all the things that are coming between you and your children, one by one. And when you reach that peaceful state where joy and love reign, you’ll never want to go back. You’ll know what you’re doing is right. And trust won’t be an issue. You’ll have it by the bucketful!

PS: When I talk about peace, joy and love, I’m not implying an unschooling life is a perfectly happy life. Oh no! Sometimes life is tough and full of suffering. Unexpected things happen. But when relationships are strong, we can pull together, encouraging and supporting and loving each other through the difficult times. 

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  1. Reply

    Yes trusting is hard isn't it! I do think you have exceptional kids though 🙂

    We ditched the text books (again!) 18 months ago and I know we talked about gaming in our Skype convo as well as other things. I know that if Benedict is allowed unrestricted screen time he becomes moody and irritable. In fact we have had to ban the use of the tablet because he ends up carrying it around with him everywhere and when asked to do the simplest things he is then unable to disassociate himself from what his happening on screen.

    We have tried job charts and they don't work simply because neither Dave nor I have the health to follow through. However the kids are not big on seeing what needs to be done either so I have a choice of tackling the job alone or scheduling a family clean up time.

    Benedict attended a diabetes camp last weekend. It was the first time ever that he had been away from home and sadly homesickness got the better of him. I didn't mind collecting him after two days but we live near enough that I offered to take him daily and collect before tea. I was met with a resounding no! It bothers me that his life is so insular. How is he going to make it in the real world if he doesn't encounter new experiences, learn to persevere during difficulties and sometimes tackle something he doesn't want to do! We all have things we don't want to do and yet with an internal pep talk we get on with it!

    Just throwing my thoughts out into the ether and unfortunately they have crash landed here!! Hope you didn't mind dear friend 🙂

    Love to you

    San xxx

    1. Reply


      I'm sorry I have taken my time answering your comment. Things have been a bit busy around here for the last few days.

      It sounds like you are having a very difficult time at the moment. I'm glad you felt able to pour out your troubles to me. There's no problem at all with your thoughts crash landing here!

      My girls aren't exceptional, I'm sure, but it is true that all children are different. Our family situations are different too. I can't say, "Just do everything like me and you'll be okay." It doesn't work that way. But we can listen to our children, answer their needs, accept how our children are and love them unconditionally. Yes, every child has different things they deal with. It sounds like Benedict doesn't deal very well with unlimited computer access.

      I have found that job charts used in the traditional way don't work. Yes, we need to keep checking the jobs have actually been done and that's draining. Kids are good at forgetting or ignoring what needs doing. Sometimes it seems easier to do the jobs ourselves. Our chart only works because it was put together by my children. It was their idea and it's just an aid to help them remember what jobs need doing each day. They would do the chores even if there wasn't a chart because the chart isn't the motivator, and I'm not the motivator either. Motivation comes from within. They want to help regardless of charts. Why? It took me a long time to work this out, but I think my children are willing to help because I'm willing to help them. Of course this might not be much help for you because you, unlike me, don't have good health. It's easy for me to dive in and do the chores and help my children. But maybe doing such things as chores is not the real issue. Perhaps it's the giving of ourselves which is the most important thing. We can give of ourselves in many ways. Giving our time and attention, especially when we don't feel like it is appreciated and noticed. Maybe Benedict will follow your example of self-giving. He'll come to realise how much you do for him and then will learn to watch out for opportunities to care for you too.

      I remember going away as a child and becoming homesick. My poor mother was always collecting me early from weekends at friends' homes! Yes, we want to encourage our kids to learn the skills they will need in later life. Maybe there's a fine line between encouraging and pushing. At times I've worried about not pushing hard enough. But there is a John Holt quote that gives me comfort.

      "If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him."

      When I first heard these words I thought about how parents sometimes force frightened kids to learn to swim because they think it will be good for them in the long run, The quote could be applied to many situations where a child isn't ready to tackle something new, even though a parent might feel it would be beneficial. Maybe Benedict isn't quite ready to expand his social world by going to camps. In his own time he might get there. I got there! Of course I went to school and had a bigger social life than Benedict. But I don't think this necessarily benefited me.

      San, I seem to have written a book in answer to your comment. I apologise. You were probably only hoping for some empathy and I bombarded you with ideas and suggestions. I'm sorry!

      I keep you and your family in my prayers each day I hope you do find peace soon. God bless you!

  2. Reply

    Just catching up from our time away – beautiful post! I really appreciated this as well as San's comment and your reply. Because a number of my kids have developmental issues, I always struggle with balancing trust and "nudging" to support normal development within developmental windows. I think you brought up a good analogy with pushing kids to swim when they are afraid: it's a terribly damaging idea! What's the balance? I don't know, except (sometimes desperate) prayer and lots (and lots!) of unconditional love. And ask God to fill in the lack between what I give and what the children need. Still a joyful and delightful way to live!

  3. Reply


    It is indeed sometimes difficult to find the right balance. I always get so upset when I see mothers pushing frightened kids into the water, but in a way I can understand why they do it. We do worry about our children's futures. We want them to have the right skills so they cope with life without us. Prayer and unconditional love… that sounds like an excellent suggestion. And yes, I also believe God fills in the gaps! If it were all up to me, I'd fail at mothering. Sometimes it can be very difficult.

    I'm glad to see you're home again. Looks like you had a wonderful time away on your vacation. Wendy, it's good to catch up with you!

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