Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Unschooling Father this case, the fully-employed, commuting, but committed above all to his children's welfare... unschooling father. I want to recognise him and the choices he's made; the contribution he brings to the little community that is our family. These are some of the gifts he gives:

A few years ago, the company Markus worked for was pulled out from under him, in one of those shocking, call-everyone-into-an-office-dissolve-the-company-and-send-them-all-home experiences. He literally arrived home an hour early with a cardboard box full of his belongings and a bewildered look on his face. "[The company] is no more." They gave him a small severance, but he was in a hurry to find new employment. So he began sending out applications... and at the top of each one he wrote something to the effect that, in order to be closer to his family, he would work a maximum of 3 days per week in the city, and telecommute the rest from home. He would leave every day at 4, to get home by dinner time. He began with "My family is my priority."

Of course, potential employers and recruiters mocked him for this, advised him to take it off the applications, etc. But he held his ground. He found local contracts to keep us afloat in the 6 weeks or so that it took to find new permanent employment, but then moved to a company that respected and supported his values... and happened to be creating software that is close to his heart (resource-mapping). I can't say he wasn't lucky, but the choice he made to prioritize his family was and still is a sign of the great integrity of this man.

Markus sets his priorities in order. He spends the necessary time at work (up to about 44h/week, plus commuting time), and no more. He gives so much of himself to work, but to come home predictably and to choose to switch it off when he's not there is how he prioritizes his children. I've often asked him to find some employment that inspires him more, but he likes the security of the job he has, and it's certainly not up to me to make those choices for him. The fact that he carries our family's financial needs on his shoulders is a great responsibility -- one that I have never borne -- and I respect very much that he's able to do it without sacrificing his relationship with us.

Leading by Example:
I think I talk about this all the time on this blog; how important it is to remember that our children learn by example; that they will emulate our strengths and our weaknesses, without ever knowing they do. Our achievements and foibles and grand disasters -- even those things we try to hide, or to undo -- become a part of our children's authentic internal workings, whether they want them to or not. So of course it's important that we live the life we can feel proud of -- authentically.

Markus often looks at his life to determine whether he's living a life he wants to pass on to his children. When he brought home his old playmobil for the kids, he picked through it to remove the guns. He tells them he used to be interested in weapons as a boy, but explains, too, what he thinks about them, now. He is open to the children's questions and to their differing opinions and interests, while still remaining true to himself.

He doesn't give them all of his time. He makes a huge effort to get what needs to be done done, but also to take time for his personal interests, and to involve the children in those things they want to be involved with. Building; boat-restoration; archery. But above all, he's a good man, full of love and acceptance; everything we would want our children to emulate.

Following by example:
As the at-home parent, I am involved with almost everything the children do. With only two non-working days per week, Markus has to make an effort to achieve even a minimal involvement. So he does! Markus takes time to attend our activities when he can -- not just performances and community events, but also sometimes the classes we take, and the groups we lead. He sometimes leaves work early and makes up the time in the evening, if it means he can watch a performance the kids are putting on. He uses holiday time for working on our home and yard. He also pays attention to our family calendar and inputs our activities into his work calendar, so that, even in the office, he knows what we're doing. This allows him to stay connected to us.

And, like most unschooling parents I know, he has become good at allowing the children's interests to inspire him. He loves to join in their research and explorations; to let their fancies and fascinations pull him along. Life is a wonderful adventure, when our eyes can be opened by others' passions!

Trusting me:
It's so simple. Markus trusts me, as his partner and the mother of our children. I am the one who guides the children, counsels them, helps them make their decisions; I am the one who handles the money Markus makes; who defines our family's diet and activities and schedule. And with very few exceptions, he trusts me to do this well. As a partner in this relationship, having his confidence gives me the confidence I need to do my best. This is not to say he doesn't participate in decisions, or stand his ground when he disagrees, but the disagreements -- especially with regard to the children and their unschooled lifestyle -- are very very few. And I think that this also gives our children a kind of confidence in their choices, and in their choice to trust people, as they see that trust is a gift to both sides of the equation.

Remembering that we are all unschooling, together:
Growth and parenting is really not just about the kids. It`s about having a family of humans who are growing, supporting, and evolving, together. We are parenting ourselves and each other. Trust and confidence are things I have struggled with all my life, and having a partner who is patient with me, and generous, who has confidence in me and who puts confidence in me, who demonstrates compassion and understanding, as he also learns it from his own children -- is one part of this intricately balanced equation that holds us together.


  1. Nice.

    You've expressed well the gratitude I feel for some similar choices made in our family.

  2. Hey while we're giving out a little Markus love can also add to this by commenting on him as a neighbour?

    Markus is a humble, curious, introverted seeker of community. I have never heard him say a bad word about anyone in public. He probably harbours all kinds of thoughts about the clowns and lunactics and saints and sinners that we share our rock with, but he is singlemindedly equanimous in his public reflections about people.

    And he is an ideal commuting buddy, in that every ferry/bus conversation I have ever had with him has been so interesting that it is hard to actually get off at the right stop.

    When I think of the families that somehow capture the spirit of the Bowen I love the VldJ family is right up there, and Markus ranks as one of my favourite neighbours for his kindness, his quiet presence, his sharp mind and his quirky sense of humour.

  3. Holy Chris that was a love-letter and a half! Thank you so much for your own authentic heart.

  4. I love this! I remember reading somewhere that families in which the parents had clearly defined roles and responsibilities argued less about things like money management and child rearing. I think there is truth to it!


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