Within the last two months, we’ve had big changes in our home. My oldest turned 18 and not only got his first official job but will also start college in the fall, and my baby turned 16 and is now the proud owner of an Illinois driver’s license. All of these big changes have created a need in me to reflect on my role in my family’s life.
My background before kids was as a 5th grade elementary teacher. I taught a class that was slightly over 80% low income and in need of English as a Second Language services. I absolutely loved my job. I worked with innovative teachers and principals who genuinely cared about the success of our students. As a young teacher at the time, I learned from my students. I observed what was and wasn’t working for them in the classroom and knew early on that when I finally had children of my own, I would provide some sort of alternative education. I just never imaged it would be as alternative or good as it turned out.
By the time my oldest was two years old, we had moved 700 miles away from my hometown and family. While this was definitely a difficult time for me, it was also a time for me to become dependent on my own beliefs as a parent. I was already tandem/extended nursing both kids and we shared a family bed which seemed so out there at the time. I began to think about my son going away to school in only a few short years. I wasn’t ready for that. I liked having him home with me. I loved watching him explore his surroundings. It was in those early years that I learned the most valuable lesson I have learned to date and it has guided me through most of my parenting/life experiences – follow your heart. Sometimes I have let myself slide into what others felt was right, but my heart always protested until I finally listened. My heart lead me to make decisions that were different from other families, but so very right for ours.
I keep getting this overwhelming feeling of joy when I think about our journey together. While I have worked part-time as an adult ESL teacher since my daughter was three, my kids have always either been with my husband or me. We have both been so fortunate to be a part of their lives. I think about all the mornings we woke up and chose to stay in our pajamas all day, the days we got up and decided to explore the backyard, go swimming, make blanket tents, cook together, or snuggle up and reread favorite books. I got to participate in all of that!
I am going to admit that being a mom to a teenage girl has been the hardest thing I have ever done. It has challenged me to find new ways to remain calm, to set limits, to let go of limits, and to remember that I helped create a strong minded person and with that comes struggles. The truth is some days I feel like I have failed as a mother . I find that listening to my heart is a struggle because it often differs with what my daughters mind/heart is telling her. Then out of the blue, my daughter comes home and asks me to hug her. She occasionally wakes me up at night because she needs to talk. We’ve had long talks sitting in Starbucks parking lot. It’s with these situations that I quickly forget my insecurities of being a failure as a mom to a teenager and know I have done my job well. She recently gave me a huge complement. Her friends told her she has the best mom because I am not strict, but I am always there for her. It’s true. I don’t believe in setting tons of rules. I expect respect which might include texting me if coming home later than planned, but overall, I always go back to my original philosophy when I started unschooling, “Trust them. They have triggers within themselves that will always do what is best for who they are.” I always told my kids as they were growing up, “You know your body best.” They do. When a person learns to believe in what their own body is telling them, they learn to listen to their own needs. It may seem like their choices are a mistake, but it may also be the exact learning experience they need to have. My job is not to tell them what is right or wrong for their individual self, but to guide them to listen to their own voice and be a sounding board for them as they figure out what that voice is telling them.
We have spent our lifetime together following a path that was right for our family. It went against what most mainstream and even at times unschooling families were doing, but it always felt right to us. The last few years I have watched my two children transition from unschoolers to school kids. There were a few small bumps in the road, but overall, they have found where they belong. They have both always been good at listening to their individual hearts and know their own bodies well, my greatest gift to them.
I think the reason I have been reflecting on my role as a mom is because I know the life we have known is changing and while it is exciting, it is also new and I’m figuring out my place in this new relationship. I see less and less of both kids. They still both need me, but when and how varies from day to day. I am in the process of figuring out my new role as mom and as I always have done, want to excel at it. I have been a lucky momma to have been a part of so many of my children’s life experiences and look forward to many more. My heart has lead me well.