We all seek purpose in our lives; I am no different. I have asked myself this countless times. Sometimes out of desperation, sometimes simply from a place of wondering. And I think that I have finally found it, at least for now.
I have always wanted children. In fact, I used to say I wanted 5. I thought that seemed like a good number; not a small family, but not really large, either. I’ve always liked the number 5. Throughout my childhood, I imagined myself ending up in many different occupations. A teacher, a zoologist, a trainer at Sea World, an entrepreneur, an archeologist, a librarian, an actress…you get the picture. But there was always one constant, I wanted to be a mom.
I spent 4 semesters at community college after high school. I still had no clue what I “wanted to be”. So I took a bunch of general ed, in my own way; finding the substitutes that seemed most interesting, in place of the classes that most people take. There were a couple classes I took just to “check the box”, and while I could have done well, I cared very little. So I skipped homework and lectures and basically chose to get a C, just so I would get credit for taking it. Most of my college memories were of playing loud, obnoxious card games in the cafeteria, and hanging out at night with my group of friends, watching movies, bowling, and playing video games and paintball.
Then, real life hit and I needed money more than I needed college. I got a job at a department store making minimum wage, where I learned more about real life in a few months than I had during my 2 years of college classes. I moved out soon after that, and then eloped in Hawaii with my husband who was in the Army at the time. I had planned on going back to college, then I learned the sad truth that community colleges in states other than California cost more than we could afford on my husband’s enlisted paycheck. I wasn’t quite sure what to do next, since I didn’t really want to get some random minimum wage job again, but I also didn’t want to just sit at home, being a “housewife”. And then, just a few months after we were married, we found out that I was pregnant!
My future plans changed instantly. I was only 20, but I had always known I wanted to stay home with my kids. My thoughts were that I didn’t want to have kids for someone else to raise. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my baby at daycare all day while I went to work. To let someone else experience all my baby’s special moments. Their smiles and words and steps. But I also made it very clear to my husband that I wasn’t staying home to be a housekeeper. If it weren’t for kids, I’d be at a job, too, and we’d both be responsible for the housework. Nothing would be different if I was at home, I would simply be doing the job of raising our kids.
My husband and I have worked very hard to enable me to stay home with our kids. He took on a night and weekend job as a security guard while he was in the Army, to make ends meet. I’ve always tried to use coupons, shop sales, cook at home, utilize resources such as freecycle, etc. in order to save money any way I could.
And still, for years, I felt unfulfilled. I felt like everyone around me had things more “together”. Their houses were cleaner, their kids had cuter outfits and hairdos, they did more perfect-looking crafts and had more fancier birthday parties. On top of all that, they got their hair and nails done, had furniture that all matched, they went to clubs on the weekends, and their kids were in sports and dance and girl scouts. What did I have? A messy house with toys everywhere, girls in hand-me-downs, haphazard collages of magazine cut-outs on my walls, parties with homemade cake and regular old balloons. I dyed my own hair, painted my own nails, got furniture off the side of the road, stayed home watching TV with my husband on weekends, and my kids played at the park in the dirt in their free time.
I felt lost. I kept trying to find myself. I changed my hairstyle and clothes a million times. I tried to do more “normal” things. I tried my hand at different crafts. I attempted to decorate my house and keep it perfectly organized. I matched up cute outfits and bows for my girls. I got addicted to social networks and popular online games. And yet, I still felt unfulfilled.
When both of my older girls began public school, my sense of purpose was lost even more. I can’t quite describe what I felt, but it was a sense of loss. It didn’t help that the girls began talking about their teachers as if they were perfect deities, even to contradict things I tried to tell them. “Well, my teacher says…” “But my teacher told me…” I knew, deep down, that was supposed to be me. I wasn’t supposed to be second to some random person at a place my young kids spent the majority of their waking time. I was resistant to homeschooling, though, because I felt like I couldn’t provide them with the knowledge they needed. Little did I know, I had been “schooling” them since birth. All the times I was answering their multitudes of questions, the times I took them to zoos and museums, the sometimes daily walks we went on where we talked about things we saw…all those were “school” lessons in disguise. I had no idea that learning through living could be continued in place of formal schooling.
Fast forward to a couple years ago. My older girls were 6 and 8. They had started a new school that year. My oldest, Elizabeth, hated a lot of things. She hated the worksheets of tedious, simple math problems that she was forced to do daily, and then nightly as homework, too. Soon, she started crying every day, not wanting to go back. Then the day came when she asked my husband to teach her how to fight. We knew there had to be something going on. Turns out, she was being bullied relentlessly. Something every parent fears for their child. Our attempts to rectify the situation and make the environment safe and happy for her failed miserably, mostly because of the school’s unwillingness to recognize the severity of the situation. That’s when we made the decision that we didn’t want either of our girls going back. We disenrolled them immediately. We had no plan of how to homeschool them, we just knew they were better off at home. I was currently pregnant with our 3rd daughter, and having horrible morning sickness so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed some days. So I had lots of time to research. My husband did a lot of reading, too. It was then that we discovered unschooling.
It took us until about 6 months or so ago to finally deschool ourselves enough to sit back and relax and let unschooling begin. Deschooling is the process of getting out of the school mentality. It usually takes parents a lot longer than kids, especially when well-meaning friends and family members continuously pressure the parents to show “proof” that the kids are learning. “What curriculum are you using? What books are they reading? How is their writing ability? Are they learning fractions?”
As I said before, I finally feel like I have found my purpose in life. I’ve always wanted to prepare my kids to be adults; to help them to be self-sufficient, responsible, intelligent, and kind. Unschooling is the way I have found that will help them the most on their journey to adulthood. And contrary to what most people seem to think, unschooling requires an extremely hands-on, involved style of parenting. I’m with my kids about 90% of the time. We do nearly everything together. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, running errands, watching TV, playing, special events…everything. And during every activity, they have questions. They ask how to spell words, they ask how to do math problems, they ask what words mean. They ask why we do things the way we do, and why others do things differently. They ask about things they see and hear. They ask questions they are just wondering about. They ask questions that seem simple to me, and they ask questions that I have no idea how to answer. I’m constantly looking things up to be able to better explain things to them. They check out books from the library on topics that interest them. I buy them books and games and take them to places that they might find interesting, which inevitably sparks more questions.
Furthermore, being with my kids most of the time opens up opportunities to help them solve conflicts, learn to compromise, deal with emotions, and learn to self-regulate. I guide them to make informed, intelligent decisions about food, sleep, money, and time management. And I try my best to set a good example in all these areas for them. We talk about mistakes I make, and have made, and I explain lessons I’ve learned and my desire and efforts to change certain behaviors. They are free to ask why I make decisions the way I do, which does occasionally make me stop and think and realize that I don’t have a good reason!
This journey that we’re on…call it unschooling, call it self-directed learning, or just call it life…this is my purpose. This is why I’m here. This is the reason I wake up every day. To provide my kids with the best possible environment to grow up in. To ensure that they have the best preparation I can give them to be successful at whatever they want to do in life. To pass on my love of learning and inspire them to continue to always search for the answers to their questions.
You might say that I can’t possibly be happy living solely for my kids. And I’ll ask, why not? Yes, I enjoy talking with other adults every now and then. I enjoy writing this blog. But I actually do enjoy spending the majority of my time with my children. They aren’t “just kids”, they’re my family. They’re the humans that my husband and I chose to bring into this world. And in all reality, their time at home with us is so very brief, that I don’t want to miss out on any of it by chasing my own hobbies. There will be plenty of time for that once they are older. Reading, drawing, scrapbooking, crocheting, doing jigsaw puzzles…all the things I love to do…they aren’t more important than being with my children, being their friend and mentor. Right now, I have 2 very young kids who need me all the time, and I have 2 older kids who still need me a lot of the time. And if I am unwilling to give them the time they require now, because of my own selfish desires, then what will that tell them about our relationship? If they are as important to me as I tell them they are, then why wouldn’t I want to give all I have to them now? And part of what they need to thrive is a clean home with plenty of healthy food. So while cleaning and cooking may not always be my favorite things to do, they are part of what my children need. And when I think about it that way, it doesn’t seem so tedious and boring anymore.
This is my life, this is what I’ve chosen, and I am happy. This is my contribution to the future of this planet. Who knows what I will contribute once they are all grown and gone? I’m sure I’ll have no trouble finding a new purpose when the time comes. For now, this is who I am, and I love it!