Browsing Category

Parenting

Parenting

Homeschooling now? Welcome to the jungle!

25 March, 2020

A  few months ago my nine year old daughter sighed “Imagine if the whole world was homeschooled! I’d be able to play with all of my friends allllllll day!” Ramona hasn’t ever been to school and sometimes wishes that her school-going friends could come over straight after breakfast.  In a bizarre twist in a plot that feels like it’s been written by kids, now basically the entire world is homeschooling – but the kids can’t play! 

If you are new to life without school, welcome to the jungle.

Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious at the prospect of being home with your kids for the next four weeks. Solidarity. Personally, I am shitting myself. The next four weeks are not gonna look anything like the circumstances that I opted into. We usually roll out of bed, watch a bit of Netflix and then get with our little homeschooling gang to hit up some sweet museum or beach while us parents banter and generally have a good time.

We hunt down social interactions for our wee extrovert Ramona in the way junkies seek out smack. If she doesn’t get her fix life is terrifying.

Now it’s just the four of us knocking around with the craft supplies I panic-bought from the Warehouse yesterday. And I’m terrified!

So I don’t come to you with a high and mighty sense of yes I’ve done this for nine years and what can I say I’m QUITE the expert, but rather a genuine sense of we’ll get through this together.

‘Cos we will. ‘Cos humans are awesome. 

So, here’s a few things to get you started. Some foundational stuff that means I actually enjoy homeschooling.

1- Not a teacher
Firstly, I don’t try and teach my kids. We go for a type of home education called unschooling or life learning. It’s an education paradigm based on the idea that the best learning is self-motivated, rooted in curiosity and joyfully done.  Over the years I’ve seen our children pick up traditional curriculum topics such as multiplication and writing all through simply living their lives. (Ramona is so passionate about maths that we actually have long multiplication graffiti on our bathroom wall.) We’ve also seen them pick up millions of other skills through being around people in our community. 

Now, I get that some of you are thinking WHAT THE HELL, those poor kids! And that is absolutely fine! Because you can still think I am a nutter AND make room for the truth that the idea of parents becoming teachers is the worst possible idea on the planet, but for a month or six it’s far better for your child to not have a teacher than for them to feel disconnected from or coerced by their parent.

And if ever you have a wobble and think “my kid’s haven’t done the sheets sent from school” you can always think of me and how the government has approved my home education plan!

Kids are learning all the time, whether they are doing worksheets or not. They are learning creativity as they watch you make face masks out of your old bras, self-care as you tend to your caffeine needs and picking up literacy skills seeing you reading a novel on the sofa.*
*probably

I think that in these stressful and overwhelming times, what kids need most are parents committed to connection. Listening to them, holding them, playing with them, processing feelings with them. Basically anything BUT making them do stuff they don’t want to do.

I checked in with some teachers about this and around twenty got back to me, all of them saying things along these lines don’t make your kids study if they don’t want to! Use this time to do stuff together so they remember quarantine as good family time.

2- Stuff you can do lying down
Now one of the the things about that – doing stuff together is that it is knackering. I try not to do too much of it. Ha. But seriously, I do try and keep it in balance, spending enough time playing with my kids so they feel connected and nurtured, but also planning lots of things that they can be self-sufficient in. 

One of the things homeschoolers have got down is activities where the parent lies down. My sister who is new to homeschooling due to Covid19 (shall we just go ahead and call it #virusschooling)  sent me a picture of a man lying in bed and his kids sitting right there sketching him and the caption “Set my kids the challenge of drawing me so i can take a nap.” My sis was all lol emojis about it and I was like, girl that is the oldest  trick in the book. The kids latch on by the third time and you’re going to need the following activities:

The kids paint your belly while you read a book.(What this is a thing!! It’s on Pinterest! Usually the person is pregnant but whatevs.)
You pay them 50 cents for a full body massage.
They have to guess what kind of sleeping animal you are. (It goes without saying that the more obscure the better- a golden snub-nosed monkey is gonna be my next one.)
This game we haven’t named yet where they have to creep up on you while you nap.
Netflix
 

3-Intentional Compromise

Despite what my mum and dad think, our children do not watch Netflix all day. Nope sireeee there is also Youtube Kids and Cartoon Network.

Jokes.

They probably do watch slightly more TV than they would in my dream homeschooling life. That’s because of something I call Intentional Compromise. My friend and I came up with that term (I think, hang on, let me just google, no yeah we did AREN’T WE GREAT!) to describe the idea that nothing is ever absolutely perfect, and often in our endeavour to believe that it can be, we end up making compromises in areas that we don’t want to. If you acknowledge that we don’t have to be perfect, the perfect parent or the perfect homeschooler or perfect anything, you can instead select where you are going to compromise for the greater good.

I highly value self care. It’s the only way I can homeschool. Every morning I like to have a cup of tea and journal and spend a bit of time nurturing my heart. But I also like a teeny weeny lie in. Instead of waking up at 6am to get my self-care in pre kids wake up, or forsaking my self-care time and snapping at my family members because I’m bitter, I let the kids switch on Netflix when they get up, intentionally compromising my perfect vision of us doing family yoga at 7:30 every morning.

You are not going to be a perfect home education parent during this time. So go right ahead and choose some areas where you are going to release the pressure. This way you can be good enough in the areas that are important. 


4- Do this together

Part of the unschooling educational paradigm is a deep trust of our children. We reckon that our kids are their own gurus. They know their brains, their hearts, their bodies best, so we try and give them as much autonomy as we can handle.

You might not be quite ready to see where you kids go with lots more freedom. But many of you will find the next few weeks and months much easier with your kids if they feel like they’ve had a big say.

One way we do this is in Family Circles. We have two types – one where it’s just a chance for everyone to share their feelings. It might be around a particular incident or it might be just a response to some family tension. We had one this week about Covid19 and Ramona finished it with saying “PPPHEWF that felt good to get that off my chest!” I was surprised as I thought we had a fairly open communication anyway! 


And then there’s the planning kind. Yesterday our Family Circle was the opportunity for our kids to shape the next few weeks. We sketched out a gentle rhythm for each day and all put down our suggestions for things we want to do. The kids suggested loads of things that I never would have dreamt of – if you need us in the coming weeks we’ll be foraging mushrooms.

It’s going to be super important for our kids to have things to look forward to and they will really appreciate our attempts to include them in decision making and planning.

5-  Don’t be afraid of the Internet

There are so many educational programmes on Netflix (you can set up a profile especially for that) and Youtube Kids- you can also select channels that you feel okay for your kids to have free access to.  There are tons of kid friendly podcast to listen to. 

And, in honour of the Coronavirus people are putting out even more resources. Ben Fogles is entertaining kids with adventure stories on Instagram, The Little Oak Learning is running morning circles, there are dance parties and live yoga and so many weird and wonderful resources to tap into. The one I actually skipped about the room about was that Audible have made all their kids books available for free. Don’t tell anyone but this was the one single thing that made me feel like I was going to make it out the other end of this lock down without us turning into the Addams Family. (Pre-Audible announcement I was on a fasttrack to Uncle Fester.)

~

We are going to make it through. Not just as shells of our former selves, but even better versions of ourselves. There’s a very strong chance we will be more grounded, more connected, more resilient. And we get to do this with our kids. So many of them are going to thrive in this time. They are going to learn stuff they can’t at school, they are going to feel closer to you, less stressed, less social pressure and they’ll get to experience a four week long pyjama party with their fam!

~

These are really only the very start of ideas I want to share with you. There are so many little hacks that I think people will find super helpful. So I set up a new video series that’s gonna be jam packed with this stuff!  For more inspiration and support take a look at my Covid19 inspired Youtube Channel: Life Without School.

PS My online parenting course ALLY is kicking off in a couple of weeks. If you want to supercharge your empathy and worldchanging parenting take a look at the curriculum right here. 

 

Activism, Parenting

*new online parenting course* ALLY

2 March, 2020

The kids are forty minutes into a heated discussion about where they will live once they have their own families, all of us here in the big yurt together? Or Juno and her kids in the little yurt, which feels unfair to her, frankly? So I’m just taking the opportunity to zip in here with a rollicking big announcement! I am suuuuper excited to let you know that registrations  have opened for my new online course ALLY – be the guide, advocate and friend your child needs. It feels like the culmination of eight years of my work in this area. It’ll be the fourth course I’ve facilitated over this last year and I can say with confidence that these are deeply powerful, transformative experiences. Details below and you can register here.

The future of a fair and equal society lies in adults using their power to come alongside children in a supportive role.

Learn more about the principles of this kind of parenting and how to apply them to your life in a practical way. Discover how a fresh perspective and response to everything from tantrums to mealtimes can super-charge the connection and cooperation between you and your child, bringing you more joy and a sense of purpose into your home.

This radical course sits at the intersection of parenting and child rights. It is a holistic experience, where you are invited to bring the whole of you to this learning. We come to new understandings via teaching, reflection, meditation and discussion.

Ally involves weekly 1.5 hour interactive Zoom workshops, downloadable worksheets and an energetic pop-up community on Facebook.

Loving this course! The discovery and learning each week, the sharing, the 2 hours to myself each Monday. This is absolutely self care in my mind. I’m really enjoying taking the time to delve into something I believe so wholeheartedly in and being led by hand so to speak. (Can’t thank you enough Lucy.) 
Course Participant February 2020

The online course was so much more than I thought it would be! I love the fact it’s focused on us as parents, in a kind of healing way…
Course Participant February 2020
 I have to say I am already SO happy I decided to take this course. My mind and heart have been blown to bits. 
Course Participant February 2020

Module One –  Ally
A just and beautiful world begins in the home
SUNDAY 19:30 (NZST) 5th April
(This is 8:30am UK time)In our first session together we consider a radical new starting point for parents.Once we establish this new perspective we are better able to see how our parenting can impact the future of the world, the nurturing of a just and beautiful society. We take a look at some of the evidence for the idea that a peaceful world begins in the home.

In the second half of this module we begin to unpack why as a species we haven’t made the connection between empathetic parenting and social justice, despite all the evidence.

We begin to do the important, empowering work of unpacking our inherited beliefs that prevent us from truly living the way we want to with our children.

Module Two – Guide
Treating our children as though they are visitors from another world
SUNDAY 19:30 (NZST) 12th April

When we redfine the role of parenting we are freed up to consider what it is we really should be doing! In this session we take a look at how we navigate societal norms and holding boundaries with empathy, whilst making room for our children to bloom into who they really are. We work through each developmental stage and their associated needs and rights. We consider how we can practically honour these needs and rights practical, taking a look at common negotiations from mealtimes to clothing and visiting places other than our own homes.

Module Three – Advocate
How can we stand up for our children?
SUNDAY 19:30 (NZST) 19th April

Once we accept the invitation to be allies to our children, we accept that part of that may well be standing up for them. How does this look, both with close family members and society?
In this session we discover how to live in alignment, living authentically and courageously with the parenting decisions and lifestyle we have chosen.

We look at conflict as a doorway to connection, both in terms of our advocacy and in our general parenting life. How do we keep connection alive through struggles and tricky times with our children?

Module Four – Friend 
Are we afraid of a level playing field?
SUNDAY 19:30 (NZST) 26th April

So often parents will exclaim (at least on Facebook!) “I am their PARENT not their friend!” Friendship is technically simply about having mutual affection for one another, but of course, compared to the parent-child dyad, it is a very non-hierarchial relationship. This sense of power-sharing can be terrifying.  In our last session we consider how parents can very practically share their power with their children. We consider the needs and rights we ourselves are trying to have met, making room for inner child healing.

In this session you will understand how this kind of parenting doesn’t have to be depleting, and be given tools to ensure this is a sustainable and mutually fulfilling path.

~

You can register right here.

Would LOVE to see you in the room!

Parenting, unschooling

Cool news for Juno! Home Education Application Exemption (for a six year old unschooling)

11 June, 2019

Hi friends!

We received a cool email today letting us know that our home education exemption for Juno has been approved. You might remember that here in NZ you have to fill in a form in order to be exempt from school. It looks like this is a path the UK is close to embarking on too.

I shared Ramona’s application right here. And I wanted to share Juno’s as it is both a good example of an unschooling exemption (for those who want to be totally up front about the style of learning they have at home) but also does put a bit of flesh on the unschooling bones for those who really don’t get it! The bits in bold are the questions they ask.

Tim wrote this one even though it maybe made more sense for me to do it ‘cos I’ve already done one, but, you know, we are committed to absolutely sharing this parenting and home education gig.

Unschooling home education exemption nz

Section 2 As well as:
A) Help us to understand your home education philosophy/approach, and how you will meet the requirement to teach at least as well as a registered school.

Lucy and I are strong believers in the innate ability of our children to learn. We have watched them both develop in their physical movement from a young age. We have witnessed them motivated by their own curiosity develop a deepening understanding of themselves and the world around them. Our educational philosophy seeks to support and help to replicate this in their further learning and development of understanding. We seek to support Juno’s learning urges, asking appropriate questions to fuel her appetite for understanding. We deliberately follow up these learning urges, travelling to geographical places and accessing relevant resources in order for Juno to have the chance to learn in this way.

As Juno embarks on these learning journeys we encourage her to process these new ideas through discussion with us and others, craft, experimentation in expressing the learning through creative mediums, and recording her learning pictorially and when she is able, through literacy, and numeracy.

Creative arts, social interaction, literacy and numeracy in this context are forms of expression of the learning that is going on inside Juno.

The physical environments of Juno’s learning are wide ranging, whether this be in Te Papa, our farm, at the beach, bush, community organisations or far flung places. We endeavour to make these contexts as limitless as we can. This allows Juno to interact with a wide range of places, cultures and learning facilities.

Juno does not have special educational needs that need catering for.

B) What resources do you intend to use and are you delegating any teaching responsibility?

Library and bookshelf: Juno loves exploring the libraries in Paeroa, Waihi and Ngatea. When we travel to other places she loves to visit the libraries there to read books with us and explore the children’s areas. We encourage Juno to find books that are of interest to her, and read them with her at our home.

iPad and laptop: Juno enjoys ipad games especially the series of Toca Boca games which have been specifically created to enhance a child’s creative development. She loves building homes and facilitating the interaction of her characters in these games.

Friends and family members: Juno had developed close relationships with a handful of other significant others who she feels comfortable with. She enjoys going on trips with these people, exploring places and embarking on creative projects with them, such as clay work with the local potter and trips into the city with her grandmother.

Craft box: Juno loves to explore new places, but enjoys the comfort and familiarity of home where she can happily craft away. We have three huge craft boxes filled with beads and threads for bracelet making, wool for finger knitting. Paints, colours, paper. Felt, scissors, glue. A whole load of interesting craft materials left over from experiments and projects.

Local homeschool community: Juno is becoming increasingly interested in learning opportunities presented through the homeschool community in Tauranga. She currently attends a Kapa Haka group there and a Circus performing workshop. We see this an increasingly important element as she feels more comfortable with the children attending and adults facilitating. Juno loves to make cards and already has a clear hand writing to copy out long notes to her friends.

The natural world and tools to explore it: We are right next door to Conservation Land, with a river. We have kayaks and life jackets which Juno loves to use single handedly. She has a pocket knife and loves to whittle some of the beautiful wood we find. She has rope and tools and together we might set a trap or build a new swing.

C) What are your educational goals for the next 12 months of your child’s home education and how will you know if you’ve met them?

Juno is a naturally curious person. She loves to work out carefully how to do something. Often these activities are extremely complex and take patience, resolve and commitment. We want to honour that element of her personality, helping to facilitate these learning experiences, but not pushing her into them. While she feels motivated to learn new things, take on new challenges, make sense of new contexts we will feel that she is progressing healthily. Juno likes to take on something new and master it. We delight in seeing her in this context and encourage her to work in this way.

Juno takes time to warm to people, but when she does she develops deep and real relationships. We work closely with Juno to help her feel comfortable in new contexts, deliberately making ourselves available to her if she feels that she needs support in order for her to feel safe and comfortable. As she settles into a new context we slowly and subtly give her space to practice independence. As long as Juno is growing in her social confidence we will feel that we are judging our involvement correctly.

Juno loves to develop new expressions of creativity. She adores drawing the most intricate patterns and pictures. Juno loves weaving, cutting, painting, building, creating cups out of clay, writing her name and messages to friends, and experimenting with numbers. As long as Juno is enjoying these creative expressions and involving herself in them we will feel as if we are offering her the correct amount of learning opportunities through creative expression.

D) What is your vision, and what are your goals for your child’s long term educational achievement?

Our vision for Juno is to be a internally motivated and self directed joyful learner. She is that already, and our ultimate goal is to propagate that and not puncture it through other’s expectations. We want Juno to love the learning she does, to feel comfortable within the context of that learning. We want her to follow her passions, curiosities and capabilities. We want her to feel empowered to follow whatever learning pathways she needs to in order for her to become the person she is discovering she is.

We want her to feel confident interacting with a wide variety of people, across a wide variety of cultural contexts. To bloom into the limitless learning opportunities the world has to offer, knowing that something new is not something to be feared or threatened by, but rather an opportunity that may present itself.

We want to see Juno relishing being able to express herself and be understood by those around her. To project her understanding powerfully, confidently and accurately, through the arts, literacy and numeracy.

If she wants to go to a tertiary institute, we want her to know that that is a possibility. Equally if she discovers the need to initiate her own creative dance troupe, or likewise, we want her to know that she has the tools and efficacy to do that.

E) Give a detailed description of a special project or topic plan you will do, or describe one you have done in the past.

Juno has developed over the last month a love of weaving friendship bracelets. She is amazingly good at the intricate movement and patterns required to make a beautiful bracelet. Already she has made and given away eight friendship bracelets, representing hours of important motor skills work (and also critical for reading readiness.) Juno has said that she knows what she wants to do when she grows up now: sell friendship bracelets.

Throughout the year we regularly attend life learning camps. One camp particularly offers the kids a chance to sell their creations or offerings in a marketplace. Juno really wants to build up a collection of friendship bracelets to sell at this camp in October. Already she is researching the different price structures that she may employ in the selling of these friendship bracelets by asking friends and family members what they would be willing to pay. This has also lead to an increased interest as we move around the supermarket and op shops noticing prices and discuss value of each item, through this she is gathering basic numeracy skill as well as an understanding of money, cents in the dollar.

Juno will need to source reasonably priced thread to make this price structure work for her, and within the budget of her weekly allowance. We will support her to do this through finding a thread supply online or in local secondhand shops. Juno will need to develop processes that allow her to meet the production levels required of her marketplace stall. Juno will also need to make sure that her product design is desirable to her client base which will through our regular excursions and visits to friends. And when we get closer to October we will support Juno to design her own market stall and packaging, including sign writing and artwork.

SECTION 3 “As regularly as”

A typical week:
Monday: Morning trip down to Tauranga, beginning with Kapa Haka, followed by a meet up with other homeschooling and life learning children at a local park. Spend the afternoon at one of her friend’s house either playing outside or crafting inside. After dinner Juno attends a circus performing class. Drive back home after club.

Tuesday: Crafts morning after breakfast and some Netflix, followed by outside play at our farm. Often Juno will be involved in a project such as gardening – at the moment she is growing a giant pumpkin for a Giant Pumpkin Competition at a local farm. We might make a tree house or construct a waterslide, or more simply go on a bush walk beside the river collecting fascinating rocks, insects and minerals. In the afternoon we will go to studio of a local potter for a few hours and Juno will make some crockery. In the evening Juno helps to cook dinner, regularly chopping all the vegetables.

Wednesday: A bunch of other families turn up at our farm to play and explore together. Juno will often spend a lot of time with one particular friend making things, drawing, making greeting cards, bouncing on the trampoline and playing games. In the afternoon Juno will help me tidy up if she doesn’t end up going off to a friend’s house for the afternoon.

Thursday: Netflix in the morning punctuated with breakfast. If the weather is nice we will head out to a new place to explore. Juno loves exploring the seashore, the intertidal rockpools and deposits at the high tide mark. Often a friend will come along on the trip. more often than not we will discover something that we have never seen before, carrying on the investigation at home later. If the weather is not so nice we will often go to a local library, art gallery or museum. After lunch while we are out it makes sense to visit the op shops and if not before, the library before closing time. Juno loves finding good books and treasures that she can take home and enjoy.

Friday: Today after breakfast we will get crafting together. Out will come the sewing machine, cuttings of various fabrics that we have picked up from around the place, cardboard boxes, glue, paint, flour, food colouring, scissors pens and paper to draw on or fold. Juno has mastered origami shown to her by a family friend, she often settles into folding foxes and roses. If the time is right Juno will spend hours working with intricate designs and patterns. After lunch we might break things up with a play outside or swim. Juno will store her creations in her treasure cupboard.

In the afternoon with a bit of support Juno may bake a cake to share for afternoon tea. These are often very creative and reasonably edible. We trust that over the coming years her enjoyment of cooking will create the perfect environment for learning some of the more complex maths skills such as division and multiplication as she creates and develops recipes. Often on Friday we will finish the day enjoying a family movie together before bed.

Saturday: Another day to explore, this time perhaps with her school attending cousins. She will spend lots of the trip chatting away with them about what they have been up to at school while sharing some of the things that she has been doing not in school. The trip may involve an excursion to a waterfall that someone has heard about or a trip to the hot pools for a soak.

Sunday: At home day today, often people will come to visit. We swim together in the river play in the bush, go rock or insect collecting and then make hamburgers together on the fire before watching the sun go down and first stars appear.

Juno might spend some time finding new music on Spotify, an interest inspired by her big sister’s love of music. They cultivate a growing playlist of a wide variety of music, often asking members of our community for song suggestions and then coming home and looking them up – typing into the search bar the letters as we spell it out.

Throughout each day we are all involved in deep conversations ranging from the activities we are doing to the complex science behind life on earth. We estimate that between activities and one to one conversations Juno is involved in around 8 -12 hours of active learning everyday, including weekends.

~

After we sent this through they responded with two follow up questions:

Education goals – 12 months

You have really good broad goals thank you. You’ve also given me a picture of what Juno likes and is interested in.

In line with your approach I’m now interested to know in terms of the ‘learning area’s’ what Juno can do (skills) /or knows (knowledge) and what her next learning steps might be?

Alternatively, you could give me one or two specific education learning goals for English, Math, Science, Social Sciences i.e. the skills and/or knowledge you’d expect her to have within the next 12 months

Resources

Thank you for the list you have supplied.

As you start your home education journey with Juno, I need to know some more reference materials (named texts/internet websites) that will assist you with her individual learning progression at the level of learning she’s currently at or moving toward.

It will also be helpful for you to tell me a little about the resource and how you intend to use it.

We replied with:

English
To continue to love stories and books. To continue to explore the sounds of letters and consider the sounds different letters make when they are put together.
It would not surprise us at all if Juno is reading basic stories in a few months, such as her enthusiasm for letters, but making that a goal would go against our desire to let Juno progress at her own pace.

Maths

Juno loves and is working hard with counting and adding. We will continue to support her in adding and giving her sums to put together. We have already seen Juno embracing games books containing maths challenges. We will continue to give opportunity for her to feel challenged in this area by moving on to adding double digits when she is ready.

Science

Juno loves to experiment with the different way craft materials can work together to form something else. So she will mix paint with dishwashing liquid and try and blow bubbles and discover the paint is too heavy, but it actually looks quite good when you push paper into it. Our goal is to continue to support Juno’s enthusiastic fascination with experiments and help her make links when appropriate and welcome.

Social Science
We have just spent some time with Juno’s Great Grandad who jumped out of a place as a paratrooper on D-Day and is about to do it again! As a result she has discovered much about World War 2 rooted in her own curiosity. We will continue to help her make links between things happening in every day life and the historical context for it.

Resources

Reference Material:

We have a large bookshelf filled with reference material the girls can access at any time including:
Every Child’s Answer Book
Family Guide to Nature
Reptiles at your Finger tips
How It Works
Human Body Encyclopaedia
Native Birds of New Zealand
Native Trees of New Zealand

But more importantly we visit the library weekly to access reference material in any topic.

Both girls receive Junior National Geographic which is an incredible resource for learning about the natural world and often has games and challenges to interact with. We read them from cover to cover.

We don’t tend to spend an enormous amount of time on screens just now as both girls are big into exploring the outdoor world. However Juno’s favourite apps include:
He aha tēnei – a child friendly app for learning te reo Māori basics
Wordscapes – a word game app that Juno loves to play with
Garage Band – collecting sounds and making music tracks with them
Spotify – Juno has her own playlist and loves to explore new music and curate them
Netflix – we often watch cooking and nature documentaries together, such a good resource.

As she gets older we look forward to introducing her to the many websites that are available to her as a learning resource.

home education new zealand unschooling exemption
~

And today it got approved! Hurray!

Picture here is the shopping list Juno wrote today – just teaching herself how to write in exactly the same way she taught herself to walk and talk, totally self motivated and self directed.

Stay radical x x x

Parenting

Christine Ford and creating a culture of consent (TW sexual abuse)

9 October, 2018

It’s 1993, South London. It’s our last summer of primary school before we all head off to different secondaries. There’s parties, classmates turning eleven so we go to each other’s houses and hold each other and sway to Boys ll Men. The mum would keep the table top stocked with fizzy and sausage rolls.

The very last party I went to was at the bottom of my hill. I was so excited because I had on a new bodysuit and white jeans and felt like the business. I can remember walking down, absolutely chuffed with myself, looking forward to some more awkward slow dancing.

An hour into the party a girl in my class came up to me and said “Dan wants to talk upstairs” I was curious as she’d done the same to two other girls so far.

I climbed the stairs, her behind me, encouraging me, keep going, next floor.

At the top, she nodded to a door and I turned the handle. As soon as I was through the door I was rushed by a group of boys, pinned to the bed. There were five of them I think, maybe a couple more or one less. One spread his hands over my mouth while the others pushed their hands into my crotch and punched their sweaty, grabbing hands over my just forming breasts.

I don’t know how long it lasted. I couldn’t say now. 10 seconds or a minute? It felt like forever, and then the girl opened the door, called a warning and it was over.

I ran down the stairs, right out the door. I cried all the back up that hill. I felt so betrayed. Some of those boys were my friends. Others of them had grabbed me before, in the playground, when Kiss Chase regularly dissolved into “try and push your hands into a girl’s knickers” but this day was so much worse, being so violently overpowered. And some of them my friends.

I composed myself so by the time my Mum saw me and said “you’re home early” I could just shrug and go to my room.

I haven’t seen anyone from my primary school since that day. And I haven’t told anyone this story until I shared it with my husband earlier this year in an attempt to uncover any bits of shame I’ve had buried away. Cos that’s the main feeling I was left with, shame. I knew that in some way I had bought it onto myself. Asked for it. So I minimised it until it was so small it was nothing, the tiniest pebble in my shoe. Not too much of a burden to carry around.

When I heard Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony last week something shifted. Until that moment I’d never considered that party when I was eleven as a #metoo – it felt too small in comparison to the violence that has happened to other women. But the terror she described at having her mouth covered that bought my memory to the surface. It’s terrifying, not being able to move, or scream, or breathe.

I can still feel their fingers grabbing at me. Bruising me. And now when I look back at that party I feel sure that it didn’t just happen to me there, that there was a bunch of us taken up to that room.

I couldn’t even point their faces out now, but their names are still in my mind.

We were so little. Kids. But we were raised in a rape culture and in a rape culture little boys pretend to gang rape little girls.

Was it anything less?

When Christine Blasey Ford chose to stop minimising what happened to her, I could too. Although her testimony didn’t stop Kavanaugh’s ascent to the Supreme Court, I know that it will go down in history as a moment when even more millions of women said actually, yeah, Me Too.

The women who weren’t actually raped, who weren’t regularly abused, who didn’t think their experience was important enough to count. Christine Ford has given us permission to say that attempted rape was traumatic. That grope was a violation of my body and my rights. That was not okay.

Something huge has happened to me in these last few days. Being able to say “that should never, ever have happened to me” “that was in no way my fault” – being able to extend empathy to myself. Just even writing my experience up has unblocked something. I feel even more me, just that but more alive, blood flowing to a whole area that I’d shut off.

Her bravery is like a magnet that pulled my braveheart forward. That’s how it works. We’re all magnets pulling each other out, each brave story gently draws another woman forward until we are all able to move out beyond our shame.

We’ll finally shake out these pebbles and realise they are jagged shards that have been causing us to bleed all along.

And we’ll leave them back there, with the shame. And, not bleeding now, we’ll be able to tear down another pillar of rape culture.

~

The last couple of weeks have made me painfully certain that there has to be more to dismantling rape culture than testimony. Because testimony, trying to hold these men to account, does not always work.

It has me thinking anew about how we, communities, parents, families, can create the change the world needs.culture of consent

We can create a culture of consent in our homes

One of the most important ways we can dismantle rape culture is by growing consent culture, becoming adept at it ourselves and normalising it in other situations. (We can be thankful here that our brains have a plasticity that means we can re-wire decades and decades of coercive and manipulative behaviour within a relatively short time period.)

This begins with our smallest babies. Letting them know when you are going to pick them up, giving them a heads up when you are going to pull a jersey over their head or change a nappy.

It means not using your power to coerce a child to do something against their will.

It means making sure your children know that “STOP” always means stop- you honour their STOP, even if they are giggling while you tickle them, and you intervene when you here another child say STOP and your own child continues. culture of consent2

It means asking, when they return from a sleepover or a party, not “did you have fun?” but “did you feel safe?”

But again, the fundamental step to a culture of consent is not forcing our children to do things or have things done to their body against their will.

Read: five ways to honour our child’s body autonomy.
Five phrases that can protect your child from sexual abuse
Raising your medically complex child with a culture of consent
Read Sacraparental’s discussion about not passing on rape culture here.

sexual abuse prevention

We can create a culture of consent in ALL of the places we occupy

A year ago I was struck by a poster a local charity had asked me to make. It asks each person to consider how they are making sure children are protected from sexual abuse in all the different situations they are involved in – camps, churches, parties, sleepovers, workplaces.

It hit me that I hadn’t applied all I knew about a culture of consent to a very important area- our unschooling camps! Each year I help organise three camps for hundreds of people. It was time I raised consent with this wide gathering. I was nervous, because it’s a horrible topic to raise in a place that is so joyful and peaceful. But I knew it had to happen.

We organised a workshop at the next camp and six of us sat down to draw together all of what we knew about sexual abuse prevention and consent culture. It has been an incredible experience. Partly because now we have a robust document which I can share with YOU in case you run camps/ youth groups/ family gatherings. But also because a couple of things have happened to assure us that we were absolutely right in putting our effort into this. Firstly, an adult disclosed that she had been abused by someone at a homeschool camp when a child. This is so, so tragic. But it was also confirmation that even the places we think are the SAFEST because we are with OUR KIND OF PEOPLE can never ever be absolutely safe.  Secondly, at the next camp we held we introduced this document and asked, at registration, every single person to read it. During that camp someone disclosed an incident of abuse that happened elsewhere and our safeguarding team was able to help them take this to the next stage.

Click here to see our own document. Feel free to download and edit – basically make this your own document, embody it, share it, find people who will be part of your safeguarding team.  ALWAYS have two of you interacting with someone who is making a disclosure or raising some concerns.

~

Of course, when it comes to dismantling rape culture, men should just stop raping people. It should be that simple and straightforward.

Why should women have to take on the burden of dismantling a weapon used against them?

It pisses me off, frankly.

So here’s a quick message to the dads and grandads and the men who don’t think women should get raped or kids sexually abused- TAKE THIS ON. Take it on, dudes. Don’t just like the meme you saw on Facebook about Christine Ford’s bravery. Become an active part of creating a culture of consent. Step up. I believe in you. You can do this. Begin honouring the word STOP in your home. Defend your child’s body autonomy from unwanted kisses and cuddles. Bring the document above to your kid’s youth group leaders. Ask the parents who are hosting the sleepover what other people are going to be present that night. Ask your church, your workplace, your sports club to have sexual abuse prevention policies and a safeguarding team. Even if you are unsure of yourself, or feel a bit wobbly because you are no expert just start having the conversations. Say “I’m no expert, but it’s important to me that we all build a culture of consent. How can we do this?” Break the silence on sexual abuse. Refuse to be a part of an insipid, secretive world that has kept women living in shame for thousands of years. Take this on.

~

Thank you for reading. Please share widely. Tag your menfolk in this. Raise this document in your community. Let’s raise a culture of consent.

~

Find me on Patreon! Become a supporter and get access to more resources, livestreams and extras.

 culture of consent3

Parenting

To the radical mama who wants to save her marriage

14 June, 2018

Oh, sister. You give and you give and you are so tired even your eyebrows seem to ache. You are juggling but instead of china plates it is your relationships in the air. The people you love and care for. You catch each one, give them another boost but it’s relentless and before you can shake your arms out, there’s another one to catch. A relentless cycle of breathing life into the friendship with your sensitive first born, your wild-spirited second born, and this grown person you vowed to love and cherish.

And on the truly exhausted days, the one you can’t catch is the one who needs you least.

You cast your eyes across the horizon and see that the other couples you began with are getting sparser and sparser. Each year another separation, a relationship laid to rest.

Some partnerships are forever, and some for a moment in time. Wherever there has been true love, there has been life. And, also, sometimes partnerships are begun with someone who is toxic. Some mothers move on as an act of honouring themselves.

But if you are reading this, you know your journey isn’t in the leaving, but in the staying.

You want to save this.

I have a theory about motherhood. It’s our vision quest. A soul-wrenching journey of growth and healing that moulds us into a wholly different person.

I’ve heard that every cell in our body regenerates on a regular basis, so that purely on a visceral level, each 7 years we are made entirely new. I can remember telling someone when I was pregnant with my first child, age 27, “I haven’t changed a DOT since I turned 20. I became ME then and here I still am.” My daughter is seven now. And I laugh because I am 100% a different person to that pregnant woman telling a friend she never changes.

Our vision quest turns us inside out. Gives us a pair of Truth Spectacles to peer into our childhood, our experiences, our belief systems. We are broken by sleep deprivation and self doubt, and then we are put back together by the love our children give us. And, oh, the healing love we have for them. A love so intense at times it has felt like every regenerated cell is vibrating. Only to then be stripped empty by surprise rage or grief or the dull, repetitive mundanity of every day life with kids. We have questioned everything, dismantled the status quo. We have read all the books and listened to all the podcasts. We have wrestled with our old patterns. And we are slowly, slowly – some days failing completely – changing EVERYTHING for our children, we are building a new world for them by our kindness and empathy.

We are monks of the highest most saintly order! We are legends to rival King Arthur and his sword! Every one of us should go down in history as the woman who did what was required of her. Who accepted the quest and lived.

Yet here we are, opening the curtains, brushing oats off the sofa and looking for a pair of tiny matching socks. And all around the home is a fizz of tension, abrupt words, rolled eyes, barbed comments and more nagging requests, and only a small number of these directed at the children.

Some mothers end up at the top of a mountain, looking back down the path at a partner that doesn’t seem to have changed at all. He’s still back there, doing the thing he does, the way he always has done, being the person you first got with. While you, you are unrecognisable. Even to yourself.

I was talking to a friend about this, a husband and dad to a family living this cutting edge respectful parenting life, about how few fathers really step up to the game. How they become passive supporters, or outright naysayers, of the progressive journey the mother wants to take them on. He suggested it’s because the quest the fathers go on is totally different. Society, for the most part, raises men to believe their quest is a material one. So when the babies are born, instead of diving inward, our menfolk dive outward into work, into providing safe shelter, enough food for the table. They become single-minded about being the provider. And don’t leave enough room to do the inner work required to be an empathetic parent. I see this pattern all around me too. How many men become locked into this role. Even though this is not what 2018 requires of them.

(A boring note: I can be deeply honest and real here, cos we’re friends right?  Just kidding. That’s not why I am being this direct. It’s because I am writing from a good place, having been in a tough place. I have sat on this post for a long time, not wanting to hit post in case I jinx things. But I believe the opposite is true, by posting something honest and compassionate I am putting more honesty and compassion out in the world, rather than inviting pain and tragedy.Tim and I have been on our unique quests. And we had a hard year last year. The hardest yet. It really bit us on the bum. But we did a lot of things, which I’m gonna raise, and ultimately we decided that we are going to rest in each other. To involve each other, share our insights, to quest together

So I hope this post is helpful. Also, forgive my use of gendered pronouns. I realise this is exclusionary of me, but I wanted to reflect the many conversations I have had specifically with heterosexual mothers about this, and I don’t want to presume that any of this is the truth for same-sex partnerships. And by “marriage” I mean “long term partnerships.”)
to the radical mama who wants to save her marriage

5 Ideas

1- Often we tell ourselves we’ve got nothing in common any more when the reality is we’ve probably got more in common now than we did at the start- it’s just we don’t have all those lusty hormones floating round our bodies anymore, the lack of which makes things feel very stark. The kids are an enormous shared interest, but also the things you once loved to do together are possibly still there, it’s just you have no chance or will to do them together. Acknowledging the shared interest and all the reasons you do want to invest wholeheartedly into this relationship is an important first step. But alas… the chemistry….

2 – Sometimes the chemistry can be raised from the dead. I think 1) sex and 2) gratitude can go along way in bringing back the chemistry that once danced between you. So book sex in, if you can. Get it on Wall Calendar. But also I think there’s another kind of magic that can happen in a later phase of long term relationship that’s even better than that lusty magic of the beginning. And this is the magic of being truly known by someone and it’s the magic of knowing someone will stick with you through anything.

In my experience of sitting in circle with other women, the real powerful stuff is not around “getting” each other’s story, it’s not cos we all hear each other and go “oh yeah I agree” the power is simply that we are hearing each other. We are sharing from the heart and someone is hearing us. I feel like that’s the epitome of humanhood. That authentic connection. It doesn’t need agreement, just honesty and the ability to hear. Is there a way you can begin a practice with your partner where you sit and hear each other? Where you share feelings with non judgement, where you tell your stories to each other? You might use a talking stick even and set a boundary “let’s have a circle, we just share and listen, no feedback, no solutions, just stories” Solutions will come later.

3- Obviously for you to tell stories you need time together. I think this is what makes it SO HARD for families with radical mamas. It’s not actually about the dad being against it, it’s about him being left behind. His inner child is hurting, feeling all the rejection he’s ever felt in his life but at the hands of his wife – the person he moved earth to be with.  He feels jealous that the kids get so much energy from you, that they take up all your time, that you find so much meaning in relationship with them and not with him. He can’t help these feelings, but he can’t even articulate them because they sound so awful and pathetic. So instead he makes barbed comments about the way you are doing things with them. Or he is rude to you. Perhaps there is a meanness there. A quick pointed finger.

The healing for all of this is time together. He needs to know you prioritise him, that you actually want to hang out with him. And us mamas need to keep reminding ourselves about the meaning of this long term relationship, instead of thinking “gosh it’s like having an extra child” we need to remind ourselves of the honour of deep, life-long sacred union. I believe marriage (or long term partnership) can be utterly world changing because it demands such an incredible amount of vulnerability and deep, committed knowing of another human.

I have spent some time with this idea lately. It has re-energised my passion for our sacred union. Our marriage is a place we can face our full selves, shadow and all, and know we belong. It can go deeper than Moon Circles and therapy, because it involves connection on every level: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual. By nature of being together for so many hours we are asked to go deep in a way no relationship can even touch on.

Brene Brown says

People are hard to hate close up. Move in.

Do this in full knowledge of your reason why: your union is a sacred expression of your self.

4- Ah, but the time thing.  How can you get this time? We need to sail the seven seas to find it. Put on our thigh high boots and pirate hat and – wait, this is not what you think. Do what you must do:  Call on family members. Organise child care swaps with friends. Take a night a week. A day every month. Put a film or audiobook on for the kids so you can do something you love to do together in the evening. Ask questions of each other. Get new knickers and delight in sex. Get some stuff from the Gottman Institute . Our last date together was an Airbnb voucher and doing the Gottman lovemaking course it was great! So nerdy. Super basic. But it provoked heaps of conversation about sex which we hadn’t had for a while.

5- Lastly, your job isn’t to enlighten your partner. That is not a burden for your shoulders. Your job is to heal and grow and to love your partner as they are. It is a strange thing, but the more healing you do, the less you will need to try and force your partner onto their healing journey. The more you grow, the more able you will be to see that the things that frustrate you in him, are probably the things you find frustrating about yourself, or at the least, somehow shining a light on an insight you need to grasp. So keep questing, but alongside your quest keep offering the most unconditional love you can give. Keep yourself warm and open to your partner, invite him into your journey, tell him your awkward realisations, but do it without judgement or expectation of him. Trust him, trust the idea that his enlightenment is alive, if invisible, and trust that your relationship can thrive even when one of you lags behind.

***

8 extra resources that could be helpful

The work of Byron Katie – one of the most powerful free resources I have found about self-inquiry, belief systems, hard relationship, frustrating situations. If there is something constantly driving you to frustration about your partner, this process can be life changing. A path to personal and couple joy, if ever I’ve known one.

There is an entire course by Marshall Rosenberg available on Youtube. Marshall Rosenberg is the founder of Non Violent Communication – an incredible communication process to bring healing and peace to situations of conflict. This is the most useful tool for when you have strong feelings about a partner’s behaviour or belief system, how you can begin to raise these issues with true understanding.

The Gottman Institute is a great source of inspiration and resources

100 questions to work through on Date Nights

A book – The New Rules of Marriage

A collection of thoughts on avoiding divorce from unschoolers, via Sandra Dodd

Video – The Sacred Art of Listening by Tara Brach

The Marriage Restoration Project – free seminar

***

I will always remember my divorced friend saying that if she knew the amount of labour – emotional work, logistical organising, constant constant effort- it took to both divorce and then raise kids together, she would go back and put the effort in to stick together. Even 10% of the effort of being divorced would have saved her marriage.

I’m breathing out a prayer for you as I type.  It is that you might be able to set down one of those china plate relationships you are juggling. That you might instead feel your partner rise, that you might feel him stand alongside you, a juggling duo bringing life into the relationships with your children. Know that your union is worth saving, that time might be the only thing it needs. It’s not unattainable. It’s there in front of you, if you reach. Particularly now you’ve set down the heaviest one of those plates. I see you guys, resting together in self-compassion, taking anew these steps along this path of sacred partnership.

~

PS Thank you for reading. If this is helpful please do share it.
PPS I have a Patreon page for people who want to come more on board with my writing and video making.
PPPS I talk a bit about my own quest here

Parenting

Why we are a “no secrets” family

23 January, 2018

Ramona had a friend over last week and they were hanging out on the big bed listening to Spotify (seven year olds these days!) when I overheard her friend say “Let’s tell each other our secrets!” With a swell of pride I heard Ramona say  “Yes! Let’s tell each other, and then we can tell our mums.” Her friend said “Erm, no, it’s a SECRET.” Ramona carried on “Yeah, I know, but with secrets you get to tell you mum, and it’s still a secret.” Her friend said “Oh, okay!” And the whispering began.

For a few years now we have been a “no secrets” family. This means we talk about “surprises” rather than “secrets.” We correct each other “Do you mean “surprise” instead of secret?” and we talk about the difference “Secrets always stay hidden but surprises are always meant to be revealed.”

The importance of having "surprises" and not "secrets"

The problem with secrets

Over the last few years I’ve been working for a small sexual abuse prevention charity. It’s been hugely enlightening for me and has impacted lots of areas of my parenting. One of the patterns that comes up in the stories of victims of childhood sexual abuse is the presence of the word “secret” – it’s too common to overlook. Perpetrators use this language often to create a dynamic where children feel unable to tell someone what is happening to them. If you think about it, there is a cultural pride in being able to keep secrets, to not snitch, to not break alliance and loyalty. People use this culture to keep kids in unsafe situations.

We have tried to make sure that the word “secret’ raises alarm bells in our children’s minds. That it stirs up in them questions about who is asking them to keep a secret, that it prompts them to come and check in with us, their safe people.

An evolving “no secrets” policy

For a few years it was easy to have a “no secrets’ policy. Our children were young, and if a friend or family member or random stranger in the street even said the word “secret” our children would gleefully yell “We don’t have secrets! We have surprises! There’s an important difference!”

But as Ramona has grown older it’s become trickier. There’s almost a childhood rite in having secrets with friends. The way we bridged this was by coming up with a solution together – that she would tell me her secrets. So that they were never completely hidden. Since coming up with this, there’s been around 3 times that she has told me things she was asked to keep secret. One of the times was pretty intense, a situation that was unsafe,  and I am SO, SO glad she knew that it was wrong to be asked to keep this a secret and that she came straight to me.

An other version of “No Secrets” 

And, because life isn’t ever straightforward and simple, I wanted to tell you about the time she didn’t want to tell me a secret! I’d love to be able to say “yes, we are a no secrets family and it works perfectly!” but life’s messy, isn’t it?

A couple of months ago Ramona was told a secret by a friend her age. She REALLY doesn’t want to tell me that secret. We talked about how we don’t have secrets, about how it’s still a secret if mum knows. All of that. And still, she didn’t want to tell me.

I sat with it for a while. And I began to feel that my job as her parent, as her guide and safe person, wasn’t to make her tell me her secrets. In fact, I could NEVER make her tell me something that she didn’t want to. Just as you can’t make a child sleep. They own their own bodies and minds, it is their right to do with them what they will. I didn’t want her to feel forced to tell me her secret, as, in a way, that goes against the culture of consent we are trying to develop here in our corner of the universe!

So, instead, I explained clearly the reasons we ask her to share her secrets with me; in order to keep her safe; because people sometimes use secrets to make others unsafe; to make them do things they don’t want to do. I explained that if anyone tells her anything, speaks to her in any way or does something to her that makes her feel unsafe it will really help if she tells me about it.

Once we had this talk Ramona thought a lot about it. She thought alot about the nature of her secret and she came back to me and said “This is Ellie’s secret, but it’s only a little thing. It’s something we want to share between us. It’s not to do with anyone making her do things. I feel totally comfortable. This secret isn’t going to make either of us unsafe.”

While I would rather she was able to just stick to our “no secrets” policy, I think it’s pretty incredible that she has the tools to think about the nature of the secret and to assess her and her friend’s safety.

I feel like by not pushing the “no secrets” thing on to her, beyond what she feels able to engage with, leads to MORE trust and respect between us, makes it more likely that if something unsafe was to be put on her, she would come to me with it.

She’s able to engage with the whole “secrets are unsafe” dynamic whilst holding on to one that she really wants to keep.

~

We have a big problem with child sexual abuse here in NZ – the statistics tell us that one in three girls will be abused by the age of 16.  It’s an awful figure, far worse than most other developed countries. But what that figure does is remind us, and it should remind parents in every country no matter what the stats are like, that sexual abuse isn’t something that happens out there, to other people. It crosses all boundaries, can happen to anyone.

We need a HUGE, widespread  societal change, we need perpetrators to STOP and we need rape culture to END. But there are small things we can do in our own homes to shift the likelihood that our own children will be victims. Talking about secrets, using the anatomical terms for body parts and nurturing your child’s sense of body autonomy are some of them.

I invite you to consider being a “no secrets” family too.

Much love and stay radical! x x