A few months go we met up with an old family friend we hadn’t seen in yonks. We’d kept in touch, were really close and were excited about spending time together as we passed through her town. We only had her one hour lunch break so you can imagine our surprise, and sadness, that she spent almost the entire time letting us know in not-so-subtle ways that she was disappointed with what we had decided to do with our lives.
She questioned our decision to live in an unconventional dwelling, telling us our yurt wouldn’t stack up against health and safety regulations. She berated us for not using our good degrees, wondering why we had settled for such simple employment.
We knew some of our family and friends wondered about the same stuff, they’d let us know, respectfully, that they worried about our relaxed parenting style and lifestyle decisions. But we hadn’t ever been grilled for an hour, so upfront and disparagingly.
We were hurt.
But we got over it.
Because we are one hundred per cent convinced that we have made the right decisions, to give up our jobs, to move across the world, to start living in a yurt, to buy land with another family, to parent in a consensual, rights-respecting way. We have reflected hard and researched hard and then followed our hearts, and we think this is the only way to do life. We are pretty sure footed about this path we’ve settled on.
Most of the time.
I had an email this week from a reader who is experiencing similar backlash about her and her partners desire to shake off the mortgage and hunker down for a more simple life. And it got me thinking about how common this is. People we care about letting us know that they don’t like our disregard for the status-quo. It got me jotting down a few thoughts.
Haters gonna hate?
When I am feeling defensive about all of this, it is easy to say “Haters gawn hate” in my most badass voice. But the truth, I know, is that these people aren’t haters. This isn’t a post about all the anonymous folk that comment on Daily Mail articles about hippies weaving a house out of the old uniforms of veterans. This post is about the lovers in our life who don’t like the way we live. Our siblings, and besties, and cousins, and parents.
They love us
And here is the thing. They love us. It is probably the main reason they tut or roll their eyes or outright berate us over lunch. It is easy to forget this when we are feeling got at. Sometimes it is hard to believe that love can ever look so reproachful. But it can. And we have to remember that.
They are scared
Why would people that love us want to criticize important decisions, especially ones that we have thought so hard about? They are scared for us. They haven’t ever seen people stray from the 9-5 working day. They worry that we will be left high and dry, age 93 without a bean to our name apart from dementia. If we come from well off families, it might look as if we are throwing off the responsibility that wealth can bring. If we come from hard – up families it might look as through we are chucking all their hard work spent raising us away.
And also sometimes they are worried because they think they have seen this before. I recently read a book that looked at the macro picture of The Sixties and it was pretty revealing about how older generations might see our lifestyle now and worry about where it is going to lead. It is easy to look back on the sixties and think, oof, all those hippies had it SUSSED! But in their shrugging off of social norms they really did shrug off a lot of good stuff, too. For example, it seems as though part of their dive into sexual freedom meant they leapt away from commitment, and even, sometimes, consent. I think the liberal, progressive days of the sixties paved the way for today- where we are able to take radical concepts and run with them- so ‘nuff respect for that- but our parent’s generation see this and think we are going to end up like the burnt out, drugged up, love crumpled hippies of the Sixties. And they are scared for us.
Are you able to pinpoint what people are afraid of, on your behalf? If so, you can reassure them, without having to change your decision making. This isn’t about having to explain yourselves, which can get tiresome in the extreme, but putting it out there, explicitly , that they do not have to be afraid. Sometimes I think people are worried that we have simply “fallen” into this lifestyle, that our parenting is simply accidental laissez faire, as opposed to being a parenting style we have researched DEEPLY. They think our lack of proper jobs is to do with not asserting ourselves, of accepting something less than our full potential. Often, we don’t have to actually explain our position, we simply just need a few choice sentences that can address those deeper fears.
- We have researched this extensively and believe this is exactly the right decision for us.
- This is intentional, not accidental.
- We have a plan.
- We believe this is the way we can fulfill our full potential.
- We are committed to our family’s safety.
- This is the way we can achieve full mental and physical well being for all of us.
- We have reflected upon the risks of this and are going into this with eyes wide open.
Let other people explain your thinking
We have a book that we sometimes call upon and give to people. It explains our parenting style from a philosophy which many of our family come from (Christianity.) Close family members can be very open to reading materials given to them, and this can be a much easier way of getting ideas across than through conversation. Having someone else explain something can validate it and articulate it better than our flustered, sometimes defensive, selves! This can lead to some quite open and honest conversation.
We can focus on connection
There are loads and loads of reasons Tim and I have opted to stray from the mainstream when it comes to our parenting, our children’s education, our jobs, our home and, well, you know, whole life. Some of them include “because we have given a lot of thought to the idea of schools and think that, for the most part, they stifle learning, stampede over human rights and crush a child’s spirit” also “we don’t have 9-5 jobs because the idea that you are what you earn or that we must find value in being busy, busy, busy is a load of crap” HOWEVER… we don’t tend to say this out loud to many people, y’know?
If it feels like a conversation is honestly and openly spirited, that people have authentic questions, then we are MORE than happy to have a deeper discussion about our reasons. But if it is just a quick talk, or we sense any hostility, than we try and focus on topics that are inarguable:
- We want to spend this quality time with our children while they are young
- We want to spend loads of time outdoors, enjoying nature
- We want our children to experience as much love as humanly possible
- We have plenty of time later on, if we want, to be more ambitious
- Children are natural born learners and we want to provide as much chance for them to follow that up as possible
These are the kind of sentences that we think provide a way to connect. They are likely to get people thinking, ah, yeah, I can get on board with that idea. (For the most part, we just say the first one, over and over again, on a loop, like a politician on the radio, exercising the media training they’ve been given.)
Your life fits you alone
And then, when all is said and done, you are the one living your life. Only you and your family know the right decisions for you. There very much comes a point when we need to stand tall, with our feet on the foundation of our good decision making! We have researched, reflected, looked inside our hearts and out, and we are living the life that fits us alone!
What is going to help you batten down the hatches? To seal up the portholes and fill in the cracks?
I feel at my least vulnerable, and least defensive, and least likely to let a dribble of water into our ship when I have these things:
- A tribe. A group of people who think like us! Who make our parenting look normal, our yurt look awesome, and our lack of office jobs look ideal. At various times in our lives this has looked like online forums, regular attachment parenting meet ups, bi-annual unschooling camps, even moving to a place where questioning the status quo is a healthy normal. (Here in the Coromandel, New Zealand, living an eco, sustainable, progressive life is very common and it was a big reason we chose to move here.) Come on over and find a tribe at our Facebook page too..
- Lots of information. I am zealous about books and studies. I read and read. I keep up with neuroscience so that I can explain the importance of attachment, I keep up with the baby mortality stats so that I can counter any argument to cosleeping, I read everything I can about how children learn, I get my head around the unsustainability of our current housing situation and seek to understand what are the fundamentals for happiness and well being. I RARELY pull these out of my quiver and fire them – it might be tricky to do so uncombatatively! But for my own sake, this all helps me feel confident in the choices we are making.
- Ongoing family discussion. Tim and I talk a lot about this stuff. It is important that we are together on this journey of understanding. We go over quick fire parenting decisions we have had to make, we discuss books we are reading about sustainability. We sometimes take a while to catch up to each other but we are in it together. A crew learning the ropes. (Oh lordy, I am completely unable to put my ship metaphor away!)
I want to just take a second to validate you. It’s going to be a slightly emosh second as I am feeling quite full of heart that you are here, reading this, one of us … You aren’t alone… we are all here and we can cheer each other on.
If you are questioning the mainstream and seeking to live a life that takes less of a toll on the earth, you are of a crowd that is going to go down in history, that will be thanked by our grandchildren’s grandchildren! They shall call you a legend. If you are making presence and peace and love your ambition, and don’t really have two pennies to rub together, you are rich. If you are nurturing your child’ spirit, determined to let them spread their wings, to live as partners in this dance of life, if you choose empathy over control, you are nourishing a generation that will take this love and build a new world with it.
I am sure I have only scratched the surface of this topic! I would be absolutely stoked to hear some of your own thoughts on this hefty topic.