Our family is home again after spending 5 days with 700 people at an unschooling conference. This conference is the one family vacation that we find a way to afford each year. We spend time with like minded families talking, making music, learning, and laughing. While reading the online group list for people who attend the conference, the facebook group wall and interacting with people over the long weekend one thought kept tripping me up. I would read something or see a behavior of someone attending and I would think, "That makes the conference look bad." Because the conference is so important to our family, a sacred time when we get to turn a hotel into a home that we share with some of our favorite people in the world, I feel protective. I don't want anything to ruin this amazing experience. I want everything that is said and done to reflect well upon the conference and unschooling.
Considering there are 700 people with diverse backgrounds, all at different places on their journey as parents, as unschoolers, and as people, it's not a realistic expectation that any of us can make it through a weekend of too little sleep and too much stimulation without ever saying or doing something we might think better of during our usual day to day life. I can think of several times when I was reactive, I know there were situations that I could have responded to with more compassion, and there were even a few moments when I could have interacted with children more respectfully.
As the weekend progressed I found myself thinking a different thought, "Why is it anyone's job to make the conference look good?" It's a crazy and intense time and everyone there is doing the best they can in the situation. People attend for the same reasons my family attends, and maybe for a few reasons all their own. We aren't there to make the conference look good, we are there to embrace the experience, to learn and grow and have fun. We learn as much from the moments when we don't quite get it right as we do from those moments when we think, "I totally rock!" What we don't need is people criticizing our less than stellar moments because we might be making the conference or unschooling look bad. What we do need is people supporting us and saying, "Hey, it looks like you're having a rough time, can I help?"
I started to think about how parents want their children's behavior to reflect well upon their family. Parents get upset when their kids do something that might make the parents or the family look bad. Parents want their kids to get good grades, succeed in sports and/or the arts, and to be polite, among other things, to make the parents look good. Your children aren't here to make you look good. It isn't your child's job to do things your way so you can bask in the glow of having a "good kid." Your children are here to learn and grow and have fun. Your children are here to be their authentic selves, not to be a "good kid." Life can be crazy and intense and over stimulating. There will be times when your children are frustrated because something didn't turn out the way they hoped it would, they will be in emotionally difficult situations, they won't always do or say what they wished they had done or said. In those moments they don't need punishment, criticism or an "I told you so!" In those moments they need our unconditional love. They need someone there to say, "Hey, it looks like you are having a rough time. I'm here for you in what ever way might help."