08 May 2012

Doing Things Differently

Welcome to the May 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With or Without Extended Family
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how relatives help or hinder their parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

For our entire parenting career (a whopping six years now :-) we have lived some distance from extended family. At first we were about an eight-hour drive; currently we're on another continent. Living far removed from the day-to-day lives of the majority of our close relatives has proven to be an advantage. While undoubtedly benefits exist to parenting your children while living close to one's family, for us being outside of the mold of "we've always done it like this" has enabled us to find our way uninhibited by well-meaning advice. 

We make decisions that few, if any, relatives and close friends have made for their own children. Often they are misunderstood, as most of our family is interpreting them through a mainstream filter. Very few of my female relatives breastfed, and if they did it was probably never talked about and with rare exception lasted a few months at best. If anyone co-slept, no one mentioned it. Discipline was understood as "punishment" and usually meant time outs (if not spankings). However, probably no aspect of child-rearing has solidified my position as the weird one of the family as our decision to homeschool.

The prevailing logic among most folks we know is, children goes to school because it's just what you do. Not everyone considered preschool a necessary step, but starting Kindergarten is seen as the Holy Grail of Parenting Young Children . . . a sign you had survived the little years and were moving on to a new chapter of parenting. Certainly no one would want to continue to be around their offspring day in and day out when they didn't have to be.

Homeschooling . . . that's way too much on the fringe. (Although, interestingly, I must admit when I first told my parents we planned to homeschool E instead of sending her to the school on base, they were remarkably neutral about the whole idea. Turns out one of my mom's sisters has a neighbor who homeschools their family of four young children. And they are smart, sweet, well-mannered kids . . . in other words normal. And that's the only example she had to go by, so her overall impression was positive. Whew.)

We're doing just fine, thanks
However, I've also found that while our family may not be shocked at our ideas about school now, even finding them quaint, no one seems to take it seriously as a long-term possibility. I have already been asked multiple times, not even one school year in, when E is going back to school. Maybe they think this was just something novel we did while living overseas? Certainly, the prevailing conventional wisdom is that this will be all fine and dandy while the Agents are young, but once they hit an age where they have Really Important Stuff To Learn That Everyone Needs To Know, things will have to change, right?

One thing I struggle with is letting others undermine my confidence. I know that when we visit family, I often allow myself to feel bothered by others' off-hand remarks. I don't like this personality trait, believe me. But, I am also the least controversial person on the planet. So, I am actively trying to work on this. One thing I have found that helps is the same logic I try to use at the pediatrician: Don't offer information, and answer questions as concisely as possible. I don't try to explain unschooling, for instance. I am vague about our flexible curriculum. I've learned to not give people fodder to work with.

I would like to think I'm improving on this, but I don't know. However, I believe that in general being removed from "how it's always been done" has increased the trust I have in myself and my parenting decisions.

How has living close to or far away from your family affected your parenting?

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, The Pistachio Project tells what to do when your child's grandparents are less than thrilled about your parenting choices.
  • Parenting With Extended Family — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy shares the pros and cons of parenting with extended family...
  • Parental Support for an AP Mama — Meegs at A New Day talks about the invaluable support of her parents in her journey to be an AP mama.
  • Priceless GrandparentsThat Mama Gretchen reflects on her relationship with her priceless Grammy while sharing ways to help children preserve memories of their own special grandparents.
  • Routines Are Meant To Be Broken — Olga at Around The Birthing Ball urges us to see Extended Family as a crucial and necessary link between what children are used to at home and the world at large.
  • It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she has flourished as a mother due to the support of her parents.
  • The Orange Week — Erika at Cinco de Mommy lets go of some rules when her family finally visits extended family in San Diego.
  • One Size Doesn't Fit All — Kellie at Our Mindful Life realizes that when it comes to family, some like it bigger and some like it smaller.
  • It Takes a Family — Alicia at What's Next can't imagine raising a child without the help of her family.
  • A new foray into family — As someone who never experienced close extended family, Lauren at Hobo Mama wrestles with how to raise her kids — and herself — to restart that type of community.
  • My Mama Rocks! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment is one lucky Mama to have the support and presence of her own awesome Mama.
  • Embracing Our Extended Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares 7 ideas for nurturing relationships with extended family members.
  • Doing Things Differently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares how parenting her children far away from extended family improved her confidence in her choices.
  • Snapshots of love — Caroline at stoneageparent describes the joys of sharing her young son's life with her own parents.
  • Parenting with Relies – A mixed bagUrsula Ciller shares some of her viewpoints on the pros and cons of parenting with relatives and extended family.
  • Tante and Uncles — How a great adult sibling relationship begets a great relationship with aunt and uncles from Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Tips for Traveling With Twins — Megan at the Boho Mama shares some tips for traveling with infant twins (or two or more babies!).
  • Parenting passed through the generations — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about the incredible parenting resource that is her found family, and how she hopes to continue the trend.
  • My Family and My Kids — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders whether she distrusts her family or if she is simply a control freak.
  • Parenting with a Hero — Rachel at Lautaret Bohemiet reminisces about the relationship she shared with her younger brother, and how he now shares that closeness in a relationship with her son.
  • Text/ended Family — Kenna of A Million Tiny Things wishes her family was around for the Easter egg hunt... until she remembers what it's actually like having her family around.
  • Two Kinds of Families — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how her extended family is just as valuable to her mommying as her church family.
  • My 'high-needs' child and 'strangers' — With a 'high-needs' daughter, aNonyMous at Radical Ramblings has had to manage without the help of family or friends, adapting to her daughter's extreme shyness and allowing her to socialise on her own terms.
  • Our Summer Tribe — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger shares a love of her family's summer reunion, her secret to getting the wisdom of the "village" even as she lives 1,000 miles away.
  • My Life Boat {Well, One of Them} — What good is a life boat if you don't get it? Grandparents are a life boat MomeeeZen loves!
  • Dear Children — In an open letter to her children, Laura at Pug in the Kitchen promises to support them as needed in her early days of parenting.
  • Yearning for Tribal Times — Ever had one of those days where everything seems to keep going wrong? Amy at Anktangle recounts one such day and how it inspired her to think about what life must've been like when we lived together in large family units.
  • I don't have a village — Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wishes she had family nearby but appreciates their support and respect.
  • Trouble With MILs-- Ourselves? — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake Half Asleep explains how her arguments with her mother-in-law may have something to do with herself.
  • A Family Apart — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings writes about the challenges, and the benefits, of building a family apart from relatives.
  • First Do No Harm — Zoie at TouchstoneZ asks: How do you write about making different parenting choices than your own family experience without criticizing your parents?
  • Military Family SeparationAmy Willa shares her feelings about being separated from extended family during her military family journey.
  • Forging A Village In The Absence Of One — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about the importance of creating a support network, a village, when family isn't an option.
  • Respecting My Sister’s Parenting Decisions — Dionna at Code Name: Mama's sister is guest posting on the many roles she has as an aunt. The most important? She is the named guardian, and she takes that role seriously.
  • Multi-Generational Living: An Exercise in Love, Patience, and Co-Parenting — Boomerang Mama at The Other Baby Book shares her experience of moving back in with Mom and Dad for 7 months, and the unexpected connection that followed.
  • A Heartfelt Letter to Family: Yes, We're Weird, but Please Respect Us Anyway — Sheila of A Living Family sincerely expresses ways she would appreciate her extended family’s support for her and her children, despite their “weird” parenting choices.
  • The nuclear family is insane! — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle is grateful for family support, wishes her Mum lived closer, and feels an intentional community would be the ideal way to raise her children.


  1. I just went through the links in your archives about your decision to homeschool (and then are you now unschooling?), and it was so fascinating and amusing to see the progression. I've made similar thought journeys, and it's always half-excruciating when I've documented them, lol.

    It's funny, because we didn't think we'd ever homeschool, until my dad said to us one day, when Mikko was still a baby, "Oh, I just figured you would." As in, "You're such hippies, I just figured you'd HAVE to be weird there, too." So then we started thinking about it. And it's not so weird or difficult now that I'm in the middle of it. But I'm definitely being vague about it still with others. I don't talk "unschooling" with relatives, and I still kind of half-imply we're homeschooling "for now." Because it's easier. So I totally get where you're coming from here.

  2. We are unschool-y homeschoolers with a bizarre penchant for worksheets. I can totally see us becoming more structured in the next year or two, but for now we are very relaxed. I don't use the word unschooling much because of how it's misunderstood, but yeah . . . that pretty much describes us right now. (And if I actually DID use that term around certain family members, they would probably lay an egg.) And I recently went back through my own archives (the whole "education" category) and thought oh my word I am a complete contradicting schizophrenic mess :-) (Which is pretty much how I feel about most of my blogging archives!)

  3. I am so happy I came across this post. We really want to homeschool our boys (I'm considering Waldorf inspired at the moment). Unfortunately our families already think we are way out there for some of our decisions too and they are not supportive of homeschooling (I had to un-facebook a family member because of debates she started with other bloggers). It is so good to know there is a supportive community online who understands our position! We are praying desperately that we can overcome our current financial struggles so I can stay at home with the boys. I know it would be an awesome experience for us all (and I secretly hope to prove them all wrong!)

  4. Thanks for sharing. It sounds like we are experiencing a similar level of support/lack of/confusion over co-sleeping, breastfeeding and home schooling. We are currently deciding about Ewan's education, he is almost 2, and are very seriuosly looking into home education. However, we have not always received the most favourable reception from some family and friends, mostly through lack of awareness about home education. So I appreciate what you're ging through. Happy blogging; I shall follow you on twitter and facebook fan you.


    1. Thanks for stopping by. I have "followed" you as well, but I am pretty much a Twitter failure. (I much prefer FB.)

  5. I love the thought of being vague in order to avoid conflict. I’m pretty conflict-avoidant myself (why do I blog again?!), so any “pass the bean dip” solutions are golden in my world. We haven’t discussed homeschooling a lot either, mainly b/c my son is 4yo. But when I do talk about it with anyone, I always give myself an out by saying “well, we’ll homeschool as long as we can afford to.” (aka, as long as we can live on one income) That usually shuts people down for some reason.

    1. I think my new fall back is going to be to blame the Navy. E "could" have started K here this year. We "could" still enroll her in 1st grade when we get to FL. Then we'll be likely moving 2 more times before she's 10. Four elementary schools? I mean, she's smart and social and she'd be a "good student" but really why would I want to do that to her? (For some reason, in my head, this sounds like something people wouldn't take issue with. And then by the time she IS 10, we'd have been at it for over 5 years and maybe by then they would just embrace our weirdness :-)

    2. And yes, as I'm writing this I realize of course we will be uprooting her from her home and her friends with each move, but at least I can keep her early education consistent rather than bouncing around to new teachers, new classes, new expectations, and wondering if the curriculum she's heading in to will make her feel "ahead" or "behind" . . . not to mention the fact that all of our moves will not neatly fall during "summer break" so we could be looking at mid-year changes as well.

  6. Very nice. I've been blessed to have supportive family, but I've definitely had friends who seem our choices as odd. I think sometimes they feel like I'm judging their decisions (I'm not!) and are so quick to defend their position that they end up coming across overly critical of mine. It definitely can undermine your confidence. But stick with it Mama, you sound like you're doing great!

  7. It's nice to hear you homeschool your 'Agents'! I was homeschooled as well. After 1 year in a religious primary school and not even able to say the alphabet Mum took matters into her own hands. I was always teased a lot at kindergarten and school, so I loved homeschooling. This put me back one year (I had to start again) but that was fine. I will definitly do homeschooling for my kids - no questions asked! My partner and I are at one with this decicion even if not all the grandparents think it wise.

  8. I lucked out and no one in my or my husband's family seems to think that "This is the way we've always done it," is a good reason to keep doing something. All our 'weird' parenting choices are met with some version of "what a great/interesting choice."
    I'm glad that living away from your family has given you mental space to develop your convictions.