One Radical Rule for Conscious Parenting

Validation is for Parking.

Word.  That quote is full of Radical Self-Expression mojo, and offers the perfect segue into my current life design as an unschooling parent.  The quote came from Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like An Artist – 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.  It’s a #radicalselfie quote for sure, as it nudges us toward the idea of external validation, and asks:
“Hey, do you actually need that shit?  Do you need to feel like they get you, agree with you, or find you relevant?  Do you need their attention, or their approval?
And the truth is, we do. But only because we’ve been conditioned to believe we do. And much like any other radical idea, wrapping your brain around it will help you to see it for what it is; an option, but not a requirement. In our need to be validated by others lies the opportunity to explore how we want to feel, and why outside validation may be where we are now, but need not be where we stay.
I found myself wrapping my brain around the idea of validation as it relates to my beliefs where learning and education are concerned.  Kris and I transitioned our daughters (and ourselves) into unschooling back in June of 2012.  The shift was inspired by our oldest daughter’s challenges with school, and further massaged by both girls’ constant assertion that they liked their friends, but didn’t like sitting in class all day and learning a “bunch of stuff we don’t even care about”.  I researched for months, calling on my circle of homeschooling parents for perspectives, and finally decided—after much dialogue with Kris and our girls—that unschooling, not homeschooling was worth exploring.
I’d like to say that we haven’t looked back since, but we have.  Unschooling is a contact sport! We spend time together, exploring our interests, as opposed to dictating our daughters’ interests.  That is fun and engaging, but it’s also challenging.  It calls for the four of us to constantly check in with ourselves in ways that traditional school never did.  We need that, so while this is not a complaint, it is an element of self-inquiry that helps Kris and me to see our daughters as people, on their own paths, who need guidance, love, and boundaries as opposed to a pre-determined curriculum to fit into and attempt to excel within.

Parent IN, Not ON

Unschooling, for us, is about exploration; exploration of ourselves and of our environments.  The primary challenge that Kris and I face in this (relatively new) space is the work of shifting from the traditional style of parenting with firm pre-set ideas of what our daughters should know, will need, and must do.  It’s the dilemma of parenting onto the supposed blank slate that is a child, versus developing our parenting style by immersing ourselves in our daughters’ worlds (their interests, their highest curiosities, their personalities).
When we approach any relationship with a set notion of what should be, we miss the opportunity to create something based on the reality of what already is.  In parenting, much like any other relationship, I’ve found that it doesn’t work well to place my expectations on my daughters, without significant consideration for the people they already are.  I believe every human being comes fully formed. 
We each have our own blueprint, our own fabric, and though my daughters chose Kris and me to come through, they are not here to become versions of us.  They are on their own journeys, and they are not blank slates to be drawn upon with the colors, lines, and ideas that I or their father have gathered throughout our lives.  They are not blank; they are full. Full of curiosity, innate tendencies, and unique perspectives.  Kris’ and my jobs are to guide, nurture, and most importantly LEARN who our daughters are.  In doing so, we help them to connect with their own organic interests and characteristics, and to define what it means to take full ownership of those experiences.
Ultimately, our jobs as parents is to help our children practice excellence within their own unique life design.  I am still needing to check in with myself daily to correct course with my tendency to parent on my daughters, instead of in their worlds.
Let me give you a few examples of what Kris and I do to turn ON to IN:
ON – Assigning the girls math from a book because, dammit, they’ll need math in life.
IN – Knowing that Sage (age 8) loves to bake, we assign her a project of researching a 4-ingredient baking recipe online, asking us to take her to the store to buy those ingredients, put her in charge of purchasing those ingredients (counting the money, adding up the costs, telling us the U.S. conversion amount while we’re here in Jamaica), and altering the measurements of the recipe to serve 4 people.
ON – Revoking computer privileges from both girls because all they want to do is play games and design outfits.
IN – Knowing that Marley (age 9) is deeply in love with all-things anime, manga, and WordPress (odd combo, right–haha!), we introduce her to Scratch, Code Academy, and ThemeForest, where she can channel her interests into projects.  This way, she will need to set goals, manage her time, follow through, and expand her computer and design knowledge in ways that are connected to her interests.
See the difference?  ON is about pre-conceived notion, and about worrying that the girls won’t “get smarter” if we’re not dictating what they learn.  IN is about staying attuned to their interests, and introducing them to tools to explore their interests.  That’s tough for a recovering control addict like me, but I’m up for it.  We encourage our daughters to seek validation through effort.  Instead of asking whether we are happy with what they did, we are guiding them towards asking themselves whether they did the best they could.  We are guiding them toward personal excellence, and not pats on the head from an adult or a peer.  The last thing I want to do is to send a message to my daughters that they need to be something other than they are.  I believe life is about exploration and expansion, and for us, the IN, not ON approach is how we stay true to that belief.
Seth Godin asked a pertinent question:  Are we teaching our children to connect the dots, or just to collect them?  Degrees, accolades, and high GPA’s don’t mean what they used to.  In this time, we need critical thinkers, creative entrepreneurs, and confident women and men.  We need radical thinkers who are versed in the practice of excellence, and keenly aware of their talents, their abilities, and how they want to feel while they’re immersed in living.  This takes time, and as the girls are so young, they still need validation in this developmental stage.  We’re okay with that.  And we do our best to walk alongside them (and in some cases, in front of them) as they seek validation from their own souls and less from the outside world.
What do you to to move yourself (and the young people in your life) toward internal joy and away from external validation?

  • Takeyah Young | TakeyahYoung.c

    Thank you for sharing this, Akilah. To go “in”, I spend more time connecting my different ways of being. Like many people, I have all the degrees and such. However, I have been taking what I’ve learned about mySelf in combination with I have learned in more formal settings. It’s a work in process. I’m listening though.

    • You’re welcome, Takeyah! Thank you for stopping by. Keep on listening; that process is how we create ourselves, and how we consistently shed the not-it shit!

  • Denise Simone


  • Val Dee

    Lol! Validation is for parking! You tell them! Excellent post.

  • Mackenzie Irick

    I am slowly learning that in order to properly parent “in” and not “on”, which was a hallelujah moment for me by the way, I am going to have to do some of my own internal work. My desire to be a control freak is, and has always been, a result of fear. And, the things I fear the most are the results of this world on my children based on my own personal experiences and observations. In order to unwrap them and allow them to venture out into the world WITHOUT my (admittedly rigid) construct to protect them, I have to do some serious deep breathing. It’s an ongoing process of observing my children (two sons) and trusting that who they are going to be does not need to be dictate to them for fear that someone will harm them because they fear them. Especially in light of today’s reality. I had begun to retreat back into controlling them out of fear. Thanks for the inspiration to start our process all over again. I’m sure they will thank you as well circa 2025-ish 🙂

    • When I say I feel you, Mackenzie–I feel you! I’m construct-isha when it comes to trying to “create structure” for my girls. Most of the time, that “necessary structure” is more about my baggage and fears, and less about the reality in that moment. Thank you for echoing my sentiments, and hallellujah for hallelujah moments! 🙂

      • Brian and I were having this discussion last night regarding the Sun. It’s interesting with boys I’m seeing, learning how to do this. I think also particularly with our brown boys and perhaps especially when they live in a predominately white community. Definitely not business as usual with it comes to parenting like our parents did. My Sun revealed some things in me that broke me down in tears last night realizing alot of what this post expresses. He felt me and walked to me and said “I forgive you mom” and kissed me on the forehead. Geez…..

  • Denene Millner

    Dangit, will you get out of my head, Akilah?! How about we are in discussions right now about this—specifically as it relates to Big Girlpie, who just announced that she does not want to be a doctor? Of course, my mama self is saying, “Wait, no, you HAVE to be a doctor because you’re super smart and your brain is beautiful and you’ve always said you want to be a doctor and 20 years from now, doctors will be making money and you’ll be able to support yourself and your family and I know this for a fact because I’m grown.” But my creative self knows that being gifted in math and science doesn’t MAKE you a mathematician or scientist. What makes you is what you WANT to be. And she wants to be like mama, it seems. I’m scared. This piece is right on time, as it helps me figure out how to deal with the idea that she has the right to choose for herself, and that my job is to support rather than drive her. Woosah. Pray for us.

    • High -fiveing you and praying along side you! My 10 almost 11 year old son is starting to “become” into his own and this experience is showing me how much influence my “stuff” has had on him, even with all my efforts to raise him to be is own person. THAT alone comes with my “this is how you become your own person” sh…. that he didn’t ask me for. Realizing that now! So I feel you and again praying ALONG side you.

      • So true @KatrinaHarrell:disqus! Our “stuff” can and will become their stuff if we don’t face it. This is why I KNOW our babies are our life guides, and not the other way around. They hold up big ass mirrors by simply being, and we can either face it or hide from it. Sounds like you’re facing it head on–thank you for being in that space too. It’s so worth it! Scary as shit–but worth it.

  • @denenemillner:disqus, yeah, sooooo …. chocolate martinis, snort laughter, and affirmations for clarity, faith, and In-not-On mojo when I get back to the A? #Please&Thanks

  • Halona Black

    As an overly degreed sista, I must say that I have disappointed just about everyone I know with my decision to pursue entrepreneurship. Friends and family don’t understand how or why I would drop out of a doctorate degree program to sit home and write for the web. However I must say I have learned more about myself and the person I strive to be — the fully grown woman that I’ve been looking for since forever — as an entrepreneur than I ever did in any job or degree program. I finally feel creative. Excellent piece, Akilah! You are one of those writers I admire.

    • Thank you, Halona! We have a mutual love for each other’s voices. Thank you for that testimony! Indeed, getting to know ourselves far surpasses any notions of comfort and wealth from doing work that doesn’t feed our souls. We are allowed to pursue both income and impact, and that’s exactly what we’re doing–with our priorities in order. Most people will never be able to most far enough past fear to envision owning their own destiny. It’s cool though–we’ll support each other along the way. Thanks for stopping by!

  • I’ve always felt this way but never truly I think felt “validated” to trust those nudges that say “why in hell do we really need validation from others?” Further comment when I come back from my J.O.B. (the gym). 🙂 had to get this in though.

  • Sauda Jackson

    Honey…smh! I so needed to hear something like this today. For the past 3 -6 months have been in anxiety mode for this child of mine. I was so very clear a year ago that she would do 6th grade at home, well since my father’s death (her best bud) and her teacher leaving in the middle of the school year and mama trying to keep it together…I am not so sure. I find myself, consciously trying to ‘not’ make her into 5th grade me(A’s and an attitude) and she is quietly becoming just that, more attitude than I ever had along with the A’s. I am struggling with that notion of who she wants to be and being more creative with it, you gave me some fuel just now though! Thanks! ON and IN is so on time… I feel like you was in my head just now…stop that, one control-freak to another!

    • @saudajackson:disqus I know exactly what you mean in terms of leaving space for her to be who she is, and to process her life experiences (your father’s death, etc.). But, even with all that knowing, we’re still human, and they still cross boundaries, and we STAY trying to define the line between expression and disrespect. I’m so glad this gave you some fuel. I know your daughter, and she is definitely one of those feminine beings who wield power and brilliance far beyond their years. Let’s keep each other uplifted in Light as we walk this path, Honey, because….whew!!!!

  • Sandra

    Ummm, I’m still tripping out over the “recovering control freak” statement ! I so wish I was in the recovery stage right now ! This is something I struggle with often in my parenting/child rearing. I thought that I had let go of the “C” word a few years ago but it continues to rear its ugly head, especially during our homeschooling journey. I understand and appreciate your thoughts of “on” versus “in” , it is a constant tug and pull with that in our house. My heart yearns to parent and guide “in” but the mind is always needing to parent “on” .Reading this has given me motivation to be more “in” today…not sure about tomorrow 🙂 . I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m in agreement with everyone else “stay out of my head Akilah !” :):)

    • I will NOT get out of your head @hicksgirl93:disqus!!! LOL. I’m gonna write a post just for us C-word Sistas! And I’m going to call your name in the post 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  • Pingback: Parenting From a Place of Truth | Radical Selfie()

  • Pingback: Post 6: 8 Questions About Motherhood and Ma’at | Radical Selfie()