Through the Back Door: Parenting Choices and Unschooling




I often read testimony from parents who unschool their children that their choice was a natural progression from the principles of attachment parenting–breast feeding, baby wearing, co-sleeping, etc. This makes a lot of sense to me. Both are based on nurturing children’s emotional and physical needs while fostering shared trust in a safe and loving environment. I love reading these stories. They are deeply inspiring and deserve to be shared.

But this connection is so prevalent that when I was initially seeking solutions for alternative ways to approach education, I wondered if someone like me, who came at parenting from a different angle, was even capable of unschooling my children. It seemed to me that attachment parenting might even be a prerequisite. At one point, I shied away from these articles because they evoked an irrational sense of guilt and doubt.

For both medical and personal reasons, I did not breast-feed either of my children, who are eleven months apart. They were both miraculous gifts to my 39 and then 40 year old body which had been erroneously and hopelessly labelled “infertile.”  And while I did often carry my babies close to my heart in warmth and love, co-sleeping and feeding on demand were foreign concepts to me. I was a product of the system and didn’t question much.  I did my best as a mother based on how I had been parented and  while I got some of it right, I made lots of mistakes, the kind of mistakes that bubble up and ask for attention only when we are truly awake and open to real change, the essential missteps that allow us to revise, learn and grow.

You could say I came into myself as a parent through the back door. Attachment parenting did not lead me to unschooling; unschooling led me to a deeper understanding of the attachment I have with my children. In the process of deschooling myself over a period of  time, of detoxing my mind and soul of the societal messages and practices which had taken root since childhood, I was able to question nearly everything I believed about how children learn and how they view and interact with the world, as well as my role as a parent. I was able to allow my children to take the lead, to trust, respect and have confidence in their abilities and our relationship.  I often marvel, when I wake up in the morning and see my children, that my husband and I get to live with these two really cool people. They don’t belong to us; we are merely on a parallel journey with them. In the words of Ram Dass, “we’re all just walking each other home.”

I share my story not to discount the link between attachment parenting and unschooling–because it is real, and lovely and logical. I share it because maybe there’s another me out there, or several, or many, who are considering unschooling but who, for whatever reason, approached parenting differently. If that’s you, I have a simple message: keep digging and questioning, and walking your children home.  And if you want to learn more, if you’re open to discovery and willing to scale a few crumbling walls, the back door is always open.



10 thoughts on “Through the Back Door: Parenting Choices and Unschooling

  1. Thank you so much for this! I’ve often felt like a “failed” attachment parent—yes, I breastfed, and we co-slept for a while, but I have twins and really found our lives miraculously better when our babies started sleeping separately from us, among other non-attachment parenting things. Now as we come to unschooling I am reading all those articles and feeling all that guilt. Thank you for saying it’s ok.


    • Hi Larissa, thanks so much for your comment. I think it’s important to avoid assumptions, labels and pigeon-holing when it comes to unschooling and parenting in general, particularly for those who are either seeking information or our new to the concept. The beauty of unschooling is that people come to it for all sorts of reasons and the way they embrace it is ultimately unique, as is each family and each child. What we learn from it as adults is the unexpected bonus. Never let guilt stop you from advancing because you chose to do things differently. Best of luck to you and yours. Ellen

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely post Ellen. Digesting it slowly, with a cup of tea, and wondering if my advocacy for breastfeeding and co-sleeping may have inadvertently constructed walls for potential life learning friends. In an endearing twist, I suspect I may have been overly vociferous precisely because I had so little support. When I finally heard my quiet inner voice, I felt compelled to shout ! (We humans are such treasure troves of intrigue:)
    Your writing invites me to notice things. Today I am noticing my house has two doors. The front door faces the gravel drive and the dirt road leading to town. It is solidly constructed of metal and wood with a little peep hole to see who is outside before it is opened. The back door faces the forest and a little creek leading to the river–a greenbelt we are fortunate to share with birds and fish and moose and black bears. The back door is all glass, completely see through.


    • Thank you Eileen. Your advocacy for breast feeding is so very important because many of us got stuck in the system–and the very profitable business–of promoting formula . . . and school!! I distinctly remember being in the hospital and being visited by a lactation consultant. I was exhausted and in tears of frustration, as my son screamed his head off. As soon as she left the room, the nurse brought in a bottle of formula! My children are now 11 and 12 and there’s nothing I love more than the four of us sleeping together, although we came late to it. I think the most important thing is for women (and men) to know they have choices above and beyond what their parents did and what society dictates and that it’s okay to choose differently. The beauty of unschooling is that there are no standards and so many possibilities. And I love hearing their stories. Thank you for the good work you do and I’m glad you have such a lovely view from the back door!!


  3. Thank you from another “reluctant” unschooler! I, too, was very unquestioning of “the system” until my 11yo son was miserable in school, nine years ago. Deschooling to unschooling from a mainstream parenting perspective is not a natural process for many, and I do sometimes feel like the odd man out! Oh, how I wish I knew about attachment parenting and unschooling when my children were small, but I understand there is great value in coming to unschooling at any age and stage, and guilt is not a productive emotion to bring to the process.
    I will share your story in my local unschooling group, and thank you for the beautiful words!


    • Hi Karen, thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it. You are so right that feeling guilty at this stage is wholly unproductive! It’s nice to hear from someone who struggled with embracing unschooling. I try to write about those doubts as honestly as possible because I often felt alone in them. It seemed that every article or blog post I read in the early years was glowing with confidence and trust and extraordinary accomplishment, when I needed to know that there were other kids out there NOT necessarily doing amazing things, but just living happily. And that there were moms (and dads!) out there who sometimes stumbled. I think there is great value in those stories as well! Thanks for sharing the post and for your kind words!


  4. We also came to unschooling through the back door (love the way you put that!). I was the furthest thing from an attachment parent (I’m 43 and I think the moms about 5-10 years behind me have embraced it so much more than moms my age.). But unschooling has brought that connection back and I am so grateful we stumbled across the idea 6 months ago. And by the way, ” They don’t belong to us; we are merely on a parallel journey with them. In the words of Ram Dass, “we’re all just walking each other home.” oh man, this got me. Thank you for sharing!!


    • Hi Kristina, thanks for your encouragement. I do think that attachment parenting is somewhat generational and I’m so glad we seem to be embracing and talking about it more as a society. We lived in Africa for 8 years and this is how indigenous cultures parent, with community and extended family to help. When you see it up close, it’s so seamless and natural. Glad you were able to come to it as I did for you and for your children! All the best to you and your family, Ellen


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