Silencing the Voice of Conformity

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My twelve year old unschooled daughter has been waking up late these days. Around 9 am, the sticky, stubborn residue of conformity whispers in my ear that perhaps I should wake her. There are things to do. It’s a beautiful day. The sun’s been up for hours. So has her brother.

At 10:15, the insistent inner voice of irritation (or perhaps jealousy?) quips that breakfast is still on the table and we’ve all got better things to do than wait for her to wake up. I was never allowed to sleep that late as a child. Why should she?

By 11:00, I am at my worst, convinced that she is wasting the day away. Misusing valuable learning time. It’s a weekday for heaven’s sake! We’re spoiling her. But then another thought sneaks in and suggests that maybe she’s depressed. Or sick. There’s definitely something wrong. Have I been available to her? Have I been listening? Why haven’t I noticed?

And then comes the crescendo of the cruelest inner voice:

I’m a horrible mother.

This internal dialogue is not something I can control, despite five years of unschooling and a great deal of self-work. It is a process that cycles back around and wallops me unawares. When neither of my children had learned to read when school said they should, the voice of conformity told me they were suffering from developmental delays. When they didn’t know their times tables or how to write in cursive, it convinced me they were lacking in essential skills. When they didn’t have an entire class of friends to invite to their birthday parties, it broke my heart and told me they must be lonely. And when others were critical or judgemental of the learning freedom my children are afforded, it shamed me into believing I should send them to school.

Sometimes, I can stand up to those voices and recognize them as vestiges of my upbringing and societal conditioning. They are recorded tapes, messages that have played so long on an ingrained loop that it’s difficult to silence them. But while I can’t stop them from having their say, I don’t have to listen anymore. And I certainly don’t have to act on them.

Other times, in weaker moments, I rail against the demons of self-doubt, fists of anger ready for the fight, tears of uncertainty pooling around the past. But I will not drown. In moments of self-care, I recognize them for what they are, sometimes going as far as gracefully accepting them as an integral part of my whole progressing self. I put them to paper. Invite them to a proper debate. And I try very hard not to impose them on my children.

My daughter owes me no explanation, no excuse, no justification, no proof. She needs sleep now and she listens to her body. So when she does wake up, rested and recharged, her smile and beauty take my breath away. I hug her and say good morning and the nagging voices skitter into the corner to be swept up with the dust and crumbs of our lives. She will certainly learn or create or ponder more in the next few hours than I did worrying about her sleeping too late.

I watch her eat breakfast with one hand while her heart paints with the other.  Another gentler voice slips in then, one I’ve cultivated and welcomed with time and experience. It never shouts or shames or insists. It simply says, “trust.”


*artwork by Sunny Rowland, created over breakfast, Posca pen on wood


16 thoughts on “Silencing the Voice of Conformity

  1. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I’ve had my share of the same feelings. I’m learning that I have to trust myself and our choice to unschool is going to look different from other kids’ schedule who go to school, including sleep patterns. I’m thankful that my daughters get the necessary sleep to function properly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Heather. Trust really is the key, isn’t it? And it’s definitely a process. I’m thankful too for the freedom unschooling allows our whole family. Sleep is so important and yet most schooled children don’t get nearly enough.


  2. Lovely post!
    I hope this helps reassure also.
    Youtube video
    Why Teens Should Sleep In On School Days
    (youtube channel Seeker)


  3. Oh, this is beautiful. I go through this cycle of thought almost every day. My family has been considering unschooling (we are homeschoolers) for a little over a year and we’ve certainly incorporated many facets of respectful parenting that have resounded with us. One of them is letting our children wake up naturally. I have gone through your same cycle of thought here many times, and I always land at the same place: my well-rested child will have a better, more productive day than he would if I dragged him through my ideal routine for him.
    I do have a couple morning commitments (tumbling class and Bible study) that we have a really hard time being on time for at 10:30. Have you ever needed to eliminate morning commitments to allow the kiddos to sleep as much as they need to?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Alison, thanks so much for your comment. I think it’s one of the most important things we can do is let our children wake up naturally. We live on a small island in Greece at the moment and don’t really have scheduled commitments, but when they were younger they did. If it was something they loved, they had no problem waking up!


    • My daughter always slept much more than her peers. Vitamin D and B12 (test / read before action can resolve fatigue, but it became apparent she has severe medical issues including symptoms of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (possible Cushings). We are waiting for a sleep service appointment, and are concerned about her being too fatigued and unwell to manage the appointment. When I emailed them about this, they responded that everyone else manages, and to practice sleep hygeine (sensible bedtime, etc). :/
      I’d be grateful if you’re able to find the links about letting people (especially unwell people) sleep as their bodies dictate.


  4. They either wake up early because they are excited about the day or they wake up till they are fully recharged. Why is it so hard to understand that for us grown-ups? Thank you for writing this.


    • Thank you, Peter. And you’re absolutely right. We adults are no different. We spring out of bed when something exciting awaits us, or more often by obligation, but that doesn’t mean we’re well rested!


  5. Great message, those inner voices are always searching for the RIGHT way to exercise life. As you mentioned social conditioning and our own childhood pop up to remind is of ill ways. Those inner voices have a great deal of intuitive knowledge, helping us not to make the same error twice: don’t touch an open flame or hand gets burnt. But the extent of those mental directives often try and use our social conditioning to further prevent us from failure. I like it when you said she is listening to her body. We all need to do this more. Our gut and brain need more meditation time to be in balance thsn we need internet time. Self focus, as adults we are continuously being told we suck: 10 min abs etc. My desire is to seperate my family from the rat race, much like you have done with your family. Find awakening in nature, time to read, plant a garden, paint, be creative. Society values money: i do not. I hope to instsll in my daughter the joy of self. I too will allow her to sleep. Because i know when she is up… that smile melts my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shane, getting off the treadmill, the figurative one and the literal one, is hard to do because society steers us towards individualism through consumption, selling us a sugar-laden diet and then shaming us because we are not fashion models. I have done everything in my power to shield my daughter from these harmful messages since she was very young and I hope she will grow up basing her self-worth on HER values, not someone else’s. Sounds like you’re already doing a great job with your daughter.


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