My 21 year old daughter is watching Bob’s burgers on TV. It’s an adult animated show.
One of the characters was pretending to be sick so they could school.
She paused the show and turned to me to say:
“Dad, I’m glad you never forced me to go to school.”
I said, “Me too kiddo.”
She told me about the show and said she was thinking about it and wanted to express her gratitude.
From the beginning we let our daughter choose how she wanted to do school. We took her to visit a public school, an alternative school and we talked about what homeschooling might be like. All the way along she chose to go to public school and we honoured her choice.
We had a standing principle that she could stay home from school anytime she wanted without having to give us a reason. She never had to do any homework she didn’t want to do, she never had to study for or take any tests she didn’t want. She never had to achieve any particular grade for us to be more proud or accepting of her.
We did explore together what her personal goals were and made plans of action to achieve them.
We did all her projects together, studied for all of her tests together and basically school was a family affair.
Sometimes I wonder what her memories are and today I got a little glimpse. It’s gratifying to know that at 21 she’s grateful for the freedom and respect that she was shown in her younger years.
A common question I receive is “Did she ever take advantage of it.” I have two responses.
First of all: No.
She used it when she really needed it. Right from the beginning. She never had to manipulate so her requests were always from sincere need.
Secondly: In a way the phrase “Take advantage” has no real meaning in our relationship. She could only take advantage if I had an expectation of how she should use that freedom.
The thing is, if I have that expectation, it’s not true freedom to begin with. My focus is on developing her relationship with herself. It’s not about how often she goes to school or what grades she gets.
According to the school board rules, when she turned 14 she was allowed to leave school grounds if she had a note from a parent.
The day she turned 14 I walked into the office with a letter saying that my daughter could leave school at any time for any reason and I didn’t have to be notified. I specified that she was to be given no consequence for not attending class. I also acknowledged that she was responsible for her performance.
Of course if she ever wanted to skip she would always text me and tell me. Hey dad I’m skipping and going to get a slice of pizza with some friends. Honestly could anything make me happier?
Because of this deep respect for her freedom she understands consent in a profound way. She knows how precious it is and feels grateful for the efforts my partner and I made to honour hers from the beginning.
It’s hard to go against the grain of society. Little moments like we shared today remind me that’s it’s all been worth it.