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Thanks for not forcing me to go to school

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.

4 thoughts on “Thanks for not forcing me to go to school

  1. Hello. When you say “From the beginning”, did you really mean right after kindergarten, from 6-7 years old onward?

    “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. ”

    How did the school and the individual teachers react to your daughter doing the above when she chose to? Her missing lessons may have meant she needed to catch up on studies when she rejoined the class, and this would have meant additional work for the teacher(s)?

    1. I appreciate your questions.
      Yes we honoured her freedom right from the beginning.
      Of course there were times she couldn’t come home for logistical reasons.
      That’s different. That is just life. When that happens we empathize with each other how hard it was.
      But most of the time if she didn’t want to go to school she didn’t have to.

      There are a couple benefits to this approach.

      One is that she never used that freedom irresponsibly. She would make mistakes, like we all do, but she learned from them.
      It’s an amazing thing how much respect is earned in a relationship when deep trust is shown. By giving her that freedom she had a self-motivated desire to use it with integrity. She had to look within to see what really made sense to her because she knew I would support her no matter what.

      When she wasn’t sure she would come to me to discuss it. We would weigh the pros and cons of missing that day. What was on the agenda? What info would she miss? Was anyone depending on her for anything that day? Those kind of questions.

      Like maybe she was tired and didn’t want to go, but she realized through our discussion that a friend was hoping to get their book back. I might ask her to think about how her friend might feel not getting it back?

      Now when I ask this question it’s not with the undercurrent of “She would feel betrayed or let down so you have to go”. It’s a sincere question for her to consider in freedom. Each friend is different. Each loan situation is different. I give her something to consider and allow her to make sense of it with her own intuition.

      This is how continuous guidance happens.

      If she missed work she learned form it.
      If teachers were upset she learned from it.
      Everything is about learning together.

      Today my daughter said to me:
      “Dad did you ever notice that we have our deepest conversations at night?”
      Even at 21 she values our co-explorations and co-learning.

  2. Thanks for your reply. What about the power of the state re a child not attending school whenever they felt like it? And missing tests and presumably exams as well? Was attending school was not a mandatory requirement by the state that you were living in at that point in time? I’m surprised the school and teachers was okay with that for practical reasons. They were permitted by the state to be okay with that, really?

    How were you able to afford, what is for me, the luxury of supporting your child’s decision no matter what? Was there always a stay-at-home grown-up who could and would care for her if she didn’t want to be at school?

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Magical! Wonderful! And I can see the beauty and reality it holds so true. Vivek and his family have been an example of true love and freedom. May this reality spread!!!

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