Tuesday, March 25, 2014

the hidden harm in following your interests

I could spend all day taking photos, playing guitar, messing around in my barn...or writing. I literally could. Those are my interests.

The kitchen table...when I'm doing my thing. ;)

Right now, my kids could spend all day video gaming. If there is a new game they are particularly interested in, the sun could be blotted out by a ship full of alien pirates and the boys would never know until their fingers froze to their keyboard.

The boys, zoned into their thing.

So is that what we should spend all day doing? Following our interests?

As homeschoolers, as unschoolers, as interest-led learners, we all have time to follow those interests. We have the ability to pour ourselves into the things we love in a way that others without the same amount of time just can't.

And that's a good thing, right?

Maybe. If we are careful.

Learning what you are interested in, and spending the day doing what you love is happy and fulfilling and gorgeous. And yet, ironically so, it has the potential to turn us into isolated little beings that fail to see what else is out there.

Sometimes, that "what else is out there" is our family.

You know what happens. The kids are deeply involved in Something Kids Love and so Mom or Dad get involved in Something Parents Love. The kids take a break from what kids love and see Mom and Dad are busy with what parents love so the kids move onto Something Else That Kids Love. Mom and Dad see the kids are still busy and continue on in their thing that parents love...

Not a terrible thing on the surface. And not a terrible thing short term. But long term? When the above becomes the normal? Hmmm...

What happens when we end up as people in a family who share the same address but live such separate lives of what each person wants to do that we don't look any different than the families we were trying to distinguish ourselves from?

If I'm honest with you, I will admit we've occasionally been there. Done that. Don't care to return.

I think its one of the dirty secrets of homeschooling. Having the time to adopt a sort of tunnel vision for our own interests and forgetting that the deeper we dive into what we ourselves are interested in, the more our lives become about ME and less about US.

A recent conversation with a mom revealed her frustration with feeling like her three kids had defected to being isolated countries in a giant ocean she was trying to hang out in and she really wasn't sure what her role was anymore. Were they a family? What part of the constant separateness (caused by everyone diving so deeply into their interests) looked like the stronger, more connected family she was hoping to have? She wanted to have some time together and show them other things they might be interested in, but they wouldn't budge. She saw them less...and less...and less and she was starting to wonder what the point was.

Another homeschool parent I spoke with said she felt such a conflict between what she could spend her time doing (her interests) and what she should be doing (helping her kids with theirs) that she openly wondered if homeschooling/unschooling was just a more acceptable title for "people who have way too much time to do whatever they want".

The hidden harm in following your interests is when it becomes something that ultimately removes you from your family. The hidden harm in following your interests is when it gives you tunnel vision, blinding you from opportunities to discover other things that might become an interest. The hidden harm in following your interests is when a life you intended to bring your family closer together becomes a life where everyone is separate, all the time.


  1. I see that one of your labels is 'rough patch'. Ok, for us, we have a big house and spread out like those particles in Brownian Motion demonstrations. What brings me together with my sons is things like driving to work, breakfast, needing a chat about something, money discussions. These are all real queries, not a fantasy of family life pushed by a parent. Our family life is pretty flawed though, but it's what we have.

    Have faith that things like being needed to clear up some big mess, hair washing and blow drying at 11pm, needing tech help with a lap top, or a power cut or a death in the family will surely bring you all together perfectly and imperfectly, and will deepen things between you all.

    Your family life is not meant to impress other people. It is private. It is full of your joint memories, for you as a group, not for outsiders. They have to get what they can out of their own flawed, yet given family lives.

    I hope this helps.

  2. I had a lesson about this fairly recently. Peeling myself away from my tunnel-vision interest (quick, like a BandAid) was hard and led to a challenging identity crisis, but in the end I'm SO much happier together with my family than I ever was when I was isolated in my own interests. I've also been able to do a few of those things that I've always wanted to do, but didn't have the time. And it turns out, they're all things my son enjoys as well. Bonus!

  3. As the author of the website Interest-Led Learning, I'm obviously partial to...well, learning centering around your interests! But I completely understand where you're coming from. That's why, even though I firmly consider us unschoolers, I've had a discussion with my kids about us taking at least 3 hours of the day, each day, to do things together. Those three hours are still centered around our interests, but it's time I've set aside for us to be together. I've mainly done this for me. Because, like you, I can become so involved with my interests, that I don't look like I'm available for my kids. I want them to know that for at least three hours of the day they have my undivided attention, no matter what other pressing things are taking place in our lives. I want them to know they are a top priority. We look forward to those hours. We make fun plans and things we'd like to accomplish. We make goals for ourselves. Some days we spend a lot more than three hours doing things together. Those hours might take place in the morning or in the afternoon, or be spread out throughout the day, but I've been trying my best to make sure those are sacred hours for us. And our interests and passions have deepened and expanded so much for this time we've made this commitment to each other. Thanks so much for starting this discussion. It think it's an important one for homeschoolers to have. (This is Chris Pilkington, by the way! Don't know if it will show up when I post :)


Hmmm...what do you have to say?