Authentic? Me? Thoughts on Authenticity.
by Beverley Paine
I got called 'authentic' yesterday and it got me thinking... I don't feel authentic. Most days I feel like a fraud. I know I'm not, but I still get that niggling doubt that I don't walk the talk. Because, right now in my life, I'm not doing much of that 'walking'.
My children are adults. That fact alone removes me from the everyday existence of unschooling life. My grandchildren are little people and I don't live with them, so I'm not living an unschooling life with them either. Most of what I know and share is from personal experience, a lot of dated. And I feel that keenly because we began unschooling before mobile phones and laptop computers were everyday items. And few children were openly diagnosed with ASD and ADHD was a relatively new phenomenon. The scenery in home education has changed... I question how relevant is my experience?
Perhaps it is because as a mum and mum-in-law of a couple of mums and I 'get it' that people find what I write and share as authentic. So many of our parents don't 'get it' and question our choices and sometimes, yes, even our ability as parents. I don't want to be that kind of parent and grandparent. I'm not really sure what kind of parent and grandparent I do want to be: I used to be pretty sure about that but now I'm here, living it, I feel a bit clueless. Something tells me I need to be authentically me, but I still have trouble giving myself permission to do that. In my mind, most days, I'm still mum, watching out for and needing to help my children meet their needs, achieve their goals and live happy lives. I spend a lot of time trying to second-guess what those needs and goals are and then worrying if I'm doing enough or over-stepping the mark and interfering. I'm not in me mode, I'm still in mum mode. Is that authentic? Yes, and no. I believe I need to grow beyond my roles.
And that authentic word bugs me. It's like a label I feel I need to live up to, grow into, wear. And that means other people have expectations: if I behave authentically they might have expectations of me to continue to behave authentically. What does authentic mean? I had the same issue a few years ago trying to define what a grandmother is and how she should behave and be! This need to accommodate the expectations of others is a hang up from how I was parented and schooled as a child. I don't see it as healthy. I'm working on eliminating it, but it takes time to undo the habits and conditioning of a lifetime.
People seem surprised when they meet me. They quickly relax. I'm not the person they thought I would be. What does that say about my authenticity? Or does it have more to say about their expectations? Like most people, the longer you hang around me the more of me you'll get to know. Although in my writing I reveal quite a bit about who I am and how I feel about things and what I value, my life is complex and multidimensional and I there's no way I can capture all of that in my writing. And I don't want to either. In this I don't feel any different from anyone else. Don't take me at face value, don't judge a book by it's cover, etc.
Which brings me back to authentic. I wonder if what we're really talking about has more to do with our personal comfort levels. I've met some authentic people that challenged the socks of me and at first glance I was convinced they weren't authentic. But that was because I was making some pretty massive assumptions about who they were - my expectations coloured my experience. I took the time to get to know them and realised that they actually were authentic, they were being true to their inherent natures. It was my expectations - what I wanted from them and who I wanted them to be - that was out of kilter with reality. And what I learned was that every time I set up expectations I find myself disappointed. And that I tended to blame others for this disappointment...
Perhaps my wariness of authenticity, of being authentic, arises from this need to be authentic, to expose the veils we use to prop up our comfort zones. To be truly authentic is to be vulnerable. That's hard: we're trained as children how to polish our armour, keep our inner lives hidden and safe within. And it is the validity of that training that so many of us are questioning when we unschool.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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