Interview with Tara Wagner on Mindful Parenting and Unschooling

Not too long ago, I was not aware of unschooling or mindful parenting. Now I understand why they go together and will always attract interested parents in organic living and getting out there in the world to see it by themselves (aka traveling).

I found Tara Wagner’s blog The Organic Sister a few months back and it made all of this much more clear to me. It became a great source to find other blogs and writers on these subjects too.

I also had a few coaching sessions with Tara that really helped me to handle better my relationship with my daughter. She has a special way of addressing people´s doubts and concerns.

I´m happy to have Tara talk a bit about these things herself here on Tripping Mom, so let´s get to it.

Can you tell Tripping Mom readers a bit about what your blog/life is about?

Tara: We’re a family of three, living life authentically and on our own terms. We travel full-time, learn without school, and work in more unconventional ways. My son, Zeb, is 11 and learns at his own pace by following his passions. My husband, Justin, is a jack-of-all-trades and I am a writer and blogger, photographer and unschooling and mindful parenting coach.

How can you describe unschooling and mindful parenting?

Tara: Hmm, it’s hard to sum it up simply. Unschooling is a form of learning that does not include traditional schooling. It’s about trusting our children natural curiosity for life, creating an environment conducive to supporting that curiosity and helping them to follow their passions. Given love and support, our kids learn everything they need but most importantly they learn that they are trustworthy, that their interests are valid and that they are loved.

Mindful parenting extends that trust to other aspects of parenting. When we focus our attention on connection, instead of coercion, our children do more than simply survive – they thrive. And when they are treated as whole people, worthy of love and respect and lived with consensually, they reflect that unconditional love back to the world.

Fill a child with love, attention, worthiness, respect, trust and understanding and they will overflow those same things into the world.

You have been unschooling your 10-year-old boy since he is 7. What made you decide on this back then? Can you describe a bit of his routine now?

Tara: He was in a high-pressure private school for two and half years and he wasn’t thriving. He was becoming depressed and increasingly self-critical. He was getting in a lot of trouble to get his needs met and it was beginning to change the way he viewed himself.

He wasn’t a happy kid. We took him out looking for an alternative that would work for him and stumbled across unschooling and mindful parenting. It was and continues to be life-changing.

His routine varies depending on what we’re doing that day. If we’re home, you’ll likely see him playing some of his favorite computer games, building LEGO or playing card games. We meet up with old friends in our home town, or new friends when we’re traveling. He’s been enjoying some new classes locally for drama and architecture.

He enjoys riding his bike at the park or playing tag. He really connects with young kids, especially toddlers, so if we’re around younger family members or other young ones you can usually find him helping out.

What are your biggest concerns and fears about unschooling your son? How can unschooling go wrong, what are the downsides of it?

Tara: I think my fears are the same as they’ve always been: am I giving him what he needs, am I being the mom he needs me to be. I’m human and I know perfection isn’t possible. But I don’t ever want to stop growing and pushing myself toward growth.

Unschooling can go wrong when we aren’t involved. It is not a hands-off approach and it takes more energy and involvement than most others things we can do. It requires our full attention. That can be exhausting, especially if we don’t have support or aren’t filling our own needs as well.

When you decided to unschool Zeb, how did your family and friends take it? Did you know more people doing it at the time? How did you manage the rejections and how did you find support?

Most of our family and friends trusted that we were doing the right thing for Zeb. They were seeing how unhappy he was too. They didn’t quite understand unschooling or mindful parenting but it was quickly obvious how much he was thriving.

There were still some negative comments, some out of loving concern and some out of indignant judgment. Sometimes we tried to discuss it and help them understand what we were doing, but we quickly learned that many people just aren’t open to knowing more. We had to start growing a thicker skin and accept that some people were just going to disagree, regardless of what we said or did or how happy we are.

Thankfully we hooked up with a local group with some amazing families to whom I credit with my ability to get through those rough spots and growing pains. Having a tribe is an amazing gift, one I wish we all had.

What simple advice can you give Tripping Mom readers about mindful parenting and unschooling?

Tara: Slow down. And tune in. We can so easily rush right through our interactions with our kids. We’re busy and distracted and we fail to really hear them…and I mean really hear them, hear the need under the behavior, hear their heart instead of just their words.

We answer too quickly or not at all. We forget that they are individuals, we forget that they need to be heard, we forget that they feel so deeply every word or tone in our voice or look on our face.

Thank you, Tara, for sharing your wisdom here.