As I prepare for our next family trip, I am remembering a flight that my family took back from England where I was the keynote speaker at the first ever unschooling conference in London.
On the flight home, there was a mother traveling alone with two kids who were sitting next to us. Being such a big family, we took up almost a whole row of seats on the plane. As we took off, I could see the mother getting impatient with her kids. She had a two-year-old and a child around six. The two-year-old was standing on the seat looking at the people behind us. The mother was so frustrated, and I saw her squeezing her daughter's leg really hard. She talked in a really low, angry voice, scolding her. My heart hurt seeing this, and Joe and I began talking about how cruel this mother was being to her kids.
As I judged this mother I began feeling bad, focusing such negativity toward her. I had a moment of realization that I could extend the unschooling philosophy of respect and kindness to her and see what happens. I could choose to focus on this mother's underlying needs rather than her behavior, and see how I could help her and her kids. Maybe I could make a difference and be guided by love and respect instead of judgment and feeling superior. This was a pivotal moment in my life as an unschooling parent and advocate.
I quietly asked Devin if he would switch seats with me so that I could sit next to this mother. As we rearranged, I saw her look up at me with hopeless, tired eyes. I smiled at her and tried to focus loving, kind energy toward her. I looked into her eyes, and asked, "Are you all right? Can I help you at all?" She slowly lowered her head and started crying into her hands.
She told me that she had been traveling for over two days. She was visiting her family in Africa and she was finally on her way home to see her husband whom she hadn't seen in three months. Her luggage had been lost, and she missed her last flight. She shared that she was exhausted and hungry and had absolutely nothing left to give to her kids. She said to me, "I'm normally much kinder to my children."
My heart opened to her. I offered her a hug and when I did, she began sobbing. I told her not to worry and that we would help her out in the last leg of her journey. We rearranged seats again so that Tiff was sitting next to her daughter who was around the same age. For the rest of the flight they laughed and played games and watched movies together. This exhausted mother gratefully accepted our help. I walked her two-year-old daughter up and down the aisles of the plane. At one point I looked over to see that the mother was sound asleep in her seat. Our family happily entertained her children for over five hours. When the mom woke up, I gave her a cup of tea and a sandwich. She looked refreshed and renewed. She hugged her daughters and played joyfully with them for the rest of the flight.
In the beginning of the flight, when I saw this mom, I had judged her. I instantly built a wall between us. I viewed us as two very different people with opposite parenting philosophies. Devin and Tiff also saw this mother's actions in the beginning of the journey and commented on how mean she appeared to be acting to her kids. When I asked how I could help, my children also witnessed me shift from judgment to understanding and love for this woman. It was a moment in my life of personal growth and one that my children learned so much from as well.
When we judge someone, we don't know their story or their path. We instantly shut down the possibility to spread peace and love and make a difference in the lives of others. When we can look beyond the surface, we may see ourselves in others. We have all been at our worst at times and it hurts to have the eyes of judgment on us when we are needing support and connection.
For the rest of the flight I chatted with this mother. Listening to her talk about her life and personal path was really interesting. We had so much in common. We laughed together over tea as our children played. I can't image how negative the flight would have been if I didn't shift from judgment to love. I created the space for connection and it felt so empowering!
As we were getting off the plane, the mom turned to me and thanked me. She said that I gave her such a gift and that she would never forget us. She gave me a hug and in that moment I knew that I had grown as a person.
Since the experience with this mother, I have extended the core concepts of my unschooling philosophy to others in my life. It is so much more than a parenting philosophy. It is a life philosophy. Focusing on others' needs rather than their behavior is a tool of peace and connection that can change the world. I love that my own path brings me into ever widening circles to extend the joy and respect further and further to others. This spiraling growth is never ending.
The flight home from England was a turning point in my life and the life of my family. I can't wait to see
who we can help on our next journey. I know it will be fabulous because no matter who we encounter, if we
allow love and understanding to guide us, only joy will follow.
"If you judge people, you have no time to love them."
- Mother Teresa
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