Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Unfooding: an elaboration.

I wrote a very brief post about unfooding a couple of years ago, but the subject came up in comments here, where I promised to expand on what we do here, regarding food and mealtimes.

I'm getting increasingly nervous about blogging what we do here, though, because it's slowly dawning on me, from reading comments and emails and lists, that some people start to feel somehow criticised or pressured for not doing things the same way as someone else does them. This is a bit of a shock to me, who has always carved my own path through life based on what worked for me and mine, and nobody else, which has resulted in me being, I suppose, fairly conventional in some respects and fairly radical in others. The thing is, I don't care whether what I do is usual or unusual, conventional or radical, acceptable or unacceptable to other people. All I care about, in making decisions about how we live, is that my children and I are happy, healthy, strong and safe and that we don't damage or obstruct our neighbours.

I don't write all this stuff about how we live in order to say: "This is the only right way of doing things," because I don't think that's true, and anyway it's none of my business what decisions other people make and I have no wish to influence them. So why do I write it? Mainly because I enjoy writing, also because people seem to enjoy reading. But there is another motive that takes some thinking about. The world seems to be becoming increasingly homogenised, which makes us all nicely predictable and therefore easily managed by governments and big business. Alternative lifestyles are therefore always slightly under threat and I believe this is more true now than ever before. Because of this feeling I have that my decisions are being forever impinged upon, it gives me some slight comfort to keep blogging away those homogenising myths, like the ones about relative poverty, single parenthood, discipline and health. If I keep saying, "My family does it this way and the kids grew up ok," then it adds to the chorus of voices which combine, hopefully, to keep different options open.

But most people often don't do things the way we do them here, and I'd like to take this opportunity to say that in my opinion, if you and your children are as happy and healthy as can be then you're probably doing things in the 'right' way for you. People and families and circumstances are all so different that one way would not work for everyone and we all probably need to do things slightly, or radically differently to the next person. I've changed the way I do things depending on various stages in my life too, and I also think there's nothing wrong with that. So, nothing that I write is intended as a criticism of anyone else, unless I'm clearly saying that's the case. Which is very rare. I should probably paste this into my sidebar!

Now.. what was I originally rambling about? LOL. Unfooding. Right:

There was a time, early in my marriage, when I was teaching myself housekeeping techniques from Mrs Beeton's Household Management, (published in 1861 ^^) and therefore my whole family used to sit down to full 3-course breakfasts, luncheons, high teas and dinners around a fully dressed table on the precise dot of 8am, 12 noon, 4pm and 8pm. Before I went to bed, the kitchen would be cleaned and tidied and the table set for breakfast. This routine lasted for about two years, until I started to get full-blown panic attacks at the threat of every slight alteration to the schedule which meant, I decided, time for a rethink.

I'm glad I learned all that stuff though, because (as many artists confirm) it's good to know the 'proper' technique for doing something before you relax all the rules and start doing it your own way. Having realised it wasn't a matter of life or death for me to serve up four daily three-course meals to my family with military precision timing, I was able to gradually relax my approach to the daily food schedule until, around the time we deregistered from school, only the evening meal was still set in stone.

I think the move towards total unfooding was completed alongside and as a result of our move towards complete unschooling, because it's hard to justify: "You can learn what, how and when you like," with "Oh but you still have to come and sit to the table for half an hour at 5pm."

Curiosity and the motive to learn things seems, for us, to be strongest when we live spontaneously in the moment, and any sort of fixed schedule has the effect of limiting such opportunities. During various phases since deschooling the children have wanted to experiment with eating, sleeping and cooking at different times and in different ways, to see what worked for them. They've learned about nutrition by observing the effects in their own bodies of different foods, for which it was necessary for me to back off and abdicate my total control of the food supplies. Unfooding and unschooling are therefore intertwined and inseparable, twin facets of their autonomous education and childhood.

So in our house we all decide what food to buy and we make joint decisions about what proportion of the household budget to allocate towards the food bills, even the children who are very young. It's in everyone's interests to store the food safely and the food is then all available to everyone, whenever and however they want to eat it.

You might think this would lead to complete selfishness and isolation, with people living on a nonstop diet of snacks and TV meals consisting of ovenchips and chocolate, but this is absolutely not the case. We end up, by mutual consent, with a full range of affordable and nutritious ingredients. Sometimes meals are preplanned, preprepared and cooked from scratch - as often by the other teens as by me. It's rare for someone to cook for themselves alone. Every few days someone (often me, sometimes Lyddie, sometimes someone else) feels the urge to cook for everyone, then we sit down to a pleasurable meal together. The boys are the only two regular meat eaters and they always cook for each other when a meat meal is being prepared. Sometimes they sit down to eat together at bizarre times like 3am, but they do sit down to eat together.

Unstructured sleep times are another aspect of the spontaneous way of life. What could it be called: unscheduling? The thing is we've found here, by trial and error, that most of us are obsessive about projects once we get our teeth into them, so we're quite likely to want to work late into the night (and through it) on things sometimes. My point of view on this matter is that the project is paramount and people will sleep when tired, just as they will eat when hungry. My teens have been known to survive for a few days on very little sleep when working frantically on something and then catch up by having a few days and nights of almost nonstop sleeping. I would venture to suggest that this would be the natural state of affairs for many people if they didn't have rigid schedules to adhere to. My minimal knowledge of the great works of genius tells me that they came about in this way. The human mind seems to work at its best and most creative when it's free to obsess: to focus exclusively wherever it settles, without forced interruption, until the subject is 'cracked'.

This way of living probably wouldn't work well for everyone. No doubt some people do prefer the comfort of routines. There can be a lot of benefit in routine, and I myself have been known to settle into one from time to time, while it suited me, as have the children. But I've loved having the freedom to free them, in turn, from the necessity of a rigidly adult-imposed schedule.


Blogger Ruth said...

What you describe is pretty much what we do too. Everyone decides what they want to eat and gets it as and when. I do a meal at night but it is often different food for at least 2 or 3 children. Sleep is the same. Currently D is experimenting where he wants to sleep and is all over the house. I am surprised people feel criticised. I read a lot of blogs with very different views but to me it is what works for each family that matters:)

5:01 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Exactly! Maybe I'm being a bit over-sensitive, but it's just an impression I've got from reading some blog comments and list posts etc, that if you say you do things one way someone feels the need to get all defensive about the fact they do them differently, as if you saying you're not doing them that way means you're attacking their way of doing it.

Was that the longest, most garbled sentence in the history of blog comments? ;-)

5:43 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Not just comments here, I hasten to add (in a shorter sentence!) But I get the impression a lot of us writing about autonomy has caused some kind of a "I daren't admit we're using a timetable" state of affairs in some quarters. I hope it's not true, because I'm sure it wasn't the intention.

5:45 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

We have quite a lot of routine at the moment, because we have so many group commitments and the children are too young to travel alone (except for short distances). This tends to affect how and when we all eat as well.

Our normal approach is to negotiate agreements over things like food and sleep. I would never insist that anyone else ate something, or slept when I said so - but we make deals based on all our observations about what makes us most happy.

These include things like an agreed time when we will be available to read bedtime stories and when we would like some time alone together (after 10am). These aren't set in stone - and are always open to re-negotiation if anyone is unhappy.

We have worried a lot about food in the past but have come to realise that different people need different eating patterns.

7:26 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Dani said...

Of course, she means 10pm, not am!

7:37 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

"I get the impression a lot of us writing about autonomy has caused some kind of a "I daren't admit we're using a timetable" state of affairs in some quarters. I hope it's not true, because I'm sure it wasn't the intention."

Oh I hope not too. I erad blogs were people do do a very structured day so I don't think most people worry about admitting it. If any are worried maybe it is cos they are not confident in their own choices.

7:41 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL Dani I wouldn't have spotted that! ;-)
Yes I reach a point with bedtime stories when I have to say (gasp): I can't read any more! I've got no voice left! But I'm usually ok after 10am ^^ (10pm is quite another matter!)

Ruth, that's a very good point! I'll stop worrying then :-)

7:48 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger these boots said...

Am fascinated by the idea of you as some kind of born-again Mrs Beeton!

Thanks for this post. I've been thinking about the unfooding thing for a while. The thing that I was trying to avoid was having to cook several different meals for everyone (I have enough trouble getting it together to cook one), but now of course I realise that I can just cook one kind of meal and whoever wants to eat it can do so, and whoever doesn't, can graze on something else.

atm we all have the one bedtime which has worked well for us, but as - hopefully - the girls might move into their own bedroom once we move house, I'm hoping that they might be a little more independent about that.

I'm still a little nervous about putting much in the way of junk food onto the collective smorgasbord, but I'm realising that I'm going to have to do something drastic so that the girls don't grow up craving it. At the moment (as you've witnessed!) if they see anything chocolately, or crispy, or coloured ... they want it!

7:53 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

ROFL L, it had to be seen to be believed! You know, I'm such a creature of extremes ;-)

There's a great post on the subject here which you might find more useful :-)

8:08 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

- the subject of Unfooding I mean LOL, not me as Mrs B!

8:09 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger these boots said...

"There's a great post on the subject here which you might find more useful :-)"

Thanks for that Gill ... yes I read it last night. Then this morning I read it to DH, who agreed we should try it when we move (perfect time to rearrange kitchen cupboards!). One of the most reassuring things about that post for me was that, more often that not, the family still sat down together to eat. In this house we're all together but, usually, off in different spaces doing different things ... and I love our mealtimes together.

Also did you see how the Grandmum posted in the comments in such a positive way? Music to my ears!

Still looking for more info on the not-so-healthy stuff. :-)

8:17 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh yes! I'd missed the grandmotherly status of that comment! Brilliant :-)

Yes its true, unfooded/ unschooled/ unscheduled (ooh, that makes them sound unplanned! LOL, therein lies a whole *other* blogpost! ^^) children are often very adaptable and can usually fit in well on visits to places where things are done differently.

8:21 pm, April 24, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gill, I don't think you should feel bad about describing how you do things. I'm one of those people who love to see how people do things then evaluate my own "way".

I've recently stopped shopping at Tesco, got rid of my TV, gone green bec of other people telling me that they do. I decided myself.

However, there are plenty of things people do that I wouldn't do myself. Like one person who won't use a microwave!!

Just be yourself!


8:50 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Julia, I will xx

10:40 pm, April 24, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Gill, I read your blog often though rarely comment(am terrible with commenting)
I love this post. Its interesting to me as we are fairly structured in everything we do here and often I feel equally as nervouse about blogging it because I worry that others who are more autonomous than us think I am criticising them or claiming what they do is wrong, which of course I am not.
I think the way the government is pushing us all, it leads us to think that the way we are doing things is under scrutiny from others.
I guess my rather longwinded point is that for us autonomy doesnt work but I love reading your blog and admire how things work for you.
I think the important fact is that we are all respecting how others do it whilst following our own paths.

10:48 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Carol! That's good to know xx

10:55 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Thinking about the not-so-healthy stuff for you, L...

I've never outright banned any food, but we do and have had a LOT of discussion about the effects of diet on our bodies. Not in a lecturing way, but in a 'When I eat too much sugar I get toothache and/or cystitis' kind of way, and with questions and discussions about what that means exactly, and how sugar and other foodstuffs affect other people sometimes, and what products contain things like sugar.

We all commonly read the ingredients lists on packaging and hang around debating whether to buy something, based on the contents, so Lyddie probably already knows quite a lot about the comparisons between aspartame and sugar, for example, just from listening to our supermarket conversations.

We also have a regular debate about wholewheat versus refined flour products, because I buy wholewheat by default and have to be specifically asked to buy a white flour product. If I am asked to buy one I'll usually be heard to mutter something along the lines of, "Well, if you want to clog up your gut and slow down your immune system..." and put it in the trolley with some reluctance.

I don't make a big fuss, but the spontaneous rant that tumbles out of my mouth must have some effect because refined flour products aren't requested or bought very often! As for sugar, I'm quite often asked: "Don't buy chocolate for me this week please. Can you get me some fruit/crips/cereal instead?"

Also, in the matter of junk food, Lyddie quite often asks for and is served such rubbish just because she wants to taste it. Having tasted it, it goes in the bin and she doesn't request it again! I think there's a lot of truth in the forbidden fruit argument. That's been my observation at least.

11:09 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger Elaine said...

I have always marvelled at fields of sheep/cattle which even if bereft of grass in any quantity will still have clumps of 'weeds' . So obviously just as they are born with the instinct to suckle and then progress to eating 'solids' in their own time so are we humans and like them I believe children ,as you say, self learn which foods benefit them most.

11:56 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger 'EF' said...

The joy of visiting different home ed blogs is they are all different..is just that some of us say we are doing something specific..whether that be Waldorf, National Curriculim or Autonomous etc. Personally, my style is 'shambling about but being pretty strict about how this home needs to be if I am to live in it and not run off and join the circus (again) and if the kidders don't like it then they can blame me in therapy when they hit their existential crisis' (yawn).

To be honest, I am constantly inspired by the way we are all, despite our claims to be part of one school of thought or another, doing it 'Our Way'. But I am also feeling 'summat' in the air about the tension between different 'camps'.

This idea that non autonomous kids are leashed and not enjoying the freedom and choice of autonomous kids and that autonomous kids are totally free to choose but getting too much rope is getting to me. Neither of these pictures is accurate. An 'autonomous' parent might say that their kids will grow up to be happier etc because of the autonomy and a 'structured' parent might say the same about their way..but I don't think the proof of the pudding (in this case) is in the eating. We are all doing this, I hope, not for the finished result, but for what we need to blossom as families on a day to day basis. Or in my case, so my kids can learn to write in perfect copperplate in greetings cards and be able clean in all the hard to reach places like behind the sink, when I cannot be bothered and it really needs doing.

But, sure, I have one eye on the future when I decide how I am going to make the days run..if at all possible I would like to somehow keep my kids out of prison, off welfare and able to have their wits about them. I would certainly like to be the one credited with teaching them right from wrong or how to be happy in life..but I guess at the end of the day..they will decide what to do with their time as we all do in as much as we can.

But I WAS a self governing kid myself and that is probably why I cannot handle my kids self governing. If that makes sense. I'm used to being in 'control' I cannot let their natural desire for gratification run 'me'. They get bratty if I do. And I get overworked. But yeh, we also have different diets we cater to.

We shouldn't have to feel defensive about how we do stuff...and I certainly don't from reading your posts Gill (xxx), but just this idea that there is one way (autonomous) or another (cattle prod and timetable;) is bewildering.

12:47 am, April 25, 2007  
Blogger Mieke said...

So that's what it's called, unfooding... At least now I know what we're doing ;)). Well, we're not doing it exactly the same way as you, hmmm, so maybe I should look at whether I'm doing it *right*... LOL
I like reading blogs that radiate 'dedication', where you can feel that people put their heart and soul into what they do and truly believe in themselves and in what they do. Without comparing to others and with respect for others. Your blog definitely has that feel to it for me. I'm sort of allergic to labels because they tend to come with expectations and rigidity. I wouldn't call us autonomous learners pur sang, but I'm sure a lot of the things we do could be described as such.
Sometimes you say things the way I would have said them too (well, I'd say them in Dutch, because I just couldn't say the same in English) and there's times when I think "that just wouldn't work for us". But all the same, it makes me think and it's always inspirational (and educational, ouf course LOL). As are most of the blogs from home edders that I read...

1:25 am, April 25, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

Electric light "liberates" us from the natural diurnal rhythm. I am not convinced that is necessarily a good thing.

I worked for some time in a Jewish community, and I have always believed that their strict Sabbath rules have many benefits and that the break from work and change in focus can promote creativity and productivity, rather than interfere with it.

I don't favour discipline and rules for their own sake, but I think communal eating is socially and culturally important, and I would like our family to do more of it, not less (my own preference is to eat my main meal very late in the evening, long after our children are asleep, and I don't eat breakfast). For many families, supporting themselves financially means that opportunities to share mealtimes, are things to be cherished.

I love Mrs Beeton and have a copy here. The medical section is fabulous, as is the section on choosing a wet nurse.

8:29 am, April 25, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Elaine, good point! Of course they do. I think a lot of bad choices are down to rebellion tbh.

EF hmmm I often wonder about the wisdom of all this labelling we do, and have had great long protracted discussions with people (mainly Adele) about it elsewhere. Yes it can lead to stereotyping and that's unfortunate, but OTOH without the shorthand labels provide I'd be lumbered with even longer explanations of what we do than I currently am. Then why explain it at all? is the moot question, and I refer the right honourable lady to the answer I gave in paragraph 3 of this blog post..

And I hope nobody ever looks behind my sink! ;-)

Mieke, I'm glad you feel good about reading all the different ways of doing things! :-)

Tim, I'm not convinced it's a good thing either and one of my ambitions is to build myself a hermitage to which I shall retreat from time to time when nobody here needs me any more and where I can live without electricity and relax into the routine nature intended. I'll also open bets on how long I'll last there before I come back craving mod cons and t'internet.

I love communal eating too, and of course Mrs Beeton who always makes for fascinating reading. Off now to find the section on choosing a wet nurse... (careers guidance too huh? ^^)

8:50 am, April 25, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

On the autonomous learning, it does seem to that all learning is autonomous.

Take for example, the average state school, in any given classroom you will have children autonomously learning woodcarving as the inscribe their names in the desks while others alongside them autonomously learn txting and occasionally one of them applies themselves to autonomously learning the subject the teacher is frantically trying to teach. :-)

9:09 am, April 25, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

THAT is an excellent point! So I'm using the wrong label then? Give me a word that accurately describes the state of adults having abandoned any deluded ideas of being in charge of anything?

Besides anarchy ^^ That one is true, but it frightens the horses. Not to mention the sheep!

9:18 am, April 25, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

I suppose free range is about right.

2:30 pm, April 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Free range are chickens...

2:35 pm, April 25, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

Well it is a term which is in use elsewehere:-

Free Range Education

3:49 pm, April 25, 2007  
Anonymous Clare said...

"We are all doing this, I hope, not for the finished result, but for what we need to blossom as families on a day to day basis."

This is certainly the thing for us, although it's clearly not the case for all families.

Re. routine...I find 'pattern' better describes what is working for our family at the moment. It's unavoidable as DH works regular hours therefore our (mine and the girls') day is patterned to a certain extent - it 'ends' at the same time every day...Mopsy gets tired at a similar time and falls asleep at a similar time (at the moment)...we eat at a similar time each day. But it's not set in stone, and if we happen to be doing something different one day, we just change our pattern to suit - eat earlier, or later, or let Mopsy nap in the day and so on. It works for us, and because I find blogs of families who live in a similar way to us so helpful, I blog about what we do. I hope it's never upset anyone!

ps. I'm very lucky with my Mum, and also DH's parents, who all support our unstructured way of life :-)

5:21 pm, April 25, 2007  
Blogger HelenHaricot said...

Gill, I think you should just carry on posting what you like when you like. we aren't autonomous as there are a few things we like to do regularly - maths mainly. but are pretty much mostly child led, or child adult negotiated! I don't feel any shame in that. i enjoy reading your blog, and under different circumstances and maybe in the future we would be autonomous.
as to food - well we are autonomous eaters to some extent, with both girls able to help themselves or request whenever. we do try and eat all our mels gether though - partly as a company thing!

1:25 am, April 26, 2007  
Blogger Jules said...

Hmm, that was very thought-provoking for me, thank you. I love the idea, not sure on the practicalities in our household though. I shall think on...

5:08 pm, April 26, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I like that term, Tim. Maybe I'll use it more often in the future. It's a good description of what we do. And if anyone was planning to eat us, we'd make better meat! Allegedly.

Clare, I'm glad your family sees things your way :-)

Helen, thanks for that. I will. :-)

Jules, take what's useful and leave what's not!

9:02 am, April 27, 2007  

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