When I recollect my childhood, most of my memories are filled with images of being in school, or pursuing school related activities. There are 168 hours in a week; and, on average, I spent 12 to 15 hours a day performing school related activities (travel to and from school, being in school, then homework). That adds up to 60 to 75 hours per week. Weekends were usually low key during my elementary and middle school years. But starting in high school, those hours increased to almost 100 hours per week as high school was pretty demanding and I was taking quite a few honors classes. Weekends were also filled with completing longer assignments and/or attending “enrichment” classes, specifically standardized test preparation classes like the SAT. I have a younger brother, 3.5 years my junior, and we rarely spent time together. Once home from school, we each went to our respective rooms, did homework and probably didn’t interact much at all. We lived under the same roof, but we didn’t live together.
I share the above experience to illustrate just how much of my time as a child and teen was spent living life as an island unto myself. The same was true of my brother. We pursued different interests, in different parts of the house. While I do recall watching old movies with my father on Sunday afternoons, those sweet memories are few and far between as he passed away when I was 14. My mom ran a business after he died, so she was away from home 14+ hours a day. Before I started driving, my mom would drop us off at school, go to the shop, pick us up and drop us off at home, then return to work. After I started driving, my brother and I would stop in “the shop” and see her on the way home from school, then see her again later in the evening. We hardly saw her, let alone spend time together as the three of us. When there was conflict between my brother and me, we would usually end up screaming at one another, then I would run to my room and lock myself in. Again, we lived under the same roof, be we didn’t live together.
In comparison, my life today is full of “living together”. We are unschoolers, and most of our time is spent at home, pursuing our own interests, but in a way that is so dramatically different from my life experience. We live in a large home, with enough rooms to accommodate each kiddo easily. And yet, they choose to be in proximity to one another….and to me. While my son plays games on his Wii or Xbox, catches up on sports, or follows his YouTube favorites, my daughter is usually working on some type of project that involves lots of cutting, gluing, painting, drawing, and sculpting. She also has some favorite Youtube channels and, since the main family computer is in the same room as the tv, she will follow her channels right alongside her brother. And, at some point during the day, I will read aloud from our current book series.
We share our lives in a way that is meaningful to each of us. And, yet, this close proximity can be challenging. There are times when my daughter wants to watch something on the “big” screen and my son might be in the middle of watching a game. One asks me to read while the other would prefer to watch a movie. The art of living together is learning how to navigate both our individual and collective needs. It is a work in progress, and there is no “prescribed method”. What I try to remember is that we each have a right to communicate our needs and it is only natural to expect that those needs will be met. But, we may not be able to meet everyone’s needs at the same time, and that understanding is the skill that we must practice. So, we practice…..and practice….and practice.