by Sandra Dodd

How many things do you do because you're supposed to, because your relatives and neighbors expect it, because it's easy and you don't have to think about it? How many of those things are taking you and your kids in a positive and healthy direction?

"Changing paradigms" is an option! If you're operating on one plane, with one set of rules and expectations, it is possible and often advisable, to shift and see things differently. It's just thinking. It won't hurt you.

Is school the center of children's lives? Should it be?

Is the only acceptable goal of adult life having the most expensive house and furniture credit will buy?

It doesn't take much of a shift to consider house and education secondary instead of primary. What might be primary then? Health? Joy? Togetherness and love?

Part of the pre-packaged life Americans are issued is the idea that happiness comes after college, after home ownership, after the new car. The stick that holds that carrot will not bend. If happiness depends on performance and acquisition, how long will it last? How long is your car the newest on your street before unhappiness returns?

Here's a little paradigm shift for you to practice on. Perhaps happiness shouldn't be the primary goal. Try joy. Try the idea that it might be enJOYable to cook, to set the table, to see your family, rather than the idea that you'll be happy after dinner's done and cleaned up. My guess is that such happiness might last a couple of seconds before you look around and see something else between you and happiness. Joy, though, can be ongoing, and can be felt before, during and after the meeting of goals.

Enjoyment—that word itself is hardly used. Enjoyment is seen nearly as a sin for some people. "You're not here to have fun, you're here to work." Why can't work bring joy? Any tiny moment can be enjoyed: the feel of warm running water when you wash your hands; light and shadow on the floor; pictures in the clouds; the feel of an old book. If you see an old friend, that can bring pure, tingly joy for which there are no words.

If you practice noticing and experiencing joy, if you take a second out of each hour to find joy, your life improves with each remembrance of your new primary goal. You don't need someone else to give you permission, or to decide whether or not what you thought gave you joy was an acceptable source of enjoyment.

Can learning be fun? If it's not fun, it won't stick. Can laundry be fun? If you have to do laundry and you choose NOT to enjoy it, an hour or more of your precious hours on earth have been wasted. Can looking at your child bring you joy even when he needs a bath and has lost a shoe and hasn't lived up to some expectation that only exists in your mind? If not, a paradigm shift could help you both.

Your life is yours, and it is being lived even as you read this. Do not wait for approval. Do not wait for instructions, or for a proctor to say "Open your lifebook now and write." Have all the joy you want, and help your children, neighbors and relatives find some too. Joy doesn't cost anything but some reuseable thought and awareness. Tell your kids it's recyclable. They'll love that!

"Rejecting a Pre-Packaged Life" is one of the essays in the 2005 book Moving a Puddle.

It originally appeared in the premier issue of Enchanted Families, in Fall 1997 (Albuquerque, New Mexico).

Looking Back...

I'm sorry the article says "Americans" but it was written for a very local publication, aimed at parents of young children in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (and small towns thereabout) in 1997, and no one was likely to read it who wasn't in New Mexico, who wasn't American.

I think the ideas hold true in every country I know of. I didn't think the article would be seen outside of northern New Mexico. Turns out it has been my most (internationally) re-published article:

  • Kootenay Home Educators, Winter 1998 (Kootenay, British Columbia)

  • S.I.G.H.T., Fall 2001 (southern Idaho)

  • SoHome Bulletin, March 2002 (Humboldt County, California)

  • Refuser une vie préfabriquée, traduit par Sylvie Martin-Rodriguez, in Chroniques de Louves (a publication for unschoolers in France; now defunct)

  • Key Notes, Kirkhope, Ettrick and Yarrow Parish Magazine, June 2011 (Scotland)

  • Pathways to Family Wellness, under "Gratitude," Issue 36, winter 2012 (page 47)