Parenting Unscripted – The Art of Raising a Self-Directed Kid, by Jeneen Gacek

Life fills us with questions. Each new stage of growing and development changes our thinking from one level to another. Like a character in a video game, we pass one stage, fighting off goblins and bosses and eating energy balls to power up until we feel like a champion, and then we find ourselves diving into another level where we are back at the beginning again, powerless and unsure, though we may still have a few tactical items left in our arsenal.

Does this sound anything like your parenting journey? It sure as hell sounds like mine. I’ve definitely gone through this journey, and I’ll tell you this: It actually looks a lot like the creative process, and, generally speaking, the overall journey of life. Here’s a diagram my daughter created when she was 14 years old to map out and understand her journey of navigating her teenage years. I think it’s all basically one-in-the-same with creativity, personal projects, relationships, and life itself.

I’ve definitely been through all of these stages multiple times and in all facets of life. I would love to share the exhilarating, on-top-of-the-world and I-understand-everything-that-is-happening-right-now stages with you. But I’d also like to talk about those stages where it feels like I’m shamefully walking through a hall of mirrors and everything is falling apart at the seams. I’ll share with you the most important lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Here’s where it all really began.

After twelve years in our business, my husband and I had reached a pivotal moment where we knew we needed to make some changes. We were living in Bali, but we were wondering if we should stay or not. Our kids were eight and eleven and at the time, so much about our future felt unstable. We didn’t know our next move. We just knew we needed more flexibility.

We put our house up for sale and then pondered what to do with the kids, who were then enrolled in an International Holistic School. I started to research and fell upon a self-directed learning program.

That’s when something inside me came alive!

Words like ‘freedom’, ‘journey of discovery’, and ‘spark of curiosity’ lit my soul on fire. I felt a tingling energy that only surfaces when something connects with your inner knowing. It was like an electrical surge had rushed through my body.

This is self-directed learning.

‘In its broadest meaning, self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.’

Malcolm Knowles

Self-directed learning is centred around the idea that the child should lead the learning process. It’s an individualized approach to exploration, and it’s based on the child’s interests and strengths. While it can take many different forms, it typically means there are no specific subjects, curriculums, or tests, and no standardization. Instead, it involves a natural unfolding that evolves and adjusts as the learners’ interests and skills change and develop.

At dinner that night after I’d first discovered self-directed learning, we all sat down to talk about it. The consensus was that we were willing to try it for a year. It certainly wasn’t anything I’d ever thought of or considered, but it seemed to fit our family for that specific moment in time. I felt excited and nervous knowing we were in for a wild ride.

It has, indeed, been a wild ride. What self-directed learning has made me learn about myself, my family, and my children is both awe-inspiring and mind-blowing.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you do the same and pull your kids out of their current school (of course, if you do, I’m certainly here to support you and give you a crisp high five). But if any part of you is wondering whether your child’s learning experience is preparing them to be confident, resilient, and independent lifelong learners, then keep reading. If you are wondering what you can do as a parent to feel confident that your child will be well-prepared for the future they’re walking into, then keep reading. What I would like to do is share with you what I’ve learned because it was this experience that shot me into the sky like a human slingshot, up to a place where I could finally see life from a different perspective.

When I first started this process, I think I just rolled with it, feeling confident that we could make it work as a family. But a few months in, the questioning and doubt came in heavy and hard. I started to think about what we were doing, and that’s when the panic and the old ways of thinking took hold.

What did my husband and I want our children to learn? What were they actually learning? What skills will they need for the future? How can they learn these skills? What amount of structure and discipline do they need? How do they learn basic skills? The list of questions seemed endless, and when I thought about them all, it sometimes felt like I was diving into a vast, black hole.

I tried to simplify. I started by thinking about what I wanted for them. Here’s what I came up with:

‘I want my children to be confident, happy, and adaptable. I want them to take initiative and be a leader in designing their own life; to truly understand their bodies and emotions, to empathize with others and to follow their own inner compass. I want them to have a strong inner knowing that guides them through life’s ups and downs. I want them to know that life IS a rollercoaster… We can either be terrified to get on, or we can climb aboard and enjoy the ride… The screaming and the laughter and everything in between.

I want them to love learning, experimenting, failing, and playing with all of the challenges of life. I want them to know how to laugh at themselves and not take life too seriously. I want them to laugh and cry and feel life for the beautiful and wonderful thing that it is.

I want them to be curious. I want them to wonder “what if?” I want them to see possibilities and allow themselves to dream. I want them to daydream. I want them to create. I want them to build their futures feeling alive and purposeful.’

As I explored these ideas, a feeling of confusion swept over me. How do we learn all these things exactly? How can we embody this deep understanding in a way that doesn’t just involve choosing a letter on a multiple-choice test or doing the required work to get a certain letter grade? These questions consumed me. How could I best support this kind of growth as a parent?

Life’s a journey with different levels, isn’t it? We conquer one stage only to face new challenges in the next, just like a video game. Parenting often feels the same way. From its exhilarating highs to those moments when we’re wandering about, totally lost. I’ve navigated these stages in parenting, the creative process, and in life itself. My 14-year-old daughter’s diagram of her teenage journey resonates with my experience of all of life’s quests.

And so, our family embraced a self-directed learning program, sparking curiosity and igniting freedom. It’s been a wild ride, leading me to insights about myself and my children, and I’ve learned things that are both inspiring and amazing. But I invite you to explore all the different ways you might be able to empower your child to be a confident, adaptable lifelong learner. As a fellow traveller, I’m here to share what I’ve learned, to help you find your way through this maze of questions, just like I did.

This article constitutes chapter 9, ‘Rollercoaster of Life‘ from Jeneen Gacek’s new book, ‘Parenting Unscripted – The Art of Raising a Self-Directed Kid’, available worldwide on Amazon (check the country where you reside). Please visit for Jeneen’s free resources, courses and articles on Parenting & Self-Directed Learning.

About the Author

Jeneen is a writer, speaker, consultant, fun-loving enthusiast & Mama of 2 teenagers living in Bali, Indonesia.

With decades of personal development work, a Masters in Transformative Learning and 9 years of her own personal lived experience in Unschooling & Self Directed Learning, she focuses on sharing the transformational benefits of Conscious Parenting & Self Directed Learning with families. The platform, FLRSH360, focuses on helping parents to raise confident, resilient, independent children and flourish as a family in a rapidly changing world.