Rasminah Usman
Rasminah Usman with her husband and three children. Image Credit: Supplied

“I only started seeing myself [for who I was] after all three of my kids were born,” says Indian expat Rasminah Usman.

Life before children was about fitting into the societal mould of expectations, she explains. Go to school, come home, eat, play, sleep, repeat. By the time Usman was 25, she was already married and had three children of her own. “My education up until that point did nothing to prepare me for real life,” she says, adding, “It did give me false expectations. I never learned how to be accountable; how to look after myself – I always expected someone else to do things for me. I don’t want that for my children.”


The 31-year-old admits that when it came to teaching her children – now 11, 7 and 8 - it began with a list of what she didn’t want. “My whole idea was initially to homeschool – but didn’t want to follow a curriculum. But I was very sure that I wanted to do something that had to do with the kids’ interest,” she says. “I also had the idea that I wanted to bring them up in a way where they were focused on life skills,” she says.

“I knew that I wanted to do something that was to do with nature and life skills. At the time [I was figuring it out, they] were too small to even think about anything that was structured, but at the same time conventionally by the time I decided on what to do, they should have been in nursery,” she adds.

Usman’s solution to being a high school graduate without a degree in teaching was to hire any help she needed. “But we started off with life skills. So, when you say life skills for five-year-old and on, basically [it] is household chores, and we slowly got into gardening, and then carpentry, and then instruments.

“By the by the time they were five, even the girls were handling the drilling machine. They were making huge tents, they were building boxes, cupboard storage boxes.”

Rasminah Usman
Rasminah Usman's children hard at work Image Credit: Supplied

Dealing with mum guilt

Usman talks about the critics she’s had to face off with to keep her version of gentle parenting in play. It okay for the children to ask questions, to speak to her in the same tone she speaks to them. But those attacks do leave bruises. “The truth is no matter at the end of the day, every day, I question myself; every day, I doubt myself. But if I had the slightest doubt that they're missing out on something, I'll give them a little push to go to school or ask them [what they’d like to do],” she says.

Every year, the family sits down for a review, an analysis and to plan their strategy for the next year. “Every year we go through a session, where do you want to go to school and do like what your friends are doing? Like they go to school, they have school buses, they do activities… And you know what they say? We still do all of this. We go to all these places that generally the school takes the kids. We camp a lot,” she says.

The idea, she says, is not to barricade them away from a system, but rather ensure they have all the facts to decide whether they really want in. “There was a point two years ago this they told me that they wanted to go to school. So, I sat down with them and said I want to know the reason behind you wanting to go to school. Secondly, I said, ‘If you guys are ready to go to school, I’ll do whatever is possible to make it happen.’ I sat down with them for two days and I could see they were really excited about something. And it was basically they saw their few friends had ‘Frozen’-themed bags and lunchboxes. So, they bought it. We had a playdate at home.

“They also spoke about the bus; you know, basically the kids are talking about how it feels to not have the parents around in the bus. I was like, ‘Okay, so you're excited about this, I get it.’ And I gave them a bus trip.”

Days into studying for entrance exams, Usman’s kids came to her again and said they wanted to stay within their unschooling system.

Rasminah Usman's kids take a trip
Rasminah Usman's kids take a trip Image Credit: Supplied

“So, we had to take a few steps back,” she laughs. “But it was an experience. And I really liked the experience. Because I wanted them to take complete accountability. Even in the future, they are going to be accountable. I only have responsibilities, I'm not accountable for their future. And these things are very clear to them too,” she explains.

This epiphany came with another realisation, she says. “It's taken me so many years to understand that it's not anybody else's responsibility to keep me happy. It's my own responsibility – like in my kids’ case, it is theirs,” she explains.

‘It’s okay if kids can’t read’

The one struggle that tested her resolve was literacy. “From the beginning, I was very clear that I want them to read. And I want them to write, because my weapon is my reading and my writing,” she explains.

The kids had a different idea. But, she said, she realised that if she forced language on them, it would be going against her parenting plan – to allow the kids autonomy. “If they cannot [read or write] despite wanting to do it [I would do everything I could to help them]. But they don’t. I must constantly stop myself so that I don't push them,” she laughs. Fortunately, the girls – aged seven and eight – decided they’d like to take up reading last year. “I think they're fine. But we don't read yet. In my head, and given like, maybe by the time they are 14 they’ll be able to read well.”


Usman takes pride in the fact that the children are proficient in the garden – they grow their own vegetables – and in the kitchen. “They eat three times a day, fresh cooked food. And because they started learning life skills very early at the age of four and five, they can cook and survive by themselves at this point,” she says.

It’s not been easy – in the beginning, the pots and pans would crash; the glasses being used may crack or break and injure. “So initially, when I would keep the recipe video [on my phone on] and just leave them to it, there were so many things that went wrong. But I had to somehow control myself from you know, going and running in and protecting and you know, all of that. After a certain point, their cooking got better,” she says. There was always someone in the kitchen to monitor the situation, she adds, but not to help unless a disaster was at hand.

Rasminah Usman
The kids' education is decided based on their interests and inputs. Image Credit: Supplied

The feed of independence believes Usman is very, very important. “I'm 31. But by the age of 28, I was diagnosed with arthritis,” she says. “I have a very bad gut microbiome… The only thing that I'm [clear on] from the beginning is that if I am no more, then they need to be able to survive and thrive,” she says.

It follows then that she doesn’t believe in mollycoddling her kids. “I speak to them like they're 15… from the age of five, I’ve spoken to them like that,” she says, using logic and arguments to explain her point of view. And this has also built resilience, she says: “Even if something challenging had to come, I think they will be able to work through it. When I was their age, I wouldn't be able to handle the same thing.”

“This is possible only if we don't see them as a continuation of ourselves [parenting],” she says.

“I honestly feel that if you can give your child the freedom to just be themselves, whatever that is, whether it is a reflection of who you are or the complete opposite of that, that is successful parenting,” she adds.

In laying the foundation for her kids’ curiosity, emotional strength and autonomy, in allowing her children to discover their own voices, Usman says, she found her own. “I fight for my children every day,” she says. And so, she fights for herself.

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