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Book Review: The Call of the Wild + Free

Before reading The Call of the Wild + Free, I had no idea who Ainsley Arment was, nor had I ever heard of the Wild + Free community. I ordered the book intending to review it here. I am forever consuming blogs, books, vlogs, and podcasts about homeschooling in an effort to learn more, so I assumed that I’d learn a few new tips I could utilize and maybe read some relatable anecdotes along the way.

I did not expect that this book would fundamentally change me in the way that it did.

This post isn’t going to be the lighthearted review I planned for it to be. As a matter of fact, it’s not much of a review at all. I can say with complete seriousness that this book substantially changed how I parent and homeschool my children. In this post, I’m going to explain how that happened and why I now recommend The Call of the Wild + Free to every mother I meet.

Before I can explain how profoundly this book affected me, it’s important for you to understand who I’ve been for as long as I can remember.

How I Became Me

My little brother and I were raised by a single mother who worked hard to support our upper-middle class lifestyle. Mom worked long hours and was barely home. As a result, we grew up fast. Like my mom, I became a routine queen, workaholic, and perfectionist.

I measured my self-worth by my productivity, striving to work harder and outperform everyone else.

By age 25, I owned two successful businesses and had published my first book. I was being paid to speak at major conferences all over the country. I was (and still am) one of the youngest experts in my field. My book and products sold so well that I was able to semi-retire before I turned 30. At 32, while pregnant with my fourth child, I expanded one of my businesses into two locations and built a membership program and consulting practice for the other. I also published my second book.

I was miserable, but my restlessness and competitiveness wouldn’t cease. My kids were growing so fast yet most of the time, I treated them as a distraction or an inconvenience. I may have been home with them all the time, but I wasn’t present the way I should have been.

Why did I feel it necessary to keep doing something that made me so unhappy?

Because I felt that a mother without a career was not serving her family.
Because I bought into the “constant hustle” narrative.
Because I believed that your AGI determined whether you were a success or a failure.
Because when I was growing up, I—like so many women—was told “you could do anything,” but heard, “you have to be everything.”

Because I had my childhood stolen from me.

“…in the interest of giving our children the very best of everything—education, experiences, safety, gadgets, clothing, and toys—we have traded their souls for a life in the rat race. We have forgotten that for everything gained, something is lost.”

Ainsley Arment, The Call of the Wild + Free

When we decided to homeschool our kids, I changed my schedule but not my behaviors. I applied those same attitudes and practices that made me successful professionally (but miserable personally) to our homeschool. Every day was planned to the last minute. I assigned the work, set deadlines, and even enforced a dress code. Needless to say, this approach made our homeschool days stressful for everyone involved.

Silencing the Voices of “The Others”

Every mom has a voice in the back of her head that compels her to do what she knows is right for her kids, but that voice also has to compete with dozens of other voices—experts, friends, family members, and strangers who enjoy sharing unsolicited advice—that demand she do the opposite.

My inner voice was telling me that my kids were being robbed of their childhood. It was telling me to relax and let their curiosity lead their education, but the competing voices were telling me that a strict, rigorous approach to education was the only way to ensure success.

About 50 pages into The Call of the Wild + Free, it was like a switch flipped in my brain. I finally saw how ridiculous and damaging my expectations of both myself and my children were.

A series of realizations came all at once. I now fully understand the phrase “snap out of it,” and what that feels like. It was as if a loud, constant noise suddenly fell silent. I truly saw myself for the first time, trying in vain to please a legion of people–both familiar and faceless–who not only lacked knowledge of my family and their needs, but likely didn’t have their best interests at heart.

When my children are babies, I am a crunchy mom by every measurable standard. I am a baby wearing, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, on-demand breastfeeding, homemade baby food-making, cuddle-that-baby-all-damn-day-if-it-makes-him-happy kind of mother—and I do not care what anyone has to say about it.

When my children were at their most vulnerable, I didn’t need permission to follow my maternal instincts. Why did that change when they grew older?

In The Call of the Wild + Free, Arment recounted a similar experience, writing,

“I followed my gut. I gave him my heart. And our souls were knitted together in an unbreakable bond. We were inseparable and perfectly content.
But then the questions came.”

Every parent knows what questions she’s referring to. When our kids are babies, the questions are always about feeding, napping, and milestone development. (“He’s ten months old and still isn’t walking? Have you considered physical therapy?”)

When they’re older and home educated, the questions are about the legitimacy and quality of their education, the impact homeschooling will have on their future, and—of course—“socialization.” (“She’s six-years-old and isn’t reading yet? How will she ever get into college?”)

“We’re conditioned to deny our instincts, outsource our expertise, and become numb to wonder.”

Ainsley Arment, The Call of the Wild + Free

Getting Permission

When it comes to our kids’ education, the stakes feel so incredibly high. The thought of accepting full responsibility for their schooling can be terrifying, but what’s the alternative when they aren’t thriving in the public education system? Do we leave them to flounder for 8+ hours every weekday because society thinks it’s best?

“Dear friend, don’t let a bustling culture determine the needs of your own children.”

Ainsley Arment, The Call of the Wild + Free

I finally feel comfortable rejecting the status quo. I’m able to laugh at the ridiculous expectations and feel empowered to point out how unreasonable they are.

Did I get those tips I could utilize and enjoy some relatable anecdotes while reading The Call of the Wild + Free? Totally. Over half the book provides practical advice for finding a rhythm, evaluating different methods, and figuring out what’s right for your kids.

The most powerful message Ainsley shares is written explicitly in the first and second sections, but is whispered between every line from then on: You’re qualified to raise your own children. You’re allowed to listen to your instincts.

The Call of the Wild + Free

Since reading the book, I have been listening to every episode of the Wild + Free podcast, starting from episode one. While I’ll likely never be able to forsake my beloved boxed curriculum, I have been more intentional about unschooling my kids for half the day and allowing them the freedom to learn through play and exploration. More importantly, I’ve become an almost entirely different person. I feel more confident and capable as a parent, and far less stressed.

So, do I recommend this book? I recommend it so much, I consider it a must-read. Secular parents: unlike other homeschool books, The Call of the Wild + Free contains no proselytizing of any kind, nor will you feel excluded by excessive religious references or content. In addition to being secular-friendly, full of useful content, and so easy to read, the book itself is delightful with full color photos, beautiful watercolor paintings decorating the margins, and a heavier paper that feels good to touch.

Without question, this book is the best I’ve read all year. Buy it immediately. You can thank me later.

“Our kids will have many opportunities for careers, discipline, and hard work. But they only get one childhood. So let’s make it magical.”

Ainsley Arment