When my son was very young (between his birth and one year of age), I did an extraordinary amount of research on different parenting styles and techniques. I did this because I wanted to be the best mother possible. And part of the reason for this desire is the fact that since I was eight years old, I've never dreamed of a career as anything BUT a mother. Being a mother and homeschooling my child has been my plan since age eight, and nothing I've seen since then has encouraged me to deviate from that goal.
But, for some reason, I did not begin the research until after my son was born. Until his first birthday, I followed more traditional methods of parenting (something I now regret, though I'm thrilled I learned as early as I did).
Anyway, I did lots of research. I did web searches and followed links. I borrowed books from the library. I can't remember the exact paths I followed, but I wandered and read and pondered and considered and eventually found myself aligning to a concept of unschooling (and more specifically radical unschooling) as being closest to what I wanted for me and my son.
It's not the easiest path to follow, because it's not the path followed by the majority of the world. It's hard for those who haven't done the research to see the benefits to this path. It's hard to encourage some of those closest to my son that despite the fact that I don't push, he's learning all the time, every day. He's just doing it at his pace. He may not start reading at the age those in more traditional school do, but he will also not be taught that reading is a chore, is difficult, requires instruction, must be taught, or any of the other false "facts" that most schooled children learn.
My son reads. He may not sit down and read a book, but he most certainly reads. He may not know how to sound out every word he comes across, he may not recognize every word he sees, but that's not all that reading is. Reading is pattern recognition. It's recognizing symbols and interpreting their meaning. He's done that since he first saw the "golden arches" and called it "McDonald's." But this isn't reading enough for more traditionally minded people. Additional aids have been acquired, and he is free to pursue them at his interest, but I will NOT require his use of them, as that is counter to everything I believe. And even without them, his reading has improved to the point that most would recognize it as early reading.
My son does math. He was refilling the soda section of the refrigerator (which has eight spots), counted out six cans and then stated that he needed two more. That's subtraction. We got a box of ice creams with six treats inside. He was able to figure out that if we two shared it we'd get three each, but if we included his father, we'd only get two each. That's division. He may not do math the way the kids in school do, but he's not lacking for math ability. In fact, this method of learning math may very well leave him without the math anxiety that plagues many people (myself included). Because instead of something that's artificial and difficult, math is a part of his daily life.
My son has passions and focus. He can spend hours playing with his LEGOs or exploring our yard (we live on 22 acres in a very rural part of Virginia). He is completely fascinated with Star Wars, and has established at least one acquaintance on that basis (someone he can call to ask a Star Wars question when I don't know the answer).
My son is very helpful and sweet. He may not always do exactly what's asked of him (he's not expected to, it's his life, after all), but more often than not, he's willing to help out when he's asked.
My son is curious and expressive. His pronunciation may not always be perfect, but it is improving. He asks great questions (though at times a bit too many for my personal preference). He is able to express his feelings, though not always in ways that most people would prefer, still in ways that do no harm to those around him.
In all, I'm thrilled with how well unschooling is working for me and my son. I just wish that those around him could see that it's not just him alone that makes him the person he is (though that's certainly a part of it), it's also the freedom and support that he's been given. I doubt any other parenting style would have led us to the person he is today. And I'm completely unwilling to take the chance that I'm right by trying more traditional methods.
As for me and my family, we unschool. And that means that my son has the freedom to learn at his own pace. My job is to be there to provide whatever support he desires and to make sure he's aware of just all that the world has to offer. I provide opportunities, show possibilities, and allow him to accept or reject them as he chooses.
The advantage of this parenting method is that by the time my child is an adult, he's already been making his own decisions, responsible for his own actions, and confident of his abilities for a very long time. He won't be suddenly thrust from having all his decisions made for him and being required to follow instruction to being allowed to choose for himself.
He may not follow the path that I would in his position. In fact, I'd be astonished if he did. He may not follow anyone's specific idea of what they consider "success" to be. But I have no doubt that he'll be successful in whatever he chooses to do, as he is today. I've heard it said that he needs to be prepared for the "real world." I disagree. He already lives in the real world. There is no portion of the real world that cannot be handled with a combination of cooperation and choosing consequences. He may choose a traditional job and follow the rules of the office (choosing consequences). He may choose a traditional job and work with his boss to find creative solutions that meets both his and the boss's needs (cooperation). He may work for himself. He may decide not to work at all, but to travel and explore and do without material things. But regardless of the path he chooses, it'll be his path. He'll know what the options are, and he'll be able to follow his heart. And that's all I ask for his future.