PAM: Welcome to another Q & A episode! I’m Pam Laricchia and I’m so happy to be joined again by Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. Hi guys!
It’s so nice for this to be working, too, after a couple of tries with tech issues but hopefully we’re all set! And, let’s dive into the questions!
Why don’t you start us off, Anna?
ANNA: OK, so the first question for today is from MaryAnn and it was actually an email sent to directly to Pam so I will read that for us:
I am thoroughly enjoying your podcast and get excited when one appears in my feed. Thank you. Listening to parents share insights and wisdom has helped me on my own journey with my 8-year-old son.
I am at a point in our journey where I doubt whether I am supporting him and exploring with him in ways that he needs me too.
He is our only child and we are older parents. I’m 52 and husband is 56. We both work from home with a flexible schedule. We belong to a local homeschool group and attend weekly field trips and park days. We enjoy our time with them.
I feel he looks to me to figure out our plans for the day. Like, “mom what are we doing today?” or “mom what are we doing tomorrow?” Some days we don’t have plans so we hang at home. He primarily spends his time watching videos of Minecraft which he’s started to play a few months ago and also videos of kids playing nerf wars, etc. I offer up different kinds of videos which he usually isn’t interested in. But I still offer now and then just to see. We play nerf wars in the yard and swing. He started to play Minecraft with a friend over Skype.
I guess I’m confused because I think he’s seeking more, hence the question of what are we doing, and yet falls back to watching videos. So am I to continue to support his video watching or keep trying to find things that pull him away from that? Or both?
He’s not interested in me reading books to him, nor playing with his toys. His interest in Legos has dropped off considerably these last few months to almost no interest. No interest in learning to read or write. Taking classes he can do without.
I feel like I’m lacking in being a playmate, because he needs someone to play with when at home, as well as lacking in my role as unschooling mom.
Just wondering if you can shed some insight on what this scenario looks like to you.
Let me know if you need anything clarified to assist you in answering my question.
With appreciation, Mary Ann
ANNA: So, hi Mary Ann. Everything you described sounds really normal. One of my girls asked every single night, for years, what’s happening tomorrow, and actually still does that at 18, quite often. It’s not really out of a need for something new but a need to understand what her day will hold. She likes down time and time for her projects so she’s always wanting to know ahead of time what is coming up so she can map that out in her head. I feel like it’s really just a touch stone for planning for the next day.
It sounds like his videos are his time to connect to something he loves and maybe even some downtime, too, between the field trips and the other things you mentioned. I feel like checking in is a great idea but maybe not read so much into it. It sounds like things are flowing nicely, with things at home and time away and both enjoying things so I would just enjoy this time, maybe not read so much into every nuance or expression.
Anne, what about you?
ANNE: Hi Mary Ann. When I read your question I had this visual of your son happily doing what he wants to do in the background and you standing there with a list of things you think you should be doing, or things you think he should be doing, and missing out on seeing him—that he’s really OK in doing what he wants to be doing.
I think a shift might be necessary from you feeling resistance to what he is loving doing because you talked about should you get him to try to do other things. That is not accepting what he is doing fully.
It’s really helpful to understand that there is so much world expansion happening right where he is with whatever he’s doing. He doesn’t even have to get up from his chair watching video after video after video. So much is happening right where he is.
To me, it’s like when a young child asks to read a picture book over and over. Each time that book is read to the child they’re at a new place, a new level of awareness and understanding. With each new level comes new questions and more hunger for satisfaction. If you’re thinking on the outside he’s doing the same thing over and over again, that’s not it at all. He’s gaining new things, new skills, and new levels of awareness and building confidence in himself by watching those things.
There’s so much going on in these videos, honestly the only danger is that you might see them as something he’s falling back to instead of something he’s deliberately choosing.
I wanted to talk about my sons and their gaming history that they did from the time they were little. My oldest will be 26 this week. I texted him, and here’s our conversation:
Anne: Jacob, what game was it you guys were playing before you got into World of Warcraft? I need the info for the podcast today. And what game is Sam excited to watch online, so much so that he chooses to not come to the river with us so he can be home to watch these games? Is that League of Legends?
Jacob: Sam was into Maple Story for many years.
Anne: Yeah, I got Maple Story already.
Jacob: That’s how he learned to read.
Anne: Jacob, I know, I’m his mother.
Anne: There was something in between Maple Story and World of Warcraft.
Jacob: I don’t think so, unless it was a console game.
Anne: Maybe that was what I was thinking of. What about my other question about the online games Sam gets so excited to watch?
Jacob: Yeah, it’s League of Legends.
Anne: Great thank you.
Jacob: It’s funny, I was just now watching a video about it when you wrote, haha. I do more research into this game than I’ve done with anything before.
Anne: Cool! I can use that.
Jacob: That’s what I figured. Ask Hannah, I’m always listening to podcasts and YouTube videos to see how to get better, which is funny because I’M SO BUSY AND AN ADULT NOW!
Anne: That’s exactly what I want to talk about, it’s real learning.
Anne: You ARE doing research. There are always new levels of awareness that you’re learning and you want more and more.
Jacob: And the thing that Sam and I appreciate about League is the breadth of strategy that goes into it.
Anne: Exactly! New levels of understanding that open up more levels of exploration.
Jacob: We’ve never had a game where you can see clearly what went wrong and how to fix it, like League is.
Anne: I’m just going to share this whole conversation! (laughing from Pam & Anna)
And as far as his question “What are we doing?”, I was thinking you might respond with, “Why do you ask? Do you feel like doing something with me?”
It sounds to me like you’re reading a lot into it, like Anna was saying. You are coming up with lack where that’s probably not what he’s thinking or feeling. I, personally, think the important thing to remember is focus on connecting with him not so much doing things with him.
Shift your focus from what can I do with him, to connecting right where he is, whatever he’s doing. Hang out by him with no expectations just because you want to be a part of all he’s experiencing while he’s watching his video games and playing his games. I think you’ll feel much more like a connected parent and your connection and relationship will grow that way also. You’ll learn to be a student of him more and see maybe why he is asking that question or maybe he’ll stop asking that question. For me, it’s a shift to focus on the connection.
PAM: I wanted to just mention as well as Anna had talked about, and Anne brought it up too, when he’s checking in, I think that’s awesome. It was something we did a lot, so I ended up putting a big calendar in the kitchen. We all put the stuff on it we had, and the kids, even now as adults, everybody walks by to go and check out the calendar and see what’s coming up.
They’re trying to fit, in their heads, trying to organize their next day, the next couple of days, is there stuff going on outside that they will want to work around because there is a game or a series of videos or something. So often it was that they were just trying to organize their space.
It’s a great question, too, to say, “Is there something you’re trying to add or something you’re trying to fit in?” Just for conversation, if I noticed they were checking things out there.
I also remember those times when I was unsure about the kind of support I was giving them, if they were looking for more things or should I just be leaving them alone. One thing that helped me, and it speaks of the idea that Anne talked about of connecting, was that I would observe. I would just make a point, for a while, of really hanging out with them, seeing what they were doing, seeing when we went out and did things, because you say you do that still pretty often, and really just seeing how they play out. Did they have fun? Is it something I had planned originally and did they appreciate the effort or the activity I had taken them to, or did they get bored pretty fast and they were ready to move on and it was more like they were doing it for me?
No matter what kind of feedback you’re getting, it’s OK. You use the phrase, “falling back,” that you’re thinking he might be falling back to watching videos. That is perfectly OK, too, because he is learning so much about himself. It’s not a negative thing, it’s a choice.
So, even if later he goes, ‘hmmm, maybe next time I won’t choose that’, in a similar situation. It’s just so good to realize there’s no right or wrong answer. You’re just connecting with them, learning more about them and Anne’s wonderful phrase, “being a student of your child.”
If you think maybe he’d like more of this, that’s something to just try out. Try it, see what happens, tweak it…it’s all learning about him, about yourself, about the connection that you guys are building.
The other thing I wanted to mention was maybe in the back of your mind you’re worrying about, “Hey, he’s eight, and he should be able to occupy himself. Will I need to plan his days forever?” Sometimes those kind of fears can jump in. I just wanted to say, no, he won’t be 20 and you’re planning every single moment of his day for him because he’s sitting back waiting for you to do it.
But if he prefers you to take the lead on planning those fun days out because you know more of what’s out there, that’s perfectly OK, that’s great! If he’s enjoying the things you’re planning, that’s awesome! Just meet him where he is. Any typical timetable is totally irrelevant. You’re just playing around with the things you guys enjoy. It sounds awesome. It just seems more like this will be more about your processing. He seems to be pretty content. It’s how you’re viewing the whole situation.
Do you want to do the next one, Anne?
ANNE: I would love to. The next question is from Carol. She says,
My eight-year-old only son has been home from school since February, when we chose unschooling. He has found gaming to be his thing this entire time. He currently loves Halo. It is his choice above all other activities. He will take a break on occasion to do research or enjoy videos on YouTube, to go with family on various outing or trips, and to hang out with friends when invited. Friends who come to our house are very happy to be left alone for hours to enjoy gaming with my son. I have just been letting him pursue this as he desires.
My question is: am I too relaxed in my involvement? Pam mentioned in a post (and I’ll paraphrase. Correct me if I didn’t get this right, Pam) to figure out what the child loves about the game and find things along those lines to strew. Well, I have asked him and what I’ve been able to get from our conversations is that he likes the cool armor. He likes the “good overcoming evil” aspect, and I know he likes getting better at the game and seeing himself rank up. It also allows him to play with others that are much better than his parents, through a multiplayer aspect.
Do I NEED to strew? A few weeks ago I bought a Halo novel that I thought we’d read together. He was happy to see it and held it and looked it over but hasn’t asked me to read it with him (probably too complex for him to read on his own right now). He used to draw nearly every day (often Halo related images) but doesn’t any longer (which I miss, but just hope he’ll pick up again later). Or, should I just continue to chill and let him immerse himself in this thing he’s finding to be so satisfying, strewing when he seems to lose interest and seem at a loss?
ANNE: Carol sent a follow-up letter with more information, which is really wonderful and I do want to include it here, but I want to address this part first, and I hope I don’t throw everybody else off by doing that.
So, hi Carol. I’m going to give you the short answer first and that is no, you do not have to strew. My longer answer is very longer.
Strewing, to me, is not about trying to get the child to do something other than what he’s currently loving doing. I personally, never connected to the concept of strewing. I tend to think of it more as embellishing or expanding my children’s worlds, which I know what Pam was describing when she said that.
You did that real well, talking to him about what he loves about his game. The important thing about this part of my job as my son’s unschooling mom is that anything I come across and offer comes from a place of truly seeing and honoring and celebrating where my child is in this moment and what it is he loves to do.
As I said in my last answer, I’m an enthusiastic and interested student of my child and I join him in his place of joy, whether it’s in conversations with him about the game, like you were having, or watching him play the game or playing the game with him, I’m celebrating him and what he likes to do. I trust in him and I trust in that which he loves to do. So from that place, I’m getting to a place where I’m describing what this embellishing, what I’m talking about, looks like in our family. From that place of celebrating them, I can hold on to who he is within myself and honestly, so many possibilities for expansion for what he loves opens up from that place of me celebrating and honoring him.
As unschooling moms, we know our children so well and we carry who they are deeply within ourselves. We have the amazing power and gift of discovering and attracting things into our paths that are extensions of what they are currently loving, needing, and desiring in their lives. For example, my child might mention something to me in passing about his passion. We talk all the time. This is the conversations we are having.
Like Sam, my youngest, who is a chef, he was telling me he saw an Instagram photo of his favorite chef and one of the dishes that he has at his restaurant and the dish looked fantastic to him. So the next time I’m on the computer, I remember that and do a little research on the chef, this is just one example, but time and time again perfect amazing thing shows up in front of me and is an extension of what he loves in his life.
What passes through my mind while I’m on the computer is “let’s see what I can find.” Because of that, our lives are filled with me saying, “oh my god, look what I found!” For example, not long after Sam had mentioned this about his favorite chef, I found the chef was speaking in a few days at a New York public library about an event that Sam has been interested in for a very long time. Tickets were only $15 dollars each, it was only a three-hour drive from us…everything works out. That’s kind of a magical thing that we have from being so closely connected with our kids. To me, that feels very different than just strewing something that you think he may be interested in. This comes, as I said, from a deep celebration of them.
Another very important thing about sharing things with your child to embellish and expand and boost their passions is we need to make sure we have absolutely no personal investment in whether they choose what we offer to them or not. If they’re not interested in it, it’s up to us to not take it personally or hold any feelings about his decision like hoping they might pick it up in the future, hoping they’ll see it as something wonderful as we see it.
This is really important because if we hold onto expectations, then that’s what it turns into. We’re not just offering something; it’s “I hope you choose this.” It shows the path we want to take for them instead of trusting them to know themselves best.
Honestly, for me, this is the most important reason, out of the 6 zillion reasons that we radically unschool, that my child knows who he is so that my child will grow up knowing he can trust in himself and his inner voice and the direction his instincts take him in. I don’t want to coerce him off that path of knowing and trusting in himself.
So, maybe let go of thinking of what you should be doing as an unschooling mom and embrace your child and what he’s doing where he is right now, in this moment, similar to what we were saying with the last question. Feel what he loves to do deeply within yourself and use that feeling of complete acceptance and celebration to follow your intuition and gather up tangents from his joy to share with him with no strings attached and no expectations.
Do you guys want to say anything or do you want me to go on with the follow up email?
PAM: I’ll pop in a little bit, just for the strewing discussion bit. I think that was a huge point. I don’t want to speak for Sandra Dodd and how she defines strewing, but I believe it’s all the same idea.
That’s the big piece you were talking about, Anne, having expectations with it. The point of sharing things with our children, which is what I believe she means by that term, is to expand their days. Things that you think might catch their interest. It’s not at all about what you want them to be interested in.
I’m looking at my notes right here, “I wouldn’t think of strewing as something you do when he’s losing interest. I’d think of it in ways I can enhance my child’s current interest.”
I went with enhance, you went with embellish…I think it all means strew. The rest says, “ways that I can make his eyes shine even brighter right now.” The idea of strewing is not to try to pull your child away from what they’re doing to do these other things.
And just look at the question, “Do I need to strew?” You are putting expectations on yourself just with that question. You can feel like, ‘oh my gosh! As an unschooling parent am I supposed to do this?’ No. It’s a helpful term in that it asks you to think and not just sit back and just let your kids do whatever they’re doing; it’s not hands off.
For me, it helps to think of it as I’m adding to their existing life. Not me trying to catch their attention with different things and change their path. It might not be specifically related to something they’re doing right now but it’s like, “Oh I know they like puzzles and I just saw a super cool puzzle, I’m going to grab it or let them know about it.”
It doesn’t have to be something that’s right in today’s interest. It might be something more out of the blue but because you know your child and the things they enjoy, and you think maybe he will. Then there’s that expectation piece, maybe they aren’t. So many times I just stick it on the shelf and 6 months later, we pick it up and we get into it. It’s a longer term piece, I have I have pieces that maybe grandkids will enjoy some day because nobody has so far!
I pick it up sometimes! That’s the whole idea, enhancing what they’re doing. I have been in your situation and bought game related books. Sometimes they got read, sometimes they didn’t. It’s not a failure on your part if you child doesn’t take interest in what you grab. Again, that’s where that whole expectation piece comes in. It’s not a failure on his part because he wasn’t interested. It’s not a failure on my part because I thought he would be. It just is what it is. It’s just all pieces of information. It’s just all your days and how they flow. So, I just wanted to get that out there!
ANNA: I feel the same, which not a surprise, but at the same time we just seem to get these themes that seem to run through it. It seems over-thinking it might be the theme here. I feel like this idea of strewing is this directive; no, it’s just organic. I’m not thinking, “I need to do this to strew.” I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, we were just thinking about this planet when we were looking up in the sky and look, here’s this cool think about it and let me bring that home.”
It’s an organic engagement with your child, an enhancing, an embellishing for your child. I think when we get to this over thinking prescriptive directive “there’s one way to do things” that may be where we get off track a little bit. It’s a lot easier and more organic than people are thinking when they’re reading about it.
PAM: I think it comes back to when people are first learning about unschooling, it feels like the rules of unschooling, when they hear what people do, right? Strewing is something we do but it’s not done in a “rule” way. Same with the “say yes.”
People take it as, ”Oh my gosh, I have to say yes all the time.” But it’s a language that eventually just becomes a part of you, you don’t have to use those terms. But when you’re first trying to describe it to people, it’s so easy to latch on to those things as “we must do.”
I think it’s great to have these kinds of conversations because it helps people take back the power because it seems like they’re thinking, “I knew what to do conventionally in the school system, but now I’m looking for somebody to tell me what to do here.” And while these are great ideas, they aren’t rules. Take them and make them your own.
Did we cover enough? I guess you had more for the second part?
ANNE: I’ll just read the second part because she did add that on and there’s something in there I want to address. In her follow up, she said,
- Anne’s description of her oldest son fits Gabriel to a T. Paraphrasing here, ‘his wonderfully obstinate refusal to let anyone hijack his mind and spirit brought about our decision to unschool.’
I have to interrupt, that’s not paraphrasing that’s my exact words! You nailed that one really well!
- Gabriel is still deschooling and he is still resistant to doing most things that he didn’t think of on his own. I feel remorseful everyday for sending him to school. I feel like I ruined his wonder of the world and his excitement for exploring it, his openness to discovering with me at his side. He spends most of his time playing video games and watching YouTube, researching questions about the games there as well.
I don’t know if his resistance will ever lighten up, although I think it will as it seems like a knee-jerk reaction to any invitation to look at something or go some place with his parents. It comes so fast that he couldn’t possibly have given it any thought. Two things he doesn’t react this way to are going swimming and watching most videos.
I have coaxed him into some things, a hike for instance, where he said he liked the destination so much that he was sorry he complained the whole way, and some excursions into town for various reasons. The latest was after a rainstorm when he marveled that the clouds were so low that they looked like paint on blue canvas. But it took a lot of talking of why it was important to me/us as parents of why he come along and then it was a grudging “Fine, I’ll go.”
ANNE: OK, so this is why I wanted to share the first part first so we could build a foundation of where we need to go to address this.
So, Carol, if you take what we already said and apply it to this, you can see that you are labeling who your child is as him being resistant. You can see that you are carrying expectations about what he should be doing.
I do love how you said you son is like Jacob and it was his wonderfully obstinate refusal to let anyone hijack his mind and spirit that brought you to unschooling. That is fantastic. Now here you are, you don’t want to see him as needing to be coerced now, do you, when he brought you here.
When I first tried to teach Jacob something that one and only time, that he obstinately refused to listen, and not only that, he was insulted that I even suggest he needed to learn something. Do you know what our next step was? I saw that he was right!
And we continued to follow HIM. And each time he didn’t want to do what we thought kids would want to do, it was my husband and I who got to look in the mirror and ask why we were thinking the things we were thinking. Why did we hold this expectation and its definition? It was our time to look at ourselves and learn from our child.
It’s our time to question everything, every expectation and definition and everything we brought with us from our childhoods, every word that comes out of our mouths automatically, every thought that crossed our minds because we had been coerced into believing untruths about life and learning in the world and mostly about ourselves. And we knew for sure that we were not going to hand those untruths to our amazing child who was showing us that we were here to be exactly as we are.
So, from this point, Carol, I’d suggest to you, connect with your child, as he is right now. Again, the message is trust in him, trust in his path. He is exactly where he needs to be and he will stay in one place in his growth longer if he feels like you’re trying to get him out of that place. When you go to where he is and embrace that, get into his joy with him. Hold onto these glorious pieces of who he is and focus on how he shines and be there in his shine with him. That’s the amazing thing, be there in what he loves to do and you yourself will be open to following your intuition to embellish, expand, and boost his joy. Just be interested in him and enjoy him.
Pam, do you have anything to add?
PAM: I’m just going to mention about the whole coaxing thing. When you said you coaxed him to do something and he enjoyed it in the end, that’s great that he enjoyed himself. That’s an experience that he learns from as well. But that doesn’t mean that you should keep doing it.
When you’re coaxing over and over again, “Come do this, come do this, you’ll enjoy it. Remember the last time, you enjoyed it?” It’s more likely to erode the trust in your relationship. There’s also a chance it will start to erode his trust in himself. He might think, “Maybe she knows me better than I know me.” Him saying no is just as OK as him coming and enjoying it.
There are so many opportunities and over the years so many times he’s going to have a choice to say yes or no. This isn’t the end of the world: “He has to come this time because we’re going on a hike!” You’ll be going on a hike again and again and he’ll be able to say yes dozens of times over the next ten, fifteen years.
From my experience, when I actively considered whether or not I wanted to encourage something, encourage my child to do something we had planned, it was really important to ask myself it I was feeling that need because I thought my child would enjoy it, or because I wanted my child to come. There was a big distinction there and it really helped me move through that, realizing my own motivation.
Often it was because I wanted my child to be there for one reason or another and realizing it was really about me helped me to dig into why did I want that, why did I think that was going to be better for me? And that helped me shift and see things from his perspective. It helped me release my anxiety about it and say, “It is his choice.” And that’s perfectly fine. There’s a level of encouragement and that’s what you’re going to find out through really seeing his final reactions. You’re letting him learn—he wants to learn about making these choices. It’s not really about us putting pressure on these choices, or else that’s just another factor that they have to take into account. It just really puts our own outlook into the mess. It really helps to do that work first before I start saying ‘Hey, I think you’ll really like it. It would be cool if you came.”
PAM: Agenda! Yes, thank you! Anna?
ANNA: She mentioned deschooling, that it’s been pretty recent, within the last six, seven months, that he’s been out of school. What I thought of is it sounds like he’s just really trying to reassert some sort of control over his learning and his life.
I think it takes some time, and again, that agenda that Anne mentioned, that we have coming up, a timetable, expectations for him that aren’t meeting the reality but I think if we can just trust and give him that time. The more he trusts that he will be heard and to find himself and he’ll be more open to input and those discussions. Right now it sounds like he’s finding his voice and his rhythm which can be muted through school and it’s something that can take some time to recover.
I really like what Pam said, to look at your internal motivation because I think there are times when your husband wants to do something, you want him to be there wanting to share this experience with him, and that’s from this really beautiful point of wanting to share, which is great. But sometimes when we check in and are honest, we see that we have an agenda.
We think he’s going to like this. He needs this. He should know this. He should see this. He should whatever, you hear the shoulds? That’s a red flag, a time to back up. “Am I really wanting to share this organically with my husband and my child because I love it or do I think he needs it?” That’s just a good litmus test. I think kids are good detectors of that and they can tell what the motivation is. You can feel that resistance when that is coming through.
I don’t want you to go to the flip side and not meet your needs. For example, if hiking is important to you and recharges you, then absolutely find ways to do that. It may be that sometimes he’ll come and sometimes he won’t. If he knows that will be honored, he may want to join you or because he’s being honored when he says no. It may not be his thing. So I think checking in, seeing motivation, letting go of the agendas are really important things as you’re deconstructing and getting used to this new lifestyle.
ANNE: Can I just say one thing about deschooling, please? I just wanted to make sure that we clarify that deschooling, because we do see this a lot, that some people tend to think of it as a time when they’re waiting for their child to come out of it and change. That’s not deschooling at all.
Sometimes it’s more advantageous to not even say the child is deschooling and to embrace what they’re doing, because that’s what you want to be doing all along their unschooling lives. It’s true that deschooling is necessary and yet for everybody it’s just an adjustment to a new life. It’s good practice for you to see him for who he is, celebrate him for who he is and what he is doing and join him there, not think that because he’s deschooling you can wait it out and he will change at a certain time when he’s done deschooling. I just wanted to add that.
ANNA: It’s those expectations again.
PAM: That’s right. OK! The next question is from Michelle.
Hi Pam, Anne and Anna,
We are around 2 months into our unschooling journey. My 10 year old daughter and 12 year old son are currently deschooling. We took them out of school as my 10 year old daughter was being bullied and my 12 year old son had had nothing but a tough time for the almost 8 years he had been at school. We had numerous meetings with teachers over the years, he had endless detentions, a diagnosis of ADHD (which I don’t feel is true as he is just a spirited young boy) and both have a diagnosis of Dyslexia (all of these tests were requested by the school, I didn’t feel the need to have my children labelled, however this is the way the cookie has crumbled – just a little back ground for you). My son in April lost one of his really good friends in a tragic accident, he did not cope too well and he’s a really loving empath. I feel he is holding onto much grief still as he will mention this friend every week or so. We had been looking for schools as none of us were happy and the morning tears all around and huge trauma to get to school each morning was taking it’s toll on myself and the kids, wearing us down. We could not find the right fit for both of my children, so during the July holidays I decided to take the plunge and pull the kids from school much to their delight to deschool and subsequently unschool.
Now here comes the bumpy part. My son decided that he would like an Xbox one around that same time and it was his birthday, he also wanted a game Grand Theft Auto in which he has been begging for since its release a few years back. My husband and I always felt that the content of the game was not appropriate, however along my journey and search I found many positive articles about how the game has more to offer than the violence. I explored and decided after chatting with my husband that if might be a good idea to let him have an explore the game as he had already watched so many youtube videos on the subject he was well versed in the content anyway. He has been playing day and night and even for up to 30 hours in one sitting on numerous occasions. The last time was just two days ago where he woke at 7am played until 4.30pm at which time the internet failed and he loudly expressed his frustrations and cried himself to sleep. Slept for 3 hours, woke at 8pm then played for another 30 hours non stop until midnight of the following night, where I could see that little things in the game were starting the frustrate and upset him and I could see that he needed sleep, so suggested that he come have a snuggle in bed and chat for a bit (he promptly fell asleep actually).
He’s been doing a heap on the game. Only yesterday I helped him to gather the funds by selling vehicles, so that he could purchase and office and warehouse in the game. I heard him later online telling his friends of how we had changed the structure and that he was now a CEO of his own company. He was very excited and he just loves the game immensely.
Here comes the downer. My husband works long hours and often is away from the home for 12 hours each day. All he sees is my son gaming when he leaves and also gaming when he returns, then into the night. It’s causing him a lot of angst. This has been building for a number of weeks now and he feels that our son is not learning sufficiently, learning how to rob people, will end possibly end up in prison due to all of this, has noticed my son has started calling us cuss words quite frequently, won’t know how the real world works due to such huge exposure to the game and would like him to either go back to school or for me to stop unschooling and move to school at home with set work and allocated times for gaming (he doesn’t want to remove the game completely, just reduce the time spent playing).
I have tried to negotiate a deal with my son as it’s really affecting the whole family and the tension in the house is insane (we can hear him gaming all night even though he has a headset and on quiet, so we are not sleeping more than a few hours each night). I have suggested perhaps he might go for a bike ride, come swimming, come meet up with friends to play Minecraft, go for a surf, play with the dogs and even asked him if he could go anywhere or do anything what it would be.
However, he is not open to negotiation on doing anything else, he just wants to play on his Xbox one, he may however change games from time to time if a friend on the forum suggests it (Call of Duty). He also likes to game out where he is part of the home and where the wifi is optimal, so we can all hear from no matter where we sleep due to an open plan home.
Pam, Anne and Anna, I’m so sorry for such a long post, however I wanted to shed the full light on what is happening here and hope that you can help me in any way shape or form to regain some sanity in our lives and to repair our relationships as our home is not the happiest right now and I can feel things tearing apart, whilst I’m between a rock and a hard place trying to glue it back together and make everyone happy.
PAM: Hi, Michelle! I just want to say that I am so sorry that things are feeling so challenging for you right now. It’s OK. Deep breath.
One of the things I wanted to mention, I noticed that you’re only two months in, as you said. You guys are still developing your connection and your trust. You’re on the tip of the iceberg right now, so it is not at all surprising that he is not yet open to negotiation, nor is it surprising that he is binging while he is can. These are all pieces of relationship and trust that need that time to develop.
On the other hand, yes, you want to support what he loves, but not at the expense of the rest of the family. Yet you don’t need to approach it as a negotiation, because that starts with the premise that there is going to be a winner and a loser. It sets up adversarial positions right from the beginning.
So I was wondering if you might be able to play around with it a bit. Instead, think of it as working together to find a plan within some parameters. People being able to sleep at night without being woken up is a reasonable guideline for people living together. So use that as a given, but ask him for ideas on how you guys can make that work.
Together you can brainstorm ways that he can play and you guys can sleep. Maybe at night he moves to a different location. Internet traffic lightens up at night and maybe the internet will be good enough for him. If it’s a wifi thing and not an internet thing, you might be able to figure out how he can have better wifi in a different location, a location that’s less intrusive for everybody else trying to sleep. I know we have put a signal booster in our house at various points. Maybe have some fun playing with sound dampening, that’s another conversation that we’ve had here. Maybe he plays online during the day and he’s OK playing single player games after you guys go to bed.
There are so many possibilities when you think beyond playing or not playing. When he feels like you are on his team, that you’re not trying to stop him from playing but you’re trying to help him figure out ways that he can play without negatively impacting the rest of the family, within the context of “Hey, we all live in this house.”
When you’re asking for his ideas and his input and for him to wrack his brain, because that’s a fun puzzle, that’s really what it is, right, it’s a puzzle and let’s try different ways to go at it.
You also mentioned asking him if you could go anywhere or do anything what would it be. Especially now when that trust isn’t there, those questions can really be a signal to our kids that we’re unhappy with the choices they are making right now. When they realize that, it causes them to dig more strongly into them, especially if they’re worried they might be taken away. If he knows people are upset with his playing, that’s really going to have him digging deeper into it. Playing for those huge long stretches, he has to get his fill because it might be taken away.
As for your husband concern, absolutely keep talking with him about it. Maybe if he sees your son talking with you and trying to figure out a way to be considerate of the whole family while he’s pursuing his interests, that might help him feel a little more comfortable. And only being two months in, you and your husband are still learning so much about unschooling and your understanding will deepen as you move through these situations as they come up.
But yes, I can totally feel your stress, I totally understand it and feel for you. Those are just some ideas to help you switch it up because it sounds like you’re stuck in this impasse right now. Anna?
ANNA: First, I just want to send some love to Michelle because it did sound really stressful. I can feel you in the middle and trying to figure out and meet everybody’s needs and that feel really hard and I think Pam touched on some of the things I want to talk about, too.
It doesn’t need to all fall to you. Once you get into the patterns of working together as a family, ideas are going to come from everywhere. I’m a big believer in consensual solutions, solutions that feel good to everyone. Part of that is communication and making everyone feel heard. I do think that the role you can help play is to help everyone feel heard.
I would definitely start some conversations about the needs of everyone, the sleeping and the pieces Pam mentioned and start strategizing on how to meet those needs. What is especially important, because you are so new to this—only two months in—is you want the type of discussion where everyone is on equal footing, meaning that it’s not a “do this” or “solve this or you’re going to lose a privilege” type situation. Because that’s just going to cause people to dig in and they’re not going to feel heard.
This is a puzzle, like Pam said, we can figure this out. “You love the game, I love that you love the game, this is where it’s impacting us, what can we do?” You can talk about what you are observing and listen to what each person is saying. What are they enjoying about what is happening, what parts are causing concerns? It can take some different rounds of trying and having a conversation.
Like Pam said too, and it’s one of the things I had written down, too, is a range extender which we use so we could have better wifi coverage in different parts of the house. And the sound dampening. It’s all this “outside of the box” thinking, sometimes “What can we do about this? What if we tried that? What if we moved this to this area?”
I’ve had friends that have taken rooms that were traditionally bedrooms and made them gaming rooms and moved bedrooms into a more open area because it’s just the way it works in their house. There’s lots of ways to just turn things upside down and think “How can this work based on what we’re all sharing, what we’re having issues with?” and just go from there.
Again, this is new for everyone so everyone is going to be a little wary at first, like “Do they mean that? Are they really going to help me meet my needs of how much I love this game? Do they really understand at how much I love this game?”
What I’ve found is that when a person feels truly heard, then they can really hear the other person. They’re able to hear that people are not sleeping, that people are stressed out about it, that it’s causing concern. It’s nice to live in harmony with each other. We all want to do that, but when we’re feeling attacked, it’s hard to get there. Once you have that conversation, that environment where everybody feels heard you’ll find it works much better at finding these solutions. Anne?
ANNE: Hi Michelle. I am so glad you are on this unschooling path! Your description of school and how you came to unschooling…what a gift. It’s beautiful!
I want to back up because I knew Pam and Anna would take care of all of that stuff they took care of and I want to go back to where you say that your son lost one of his really good friends in a tragic accident and did not cope too well and he’s a really loving empath. You feel he’s holding onto much grief.
First of all, as you say he is an empath, I’m wondering if you’ve read the book, The Highly Sensitive Child. I highly recommend it as it might give you more insight into your child’s heart and mind and how to celebrate him even more for who he is.
When you say he’s holding onto grief, I’m wondering how you respond to that? I’m a highly sensitive person who lost my sister in a tragic accident two and a half years ago and I can’t stress enough how important it is to create a safe environment in which your son feels free to speak of his friend as much as he can, as much as he needs to and wants to and to feel free to express absolutely any emotion he has about the accident and about his death.
I also feel it’s important that you’re not holding onto any expectations of when his grief should end or what it should look like. Like when you said he did not cope too well. There’s no definition of coping with this at all. However, he is doing is exactly what he needs to do. It’s not so much experiencing grief for a finite amount of time as it is readjusting to life in this new place after the loss of his friend. I don’t know if your son’s game playing is coming from this place of the loss and absence of his friend, but I can tell you, if he is using it as a distraction away from his grief and sadness then it’s a valid and not a very bad thing. Not that it’s a bad thing if he were playing for any other reason, but I just want to instill this tiny piece of the puzzle in case it has any benefit to you and your family at all.
The silent spaces are difficult and they can feel scary. I’m sure he had a huge emotional reaction to begin with and that feeling that he had is not fun. So if he wants to be distracted from feeling that way again, that is perfectly fine. I always kind of felt like I was nurturing myself by not feeling it all at once and just looking at everything in little pieces at a time. There are so many levels of the tragedy that he might not have brought up yet. These questions and everything, if his friend went so fast “Could that happen to anybody in my family?” There are so many levels that he might not have explored yet.
Like I said, it can up little pieces at a time or all at once and distraction with gaming is not a bad way to deal with it at all. I also wanted to tell you that, personally, when my son Jacob was eight or nine he had a great fear of me dying. He’s 26 now but back then I looked into books that would help him. One that I found was Embraced by the Light by Betty Eadie. She wrote a book about her near death experience. It helped him immensely to see what it could be like after somebody is dead. After my sister’s accident I can’t even tell you the comfort and awareness I found from reading those books also.
In case your son has questions about this, I just wanted to bring this up. We’ve benefited by Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander and Dying to be Me by Anita Moorjani. So, again, I knew Pam and Anna would speak about the other wonderful unschooling things that they did and I just wanted to offer this to you. I wish you all well. I think it’s going to be fantastic for you.
PAM: Thank you, Anne.
ANNA: OK, so our next question is from Juanita.
I have twin boys 15 years of age who began unschooling in January 2016 when I pulled them out of the public school system. Now they are entering 11th grade studies and would like to attend an art institute after graduating 12th grade to become a multimedia artist.
My question is: how do I prepare a transcript/diploma of what they’ve learnt, studies they’ve taken in English, math, history, etc in order to enroll them in a college or an art institute? AR community College wants some type of transcript in order for them to be enrolled there and I’m assuming that an art institute would want something of that kind as well.
Thank you for any suggestions or advice that you may have.
ANNA: Hi Juanita! It’s always fun when someone has an interest in the next step they want to take. I would start by contacting the school they’re interested in directly and finding out, specifically from them, how they handle homeschooled students. Many universities have specific guidelines and want to attract homeschoolers and so have a lot of ways that can happen. Often with art colleges they want portfolios or along those lines. Again, they know where they want to go so you can start there. There’s no need to speculate.
There are many transcript type resources in the home schooling community. It sounds like they’ve had a more traditional path, so that might be something you want to look into. I think I mentioned this last month but Blake Boles has a book College Without High School. I think you might enjoy reading that. It has some specific exercises and techniques when you’re going from an unschooling and high school environment to a college experience. These are really easy things to solve with lots of resources out there for that.
Anne, do you have anything you’d like to say?
ANNE: Yes, my son is an unschooler who did go to art school in college and I agree with Anna, colleges tend to love homeschoolers lately and they do have specific requirements.
For us, we followed the doors that were kind of opening in front of us on his path in going to college for art. It brought us exactly where he needed to be. He looked at some colleges that he felt would allow him to stay true to his own artistic voice, which was very important to him as an unschooler. Those colleges had huge admissions requirements that he was not ready at that time to meet.
When the time came when he was ready to work more to meet admission requirements, three people within a week in conversation with me brought up the Fashion Institute of Technology. This was a hint from the universe. I looked it up and yes, they had a great art department, a strong illustration program, which is what Jacob does, and the admissions requirements was something Jacob was, at this time, prepared to do.
When we discovered FIT he was at the point where he was ready for this adventure. It wasn’t just like something he thought he should be doing at this time in his life, when he finished 12th grade or whatever. We never cared about grades or anything. He needed to be really ready for it. When FIT came up he was like, “yes, I can do that” about the requirements. For instance, he always said he would never do any realistic drawings, but he was at the point where he was ready to learn more and expand his world in that area. He said yes, I’m ready to submit a realistic drawing.
So, I would pay attention to all the factors, not just go with your step by step on what you think should be done and not just what one college requires. Pay attention to everything with your child if they’re really ready and wanting this. If you feel they can’t meet the requirements of one college that’s not something that’s a bad thing. It just means that something better and more appropriate is waiting for them. And perhaps if they’re not ready, if they need something more to meet the requirements then they could think about taking a job or an internship with artists or there are so many paths that they could explore. Some of them will pay them for doing the learning. I just feel like to take in the whole need of who they are and what they desire instead of following a specific path might be beneficial. Pam?
PAM: Yeah, that was pretty much the main point I wanted to bring up. Definitely with homeschooling there are the admission policies in some colleges now that you can look up. Get specific information rather than making assumptions. Don’t fix yourself on one college.
And that last piece you were talking about, Anne, the idea that if for some reason they don’t get into that college they can’t be a multimedia artist. No, there are a lot of ways outside the classroom to pursue careers. Especially art careers and Anne mentioned a number of ways already. Just a little check to make sure you weren’t overly focused on that particular path. There are lots of ways to do it. I know there are sample transcripts online so I’ll link to those in the show notes as well. So, hopefully that is lots of fodder for you, Juanita.
Our last question…Anne?
ANNE: Our last question if from Alexandra. She says,
Hi. What would you advise to a mother who wants to unschool while her husband does not want to? Thank you!
So many of our questions were so long this time and yet I want to know more from you, Alexandra!
There are so many ways to answer this and it depends on what you have already done and discussed, if your husband is open to learning more, but I’ll go from what you’ve given me and I’ll start by going to the place I feel many dads go to: they want a good life for their kids. They have a hard time seeing how their children are going to lead responsible adult lives if they’re not taking the traditional schooling route. I don’t know if this is his perspective, but whatever it is, do your best to see it from his eyes and understand that he probably just wants the best for his kids and can’t see how unschooling can get to that end result.
In New York state we have homeschooling regulations. At the beginning of the school year we had to submit our IHIP and that’s our Individualized Home Instruction Plan. I would take the standard forms that the school would send me and I would throw them out. I would go to worldbook.com and look up the typical course of study for whatever grade my child was supposed to be in at that time. I would list most of those in my IHIP, the things that World Book says they should be studying. I also added that my children may or may not learn these things this year or may have already learned them previously but that’s another matter.
Then in my quarterly reports, we’re supposed to report what they have learned. I would write whatever real life thing my child was doing that allowed him to acquire the knowledge or skills that were listed in that typical course of study. If you’re living fully and having wonderful conversations, exploring and having loads of fun with your kids it’s really easy to check off many things from that list. I might do that for my husband if he wasn’t convinced about giving unschooling a try.
The important thing, however, is not to get caught up and worry that your child has not reached something on the list. This is not for you; it’s to appease other people who want to see what is happening. My youngest son began to read strongly when he was 13 but of course schools believe he should have been doing that at a younger age. But the thing is, Sam still had books in his life and his reading comprehension was amazing because we listened to audio books all the time. We read all the time. So I just took the requirements of the school and redefined them according to my unschooling heart and my kid’s unschooling lives. And yes, I checked off that Sam’s reading comprehension was excellent, even though he could not yet fully read. So it’s kind of an example of how we adjusted school terms for our lives.
Most of all, the thing that my husband values is my happiness. So I would make sure I conveyed how happy I was to have this wonderful relationship with our children. Absent of all of the stress, anxiety, disconnect that the school or even doing school at home brings into a family’s lives. We would share our stories of our days together with him every night: our explorations, our games our expanding worlds. We volunteered at a fair trade store, we would talk about that. Talk about being out in our community. Everybody in our community knew our children and enjoyed talking to them. All of these real life things have so much more value than school curricula can even come close to touching.
This is what you want to be sharing with your husband, these pieces of life, besides if he’s open to reading other things: Pam’s website and Pam’s books. Pam?
PAM: And the podcast! Haha! Exactly what Anne said, and just continuing the conversation with him. I loved all of her ideas about the things you can share with him. You can still be doing these things with your children and sharing this perspective on this way of looking at those things, even if your kids are still in school right now.
You can incorporate so many of the principles behind the kind of parenting and learning that supports unschooling even when school is in the picture. So, no, you’re not unschooling, but the perspective and the principles you can still begin to incorporate. You might want to listen to episode 32. I spoke with Alex Polikowsky about the ways she meshed her unschooling principals when her daughter wanted to go to school. So that was really interesting.
You don’t need to get caught up in the race for grades or praising high marks or pushing your kids to do homework or study. You don’t have to be the school’s eyes at home. You can value your children for who they are now, not for how they perform at school. It doesn’t mean dissing school. Listen to the conversation with Alex, as it was really interesting.
But outside of school hours you can give them lots of choices and help them pursue their interests. You can do these fun things and continue having these conversations with your husband in bringing this view, this perspective, these principles into the discussion, even if school is in the picture for now.
As you start to shift the value away from the grades themselves to the learning they are doing when they’re pursuing their interests. Help him start to see the learning that’s outside of school, which is what Anne was talking about, too, with World Book. How so much of those things we think they are supposed to learn, you learn them outside of school, too.
It’s really seeing the world through his eyes and understanding where he’s coming from. Living this life with your children and helping him see these moments in a new way. Over time, he may become more amenable to the idea. You can answer his questions and make it a point of connection than a point of contention with him. Anna?
ANNA: I feel like for me it’s all about communication uncovering the underlying needs and concerns. That’s a strategy I use a lot when we have this conflicting thing on the surface. It might seem on the surface with this issue that it’s unschooling: one wants to unschool and one says no unschooling. But when you dig deeper maybe it’s a concern over socialization or academics or getting into college or successful life like Anne mentioned.
Whatever is in your husband’s head, once you know the fear and concern behind this stance of unschooling then you can begin to address it. You can talk about the homeschooling groups in your area if it’s the socialization. You can talk about how they are learning and the specifics Anne and Pam just talked about, showing him and involving him. The book I talked about before if getting into college is a concern and not something the kids are interested in.
I think if you can dig past a “tell me what your concerns are” or “I hear you” and not feeling defensive about your choice about wanting to unschool, but really wanting to openly hear what his concerns are then I think you’ll see that your conversations will open up and you’re able to go, “I get that.” Let’s see if we can address that concern and all start talking together about how that works. I just find that works with a lot of different problems and it can definitely work with this one as well.
And that was our last question this month. I want to thank you guys so much for answering questions with me because you’re so awesome and it is always great to talk about unschooling with you!
Just a reminder for everyone listening, there are links in the show notes for the books that we mentioned in the episode. As always, if you would like to submit a question for the Q & A show just go to livingjoyfully.ca/podcast and click on the link.
Bye guys! Thanks so much!
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