PAM: Welcome to another Q & A episode! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and I’m happy to be joined again by Anne Ohman and Anna Brown, hi to you both!
ANNE & ANNA: Hellooo!
PAM: Hello, hello hello!! Just to let everyone know, we just got back from the Childhood Redefined Unschooling Summit in Bethany Beach and had a wonderful time!
ANNE: About five minutes ago!
PAM: Five minutes ago? It feels like five minutes ago, even though it was two days ago! Anyway, I was just wondering if any of you felt like sharing about your experience?
ANNA: It was such a wonderful week. The location was unbelievable and the people…there was just so much love and so much laughter and I’m still feeling very full from all of it. I’m excited about the connections and the ‘aha!’ moments from people. It was just awesome and fun to hang out with you guys in person again.
ANNE: Yes, this was our second Summit and I’m blown away by the impact these few days have on lives of the families who have come and me because I’m stretched and I fall in love with these people and the setting just as Anna said. It was really, really special to be immersed in this two-day conversation about this path with other people who want to grow and learn. I can’t think of a better word except how incredibly special it is.
PAM: Yeah, we learn so much too, by hanging out with people and these conversations and you really dig deep, so it’s always a special experience. That’s a great word for it!
OK….we have a full slate of questions for this month, too. Would you like to get started, Anna?
ANNA: Absolutely. Question #1 today is from Lynn.
I am mum to four children 5 1/2 and under. My 5 year old should be starting prep next year (Australia) but we have decided to unschool, or essentially just continuing on the path we are already on. We’ve always tried to have a respectful and mindful approach to parenting and our relationships with our children. This has taken a lot of self reflection and work on my part though as I didn’t have this growing up.
Two of my current hurdles at the moment are tied back to relinquishing control. First, is the amount of ‘things’ that come into our home. I am minimalist in the sense that I don’t like to have a lot of stuff in the house. If it’s not used or doesn’t hold special meaning I tend to donate it. The amount of clothes, things, etc… I own is very minimal, I feel overwhelmed when there is too much in our home. I like the order and the simplicity when there isn’t too much in the house. It makes it feel a little less chaotic.
I tend to trickle this down to my children. My daughter especially loves to collect things and her room becomes filled with stuff and is often very messy. I try, over and over again to let go, to ‘allow’ more into our, to not care about how messy her room is (it is her room after all), and I succeed at letting go for a bit. However, a rough moment or day arises and I revert back trying to get the control back on how tidy her room is, or how much ‘stuff’ is in the house. How do I reconcile my needs and their needs? I need less to feel less overwhelmed, they need more to discover, explore and learn. We can be different, but how do I meet everyone’s needs?
The second thing I am having a hard time letting go of is around introducing TV, computers, iPads, video games, etc… My husband and I really only watch an hour or so of TV a day after the kids go bed, same with our phones or listening to podcasts, etc.. It is only ever after the kids go to bed. Since they haven’t had much exposure to ‘screens’ they never really ask for it and I have never really had to restrict it… But at the same time they don’t really watch much. A few things here and there like a train show (they love transport) and the recent Olympics. How to do I and should I let more of this into our home? I guess I also struggle with content. With 4 children so young I suppose I tend to worry about what they would be watching and whether or not limits should be set around that. We watched The Jungle Book as a family movie night a few weeks ago and my 3 1/2 has been terrified of monkeys coming in his room since and my 5 year old asked for it to be turned off after the building collapsed on top of the ape. So I question how much free rein I should give in regards to content. The other noise that comes into play are the studies I have read regards to TV’s ‘addictive nature,’ that most shows are too fast for young children, etc.
Any help, advice, suggestions you have to offer to would be greatly appreciated.
And there’s a follow up: Hi there! I forgot to add that I think part of restricting what comes into the house, in terms of volume, also comes out of the fact that the more there is, the more I have to clean and tidy. The kids help to an extent, but with them being so young, to a large extent, most of it falls on me. As you can imagine, they are still need help with a fair bit. So how do I let go without stretching myself too thin?
I’ll start with the things portion of the question because I’m also a person that likes my space to be pretty orderly. I find that it is calming to my brain when I have clear spaces but I also live with three other people who see the space very differently. My youngest was the biggest collector I had ever seen. When she was young: dolls, books, snow globes, bottle caps, old clothes, trash … yes, like actual wrappers. Things like that. I just found ways to help her keep all her treasures. We looked at bins and different options so she could keep these things that were so important to her.
Honestly, I assumed she would always be like this. But as she’s grown, that’s really changed where I find myself saying, “Remember this? Sure you don’t want to keep this?” So, it’s really shifted. But what I see, in looking back, how those things served a purpose for her and I’m so, so glad that I didn’t put my filter over her process. You know, I may never know what she got out of all of it but I know that it was important to her. I can see how critical it was just in her processing who she is and how she wants to organize her spaces.
As for me, I would carve out a space or spaces for myself. Oftentimes that’s the kitchen and where I have my computer. Those spaces would remain clutter free. I like the kitchen clean because I like to create meals and I do that better when it’s a clean palate. I like my computer space and my writing/reading space to be clutter free because my brain works better that way. Those can be little tucked in spaces and that gives me the calm I needed and helps me to feel joyful about my space but also gave the others in my family the ability to keep their spaces in a way that worked for them.
I have friends who collect and have what looked like to me, on the outside, really chaotic spaces. But I find in talking to them more about it, it’s completely orderly and makes perfect sense to them. With so many in your household, Lynn, I think you’re going to run across all types. I think it’s just a matter of respecting the differences and working together to find ways that feels good for everyone to have their needs met.
As for the TV and games, I don’t feel like this is something you have to introduce at a particular time. I think things come up organically. For some you may find it’s a passion area and for others it may not be. The issues that we talk about here are more about restricting something that someone loves. It doesn’t sound likes it’s something of interest now. I find it helpful to live in the present moment around us and not worry so much about “what ifs, what about later, what if they start doing this, how will I restrict it?” That really takes me out of now. It takes me away from the joy that we can be creating. So, those are my thoughts on that.
Anne, you have anything?
ANNE: Yes, I have a couple things to add. I wanted to just go from this portion of your question where you say you struggle with content and I agree with Anna to not live in “what ifs” and everything. I would really like to address this:
I struggle with content with four children so young. I suppose I tend to worry about what they would be watching and whether limits should be set around that.
You don’t have to see it as setting limits if it does come up in your lives. You just see it as watching television and watching shows that they want to watch, that they would enjoy. That’s where your focus needs to be, simply on their joy. Usually young kids don’t ask to watch violent TV shows or rated R movies because they want to watch things that make them feel good and happy. You can nurture and encourage those feelings.
About watching Jungle Book, to fully be there with them and see how they are reacting is good and not wait until it gets over the edge. You can say, “I see how you’re getting upset about this, let’s take a break and see if we want to go back and watch this or not.”
That helps your children listen to their own inner compass and intuition and everything when you point out to them you can tell they are getting tense and we don’t have to sit her and finish this. It helps them to get up and walk away from something that does feel bad to them.
There are also websites that give details on movies and you can read those. They give details on everything about the movies. Everything from curse words and tense music. If you Google parental guides to movies you find many different sites. I have many friends who watch the movies themselves before watching it with their children when they understand their children are sensitive to certain things. Then you can discuss something you saw in the movie with your children that you think they might not want to see. My kids actually do this for me, they’re like, “Mom, close your eyes at this part.” (laughing) “No, it’s not over yet. OK….open your eyes.”
So this is something you can do with your kids if you think they will be upset by a certain part but you want to enjoy the whole movie.
I did want to address TV being addictive, the definition of addiction is “one trying to escape the reality of their lives” and that’s why people think TV is addictive because it can appear to be that way. But when it’s used as a deliberately chosen tool for entertainment, enjoyment, world expanding possibilities it’s simply something that’s enjoyed. Our presence, our conversations, and our mutual enjoyment of the shows that kids are interested in are ways for television to be a happy option in our lives, one that can connect us and make us stronger instead of one that causes arguments and creates resentments and pushes the children away from us.
So if it does come up in your lives, it’s important to examine your preconceived definitions about the television because it looks totally different in an unschooling family.
As far as the clutter, I agree with Anna. I thought it was really great. I also want to remind you that your children are doing what they need to do to live their lives. It’s their job to be unschooling kids, to be interested in a lot of things. Yes, you both have your preferences and you’re also the adult who’s here to nurture, encourage, and support their interests and their questions.
When you said you have a full day and you look at the mess and it starts all over again, you can be aware of how close to the edge you are so you don’t have a moment where you look at their clutter and everything and you just want them to clean it up right this minute. Be aware of how you are feeling throughout the day.
Make a system so that it’s easy for you to not feel overwhelmed. Use bins or whatever you feel like you can do to pick up the clutter quickly or have it as organized as you can be without infringing on their clutterness, their space. You are the unschooling parent and they are the children so you can see it as your job to manage your internal guide and compass to allow space for theirs, then that’s how things are going to flow much easier.
PAM: I was just going to mention that when I was feeling pulled back to trying to control some situation, that was usually a clue for me to ask myself how my children felt about the situation, to try and see things through their eyes. I knew how I felt about it: it was stressing me out and I was feeling the need to control it. It helped me to open up my mind a bit more and try to see it through their eyes, rather than through the judgement that I was feeling. That’s really where more creative solutions lie, when our judgements isn’t driving us to keep coming to the same conclusions over and over and over. “I need it tidy, I need it clutter free” etc.
Your kids are young now so you may not be able to have much of a sustained conversation, but your daughter can probably express what it is she loves about having a full room. You can see through your children’s actions and reactions to things what they’re loving about the environment they’re in and what’s getting in their way.
I also got clues as to how we might mesh our perspectives together. As Anne and Anna mentioned, maybe she’s got lots of stuff, but if it’s more organized it might feel less overwhelming for you. So she has her stuff, you feel better, that’s a win/win. As Anna had mentioned maybe you can keep a space, a particular room tidy so that’s where you can go to refresh and reenergize a few times a day.
You can even think about the kinds of play they enjoy that don’t make much of a mess and set up those kinds of things in there, like maybe a TV room or whatever and do other kinds of play in another room. So it’s really having an open mind and being curious about what it is that they’re getting out of their activity, seeing that joy and also what your needs are and trying to come up with creative needs to meet everyone’s needs. That’s kind of the fun puzzle of unschooling days.
ANNE: I wanted to say how people always ask how I solve our conflicting needs. We don’t see it as conflicting needs. We see it as everybody can get what they want. The children are the children, the parent can change their mind about it, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t get what they want, either. There’s a way for them to shift their perspective about it and help themselves feel good about it in a realistic solution also.
PAM: Yeah, that’s what I love about it. For the TV thing, I love what you guys both said but I wanted to add, let’s look at that phrase, “free rein.”
When you mentioned free rein on TV and I think that leads us to a bigger question on unschooling in general. I think the idea of free rein seems to stem from the idea that unschoolers say yes more and don’t use control as a management tactic, which is true. But there’s a whole world between yes and no. So, unschooling is about living together and engaging with our children which is just a bigger picture of what you guys already said.
When they can truly choose and can make choices, they don’t want to do all the things. They don’t want to do those things that make them super upset or uncomfortable. We’re helping them to the things they want to do. So, as Anne mentioned, you’re going to know what bothers your kids and watch out for that. Find that information out. If they do want to try it, you’re going to be with them, turn things off, close their eyes. It’s so much about us being together.
It’s not about free rein where you’re letting them off to just go do whatever they want. It’s about living deeply with them, exploring thing together, and helping them figure out what works for them whether it’s TV, or games or whatever it is that you’re feeling the urge to control. Instead, with unschooling, you’re living really connected and in the middle of that. It’s not one extreme or the other.
OK, question #2, Anne?
ANNE: Question #2 is from somebody who didn’t want to share their name.
I started out parenting thinking that we would have very limited use of TV and video games when our kids were young. I sort of built an ideal image in my mind of parenting my young children in a pretty Waldorf type way – we’d do art, play outside for hours, etc. I’ve moved well past most of that as my husband and I are (almost) fully embracing unschooling with our 3 kids (6, 4, and 5 months old).
However, I am having the hardest time deschooling when it comes to TV and video games. It’s like I keep thinking I’ve done it, and then I feel the fear creep back in. My two oldest kids LOVE video games and so does my husband. And I honestly just don’t enjoy them. I try and join them for a bit each day, and love spending time with them, but it’s just not my thing. And I fall into the trap of comparisons – on weekends I see all the neighbor kids outside playing together in the beautiful weather and often my kids are inside on the xbox or computer.
I just can’t get past my own upbringing and the messages from society about video games and sometimes really wonder if I will always believe that other endeavors are more valuable than watching shows and playing video games. I don’t want to feel this way and I want to support what my kids love. Perhaps I’m just missing when they were younger and less interested in this stuff (and also often think that 4 and 6 is still pretty darn young to spend so much time in front of a screen instead of running around and engaging in active play)?
Perhaps I just honestly can’t embrace this aspect of unschooling? Any advice for when these thoughts creep back in and unsettle me and make me question our approach? I truly want to embrace this and to support and feed their interests, but get stuck when their childhood isn’t looking like what I thought the ideal childhood my kids could have would look like. I think I’m driving my husband crazy by using him as my sounding board every time I get worried.
I’m glad you came to us and gave your husband a little break.
I hear you say you want to embrace this and support your children’s interests. What I loved when I was reading it again—I love how I pick up more things from reading it again! You are aware of what is holding you back and that’s a good thing.
What I’m seeing is that there is absolutely no space right now for you to embrace and support your children’s interests because you’re holding so tightly onto all the other stuff. You’re holding onto this vision of what your life should look like, to society’s definition of television and video games, onto fear, onto comparing lives of someone else’s that you can see through your window, and you’re holding onto who your kids were yesterday.
Because you’re holding onto all this stuff, there’s no space for you to truly see your children right in front of you and who they are. There’s no space for you to be a part of or receive the incredible gifts that are in your life right now in this moment. Your children are there in front of you and you’re wishing them to be younger. You wish them to go outside, to be Waldorf-y, you’re basically wishing them to be something different than who they are right now.
Because Pam has so much information on her website about the value of games and TV in unschooled kid’s lives and we’ve talked about that in other podcasts, I won’t go there. It’s all there for you to explore, learn about, and understand as an unschooling parent. It’s important for you to see the value in all the things your children love to do. So that’s another aspect for you to explore and there’s a lot out there.
What I want to explore with you is why you’re holding onto these things that I listed instead of accepting, honoring, and celebrating the children you have right there in front of you, probably shining in what they love to do. A few weeks ago, at a gathering, I was talking with a friend and she brought up what you said. She said that I said that I have never missed the days when my kids were young because I’m so full of love and celebration for who they are now. I personally do. I live in the moment with them. I fill myself up with the glory and excitement of their interests and their lives and their beings and there’s no space or inclination to wish for them to be as they were yesterday because today and who they are right now is so full of fabulousness.
She said but I do miss how my kids were when they were little. I miss holding them. I miss not having anything being as important to us except being together. I miss me being the center of their worlds. And I hear you saying that, too. When she said that to me, my brain went AHA. I suggested that maybe it meant that she doesn’t miss her kids being that age, but she longs for the days when she knew for sure what her role was as their mother. Her only job, when they were little, was to simply be with them, hold them, nurse them, to talk to them, and read to them.
As I say these things I can feel her energy and can see that this is absolutely what she values so much in her life. Back when our children are very young, our entire world is simply each other. Maybe what people are saying when they say they miss those days is that now they are at a place where they aren’t sure of their job description as an unschooling mother anymore. Our children’s lives are full of other things. Maybe we wonder if it’s just our job to be cleaning up after them and bringing them food while they’re playing their games. So, back to the picture in your head, anytime we have pictures in our heads as to what we want our lives to look like vs what our lives do look like, it’s time to take a look at ourselves and see what’s inside of us instead of blaming the children or the thing that they are loving doing for our discomfort.
So this is our work, our job to grow, stretch, and examine our previously held beliefs and expectations and definitions and pictures in our head. It’s our work to keep up with our children and that they do need us at every level of their lives, every age, every stage. As our children grow, the challenges get more complex. We think they are going to need us less but they need us more. They need us more to be completely in love with who they are and to see them shine in doing what they love to do because they’ll experience things that will require that foundation within them to know that they are right and it’s good for them to be exactly who they are and follow that which they love to do.
So in order to keep up with our children and how they need us in this moment, we need to let go of things that are getting in the way of truly seeing them and nothing gets more in the way than wishing them to be different, wishing them to be doing something other than what they’re doing. Let’s go back to you saying you want to support and encourage their interests. First of all just look at them. Look at who they are. This is what needs to be honored and respected and celebrated. The child that is right in front of you being exactly who they are just bursting with shine and goodness is really, really wanting you to see it, too. And once you get to the point where you can absolutely celebrate your children for who they are, then you’ll be able to see the value in what they are doing because what they choose to do, what they love to do from the core of their being is a part of who they are. I have an essay on my website, shinewithunschooling.com called “I Am What I Am” and I think it’s a good thing for you to read. It talks about honoring our children for who they are. I could go on and on about this, as Pam and Anna know but I’ll stop! (laughing)
PAM: (laughing) Well, I could just and listen to you for ages, too, so that’s easy!
ANNE: That’s weird…you’ve never heard it before! (laughing)
PAM: Like I said, we learn each time, right? It’s truly important each time.
I’m just going to jump off that same idea, maybe use some different words for it because I think that is the most important thing. From this question, and you saw it already, Lynn, that you’re stuck betweem the ideal image that you have in your head of your children and the real children that you see in front of you.
Leo Babauto calls this the mind movie. I love that concept and I’ll share just a little bit from his book Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change. He describes it as a projector in our heads that’s …
“constantly playing a movie of how we would like things to be, our ideals about the world, our expectations of how things will turn out, how others should be and how we should be. These images aren’t based on reality but on fantasy that this film projector has created from nothing.
As we focus on this mind movie, the story playing in our heads, we become attached to it and want it to be real somehow. When it’s in our heads, the story seems to be real. We envision our goals as almost real if only we could get there. We see our ideals as almost real if only everyone around us would meet these ideals. If only we ourselves could meet these ideals. We expect our story to come true even if it doesn’t.
The problem is that when reality clashes with the story we get frustrated, upset, bothered and disappointed. These bad feelings can get in the way of our peace of mind and happiness. They can make us behave badly and harm our relationships with others. This mismatch between the story in our heads, our mind movie, and reality causes a lot of our problems.
The answer is to mindfully turn from the story to the reality of the moment. Learn to accept the moment, appreciate everything about it, find gratitude for it. Otherwise, not only will you find resistance and frustration but you’ll miss the beautiful moments of your life. Mindfully see the story you’re playing in your head, then practice letting it go and turn toward the reality in the moment.”
He suggests thinking of it as almost a form of meditation.
In my experience, as we slowly come to accept the reality of the moment, oh my gosh, we find so much amazing stuff in there! That shine that Anne was talking about. It does take time to do it bit by bit, step by step instead of in one big gulp and trying to guilt yourself. But every time we notice the movie playing in our head and mindfully shift. Notice the movie, mindfully shift. We truly begin to see the reality of our children and their choices, passion, and shine. It really does overpower that perfect mind movie that we’re clinging to overtime. Reality is so much more than we can imagine in that movie once we can make that shift.
Do you have anything you want to add, Anna?
ANNA: I do! It may be a bit too long so there were things I cut out because you did cover it so much.
The quote that came to me was the idea that expectations are preplanned resentment.
I think we’re all saying that same thing, that picture in our minds as expectations, we just let that go. It is always a recipe for disaster. One of the things I caught after reading back again was baby is only 5 months old and babies can really change things in a family. There’s a lot of focus on the baby, mom’s needing a lot of time to cocoon with that baby.
I’m wondering if this idea of longing for before is related to that transition, too. I just have the two children but I know that when I was lying upstairs (I had my second child at home) I could hear my other child downstairs playing and there was this moment of “whoa! things have changed! She’s down playing with my mom.”
I wonder if those kinds of things are going on. They are turning to this new love and interest because it fits in the family right now because you’ve had to cocoon with the baby right now. Just some things to think about there.
The other question on TV and computer games that we keep getting … I really don’t think it’s about that. I think it’s about supporting our children and following their interests without judgement and with trust. It isn’t about the TV or the computer. I think it helps for people to say “If they were reading but still not outside with the neighbors playing, would it be the same issue?”
If it’s not, then the issue is the block we have about video games, not about doing different things or getting outside or these other things we’re kind of telling our story in our head. I think that can really be an important distinction and to examine those things. Then you’re able to be honest with yourself and your kids. Kids really pick up on that when we’re not being honest about things and authentic.
We’re saying, “we want you to get outside and play,” but really it’s this heavy judgement about the particular activity they are engaged in. That’s really important to look at. Learning and joy can come from so many activities and if what’s happening here is that you are missing them and you’re wanting to share more time and find something that feels good because you mentioned you’re not into video games, look at that and connect with that vs making it about the video games.
For me, it was pretend play. I am not good at pretend play! This is something I learned after I had children. I have a friend who could be a princess, a troll, she could roll on the ground … it was mesmerizing. But I thought, oh my gosh, I’m terrible at this! I’ll never be able to do this. I tried, but it didn’t work.
But what I ended up doing was just supporting my children’s love of it. It was making costumes because I enjoy creating things. It was building the environment, finding other kids and adults who loved to do it. But what was important to me was also finding something that we enjoyed doing together. I looked at what we could do together and for us it was card games, board games, and video games because we did enjoy Animal Crossing and doing things like that together. Those were things I could do. Some of my other friends would say, “I don’t know how you read for hours and hours with them.” That was easy.
It’s finding that thing that works for you and you kids because there are different ways we can be present and together. A shift in energy, away from trying to get them to do something besides games. Shift that to an energy of trying to find something you all do that you’re enjoying together. I think they’ll respond to that more because anytime we feel judged by someone it sets a block. We put up a wall, like, “Wait, you’re not valuing what I’m doing. I’m going to keep you at arm’s length.” When someone is truly trying to connect with me, not judging me and wants to truly be with me, then I respond and want to share my time with them. Think about a few of those things in relation to your situation and see if anything fits.
ANNE: Anna brought up Animal Crossing and I wanted to say that you don’t have to love the video games. Maybe it’s the video games they’re playing. Pam, Anna, and I have our own DSs and when we would get together, the three of us would play Animal Crossing together and have a great time. It was connecting for my children and I. We would sit around together and play because you can visit each other’s towns. This is not your typical video game. If you don’t know Animal Crossing please look into it because it’s basically shaking trees, selling the fruit, paying off a mortgage (laughing).
It’s simple, cute, and it’s adorable. I’ve gotten so much joy and laughter from it and most importantly deep connections with my children from sitting with our DSs and laughing and talking about our games. I think when we say video games, one comes to mind- shoot’em up video games, but there are so many options now. There’s Cooking Mama, Pokemon, anything. So, if you think you might be interested in that as a connection, that might be something to look into.
PAM: Yeah, because that’s part of expanding their world but also in a way you might enjoy, too. It’s just being more open and seeing things as possibilities instead of feeling stuck and trying to pull things away and make them smaller. Right?
ANNE: Right. And that’s saying, “No, I don’t like that” but, “Hmm, this looks interesting.” The possibility opens it up instead of the “no” closing it down.
PAM: Yeah, that’s beautiful.
OK, question #3 is from Sarah:
Can you ‘not do enough’ as an unschooling parent and fail your children? Or is it about changing your values and emphasis from education, to joy? I feel like I’m getting good at saying ‘yes’ to the messy and strange things my children want to do but I wonder if there is more strewing I could be doing. At the moment, I feel I don’t strew very much because most of the time my children aren’t interested in the things I suggest or strew, and so it feels like a waste of time.
The first thing I want to mention was around that phrase “not doing enough.” My perspective is, with unschooling, that looks like not engaging with your children. It looks like leaving your children to figure things out. Sometimes that can be the first impression people get and they’re like, “I’m trying to release control, I’m trying to not tell them what to do.”
It’s like a rubber band: they kind of bounce back far in the other direction by thinking they need to stay hands-off. You’ll bounce back and forth, back and forth and find your place. But if you stay stuck there too long, I can see how that makes unschooling more challenging for kids when parents don’t seem to be there to help and support them. They’re just leaving them alone.
And that shift that you talked about, Sarah, from learning to joy, I think that’s really cool. I see that as part of our deschooling process. As part of that process, we eventually come to see that learning is always happening, so eventually we lose our need to look for it or try to measure it. Because we come to see that learning is fun and almost effortless when our children are actively engaged and in the flow of their activities, that’s when we start to see we can focus on that joy. We can follow what brings them joy, what lights up their soul and beams through their eyes and everything flows from there so that process from moving from looking for the educational learning stuff to the joy is all part of the process of coming to unschooling.
And the experience you’re finding about suggesting things for your children, is also part of deschooling as well, getting to know your children. If they aren’t interested in the things we share, it’s not a waste of time. It’s more information for us about them. That’s information that’s going to help us narrow in on the things we might be able to find that will light them up. Also, if we’re feeling disappointed or frustrated that they’re not interested in these things, that can be a clue to us that we’re attaching expectations to those things we’re sharing, that we’re valuing these things over the other choices they’re making, which ties back to our previous question. So, if that’s the case, that’s our work to shift and really see things through their eyes.
Anna, what would you like to add?
ANNA: Not much, because you really covered what I wanted to say because it’s all about the connection for me. If we remain connected to our children, we walk this life together; the rest takes care of itself. I’m with you, Pam, the only real potential danger is the real hands-off parenting. Unschooling is an active and engaging process. It’s not a formula: I’m going to strew ‘X’ amount of things, I’m going to check these boxes. It’s active but there isn’t a formula. It’s about the relationships and the day to day exploration of living. That presence and time together ensures that I’m there when they need me, they know where I am and if they want to ask questions it’s just that ebb and flow of our lives together. We can explore things more deeply when we need to.
ANNE: Well, don’t be shocked, but I wrote one word after this question…I wrote, ”Yay!” Because Sarah, when you said is it about changing your values and emphasis from education to joy I saw your joy and connection with them because that’s where I am with my kids and my joy. That’s why I said, “Yay!” As Pam said, we don’t look for the learning, the learning is in the living. With you being connected with your kids and being focused on joy, that’s a big, “Yay!” to me. I also liked the messy and strange things you kids want to do. (everyone laughs!)
ANNA: OK, we’ll move onto question #4 which is from Michelle:
I have never listened to a podcast before yours….I love it! I can listen while fixing dinner, doing dishes etc.
I have 3 boys ages 12, 16 and 19. We have homeschooled from the beginning – only in reading and math. My 19 year old went to High School for a semester and had a really bad experience -he now thinks he can’t learn anything! We have been moving towards unschooling for 5 years and fully unschooling for two years. A year ago we moved to another state because my husband was laid off. My 19 year old had a lot of friends but really wanted a new start. He keeps in contact via the internet/gaming. Currently all three boys spend all their time at the computer watching movies, playing games, streaming on twitch etc. They do not want to go and do anything outside the house – except maybe to see a movie. I offer them things to do but they are not interested. They do not want to go to homeschool/unschool groups. We had an unschooling conference in our town and no one wanted to go.
I miss my boys….I go to their rooms and ask questions about what they are doing. They will give me some info and I will watch them play. But usually they ask me to leave….sometimes they seek me out to tell me new developments in their games. This summer I helped my 12 year old build his own computer and now he is streaming on twitch. It seems they come to me for food or looking for clean laundry. I don’t like to leave the house and leave them at home. I leave only to take the dogs for a walk or go to the store. I have been working on being in the moment with each one of them and loving them unconditionally. However, I worry they will never want to go out and do anything.
I try really hard to avoid projecting things out in the future, kind of that language: “all,” “never,” “anything.” It’s really polarizing language. I feel like it pushes you to get stuck.
Things change really quickly in life. Maybe they are cocooning a little bit and maybe that’s related to the move. Or it could just be where they are right now. I’ve see here, through our teen years, there are many ebbs and flows. It sounds like they’re doing the things they love with the people they enjoy. I know how important those online connections are, there is so much happening there that may not be visible from the outside. If they’re not upset or asking for changes, I wouldn’t worry.
I can hear from your question that you’re present, you’re available, they know you’re there and are coming to you when they want to talk to you about things. Things change so quickly. I had a teen who never left the house for a long period of time and suddenly she was in a relationship, started travelling alone for big stretches. That was something I could have never predicted.
Right now we have new jobs starting and different types of stretching of wings. I’m guessing that maybe all this change will be followed by lots of cocooning and processing, but I don’t worry or try to predict the next stage. I just do my best to stay connected right now, ready to roll with what comes next. I love that our lives have that flexibility, that we have the time and space for it all and to be together.
ANNE: Hi Michelle. My heart goes out to your 19 year old. He had a really bad experience and now he thinks he can’t learn anything. That goes deep, that hurts a lot. Obviously he’s still feeling the effects of that since he wants a new start.
Relating back to what I said before about looking in the mirror, at ourselves and seeing what our job description is at every point of the stages, what role our kids need us in at this time. I’m thinking that right now you’re trying to connect with them and be there with their games. Maybe right now they just need you to be their mom, to be there for them in your strength and validate them.
Validate everything they are feeling because that’s really important. Your 19 year old, when he talks about his school experience, validate how hard it was, how it must have felt so awful and that you understand how that feels because you were there. Anything he’s loving to do, validate that. “Wow, you’re getting so much joy out of this. Is there anything I can do for you?” I suggest just to be there in that role.
Instead of thinking of physical things to do, just picture yourself as being there for them as their strength and surrounding them with your love. One sure thing about life, as Anna said, that things flow and shift all the time. While you are being their strength, surrounding them with love and validating challenges and joys, the next moment could bring you to a whole new level of job descriptions. Just breathe and be there for them.
PAM: I just wanted to add a couple of things. I wondered if you had mentioned to them that you missed hanging out with them. Not at all as a way to induce guilt, but just as a casual way to share your feelings as you are being with them, validating their feelings.
Maybe, you know how we’ve been talking about being open to new ideas, maybe there are things that you guys enjoy doing together that they might be up for doing semi-regularly. They seem to be really enjoying the things they are doing right now. Maybe they would be up for doing something with you, that you could enjoy together.
It might not happen right away so I wouldn’t keep mentioning it over and over. Just give opportunities time to materialize, let things bubble for a bit. Just mention that to them.
The other piece that would be good for you to dig into is why you aren’t comfortable in leaving the house and not doing your own things. While they are keeping themselves occupied and you’re staying open for when they come to you, what are your hobbies? What things do you like to do?
Maybe you can start by doing those things at home, just a little bit. Let your children see that you are engaged and enjoying your interests, too, just like they are. This unschooling lifestyle is for the whole family, not just for the kids. Then maybe you’ll find you want to venture out for a short bit to pursue them. You can chat with them about why you’re feeling uncomfortable about it. Maybe with them you can brainstorm ways that it can work for everyone. It just feels like you may be a little bit stuck in that place right now. Opening that up, chatting with them, might be helpful as well.
ANNE: I would like to thank you for that point because I had forgotten to say that about being there for them while doing your own things. I just realized that my picture might have been a hovering, beingness (everyone laughing), standing right here if you need anything. Just as Pam said, this is another job description to nurture yourself, especially when they are really happy doing their thing together. Thank you, Pam.
PAM: You’ve got the last question!
ANNE: I do! It’s from Celine. She says:
Our kids, 9 and 6 (and a 3 year old) have left school since February 2016. Since then, they have watched a lot of Netflix. They haven’t shown any particular interest in anything. I don’t see them being particularly excited to learn anything. They ask questions, but often don’t even bother to listen the answer or find the answer by themselves, “boring” is the word qualifying the research. So fear is growing in my mind. Are my kids so lazy?? Yesterday my daughter had a birthday party with 5 of her “ex” school friends. They seemed so happy to go to school. We discussed about it and they all said this year was fun, they all have para scholar activities and they all have this energy to learn. So I thought, ”Oh my god! I made a huge mistake! My kids were better off to school! We don’t do so much interesting stuff now.”
Obviously. I feel incompetent. I am afraid to ruin their life. It is like they are happy not to go to school anymore just to be able to do nothing!!!! Maybe I am completely wrong or not. I don’t know anymore!!!! I feel ashamed. I believed I was able to show them, but I am not!
Oh my goodness, Celine, I just want to hug you! I hear you! I want to take those feelings of shame and incompetence and release you from them. Hopefully you will find relief with what the three of us have to share with you.
I do want to apologize for how very long my answer will be so have a seat. (everyone laughs)
First of all, your kids are not lazy, they are so wonderful! I don’t even know them and I know they are wonderful! Again, see them through their own shining light as being wonderful. They are doing exactly what they want to be doing. The value of that goes way beyond what that looks like on the surface. And that is a really good concept for us to talk about, on the surface. I can see you’re only looking at them from the surface. You’re also only seeing the surface of the other kids’ school lives. So when you don’t dig deeper, you can see only lack in your own lives. And I can see that you’re viewing everything from the lens of lack. That’s what needs to change.
So let’s look for some abundance. Let’s look for the shine in your children. Feel what is coming from them when they are doing what they love and notice how they light up when they’re doing it or talking about it. That’s where you want to go. That’s what you want to celebrate.
For decades now, when people talk to me about feeling bad about something their child is doing or thinking they don’t do anything, I ask one question: What does your child do that allows them to shine? You can’t not see their light when they’re living from that joy and the depths of who they are. So that’s our job as unschooling parents, to focus on that.
From your question, I don’t have much information about the rest of your unschooling lives so I’m just going to take this one little excerpt you gave me, break it up into pieces, talk about that.
You said: “They haven’t shown any particular interest in anything. I don’t see them being particularly excited to learn anything. They ask questions but often don’t even bother to listen to the answer or find the answer by themselves. Boring is qualifying the research.”
So, the first part, they haven’t shown any particular interest in anything. Here again I’m going back to all the things I said about how the pictures and the expectations we have in our heads get in the way of us truly seeing all that is happening with our children, all that they’re all exploring and all they are absorbing. You said that your children watch a lot of Netflix so yes, they have shown a particular interest in something. It’s just not the stuff that you may think has any value. To them, it has immense value.
Your children just left school in February. Your oldest is nine so he or she must have been in school for some time and probably still healing from the experience. Not only that, even if there’s no healing going on with watching Netflix, it is a valid interest because it’s not just one word, you can’t just say, “my kids are watching Netflix.” It’s not this one thing in a vacuum.
They’re watching shows that they are drawn to, they’re expanding their worlds. They’re seeing new things, they’re being exposed to new concepts. There really is so much going on within them in the watching of a show that the word “watching” doesn’t even come close to what’s happening with their brain and their beingness of a child during the watching.
So, the second part of your statement there: “I don’t see them being particularly excited to learn anything.” Again, yes you do, but you’re not qualifying it as learning anything.
Real learning happens from living a joyful life, when our children are truly absorbing things. Real learning doesn’t look like a child saying, “I want to learn about this.” It just happens. There’s no bells, no whistles, and the child barely recognizes, most times doesn’t even know that they are learning because they are focused on the joy of their living. And that’s where the focus needs to be, on their joy. That’s where the learning happens no matter what they’re doing.
Third part: you said they ask questions but often don’t even bother to listen to the answers or find the answer by themselves. This is one of the times when we look at our children and feel frustrated by something they’re doing or how they are responding to something and we want to blame them and say they are doing something wrong and they’re lacking because of this thing, because of the way they are responding.
When the truth is, again I keep using this, it’s time we look in the mirror at ourselves. When we feel our children are not meeting our visions in our head, really have to stop and realize—Pam had that whole beautiful story about that vision in our head—that means we have expectations about who they should be and what they should be doing and how our lives together should look.
So if you turn the mirror around and take a look at it, we can look at what the energy is when your children ask a question. Are they open and curious and a place of wonder, just thinking out loud? And what is your energy when you receive their question? Do you receive it with wonder and openness and curiosity? Or do you go into school teacher mode? And do you tell them to just look it up themselves?
Here’s how I’ve answered my kids’ questions. First of all, I make sure they want an answer because many times they don’t. If I give them an answer and they don’t want to hear it, I don’t blame them. I understand they were just wondering out loud. I do that all the time.
So if children are doing that and they don’t really want an answer, it’s up to us to not take it personally. But if they don’t want our answer because we are in teacher mode, or if they don’t want to look up an answer because we told them to look it up themselves then that’s completely understandable. It’s understandable why they wouldn’t want to go further with that question with us, because it feels like school and life at home should not feel like school. Learning should feel like joy at home.
So, how can we receive their question in the same energy in which they asked it? By being in a state of wonder ourselves, by being curious and exploring with our kids. Even if I think I know the answer, I still want to shift to an energy that matches their own curiosity and wonder so that our energies can flow together nicely, instead of being in conflict with each other.
So when your child asks the question, you can be like, “Wow, that’s really interesting. I’d like to know more about that, too.” And if the child runs off after that, then that’s fine. What I usually do is look up the answer in my own time. Again, even if I’m completely sure that I already know the answer, I don’t want to hang on to my own answer that I received from my own experience or from school or from someone else’s experience. I want to get another piece of it that I can hand to my child. And every single time I look up something I thought I already knew, I get more knowledge about it. Then maybe later at dinner or when we’re hanging around together I might say, “I was curious about your question and I looked up the answer and here’s what I found.” And if the child is not interested in hearing more, that’s cool. We do not take it personally.
Look at the gift that child’s curiosity already gave to us by expanding our worlds. Sometimes these conversations do lead to more exploration. My answer has never been “look it up.” My energy has always been “I’d love to explore this more with you” because that becomes an invitation to connection, exploration, for time together and an energy of joy, ease, and curiosity. This is how unschooling flows. You’ll come back to that conversation at some point in the future. Even though it seems it’s not landing as learning now, it is something the child wondered about and that’s all that’s needed in that moment. Even just the wonder was enough.
Later on, down the road of life, it will probably come back to the child and the child will wonder again and it will start all over again but you’ll both be at this new level of knowledge and your awareness about it has expanded and it becomes even more appropriate to the child’s life. So that’s just one tiny sample of just one little piece of wonder that an unschooled child has the freedom to have and when his life continues to be free, continues to be full of sacred space to be, watch TV, wonder and explore, then those little wonderings have the space to grow into something that fits into their lives even better the next time it comes up. And so it goes, and so it goes.
And what matters here most, again, is the little wonders. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is because it came from the core of his beingness, his own intuition, his curiosity, his voice, his brain.
Now I want to look at those school kids you were envying. (laughing) You wrote “They seemed so happy to go to school. We all discussed it and they said this year was fun. They all have this energy to learn.”
What does their learning look like? School learning? It looks like somebody telling the child what they should be doing and thinking. School learning is not actually learning—it’s kind of memorizing for a test and forgetting whatever it was they memorized because it has no real value in their life at this moment.
My always radically unschooled adult children and I have rarely said the world “learning” in all our years living together because it simply looks like life. Real learning looks like Netflix, like videos games, TV, it looks like conversations with enthusiastic parents about life and the world and about what you wonder about. This is what’s beyond the surface. It’s the depth of their beingness.
I always completely trusted that whatever my kids chose to do, whatever was a piece of their wonders was a piece of who they are and I knew that it would for sure fit in their learning for life simply because it came from them and that’s all I needed to know. I trusted in their natural learning process to know that their perfect learning stems from their perfect doing because that stems from their perfect beingness. The end.
PAM: (laughing) Love it! Yeah, I love that image of the wonder growing and growing. That’s just beautiful.
I wanted to pop in and say my children did go to school and my eldest was nine when they left school and I recall my kids resisting anything that looked like school learning for many months, like answering questions, listening to long answers from me, thinking about things in terms of research—they just screamed school. That is boring and was boring for them.
So really, Celine, what I think is totally awesome, these observations and these questions you have, you are deep in the heart of deschooling right now. It’s YOUR deschooling, all this stuff. The schoolish language that you’re using to describe the situation shows that you’re still seeing a lot of these moments through that lens of school. It’s totally understandable and it’s precisely why parents deschooling takes longer than the kids! Typically at least a year. And there will always be pockets of stuff because we’re never actually done.
So I thought I’d suggest for you, this little experiment, what if you could make this shift for a while: instead of interpreting all your kids’ actions as “they aren’t particularly excited to learn anything,” assume that they are already learning lots of things and task yourself with figuring out what they’re learning. Because they really are learning everyday, you’re just not seeing it. Like Anne said, dig deeper below the surface. Maybe this little experiment will help you to do a little of that.
The other piece that I think can help with the process of deschooling is to noticeably make this shift to beginners mind, as in releasing that judgement and approaching your days and your thoughts with openness and eagerness and a lack of preconceptions of what you’re seeing.
As we move to unschooling, we are questioning so much of what we thought we already knew. If we don’t purposefully open up our perspective, we can find ourselves clinging to all those conventional paradigms in feeling so much fear and defensiveness and the shame you talked about. There’s that mismatch between the conventional mind movie that’s playing in our heads and the beautiful reality that’s playing out in front of us with our children. Deschooling is all about these paradigm shifts. It’s all about us and how we’re seeing things.
ANNA: You guys really covered most of what I wanted to say, but we can see that this comes up quite a lot in the questions that we’ve answered today. I want to highlight something Anne said and it’s about the words that we’re using: Netflix, screens, TV. You know, those words are not an accurate description. It’s a really surface level catch-all. What shows are they watching? What are the games? What do they love about it? Is it the story, the costumes, the drama, the history, the laughter, the comic timing, the cars, the travel. Oh my gosh, there’s so much in any one show, any one game.
Being open and not reducing, really even dismissing an interest as “screen time,” will go so far to enhance the connection with your kids and it will also help you learn so much about your child. Think of how dismissive that is: “Oh, they’re watching that screen again” versus “What do you love about this, share it with me.”
Then you find out that maybe it is the costumes and that they have an interest in fashion or designing or creating. Maybe it’s comic timing that leads you to talk about other comics that are your favorites, or things they do. See how that can open up this whole new world of connection vs shutting down when we look at someone else and label with this dismissive terminology what they are doing?
Related to this question, this is just kind of a general philosophy, too, but living in fear, judgement and worry just creates an environment filled with that. I think living your life with zest, love and joy, and wonder—oh my gosh I just love that word—you find more of that. It sounds trite but it really works. It can turn things around and move you all towards interesting places, saying and staying in that place of wonder and connection. It’s really great.
ANNE: I love what you’re saying, Anna, what the kids might get out of a show, that they might have an interest in costume and stuff like that. I don’t want that to be interpreted by the parents as asking the kids what they got out of the show. (all laughing!) Let things unfold in their own time. Sometimes kids just want to sit and watch TV and are getting enjoyment from that and is so valid in itself.
PAM: All of that! The quizzing piece is so important. That’s why I always go back to seeing things through my child’s eye. Then when I’m doing that, I’m not quizzing them or peppering them with questions about it all. I’m just observing them and imagining what they’re seeing. It’s the time thing we all go back to, give it time, give it time. You notice the show they’re enjoying and two months later, if it’s costuming you’re going to the fabric store. You see those connections through their actions. It’s not a quiz: I have to find out what they like, they like that so we have to go to the fabric store. No. you watch over time and see these things bubble up and you support them.
ANNE: Exactly. And when we’re there watching with them, oh my gosh, so many times I’m watching Anthony Bourdain with Sam and he will have seen it so he’ll be watching me watching it because he wants to connect with me over the things in it. The value is really having conversations while you’re watching it, creating space for them to say what they want to say about like “Oh my gosh, they’re in Italy. I want to go there.” There’s so much. Anna said it, it’s just one single show, it’s just not the surface. It’s quite deep and beautiful.
PAM: Definitely. And incredible.
Well, that is the last question for this month. I want to thank you guys so much for answering questions with me because it’s always great to chat unschooling with you guys. I texted them before we got started because we’d been talking for two straight days together about unschooling, and it had only been two days since and I had already missed it! So this was lovely! (everyone laughing)
Just a reminder for everyone there will be links in the show notes for the things we have mentioned in the episode and as always, if you’d like to submit a question for the Q & A show, just go to livingjoyfully.ca/podcast and click on the link.
If you’ve already submitted a question and we haven’t gotten to it yet, we definitely will. I promise!
Bye guys! Have a great day!