PAM: Hi everyone, I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Shannon Loucks. Hi, Shannon!
SHANNON: Hi, Pam.
PAM: Shannon is mom to two always unschooled boys and founder of the website breakingdaylight.org where she writes about her family’s unschooling experience. I really love your tagline Shannon: “because happy childhoods are built on peaceful parents.” I think that’s awesome. So, let’s dive right into our conversation.
To get us started, can you share with us a bit about you and your family and how you guys came to unschooling?
SHANNON: Yes. My background was in education, I went to university thinking I wanted to be a teacher, I got my five-year degree, and then realised that what I was looking for—the magic of learning—wasn’t actually happening in the public school system, so I ended up on this path of alternative learning environments, in preschools where play and enquiry were the focus of the learning.
And when I got pregnant with my first son, my husband and I decided to live on one income right away because we knew that it didn’t make sense for me to be working with other people’s children and sending my child to learn with somebody who, at the time, would have been a stranger. And, in the beginning, we made the room with the crib, and the baby theme, and had this vision that we would put our child into his crib and he would sleep there.
And then we met him. You know that moment when you become a mom and you have to keep this fragile, or what feels like this fragile, little human being alive and it never once made sense to put him anywhere other than near me. And he wasn’t going to sleep anywhere that wasn’t touching me or near me or on me.
So, I always say that he really started the journey because I took a lot of my cues from him. I kept him close, and we breastfed on demand and so slid into what I found looking backwards was attachment parenting. Through toddlerhood, the same thing. Even when his brother came along, it was always about following their lead because they were always really great at feedback as to what was going to make them happy.
And I always thought with the sleeping, how we all ended up sleeping together, the goal was sleep. So, as long as we were close to each other, everyone was sleeping. And as they got older—my husband didn’t have a great experience in public school, so he was on board with keeping the boys at home, and we didn’t ever have a plan that this is what our homeschooling would look like.
But bringing my experience forward to noticing that children learn most and are engaged and passionate when it is self-driven and self-directed, enquiry based, we just carried on the attachment parenting to following their lead. They’d learned how to talk, they’d learned how to walk, so it made sense to my brain that they would learn what they needed as they moved forward.
And then when they were about two and four, I was offered a position working with a place called SelfDesign. It was basically a place where I could get an income supporting other families that were learning at home. And that’s where I came to the term unschooling—saw it for the first time, and to build community around that. We were fortunate that on Vancouver Island where we were living at the time there were some beautiful families that I met through helping them get some government funds to help their unschooling life. That then gave me language to explain what we were doing at home with our children and also gave us the opportunity to begin building a community.
PAM: That’s really cool, I remember back all those years ago when I first discovered homeschooling and unschooling on the internet I remember seeing SelfDesign on the other side of the country and thinking “Gee, that’s awesome.”
SHANNON: I mean, I think now it’s less awesome because the Ministry has had to put more restrictions, but at the time it was a beautiful way for me to be that bridge just because I’d spent the money on education to help the families get some funds and to take the worry away from them about what the learning…I could go Ministry speak for them and they…
SHANNON: Exactly, and they could just continue living. And it was cool for me, too, to have that window into how other people were unschooling, I felt super blessed to be able to witness that and I still have relationships with all those kids as part of our community. Even this far away.
PAM: That’s awesome, that’s why I love hearing everybody’s stories, because it’s such interesting paths, there are just so many different ways that we can connect and first hear about things, as long as we’re open to noticing things. That’s really cool.
And that’s the other reason that over the years we still say that we’re pretty happy in Ontario, although we don’t get any government funding or support and we watch Alberta and BC and see how sometimes the government involvement can become increased and you have less freedom…it just seems like a compromise.
SHANNON: It does. And being the mom and having my boys in the program, agreeing to be in that relationship, it does interrupt what you’re doing with your children. Even when you have the best of intentions, there were moments when I had to take the free, joyful learning they were doing and translate it, and it did interrupt us. So, that’s my looking backwards now when people are like, “Why don’t you join a charter school?” There’s lots of money, and I still just think it will interrupt what we’re doing and I don’t want to interrupt that.
PAM: That’s true, you have to work so much harder to get past that each time and I think it would have you questioning yourself more often, right, because you’re noticing the difference, not just focusing on what you have in front of you, what you’re doing.
SHANNON: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Speaking of your boys, I’d love to hear what they’re up to, some things that they’re interested in and how they’re pursuing it?
SHANNON: Okay, my oldest son is 14, well, almost 15. He has these three passions that I can see have weaved their way through his whole life, and one is music.
When he was between four and five he fell in love with the band Green Day, and he would watch their videos and pretend that he was in the band. He dressed like they did, the members of the band, and so as time has gone on he has taught himself to play different instruments.
It started with the ukulele and he took what he knew about the ukulele and applied it to the guitar, which I would say is his favourite instrument. He has a number of guitars now. He has written a couple of his own pieces but he’s very private about it. For a short time, he was doing covers, so he started a YouTube channel called I’ve Got That Covered, he would do covers of other people’s songs. And he also has taught himself some drums, which presented a real challenge, because going from ukulele to guitar was natural but the drums bring in a whole different element.
And also, he has always loved hockey from as long as I can remember, which is a good Canadian boy. He had a grandfather who loved the Montreal Canadiens and a grandmother who loves the Vancouver Canucks. So, from as soon as he was born, he would get gifts of Montreal Canadiens, then, oh no, grandma’s going to have to up that with some Vancouver Canucks, so this theme.
And he has played. When we first emigrated to the US, he needed a suit, because when you are going to play an away game as a hockey player, you dress in a suit. So, we showed up with my seven-year-old dressed in a suit for his “away game.” So, he did a small stint, probably three years where he actually played ice hockey. And that was challenging because there’s a different energy here where we live in Sharks territory. Very competitive, the coaching was not kind, and he’s looking to collaborate, he’s not looking to be told, “You suck as a team, you guys need to pull up your bootstraps,” and he’s like, “Why don’t we come together and make a plan?” So, that element ended up ending his on ice time.
Now he watches all the games, he commentates, he follows the players, he follows the draft, he follows video games—NHL17 is his favourite right now, he builds his own teams in there, and I’ve heard him lately talking about careers in hockey that don’t involve skates on the ice necessarily.
And he plays hockey in our—we have a new sunroom now which he thinks is great because it can be the hockey room. So, he still gets his stick out regularly.
And I guess the third piece for him would be gaming. He’s pretty involved in gaming right now, it’s Minecraft, NHL17 and League of Legends. Those would be his three interests.
And KJ is younger, and it’s been fascinating to watch him pick up some of the same strands as his brother, although he’s never loved hockey and he’s never been a musician. He’s getting older and seeing him step into the things that call to his heart, which I would say are definitely anime and Japanese culture.
He’s very drawn to that genre, I guess, and dreams of going to Tokyo, that is his top place that he would like to go, to drink in the culture that is there. So, we’ve spent some time learning some Japanese. Luckily here we have a couple of options, San Francisco has a beautiful Japan town, as does San Jose, so we can go there. And he’s learned to make sushi and he’s now exploring virtual reality to go along with his passion for gaming as well—both my boys are gamers—and so he has a virtual reality set, the Vive, and is exploring the new games that are coming out with that. And dipping his toe in interests of what game creation would look like: would he like to be a story person; what does coding look like et. So, he’s just starting to question that area.
And also, baking and cooking is something he’s been interested in. Late last night he made us all cupcakes.
SHANNON: Yeah, it was nice to wake up to.
PAM: Wow. I really love how they all flow and connect and weave—I do love that word. And you mentioned that as well, how these things just bubble up and when they catch their interest they just bubble more and more, right?
SHANNON: Yes, absolutely. And it’s great too, watching them go from, you know, taking those passions that they had from childhood, and as they come into the world of teenagers, how that shapes and informs them, and going into them almost deeper or some the passions fall away, but there’s a depth that comes to the passion that’s super fascinating to me.
PAM: Yes. I think that’s why I’m always talking about the importance of space and time, because giving our children that open time and that…I guess, open space, but you know, without any expectations, to just explore freely and see where their mind takes them. It’s just fascinating to see how they dive and shift and things thread together, and sometimes it’s not quite obvious at first, but when you’re looking back you can see how these threads and twists and turns kind of evolved, right?
SHANNON: Absolutely, and how the open space, to me, if I tried to create a curriculum around what they’re doing I would have missed the mark on thousands of things, and would have steered them in a direction that wasn’t natural. To step back, and be that person that supports the time and the space, I am always awestruck by where it takes them and the pieces that pull at their heart and the ones they want to go deeper into are so different from what my my mind would have thought.
PAM: That is an awesome point, and that’s exactly it, because I know if that was my interest, I’d know all the different ways that I would have taken it, and if I’d have jumped in to just give those ideas and encouraged those particular twists, it would have been so different because they just go in so many different and amazing places that are really them. And it helps you see how different we all are as people, doesn’t it?
SHANNON: It totally does. Yes. Absolutely.
PAM: Okay, let’s move on!
You wrote a wonderful article that I loved that was posted on Flo Gascon’s site about your top five fridge-worthy reminders for gentle, connected parenting. I’ll link to the post in the show notes for everyone, but I wanted to talk in-depth about a couple of the points that you made.
First was your reminder to “listen more talk less.” This might tie nicely into what we were talking about. This was such a valuable shift for me! It does make a profound difference in how so many situations play out, in turn and that’s where we can build so much trust and connection in our relationships by just listening more and not bringing our opinions and our thoughts into it. Not too quickly, you know what I mean. Can you explain what you mean by that seemingly simple idea of just listening more and talking less?
SHANNON: Yeah, I think it’s what you say, it can be super easy as the parent to rush in with our ideas or our solutions or even our judgements in any of these situations. However, when we slow down to listen, then we get to connect with our child. It pauses whatever story is running in the back of our mind and it creates the opportunity for a really deeper understanding of the person our child is, or the struggle our child is having.
I think it’s so true that not all the problems or struggles our children are having need to be fixed. Some of them just need to be listened to or witnessed or seen, maybe. And when we can stop and simply listen quietly, it’s creating space for our child to be seen, if that makes sense.
PAM: It really makes sense. It’s that opening for them to process. And what a big thing to learn, for myself and then for my kids, that we don’t need to rush to a solution because, in fact, when we wait and give it space to maybe bubble up more, we find better solutions than the one we would have rushed in with.
I know even when my kids were in conflict with each other, if I tried to rush in and solve things, again, I’d be trying to solve things from my perspective, or what seemed fair from my perspective, but truly, not all the time, or even often sometimes, actually met their needs in that unique situation. And by giving them that space by listening to them, we actually got more to the heart.
And like you said that’s how we connect, because we learn so much more about each other when we give that space for things for them to talk and tell us.
SHANNON: Absolutely, because so many times, what I thought was happening, what I thought was going on, wasn’t true. So, if I’d come in with my, “Well, son, in this situation you should …” I would have shut the door to knowing what was really going on underneath. Because I would have put my lens on the situation, or my interpretation.
And I also think it creates that space—like you were saying, it’s like that power with instead of power over. If I’m listening and pulling out the information with my child, then we’re working together on a solution, we’re doing this hard thing together, instead of either one of us feeling alone in it.
The situation that has come up a lot for us in moving to California—that hasn’t been the top choice for either of my boys. There have been times when it has been very emotional. And they have said things that are so hard to hear. But I feel like my job at that point was just to sit there and hear them. To create that space because my child was sharing something that needed to get out of their body or their mind. And if I had tried to say anything in that moment, I would have shut them down. Instead, I got to sit side by side with my husband and witness my child in a really really hard place, instead of him feeling like he had to do that alone in his bedroom.
PAM: I think that is so important, because you know when we talk about not getting actively involved and taking over situations, sometimes I worry that people might take that as “Well, I shouldn’t get involved,” and they’re not there with them.
No, that’s a huge piece, just being there with them. Even being a witness, they know your energy is there, you’re bringing so much to the situation just by being there with them, know what I mean?
SHANNON: And it’s that piece of trust. Because my child trusts me, he’ll come to me, because I’ve listened before and not just been the parrot—you know, the one talking—he trusted me to come to me with this big feeling. That trust piece just feels to me so important because the older our children get, I suspect the more challenging the things they’re going to come up against are.
And to be that trusted ally that they can come to with whatever feeling or whatever struggle or whatever conflict they come up with, I just feel like it’s an honour to have that trust, to be a part of their conflict or even just their critical thinking, and so by sitting there listening and offering when the moment is ready, then I get a front row seat in that unfolding, instead of being shut out, I guess.
PAM: Yeah, in the processing. And that’s my experience, as they get older they don’t need our hands-on help for a lot of the day to day things, but it’s still so much of our time and our heart in being with them through, like you said, more challenging situations. They’re more emotional, they’re more moral, there are so many other things, rather than “Can you help me put this together?” “Can we go out and buy this particular game?” Or whatever.
Those things still happen, but they take care of them so much more. But it’s not like, all of a sudden, we have nothing to do. I think our time and attention just shifts more to these kinds of conversations, just witnessing processing, being there with them in different ways.
SHANNON: And often I’m surprised when I listen for a longer time—because I have to bite my tongue, I want to jump in and fix everything—so, I’m often amazed by the solution that they can come up with. It’s like we were saying before, it wasn’t even in my mind to think of that for a solution.
One time my son was having a conflict in hockey and I had a whole bunch of ideas on how I wanted to resolve it, and I listened for a while and said “What to you want to do about this?” and he said, “I think I want to talk to the coach.” Him taking control of the situation and talking to the coach was not on my radar. And yet, because I didn’t offer my solutions first, he was able to own that decision and own where we took it. And it was a super powerful experience for him.
PAM: It’s so powerful. And I continue to learn from stepping back and seeing where they take things. Because they are so generous and the way their mind works, the way they see the situations—because it’s their situation, they see more aspects to it, sometimes they have just so much more patience for the situation than I would! I learn to be a better person just by watching how they process.
Let’s get to that other reminder that I wanted to touch on which is another big piece, which is “apologize.” A couple of episodes ago, I was speaking with Emma Marie Forde about a book on attachment theory and the author David Howe mentioned that even sensitive caregivers only get it right about 50 percent of the time, but that what stands out is that they actively acknowledge and repair the disconnecting moments. So, I had just gone through that, and I was reading your stuff, and your reminder to apologize meshed so clearly with that, that connection. Can you share your experience with apologizing to your children and the value you’ve seen from it?
SHANNON: Oh, it’s super powerful. First, I mean, for me, it’s about ownership. I remember as a little girl feeling things that happened outside my control were my fault and sort of taking on these problems that had nothing to do with me. And I think when we apologise to our children we sort of lift that burden from them, so that we take it back, “No dude, that was me, I made a wrong decision in that moment and I truly am sorry for that.” And so, as they’re younger, I think it does sort of take away some burden that they might have otherwise carried where they felt at fault for something that wasn’t theirs.
The first round of potty training is the first time I have a clear memory of apologising because I had a young baby at the time and a toddler and I was ready for diapers to be over with and my son was not ready for them to be over with, and I had a frustrating moment where I was like, “Dude, if you can just go on the potty, I will give you the big red Freezie that you love.” And he was devastated and cried so hard, because he wasn’t ready to do what I was asking him to do, and he couldn’t do it, so now he was not only disappointing mommy he was missing out on the Freezie.
And I just remember dropping to my knees, eye to eye with him and saying, “We’re going to go and get that Freezie and I’m so sorry I set you up like that. It was completely not okay, buddy. That was mommy’s fault, I know you are trying your hardest.” And so, it also does that repairing of that relationship really quickly.
It could have caused distance and it could have made it harder for us to move forward, but when we apologise to our children, it repairs whatever may have the potential to be damaged in the interaction. I think that repairing piece is what allows us to recover and move forward from the place of intention instead of a reaction to a circumstance.
PAM: I love that, I love the idea of releasing that burden. You know what I think it ties to too? I was thinking about how we build our relationship patterns, when we have a disconnecting moment, they’re trying to make sense of it, they’re like, “Oh, this is how relationships go. This is new, I need to make sense of this.” So, that’s that burden they’re feeling. It’s like, all of a sudden, there’s this anomaly and, “I need to make sense of it and incorporate that into my new view of how I relate to my mom,” or whoever. So, when we acknowledge that, they’re like, “Oh, that is an anomaly that is their fault, I don’t need to revise my picture.”
SHANNON: Yeah, I can think of so many opportunities I’ve had. And even apologising when they’ve said, “No that’s okay mom.” And sometimes I say it’s actually not okay that I did that, or I said that, and here’s why I feel that it’s not okay. So, it gives, like you say, more depth to that picture for them to understand I know where my errors were and they can trust that next time something comes up, I will have a different reaction because I’m reflecting on why things went poorly this time.
PAM: And it’s not the idea of we should apologise with the expectation that it’s just going to erase what we did. I love that point because maybe it did really hurt them and they’ve seen a new side of us that they hadn’t seen before; that, “Okay, I’m glad she understands that she can go to that place.” It’s all learning about each other.
We had a Q&A a while ago where the mom said she kind of hit her limit, so that kind of learning about ourselves so we don’t put ourselves in a position that we are right at the edge, we try to take care of ourselves before, but our kids also know that “Oh, there’s an edge.” So much learning, isn’t there?
SHANNON: So much learning from both sides, absolutely.
You have a great story on your blog about your youngest son and his love for “surprise snacks.” I was hoping you could share a bit about your journey through your own expectations around food prep to get to where you came up with a beautifully creative way to make his wish for nighttime surprise snacks come true? I love that story.
SHANNON: I love it too because on the flip side my other son is very specific about what he wants to eat so there’s no just showing up with food for him.
PAM: Yeah, no surprises!
SHANNON: So, from as long as I can remember, KJ doesn’t want to be bothered with figuring out what he wants to eat, but he would like it to show up in front of him and be some accurate information. Sometimes I wonder if it’s about his love language, because it is about being seen, knowing him, me knowing him and what he likes to eat and me showing up with that.
And around the food prep. For me, the shift had to come from shifting out of obligation and into choice. So, I could be frustrated—I’ll be truthful, there were times when I was frustrated when he said, “Get me a surprise snack.” Like, “Tell me what you want to eat!” But when making that shift it was an opportunity for me. Instead of showing up with a bitter resentful sandwich, I could show up with loving kindness. And everyone who receives an offering of a sandwich made lovingly, I swear it tastes better.
So, I had to do the internal work of realising, what is my goal here? Is my goal just to slap together some food here and have them go away? Or is my goal to make food, cooking, something that is joyful and is a way to connect with each other? That shift helped me come up with new ideas.
And when you come at it from that place, it’s exciting for me because now I’m making this food thinking about what he’s going to experience when it’s 12 o’clock and everybody else has gone to bed, because he’s our night owl, and he’s hungry. He knows he can go to the fridge and there in the fridge is a little package of love from Mom, and I’m sleeping peacefully in my bed instead of being woken up and asked to come and make food, and he’s down there feeling loved. So, it stopped being about having to make food, having to make dinner, and it started being about continuing that connection even when one of us isn’t available.
PAM: That is a beautiful picture and it helps so much to move up to that bigger picture, doesn’t it?
SHANNON: Oh, absolutely.
PAM: I remember I was going through that whole shift from obligation to choice, for me it was dinner prep. It was reasonably easy to get through the expectation that everybody like it and be grateful, you know, that kind of thing, but that was where I had to start, because that was an expectation I knew as a child when we grew up with that kind of environment, so it took some thinking.
It was seeing the bigger picture, it was how could this dinner experience be more enjoyable for everyone involved. And how it kind of developed for us was we’ve ended up kind of being buffet style, for the last dozen years or so. Basically, I would make three or four different things that would all go together nicely but that I knew everybody really liked at least one of those things, and then people had choices. Instead of, “I made this thing, and if you don’t like it, you can make yourself a sandwich,” kind of thing. Because that didn’t feel loving.
SHANNON: And that’s the piece—that’s the undoing of your own stories and also finding the intention of “What is my intention around food?” And for me with the boys, the intention has always been for them to have a healthy relationship with food. And what I mean by that is not that they eat their fruits and vegetables, but that they know what food feels like in their bodies. That they know what textures they like, they know what tastes they like. And that can’t come if I’m imposing rules or ideas around food, it only comes through experimentation.
PAM: That’s another reason why I ended up with a kind of smorgasbord of things and every week, “Is there something new you’d like to try?” “Is there something you’d like me to make sure I make this week?” So, the menu prep before I went grocery shopping was always collaborative. You know what, nine times out of ten, they were “No, it’s fine.” It wasn’t very often that they wanted to bring something new into the equation, so I knew I was doing pretty good at guessing things that they want. Although sometimes you’re like, “Please, give me an idea!” (laughs)
SHANNON: Something new. I know, and it’s fun now with social media there’s been a few times where Mitchell’s been “Oh, mom, I saw this cool thing on Tasty on Facebook, shall we try and make it?” So, they’re ready, because it’s been collaborative for so long, they’re ready to jump in, and I think that’s super fun.
PAM: It is super fun. Joseph’s been exploring…and Michael’s been really in to baking for a while, Joseph’s been into soups and stews, so it’s all very interesting. But that’s it, visit your bigger picture intention around food. And, like you said, with your youngest son, how it’s received.
SHANNON: He is so happy to open that fridge and be like, “Oh, there. There is something I want to eat.” It just feels good to both of us.
PAM: Because it’s not all about us, right?
Ok, now let’s shift to gaming! Technology has developed so quickly that many of us grew up. with minimal access so the technology we have now is pretty unfamiliar for us. Not to mention, so many of the mainstream messages are negative and advocate strict control. But it’s not “just a game,” is it?
SHANNON: Oh, it’s never just a game!
PAM: Never, never, never just a game! So, I’d love to hear about your parenting journey around technology and gaming.
SHANNON: It was probably one of the areas I struggled with the most in the beginning. And I remember specifically my husband was…he gamed, and he wanted video games for the boys, and I was, “No way, they are not coming into the house.” And the boys had seen them at a friend’s place and they loved them, and I was arguing with my husband. At the time, we lived just up the road from my mom and we had a huge argument in that four-house block and he was adamant, he said, they’re my kids too. And I was like, “Okay,” and he brought out a video game machine and the boys loved it of course.
But my oldest son got very frustrated with it, there was a lot of frustration and the boys went to bed, and my husband came to me and said, “You were right, I remember feeling that frustrated, we need to get rid of this thing.” And so, the boys woke up in the morning and we did the moment of, “Oh sorry guys, the system broke,” and the boys were so sad and so devastated.
And it didn’t make video games go away. It didn’t change it. But I remember thinking, oh my goodness, I am lying to my children. What is more important right now? The relationship that I have with them, this foundation that we’re going to build a lifetime on top of, or video games? Was I going to be the person that lied to my children, or was I going to be the person that partnered with my children to explore their interests?
Then I ended up being the one that said, “No, actually I think we need to repair this.”
So, we started exploring different games and it started with Lego games on the laptop, and then when the laptop didn’t work we got our Wii, which the boys thought was the coolest thing ever. And that’s not to say I didn’t have worries and concerns because that point they would always come up where we’re living—definitely where we’re living, the mainstream, as you said, is limit and control.
And when you see your three-year-old at the time, sitting in front of a TV and he’s so excited and he’s playing and he’s playing and he’s playing, the fear is rising and rising and rising. And then I was like, sit down and play with him.
So, what I was fearing in that moment, I think, was the lack of connection with him or he’s sucked into this video game, so when I sat down next to him, now we’re having a conversation. We’re playing together, we’re laughing, we’re connecting and it’s not about the video game, it’s about whatever the activity is. We were walking in the forest and we had this conversation enjoying what was right in front of us. So now, we’re not walking—we’ll walk in the forest later, right now we’re doing this video game together and it’s dispelling that myth that video games are something somebody plays in a dark bedroom all alone, isolated. They’re not. Games are something we can play together, and we can collaborate and we can talk about together. So again, just undoing that layer of story for myself.
And then the other piece would be—because the fear and the concern, they come up and down, up and down—when it would come up again, it was about pausing for that moment to see what was going on. To not be like, okay, I’m running my old story that “he is playing a video game” and “he’s just playing a video game,” when I could take that extra breath and the first thing I would witness was that my child was happy and engaged. Okay, that’s a pretty good life goal, to be happy and engaged, but under all that, they were working through puzzles, they were working through hard things, they were building reading skills, they were building critical thinking skills, they were problem solving, and for a large part of the time they were doing that with other people. Which if you look at the tech industry, or most of the industries, the ability to use critical thinking skills and collaboration skills is what the workforce is built on right now. So, when I could take the story out of my head, and drop into the moment and witness what was actually happening, then I saw beyond the video game and I saw my child, and I saw their skills and I saw their happiness.
PAM: That’s beautiful, Shannon. For me too, every time questions and fears started bubbling up, the answer was always to go hang out with my kid more. Because I wasn’t seeing the big picture any more, I was just seeing the tapes. When you go and even if you just watch for a bit—but being with them is even better because their joy is infectious, isn’t it?
SHANNON: It is, and even when you are watching and engaging with them, you know the game and you know the jump off points and you know when it’s time to say, “Hey, who wants to make Quickrevive, so we can have our own juggernaut?”
You’re taking these pieces out of a video game and now you’re all in the kitchen figuring out how to make this drink that you found a recipe for, or even just using your own creativity for. The number of times the video game popped off the screen and into the play that my children were doing, or to the dinner table, to the meal that we decided to prepare. There are so many springboards, but you don’t get them if you’re not engaged with your child and knowing the game yourself so you can find those kind of springboard moments.
PAM: Yeah, if you think it’s just a game, and you’re waiting for them to finish. It’s a window, it’s a beautiful window into a whole world.
SHANNON: I love that. I love that.
PAM: I know. It’s beautiful.
I’d like to chat about another conventional misconception: teenagers. So often we’re told by family and friends that things may be great now, but wait until your kids are teenagers. We can see where they’re coming from though, when we look from their perspective, because so often they’re trying to hold onto their teens more tightly because of that fear, just at a moment when their teens are looking for more space, they’re wanting to hold on tighter, or they’re discounting their teen’s perspective and view of the world as naive and insisting they do things our way—the “right” way. But it’s a different ball game when we partner with them and try to help them reach their goals, isn’t it? They are such amazing people!
SHANNON: It so is because I understand that place of the consequences of the decisions teenagers are making could be larger, they could have a bigger impact. But, trying to get in the way of them, trying to stop them, erodes the trust. And what we need so much more of is to trust our children to go out into the world and make the mistakes that they’re going to make.
Because it’s that perspective of I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I don’t want you to make the mistakes I’ve made. Our children aren’t, they’re going to make their own mistakes. They may mirror something we’ve done, yet there’s so much learning in those mistakes, and if we keep the door open to our teenagers, if we support them and show up for them, then we get to be a part of cleaning up those mistakes, or cleaning up those mistakes.
We get to be their ally or their enemy, we get to be trusted or not, and there’s so much respect involved at this stage, I think. Trust and respect are the two things that come out for me. I’m just new to an almost 15-year-old and a coming up on 13-year-old, but if I can trust my child and give him the space he requires, then the door stays open in our relationship. If I’m trying to get up in his business and I’m trying to control it then that door closes. And I feel like when that door is closed, and when you’re not in it together, then that’s when the risk is higher for trouble for a teenager.
PAM: I love that closed door/open door idea, and it goes back to what we were talking about earlier that when the door is open, they know that we’re here and they trust and respect us enough to come through the door and process with us. And I think the big piece of the trust is, is when we are offering our perspective or our feedback comments, suggestions if they’ve asked for it, they know that we want to help them. Not because we’re trying to manipulate them into what we think is the right answer.
SHANNON: Absolutely. It’s like partnering with them. And I always remind myself that I am their safest place in the world—or that’s what I long to be. I want to be their soft-landing spot, their safest place. So, that’s probably why, when they’re trying out a new attitude or a new philosophy, or a new moral, that they’re going to test it on me, because they’re going to trust that no matter how it lands or what happens, I’m still going to love them.
So, when parents are talking about their teenagers having attitude or whatever, they’re trying some stuff out on you and if you can receive it in that open-hearted space, then the feedback you have to offer them is going to be received in that same space. I also try to remember what it was like to be a teenager and remind myself that, all of a sudden, you’re going along as a child and you’ve got all these new hormones in your body. And you’re like, what is happening? It’s going to come out messy. I mean, it comes out messy in me and I’m a 44-year-old woman! So, for me to expect my child who’s just coming into these new hormones to be better at it than I am is a ridiculous expectation.
PAM: That’s quite the expectation, isn’t it?
SHANNON: I can’t meet it!
PAM: Yeah, I know. I loved, loved, loved the teen years. Because it’s just so fascinating and enjoyable to see them exploring the world through their perspective and seeing how they process it, what they do with it. As we were saying earlier, we learn so much from them because they’re coming at it from such a different place than we were. So, like you said, even if a choice that doesn’t go as they want it to kind of mirrors a choice that we had, it’s still such a different experience because we were coming at that from a very different perspective when it happened to us, and the way they process it is often more than likely going to be so different to when we did back then.
SHANNON: And I also think when we’re creating this beautiful space for our kids to unfold naturally as the humans that they are. What I see in my own boys is they’re able to slip from teenager to child with this great ease. One moment they can be doing this what seems like this very grown up thing, and the next moment they’re engaged in this role-playing game with their younger brother. And they do it with wild abandon.
I think park days are the best example of that, you have these multi-aged groups and a teenager shows up and leads the kids through this co-operative game and is laughing like they were as a child at seven years of age. I think when we’re giving them the creative space, or creating the space for them to unfold, we’re giving them the freedom to slip in and out of those worlds with total ease, and I love watching that.
PAM: That’s such a huge piece. When Lissy talks about her photography, she says her goal has become to bring that piece of childhood back to adults, because that’s what she saw so much during her teen years. She saw it disappear from the lives of her schooled friends. And that has been her passion for her pictures—behind many of her pictures is reminding adults that childhood is still awesome and accessible and you can still visit it.
Okay, last question!
A couple of months ago, you posted a piece on your blog titled, “Parenting is who I am.” One of my favourite lines was, “Turning toward parenting as who I am and not a job I do affords me the freedom to be my best self at each turn of the journey.” Can you talk about that shift away from seeing parenting as a job and what it means to you?
SHANNON: I think it was in Shonda Rhimes’ book, Year of Yes, when she gave language to something I’d sort of been pulling at.
When you think about how parenting is set up in our society it really is that parenting is a job you have to do. To me, a job has a heavy weight to it. It’s something I’m trying to get done, trying to get through, looking for vacation.
But when I can turn it around to “I am a parent. That is who I am.” If that’s what people are going to talk about at the end of my life, then I want to do it at the highest level of integrity. I want to do it from a place of love and kindness and connection, and so the words that I hang onto come from a completely positive and more grounded space.
It also helps me see myself through my children’s eyes, and I don’t want to be remembered in their adult lives as the person who did the dishes. I want to be remembered as the person who held their hand when they cried or who danced with them in the middle of the hockey rink because a really great song came on. So, it’s that little shift in language that brings me to being more grounded in the person that I am and brings that to my parenting and to my life with them.
PAM: It helps with that being in the moment, right?
SHANNON: Yes, yes.
PAM: It’s funny when you were talking about it just then, I didn’t make the connection when I was reading your piece, but just when you were talking about it then, it reminded me of a blog post I wrote, Are you playing the role of “mother”?
It’s the same kind of thing, it’s, “This is my job, I need to be mother right now and I need that vacation time later, I need that time off, away.” Whereas when you see it as part of who you are, you’re in the moment as that person all the time because that’s who you are. And it doesn’t mean that you never have time alone, but it’s that time alone isn’t escaping the role of mother it’s that, “I as a person need some time alone,” and figure it out, how it flows.
SHANNON: Right, and sometimes when I think of “Mother,” the world has a whole bunch of definitions about what mother is, and what mom is and what mother and mom do, but when I pull it back in to what I do as an individual, it becomes like my heartspace. And my heartspace has always been to bring love and connection into the world, even before I had my children. So, it really does, like you say, make it mine and it makes it about who I am being all of the time. Of course, I want to be loving to them and sometimes the most loving thing I can do is go take a nap. Which works for all of us. And it also creates a space for the kids to see you as that full human being, and they always want to help you—not always but a lot of the time—they want to help you too as much as you want to help them.
PAM: I have goosebumps now, because that is the heart of it, right? That’s awesome.
I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Shannon, I had a great time!
SHANNON: I did too, thank you for reaching out! I really, really enjoyed this conversation. Every time I talk about this I feel even more grounded in what I’m doing, so I thank you for creating the space for that.
PAM: Oh, no problem at all, I love it too, it’s inspiring. I go away every time more ready to engage with my day and my kids and my family.
Before we go, can you let everybody know the best place for people to connect with you online?
SHANNON: My writing is all at breakingdaylight.org, and from there there’s a way to contact me and a way to sign up to get posts sent to your inbox, so that’s probably the best place to start.
PAM: That’s awesome, thank you so much, have a great day!
SHANNON: Thank you, you too!