PAM: Hi everyone, I’m Pam Laricchia from living joyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Jo Watt. Hi, Jo!
PAM: Good morning. Jo blogs at girlsunschooled.co.uk and I’ve really enjoyed reading her thoughts about unschooling and parenting, and I also learned on the blog that about six months ago, her family moved from the UK to the pacific northwest of the United States.
I’m super excited to chat with her today, and to get us started, Jo …
Can you share with us a bit how you and your family came to unschooling?
JO: Yeah, hi. I’m Jo, and I have a lovely husband Kriss and two daughters, Evie’s six, and Clara who’s five in about three weeks, which is crazy.
So, we didn’t plan to unschool—we didn’t even know what it was. I had quite a specific idea of what kind of a parent I’d be. I was going to be loving, and I was going to have rules that I’d stick to, and I’d definitely have time outs and reward charts. I don’t know why because it’s not something I respond well to, it’s not the way I am generally—I’m very inconsistent. I like to say I’m flexible because it makes it makes me sound a bit better, and I really hate being told off, always. I used to run off when I was little, because I just hated it —I’d go and hide under the table somewhere.
And I was a teacher before I had the girls and I wasn’t strict at all, and there were school expectations of rewards and punishments, and I’d change my mind about them all the time because they just felt so unfair to the kids that I had in front of me. So, when I had the girls, or Evie to start with, and poor Evie always gets that, um, the older child lack-of-any-parenting-skills thing, but I didn’t know about attachment parenting but that’s really what we did. I still thought that at some point we’d have to change especially when, especially, you know, when they were toddlers, and preschoolers, that I couldn’t just carry on being nice and looking after her needs and listening to her.
And I did change —I started to have expectations that just weren’t realistic, I thought she should be able to listen to things, be able to react to things in a way that was far in excess of her, you know, eighteen months of age. And so, I tried to correct her and guide her—I thought. Actually, I was just being pushy, I think.
We went to quite a lot of toddler groups, and it was clear really from early on that she wasn’t interested in doing what everybody else was. She wouldn’t look and think ‘oh yay, all the kids are doing story time, I want to do that too!” She always wanted to be doing something else. And not at all interested in conforming.
At that point, I didn’t really feel, because there’s 18 months between them that I had any time to read about parenting ideals or any other way, but I knew that I had to look for something else, because I felt like we were sort of struggling a little bit. I had these two teeny children, and I felt like it was just going from one challenge to the next.
And so I wasn’t looking for unschooling because I’d never heard of it, but I was looking for other things that might suit the children that we had, like something to maybe manage behavior, which seems awful now, or other routes of education that might suit us.
We did start at that time as well changing our parenting, because of the way that Evie particularly was reacting, Clara was still a baby. So we used fewer noes, and we sought connection rather than punishment, and we tried not to restrict or coerce, but we didn’t use those words because, we just didn’t have them in our vocabulary, really, for that kind of thing.
I think it was a kind of ‘pick your battles’ and try to emphasize philosophy, but it was definitely moving away from pushing and making them do what we wanted them to. We talked about home education and we knew that it would be good for us. And I read some, and I read a bit more, and I joined all the groups, and then found unschooling, and definitely thought that we couldn’t do it.
It seemed weird choosing home ed at all, and unschooling just didn’t seem like it was enough, which of course is crazy because it’s everything, isn’t it? It’s opening your whole learning to everything and anything. And, as we found it and as I deschooled, which is ongoing, it seemed like the best thing for us, and that’s what we’ve been working on ever since!
PAM: Wow, that’s awesome. And it seems like such familiar story. At the beginning, you were talking about how you had this idea in your head of the kind of parent you were going to be. Isn’t that interesting how, it might not even be quite similar to how we were raised, but it’s kind of that perfect parent that we’ve imagined, right?
JO: Yeah. ‘It’s shown to be that if you’re really consistent and you have these rules and your children are perfect, and if they’re not, then you just need to be more consistent.’
And actually, then you have the children and they don’t follow this path that you were expecting them to and they don’t just fit into the boxes that you have. And I’m glad because it makes you look for something else —it certainly did for us.
PAM: Yeah, and us too, like with my eldest, because, you have this image in your mind, and then they come, and you see them. I think those of us, you know, that talk about how we ended up parenting in an attachment parenting way, although we hadn’t yet heard the term, right?
I don’t think I came across the term until I was starting to look in homeschooling and unschooling circles… But yeah, if it’s that point where you decide, either, I’m going to, ‘damn the torpedoes and I’m going to live up to that ideal parent,’ you know, or ‘I see my child and they are beautiful, and they make sense, their needs seem to make sense,’ yet their needs are in contrast with what I think I should be doing. And it’s where you choose, ‘which way am I going to go?’ Right?
JO: Yeah, and everybody’s telling you, “You’re going to make a rod for your own back,” and “Don’t pick them up all the time,” and all these things that seem so contrary to what your body and your mind and your baby are telling you to do. And it doesn’t stop at babyhood, does it? It carries on throughout their childhood.
PAM: Oh, it definitely keeps going! (laughter) That’s awesome, I love that.
I also love hearing what unschooling kids are up to.
I was hoping you could take a moment to share what your girls are interested in right now and how they’re pursuing it?
JO: Yeah, um, their interests change all the time, and I’m not very good at seeing outside of what’s right now, but they’ve always both loved animals, and they’re really keen to get pets at the moment, which we are kind of working on. We live in a rented townhouse and we are here on a temporary visa, and we like to travel, so I’m not quite sure how that’s going to work—maybe something that (whispers) dies quickly, but that seems a bit mean. (giggling)
But we go to the pet shop a lot and we stroke all the dogs, and our neighbors have puppies, so we try to maximize their exposure to animals as much as we can, which is lovely. If you see us at any point, you’ll know, because they’ll come running up to say, “Can I stroke your dog, please!” Which American’s just think is the cutest thing, you know. It’s very ducky.
And so, Evie, loves being on her iPad. That’s when we’re at home, generally that’s what she’ll start doing, and she might move away from it, but that’s where she’ll spend most of her time. She’s got some favorite youtubers that she follows. She plays lots of games, the staples—Goat Simulator, which is hilarious, and Minecraft. But she likes new ones, and often she’ll gets new apps and play them, get really great at them, play them avidly, and then delete them and move on to the next one.
Clara is a bit of an inventor. She sort of wanders around the house finding things and she makes up little scenarios or she mixes potions, or she’ll just chat to you about all the ideas she has: “When I’m a grown-up, I’m going to do this,” and she likes to tell stories. And sometimes Evie will hear those things and she’ll come and join in ‘cause Clara has some good ideas that she wants in on.
They both like making friends, but Clara’s need for people runs out much quicker than Evie’s. I think Evie would stay with people all day, she never wants to leave, whereas Clara has, you know, her cup fills pretty quickly and she’s ready to be by herself or just with the family again. We all love parks. We go out quite a lot to see new places, although they are getting a bit—I keep pointing out these mountains and these beautiful sites in this wonderful new place, and I think they’re a bit like ‘oh yeah, we’ve seen it —it’s just like all the other mountains,’ and I’m still giddy with excitement. Yeah. It’s nice.
PAM: I love your point about animals. You know, because there are so many other ways, you know, when you can’t make a decision or a choice in the moment, or it’s something that needs to be considered more, there’s always other ways to meet that need in the meantime, right? So often, our answers don’t need to be a ‘yes/no,’ there are so many other ways. Like, even with Lissy, I would visit her in New York before we brought her puppy. She’s been there four years now, so last fall, she finally had a place and roommates who were happy with having a dog, a little dog. But up until that point, she was constantly going to the pet stores and stroking the dogs! (laughter)
JO: And it’s so nice, and they can get their fill. Like we can do those things as much as possible. We spent about an hour and a half in a pet store the other day, and the people kept coming up and saying, “Can we help you with things?” And I was sort of trying to say, “Well, maybe not. We are just poking at these guys.” And there was a particular bird, called Mango that Clara fell in love with, and she was just chatting with him for so long. It was really nice.
PAM: And when they were younger and we used to go to pet stores in particular, but various places—even toy stores—I found that the best thing for me was that expectation piece that you mentioned, is not having expectations. And letting them stay as long as they were interested in. Because man, they can stay engaged for a long time in those places, can’t they?
JO: Yeah, they can, yeah.
PAM: But it’s so worth it.
JO: And it’s difficult sometimes when you’re like, “Ok, let’s move to the next thing.” And they’re still really engaged and I have to stop myself and stand back and let them be.
PAM: Yeah! That was the same for me before when we were in New York.
Lissy and her boyfriend, they were down there sitting playing with all those puppies, and I was like, “I’ve got three of those at home, I’m ok.” But I wasn’t going to go like, ‘hey guys, come on, let’s go.’ What I did was, I did a little bit of shifting and breathing, and I concentrated on enjoying their joy, watching them playing, seeing what was attracting them, which puppies they were drawn to. There’s almost always something around that I can find to catch my attention if I start to get bored.
JO: Yeah, yeah, that’s really nice way of doing it.
You wrote a post a few months ago that was all about how we don’t need to rush reading. I was hoping you could share a bit about your journey through the conventional push for kids to read earlier and earlier?
JO: Yeah, I think that was me, I mean, intellectually, I was a teacher, and I knew that it wasn’t good to get three and four-year-olds sitting in the classroom and getting them to copy down things, but when it was your own children, I really felt that it was important that they got it early. Everything, not just reading.
Achievement for me was always something really important, and it was something that you got a prize for or a certificate, and that was success. That you got this thing and you had it and you were told well done for it. Actually, I think if the girls had been more compliant, we may well have carried on just being really structured and pushy.
Luckily, they did not and they wanted to do things their own way, so, like I was saying before, I was the one who had to change. And the reading was part of that. Like, they are into a lot of reading-related things, and we used to read books every day, we don’t always now—we do it whenever they need to, but there are other reading activities around. And as they get older, I thought I’d be more worried about it, but I’m not. Reading and in other things, the more time goes on, the better I feel about it. I can see their language progressing and their storytelling, and they can read pictures and decipher meaning and they make inferences. And they ask me to read things if they need it, for whatever it is that they are doing or they figure out what it says by the context. And all these wonderful, brilliant skills that are part of literacy. And the rest of it will come whenever—whenever!
And it helps as well when I don’t compare to other kids, which I used to do a lot. We were around the toddler groups and I used to say ‘oh, they can do this, and they can do this, but we can’t do that, but we can do this other thing…’ And now that they are not part of the system, it’s easier not to do that and that makes me feel better about it all.
But I think always with reading, it just seems to be that unless you have a particular desire to want to do it from early on, it’s not helpful to try to make it happen. It doesn’t help anybody and it can be destructive in a lot of ways.
PAM: Yeah, I think that destructive piece can really get in the way. And I remember something that was really eye-opening for me as my kids were reading later. Because, you think ‘reading is so important!’ And, ‘they need to be able to read to do just about anything!’ Right?
JO: That’s the thing. Yeah, yeah.
PAM: And yet, what I started to see when I was paying attention, was that that lack of reading was not actually impacting them. I mean, I would read and help out as needed, but it was so much less needed than I thought it would be. I didn’t have to trail along behind them 24 hours a day, reading everything that they came into.
JO: Looking up all the words… (laughter)
PAM: There’s so many other ways to interact with the world! That was such an eye-opening piece for me. That there were all these other skills that they were developing that help them get along in the world!
And it was because in the classroom, in the school, reading is a super important skill that they need all the time, right? For reading textbooks, worksheets, writing down, you know, doing their worksheets, writing tests and everything. But outside of that environment, it was not as important a skill, and they had the room to develop so many other different skills, too, don’t they?
JO: Definitely, yeah. It does become necessary in schools because everything is based on what you’ve done previously, and it goes up in that kind of that structured, layered way, and if you haven’t grasped the reading bit, you can’t go on to the next bit.
But so many kids I would get, in secondary—I was a high school teacher—would come and they would be able to read the words but they wouldn’t be able to read for meaning at all, and that surely is the thing that we are aiming for. There is no point in being able to read words if you can’t then figure out what it means or try and gather something interesting from it, or even useful or necessary. But because they’ve been through this path, and it was difficult for them, that they had to concentrate so hard on knowing that these letters make up this word, that their brains didn’t have the opportunity to do anything with that other than spell out and sound out the word, and this is when they were 11 and 12, and at that point in the school system it was really hard for them to continue to keep up and without a lot of additional support, which we, you know, obviously tried to give. But it tends to make people get further and further behind this arbitrary place that people ought to be at.
PAM: That’s such a great point, because that lack of reading does impact them in every single subject, right, because that is the communication tool for every subject, whereas, outside of the classroom, geography can be playing with the globe and the atlas and conversations and watching videos, and the reading doesn’t have to effect…
JO: All of the other learning that you’re doing.
PAM: That’s so interesting.
With unschooling, we’re choosing to relate to our children, not through power and control that we were talking about earlier, but through connection and agreement, you know, finding a path forward that works for everyone involved. And it’s such a very different way of interacting with our children. I was hoping you share a story or two about ways you guys have worked through times when the girls were wanting to do different things?
JO: This is really something I feel like we are working on all the time, and it’s not always so successful. I think it’s only recently that I’ve been thinking about this connection, and I think it’s fundamental to the unschooling thing, but it takes me a while to catch up sometimes.
But that’s the bit that we are really trying to focus on. When they both want the same thing, it’s fine, we’re alright, but when their needs diverge, it can be really difficult.
So, we’ve found that if all four of us are around, Kriss is at work during the week, but he comes home in the evening obviously, and we have the weekends, and it’s really useful because there is an adult to a child, and we have enough time and space with each of them.
We went for a walk the other week in the woods, and Clara just wanted to run through the whole loop and just play on the other side, so she did the whole thing in about a minute and a half, and then just was happy picking flowers and looking at things and stroking dogs on the other side. Whereas Evie wanted to read. They had like a little bit of a series of storyboards with a mouse and she wanted to stop and look at all of those, and she wanted to climb the trees and toodle off the path, and there was a longer trail —she wanted to go up there. And having an adult each meant that they could do their own thing safely and not have to be so, ‘oh, quick, let’s follow your sister,’ or, ‘stay back so we can wait for you.’ That was really useful.
Often, it’s just the three of us, so that makes it more difficult. We were at an unschooling conference at the weekend, which is lovely. Evie really wanted to socialize a lot, she wanted to be with people all the time. But Clara wanted to look at the raffle area which was very exciting. We did find a balance—I think they both got enough of their own thing, but it’s hard when there’s a big space and I can’t see them both and they both want to be in different places.
We do try, just to get as much time as possible doing the thing that they want to do, and trying to negotiate with the other. And, actually, it works much better if they do the negotiating rather than I impose it, and they’re pretty good at it —they listen to each other probably more than me. And after, one of them will be happy to go along with the other one, as long as they’ve had enough to eat and they’re not too tired, things are pretty smooth. If one of those things is out of balance it’s a bit more difficult, but we are working on it! I feel like it’s a work in progress for us.
PAM: And I think that’s something that we are always working on because, you know what, we grow and change, and our ability to understand other people’s perspective changes. And I loved, Emma Marie Forde and I, and I’m trying to remember what book it was, one of our book chats —but, it was, it was the attachment parenting book!
And it was talking about how our actions as parents work out the first time maybe 50 percent of the time, but it’s the going back and reconnecting, and keeping looking for that connection and finding that way forward, that’s where the trust in the relationship builds.
Because if everything is always perfect and working out, there is less need to trust that the other person will— hmmm, how should I say that? That the people in the conversation will do their best to help you get what you’re looking for, even if it can’t be immediately.
PAM: And the other piece is like you mentioned—having them work it out. Because sometimes what we think is fair … isn’t? They work out something completely different, but both of them are happy with that.
PAM: It’s always so fun to step back and watch, isn’t it?
JO: It is.
And, actually, I sometimes think, ‘well, I’ve got to be equal and fair,’ and I’ll assign the same amount of want for their thing, and think, ‘well, Evie needs this much stuff, and you need this much stuff, Clara.’ But actually, Evie kind of wants to go and chat to her friends, but she’d be happy to do that for a little bit and then she’d be happy to come and do whatever it is. It might not be equal. It might be that 10 minutes of one thing and an hour of another would suit them, and they can work that out themselves.
‘As long as you let me do my thing first, then I’m happy to do your thing for as long as you want afterwards.’ They come to these conclusions, and rather than me saying, “Well, let’s have 30 minutes of this and 30 minutes of that,” because it might not be what they end up needing or wanting and it’s just constrained, isn’t it?
PAM: Yeah. That was one of the huge realizations for me too, that fair didn’t mean equal. Right? It didn’t have to be equal amounts of anything. Being fair was meeting their needs. Like you said, maybe it was 10 minutes of this and an hour of this, and then they were both equally happy, right?
JO: Yeah. Nobody felt like they’d missed anything, everybody felt like they’d been listened to and, yeah, better all around.
PAM: I think it’s part of being human and growing and learning—empathy, and and, oh, another big piece is understanding yourself well enough to know, to know that this is what they are learning. Figuring out, as I say, 10 minutes of this I think will make me happy, and then we can go do your thing. And then maybe after that 10 minutes, no, I really wanted more, so you know so next time, maybe she realizes that she wants 15 or 20 or whatever.
JO: Maybe bargain for a bit more…
PAM: By making a choice and seeing how it plays out, that’s how we figure ourselves out, right? That’s so interesting!
Your husband Kriss has recently started writing on your blog as well. Can you share a bit about his journey to unschooling?
JO: Yeah, um, I think we sort of came to it together.
I think in some ways deschooling was more natural for him. He wasn’t as invested in the system as I was. He works in tech and they deal with things all the time that can’t be learned in school. They just didn’t exist five or ten years ago. So, he can really see the benefits of working creatively without the artificial structure of a curriculum.
And he works with lots of people who are really, really clever, and lots of people who don’t necessarily have the conventional academic background. And all of them are doing things that didn’t—not that nobody knew how to do—but that weren’t a thing. I think that is quite a dynamic, exciting place to work for him. But it helps him to see how learning can and should work outside for children, as well as adults.
I think that we do both struggle to have the emotional energy sometimes to keep up with our girls —they are spirited. I think that would be the same if they went to school, though, probably worse, because there’s lots of school expectations.
We do tend to take stock every now and again, which generally means, I moan at him and worry about something child-related, and he reassures me that it’s all going to be alright. It’s really nice, he’s very objective, and gives me a bit of perspective when I can feel a bit close to everything.
But I feel really lucky because lots of people I know don’t have an equal agreement on home education at all, let alone unschooling, which can be a bit of a scary thing to approach for some people, whereas Kriss has been on board and kind of an instigator in a lot of it right from the beginning which has made it much easier to work towards and to read about and to instigate, and yeah. It’s great.
PAM: Yeah, that is nice! It does help to have someone you can bounce ideas around to and get feedback from. That’s wonderful. Thanks, Kriss! (laughter)
Over the years I’ve come to think that one of the biggest differences between unschooling and a conventional lifestyle is the amount of free time that our kids have to do whatever they choose. You know, you can really see, in our goals-driven society, that we’ve lost sight of how incredibly valuable that free time is. You wrote about this recently as well.
I was hoping you could share what are some of the benefits that you’re seeing that come from releasing expectations around how we spend our time?
JO: When they were little, really little, and I was kind of in charge of how we spent our time, I found it a bit of a struggle, like, going from being a person with no children, to having a baby who needs me all the time. And I found time was pretty slow, and it was difficult as they got a bit older—well, Evie got a bit older and then Clara came along—to find that balance of being in and out and making sure I was presenting enough stimulation and entertainment and socializing. Which is silly when they are eight months old, but all these things that you feel like you have to give to your baby.
Whereas now, I suggest thing and sometimes I organize things that they agree to, and most of the times it is their choice, and actually, even I few do plan a thing and go to it, they can approach it in whichever way it suits them. They don’t have to take part, so if we go to a museum, for example, they don’t have to diligently go around to each of the exhibits and take notes or make observations, we can just wander and look or play in the little playground bit or whatever suits them.
And they are great at finding things to entertain themselves, and they are pretty good at listening to their own needs, like we were saying before, and understanding what they want and need. And I do always find that things are better when we have time. If we’ve got loads of plans, and we’ve got to rush from one thing to another, it makes it more difficult, because I think that transition, well known for being difficult for toddlers, is really hard for me also. That, ‘get your shoes on,’ and ‘let’s get out the door—we’ve got to be there on time,’ and that generally leads to a bit of fraught energy from all of us.
So, after a bunch of that, which I try to avoid, but if it does happen, we generally need to have at least a day at home doing very little, just chatting and playing or watching, and then they rest and we process all the things that we have seen and things we’ve done.
And, actually, the following days after that, I’ll usually see them bringing up some of the things that have happened. They’ll be playing, and you’ll hear some of the things that they’ve learned, or they will discuss new ideas or they’ll start using new words or concepts, and, but if we are busy busy busy busy busy busy, it’s really difficult for them to process anything. So, it’s just going from one thing to the next, and it’s fun and we have a lovely time, but we actually do need that downtime regularly, like at least once or twice a week, and sometimes whole weeks, we’ll not do very much at all, just to balance out the—I don’t know what I’m trying to say. All the things we’ve done. All the stuff that’s been happening.
PAM: Yeah, I think that when you were talking about the processing, I think that is the key piece that is missing, or maybe has been forgotten, you know, with our drive to have goals and to meet them and to do do do do do being prized, and not doing seems to be lazy, you know, is judged as “lazy,” it’s like we’ve forgotten that we need all that processing time to just put together what we’ve experienced, does that makes sense?
JO: Yeah yeah, it really does, and actually, and I forget it all the time.
PAM: Right? I know!
JO: And as a reminder to me of ‘this is what it means’ and ‘this is what you have to remember yourself.’
PAM: Yeah, it seems to be really important!
JO: And this is definitely one of those, that I want to do all the things and I can see all these amazing opportunities and things going on, and I want to do all of them, and I have to remember that that’s not what they need, or that’s not what they need all the time. And this slowness, and this thing that some people, and I look on Instagram, and some people just have it so together and their lives are so beautiful and they have lovely slow days of playing and I think, ‘oh, we need to do that more. I need to remember to do that more.’
And that’s the problem with social media, isn’t it?
PAM: Yeah, those little snapshots, yeah. There’s a book out recently called Rest, that I have…I’ve seen it, and actually I’ve downloaded the preview piece and I will probably pick it up. And that’s the focus, reminding us again that this time is valuable, it’s not wasted.
And my kids, as they got older, taught me that too. Well, older because my kids were older when they left school, because it was a while before I found it. But they were always out on the swing, or going for a long walk, or just listening to music —and instead of having expectations and judging that time as down, or wasted, just purposefully saying, “hmmm, you know, they’re just relaxing.” And you notice after, like you said, they’re mentioning things in their play that they’ve come across, from activities that they’ve finished. The insights that come after are just always so amazing. And that is one of the big pieces that helped.
Because I was very invested in the system, as you described it, and goal-driven and everything. I learned so much just from this whole process, about how human beings work, really. I had such a respect for them taking that time even though it’s supposedly frowned upon. But it was so valuable to them and it was so interesting to learn that and see that, and then see, still seeing the push so much from, you know, once they became teenagers, and their friends, and their friend’s families, ‘you gotta go do this, do this, do this,’ there was so little time for that, that it was a big difference for me between the two different lifestyles that I saw. I always thought that was interesting.
JO: It is, and actually it’s helped me to do the same because, when I was working before I felt I was really driven, and I wanted to do well in my chosen career, and there were several of them, and I wanted to do well in all of them. And I felt like I had to have things planned, and if I didn’t have plans, I felt like I was being lazy, like you said, I felt like I wasn’t achieving anything, and then I’d feel guilty, and then it would spiral into just generally blah.
And now I think it’s fine to just sit and knit for a while, or just you know, not have anything planned, just sit and watch the children play, or sit on the beach and look at the waves, or, you know, these cliché things, but actually they’re valuable, and it’s okay to do that, and I don’t have to be doing anything. It’s alright to be lazy, and it’s not lazy!
PAM: I was going to say, we still call it that, right!? I mean, I still have that same thing as well! You can realize that those quiet moments are where there’s room for insight to happen, for processing to happen, for creative connections between things! You realize, your subconscious is working on things, but it’s still so easy to get caught up in, ‘but I need to do this and this and this and this,’ and that’s the first thing that drops off, right? (laughter)
JO: Yeah, we should prioritize it, definitely.
PAM: Yeah, it’s so interesting.
Your girls are still young, but I must suspect you’ve already experienced this. Sometimes it seems that just as we think we’ve found a groove with our children, things change. You know, we’re connecting well, we’re finding great ways to support them and their interests, and we are getting to the park, we are, figuring out ways that they can both get what they need and thing are happy, and then poof, all the sudden it feels like we’re playing catch up again, trying to figure it all out. Things just aren’t working out as smoothly as they were before. So, I was wondering if you’ve come across that situation, and how have you moved through it?
JO: Daily, yeah! All the time! It’s funny, I don’t worry at all about the learning part of unschooling. It’s there all the time, and I can see the great steps they’re taking, and we have loads of social opportunities, which is great. But this bit, this, this connection bit, and this change and catching up with them, I feel like I constantly have to re-evaluate.
Especially with Evie. I think Clara and I are quite similar in a lot of ways, and I find it a bit more easy to read her, and she will seek me out, whereas Evie doesn’t really like hugs, which are my first choice of connection, always.
And she’ll go back and forth between long stretches of her own space, like “thank you mommy, I’m ready for you to go now,” and then constant companionship, she wants you to be by her side, chatting to her and doing with her. And it’s trying to find the ways that I can connect with her especially, because she does need it, and the times when she takes her own time is great, but then she’ll come back and if I’m not ready to give her full-on commitment and attention, she struggles with that, and it can reflect in the way that she feels and the way she behaves, and things are difficult for her, then they’re difficult for me, and then it can become a big cycle of stuff.
We’re good at the moment, actually, and sometimes I feel sure that I’ve finally cracked it, and I’ve got all these parenting answers and I know my children so well, and it’s just wonderful, and then obviously it lasts about ten minutes, and then we change, and I’m catching up again.
But I do feel really glad that we have this unschooling ethos, framework, I don’t know what to call it, but it really helps to just focus on the relationship, and that’s the thing, whatever else is happening, if there are behaviors that are difficult from me or from them, it’s all about finding that connection, and making sure that I give them enough time, and emotional things that they need. So, that’s also working, and I don’t think that will ever stop, because they just change all the time, don’t they? And the ways that they need me will change, and I just need to be there, waiting, and finding ways of doing that.
PAM: I know, that’s one of the pieces too. Cause when you’re, and sometimes you’re just really enjoying that spot for that day or two…
JO: “This is wonderful! You’re the best parent ever!” (laughter)
PAM: (laughter) You want to hold on to it! But no hugs, really.
JO: No. And she will, she will, sometimes, but she prefers them from Kriss than me, obviously. She will sometimes, and I really treasure those moments, but most of the time she’s not interested in hugs.
PAM: That was the piece —being ok with the unknown, maybe is the way to put it. Because it was like ‘ok, we’re not doing that anymore,’ and then there’s that time where you’re feeling out what is the new way you’re going to connect? And it’s developing that trust that that way is going to show up. That unknown middle is always hard. But the more that you go through the process, the more you trust that, ‘I know we’re gonna find something.’
JO: Yeah, just give it a bit of time. That’s part of my inability to see outside of now is that I do forget that, I do forget that it will be alright, give it a little bit of time and I’ll keep finding these ways and in a few days or hours or minutes it’s going to be ok again. That’s one way Kriss can help to assuage me a bit.
PAM: The other point that you made that was great is how our kids can be different too, right? I know my elder two were much more conversational, they would more talk as they were processing. I knew what was going on, I knew what they were thinking about. I knew what they were contemplating. Whereas my youngest was not a talker. It’s interesting for me looking back that he is the physical movement person. He got into karate and his black belt. He’s now a martial artist. He was much more of a movement person, so his processing, a lot of it was internal, right?
So, I would have to look for different ways to connect with him. But it took a while to figure that out, right? ‘But, no! Talk to me! Talk to me!’ (laughter)
JO: ‘I need to talk! You must need to talk, too!’
PAM: Exactly! And he would look at me like I had two heads! ‘No … let’s do this.’ I’m like, ‘okay.’
But yeah, it’s really fascinating. Like you said, it’s that time and that learning. You know what, I think we find our clues as to, like you said, remembering to pull up to the bigger picture, rather than being stuck in the moment, and then sometimes, when you’re up in the bigger picture, your mind’s turning and turning and turning, and it’s hard to get into the moment itself. It’s just finding what are the little clues for ourselves as, that tell you, ‘oh, I think I’m stuck in this place or stuck in this place.’ All that comes with time and experience. It’s hard when you’re in the middle of it!
JO: Maybe by the time they are 25 I’ll be wise. Probably not.
PAM: And then things change again! Oh, that’s so fun.
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Jo! I had a great time.
JO: Me too.
PAM: Before we go, what’s the best place for people to connect with you online?
JO: I have a Facebook page, Girls Unschooled, that links to the blog, and you can message me if you like. And I post pictures of our days on Instagram at girls_unschooled—I love Instagram. Loads of lovely people there. It would be nice to hear from you!
PAM: That is great and I will add links to all those places in the show notes as well.
Thank you very much and have a great day!
JO: Thank you so much Pam. Bye.