PAM: Hello! I am Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and I am happy to be joined again by Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. Hi to you both!
PAM: Yay, I am so excited. Would you like to get us started Anna?
ANNA: Sure. Question one is an anonymous question from Ireland.
Anonymous Question (from Ireland) [TIME: 1:43]
Thank you so much for your great podcast and all the work you’re putting into answering our questions every month. We’re on our journey to unschooling since November last year and it’s been very exciting. Our children are currently 8, 6 and 2. My question is about my husband. He didn’t like the idea of taking our two older kids out of school, but finally agreed to it last year because I never stopped talking about it, and felt my daughter, 8, wasn’t thriving at all.
So, he agreed and changed his mind a lot about schools and learning since. He could see how much happier the kids seemed after leaving school and how much they were learning every day. However, he’s much stricter than I am and expects a lot of them. The kids usually know the difference, and everything seems to go well as long as they are just with one of us. But the problems arise when we do things together as a family. I just can’t stand the way he shouts at them sometimes or tells them to go to their room. When they were younger he even locked them outside the door sometimes or tells them to ‘shut up moaning’ etc.
I usually interfere, but then our kids have to choose sides and my husband says that I criticize him all the time. He says I don’t want to mold and change my children, but I want to change him, and he is right I suppose. He also says I should find better ways of dealing with the situation before they get out of hand, but I’m often at a loss to. When I’m on my own with our children, many of these situations don’t even arise because I don’t expect them to sit still and eat their dinner, etc. I give them lots more time to find solutions together, and don’t rush them out the door or tell them to stop doing something immediately. How can I value my husband for who he is without letting him hurt our children? He can be very gentle and loving too, but usually when they are behaving in the way that he wants them to. Our daughter is able to play the quote, ‘good girl’, most of the time when she is with him, but our six-year-old son is much more emotional and extreme in his expressions which drives my husband crazy.
I really don’t know how to improve these situations. Do I step back and let them have their own relationship without interfering or protect my children more? I told them one day that their father was raised in a very strict way too because that’s what people did back then and that’s why he often gets angry now. He used to smack them sometimes when they were younger but I didn’t tolerate that and he stopped, although he still thinks a little smack isn’t that bad. I hope I didn’t make my husband sound like a monster, he has many wonderful sides too, but the parenting thing seems to be something we can’t find any solution to. Thank you for your input.
ANNA: So okay, hello. That sounds like a lot. A lot for all of us to take in and I know it’s a lot for you to be dealing with on a day to day basis. And it can feel sometimes very hard to find common ground in those situations. So, when those times arise for me I just fall back on the same tools that we talk about with our children. Listening, assuming positive intent, validation and then moving towards finding solutions together.
In this situation, I would also maybe not look at the global picture that much, and work together towards solving individual issues, and as you get more of those under your belt and figure out ways to make those individual situations work better, that bigger picture will change and I think it might help in your language of talking about it.
For example, if you pick an issue where you’re struggling and maybe, just as an example, it’s meals, because you mentioned something about that, you know, talk to your husband. What is he looking for? What would he like to see in his meals? Why is he feeling frustrated? Really understanding where he’s coming from may help you find workable solutions.
Maybe he’s coming home from work and he needs quiet time, or a quiet meal. He’s been overwhelmed during the day. If that’s the case, maybe the kids could eat ahead of time and be playing as he has his meal quietly. Or if he wants everyone together, talking about realistic expectations and ways to make that fun and workable. But kind of understanding that what may be coming out as the barking orders, or telling them to sit down and be quiet, may be coming from some underlying need, or things that he’s dealing with. So, when he can feel heard with that then maybe there’s other ways for that expression, for us to meet those needs.
My husband likes to talk about the 80/20 rule. What’s causing the most rub right now and focus your energy there. And the rest of it seems a lot easier when you kind of tackle some big chunks. So, look at your overall situation and is it when you go out, is it when you eat in, is it the meals, find some of those things to focus attention on.
And it may help to talk to him about his upbringing. You know, how did he feel when he was being yelled at or hit or not heard? Sometimes just having that conversation can help a person see that repeating that pattern doesn’t really feel good and they don’t want to be a part of it. They didn’t like it then, why are they doing it now? And that seems obvious, but I think that some people really don’t have that connection. That’s what they know, that’s what they do. Realizing there’s a different way can help.
Share why you’re choosing a different way, why it’s important to you, what it means to you. Because he loves you and he’s seen why you’re making the changes and what brought you to that can help him understand that it’s not to thwart him or make his life more difficult, that there’s reasons behind it. Again that’s a connection point. Talking together as partners as to what type of energy you want in the house, you know, conflict energy is a lot of work and it’s draining and it doesn’t feel great. So putting that work into finding solutions and partnering together just feels so much better to me. And I think most people find the same.
There may be ways to help him see that the skills of listening and finding solutions that we talk about are so important in life and practicing those skills at home gives everyone a huge leg up when they’re out in the bigger world.
And I think I would just focus on connecting with him. Letting him know he is loved and heard. Your third child is pretty young and adding a sibling can throw everyone out of whack for a while. So maybe be easy on yourself and everyone as they transition with that too and even giving words to him that the baby is now two, but we added this new person and now there’s new dynamics and we’re still figuring that out. So that it doesn’t feel so global again, it kind of brings it down into the moment.
In the end, it’s just trust that as you connect and love him that the two of you can find common ground for your home and create an energy and a loving environment where all of you can thrive and feel safe.
ANNE: That was just so perfectly wonderful, and yeah, I just have more reinforcement about connecting with your husband. Because the gifts of unschooling, I always say, are for the whole family. I feel like we, the parents who are home with our children learning about parenting, learning about our connection together and our relationships and unschooling we kind of have to take the initiative to extend that to the rest of the members of our family, our life partners.
I’m utilizing it and now extending it to my employee at the library, you know we have this insight because of being students of our children and being the ones that are connecting to other unschoolers and everything, how to help our family connections. Definitely utilize that.
Back to that … the fact that your husband says you criticize him all the time, and he came right out and almost asked you to see him as you see your children, know what I mean? And stop trying to change him. Think of the way you see your children, if they’re having behaviour that seems off to you. I have always known that’s the time to give more love and to focus even more on their shine and help them feel good about themselves. And then when they’re in a place of feeling good about themselves, they can relax into that and they lose their defensiveness.
Like Anna was saying, then your connection together is stronger, he’s feeling seen and heard and celebrated and there’s validation in there as well, like Anna was saying: what he wants at the dinner table; validating that he has had a hard day at work and the kids are a lot, leaving the table and running around and whatever.
It’s really just about coming back and focusing on your connection, your relationship and remembering that the environment that we create in order for children to learn naturally—we’re not criticizing them all the time, we’re not on their every move, disapproving and judging them. You wrote beautiful things about your husband, so let that be the focus and see him relax. It’s time to give more love and I think things will really bloom after that shift has been made.
PAM: Yeah that’s great, because it’s so true. Unschooling is an environment we’re creating for the whole family in our homes, so that’s always a great place to start. And you mentioned it too, his relationship with his children is his to navigate. Doesn’t mean we leave them alone on their own, same thing we don’t do with our children. But maybe you can think of your work as supporting him as he explores the parent he wants to be. Not changing him into the parent that you want him to be. Because he’s not you.
So that’s that subtle but so important shift in perspective that helps him feel seen for who he is and supported for who he is. And as he pointed out, right now you’re trying to change him, you’re trying to get him to meet your expectations and that creates that resistance in him. It makes it about you and him, all these issues are about you and him, and not about him and his children and that’s where the focus can be. Him and how he would like to relate to his children.
And his needs within the family, his needs are just as valuable as anyone else’s within the family, but, as with our children, it’s not just wholesale say yes to everything. It’s conversations, it’s digging in, it’s figuring it out, it’s understanding ourselves and each other.
Ask yourself how you can help him have the relationship with his children that he wants. Without changing your children—they are who they are—it’s about bringing them together. And by experience, that shifts from telling him what to do in situations to chatting about them after as he processes them. And Anna’s point earlier about the 80/20…picking the big ones to start with.
So, after things happen, you can process with him, validating, reflecting, offering your observations and sharing your kids point of view, because he’s working and you’re the one that gets to spend all this extra time with them. You understand them more deeply, you understand their reactions, you understand their point of view, so you can share those little insights with him so he has more information.
It’s just all fodder for his processing, not about changing him, because if you’ve got that expectation at the end, it can be felt in the conversations. I think at some point it might also be helpful to mention to him that this isn’t about unschooling at all, that you would be parenting this way even if your kids went back to school. I find sometimes unschooling takes the blame for all these challenges because it’s an easy target, it was a huge change you guys made in your lives, and sometimes other people can get fixated on, well, ‘sending them back to school will fix everything.’ This is a parenting thing, at least all the issues that you mention in your question.
And the other piece that you mentioned is without hurting the children. That’s something else. So definitely, as you mentioned, you can have conversations with your kids about how he was raised so that they better understand his perspective, just the same as you’re sharing what you know about your children with him. It’s more information that everyone in the family is getting. Your kids can understand that some of his actions stem from his experience and what he knows and they’re not really about them personally.
You can focus on sharing all these observations—not conclusions—and giving everybody the space to draw conclusions for themselves, see how they fit into their own picture. When you’re talking with your kids, I probably wouldn’t say, ‘your dad does this because of that.’ It’s more in line with, in your dad’s family it’s expected that kids do this, and just sharing those pieces of information, not judgements.
Also, do what you can to anticipate and minimize any conflict. If there’s stuff they enjoy doing with their dad, encourage that. If things go more smoothly when he’s hanging out with one kid at a time, encourage that, set that up. Try to set them all up, kids and your husband, for success knowing what you know about all three of them. Because you’re the one in that unique position to better understand them. You’re also in that unique position to help all of them build a better relationship.
But, when things do go off the rails, don’t try to minimize that or ignore that. It’s more fodder and information for him to learn about his children, to contemplate the kind of relationship that he wants to have with them, as they mentioned already, it might be a moment that you can bring up his upbringing and relate that and make that connection for him, if he hasn’t made it.
I’m done [laughs].
You want to go to question two Anne?
ANNE: Sure. Our question two is from Amy in Virginia.
Amy’s Question (from Virginia) [TIME: 16:52]
Hello ladies. I first want to say what a blessing this podcast is to me each week and how grateful I am to all who contribute to its production. My question is about sharing the parenting philosophies embodied in unschooling with people who are not currently home-or-unschooling. I have five children aged 27, 24, 17, 16 and 14. We naturally fell into a respectful parenting paradigm as we saw that traditional parenting seemed to fit the description of when you keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, that is the definition of insanity.
We are Christian parents who see our kids as our neighbours and friends and apply the lessons we learn in scripture about loving, caring for, honouring and helping others not just those outside our home, but firstly to those inside it. We absolutely love the relationships we have with our teens and don’t believe that the typical rebellious teen years are a given in raising children. It breaks my heart to see my nieces, who are just starting out on this adventure we call motherhood, share the struggles they’re having with their kids and just getting the same old traditionally authoritarian advice from other parents that isn’t working for any of them. The same goes for hanging out with other parents of teens and listening to them lament their struggles, but then all agree that they just need to be tough and survive it.
Are there any books, podcasts or other resources you can direct me to so that I can share with other parents who might want more from their parent/child teen relationships?
ANNE: Okay, hi Amy, thank you so much for writing in to us. The very short answer to your direct question at the end is any book written by Pam Laricchia. [laughs] And the book I haven’t written yet about how all children shine when celebrated for exactly who they are. But, of course, I am going to give you a much longer answer. So, just bear with me and my stories I am sharing here.
With my sons being 23 and 27, I have spent many years observing mainstream parenting, especially since I really began questioning it very early on in my own life, probably as a child when I myself was feeling misunderstood and confused by my parents and mainstream society. Even then I just knew things would be different for me when I was a parent myself. For the most part, my family and I have created a life where we choose to surround ourselves with people who’s parenting is in alignment with our own. Because I really believe in creating a life that allows our children and ourselves to feel free to shine. So, I just want to put that out there, because sometimes we don’t realize we can redefine community and even family and what we want and what feels good and right to us. And that’s the energy that my family has chosen to create.
Having said that, there are of course sometimes when we are witness to mainstream parenting. Lately, in fact, I’ve been more and more aware of it and thinking about it, because I started a preschool story time at my library back in October and honestly just last week, as I was driving home for lunch after having my story time and thinking, ‘this is why mainstream parents are exhausted all the time.’ They’re always trying to get their children to do something that their children don’t want to do. Or they’re trying to get their children to be their idea of what they should be. When the child simply of course just needs to be celebrated for being exactly who they are. And man, how exhausting is that? it’s paddling upstream, it’s constantly fighting a battle and I really don’t know who would want to sign up for that. But that’s exactly what they’re doing, they’re going along with mainstream and signing up with trying to get the child to be the child that society would find acceptable.
On that day, that morning, when I was thinking that, at the library where I was having my story time, within the two hours I was there before lunch, I heard numerous parents say that they’re trying to get their child to…you know, fill in the blank, whatever. One of them had at the previous story time got up from the room where we were singing and playing percussion instruments and she walked away and told her father it was too loud for her. So when they came in last week, I told her I thought that was a great idea that she had, to not be in the room where the music was too loud for her. Her father said, ‘I’m trying to get her to be part of a group setting though. I think it’s good for her.”
Another parent told me that the rock creatures we made for the craft activity was genius because it was the first time that her son had shown any interest in craft and she had been trying to get him to do the craft every week. Both of them are trying to get their children to be someone other than who they are, they think they’re trying to get their child to do something but no, they’re not seeing who their child is.
So here’s what I did and here’s what I’ve really been doing all the years since I’ve had my own children. I plant the seeds of celebration, honour and respect for all of the children for simply being who they are, because that’s who I am. You know? Kind of be the change thing. In the case of the child who felt the music was too loud, and the father wanting to get her to tolerate it, I said to him, “Oh my goodness, I so understand what she’s talking about, though. I’m highly sensitive too. I often have to cover my ears for things that other people don’t even notice.”
And right then I could see his brain doing a pivot. A pivot away from thinking that he needed to make his child do something and a pivot towards seeing her for who she truly is. He smiled really big and he nodded, I honestly think he was thinking, Yeah, actually I do too! And I told him that my 27-year-old son is highly sensitive and we’ve known that about him for all of his life and it’s made us examine things in our lives that we wouldn’t have thought about otherwise and what a gift that’s been for all of us. I asked the dad if he’d read The Highly Sensitive Child and we went forward from there.
In the other case of the child enjoying the rock creatures, I have been planting seeds in this mother about truly seeing her son for weeks now. This child is amazing. He always has a story going on in his head, kind of like my little 27-year-old boy. And I really am so honoured when he runs into the library all excited with one of his dinosaurs and he wants to share that dinosaur’s story with me. His mom is often saying that he’s always off in his head somewhere as if that were a bad thing [laughs].
I simply show her how fascinated and in awe I am of her child’s amazing and beautiful mind. I validate him, I interact with his stories, I encourage him when he takes his dinosaur and weaves it in and out of the bookends and dive way down and maybe knock some books over. I basically honour that child for being exactly who he is.
So, when she said the rock creature craft was good for him, I said, “Yeah I saw that he was enjoying it. It was an open-ended craft and he was able to make up his own stories about the rock creatures he was making.” And again, I saw a pivot. And, you know, we don’t always see pivots [laughs]. This was cool. Oh, in fact the other day, I was thinking about how to describe what that pivot looks like and I need to tell you guys.
It’s like these parents expect me to be someone who commiserates with them about how hard it is to get their child to do something, right, because that’s the conversation they’re all having. And they hit that ball of frustration to me and they expect that same ball to come back. But when I return that ball it’s completely different to the one that they hit to me, they see I’m not playing the same game here. That’s the look on their faces with that pivot.
At first, they’re poised and ready with a nod of knowing that someone else understands the exhausting frustration of trying to get your child to do something, but then that smile disappears when they’re not hearing that from me. And their eyes get bigger, because there’s something coming up that they don’t recognize immediately. They’re confused for a moment and they’re trying to figure out what just happened here, what I’m saying. And the pivot is when that seems to land in a really pleasant place in a really warm way that might not feel as exhausting to them as their original energy that they had first sent out to me. I loved kind of fine tuning what that pivot exactly looked like.
So, in one case of my stories, we have the dad who thought his daughter needed to get used to noises that felt too loud to her, who now looks at her and says, “Oh, she’s sensitive to that loud noise. Okay.” And he can go forward in life from that place of honouring that part of who she is.
And the mom who thought she had to get her son to do every craft now can look at him and think, “Ok, he liked the rock creatures because he could make up his own stories.” And she can go forward from that place of honouring him for who he is. These are just two small examples of the shift to believing in the children and honouring the children.
And the thing also is, I have no attachment to whether that seed grows or germinates or survives in the next five minutes or not. I’m just sharing my perspective on what I see in a child. And I personally cannot allow my witnessing mainstream parenting to break me down, and I can’t be following up with everyone to see how they’re doing with their pivotal perspective. My job here is to be living in joy and fun with my own family. And to work on my own pivots that need to be made, because that work never ends, we’re always doing our good work.
But I can simply trust in their journey. And I can simply stay in my energy of honouring and respecting and celebrating their children for being who they are. Because that gives them real life examples of other possibilities that they might not have even known existed before, and other ways to live in this wonderful world with their wonderful children. And that’s the ball I’m returning to them in this volley.
When I start that story time in the morning and the kids are gathered on their big pet pillows in front of me and man, I’m just beaming because I am so happy and honoured that they’re happy to be in the library with me. And the kids are sharing things with me, and I’m there honouring and celebrating them, and the thing is, I know that these kids are watching me, because their entire beings are just saying “YES!” to my celebration of them as they are. They know they are truly seen and heard with me. So even if the parents don’t pick up anything from being witness to the respect and celebration of a child, the children are paying attention. They’re paying attention because they can feel that this is different. And their entire beings can feel that this is the energy they deserve. And in that energy they feel safe to really shine.
And this is the same with the teens I encounter as well. I focus on my connection with that teen, and if the parent is putting them down, or trying to control them, and sadly it does happen too often, I do what I can to connect with that teen in a joyful light way that celebrates who they are. And you can just see that teen’s energy pivot from simply from having been seen.
And, oh my goodness, that teen’s pivot looks different from a parent’s pivot. A teen immediately recognizes that ball I’m volleying to them and they want to just grab that ball and hold on to it and take it home. And they want more of those balls, they want me to keep hitting those balls to them as well. So, you know, it’s in this way that the children hold on to seeds that we’re dropping simply by being who we are in their lives.
And yeah, Amy, back to you, I am quite sure that it is in this way that your relationship with your own children has already planted many, many new seeds and you can go on to do that by being who you are and living your respectful lives together and mutually respectful relationships, sharing that with others.
PAM: Beautiful, Anne! And not surprisingly, I chose the same metaphor. Because that’s what it feels like! I mean what I usually do in those moments is just plant seeds in the conversations that there is another way.
Especially in group conversations, I might just say, “Oh we really haven’t had that issue.” Or I might pop in and say, “Oh, I really enjoy hanging out with my teen.” And let things continue to flow. If that seed takes root—that’s what I went with—maybe a day later, a week later, six months later, they’ll become curious and ask. And it may not, it may be years, or I never see them again, I have no expectation. I am just happy to share so that they just catch a glimpse that there might be another way.
And it really depends, like when you’re asking for particular resources to share, it depends on the person I’m chatting with. In Anne’s story, The Highly Sensitive Child, came up in that conversation because that’s where that person was. If it’s teens in relationships, I might pop up and mention Parent/Teen Breakthrough: The Relationship Approach book.
But it really is so dependent on the kinds of questions that the person’s asking me. And I wouldn’t, I don’t think, offer up resources without a question or a connection, or feeling that they’re asking for that kind of thing. Because other than that, it feels like a judgement. If they don’t see a question there, a real question, if they’re not truly interested and open to learning more, then it’s just going to feel more a judgement on them when they get it.
The other piece that has helped me, like in that previous question, is that this is their journey to take. So, whether it’s a husband, whether it’s another parent, this is their journey to take. And we can be a living example of a different path, just as you are, Amy, with your kids. And we can plant these seeds here and there about other possibilities.
But, in the end, still these are their choices to make. So that little piece of work that I do so that I don’t feel crestfallen or upset that other people are making different choices. They’re on their journey, they’re making the choices that make the most sense to them in that moment, and I can plant seeds but it’s up to them and their life whether or not—or when—they do germinate.
ANNA: Yes so, exactly the same in terms of I just want to say it’s about living your joy, and those opportunities for planting those seeds come along all the time. I would say when I was around younger parents we did share resources and books and things that we liked, so there are books that I liked, even unrelated to unschooling again, it’s kind of an evolution but I think for people starting out it’s helpful, Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles, and How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen, How to Listen so Your Kids Will Talk, Kids are Worth It, those are a few that I have shared along the way that people have enjoyed, and sometimes it can be that little spark, that little connection that little seed for them and they see that oh I get it, I see how that plays out in different scenarios.
And so I do have a list of those books on choosingconnection.com. But yeah for me what I wanted to say to you, Amy, was, live your life with joy and talk about your kids and the relationships that you have and the love that you have because that is really what inspires people. I mean, I think all three of us, we’ve talked about it before, we’ve had people come up to us, “Oh my gosh, I just love the relationship you have with your kids, the energy in your family is so different.”
It really is just living our life and it ripples out from there. So, trust in that and trust in their journey and that they’ll get there when they need to, if that’s part of their journey.
So that’s all I have, back to you Pam.
PAM: Okay, it’s my turn for question number three, which is an anonymous question from the UK.
Anonymous Question (from the UK) [TIME: 34:47]
We have been unschooling our two children for almost all of their lives, they had just two years in school. And my children, now 13 and 10 have thrived in terms of personal passions, interests, knowledge, skills, making decisions, learning about life and the world and relating to others, knowing who they are and what they like and dislike. In themselves they are content with their daily lives within the constraints of our personal situation. We’re always offering new opportunities and possibilities to them which they’re free to choose from. We make family decisions together about our home, pets, meals, holidays etc but they haven’t really made a strong connection with the local home education community here. Which we did have in previous towns and I guess they are looking now for a sense of belonging. They feel they belong in our family and enjoy doing stuff together but struggle with finding their place in our local neighbourhood, despite trying various groups and voluntary work.
All around them they see children going to school and having that sense of belonging and experiencing something together. It’s in the media too. My teenager chose to go to school for a short time recently to make local friends and gain more independence because we have to travel to home ed gatherings. She achieved her goal and left school again, having made a group of nice friends she can hang out with several times a week. I was so happy for her. Now she is thinking about getting qualifications and is considering school again. It seems easier to her to go and do all the qualifications together with the new friends in one place than taking an alternative unschooling route with some online courses, self-study, tutoring or home ed classes etc although we have explored all these options and they are al feasible.
She knows the pros and cons of school and how much anxiety it caused her when she went their briefly but seems to have really bought into societies belief in this one route for getting qualifications. Now she’s trying to persuade her younger sister to go as well, telling her she won’t learn anything or get a good job if she doesn’t. The youngest has started to consider school.
I feel disheartened. If we had a local unschooling community that they felt they connected with and were supported by, perhaps they would feel more confident to be exploring this alternative way of life. It is hard for them to swim against the tide and be different. They just want security and to fit into society as they see it. My youngest child has a few good friends but she admits that she struggles to make new ones and she would like to. She doesn’t like to go to the local home ed groups and when we do she is unwilling to join in or even make an attempt to interact with the other children. I want to respect her wishes and not force her to go but she has a dilemma.
I’m not sure going to school full time at the age of 11 years is the best thing for her but I want to support her in making friends and doing what she thinks is best for herself. I’ve fully entered into the spirit of supporting my older child’s choice to try school but I feel quite disillusioned by the whole process and somehow don’t feel I’ve got the energy to face it again with either of them but that doesn’t seem fair and I feel in conflict because I want to be supportive but find that hard if I don’t really agree with the system.
Help! We’ve agreed that perhaps their dad could go through the school process with them this time and that seems fine with them, but I feel like I’m letting them down if I don’t get involved and I feel like I’ve failed them in some way by not being able to help them meet their needs through unschooling. Maybe I’m being too idealistic? How do I balance my opinions with theirs? How can I be honest with my youngest daughter about how she feels and how she can get her needs met without influencing her. How to I convey the message to them both that they are loved for who they are and valued whatever they choose, and success can mean different things to different people, but also be true to myself when sometimes I have strong feelings about their choices. Thank you for your help. I listen every week and am inspired, encouraged and motivated by your wonderful chat.
PAM: Thank you very, very much for your question. And there were a couple of things, okay three things, that jumped out at me as I read through it. And I just wanted to go through those and see if they connected with you in some way.
So, let’s start with your comment about being true to yourself when you have strong feelings about your children’s choices. I just read through my blog post, ‘Unschooling with Strong Beliefs,’ and I’ll put that link in the show notes, with your circumstances in mind—your strong beliefs about the education system—and I think it holds up really well. So, you might like to go do that, read it, I mean, there’s different examples in there but keep in mind, filter it through your focus.
In it I talk about ways to be involved and support our kids when they want to explore things that run counter to strong beliefs we hold. There are many ways to support your child’s wish to try school while respecting your principles about the challenges inherent in the system.
Have you listened to the podcast episode Choosing School with Alex Polikowsky, that’s episode 32. We talk a lot about ways to continue to live our unschooling principles while a child chooses to go to school. And to be clear, the child is no longer unschooling, but that doesn’t mean we need to toss away all we’ve learned through our unschooling experience about how people learn, about the importance of connection and trust in our relationships etc.
School can be a very different experience when we choose not to bring the system into our home. Even just dropping that compulsory nature makes it so different. The child knows it’s their choice to go and they have the option of leaving any time. Also in that blog post, I talk about how our strong beliefs developed after we were interested enough to dive deeply into that topic, whatever that was, learning and developing and questioning our own understanding and we see how that fits into our view of the world and that’s what you were talking about. But we can’t expect our children to just take our word for it.
So, with her interest in school, it sounds like your older daughter is now wanting to explore the topic of learning and how it weaves into our work choices as we get older. And that’s cool, that can be something to celebrate. But notice she’s getting lots of messages about school from the world around her, as evidenced by her comments to her younger sister, about how she won’t learn anything or get a good job if she doesn’t go to school.
I think it would be really helpful for your older daughter if she also began to learn how unschooling works. Because it’s clear from her comment that she doesn’t. And as always, not in big, sit down talks where the energy feels like you’re trying to convince her of anything, trying to convince her not to go to school or that unschooling is the best, or whatever. But in digestible chunks as opportunities arise. Just like those seeds we were talking about in the last question. And in the conversations in the first question, that’s like day-to-day unschooling. So, for example, next time it comes up, I’d ask why she thinks those things are true. And see where the conversation goes. I’d also talk to her privately and ask her not to say those things to her sister because you don’t believe they are true. And that could be another opening to a conversation about how learning works with unschooling.
And the third thing that jumped out at me was the focus on building friendships and a sense of belonging through home ed groups. I mean, they’re great, when you connect with the people in the group, but they’re not essential. The connection with other people is a valuable thing. And just as being in the same class at school isn’t really a strong basis for friendships to develop neither is not going to school, if that’s all they have in common. So instead, maybe focus on what your daughter is interested in, find others to connect with who share that interest, both in person and online—they’re both valuable. But that’s much more fertile ground for growing friendships and a sense of belonging to a community than just the fact that they don’t go to school.
I mean, we never did have any local home ed groups around here years ago when my kids were younger. And my kids found communities and friends through their interests that carried through their day-to-day lives. And of course, we enjoyed going to some unschooling conferences—we went once, maybe twice a year and any connections that they made they kind of continued online. But day-to-day it was really the love of their interests and passions and connecting with people that felt those that brought the most joy to their days.
ANNA: We definitely had ebbs and flows with friendships and activities over the lives of my girls but I really saw that as a natural flow and mine never saw school as a solution, but I’ve certainly known families that have tried that route. We found, just like Pam said, that making friends really works best when focusing on common interests, and it often involved a lot from me too. Sometimes I’d be running the clubs, I’d be driving a lot, in the city we lived there was a lot of driving to get to different things. And researching and finding those things. And I know Pam did the same when finding a dojo, finding these things that then became a community to her children.
You know, going to school is no guarantee of friends, it’s still going to be the work of putting yourself out there, and we all know that socialising is a bit frowned upon at school [laughs], I would get the notes, all the time! So that child that is having trouble connecting at the home school group is probably going to find they have the same issues at school. Whereas maybe your other daughter thrives in that group environment, so that’s really different. And then they’re going to have the added demands and expectations and busy work and stress and anxiety that can come along with school.
You mentioned that you want to support her in making friends, and that’s really where I think I’d spend my energy. I’m guessing from your short description that the large group activities just don’t work for her, and so it’s really maybe facilitating more one-on-one connections, again, finding common interests and having relationships grow out of that common interest, be that a craft or an art or photography or martial arts or a dance class or anything. There’s so many options out there, and again, it doesn’t have to be homeschool oriented at all.
Talk to her about what she’s looking for and brainstorm ways to make that happen. I guess I just feel like there are ways to support their needs and honour who you are too, and I think peeling back to the need is going to help open up a lot of solutions. School isn’t the need. The need is something else and it might be friends or it might be some specific knowledge-base or whatever, but these things can be addressed in ways that don’t include school and allow them to thrive and create their own path.
And I think Pam mentioned too, really discussing with your older child too, where’s that coming from for her. Because school is one route, but it can be very limiting. And I think some people can make it work for them, but they’re having to work to make it work versus letting your life unfold and finding your path, it’s a much faster route to getting where you want to be in terms of joy and connection in life. So I don’t know, I think there’s just a lot of things there to look at and do and maybe think about your own perceptions of the situation and maybe your own language about the situation and see what’s going on.
ANNE: I don’t have much more to add to what has already been said, but what you just said there about your language about what’s going on. I first wondered when your daughter wanted to go to school if you supported her so incredibly whole heartedly that you didn’t have a conversation about ways to meet her needs back then in the real world. Not saying, ‘No, don’t go to school,’ but talking about all the possibilities again, the conversation about what she needs, what she wants to get out of it and everything.
I’m wondering if that’s how she got to a point of not really understanding unschooling and all that it can offer to you. And then she went to school and as you know, school sells the lie very well to most everybody that they are needed in order to have a successful life. That’s all in the past now, so from here forward, again as Pam and Anna were saying, the conversations are just so so crucial in a way that you’re entrusted and hearing her point of view and her perspective and everything.
If you believe in unschooling, just start talking about all the possibilities that are waiting for them to get what they need without going through all that school might be, because Pam and Anna had said also that it’s just going to be more of the same problems and everything and turn into probably a much larger scale because of the environment there.
So, when you said it’s hard for them to swim against the tide and be different, I don’t think my kids ever really felt different when we’re out in society because we created such close knit space, and we had so much faith in life and in joy, and community—I mean every where we went, the library knew us, and my kids knew the people that worked at the library on a personal level, the library director where we used to go when they were little used to seek out Jacob to talk about young adult books with her and everything. Everywhere we went, because you get kind of the whole world to yourself when you’re not in school, which is really really cool. And that’s another way also of finding people with similar interests, because we go to the Planetarium or something when everybody else is in school and look, there’s another family there.
We actually met a family from England and then became super close friends with them because we went to a play and their son was carrying the British version of the first Harry Potter book and of course we had to talk to him about it. And as we were watching the play, I noticed the mom rubbing her kids shoulders and connecting with them during the play, and oh my gosh, my heart was just full because that’s kind of rare to see, sadly, not with my unschooling community and everything, but out in the general public. So of course we just wanted to get to know them. And they are not unschoolers and yet we had so much in common because we are both of our families are entrusted in the world and of the world.
Common joyful things like video games we would all do together, there’s just so much where your kids don’t have to feel like they’re swimming against any stream because you’re creating your own stream and just believing in your lives together and believing in the joy and all that the world has to offer you, and that can meet your needs. The end.
PAM: I just wanted to say, listening to you guys I also got very excited and realised I’d be so curious to hear her daughter’s answer, because when you talked to her about why she’s wanting to go back to school, when you start having those deeper conversations, because right now she’s really just parroting that line that that’s what you have to do, you have to go to school to get your qualifications so you can get a good job.
To peel back that layer and see what’s really underneath that, that could also give you so much more insight into ways in which you can support her and help her. Like Anna was saying too about peeling back and finding out what the need is underneath. Because especially it’s a great clue when you just hear typical phrases and stuff come out, that there’s something underneath that. Anyway, that just popped into my head, I thought that was interesting.
ANNA: And so, I’m just going to say one more thing to and then we’ll move to question four, something that popped into my head when Anne was talking and maybe we can find it, Pam you’re better at indexing all the stuff you’ve talked about before, but it kind of reminded me of—we’ve talked about before—of people when their young child says “Oh, I want to dance” and immediately we put them in a dance class. That kind of training is showing them, ‘I want to do this thing, I need to go get this formal education.’
I can even hear a little bit of that in the language of the question, how even when you’re talking about the alternative—what you said, the unschooling alternatives, but yet the things you listed were courses, like, formal and online and so I just think there may be some room there to peel back some layers in yourself. Think, ‘oh ok, did I really set the stage for this?’ and again, that’s not a problem or a judgment or whatever, it’s just something to be aware of and maybe open up to a bigger picture.
ANNE: Right, and that deschooling, like I said, do you believe in unschooling? Have that conversation with yourself and look around at your family and go from that joy. I mean, we know the joy that unschooling brings into our lives just go by that, let that be your compass. Leave the schooled mindset where it belongs, in the schools.
ANNA: I will move on to question four, if everybody’s ready, and that is from Marianne in Southern California.
Marianne’s Question (from Southern California) [TIME: 53:25]
Hello ladies. The other day at the market, my son, nine, wanted to write the number on the label for a package of spices. I had already done so and didn’t realise he wanted to, as he’s never expressed an interest in writing at all, let alone at the market. After being a bit upset, he said ‘I really wanted to write the number.’ So I said, ‘how about we put on a new label and you can write it there.’ He said okay. So he tried to write it, he was holding the pen and the ink wasn’t coming out, so I told him to hold it upright, it might work better. He tried to write a seven but it looked more like an oval. He said, ‘I’m so stupid.’ and I said, ‘how about I hold your hand and we can write together?’ and he said okay. We did it together and again he said, ‘I’m so stupid’ and he started to cry. I got close to his face and told him, ‘you aren’t stupid, you’re learning. I can use your help on writing the label for the tea, can you help me’, Again, we did the same thing amongst a few tears, he didn’t want anyone to see his tears, so he faced away from the others. And then I asked him to help with dispensing the almond butter and things got better.
Hearing ‘I’m so stupid’ is disheartening. He’s never been interested in writing, nor have I ever asked him to do copy work or practice etc. Only asked him to write his name on his dad’s birthday card, to which I had to show him how to do the letters. I’m wondering if his statement can mean as a parent I don’t praise his positive traits enough. Like he’s looking for a ‘you’re not dumb’ or ‘you’re so smart’ from me, or are his internal doubts and struggles about learning troubling him.
He sees other kids writing at our weekly park day, I’ve told him I can help him with whatever he wants to learn, is the weight of learning weighing him down? He’s not a reader, and when I or my husband try to write letters down to help him with online code he says, ‘I don’t want to learn.’ Looking for guidance and insight, thanks for your generous support and perspective.
ANNA: So, hi Marianne. I first wanted to reach out and hug both you and your son, he’s such a sweet sensitive soul and your love for him was so clear in your letter to us. It is so hard to hear our kids be tough on themselves. I know that here I’ve heard language that surprised me and at times felt was self-doubt and even anger, it can absolutely feel like a punch in the gut to me. I’ve learned over the years to kind of let that reaction wash over me and realize that words like “stupid,” in the case of your son, are said because they’re the worst word they can think of at the moment. And they want us to know that this feeling is big and scary and serious. And I feel like you heard him, and you engaged with him, and he moved through it, and that’s really beautiful. I feel like you were hearing him and doing it, so I just wanted to acknowledge that.
There may be times away from the big feelings where you can put out feelers to see if there’s anything else going on. Maybe someone said something to him, a friend or even a family member. Sometimes these things happen and we don’t know and it comes out in this self-doubt or anger that we don’t really understand where it’s coming from. So sometimes that’s helpful to dig into a little bit.
And I think there’s just always room for us to celebrate who our children are right now. So, make sure it’s not just I can help you learn when you’re ready, because while that seems fine, and obviously it’s fine, but also it’s a deficit focus. Finding ways to celebrate what he loves and where he shines and what he’s doing right now can go a long way in helping him see himself as whole right now, because he is. Whole and amazing and right where he needs to be. So that energy is something that you can hold in that picture in that vision of himself, and then he can kind of bask in that light of and that acceptance of who he is and all those amazing things he’s doing right now. You mentioned coding and other things, clearly he has passions and things that he’s doing and interested in and that can certainly be celebrated.
ANNE: Yeah, I also got cold chills…goosebumps… when I read your response to him at the store, how you protected him from feeling embarrassed and everything, that was really beautiful.
I’m interested though in your question, is the weight of learning weighing him down? Because in our family, learning wasn’t separate from life and I’m wondering how you might come to that question. Are you talking about learning all the time, I see that you are talking a bit and he’s got to the point where ‘I don’t want to learn.’ So, I just really want you to pay attention to what you’re saying, how you’re describing your unschooling lives.
As we talked before language about everything and if the word “learning” is coming up a lot in your unschooling lives it just isn’t really necessary, because your focus is on what he loves to do, the grocery store incident aside, when he’s wanting to write letters down for code or command or everything, if you just ask him if he wants you to do it. I mean, we just don’t kind of need to focus on the fact that he is learning, we just need to trust in that because that’s what unschooling is, we trust in that it happens throughout our lives.
So, I just really want you to pay attention to if you are speaking of learning then that is handing him the weight of learning. Unless he’s picking it up somewhere else, like Anna said. But again, just take a look at your everyday lives and make sure that you’re not handing him that weight of the learning yourself.
And the other thing, when he’s saying he’s stupid, Anna connected with that really well, and I also just want to talk about how we all kind of feel stupid once in a while. To validate that I think would be really, really huge. Because we all might say it a few times a day, perhaps. ‘How stupid I am that I did that.’ I don’t mean it when I say it about myself, if there’s a more challenging thing then it may come out harsher about myself and everything. So, if you can separate yourself from that and not own that that weight that he’s feeling then that will uplift everybody. And to validate him, his frustration with not being able to write what he wanted to write and validate him, you know, ‘We all feel stupid sometimes, I know exactly how you’re feeling.’ That would probably really help him to have some of the weight that he’s owning in a sensitive part float away.
I have a highly sensitive child as I always say, and I used to talk to him about not letting things go straight to his heart so much, and envision things that bothered him maybe going above his head and straight out the door. And a visual for him to help him deal with things that were frustrating and not just destroy him all the time was really valuable, and he still uses something much like that today at age 27.
The other thing is so, after he says he’s stupid and you don’t take it, you validate him, with authenticity and radical validation, understanding what he’s feeling. If you feel like he’s ready to shift after that, then perhaps make the shift talking about something that may make him light up. What show were you watching before we came to the store, or talk about what you’re doing after you go to the store, just so it’s apparent to him that you’re not owning his weight of one, not being able to write, and two, the fact that he’s called himself stupid. Again, the validation is important but there’s always the possibility to shift again, to shift afterward toward something that can help him feel lighter, and something that he is looking forward to, something in which he shines.
I talk about owning weight a lot in our Childhood Redefined Online Summit, and because I had a child who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders and still does often, I talk about what we can do to release that and shift away from that. The things I’ve said here are good places to start with you helping him to release his weight, so…that’s all I have to say.
PAM: Hi Marianne, thank you so much for your question, and yes, I definitely felt for you guys through that, it was a wonderful moment.
I want to focus more on your question about if his statement might mean that as a parent you’re not praising his positive traits enough. That’s kind of what jumped out at me. Because I don’t think that the takeaway from the experience is to increase your generic praise. Like, ‘You’re so smart’ really doesn’t say anything, right?
I think it can be an opportunity to share your observations about how people learn things, like I mentioned in the last question, as you did when you replied, “You aren’t stupid, you’re learning.” And all that validation and reflection that we talked about. I would also keep those moments light, again, back to—depending on your metaphor—not owning that weight, him seeing in your eyes and your words and your body language that, absolutely, this is nothing to be concerned about.
And then, from there, if this is something that he seems to be caught on—you mention that he’ll say things like ‘I don’t want to learn’ etc—they made some great points about that. But I’d also like to say that when that happened around here, I would watch for opportunities to share little observations that support my statement that, you know, ‘you’re not stupid, you’re learning.’
Maybe the next time he shares something that he’s learned about something that he’s interested in, because that’s the point, you can mention, ‘That’s so interesting! You’re learning so much about X because you’re interested in it.’ You can help him notice the learning in the living that he’s doing. If that’s something that he’s concerned about, that he’s blocked about. That he is owning a separation between learning and living.
Or when you notice him getting better at a repetitive skill you can share that. ‘You got through the game puzzle so much faster now that you’ve done it a few times.’ Maybe you mention how the more you do something, the easier it gets. You’re sharing the examples from your lives. Maybe at some point you explicitly compare it with writing, how it typically gets easier with practice. When you’re out and about and you notice hard-to-read handwriting that was written by an adult, you point that out too.
You know, this isn’t all quickly, because that would be overpowering, but little connections, here and there as they come up in their lives, that’s what also helps share the observation that all this is happening in our lives. That it’s all wrapped up in there, that it doesn’t need to be separate things. That you don’t need to sit down and learn something, that it comes up and that’s when we notice it and we’re more interested in it and we do it more often, get more skilled at it, etc. And those are just little connections that he’s making as he figures out how the world works, how learning works. How just focusing on his joy at the things he’s interested in are giving him all these things already.
And then you can take your direction for future comments or shares or questions based on his reactions to those comments. Which ones spark conversations with him, which ones he reacts negatively to—that helps you see where his thoughts are so you can meet him where he is and then share more of the things that will connect with him.
That’s the dance of relationships that we often talk about here, that’s kind of what it looks like. So, comments like ‘You’re so smart,’ they just sit there, they don’t lead to conversation. In that conversation where we learn so much about each other and we engage with the world, and it’s how we learn so much about our child and it’s how we get better at meeting them where they are.
The other big piece of that is not being overwhelmed by the thought that maybe they might not like something that we said. Or, you know, change the subject, or they won’t answer your question. That’s just more information for us and helps us take a step towards them. So, it’s not a bad thing.
Because so often we get scared of what they might say or think or infer that we don’t say anything. But if we share and we have these conversations—I think that kind of runs through pretty much all the questions that we’ve had today—have these conversations, learn more about what each other’s thinking, peel back layers so that we can build our connections, better understand each other and that’s where that trust comes from too so that we can move forward from there.
ANNE: Right, and it’s building the trust again as I was saying before, in your lives, of your unschooling lives that you mentioned Pam that you talked about, that is the learning without having to say learning, you know what I mean?
And it is just a way of life, it’s always just a way of life with us that we would talk about everything, and I think I’ve mentioned before how we would go out to dinner and everybody would look at us like we were so weird because we would just not stop talking in our family and these other tables couldn’t think of anything to say to one another. You become this joyful unit, having conversations and making things work and everything. I just love it.
ANNA: And don’t you think this may be related to that other question too? Like, they are segmenting learning, like you said Anne, and to look at that language and look at how you’re segmenting things into these learning brackets, but really it’s all just life. And yeah, if somebody needed something I would just write it down, I didn’t make it a teachable moment, I just wrote it down and as I wrote it down, they realized okay, and over the years it evolved.
ANNE: Yes that term, “teachable moment” has just been everywhere lately and they believe that this is the right thing to say because a child is doing something in real life so they’re ‘Oh, make sure you let them know this is a teachable moment!’
No! Let it be life and let them have the amazing gift of doing that, letting our children just live. Just bringing the world to them, and the way things work with conversations when we’re not only giving information, we’re so interested in hearing what they think about it also, you know?
PAM: And in these conversations about conversations I always love to point out in case people are like, ‘Oh my child doesn’t like to talk,’ or whatever, ‘They’re not a conversationalist,’ that’s not the point. Because actions are also communicating information, they’re talking through their actions, they’re telling you what they like, what they dislike. When you are paying attention, and observing their choices and seeing, oh look at … analyzing the three things they looked at and the one they chose to take further etc. You can still learn so much, the same thing you do through conversations. So, instead of me maybe saying something or asking a question, I would offer up something. You know what I mean? ‘I think they’d like this,’ and ‘I’ll share this, or that,’ or ‘Send this link or that link’ and seeing where that goes. It doesn’t all literally need to be words.
ANNE: Well I always talk to myself too, so my kids are used to that also. [laughs] I say stuff out loud all the time so maybe they’re listening, maybe they’re not. It doesn’t matter, if they want to talk, they will, no pressure to have the conversation as we’ve been saying, it’s not a sit down kind of thing. For us it’s this enthusiasm that’s bubbling up in us where we want to talk about stuff so.
PAM: Exactly, beautiful.
And that is the last question this month! I want to thank you guys so much for answering questions with me it’s so fun.
ANNE/ANNA: Thank you.
PAM: And just a reminder, look in the show notes for the things we’ve 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.
Have a great day everybody, bye!