LIVING JOYFULLY NEWSLETTER
Issue #16 | June 15, 2013
JUNE’S THEME: Unschooling Teens
I want to take a quick moment to welcome our new subscribers! I imagine many of you found your way here through the Unschooling Summit this week. I had a great time speaking with Michelle and I’m happy you’ve chosen to check out the Exploring Unschooling email series—I hope you enjoy it!
This newsletter is published twice a month. See the link just above this section to the newsletter archive? Check it out if you’re interested in more reading—the archive include a brief summary of what’s in each newsletter so you can pick and choose.
So, the topic on the blog this month is unschooling teens. I absolutely love me some unschooling teens!
It’s amazing how unique and determined and resourceful and thoughtful they can be when they are free to choose their passions and their days. And even if your children are younger right now, it can be nice to get a glimpse of what life might look like in the coming years. It might just re-ignite your passion for this lifestyle.
ON THE BLOG … so far this month
Remember, you’re always welcome to join the conversation on the blog. 🙂
When conventional parents choose to create a relationship with their children that is adversarial in nature that’s probably what they’ll get in return as their children become teens and begin to exercise their growing autonomy. It shouldn’t be surprising that if it’s tools of control they see from their parents, those are they tools they’ll reach for in conflict. You can only harvest what is planted. Unschoolers choose to plant different seeds. This week I talk about some of the strikingly different ways unschooling families view and experience the teen years.
Everyone wins with strong, connected, respectful relationships. Conventionally, relationships with teens are painted as either/or: either you focus on maintaining authority (tough love) or you avoid challenges altogether (let them run wild). Yet unschooling families have found the beauty of living inside the spectrum of those extremes. In this post I look at some of the ways unschooling parents view relationships differently and what that can look like in the teen years.
LET’S TALK ABOUT … what life with teens looks like
A few mornings ago my husband ended up in conversation with the mom of a family that recently moved in next to us. He’s Italian, she’s Italian, the conversation went pretty smoothly from there. Haha! But he mentioned one comment she made that stuck out for me. Their kids happen to be about the same age as our children, around 16, 19, and 21, meaning they are teens and young adults. Her comment was that she and her husband were loving the move to the country but their kids not so much, they were feeling stuck out here.
Now, I know next to nothing about the family so I’m just going to use that as a jumping off point because it reminded me of when we moved here from the suburbs eight years ago: I had relatives with older kids warn me that my kids would be unhappy outside the city when they hit their teens and wanted to spend more time with their friends. I nodded and said we’d do what we could at that point. I mentioned that I didn’t mind driving and would happily do that for them if need be.
Their concerns highlighted a stark difference in how we looked at raising kids: to them, having to drive their teens places was a significant inconvenience; to me, it was a pleasure to support them as they explored the world around them. That doesn’t mean that every time I sang “lalalala” and skipped to the car. It means that in those times I was feeling reticent, I did the work to shift my mindset. How? I reminded myself how excited they were about the destination, and how much they were learning when they got there. And car conversations when the occupants aren’t grumpy? Priceless! It can be a great connection time. I chose not take on the perspective that I was giving up this time of mine to them. That would just dredge up feelings of sacrifice and martyrdom. Instead I asked myself how I too could enjoy this time and I did (and do) that. As an example, the last few months Michael and I have been listening to audiobooks as we drive to and from the nearby town for karate multiple nights a week. It’s less than fifteen minutes each way but we’re on our sixth novel at this point. Lovely!
Of course, life is not all sunshine and fairy tales. There are times when the kids (and adults) express a wish for … something different. But that’s part of learning about living, part of life. That feeling of wanting more is likely to hit at some point no matter where you are: country/city, on your own/with lots of friends etc. It doesn’t mean a failure on anyone’s part. It’s a yearning, and a clue to listen more, to explore our current boundaries and maybe stretch our comfort zone. Just don’t ignore it.
Another mind shift that might help: don’t think about it as the kids trying to get away from you, instead, think about it as them exploring further afield. I treasure the three or so years I spent going to shows with Lissy, and later Michael began to join us. Not only did we drive an hour into Toronto at least monthly for shows, we also took some really fun road trips to the US. It took some stretching of my comfort zone, but it was so worth it! I imagine some would think it an expensive hobby but we were seeing wonderful bands as they were starting out their careers and playing in small venues (I’ve seen bands like fun and Owl City up close and personal long before they were household names). I remember marveling that Lissy had been to most of the popular Toronto bars years before she turned 19. This also meant that the vast majority of tickets were under $15. It was the time commitment, not the money. And time I had—I chose to have.
And as I mentioned earlier, I also chose to enjoy that time in my own ways. I basked in the depth of Lissy’s knowledge of the alternative music scene. We’d sing loudly to our favourite bands during our drives, and on the way home she’d recount her always fascinating mosh pit adventures, interspersed with insights into people and life that would amaze me. At the shows I was awed by the pure joy of the bands, young adults happily doing what they loved, following their passion. Some of those bands have broken up, some are still touring smaller venues, some have found a bigger audience. But what a wonderful window to the ways of the world as artists—people—search to find their place. Whatever your teen’s passion, help them embrace it. The world is there to be discovered from any perspective.
That passion doesn’t have to mean physically venturing into the world either! Through his teen years my eldest son preferred staying close to home. One of the wonderful things about our highly connected world is that “place”, where you happen to physically be, is no longer a hindrance, especially when the tribe you connect with is scattered throughout the world. And with my two oldest now being 21 and 19, looking back I can see that despite their wildly different vantage points, they were asking the same kinds of philosophical questions, learning many of the same things about life, just through the particular windows that worked best for them individually.
This unschooling thing is pretty wonderful. 🙂
LIVING JOYFULLY … with unschooling
This last week the boys and I have been having a blast playing the new Animal crossing game, New Leaf, that was just released for the Nintendo 3DS. We seem to gather in the evenings after Michael and I are home from karate, visiting each others’ towns, sharing stories about neighbours, tarantula bites, fancy beetles, town ordinances, and turnip prices. Not only are we making new and fun connections, it brings back wonderful memories from years ago when we played intensively for months with the original DS version of the game. Another amazing window to the world.
Lissy is feeling nostalgic too as I share some of our adventures, but she’s busily preparing for her big trip to the west coast. She’ll be spending the next month or so with friends, visiting photographers up and down the coast of California and into Nevada and Oregon. That is an adventure that fits her like a glove and I’m incredibly excited for her.
No matter how busy we are, there is always time to connect with our teens and young adults. It doesn’t need to be big swaths of time—in fact, that can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on that time to be “important and meaningful”. Instead, it can flow in and around our lives, a few minutes here and there that sometimes stretch into longer moments, just because they are wonderful. 🙂
And before we part, a couple of quick notes to share:
I recently noticed that amazon.com has the print editions of my books on sale at 10% off. I wanted to let you know in case you’ve been thinking about grabbing a paper copy for yourself or to share with family or friends: Free to Learn and Free to Live.
I also wanted to mention that if there are any topics you’d like me to cover on the blog in the future, feel free to hit reply any time and let me know. Or if you’d like to say hi.
Wishing you and your family a terrfic weekend together, inside or out!