On this episode of the podcast, we’re sharing another entry in our Unschooling “Rules” series.
We use the word “rules” in quotes to draw attention to the fact that there is no such thing as an unschooling rule! It can feel easier to reach for a set of rules to follow, especially when we’re learning something new, but we want to offer you space to look within, to find what makes sense to you and what makes sense to the individual members of your family. There are no unschooling police. Nobody is going to drop by your house and give you a failing grade—or an A+. Our goal with this series is to explore these apparent “rules” and cultivate an environment for self-discovery, for inquiry, for agency, and for growth.
In this episode, we’re diving into the “rule” that unschoolers should never divorce. We dig into where this belief might stem from, how unschooling can help our relationships and communication, and we dive into lots of possibilities of what life can look like without black and white thinking.
This topic was so interesting to ponder and we hope you find our conversation helpful on your unschooling journey!
THINGS WE MENTION IN THIS EPISODE
Watch the video of our conversation on YouTube.
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We invite you to join us in The Living Joyfully Network, a wonderful online community for parents to connect and engage in candid conversations about living and learning through the lens of unschooling. Our theme this month is In the Flow, and we’re exploring it through the lenses of parenting and living.
So much of what we talk about on this podcast and in the Living Joyfully Network isn’t actually about unschooling. It’s about life. On The Living Joyfully Podcast, Anna Brown and Pam Laricchia talk about life, relationships, and parenting. You can check out the archive here, or find it in your your favorite podcast player.
PAM: Hello, everyone. I’m Pam Laricchia from Living Joyfully, and this is episode number 354 of the Exploring Unschooling podcast. I’m joined by my co-hosts Anna Brown and Erika Ellis. Welcome to you both!
ERIKA AND ANNA: Hello!
PAM: A quick reminder for listeners. Have you checked out The Living Joyfully Shop lately? You’ll find books, coaching, courses including Navigating Conflict, which aligns quite well with the rule we’re exploring in this episode.
But before we get started, we do want to remind everyone that with this Unschooling “Rules” series, we use the word rules in quotes to draw attention to the fact that there is no such thing. It can definitely feel easier to reach for a set of rules to follow, especially when we’re learning something new. We feel like we have to start somewhere, but we want to offer you space to look within to find what makes sense to you and what makes sense to the individual members of your family.
Because truly, there are no unschooling police. Nobody is going to drop by your house and give you a grade – failing, A+, passing, nothing like that. Our goal with this series is to explore these apparent rules and cultivate an environment for self-discovery, inquiry, agency, and growth. And Anna, would you like to get us started?
ANNA: I would. Okay. So, a few months back, we asked the Network members to tell us about any of these unschooling rules that they’ve been bumping up against. And the idea that unschooling families should never divorce, that they should stay together at all costs, came up for quite a few. And so, while I actually never really encountered this one out in the wild, I’m super excited to deconstruct it.
Something we talk about a lot is that there is never one right way. Life is complex and so are relationships. When we get stuck in rigid thinking that things have to look a certain way, it shuts down our creativity and it can also leave us feeling stuck, and that’s not really a place to learn about ourselves or about the people around us.
And I think with this one, there is a lot of outside noise, so there could be cultural, religious, familial ideas at play. And so, it’s important to really deconstruct that for yourself. Are these ideas serving you, your children, your family?
And as for why it’s believed to be an unschooling rule, I’m guessing that part of it comes from it being easier to have one parent more available to the kids, that somehow two parents in the same house is best or better. I think having that can make some things easier, but there are so many creative families out there finding ways to make it work. And not just work, but creating environments where everyone thrives, be it with two working partners or single-parent homes.
And again, our creativity opens up when we get out of that boxed-in, right-wrong thinking and let go of the outside judgment. And I think it’s important to watch for that internal judgment, too, because we can be really hard on ourselves when things don’t go according to plan. But life is about learning, growing, pivoting, and really it can’t be predicted or planned for as much as we might try. A marriage ending doesn’t need to be seen as any type of failure, but it could be viewed as a recalibration based on who everyone is now and what you’ve learned along the way.
PAM: Yeah, that is so true, Anna. I mean, my impression is that at least some of the concern around divorce comes from one parent contesting unschooling in court, insisting their kids go to school. Unschooling can be a source of contention when it comes to divorce. It can be challenging to explain how it works to a judge. The kids may then experience two big life changes out of their control: no longer living with both parents and going to school.
Yet, as you said, Anna, divorce doesn’t need to be seen as a failure, but can be seen as a transition. And if we keep our relationships with our kids at the forefront, focusing on connection and validation, we can help them move through it alongside us, that team again.
We’ve also spoken on the podcast before about how much of the unschooling ethos is about relationships and how even if the kids go to school, we don’t need to change how we parent. All of a sudden, becoming like teacher proxies at home, insisting on homework completion and insisting on high marks and studying all the time. We don’t need to bring school home. We don’t need to judge our children by their grades, even if they go to school. So, when we can release these fears about the future, we can more clearly see our family and our relationships as they are now, and creatively explore new possibilities around what those might look like moving forward.
ERIKA: I think this rule is really interesting and it makes sense that people are looking for a rule and for the one right way, because it can make life feel easier if there’s certainty. But as we’ve talked about with all the unschooling rules, it’s just not true. There just isn’t one right way. And so, context comes into play, individual people who are all different involved in the situation do, too.
And I think another part of this belief about never divorcing relates kind of to our Always Be Happy “Rules” episode that we had. The idea that having two parents in the home with children is the best environment for them, and we should somehow be able to control all of the factors. We should be able to make our relationships great if we can just do everything correctly.
But it doesn’t take much thinking to see that there isn’t a way to control everything. Two parents in the same home is one possibility, but it’s not always going to be the possibility that works or makes sense in every family. I mean, these are real people we’re talking about, and relationships are complicated. And so, I think the two parent expectation really is just one of those cultural images. It’s more like a fantasy vision of a family rather than reality, which has so many more layers and so much more nuance. It’s like thinking that our real lives should look like someone else’s Instagram highlights version of life.
And if we’re comparing our real families to this idealized vision, that’s when all of those fears can come up, like you were saying, Pam. But divorce doesn’t automatically mean that the kids have to go to school. And kids going to school doesn’t automatically mean we can’t have connected relationships with them. There are so many ways for things to work out.
And I love applying the no one right way idea to this topic, because like you were saying, Anna, it just gets us to that more open, creative place. If things aren’t feeling good, what are the options? What could our lives look like? Can we make adjustments? What are all of the possibilities? And there really are just endless ways to navigate parenting and partnership. Responding to our unique context and considering the different unique personalities in our family, we can find creative solutions that work for us, and there’s just not a right answer.
ANNA: Oh my gosh. It’s such an important reminder to not compare our inside to someone else’s outside. That idealized Instagram family isn’t real. Even for the ones that you know and see, that’s just such a tiny slice. Staying focused on the real relationships in front of you will give you the information that you need.
And I think it is a good point, Pam, about parents involving unschooling in custody discussions or court proceedings. And I’ve definitely seen that over the years. And it brings to mind a couple things for me. And one is to focus on validation, really double down. Double down on strong communication so that unschooling doesn’t become a weapon. And, as you said, letting go of the fear around school, because you can still absolutely have strong connected relationships when your kids are in school. And once you’ve released that fear, that set outcome, it again just opens up the creativity. It gives you a better chance at getting to the underlying need of whatever your ex is saying and talking to your kids about what they need. And it leads us to finding solutions that feel good to everyone as best we can.
Because when you’re talking to people about it, you just feel the weight released. Because it’s that fear, but what if we can’t unschool? And that’s where you’re stuck, but gosh, just releasing that fear and seeing that what’s important is our connected relationships. What’s important is having communication. That feels so different and it’s much more in your control, too, like the type of relationships that you can have.
I think it’s so helpful that the same ideas that we talk about related to our kids and relationships on all the podcasts and in the Network continue to serve us even if our relationships are changing.
Understanding ourselves and our differences is key to strong communication and navigating conflicts. Because even if we’re ending our marriage, we are still connected to this person pretty much for life because of the children. So, understanding one another and being able to communicate about the hard stuff is so helpful to everyone’s level of satisfaction and health. And now, that does not mean that there won’t be challenges and upsets and disagreements, but when we use the ideas we talk about, so often, it can truly help us move through even very difficult conversations with a lot more grace and ease.
The Foundation series on the Living Joyfully Podcast is a great place to get a refresher on some of those ideas. Things like understanding our differences and being open and curious. You can just start at the beginning of the podcast, or you can find it bundled in our shop, livingjoyfullyshop.com.
The conflict series also has a lot of gems that can help in improving communication. Things like assuming positive intent, looking for underlying needs, releasing set outcomes. Those are a few that just come to mind and are helpful ideas when navigating a divorce and figuring out the next steps for your family.
I think understanding that with the goal of strong communication, it doesn’t need to mean that the relationship stays the same, can be helpful. Just releasing, again, this expectation or idea. Relationships evolve and some aspects will fall away and others may change, and all of it is okay.
And keeping in mind there can be certain relationships that are so toxic that it isn’t safe. I just want to mention that quickly, because that is a different situation. The safety of everyone in the family is always a priority, but more often than not, it’s just differences. Different goals, different needs. Things have changed. Tuning into who you are and what you need will guide you to your decision, shutting out all of that outside noise, because again, there’s no rule, not from unschoolers, not from the church, not from whatever. That can all be tuned out into who you are and how you want to move through the world. You get to create the family that works for you and that can look whatever way feels best to all of you.
PAM: Yeah. And thank you very much for mentioning the safety piece, because yes, safety is a priority. And alongside that cultural story, that divorce means you failed miserably, and it’s going to be a long and arduous fight, I feel like there’s just so much fear wrapped up in it all that it’s just hard to imagine another way through it.
But even if the idea of divorce has started bubbling up and things are feeling deeply strained, it is worth the energy and the effort to work on our relationship with our spouse, because, as you mentioned Anna, they will most likely continue to be part of our children’s life and by extension ours. So, the better we understand ourselves, each other, and our myriad of differences, the more effectively we can communicate and navigate this challenging season.
And with that may also come some softening. That’s what I feel as you release the fear and recognize that yeah, that fear is about the future and it’s me telling like the worst story possible. But when I can release that, that opens me up to understanding myself, to listening to my inner voice a little bit more, to understanding that people are different, and just letting that in, rather than feeling I need to resist and I need to be hard through it.
I come to recognize that we are less enemies and we really are more just different people. We have different needs and goals and ways of moving through the world. So, maybe that brings us closer and we move through this season more supportively, better understanding each other’s needs, and maybe we discover that we want to stay together. Or maybe we continue on a path that includes divorce, but with more understanding and empathy. Both paths are better off for our newfound awareness. This work helps no matter how things unfold.
ERIKA: Right. Yes. I think when we get stuck in a place of thinking that we are doing something wrong if our relationship isn’t working or that we need to place blame somewhere, then communication shuts down. Even if we’re not on the same page, communication and relationship tools that we talk about in unschooling can help us move towards that mutual understanding. And I think that having that foundation where we have practice communicating and we’ve been working towards these strong, connected relationships, that only helps when things get more difficult.
I know, for me, diving into our personality differences has helped me and Josh so much in our relationship. I know you both have talked before about not taking someone’s personality personally, and I think in many ways I used to do that. His brain is just so different from mine, so I would often feel like, why don’t you think like me? Why don’t you get it? But I think seeing how different each of my kids are and really valuing and respecting that has helped me realize that there isn’t a right way to be. And I’ve gotten better at communicating with all of them about my experience without feeling like they should all agree with me or experience things the same way as I do.
I’m much more curious about Josh’s way of moving through the world than I used to be. Rather than judging him or trying to get him to see things my way, I get more curious about him and try to understand why he reacts the way he does, or why he makes the choices he does. So, in that way, I think unschooling has really helped us have a more connected relationship with a lot less conflict.
And since we really focus on problem solving and win-win solutions, I just have a lot of trust now that no matter what comes up for us, we’ll be able to figure it out. Whether that means we’re staying together or not, it doesn’t feel scary to me, because I know there are always so many possibilities when we’re staying open and curious.
ANNA: Right. And I think that energy that we bring to the situation is so important. Letting go of the fear and tuning into the people involved, including yourself. We can rewrite the story of what divorce looks like, and I really think that can be kind of the final shift. We rewrite the whole story of divorce and recognize that it can be about supporting each other on our best paths, just like we do with our children.
We can offer that to our ex and to ourselves. Once we get out of that win-lose paradigm and have the tools to communicate, even through the tough conversations, we can move to a place of supporting each other, wanting the best for everyone, and creating a new normal. And again, that doesn’t mean it’ll always be rosy, but it can certainly be better than staying in a relationship that isn’t serving you, where you don’t understand each other, and aren’t able to have any kind of conversations.
Our culture really sets up these strange, polarizing ideas that are so extreme. You should stay married forever, or it’s a failure, or you can’t have an amicable divorce. It doesn’t exist. It’s going to be hard. It’s all so extreme, and life is so much more nuanced than that.
In my work with couples, I’ve found that helping couples move through the transition of divorce to be really satisfying. They come in and they don’t want it to be horrible, but they really have no model of that, because our culture just paints this picture. It’s in movies and friends and family, all the things. It’s just all around, these ideas. But it is possible and can work really well and it’s, of course, always better for the children when we can find a more amicable path. And it creates a culture of supporting every family member in pursuing their best lives.
And in those conversations that I have with these couples, there are hard conversations and there are hurt feelings. And I’ve had couples that are trying to do this where one partner has cheated or been involved in other things. And you would think that’s the scenario where it can never work. But it still can, because we can still have these goals of supporting each other and being there for the kids and figuring out a best path that feels better.
But no matter how it’s playing out in your family, trust in your why and in your knowing. There is not one right way. Tune out the outside noise and tune into your body and its knowing. That’s going to lead you to the best possible path for you.
PAM: Yeah. I feel like moving out of that win-lose paradigm and into the story of supporting each other on our best paths, as we do with our children, can be a life-changing paradigm shift.
I mean, my experience is similar to yours, Erika. It was like coming to recognize the difference in my children and recognizing that they’re so different even though they’re all in the same environment. Before my relationship with Rocco, I didn’t have a lot of deeply connected and trusting relationships to understand another person at that depth. So, it was when I had kids that I really started seeing up close how different people can be. And then through learning that, I could bring that understanding to and widen up the relationship with my partner, with Rocco, and not have so many expectations and, “Why can’t you see things this way?” So yeah, I found that very interesting.
And just imagine putting all that energy that’s wrapped up in the idea of winning towards exploring other more supportive paths. I just feel that energy of the resistance and of trying to convince people. When you can release that win-lose paradigm, and it doesn’t mean stuffing down that energy it, it’s moving through it. And now I can take that energy and do something else with it.
It is true that culturally we don’t have many models of different ways to navigate the challenges that can come with divorce. But that doesn’t mean, just as you were saying, Anna, that they don’t exist. We get to choose our path.
ERIKA: I love that so much. It’s possible to completely disagree and still move forward in a way that can work for everyone involved. Remembering that we’re all different, we’re all doing the best that we can in each moment, and that there are endless possibilities, these are just big paradigm shifts that lower the intensity of the situation and give us some space to be creative and look for solutions.
So, yeah, I think it’s just really like so many other topics we’ve explored. When we release judgment of ourselves and of the other person, we release the fears and the cultural messages that we’re holding onto. We’re able to just look at what’s going on and make the next choice that makes sense.
And I know some people who get to a place where they feel like their relationship is pulling apart will have this open, curious exploration of all their options and decide to stay together and others will decide to separate. And those choices will make sense for them and their very unique families and experiences. There’s just no one right way and people are all different.
ANNA: It’s true! And I’m so glad we talked about this and hopefully put it to rest, because I really hate thinking of anyone out there carrying any additional weight around divorce, because that decision is always gonna be weighty and big and involve a lot. You don’t need any weight from anywhere else just because you’ve heard unschoolers shouldn’t divorce. They do, just like any other population. And I would argue that they’re best equipped to move through it in a way that centers the children and finds the win-win solutions along the way. It will not always be easy, but when you’re remembering your why, keeping lines of communication open, and remaining connected, it doesn’t have to be something to be feared.
PAM: Yeah. I love that so much. Thank you both. I really appreciate you, your insights, and your participation in this. I think it is such a big topic. It’s one I have heard for many, many years floating around in the unschooling ethos. So, I really enjoyed diving into it and just picking it apart, because we don’t have to absorb those stories that we hear out there.
And before we go, I do want to encourage you to check out The Living Joyfully Shop, because there you’ll find our courses, which include Navigating Conflict, along with books and coaching options that you might find helpful on your journey. And you can find all that at livingjoyfullyshop.com.
Thank you very much for listening, and we’ll see you next time! I hope you found this episode helpful on your unschooling journey. And be sure to check out the growing podcast archive. The conversations never go out of date. You can find more information about my books, the Living Joyfully Network online community, and the Childhood Redefined Unschooling Summit online course at my website, livingjoyfully.ca.