This week, we’re back with another On the Journey episode. Pam and Erika are joined by Living Joyfully Network member Jahaira Luzzi. Jahaira is an unschooling mom of two, ages 6 and 8, and a former early childhood educator.
We talk about Jahaira’s path to unschooling, including her exploration of various types of elementary schools after she left college. We also dive into the spiritual aspects of unschooling, the importance of presence, and more! We hope you enjoy our conversation and that it inspires you, no matter where you are along your journey.
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 Building Community.
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.
ERIKA: Hello, everyone! I’m Erika Ellis from Living Joyfully, and we are so glad you have joined us for this episode of the Exploring Unschooling Podcast. I’m joined by my co-host, Pam Laricchia, and our guest, Jahaira Luzzi. Welcome to you both.
PAM AND JAHAIRA: Hi!
ERIKA: And before we get started with our conversation, I just wanted to mention that we have a variety of coaching options available on our website, livingjoyfullyshop.com.
Sometimes it can be so helpful to get some one-on-one support. And Pam, Anna, and I all offer unschooling consultations. And Anna also offers coaching for individuals, couples, and families. So, whether you want to talk about unschooling, relationships, work, or just life, we’d love to hear from you. You can click on Coaching on our website, livingjoyfullyshop.com, and we’ll put that link in the show notes as well.
So, now I’m excited that we have Jahaira here with us today. And Pam, do you want to get us started with our conversation?
PAM: I do! Absolutely. Thank you so much, Jahaira, for being here. I have really enjoyed getting to know you for the last while on the Living Joyfully Network, and I know we all appreciate your contributions to the weekly calls, because they are always so valuable. So, I am very excited for even more people to hear from you.
And, to get us started, I have a two-part question, because I have always loved starting off with, if you could tell us a bit about you and your family and what everyone’s interested in right now, and then I’d love to hear just a quick overview about how you came to unschooling.
JAHAIRA: Okay. Hi, everyone. I just want to say thank you so much, Pam, because when I found out about unschooling and was looking to dig deeper, it was your podcast that made it possible. When I listened to the stories, I realized, oh, okay, this is real. This can happen. And this woman and all of these people have done it before me. So, okay, I can do this. I can do this. Because it’s just such a radical shift from being in school all your life and knowing that as the only way.
So, your podcast showed me all these stories about what’s possible. I remember being brought to tears, realizing the depth of what was possible and how it could even heal me. I just want to say thank you so much to you and Anna and Anne Ohman. Shout out to Anne and now Erika, too. Thank you guys so much for doing this for the world.
PAM: Thank you so much for sharing.
JAHAIRA: So, I’m Jahaira and I just celebrated my 43rd birthday and I’m a full-time stay-at-home mom. I’m with my kids full-time.
My favorite thing to do right now is to work out. I have been part of a workout community called Get Mom Strong. I found her on Instagram and I’ve basically been doing her program for four years now. And it’s weight training, it’s body weight, and it’s also dumbbells and other small equipment that I’ve built up over the years. And it just makes me feel stronger and more capable. And her way of teaching fitness is basically, especially for moms, is instead of trying to get skinny, you want to just appreciate your body for what it can do and what it has done and how beautiful the stretch marks can be when you look at it from the perspective of, this is what my body did to create my babies. So, it just brings this whole new spectrum of appreciating your body instead of trying to change it. And so, that’s why I love that program.
And I also am new to Jiujitsu, thanks to my husband, which is very interesting, because there’s a lot to learn and I feel like you have to practice a lot in order to get better. So, I’m doing that three times a week with my husband.
And I’m also learning a lot about something called non-duality, which is hard to explain, but I basically came across it through, Eckhart Tolle’s teachings. I know a lot of people probably know about The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. And it’s basically a way to think about life in a way, or not even think about it, but noticing how your thoughts are basically what’s making you suffer. And all suffering is basically caused by this thick veil of thoughts, this dense layer of thoughts that’s clouding the reality of what is in this moment. So, I’m into that now.
And then my husband is John and we’ve been married for almost 10 years. He is a software engineer and a business analyst. And he is crazy about Jiujitsu. He wants to go every night of the week now and super passionate about it, watches YouTube videos all day, and is excited that I’m doing it now, too. But he’s super into it. And he likes chess and Jiujitsu is a lot like chess, because when you’re in certain situations, it’s similar to wrestling, but it’s how to move your body in certain situations in order to gain an upper hand. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s fun.
And then he also likes to hang out and smoke a cigar and is into cigars and knows how to take care of them and which ones are the good ones now, and is always looking for cigar buddies. And then we also just got a pizza maker, which is fun, because it hooks up to the gas thing outside. It’s powered by the gas, but it’s an actual pizza maker, fire, not wood fire, but fire, pizza maker. And so, he is learning the science of that and it’s really, really great to have delicious homemade pizza.
And then we have Leo, my 8-year-old son, who loves Roblox and VR and is really into Gorilla Tag right now and Rec Room. And he just got the new Oculus Quest headset, which he’s very lucky to have gotten that. So, now I was just watching him and his little sister play together for the first time, because now she’s using the older one. So, that’s really fun to witness them playing VR together.
And then Lianna is six and she loves Bluey which, I know, Pam, your kids are grown up, but you have seen Bluey, right?
JAHAIRA: Okay. Healing for the soul. I don’t know if everybody’s already seen Bluey. I’m sure everybody here in this community has already seen Bluey, but it is a beautiful production. From the music to just the things that they talk about. And just to see, to witness, how the parents can be so playful with the kids. And it’s just such an amazing example of being able to come back to that childlike state, to be with your kids, and just gentle parenting overall. It’s so amazing. It makes me cry. I am brought to tears watching that show sometimes.
And then, she also loves gymnastics and she’s gotten really good at her cartwheels and she’s working on her handstands now, so that’s fun. Gotta be careful in the living room, because there are flying legs every now and then, but it’s good. So, that’s us.
PAM: I remember when I was a child doing the cartwheels in the living room and smacking my ankle on the furniture. Swollen ankle. That’s my childhood. Indoor gymnastics.
But, anyway, all that aside, thank you so much. That’s what I love about the snapshots of people’s lives. I mean, maybe it’s just the way my mind works, but I can just see your four lives and all those interests weaving together. There are so many overlapping bits. And I love the jiujitsu and chess comparison and can totally see that and how a software person would be very interested in that as well. So much of it weaves together so beautifully. Thank you so much for sharing.
ERIKA: Yeah, we just got a new Oculus Quest. Oliver got the new one here, too. And they’re both very into Gorilla Tag, so that’s very fun. And Bluey is so beautiful. I’m glad that you mentioned it. Maya is 12, but she will watch it and she’s just like, “It makes me cry. You have to see this one. It makes me cry. It’s just so beautiful.”
JAHAIRA: She says that, too?
ERIKA: Mmhmm. She said that, too.
JAHAIRA: Yep. And she’s just 12, too. And I noticed the other day, Leo, he’s eight and he can see what the meaning is. You know what I mean? There’s the one episode where the smallest daughter is in her dream and she sees the sun and he recognized that the parallel is like, oh, mom is the sun. That’s what’s happening there. He could see it and I was just like, oh, yes. That’s so good. With that storytelling, being able to see those archetypes, like you talk about, Pam, through Bluey, it’s just so beautiful.
ERIKA: Yeah. And all the layers. Yeah. Did you want to share about how you found unschooling or when that was?
JAHAIRA: Yes. So, after high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, of course, because I never got a chance to figure that out. And so, I just went into business administration after high school. So, my first two years of college, I was just studying business administration, just because I didn’t know what to do and just going through the motions and then waitressing and bartending at the same time.
And then at some point I got a job as an assistant in a childcare center. I thought, oh, these kids are lovely. This is wonderful. Like, okay, this is what I want to study. This is what I’ll do.
So, I went to school to study early childhood and, for internships, was placed in different public school settings. And then finally when I graduated, I got a job in a charter school, which I think now, charter schools, of course there are good ones, bad ones, but I think charter schools still have to comply a lot by state standards, so it’s very hard for them to do things that they want to do.
But I got a job in a charter school, in a kindergarten classroom, and basically only lasted six months, because it was heartbreaking every day to see what they were doing with the behavior charts, and then they would get punished. The punishment was supposed to help them to do better, but it just made it worse and it made them feel shame.
And just the standardized tests. We were doing standardized tests in kindergarten. They told them they couldn’t use the bathroom during the standardized tests. And I was like, this is just crazy. And then, all of the staff was just so mean and I was expected to be mean, too. I was expected to do what everybody else was doing, and I just couldn’t do it. And I was just like, this feels wrong. Every day, it was just like, I’m supposed to be doing this thing where I’m supposed to be disciplining them and I’m supposed to be doing what the head teacher’s doing, and I can’t do it. It was just, I couldn’t do it.
And my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, he witnessed all of this and I think that, since he saw what I was going through, that’s why he signed on to homeschooling, because he realized, too, how it just doesn’t make sense.
So, I ended up quitting that job and I had always had night jobs, waitressing jobs, bartending jobs, jobs in bars, and it was always really good money. So, I always say that that was the reason I was able to walk away so easily from that position, because I knew that I would be okay. I didn’t need that job. I could still take care of myself, because I had this night job.
And then that’s when I went down the rabbit hole of, I don’t remember exactly how I found the podcast. The first podcast I found was Brett Veinotte’s podcast, which is School Sucks. I know that you were on it, Pam, once. It’s called the School Sucks Podcast. I think I searched, why is it so hard? Or something. I don’t remember what I was searching, but I came across the School Sucks Podcast and that’s what led me down. Oh my god. That’s where I learned about John Taylor Gatto and the beginning of public school and why it was created and how, back in the industrial revolution, how they needed trained workers to be able to work the machines and they needed people to just comply.
And wow. I learned so much in that podcast. And I realized, oh, this is why it was so hard. That’s the intent of schools. And so, that’s why it was so hard.
And then that’s how I came across Pam’s podcast. And that’s when I started volunteering in these different schools now, because I was like, okay, I can still be a teacher, maybe I can still find a place for myself, not in the public school setting, but somewhere else maybe. So, I would just volunteer. I’d just go to these schools and be like, listen, can I just help you guys? What can I do to help? I’m a certified teacher, but I don’t have a job right now.
And so, I went to the Brooklyn Free School in New York, where it’s a Democratic free school, just to see how it worked. And I went to Montessori schools and volunteered, and then I ended up in a cooperative where I volunteered. It was a co-op. And that school was the first time that I witnessed the opposite of what I witnessed in my first teaching experience where the teachers were just so mean. In the cooperative, the teachers were so gentle and loving that it just fed my soul. It was just a shocker to see how you can treat them with dignity and they will cooperate. That is a thing.
And so, they ended up hiring me, which is what John Taylor Gatto preached about, because he was a teacher for 30 years and he talked about letting kids volunteer, putting them in the real world in these situations. And so, I was putting myself in those situations and then I ended up getting hired. They hired me after a certain amount of time and then after that, I had my own baby, and then that’s when I stopped working.
But that was also when I learned about Janet Lansbury, who is a woman who preaches about giving dignity to your children even when they’re babies. When I learned about how she preaches about how, when you pick up your baby, say to the baby, “Hi, baby. I’m gonna pick you up now,” instead of like, oh, this is just this chunk of meat that you just do whatever you want with and you don’t even treat it like it’s a human, because they don’t understand you anyway. What a gift that I got from Janet Lansbury. That was the beginning of gentle parenting and everything else, but yep. So, the kids have not ever been to school and they’re six and eight and that’s where we are now.
PAM: Oh my goodness. I love that. I love that you were discovering this whole other world before you even had your own children, that you had found that connection with young kids and you’re like, oh, this is something that feeds my soul, as you were saying. But then, the more typical route, early childhood education and working in public schools and just feeling how that did not fit, because you were in that space. That’s so interesting, to see what the head teachers were trying to accomplish and seeing the impact on the kids. And then seeing that, this is just something I’m not comfortable doing myself, engaging in myself. And then in a space where you could leave that, just reaching out to just try something. “I can volunteer here.” Yeah, I mean, that feeds MY soul.
It’s very different, right? Where we might think, oh, we have to go get a job. We have to stick to that and coming across the School Sucks Podcast is very, very interesting as just a way to open up. It’s like just crank on that idea a little bit. There are all sorts of interesting things under there and Gatto’s idea of just participating in the world and volunteering. That connection you made between your volunteering out there to find what connected with you, alongside that, you’re already living the ethos of the lifestyle before you even had your own kids.
And it’s lovely that your now spouse was your boyfriend then, because he could see you going through that without your own children being in the mix. Because I think sometimes that can be really hard, because of course we all want the best for our kids. And typically, the best is a good education, a good school. That is the typical path. But you guys had encountered and explored that path before you actually had your own kids. So, I can see how that was so super and so wonderful and lucky for them.
ERIKA: Yeah. It sounds like having that open and curious mindset well before Pam ever said open and curious on the podcast to you. You could have gone into that work situation and just held onto the same beliefs that everyone else there did. But since your mind was open and curious even then, it was like, I see this, I hear what they’re telling me. But it’s not okay with me, so let me explore. And that can just lead to a whole life journey. And I just love that.
I was thinking that one of my favorite shifts that happened when I started unschooling was that maybe I had an idea about how my children would end up, or had a vision of what childhood is like, or what education is like, or what my children will be like, and shifting to noticing how unique they are, how different they are from me, seeing them for really who they are.
And I love thinking about every day as a chance to learn something else about this unique person who’s in front of me. And so, the choices that they’re making and all the things that they’re doing are just giving me more information about who they are as humans. And I think it’s just so fun and so interesting. I know you’ve also talked about studying your kids or learning your kids and so, I just wanted you to maybe share about what that looks like for you.
JAHAIRA: So, yeah, the studying my children, I don’t know if Pam remembers saying it, but it was something that I got from Pam. I think it was talking about buying curriculum and it was like, instead of buying a curriculum, your kids are the curriculum. Instead of, here’s these books. That’s gonna tell you what to teach them. It’s like, how about just learn about them and then go from there?
So, for me, I feel like lately it’s hard to really slow down enough, especially maybe because I’m a stay-at-home mom. So, you get busy with doing the dishes and cleaning the house and doing all the things around the house and you see that they’re okay and they’re doing their own thing and they’re learning and they’re having fun.
But sometimes it’s like, nope, you’ve got to remember to come back and just sit down and actually listen to them. Like slow down, slow way down enough, so that when they’re telling you a story, really listen to the words that they’re saying and really focus. Because I feel like my mind as a mom is always like, oh, I gotta do this. There’s things I gotta do. There’s something I have to remember. Don’t forget that you’ve gotta do this. So, it’s hard to set that part aside for a second to really slow down enough to be like, okay, what’s going on guys? And just being present with them. And that’s the first step, I feel like.
I feel like unschooling, it’s hands off in a lot of ways, because obviously you’re just letting them be curious and discover their own interests and everything. But also, and I know you guys talked about this before, it’s also all encompassing, it’s all hands in, because you really have to just be paying attention all the time. And you have to be that facilitator for them. And if you’re not willing to do that, then it’s not better than school in a lot of ways.
But I think that, yeah, slowing down enough. It is like the course that you have, Childhood Redefined. It really is redefining this role that we have in their lives. They’re not just this little thing to be molded, but they are someone who’s growing into their own whatever it may be. I’m not explaining that well, but you guys know what I’m talking about. And so, it’s our role to really be curious and then from there, whatever you see that they’re into, offer different things to them to get them even more excited about life and learning.
PAM: We can help expand their world around the pieces that they’re interested in. And over the years, there will be all sorts of pieces that they will be interested in, but they will also all connect. I’ll get myself all excited about that. But it really does come back. I do love the idea of being a student of our kids. And I love the way you pulled that out, rather than a curriculum, but it’s like, okay, what do I do instead?
I say, I don’t use curriculum, but then what do I do? But shifting it to look at our kids, oh my gosh, we learn so much. I think we learn so much about human beings, because I remember when I first came across homeschooling and then very quickly unschooling, to spend that time with my kids, I realized how capable they are at very young ages. That whole molding thing comes with the idea that, well, they don’t know these things. They don’t know themselves. I’m responsible to teach them how to be a human being. But they are human beings right from the get go and they have personalities and they actually have likes and dislikes and challenges and strengths that all make sense for who they are.
And if we are not a student of them, so much of that seems random. Like, why are they mad about that? Or even, why are they mad about that today when it was fine last week? There are reasons. It is just so fascinating on that human level, I think, to discover who they are. And then from there, then it is so logical, but it just flows so beautifully, the things that they’re interested in or the way they like to learn and just dive into something or sit back and watch for a while. You just discover who they are as a person.
You don’t need to teach them how to be a person. They are just so incredibly capable of taking in what’s going on in the moment and reacting even when they don’t have the words for it or the deeper understanding, but you can see their reaction, how they are trying to communicate in that moment. Even if they’re trying to communicate overwhelm, they’re feeling overwhelmed, and they’re expressing it.
So, when we learn their language, rather than expecting and waiting, like, I’m gonna teach them what emotions are and what the names are for them and I’m waiting till they can communicate that to me and until that point they don’t really understand that, they intuitively as a human being understand so much about themselves. And when we are there with them and understanding on that level, I have to backtrack and say not a perfect understanding, but we are with them as they’re processing and we can help with a little tweak here. Maybe we try something that might help reduce the overwhelm that they’re feeling and maybe it doesn’t really work, but we’ve shown them a tool and we have both learned that, yeah, that doesn’t help me at all in this particular situation. There is no wrong. It’s always learning, right? We learn more about it.
And again, when it comes to relationships, it’s not about like getting it right or fixing it fast. Even if we sidestep, even something goes a little bit off kilter, that repair and them knowing that we are there because of the relationship, not their actions. You know what I mean? They don’t have to act right or do the thing that we told them would solve the problem for them.
And the other thing, and then I’ll be quiet for a moment, but the other thing that I love that being a student of our child helps us do is something that I found to be such a huge a-ha moment, which is seeing things through their eyes. When I’m going into a situation and I care about them and I love them and something’s upsetting them, I try to put myself in their shoes and I’m like, oh, this thing would make me feel so much better. So, I go and do the thing and it does not help them at all.
And I’m like, well, that’s weird. That’s strange. Something’s off. Yet, how different if I can say, oh, I’m gonna see this situation through their eyes, because they’re a different person, they’re a different personality. They have different things that overwhelm them, different strengths, different challenges. They are a different human being.
And if I can try see through their eyes and have that level of understanding, I may choose to try and help or support them in a way that I would never want somebody to do for me, but I know them and through their eyes and this might be more helpful for them. And when I can do that, I do find that I am more successful at connecting with them, more successful at helping them move through it. And when I’m looking through their eyes, I am now all of a sudden taking away that pressure of, I want to solve this fast. I want them to move through this fast. This is really uncomfortable for me.
And when I can go and meet them where they are, all of a sudden their timetable and their processing makes a little bit more sense to me, and I can take that edge off the pressure. Because when we’re all worked up and we come at each other with that energy, that can just make things spiral even more.
ERIKA: Yeah. A couple things came up for me when you were talking. The first is, it’s helpful for me to remember how I felt when I was five or six. I remember being young and I remember that I was me then, too. And so, I know that my kids are themselves now. I don’t need to wait for them to grow in order for their opinions and their choices and all of those different things about them to make sense. They are who they are.
And so, that’s why that curiosity of just learning more about them and getting to that point where I can see things through their eyes, getting to that point where I know if they’ve made a choice, it makes sense for them. So, if it doesn’t make sense to me that they made that choice, I just have more to learn about them. That’s just so fun and interesting. And I think remembering how it was for me, that I have always felt like a human all along, can help me put that into perspective.
And then, Jahaira, I loved how you were talking about being really intentional about spending the time just being there and observing. And I think that’s so important, because when you can put something on your list, like, do this math page with my kids, it’s something that’s easy to check off and it’s a task to do. Or like, cook dinner. That’s a task. But this “be there” doesn’t feel as much like I’m putting that on a to-do list, and so it really can get just pushed aside. I have these other tasks. There’s the work to do, there’s house stuff to do, places to go. And those more time-sensitive appointments and tasks can start to take over the time.
And so, I do think especially in the beginning, or especially if you don’t feel like you have all that knowledge about who your kids are and really wanna get in deeper with that, taking that time and being super intentional about, this is something that I’m going to do today. And what the thing is is just sitting there with them and seeing what they’re doing and what they’re interested in and being there.
We had a podcast guest who mentioned “very important sitting.” That was the phrase she used to increase the importance of that task for herself. So, she felt like it really was a valuable and important thing to do, just sitting in the living room, being there and having the kids exploring the world around her. It makes such a difference for them. They love it. They love having someone accessible like that. And then, for me, just such a huge difference in being able to pick up on the language and what they are talking about, what they’re thinking about and just getting to know them better. I love that.
PAM: I did love that piece, too. When Anna and I started the The Living Joyfully Podcast, where we were focusing more on relationships, the very first episode was talking about priorities, because I think that’s absolutely it. It’s so easy to get caught up in prioritizing the tasks that are more defined. Like, I know what I have to do. I pretty much know what I have to do, and I can get that done and I can knock it off. So yeah, naming it, just understanding that, oh, with our choices and our lifestyle, this is something that’s a priority for me.
And if it helps to frame it as being a student of my child and this is my learning time, it’s learning about ourselves in such a way that we know how to frame things or we learn how to frame things such that we will give it the priority commensurate with the value that we get out of it. Because it is such a valuable thing to do, isn’t it?
JAHAIRA: Yeah. You forget how valuable it is to just sit, like you said, Erika. Oh, well that’s not a thing. It’s like, that’s the most important thing. If I think about what my values are, of course, my children, that connection with my children. That’s connection. That’s what’s gonna nourish them. And if they feel nourished, then everything just is so much easier from there.
PAM: Yeah. Well, I think this last question is going to flow very nicely from this whole conversation, because I have found that, for many of us, when we embrace unschooling, it does become almost like a spiritual practice, right?
There are lots of different facets to it that ebb and flow over time, like we were just talking about, that presence in the moment, being there, challenging so many of our deep-rooted beliefs, which you did a good chunk of before even having children, and breaking the cycle of our own childhood trauma, there could be so much to process there as well.
So, I just thought it would be great to hear some of your experience around this aspect of unschooling or this way of looking at the deschooling and unschooling process and lifestyle.
JAHAIRA: Yeah, I think that in the beginning, it was just about education. It was just about, there’s a different way that they can learn. It doesn’t have to be like that. Let’s find out about these different schools and these different theories about education.
And then, the years go by and you realize it’s a spiritual thing, because with religion and spirituality, it’s like dealing with the unknown. This existence of being alive, what is this? And people turn to religion to try to comfort that feeling of the unknown. Like, okay, I can have faith in this thing, or I can believe in this thing. My husband, he’s been going to church more lately and it’s a Catholic church and I’m open to, what is this existence and what are they teaching there? I don’t know much about the Christians. They have this deep faith and it seems to really be this healing thing. It’s like this beautiful way of just having faith about this lifetime.
So, I think unschooling becomes this spiritual thing, because it’s the same thing. It’s like, okay, I have to trust here, because I don’t know. This unschooling thing, this is a new thing and people don’t even know about it and they think it’s radical.
When I tell people about my kids, let alone home homeschooling is already like, oh wow, you do, but if I try to explain unschooling, it’s like what!? So, for me, I have gained the confidence because of the stories that I’ve heard from so many people who have come before me and shown that it can be done.
But there is still this thing inside where it’s like, whew, I’ve really gotta stay present here and look at these old beliefs and trust that it’s gonna be okay. This nourishment is what’s most important with the children, not this education thing. So yeah, with the trust and mystery and that parallel with spirituality.
PAM: I love that. The trust piece. That wasn’t what came to mind for me at first, but absolutely. I love that you mentioned that, because yeah, when we first come to it and we’re learning about it and we are hearing from people who’ve done it or who have much more experience than we do and it’s making sense to us, you still need to trust, because you don’t know how that is actually gonna work in your family.
JAHAIRA: I feel like I need to know.
PAM: Because I don’t have your kids. And I think one of the big things that I found, I remember thinking at the beginning of the transition, that all of these experienced families, I love the relationships with their kids that they’re talking about. And I am really worried that they just have easy kids.
I remember that so well. It’s like, how is this relationship I have going to look like that relationship sometime in the future? But they say it does and it makes sense to me the way they explain the process. So you know what? I am going to trust and I’m gonna dive in and engage with the process.
I think one of the challenges comes if we choose not to engage. We just say, oh yeah, that’s really cool. And, kind of hands off, we just let them do their thing. That deeper relationship, that strong, connected, trusting relationship would be much harder to develop with our kids in that kind of situation where we’re kind of worried about engaging with them, worried that we shouldn’t be telling them what to do. We don’t do that.
But if you, instead of thinking about the education, because that’s where we’re first coming to it, so many of us. It’s like, well, if they’re not going to school, how else are they gonna learn? How are they gonna become educated? You know? So that’s what we think we’re replacing. And it’s like, oh, well if I’m not focused on that, what do I do? Focus on the relationship. Be a student of your child. Engage with them, be with them there, you can engage it. It’s a new way. It was for me, anyway, to learn how to engage with a person without directing them in the way that I would think this moment should unfold.
And the very important sitting, it all ties together. But watching them in the moment and seeing how they take it, while being with them. If I’m not with them, I can’t see how it’s unfolding. I can’t learn about them. I can’t see them making a different choice and go, oh yeah, that’s not a choice I’d make, but it sure makes sense for them. And it works out. Because maybe I saw it and I’m like, yeah, that’s not gonna work, but I’ll let them discover it for themselves and it does. And you go like, boom, mind blown. Learning my way isn’t the only way. It isn’t the right way. I can say it’s the right way for me, but yeah. It all goes back to that trust and then engaging in the moment.
And that’s how we build that trust, too, because we start to see it unfolding in our own families. And often it looks a little bit different. All unschooling families are different, because we’re all different people in them. But to see that trust piece unfolding right then and there in front of us over those first few months and years, then that becomes so valuable, that becomes our priority.
And then it’s so much easier to lean into that when we realize, oh, if I focus on just my relationship with them, everything else just kind of bubbles up out of that. We’re all doing the things that we’re interested in. We’re all learning, we’re all enjoying those pieces. We’re all having things go wrong. We’re all tweaking and changing and doing all those pieces. Oh yeah, this is life. This is the lifestyle that we’ve chosen, the practice.
I love thinking of unschooling as a practice and spirituality as a practice, because it’s just showing up each day and being present in the moment and bringing that ethos in and the “who I wanna be” into my engagement with my children, but also any human being that I want to be in that close of a relationship with, that I want to be connected with, want to have a trusting relationship. I get to choose who I want to have that depth of a relationship with.
ERIKA: Yeah. I think it is interesting how the unschooling journey leads to the deeper processing, the deeper revelations, and questioning the beliefs, and breaking our cycle of trauma. But it makes sense and I think it starts with that curious mindset that comes towards the beginning of unschooling. Like, what if? Is this possible? That starting place.
To me, it felt almost like just opening my mind up to possibilities, rather than just thinking I already know the answers, or I already know what’s going to happen, or I already know who my kids are going to become, I know who I am, all of that kind of stuff. Once I really started being in the moment with these new humans and really seeing, okay, they are different than me. People are different. One curious thought led to another and it really does just become this much deeper process of self-discovery. And so many really valuable things happen, I think, along the journey, if we can keep our minds open and just focus on the relationships, the relationships with ourselves and the relationships with our family, it’s just an incredible journey.
JAHAIRA: Yeah. That whole thing where you said, I know this, and I know that, and I know who I am. It’s like what I talked about, what we look at in non-duality, how it’s this thick layer of like, oh yeah, I know. I know how this is. Oh, we’re so sure of it. We just know. We just know. It’s like, you don’t know anything! We don’t even know what is this. This could be a VR game in itself. You know what I mean?
We get so caught up in that and I think it is because of all those years of schooling that we went through that it’s just mind blowing.
Here’s an example of an epiphany I had the other day. So, I thought it’d be a great idea to take the kids to go see The Nutcracker. I did research on it and I thought it was going to be this kid-friendly show with child actors and I just thought it was a great idea. I showed them the video real quick and I said, this looks like it’ll be fun, right? And they’re like, yeah, that looks like fun.
This is what ends up happening. I end up insisting to my husband to buy the tickets. He’s a real homebody and I’m the one that’s always like, let’s go try this thing or let’s introduce the kids to this and that and stuff. So, I insist that he buy the tickets. And he did. He wasn’t that happy about it, but he did buy the tickets.
We end up going there and it ends up being the ballet. It’s just the ballet. It’s a Nutcracker ballet. It’s just them dancing and the kids, they sat through the first act, I guess, and then the intermission. And then of course the intermission, it’s like, oh, we get to go home now. I’m like, no, no, this is the intermission. So, now, I’m embarrassed to say it, but now I’m insisting that we don’t leave and that we stay for the second act. Because I have this belief now, which now I can see it. Hindsight’s 20/20. I could only see it afterwards that I had this belief in my head.
Well, I made my husband buy the tickets. So, now we can’t leave, because I made him buy the tickets. And what if now he’s going to be mad at me if we leave early and he bought the tickets and he spent money on that. And there’s this whole thing, right? I’d really let that get the best of me in that moment.
And I wasn’t conscious of it then, but we ended up staying. The kids were so upset and I should have just said, you know what? Let’s just go. But I didn’t. And Leo was crying. Now I feel guilty. So, then we stayed. It was okay. Ended up being okay.
But I realized in that moment that him being there and not wanting to be there, imagine that every single day of your life for fucking eight hours a day. I had a glimpse of like, oh my god. He had to do it for an hour. Imagine you wake up in the morning and then you have to go somewhere you hate and sit through it for eight hours a day for however many hours of your life. What that does to a human being. It makes you lose that touch. That makes you lose this interconnection with whatever spiritual thing is going on.
And it was a bad thing that I made him go through that, but it just helped me remember, too, that we had to go through that. And that’s just layers and layers, day upon day, going through this. And it’s just shocking that we do that to people.
PAM: Well, thank you so much for sharing that story. And, oh my gosh, yes. But I don’t know. For me, anyway, I did not even realize. When I was in school, there was just no choice.
JAHAIRA: Yeah. You’re just resigned to it.
PAM: Right, exactly. You’re just like completely resigned and how am I gonna make the best of this? Because this is my life. And, oh my gosh, there’s so little choice. And, like you said, the spiritual aspect, the understanding of ourselves, it is so hard. I can kind of learn who I am within the constraints of all that, but there is just so much control over your life. You really just have no idea who you would be without that.
It reminds me, I remember Lissy in Girl Guides and they were going off to high school and they were like, “Oh, are you coming to school? Are you gonna come try at high school? Now we’re gonna go to high school. High school’s gonna be awesome. We have so much more time to ourselves. We can get a free period and we can leave for lunch.”
It just felt like their world was opening up and they literally would say like, “What do you do? Your life must be so boring,” because they could not envision what somebody would do if they didn’t have to go to a building and engage with the people who were in that same building with them. They, even as kids, could not imagine what they would do with that time. And so, yes, it really goes deep when you start thinking about it, doesn’t it?
JAHAIRA: Leo was playing video games and he got on with a cousin of his, who’s older. He’s probably 15 or 16. So, they’re playing Fortnite together, because Leo just started playing Fortnite. And so, they’re on the Discord talking and his cousin goes, so, wait, you don’t go to school? And he is like, no. He is like, so what do you do all day? And Leo’s like, I play games. He’s like, you just play games all day? You game all day and that’s it? That’s what you get to do? And Leo’s like, yeah, pretty much. And for this kid, it’s like, what? He can’t conceive of it.
And to hear that as a mom, too, like, oh, he is just playing games all day. But nobody knows what that means. Do you understand that he learned how to read, write, and do math through playing games all day? It’s like, no way!
ERIKA: Yeah. Just the time and space that you have in this kind of lifestyle, it’s such a gift and it’s something that you don’t even realize what it could mean if you don’t have it.
And I was thinking, too, that after we leave that system of schooling, we impose that on ourselves forever more unless we start to question it. And so, that really is such a big part of the unschooling journey is just realizing how much of our mind now is structured by school and starting to question things and starting to change some of the things we believe about ourselves and about the world, and yeah, it’s pretty amazing.
PAM: I know. It is. Because school just leads into college, university, into getting a job, into all those things, like you were talking about earlier, Jahaira. That’s the path and that’s what it’s training us for. And oh my gosh. I know. It’s just so exciting. Remembering back, I was like, I can question those things. I can make different choices and the world won’t blow up. It’s just amazing.
And they reach all aspects of your life. All of a sudden, it’s like, oh, this is up for grabs. And I can actually try and figure out what makes sense to me as a human being. And still, I learned so much about that by watching my kids, that oh, you can just make choices and see how they turn out and then make a different choice and make another choice.
JAHAIRA: And you’re like, I forgot about that. Oh, right. When you slow down enough to just be present with them, then you’re not being controlled by that veil of thoughts. Okay. I’m gonna slow down.
And I’ve talked about that on the calls, too, where if something does come up where I’m starting to feel anxious, I’m like, whoa, I can feel a feeling coming up. Something feels anxious. Hmm. What is that? What’s that about? That space to be curious and to slow down enough to be like, okay, I see, here’s this belief. Okay. I’m believing this. I’m believing that if he doesn’t do it this way, it’s not going to go right. It takes a lot.
Even though I do want to go to church with my husband and I want to see what it’s all about, and I want to learn about the Christians and Jesus Christ, at the end of the day, when I meditate, that quiet space, that is my church. I’m like, this is where the peace is. I don’t need to seek it by some dogma or somebody else telling me how I should be or how I should treat people. This silence here is the source of everything good or something.
We talked about on the call where it’s like, when you can slow down enough to be like, whoa, all these thoughts are going, and all these sensations are going. But hold on a minute. Let me just slow down enough to get back into my senses. What am I hearing? What am I feeling? Okay. It’s just right here, right now. Then from this quiet place, life is going to take me to what needs to be done. Instead of the mind and all the beliefs and all the years of schooling telling me what I should be and what will make me happy, and I’m so sure of it. I’m so sure this is going to make me happy.
It’s like, no, actually none of that shit’s going to make you happy. What’s going to make you happy is slowing down enough to just connect with these people right in front of you. It’s just so beautiful. I’m just so thankful that I came across unschooling and it’s just a blessing. It’s a blessing, right?
PAM: So much. Yes.
ERIKA: Yes. Thank you so much for joining us today, Jahaira. We really enjoyed speaking to you.
JAHAIRA: Thank you.
ERIKA: And thank you to all of our listeners. We hope that you found it helpful on your unschooling journey, and if you enjoy these conversations, I really think you’d love the Living Joyfully Network.
It’s such an amazing group of people connecting and having thoughtful conversations about all the things that we encounter in our unschooling lives. And you can learn more at livingjoyfully.ca/network. And if you’ve been on the fence, you can join with a monthly subscription option so you can check it out for a month, meet the community, explore the archive of themes and resources, and join in the conversations to get a sense for how the Network could fit into your life. And we hope to see you there. Wishing everyone a lovely week! Bye.
PAM: Bye bye. Thank you so much, Jahaira. Lovely to speak with you.
JAHAIRA: Thank you.