PAM: Welcome to another Q&A episode. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. Hi to you both.
ANNE: Hello. We’re back!
PAM: Yay! And thanks so much for joining me again this month. I really love the different perspectives that you guys bring to the table and I get a lot of feedback, too, on how all the different slices and approaches to the questions really helps. So, thank you very much.
ANNE: Very cool. Thank you.
PAM: All right. So, let’s get started with the questions, then. Do you want to start us off, Anna?
ANNA: Sure. Our first question is from Susie.
“Hello! I’ve been listening to the podcast for a while as well as immersing myself in unschooling resources. I’ve been slowly applying unschooling principles, such as focusing on connection and partnership, to my relationships with my children.
However, one thing is really tough for me. I find myself at a loss of ideas sometimes when it comes to finding interesting ideas when my children, ages 10 and 12, come tell me that they are bored. So many of the blogs I read are so colorful and creative and I’m not quite sure I can keep up! My kids don’t seem to be very interested in my ideas and I’m a bit discouraged.
I would like to find creative solutions to problems, too, but I find my mind keeps on going back to old tried and true ways of thinking and I’m afraid I may not be creative enough to be an unschooling mother! Do you have any tips for being inspired when you just can’t think of anything? I feel like a rather boring mum!”
Okay. So, I guess I feel like there is a common trap that people fall into when they first start out and it’s thinking that they have to come up with all of the ideas and solutions. What I love about our unschooling lives is that we’re really all working together and, more often than not, it’s the kids who come up with the interesting and creative options. I’m just cultivating an open environment and following their lead. I also pursue things of interest to me. So, by that, I’m modeling what it looks like to get out there and enjoy life and find things that I’m interested in.
As for bored, I think, personally, that it can be an important step in the creative process. We get to this place of being bored and then we are wanting more. Just letting that unfold will usually yield some really cool new paths. It isn’t something that necessarily needs to be fixed and maybe just some reflection. So, if someone were to come to me and say they were bored, I might say, “Oh. So, does that make you feel like you want to have a quiet, low-key day? Or are you looking for something new to do today?” So, ask questions versus providing solutions and then they can tap into what that feeling means for them and see where it leads.
Similarly, for the creative solutions, creating an environment that is receptive and open, I think, is really the key. If faced with an issue, we’ll throw out all kinds of ideas and sometimes I’ll just start with something silly to get the ball rolling. But I’ve talked before about how my solution ideas often fall short in that they can come up with much more creative things as they are throwing out their things that I would not have even thought of at all. So, I think just take that pressure off yourself that you’re the one person who has to come up with every creative idea and every solution. The point is all working together or at least that’s how we have seen it here.
ANNE: Is that my cue to speak?
ANNA: Yes. I guess we’ll go to you, Anne.
ANNE: Yeah. Susie, I really want to release you from that weight that you are carrying of the pressure to keep up with people and their blogs, because really this is not a comparative game. This isn’t a Pinterest contest or anything. This is just your connection with your kids and there is nothing you need to keep up with for your ever-growing and expanding children.
So, once you release yourself from any pressure or expectation to keep up with anybody else, go to your children, like Anna said, for ideas for when they need some inspiration for helping solving challenges. The answers are different in each moment and they are really within the children and your seeing and hearing them and being a student of them. That’s the same thing Anna was saying, too.
And I like Anna’s ideas about when they are bored, I agree with that. Sometimes I’ve found that my kids are rarely bored, because they always have so much going on, but sometimes they will be wandering and seeking and I’ll just maybe say to them, “Do you want to come and be by me? And no matter what I am doing, I would continue to do it and that’s how we kind of talk sideways with each other instead of sitting down face to face and me saying, “So, what do you think of this, this and this?”
If we’re doing something, no matter what I’m doing, they’ll join me, even if it is work or something. We’ll just focus on the joyful conversation and then things will come up organically that way, rather than just coming out and interviewing them with questions. That works better with my kids.
For when you need a boost and something different, I’ve always found that simple ways of expanding our worlds are always best, like simply taking a different route instead of a familiar route and paying attention to the different gifts that that brings into your worlds. Seeing your own hometown through a tourist’s eyes and going to places you wouldn’t normally go to because you live there. Even saying, “Let’s go outside for a few minutes and sit in the grass,” or, “Does anybody want to just sit here and laugh?” I mean, that started the most hilarious conversations and stuff. But all you need is a little slightly new direction to really open up and awaken enthusiasm again.
My whole point is that you, as an unschooling mother, you’re already creating, by focusing on creating joyful connections with your children. That’s your creativity first priority and how easy and awesome is that? I’ve really found that that is all I have needed to inspire further, just starting with that connection with my kids and what they love and let’s go from there, just as Anna was saying.
What do you think, Pam?
ANNA: Can I say one more thing?
ANNA: It just came to me with something Anne said. We haven’t had a lot of “I’m bored” type of conversations and that’s something that maybe happens more in families that are transitioning from unschooling. Because, especially if you are coming from school or even a more structured homeschooling environment, kids are being told what to do at every moment of their life. And so, when they are left with this time expanse in front of them, I think especially in the beginning, it becomes, “What am I supposed to be doing with myself?” and maybe that’s where the “bored” is coming from. Because you hear that, but it really wasn’t something we experienced with my girls, because they had not been in school.
But I do think that even with kids who have always been unschooled, there becomes a time of just wanting something new or a little stagnation and wanting some new exposure to things. I think Anne was talking about that, too. So anyway, I just wanted to throw that piece out there.
PAM: Yeah. I think that’s great, because that was something I was going to mention, too. I notice, Susie, your kids are 10 and 12 and you said you’re just coming to unschooling, so that could definitely be part of it, especially since you say both of them are coming to you regularly.
You hear lots of stories about schooled kids getting bored during the summer and expecting their parents to give them things to do, because coming up with their own things is something completely new to them. They’d rather go to camp and be told what to do, just because that’s what they are used to. So, this could definitely be part of the transition.
Another piece sometimes that I noticed is if they came around and said they were feeling bored, it speaks to what Anne had mentioned, sometimes it’s a clue that they’re not actually looking for an activity to do but they are just looking for some engagement with me. Like Anne said, I’d say, “Do you want to come be by me?” or I would say, “You want to play some cards or go for a walk?” the kinds of things that we enjoy together, or maybe something totally new that I had thought of, taking a different route, etc.
Going back to what Anna mentioned, sometimes the things you’re describing here, Susie, realize that no matter how many things I went through and suggested, they were always going to say no to, because they really weren’t looking for one particular new thing to do. When I realized that, that helped me to shift my perspective and realize that feeling bored really wasn’t something bad that needed to be fixed. This was more of a clue that they were in some sort of transition.
I noticed this too, sometimes as one interest fades and they haven’t really found something else yet to catch their attention, they might be looking just for something to distract themselves. So, often at that point, just commiserating with them and just being with them is what they want.
ANNE: Sometimes they’re just stuck in their game at some place and they’re just needing to remove themselves from it for a while and not knowing what to do during that time that they’re just letting the puzzle sit in their head while they figure stuff out.
PAM: Yeah. That subconscious really works, doesn’t it?
Then that other piece that I’m just going to emphasize again is that, especially if you think they may just be transitioning and adjusting to the ability to start thinking of things that they want to do, if I thought that might be the case, I put some extra effort to make sure I was being curious about the world around me, so that they could see me as an example of someone who’s interested in the things and asking questions and following through and pursuing my interests, so they could see unschooling in action. It’s not just about them doing it, just me saying, “Okay, you guys, you’re unschooling. Now, go do it.” It’s a lifestyle that we all live together.
So, I can take the initiative and show them the ways you can start approaching your days, figuring out what you want to do.
ANNA: Yeah. Definitely.
PAM: Okay. Anne, you want to go to question two?
ANNE: Okay. It’s from Jennifer.
“We brought our two kids home from traditional school three years ago and have been homeschooling since then. Our kids are now 12 and 10 and we are a couple of months into exploring unschooling! We are currently expatriates living in the Middle East but plan on returning to Canada in the next year or two. Our hope is to buy an RV and become a full time RV family, partly stationed in our home city and partially traveling.
Living simply, owning less, and staying out of debt are also things we feel really passionate about, and we are trying to figure it out alongside unschooling. What are your thoughts about creating a really rich learning environment in a small space? For example, what if one of our children is really into music and we don’t have space for a piano? Or they love painting and we don’t have space for an art studio? (Or even a big easel!) While I think their exposure to the world has been amazing living overseas and traveling, and will continue to be as we travel in the future, I sometimes wonder if we are limiting them by limiting our physical space. Any insight for us?”
First of all, welcome home to who you are with unschooling, Jennifer. I can tell you are expecting wonderful things to be happening and you’re so right about that.
I love that you say that you know that through traveling, their exposure to the world has been amazing and everything and will continue to be. So, right there you’re answering your own question about creating a really rich learning environment in a small space. In our family, we have always lived in very small houses and we’ve all been interested in music, we’ve all been interested in art. My son is an artist, in fact. And we’ve never needed a piano. We have a big easel, but that’s not important. That’s not the focus.
What I think our focus needs to be is this moment right here in front of us with our children and that’s all. That’s it. Isn’t that a huge relief that you don’t have to worry about the what-ifs? It’s so important to not get distracted by the what-ifs and allow your lives to unfold and flow and be. The what-ifs are simply fear slipping in and disconnecting you from yourself and your children.
So, when you feel the what-ifs creeping up, like your fear of the piano thing, be aware of them and make a conscious shift back to this very moment and what your children are loving and connecting with right now and connect with them over that.
One of the great things about being unschoolers is that we have this wonderful “yes” mindset. This is how we follow our children’s interests and questions and we maintain a wonderful connection with them no matter what’s going on in our lives, no matter where we live or how we live and everyone has different circumstances. So, we can either see circumstances as limiting or we can continue with that “yes” mindset, especially because the other part of the “yes” mindset is, “How can we make that happen?”
So, we have conversations with our children and we come up with ideas of how everyone can get what they need and desire as we go along. We get really creative and we just tend to make magic happen as unschoolers, frankly. An affirmation I use often is simply this, “All I have is all I need.” And again, what a relief to be released from any fear that we’re not enough, that we don’t have enough, and to focus on this moment in front of us. How are our kids doing in this moment? And then go from there, because we really do have an abundance of resources, of life, of connections, and mostly we have those infinite possibilities simply because we are open to them, we’re trusting in them.
We trust in the unfolding of our children’s lives, one step, one moment, one breath at a time. That’s always been our focus.
PAM: Cool. I’m going to emphasize that point. Because we are living with our children all the time and having conversations, if they are interested in a piano, it won’t be out of the blue. It will just be something that comes to all of you, so it’s not anything to worry about, what-if in the future, what-if in the future? The next step will probably be clear and will certainly be in a bunch of conversations if that ever comes up.
So, yes, definitely stay focused in the moment, because that’s where you’re going to learn more about your children and have conversations and figure out the things that they are interested in and that’s where the really fun creative stuff comes.
Like she mentioned, figuring out how to do the things that we’re interested in. If they really are interested in music and that’s a very general thing, there are just so many different things that you guys will be able to figure out from going to shows and watching YouTube singers online and maybe finding music stores and going out and trying instruments and knowing people that have them to go and play around. There is just going to be so many ways that you guys can creatively come up with the next step and then the next step.
It’s when you try to look twenty steps down, “Oh my goodness. They want a piano,” that’s when you can’t see how to get there. But you don’t have to look that far ahead. Stay in the moment and figure out today and talk and dream and just chat with them and you’re going to have just so much fun. Even fun brainstorming things, like from the last question, kids come up with so many creative ideas and ways to do the things that they’re interested in that we can’t even imagine up front.
The other piece I wanted to mention, too, because you talked a lot about traveling, is that as your kids get older, I know with my kids, they got so much more involved in our travel plans. We did a lot of traveling specifically around things that they were interested in. So, that’s the other piece. They’re going to be, more than likely, much more involved in where you’re going. So, all the interesting things from that travel will come up and they will see all those advantages to that kind of lifestyle.
We planned vacations to Florida around bands that were playing down there. A couple of years ago, we took a trip out to LA that was designed around parkour gyms that Michael wanted to visit. There are always fun things that we can do when we are living with our kids. Anna?
ANNA: Yeah. So, I love all of that, because I think there’s so much of that just living in the moment and trusting. I do think we really get ourselves in trouble when we think twenty steps ahead when it’s thinking that we’re going to have this problem way down the road. No, we don’t know that we’re going to have it and it will make sense as we get there.
I guess I did just want to say, in general I feel that traveling in an RV is a really big decision, and so I do feel like if it were me personally and my family, I would want all of us to be feeling really great about that, because I think that’s where that really good energy that you guys are talking about would come from. I don’t know that everybody is suited for RV life. I think it’s a really important distinction to say, is this dream and passion that she shared with us above everybody’s or just theirs?
Because having that great foundation of starting everybody being excited about it, again, you’ll do that travel where people are interested in things and all of that will you know fall into place. I feel like, in general, with that lifestyle, flexibility is really key to changing attitudes and ideas that people have and to different places. So, it’s not a rigid traveling schedule, it’s a traveling schedule that as needs arise and as new passions arise, you detour and do. I think that’s really the beauty of the traveling lifestyle.
We have friends in common, all of us, who actually did RV traveling, and I feel like it was at about a year when their oldest son said, “This was great and I loved it, but I really want my own room. I really want to have my own space.” And it kind of came out of nowhere. He had been enjoying it, but what I loved about this family is that they heard him and honored that and found a place where they wanted to settle down. They had that traveling time, but then they also honored that as he was going into his mid-teen-hood that he really wanted this own sacred space for himself.
I think it’s maybe not getting attached to one particular vision, but trusting as you’re living together and living in that moment that things will play out and the choices will become really clear.
Just in a practical note, basically what Pam was saying, there are so many ways to meet needs about interests. There are programs for creating piano music on a computer with a really small keyboard. Tons of portable art options for the examples that you gave above. I feel like anything can be explored in any environment and then as it grows and changes, those would be incremental changes like Pam was talking about and it would flow into the next thing. So again, I feel like it’s just living in the moment and trusting in that and being flexible.
PAM: That’s a good point. That’s what you’ll learn by having the conversations and being open. If somebody is not enjoying it anymore, you’re going to dig into that.
Okay. Question number three. This question is from Julie.
“We have been unschooling for one year but have only recently (as in the past few weeks) begun loosening control over food. My 7-year-old daughter is very drawn to sweet foods. Ever since I’ve been allowing more free rein over food choices, she seems to constantly be in the kitchen, going through cupboards, looking for a cookie or some other sweet thing or saying she is going to make a peanut butter and honey sandwich (even though we just ate a meal).
It really seems like she just has this insatiable craving for sugar. Could this be a deschooling period for us? What I mean is, perhaps we are “deschooling” not from school, but from conventional parenting on the food issue? Do I need to absolutely allow her complete and total freedom to have literally as much candy and sweets as she wants and then trust that her obsession will mellow out over time?
It seems so scary for me, because I have strived to be a parent who offers them a healthy diet for so many years now. I worry that it is irresponsible and it just seems very unhealthy for a person to consume so much sugar. On the other hand, part of me is wondering if, in addition to her innate love of sweet things, she is also testing and exploring this new change in our household. Unschooling has proven to be a very successful and rewarding experience for my entire family. So, there is a part of me that is curious to see if it can work out just as well with the food issue, if only I can find the confidence to go for it. Any insight or advice?”
Absolutely, the process of deschooling does apply to all sorts of things, Julie, not just the academic school piece. It’s really all about learning how to make our own choices after someone has been controlling them.
Definitely, I think you’re right, it can certainly be that she is testing and exploring this new change, as well she should be. Because that’s how she is going to learn, through experimenting and doing things and seeing what happens. Now she has finally got the opportunity to gather lots of different food experiences, what she eats and seeing how she feels later. And she needs time to discover all of the various parameters that are going to come up and be part of her food choices. She definitely needs lots of time to do that.
You’ve said that it has only been a few weeks, so I can image that’s a big part of what is going on. For the first while, it’s just going to be sweets, “I can have sweets, yay!” and she is going to be excitedly gobbling them up. But what’s important about that time is that’s where she is developing trust that the availability of those sweet foods isn’t going to be taken away again. She’s building trust in you. She’s going to start to gather all those experiences about how she feels when she is eating sweets.
Once that trust is in place and she knows it’s not going to disappear, that’s when she will start to feel comfortable incorporating all these experiences that she’s been having into her decision-making process. She’ll start to discover all the other considerations that may impact her food choices, like, “When I feel like this, often protein helps,” or, “Gee, this is what thirsty feels like, I really want a drink,” instead of just always being drawn to that sweet, sweet, sweet that you are seeing now.
With that diminishing marginal utility Pam Sorooshian talked about in episode two, eventually you will see that sweets drop from always being her best choice or her number one choice to being one of the many choices that she sees on her food platter. I think you’re right. Time is definitely the key. The thing is, because everyone is different, we cannot accurately predict how long that’s going take. But look to her. I know it’s hard to see past the fear of it, but when you can open your mind a bit and see the exploration that she’s doing and the experiences that she’s having, that can help you get more comfortable with the time that the process takes.
ANNA: I just want to say, agreeing with Pam, that I have definitely seen a period of testing when people stop controlling food. I always found it really interesting, because we really haven’t controlled food, but we would be in an environment and there would be a candy dish and the kids that had been really controlled were eating the whole thing. And my girls were kind of like deer in headlights, what is happening?
So, I think it is just really common, because, as humans, we don’t like to be controlled. And so, when that is lifted, that scarcity then becomes, “I’m gong to horde and take everything I can.” So, I just think it’s a normal human reaction.
Here, we really take a “listen to our body” approach. I found that as they and myself included become more in tune with our body, we really find the foods that work best for us. What I’ve also seen is that you can line ten people up and it’s really going to look ten different ways what feels good for them and what fuels them and what works for them. That’s why I really like to go back to the “listen to the body,” because I really believe that I don’t know best for someone else, even though I have ideas about myself and in general, I feel like that needs to come from within.
I think playing off what Pam said, too, she’s going to explore this and figure out what this means to her, but I guess I’m wanting you to also not be cringing in the corner while she’s doing it. Maybe there is a way to embrace and say, “Hey, do you want to make some cookies together?” I know, for me, we don’t have a lot of candy from the store things at home, but if people are feeling a need for sweets, we’ll make cookies.
So, maybe that can be something you join in together and as she looks at you and it is like, “Hey, she’s trusting me and trusting that process,” you’ll see that transition to where she’s just then able to look inside her body and say, “What am I wanting right now?” Because she probably is thinking, “Are they going to pull the plug on this at any minute?” Because it really has not been very long at all. Those are just a few thoughts, but, Anne, what about you?
ANNE: Did you say Anne? I’m sorry.
ANNA: Yes. We lost Anne.
ANNE: Well, you’re kind of going in and out. I wasn’t sure.
ANNA: I’m hearing that, too. I hope it’s okay, Pam.
ANNE: Julie, I really love your question so much. I don’t feel a huge amount of fear there. I feel like you want information. You get unschooling. You’re loving your unschooling life so far and you just are concerned about the sugar situation with your daughter and I so get that.
As Pam and Anna have said, yes she’s evolving and expanding with this new trust that she has and that’s a really cool thing. It’s important to see with each time she reaches for a cookie or searches for a sweet, all these layers that are going on within her that Pam and Anna had already talked about.
If you can see it as her science experiment and her sociology experiment, if that helps you at all to trust in her and see the levels that she’s going through with this new trust that she’s playing around with, then do that, because that is really what is going on.
The whole thing about listening to your body and the information that we unschoolers provide to our kids and have conversations about, that will come later after the trust is established. Because, for somebody who has had control for a very long time, if you start giving her information about how dangerous sugar is and all that, that will just thwart the whole trust thing. She’ll think that you’re going to just take it away from her again. So, don’t go in that direction until she is able to pay attention to that for herself and seeks out information and can say, as they were saying, “I ate too much sugar. I really need a salad now.”
My kids, our kids, brought us to a different eating style. Jacob chose to be a vegetarian and Sam is a chef. So, we followed them playing with their food and everything, their food experiences, and it’s been really fantastic. It’s a good time for you to connect with her even deeper over the things that she loves and build up that part of your relationship. It’s a good time to take up knitting or something, find something for you to do so you’re not conveying your nervous energy about the sugar thing. And also jump into it with her.
Twenty-three years ago, when Jacob was less than two, I read a book called Preventing Childhood Eating Problems and I did some research today and it’s actually changed titles. It’s now called Kids, Carrots, and Candy. I read it as Jacob was two and we were inventing the unschooling life, because we didn’t even know it was a word or anything. The description for the book says, “This insightful book offers a common-sense, relaxed approach to healthy eating based on the method of self-demand feeding.” I don’t like that term, but read it with your unschooling eyes.
It says, “Contrary to the belief that children must be forced to eat what’s good for them, to clean their plates, and to avoid all sweets, Kids, Carrots, and Candy presents evidence that children will naturally self-regulate their eating if rigid rules are not imposed upon them. By trusting natural hunger cycles and letting children choose when, what, and how much they eat, food becomes demystified, and a lifetime of fears, fights, and anxieties around food, weight, and diet are eliminated.”
So, that was a good book for me and as I said, read it through your unschooling eyes. We were drawn when Jacob was little, inspired by the book, to make a drawer for him with all kinds of food choices in it that was easy for him to reach at any time. He had his own shelf in the refrigerator. It had candy, cookies, cheese, yogurt, sandwiches, crackers, just anything that was in the house that he wanted to buy and eat. It was an all-in-one place and available for him and we loved how that worked out and how he felt empowered to make his own choices and it was reachable so he didn’t have to ask us for anything, also, so that was very cool.
PAM: Brilliant. I’ll put a link to that book in the show notes for people as well.
Anna, question four?
ANNA: Okay. So, this question is from Sandy.
“I recently brought my son home to homeschool. He is being treated for depression, has some personal stuff going on, and is addicted to watching YouTube. It’s only been four weeks, but I wonder how long to let him deschool and what I should insist he do. He has some executive function issues as well.”
So, first, the thing that sticks out to me the most is YouTube and I am just like, YouTube is such an amazing resource. So much can be learned there. There’s so much joy that can be found there. There is nothing like great belly laughs I get from Carpool Karaoke to start the day.
So, I would just say, trust that he’s finding what he needs right now based on what he’s been through and how he’s needing to detoxify from all of that. But I would also check in. It can take a long time to really do that detoxing from a difficult school experience. I know in unschooling circles, you will typically hear one month per one year of school and you don’t mention the age of your son, Sandy, but I’m guessing that he is older than six. So, we’re probably looking at a little bit older child, but I’m not sure.
You can also join in and see what he’s enjoying about YouTube. Share and talk to him about it. I think using words like “addicted” is really distancing. It can serve to put up a wall. When we can celebrate and join in with our kids and show them that we value them but we also value the things that they enjoy, I think that that’s so critical to building the relationships and healing when you’ve had some traumatic things from the past.
Focus on what he loves and all the wonderful things about him and you’ll see that the diagnoses and other labels really become so much less important. It becomes about your connection with him and the way that he shines in the world.
So, I think maybe next to you, Anne.
ANNE: Hi, Sandy.
I wrote these notes after I read your question and, in all capitals, I wrote the word “HEAL.” I wrote the word “TIME.” I wrote insist nothing, heal everything.
ANNA: I got goosebumps.
ANNE: Anything he chooses to do is wonderful, because he has so much to heal from. You need to utilize this time that he is healing by diving into anything that he finds comfort in to learn about unschooling, because, as Anna pointed out, the language that you’re using is distancing himself from you.
Unschooling is about connecting with your child and your use of your language is still “school speak”. So, your brain is still there and I get that. That’s how everybody has been trained. But your son has had enough of that. He needs you to learn the unschooling connection, the unschooling way of seeing him, and that’s the way he is going to heal, by your gentle love and support and encouragement in anything that he wants to do. There is no insisting in unschooling. Absolutely not.
Seeing the world through his eyes, understanding what he is going through, understanding what he has gone through, you’ve been there. Give him all that he needs to heal, which right now might just be space and respect that he is wanting to dive in to watching YouTube and find joy in that, which is fantastic.
While he is doing that, as I said, read Pam’s website, Pam’s books about unschooling, listen to the podcast. You dive into your new homework of unschooling. Pam?
PAM: Yeah. Hi, Sandy. I’m so glad your son is home. That sounds like it has been a really rough time for him. I, too, would just say rather than thinking of YouTube as something addicting, think of it as his comfort zone right now.
You don’t need to insist that he do anything. I think it would help the most if you just join him in his comfort zone and give him even more comfort. So, just look with those eyes. Food, companionship, laughter, conversation, just fill him up with any of the stuff that he loves right now, so that he knows deep down that he is loved no matter what and that he is safe where he is. So, just do anything that brings him joy.
Anna mentioned that guideline for deschooling which is usually a month for every year of school, but realize that when the school experience is negative, it can definitely take longer. I know with my eldest son, he was almost just about ten and school was definitely a negative experience for him when I brought him out. It was just focusing on the fun for a year.
It was a year and then he looked up and he was like, hey. One of his traumatic experiences that he had had with his teachers was around writing. He was like, “Oh look, I haven’t written anything for a year,” and that was healing for him. He really needed that time.
Also, as Anne mentioned, I suspect you went to school for many, many years, so you’ve got lots and lots of deschooling to do alongside him and learning about unschooling. So, if you can relax, have fun with him, and focus on your own learning for six months or even a year and then just pop up and see where you guys are, I think you will be amazed. I think it will be a really cool experience.
Anne, do you want to do question five?
ANNE: I would love to. It’s somebody called “Anony-mouse”. Just kidding. I’ve been up since 3:30. It’s anonymous and he/she writes
“I wonder if you could talk a bit about “cocooning,” which I know is common in pre-teens/early teens, and your experience of the emergence into butterflies? One hears a lot about active, confident unschooling teens out there in the real world, but so far this hasn’t been our experience, other than online.
My daughter is 12 and we’ve been unschooling for a year and a half and it’s been fantastic. She’s doing all sorts of great stuff at home and socializes a lot online, but apart from special events or holidays and seeing family and close friends occasionally, she’s been cocooning for much of that time. I completely understand why and have very much been supporting her with it, trusting that this will not hold her back ultimately, but I do worry sometimes about how or whether the process of stepping out of her comfort zone to make the most of the many resources and opportunities in our area will evolve.
If you could share your experiences or those of others you know of this cocooning phase and the emergence into butterflies, it would be much appreciated.”
I hear you. And I’m really glad you’re supporting her with exactly what she wants to be doing. I love that. I would expand that support to include seeing her as a butterfly right where she is right now.
Everything you described sounds really fantastic to me and she really does more than we even do.
PAM: I was thinking the same thing!
ANNE: It sounds like she is just shining doing exactly what she is drawn to doing.
It sounds like the problem that you’re talking about is the fact that who she is not matching up with the vision in your head of who you think she’s supposed to be and even who she’s supposed to be in the future and you’re not even at that place yet.
So, you’re feeling worried about her not being something that she’s not at now at some point in the future, which feels to me it’s stealing away her now and her future, her beingness. So, it feels like you’re creating the problem in your head that isn’t real, which is exactly what worry is, creating a problem in your head that isn’t real and you’re allowing it to shift your focus away from her glorious shine in this moment.
To me, that’s the danger with seeing this as cocooning, we keep waiting for the butterfly. We can call it cocooning as long as we completely honor and celebrate the cocoon and the being in the cocoon. But, to me, man, I see her as that glorious, perfect butterfly self that’s right in front of you right now.
Personally, I’m not a believer in pushing anyone outside of their comfort zones ever, unless that person truly expresses a desire for support in going outside of their comfort zone. And in that case, the comfort zone is ready to grow and the child is ready to evolve. I think the use of the term comfort zone already makes the person feel small and maybe even lazy or something, that they’re not coming out of their comfort zone.
When the truth of those words is that a person is content with life as it is. That’s not small by any means. That’s really huge and beautiful. When people present this type of question to me and they have done that in the past, if I ask for more information about the child, there are always so many more layers and interests that the child has and knowledge and personality than is revealed originally. So, that place that they’re calling a comfort zone is actually just a pretty good damn life for the child, especially when compared to the life of a school child.
It’s also, for those of us who are introverts and highly sensitive and empaths, so much easier to communicate and be fully who we are without another person and their energy in front of us. This is something to celebrate about her, about anybody, everybody, and their uniqueness, of course.
One thing that you did say that I want to point out to you is, “Trusting that this will not hold her back ultimately, but I do worry sometimes,” and sorry, but it’s one or the other. It’s not trusting if you’re worrying and worry is exactly the same as Jennifer’s question. It’s fear creeping in about the what-ifs, in order to truly trust, which is an absolutely necessary foundation for unschooling. You need to shift out of the fear by going to your child and connecting with her over what makes her light up right now in this moment.
You fill up your bank of how wonderful she is and how much she knows about the world and how well she communicates online and all those other layers of her glorious beingness. Then when you start to worry, you draw on that bank, you draw pieces out of her wonderfulness. And you breathe and you truly trust that all is well.
Much like Susie, reading the blog and feeling uncreative, do not compare your daughter to any other teen in the world. Anna, Pam, and I have very different children and even the children within the same family are all doing very different things in the world. They respond to joy and challenges and their creative voices are different. This is something to be valued and celebrated. So, see your child. Soak up her glorious shine. She sounds so wonderful. Pam?
PAM: She does. What she said.
One thing I did want to point out was, yes, when you talk about worry, oftentimes when I was starting to get worried, that was almost always a clue for me that I had some expectations in there. And, yes, that’s where your fear comes, when you have expectations in your head that aren’t matching what you see in front of you. So, that would be a great place to start.
Another thing I wanted to mention was that the online world is the real world.
PAM: They are not different. It is real people there. They’re making websites, they’re writing in forums, they’re sharing links. Those are real people.
ANNE: The podcast you are listening to right now is online. The three of us are real people.
ANNA: In three different places.
PAM: But we’re real!
ANNE: We’re real.
PAM: They’re just as valuable as face-to-face ones, because, exactly. When people ask me about my friends, I say I keep in touch with my close friends online. I probably see you guys once or twice a year and that is mostly because Anne and I host conferences. So, people are people.
And, as Anne mentioned, it really comes down to looking to our own children. The question is not your expectations and what you’re thinking. The question is, how does she feel? She sounds like she’s very, very happy with the way things are. And if she is and things are good, then that’s another clue that it’s your work to process.
The other thing I wanted to point out is to realize that, if they are cocooning, because sometimes it really is a process for them where they’re taking some quiet time. I’ve had all my kids go through that and they emerge beautifully. But the point is, the emergence does not need to be a physical thing. It doesn’t have to be going out. They may emerge a more confident and self-aware person who continues to enjoy connecting with people online.
I know Lissy, up until she was eighteen and moved to New York, her biggest connections were online, because that’s where she found her tribe of people who were interested in the same things that she’s interested in. Then, at that point, she decided she wanted to have more face-to-face connection with them, so that was part the whole decision, her choice to go and explore for a little bit.
As we’ve said in a lot of these questions, it’s just bit-by-bit. You look to them. When she said, “Hey mom, I’m thinking about going to New York,” it wasn’t a huge surprise at that point. It wasn’t out of the blue, because you know what they are enjoying. You know how it’s working for them. Even if your child isn’t big on conversations, you know through their actions as well. You get clues all sorts of different ways.
That emergence thing, be wary of looking for them to come out, to be like, oh I want to go out and take advantage. Those resources are there. If you’re really keen about them, you can go. If there are cool things going on in town and you say, “Hey, I would like to do this,” and she’s not interested in going, you can still go. You don’t want to give the impression to her that she’s holding you back. You can work those things out and that’s just another example of everybody doing what works well for them. Anna?
ANNA: Yeah. I really did just think the same thing. Oh my gosh, she is doing so much.
I love that she sees that and you’re celebrating that and you love that, but yet you’re just letting this worry and this fear maybe get in the way and derail you from that. So, that’s there. I think that’s so big, because you do see it. So, just get back to that feeling of celebrating her and seeing all that she’s doing.
And I am wondering if maybe you’re an extrovert and if you haven’t looked into introvert/extrovert stuff, it might be helpful to you. I know, as an introvert, when I’m reading what she’s doing, I’m like, that’s a lot. Whereas Pat, my friend who is an extrovert, would be going, it’s not enough. So, I think it is important to just understand different personalities and it’s not a cut and dry thing, but we all process the world differently and need different things.
And, oh my gosh. She’s only 12 years old, so I think that’s important to see, too, because you really are projecting out into the future really far. I will say, for sure, the differences between what would happen over the course of a year, two years in things that I have thought oh, this is just who they are, would change and morph as they grow and change. You can’t take where anyone is today and project it out ten years, be it a 10-year-old, 12-year-old, or a 47-year old. We change all the time.
And yes, yes, yes. Online is real life, so much so. I have a gamer, my younger daughter, and the social involvement, the strategizing, the problem solving, the relationship pieces that are coming as they’re dealing with who is doing what? How are we doing it? What’s this group? All kinds of dynamic issues and whatever. But that was a really comfortable way for her to be in that world and it is real and the people are wonderful and amazing. Many of them we have then met in person. But that daily online connection is so important for a lot of people and it is certainly is for me with my closest friends living in very, very cold places, places I will never live. But I can still be with them from afar.
I guess I, too, just want to say that what I have seen you know with two teens and the teens around me is there is so much for our teenagers to assimilate as they are growing into adulthood, so many things to figure out. What I love about unschooling is it does provide the space to take it at their own pace. And there’s not one set path or a right way to do it. And allowing that space creates an environment for it to unfold in a way that’s best for each child.
Speaking to what Pam said, that “cocooning”, as we’re calling it, can happen for a lot of different reasons. With my older child, she had had a period of being very social and it was probably around eleven or twelve when she really did come back from that. And when we talked about it later as she came out of it, she didn’t come out of it and become more social. She said, “What I realized is there was a lot of noise with the other people and it was changing who I was and how I acted and I didn’t like it.” So, she really, to find herself, needed that space from that outside noise.
So, there are lots of reasons that people do it, that was just something for her and it’s different for everybody. And some people want to be around people all the time. Again, no one right way, but I guess I’m just saying, there’s a lot more to it than maybe what it looks like on the surface.
ANNE: As Anna said before, it’s all ages, what you just said about your daughter. I’m 53 and that is what I’m going through myself. I’m learning to reel it in and how much I want to give of myself and it’s just called “life” and “growing”.
PAM: Yes. Even with my oldest online, his social connection even grows and waxes and wanes on there as he finds that, “Oh, this is just too much, too much noise, too much stuff,” and he pulls back. So, even if online is one of your main social outlets, you still have all that experience, all that ability to pull in, pull out, to play around, to explore, so, yes. Online is real life.
Okay. Our last question for this month is another question from Julie. She writes
“I’m wondering if the panel can comment on the experience of encouraging a spouse to embrace this lifestyle. In my family, I am the one who led the way down our unschooling path. My husband has been amazingly open-minded and supportive thus far! Both of us were very confident about unschooling the academic stuff.
However, as I have been recently attempting to relax restrictions on food, he is expressing concern. It is such a departure from the way we’ve always been with the kids, striving to offer nutritious foods and limiting sweets and desserts to quite a large extent. It concerns him deeply to see our daughter now helping herself to chocolate and other sweet things frequently.
I do understand where he’s coming from, as this is very uncommon in our society. But I can easily see the wisdom in letting children gain experience in making these kinds of choices for themselves. Any thoughts?”
So, yes. Hi again, Julie. I know you submitted your question before last week’s episode with Jennie Gomes came out. So, that was episode number 25. It was about deschooling and we talked about spouses at one point. We had a good chunk on that, so have a listen if you haven’t yet. That was really interesting.
One thing I wanted to point out was you talked about how you used to strive to offer nutritious foods. Keep striving, I mean not striving, but keep offering food options. It’s not like, oh man, all she’s going to do is choose chocolate, so I’m just going to have that around. Yes, you want to satisfy that. You want to make that choice available to them, but it’s not really a choice unless they have other things to choose from, too. Anne talked about that drawer where everything was available. That made it so that Jacob had a choice when he was hungry. He could see all the different things that were there for him. You still want to have lots of options to help them realize that it is a choice that they can make.
Another thing I wanted to point out was, one thing that can happen when we’re feeling triggered, especially for your husband, when they make a sweet choice, is that the trigger tends to stick with us more than the time they happen to choose the fruit or the sandwich or something. So, it can feel like they “always eat the chocolate,” but that’s really only because those are the moments that you’re remembering, because they made an impression on you.
So, make an effort to notice all the food choices that she’s making over time, over a week, and then over a month. To help him understand this direction, think about the ways that he learns and makes connections. You’re supporting his learning just the way you’re supporting your child’s learning. You’re not trying to force him into an idea, because you know that’s not going to work.
So, maybe that marginal utility idea that I talked about earlier will make sense for him. Maybe chatting about how learning about food works the same way as we learn about science. Having choices, seeing what happens, and then taking those experiences into consideration the next time we make a choice.
So, it’s about meeting him where he is and finding out what his questions are. Help him find the answers to the questions. Rather than thinking of, okay. This was me. I came up with all of this. I’m trying to pull him along and I’m trying to convince him, because that’s going to set up an adversarial conversation rather than one where you’re just helping him explore the whole idea of learning about food. That’s it for me.
ANNA: Yeah. I don’t know that I have a whole lot here, but basically it always helps when with situations like that to really have conversations and talk about, what is the fear? I think sometimes when we just say, “She’s eating nothing but sweets!” we get stuck there instead of saying, what’s worrying you about that? Or, what do you think is going to happen? And get them to see that, just like we talked about with the earlier question, these are what-if fears that are way down the road. Whether it’s obesity or it’s diabetes or whatever that unknown scary fear might be, those things are way down the road.
So, I think sometimes it helps just to step back, ask, what are we really afraid of? Is that really what we are experiencing now? No. Of course she’s eating more things than just chocolate all day long or just sweets. What are those sweets doing for her? Those are carbohydrates, and so, is it helping her with energy? Does she feel better? Are there other ways to get more energy? So, there are so many conversations I think that can be had around that.
I think sometimes it does just help, it depends on the personality of the person, but to flip it around and I can imagine that he wouldn’t really want to be controlled with what he eats, so sometimes it just takes that little flip to go, “Oh yeah. That doesn’t feel great and so I don’t want to have that type of relationship with my child.”
I think it’s easy for people to understand, when you start having that conversation, that when a choice comes from inside of us, it’s so much stronger and more powerful than when a choice is forced upon us. We may do what someone tells us to do for a while, but as soon as they’re gone, we’re going to do something different. So, that’s why I go with listening to your body, because I don’t need to be there for them to listen to their body. They’re going to always have that with them to make those decisions.
So, I think when you can of spell some of that out, the reasoning behind what you’re thinking, it makes sense. I think that he can see that, too. So, I think it’s that stepping back and seeing the bigger picture and having those conversations and knowing that he’s coming from a place of love and the two of you talking about that together. Anything from you, Anne?
ANNE: Yes, Julie, I was at the grocery store this morning. I’m talking about the grocery store again. Now is the portion of the show where Anne talks about the grocery store.
So, at the grocery store this morning, I realized very quickly that it was summer vacation and my experience at the grocery store would be completely different for two months, because the children are in the store. The children who have been locked up for ten months out of the year in school and the children who have adults with them, who have limits and controls on everything they do. Their food, their bedtimes, their TV watching, their clothing, their words, their brains, their very beingness has been controlled for all of their lives. These kids are in the grocery store and they have no idea what to do or how to act or how to connect, because the script for the past ten months has been the school script.
Now they are released and they’re in the grocery store. These kids, these two kids, they never heard a word their mother said to them, because these were the words she was using with them. “Get down. Stay there. Stop that. Nope. No. Pick that up. Put that down. Get back here. I told you not to do that.” That’s how they communicated.
And in between all of that, the kids were running, crashing, screaming, yelling, slapping, kicking. These kids don’t know themselves at all, because of all of the control. They don’t have a real relationship with their mother, because of all of that control. And they certainly don’t know how to listen to themselves or their bodies about anything, because of the control.
Controlling our children’s food seriously just makes them take a five-pound bag of sugar out back when you’re not looking and go at it. Once again, I want to recommend the book Kids, Carrots, and Candy, because I think your husband would find some help in that. Or you can take him to the grocery store during summer vacation and observe the children there. That’s it for today’s stories from the grocery store.
ANNA: Brought to you by Anne’s local grocery store.
PAM: And that’s the last question for this month. I want to thank you guys so, so much for answering questions with me because you’re awesome and it’s always great to chat about unschooling with you.
ANNA: Yes. It was so fun.
PAM: And just a reminder for everyone, there will be links in the show notes for everything we mentioned in this episode. And, as always, if you’d like to submit a question for the Q&A show for next month, just go to livingjoyfully.ca/podcast and click on the link. Thank you very much, everybody. Have a great day.
ANNE: Bye! Thank you!