PAM: Welcome, everyone, to another Q&A episode. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and I’m so happy to be joined again by Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. Hi, guys!
PAM: Yay! We’ve got lots of notes here, so let’s just dive right into our questions. Why don’t you start us off, Anne?
ANNE: I’d love to. We have question one from Kathleen.
“We took our son, now 9, out of school two and a half years ago and are about six months into our unschooling journey after gradually moving from “school at home” to “relaxed homeschooling” and finally letting go of the curriculum altogether. We’ve been saying yes more often, and are really enjoying the freedom and closeness that unschooling is giving us.
The one thing I’m struggling with, though, is food. I haven’t yet felt comfortable enough to completely let go. I’m definitely saying yes more often, but I have a fear that stems from my husband’s struggle with weight, which his entire family seem genetically pre-disposed to. My son has the same body shape as my husband, carrying around the mid-section.
I worry about his health and have read that these are the formative years as far as future weight issues. I don’t want him to have the same struggles as my husband, but I also don’t want to keep making him feel bad for reaching for that extra biscuit or food late at night. I’ve been trying to help him make the right choices by explaining healthy eating and if he really wants something then I won’t stop him. We all have a sweet tooth, so there’s generally something in the house. Am I doing the right thing in saying yes, but pointing out the healthier options? How can I handle this better? Thank you.”
Hi, Kathleen. I have quite a bit to say about this, so first of all, it’s really good to hear that you’re enjoying your new unschooling life and I’m sure you’ve done reading about unschooling and you probably know that radical unschooling is built on the foundation of trusting in our children and this is as true in the area of food as it’s the area of learning.
I personally feel that one of the most important things that our unschooled children can own, which controlled children or schooled children don’t, is a trust in themselves. There are already so many pieces out there to a child’s life that steer them away from listening to their inner voice, their intuition, and their instinct. And we as radical unschooling parents definitely don’t want to be one of those pieces.
So, the way that we, as radical unschooling parents, make sure that our children know that it’s good and right for them to listen to their inner voices, to their bodies, to their instincts and intuition, is for us to trust in them. Our children’s trust in themselves can only strengthen when they know for sure that we trust in them.
So, I will get to the specifics about the food in a minute. First, I want to talk about what I’ve always walked toward as a parent, and that’s helping my children get to a place, no matter what, of feeling good about themselves. I actually talk a lot about this at the Childhood Redefined Summit.
The fact that you can already see that what you’re doing isn’t allowing your child to feel good about himself is really enough of a red flag to let you know that that’s not the direction you want to be going in at all. Yet another clue that this is not the right direction for your child or for your relationship is this: How do you feel when you’re handing him this information that you feel he needs at the time he’s making a food decision? Does it feel like a connecting moment that will bring you closer? I can tell that it doesn’t feel like that by the way you’re asking the question.
If you feel judgmental and controlling and all of these things that you’re probably feeling, it’s certain that he’s feeling that from you, too. So, every time something is in the direction of pushing him away, the trust there is lost and therefore the trust he should be feeling and listening to within himself gets lost, as well. That’s a crucial factor and reason why we want to radically unschool around the food issue, so they know to trust in themselves and listen to their bodies.
What we want is relief from all that weight that we just talked about, these things you might be handing to him with your judgment when he reaches for food. We want relief from that, because we want to just love our children. And we want to trust in them and we want to look at their behavior and understand there may be needs underneath that behavior. That behavior is just on the surface, so the relief of that is that we don’t have to be judgmental. We don’t have to nag them. We don’t have to control them. And that’s really good news, because all of those things are just exhausting. So, we can start by looking at the energy in which you’re seeing and even receiving your child in that moment when he’s going for food.
You said, “I have a fear that stems from my husbands’ struggle with weight, which his entire family seems to be genetically predisposed to.” So, it’s clear that you’re looking at your child through the lens of fear. And not only that, you’re seeing him in a situation that simply doesn’t exist at this time at all. That’s what worry is: thinking about something that doesn’t exist. In doing so, I feel like you’re missing out on his lovely beingness and who he is right now in this moment.
So, the wonderful thing starting right there is that we can eliminate that and you can just shift to seeing your child for who he is and truly seeing his beingness and everything about him. How was his day? What has he been doing today? Have you been joyfully connecting with him throughout the day? Has there been an abundance and variety of foods available to him throughout the day? Has he had enough water? Is he playing a game and is excited or frustrated? Everything that is your son, who your son is, take a look at that and make sure that he sees himself shining in your eyes instead of when he chooses to eat food you don’t want him dreading your reaction.
Another point I wanted to make is, throughout the years on the Shine with Unschooling list, we’ve had a lot of questions about nine and ten-year-old boys and this is a time when they are going through a lot of changes in their inner selves. This is a time when they are becoming more aware of themselves and more aware of the world and their place in it and they often retreat to be by themselves.
My kids wanted to play computer games more at that age. There is so much inner sorting and stretching and it can be scary, so they are reaching for familiar things that can bring relief and comfort, whether it can be food or gaming or television, or whatever. So, judging and controlling and disapproving of their choices that are bringing them comfort and security is again not what we want to be doing. We want to stay connected with them throughout their day, offer them snacks while they are doing whatever they are doing, hang around them, be interested in their interests and let them know that we understand, that we honor where they are in their lives right now, and again hand them trust instead of judgment and control.
And as for those, when you said the formative years for future weight issues, I have actually not found that to be true at all. Both of my boys, and actually most boys I know, have chunked up at that age. And we’ve seen in my family that the chunking up part is necessary because when they hit 12, 13, 14, they start shooting straight up very fast and so that chunkiness stretches right out and they are eating even more and more at that point. Once again, when my boys were experiencing all of this at that age, my main goal was to make sure that they were feeling good about themselves and making sure they feel good about their bodies and what they choose to eat and everything.
The bigger picture is that I’ve seen that it’s my kids’ food choices that have brought our whole family into different dietary choices. Jacob, on his own, chose to be a vegetarian at one point and was as completely supported as when he was choosing a piece of candy to eat. And Sam has worked as a chef for many years, so we have had many interesting culinary adventures. My point with that is that from where you are right now, you can’t see the bigger picture. And when you do a projecting of the bigger picture, you’re inserting fear and worry into that, instead of embracing the trust and the wonderful magnificence that it could grow into. Most important, just seeing your child for who he is right now. So, instead of just holding onto fear, trust in your child for who he is and his decisions in this moment.
PAM: I wanted to say thank you, Kathleen, for the question. I love that you’re noticing a feeling of disconnect between the way you’re wanting to connect with your son and the questions that are coming up for yourself, so that’s great. I loved all of Anne’s answer, but the pointing out of the age, as she said, a lot of the boys she knows, my sons included, went through a quieter time, that needing comfort, that chunking up, then a huge growth spurt, all that kind of stuff, so that’s great stuff to consider.
What I wanted to dive into from how you described your interaction, Kathleen, is you say yes to him but then you’re explaining healthy choices to him. So, in essence, what you’re really handing him is the message that you don’t really mean your yes, that somewhere inside you’re thinking or worrying that his choices are wrong. Obviously, I know you’re not saying that, but in giving him the yes and the explanation at the same time, that’s more than likely the full message that he’s getting.
It sounds like it might even have become a bit of a power struggle, which means that this question is about more than the food itself in that moment, as Anne was saying. It’s more about your fears and projecting it into his future and a worry that you’re holding about him as a person. What that means for him is that he doesn’t really have a free choice, because he’s feeling that judgment. He’s considering your feelings at the same time so he knows or he can sense that he’s making these choices against your wishes. Even in the question, the way you worded it, you say you’re trying to help him make the “right choices,” so he knows that when he’s reaching for that extra biscuit that he’s making, in one sense, a “wrong choice.”
A couple of things I wanted to point out about sharing information about food are that really, you only needed to share it once or twice. It’s not like they forget it. Just because they make a different choice the next time doesn’t mean that they’ve forgotten about what you said. It just means that this is the choice that they want to make.
I love Anne’s point about trying to look at your interactions as a connecting moment. What action or what thing that I say or do is going to be more connecting or less connecting? And choose the more connecting one. So, for now, I think it might help to not share anything about “healthy choices” for a while, so you can build that trust back up between the two of you, where the things that you say align with what you think.
So, you’re saying “Yes,” but you’re still trying to control his actions, which doesn’t match up. You’re not saying “No,” but you’re saying, “Oh, but there is this other healthier choice over here that you could make. ” And when it comes down to it, I think that you’re much more likely to create future weight issues by trying to control his food choices now than you would be by helping him explore and understand how food and his body work together. That free choice and that trust, so that he can really hear his own voice and the messages that he’s getting from his body, so he can really explore how to make those choices for himself, which so few kids get the chance to even attempt. So, I think that’s wonderful. I’m really glad you asked that question.
ANNA: Oh. Well, you guys covered a lot, so I will be brief.
PAM: Oh, those were long answers.
ANNA: I do feel like food and eating and body image are definitely tricky subjects and we get lots of questions about it, so I think it makes sense to spend so much time talking about it.
Our focus here was really on listening to our bodies and I feel like our bodies give us clues all the time about whether food works for us or not. I really have seen over and over that it’s very individual, that what works for me might not work for someone else and vice versa. We also just have a lot of yummy, quality food on hand and if sweets are around, they are usually high quality and homemade, because I just set it up so we have lots of options, whatever the taste you’re looking for.
We talk about taste. Do you want something salty, sweet, crunchy, smooth? That type of thing, just to get the conversation going and make sure there are lots of options. I feel like the bulk of my role, if it could really be defined as anything, would just be to model listening to my own body and to talk about why I make the choices that I do, because we have that open, transparent conversation.
Recently, over the past six months, I’ve discovered that corn is a problem for me and it’s something that we ate a lot, because one of my children has chosen to be gluten free and corn comes in there a lot when you’re gluten free. So, it has been an interesting discussion to talk about what I was seeing my body doing. I had no need or agenda for anybody else to stop eating corn, but I think just having those conversations where they can see, “Oh, okay, that makes her feel this or that,” and that’s just the type of conversations we have.
I do personally have issues in this area that were passed on from childhood and I really did go in wanting not to do that to my kids. Who knows what they’re going to take away from how we’ve done it? But I feel like we’re all doing the best we can in that department, as we’ve got baggage and we’re figuring out how to navigate that, so I would not be too hard on yourself, Kathleen.
What I loved was that you said you’re having this greater connection that’s developing and I feel like that’s going to serve you both so much, and trusting him and trusting your relationship. Just go back to that always, and I think that will guide you in those interactions.
PAM: I love that. Okay. Question number two. This question is from Meredith.
“I have found there are very few published narratives about hard times, yet when I talk with friends, I feel very comforted by hearing they are struggling with similar issues in their parenting and unschooling journey. I’d love to hear more from your guests about their struggles, particularly the mundane, day-to-day-issues. Unschooling can be hard, especially at moments of transition (from school to unschool, deschooling, age transitions, moves from one place to another, the birth of a new baby, etc.) I’d love to hear how others cope!”
PAM: Sweet Meredith, I do have to say, it’s not the unschooling.
ANNA: It’s not the unschooling.
ANNE: I have to chime in. Yay! Good news. It’s NOT the unschooling.
PAM: But don’t worry, we won’t leave you right there, because there’s a lot more behind it. I really thank you for the question, because it got me thinking about it from so many different angles.
So, the first angle is, when you talked about the mundane, day-to-day issues, those really are not the unschooling. They are life. And I think it was Mary Gould that first said that when day to day things got challenging for her, she had a mantra. She said, “It’s not the unschooling, it’s ______” and then fill in the blank.
Unschooling is so different. It’s so easy to jump to it to blame for our challenges. Oh, this is so unconventional, so not-mainstream, obviously that must be the reason why X is happening. No. That mantra reminded her to dig a little bit deeper into the issue and so often she found out that no, it’s not the unschooling, it was something else.
Another thing that I thought of was that we got this question from you before episode 28 of the podcast came out and I chatted in that episode with Jen Armstrong about unschooling worries, so I think that would be a great episode for you to listen to, if you haven’t already.
Your point about the challenge of transition, I think, is a great one. Change is hard. Unschooling need not be hard, but change can definitely be hard, and it is for anyone. A child will find a move hard whether or not they go to school. But I know that we want to come at these challenges from the perspective of the supportive and trusting relationships that we’ve developed with our children through unschooling, so that’s the different lens through which we can look at those kinds of situations.
The deschooling transition, yes. There are lots of questions and worries and struggles and things that can come up during deschooling as you’re trying to figure out this whole new world. I actually have written over the years quite a few blog posts about those kinds of challenges and how I worked through them. So, in the show notes, I’m going to link to a post from my Heroes’ Journey blog series that I did last year. I’m going to specifically link to the post about the road of trials, which is this part of deschooling. And inside that link, there are links to quite a few other posts that delve into the particular trials or worries that I mention.
And realize that if I’ve written about them, chances are that I experienced them, because sometimes people read them and they kind of see, “Oh, that’s what she did,” but it’s not like I came up with that path right away. Chances are I tried x, y, z, got some feedback, talked with my kids, worked together, did lots of digging internally, and came up with what worked best for us in the end., but definitely it was the challenges that started me digging into them.
Thinking back, there have also been a number of podcast guests that have talked about some of their challenging times, like Anna’s parenting episode and Theresa Graham Brett’s 10 questions episode. They both mentioned using mantras to help them through times when they wanted to maybe change up their reaction or how they are showing up in a situation.
And lastly, I can understand how it’s comforting to know that others have similar struggles, because it tells us that we are all on the same path and that we are not completely out to lunch with what we are trying to do. We aren’t the only one having trouble, we aren’t doing it wrong. The key, though, is to not stay stuck there, but to just get that piece of validation and commiseration and then keep moving forward to the learning piece. And that’s where those mantras have come in handy for people. They help them transition from that rush of fear to moving forward and trying something else, something to help them move through that situation. So, those are the different pieces that came up for me when I read your question. Thanks, Meredith. Anna?
ANNA: I guess for me I’ve never really thought of unschooling as hard. When life is hard, I really find I’m ever more grateful for unschooling, because it just makes things so much easier for us to navigate as a family. Life certainly throws us challenges and I’ve had my fair share. As for how I cope with that, the very first thing I check in on is my connection. Am I choosing the relationships first? With that as my guide, I just find things go so much more smoothly and my priorities are where I want them to be.
There are definitely times that I talked to friends and I love that and I have wonderful friends who unschool. What I love about talking to other unschoolers is you don’t have to explain those bits, because it’s not about those bits. It’s about whatever else is happening and so it’s just setting that aside. So, I love that they get that and can go right with me to problem solving and validating and getting through.
Because of the relationship focus, what I find is most of the challenges we face are external to our family. One that’s happening for us now is dealing with the constant, and I mean constant, “So, you’re 18. What are you going to do now? What college are you going to? What are your plans?” ALL. THE. TIME. In places you would think, surely it’s not going to come up here, and yet there it is.
And so, it’s frustrating and it can cause upset and hurt. What we do is, again, we just circle back around, focus on our relationships, and talk about what we are loving about our life and what we are loving about this time as it’s naturally unfolding. We talk about strategies to get through those situations when we are faced with that, and so, again, I feel like that is our strength. That’s what unschooling gives us, is that relationship, that unit that we can talk and deal with these things that life throws at us, and live our best life to get through it.
And so, I guess in general, for me, any kind of struggle is just a red flag to check in with myself and with my relationships and make sure that I’m prioritizing them in the way that I want to. Typically, I find that if I’m struggling, something there is lacking. I’ve disconnected in some way. We aren’t where we need to be. And so, that’s just a great reminder of, hey, this is my priority. Our relationship is the priority. And get back to that. Anne?
ANNE: I’m glad you two dug in a little deeper, because I just had a few things to say about my shining perspective. I agree, my first response was, as everybody else’s, “It’s not the unschooling.” And I don’t think unschooling can be hard at all. I do think forcing kids to do things they have no interest in doing is hard and wrong. I think controlling kids is hard and wrong. I know for sure that unschooling follows the natural flow of my children’s beingness and that it’s never a hard thing for me to see or to live or to execute that, in itself.
Now, this thing called life that Pam and Anna have been talking about, yes, life can be challenging at times and personally, I don’t hold on to the challenging times. I feel like life is about how we feel and the really wonderful thing that I’ve learned is that we get to choose how we feel. My unschooling list is called Shine with Unschooling for a reason, because I believe that focusing on the shine is when life feels and works best and it’s how to get to the core of who we are and therefore the deepest possible part of our relationships with each other.
I’m 53 years old and I feel with each year I get to see a more complete picture of what I call the bigger tapestry of life. I can see how my challenges in life have brought me to where I am today and I would not have wanted a different path for anything. My life has been full of very heavy tragedies and yet, even with these dark paths that other people can’t even imagine living through, I can see this bigger tapestry today of the incredible gifts I have in my life because of having these things happen in my life, in my path, as I’m walking with my children or before I was married or anything. Each path brought me to where I’m today and yet they hurt like hell sometimes.
Yes, life is so hard sometimes. I’m not one to stay in a place of focusing on those things. I’m not one to commiserate with other people about those things. I feel like when we draw attention to them, they just grow.
I have this thing where sometimes I will post something on Facebook that I want to vent about and I have to delete it, because I don’t want it to stay there in my space and in my energy and that’s exactly how I am in real life with having it in my beingness. I feel like this moment is as good and pure and easy and joyful as we choose for it to be, no matter what is going on around us.
I have been in the darkest parts of darkness and I’m still able to find so much light and so much appreciation and joy and an even greater love for myself and for life than I’ve ever known before. So, I’m just addressing that one part of your question and for you to ask yourself what’s serving your life best, and that’s just a good thing to look at.
PAM: Yes, I just want to pop in for one second, because that has been a huge piece for me in understanding that.
Because when you talk about shining with Unschooling and when I talk about living joyfully, it’s not at all about ignoring those challenging times. Life happens. But those titles come from realizing how much we learn through the process of moving through those moments. It’s not about focusing on them. It’s not about feeling martyrly about the things we’ve gone through. It’s about, “This was my life and I’m moving through those moments,” and you know what? Focusing on seeing the joy even in those times, we realize that’s actually what helps us learn the most, and become closer to the person that we want to be, the days that we want to live.
ANNE: And take the pieces out of it.
And I think that most people think that we just gloss over the problems. Many people ask us to delve into and share our struggles and everything and we do, but again, that’s not our focus, because I believe we are here to evolve from those difficult times into the greater good, whatever the greater person that we’re meant to be. And I know for sure that I have been, no matter what size challenge, small or the largest.
ANNA: I agree.
And I think what’s interesting to think about, too, is the three of us here, this is something that we share in common. When you have that focus on joy, that ability to find that spark and that joy even in the darkest moment, you attract those people to you, and you find that you have a community of people that help lift you up, because you’re seeing the joy even when others are seeing the darkness. So, that’s just really been important to me. And I think, for me, we have a chance at every moment to tell a story about our lives and that’s a really powerful tool, to tell the story of your life.
PAM: It is. I find that if I go somewhere and complain, often people see that as an opening to complain more and then you look around ten minutes later and everybody is just mad.
ANNE: And that’s what I mean when talking about our unschooling lives, how we don’t allow any space for anybody’s judgement or to insert negativity into it. And that’s really important to maintain that energy with your children. You don’t want anybody being judgmental and cutting it down, so you just focus on your wonderful lives and what your kids are doing and what they’re into and how they shine, basically.
PAM: Okay. We should probably move onto the next question. Anna?
ANNA: I have the next question and it’s from Chelsea.
“We’ve been unschooling for a while, deschooling for a while, even though my kids have never been in public school and our “homeschool” was very relaxed. Our oldest son is 6. We also have a four-year-old boy, a two-and-a-half-year-old girl, and a one-year-old girl. I have a lot of children that all need attention daily, but our oldest boy is the most intense and high-need of them all and has been since birth—we practiced attachment parenting too.
My question is this: How would you recommend that I handle the outbursts that he has frequently? He’ll yell, threaten to hit (although he doesn’t) and scream and it can go on for a long time. I’ve tried SO many different “parenting techniques” to try to help him calm down and learn what his body is experiencing, but some days I just don’t know what to do to help him and it makes the whole house feel miserable.
I, too, am still deschooling in various ways and allowing more freedom for the children has helped me calm down and my anger has nearly disappeared—which is nice, because I handle his negative reactions with much more nurturance. How are we supposed to allow so many options and choices when it just feels like he continually expects more and explodes when he isn’t given everything at the moment he needs it (this includes my time too)? I have three other children that need my time and honestly, they get the least of it, which is draining for me and unfair for them.
As a somewhat separate question, in the last few weeks we’ve left the TV choices up to them—after listening to several of your podcasts that made so much sense – including how much to watch. And they are definitely taking it to what feels like an extreme but we are just going with it! I notice that the more shows he watches, the more he uses the iPad etc., the greater his anger. It’s a direct correlation and our other children don’t experience the same feelings after any amount of TV or iPad. We try to show him how it affects his mind and body, but it’s tunnel vision for him and then we all feel the after effects of his poor choice to watch too much of anything. Any advice is appreciated.”
There is so much there and I realized as I was rereading it that there are lots of things that I want to say. But, first of all, it sounds like there is a lot going on there, Chelsea, so I can appreciate that you have a lot going on. I feel like I need a little bit more information, because it might be helpful to know things like, is he introverted or extroverted? to make sure those needs are being met.
There is a book that I read years and years ago called, “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles,” and in that the author talks about personality types and I think a greater understanding can help lead us to creating environments that work more easily for everyone. Another tool is love languages to understand about how we relate to one another and filling our own cup and filling the cup of those around us. There is a specific love language book about children and I’m sure there are online resources, because I’m guessing your book time might be a little limited.
Whenever anyone here is struggling, I just try to really step back and look at the environment, find any triggers, think about what is leading up to it, are there areas we can change and just like we always say, focus back on that connection. How is my connection with this child? What’s happening? How am I feeling about that? We’ve also found it really helpful just to problem solve together, chatting about what we want to do, what is bothering them, validate, validate, validate.
When he’s having what you’re calling outbursts before, like that angry screaming and yelling, he’s just expressing something that’s so important to him, and really just wanting to be heard. I think it’s so important to validate even when it’s something that’s hard to hear and big and can be emotionally scary, that’s the time that it needs extra validation. It helps our children so much to know what we hear them and accept them even when they are angry.
So, I just feel like again, it’s stepping back, refocusing on that connection, looking at that bigger picture and also getting help when you need it and understanding that you’re one person and maybe there are things you can do to help ease your load. And I will leave it now to you, Anne.
ANNE: I want to go back to where you said, deschooling, even though they never went to school and you had very relaxed homeschooling. I personally don’t like the word “deschooling,” because it’s not just about healing from school, as you said in your case, however any schooling at home and any parental control undermines all that I was talking about with Kathleen’s question about food. It’s crucial that our kids learn to trust in themselves and they are able to do that when we show that we trust in them.
Any kind of schooling or parental control, any amount at all, shows that the parent doesn’t trust the children and then they’re unable to see how to trust in themselves. So, having said, that I’d say, yes, that’s what your kids are going through and healing from, but also stretching from and evolving from, in that space. And maybe what you’re seeing is complete uncertainty on their part of what to do, how to be, and they’re just kind of stretching and evolving in these ways that feel uncomfortable right now.
I don’t have four kids, so I can’t speak to what life is like for you in that respect, and as Anna said, you do have a lot going on. I do suggest you be gentle with yourself and be gentle with your children and keep seeing all of you through those eyes of, you’re going through this big stretching, evolving time. You’re experiencing a brand-new way of being and if it’s been directed in the past, this is your adjustment period and you’re all learning to listen to how you feel and what to do based on how you feel, and that’s really important to honor that. You’re doing well with that by asking the question and seeing your children. Just continue in that vein. That’s really all I have to say about that.
PAM: I do want to echo what both Anne and Anna said. You do have a lot on your plate right now. Also, not being too hard on yourself and also realizing that as you’re putting in all of this extra energy, especially through this transition time, realize that they are also not going to be this age forever. They are going to get older every single day, and you guys will create more and more connection as you begin to understand unschooling and as it starts to play out more closely in your lives.
One of the things I did want to mention was that it sounds like, from what you said, that you’re focusing on trying to find a parenting technique that’s going to work for you. You’re searching for tools that you can apply to your son so that you can make him easier to manage. I might suggest that, for awhile, at least two or three weeks, try to shift your focus away from the techniques that you’re applying to him and just shift and see him.
See his days, including those challenging moments, through his eyes and try really hard to deeply empathize with what is happening in his days and seeing how he ended up in those challenging moments and how he really feels. In my experience, diving into those kinds of moments, there really are often clues along the way.
So, instead of focusing on looking for parenting techniques that you can use to help him calm down after he has bubbled over or gone off the edge, whatever metaphor you want to use, watch for the clues that are happening before that tell you he’s heading in that direction. Try to help him there, because techniques don’t really work once a person has lost control, no matter their age, because at that point there’s so much stress and fear and frustration and anger. That’s not a good environment for anything.
At that point, all that you want to do is take care of him and help him and just love him through those moments and then later, validate and help him understand as much as he can what’s happened and why. Maybe dig into him a little bit with why he’s feeling that way, because remember he’s just six. I know you said he has been a higher needs child, but there are higher needs children and a lot of us have had them. He’s going to get older.
The other piece I wanted to talk about was TV and your feeling that right now they are taking it to an extreme. As we’ve said, and I’m sure you realize, that’s not surprising. It’s human nature to stock up on things after you have felt that they are scarce. And they are still developing that trust that TV will continue to stay available, so they are filling themselves up.
I just wanted to point out something in the language that you use that stood out for me. You wrote, “We’ve left the TV choices up to them.” Just check in to see that you’re still actively involved with them around TV. Are you enjoying the shows with them? Are you at least enjoying their enjoyment of the shows, laughing with them, chatting with them about what is going on, about what they find funny, engaging with them? Not saying, “Okay, we let them choose whatever they want on TV. They are taking it to an extreme, but I’m just going to sit back here and wait until they are finished.” No, that’s another choice that’s not going to help build the connection, so that’s always a great way to look at it.
The sooner they can actually see you there and feel your energy that you’re truly okay with them watching, the sooner they will realize it’s really up to them, that they really are free to choose. And in the meantime, you will also be learning lots about them from seeing the kind of stories on the shows that they like and the kind of humor they like and just building that relationship, building that trust.
When it comes to your eldest TV watching, “We try to show him how it affects his mind and body,” again, it sounds like you’re trying to tell him some things after the fact. “Oh look, you’re very upset and you just watched three hours or however many hours of TV and that’s why,” instead, when you’re talking to him about it like that, you’re in the moment with him. So, in the moment, during those hours is where that relationship is built, where that trust and connection develops and that’s where the learning is, not so much in the analysis after, because he’s six.
When they are older, those later conversations can help more, because they can make those connections for themselves, especially when you help point it out or you chat with them about it, but right now, your kids are younger and being with them in those moments and helping them in those moments are where you’re going to find most of your learning about your kids and about unschooling. You’re going to be seeing it in action, not sitting back waiting for it to happen. Okay. I’m done.
ANNE: You talked about validating a six-year old and I really wanted to talk more about that, because we’ve talked a lot in the past about radical validation and I’m not sure if people may understand what simple validation is, let alone radical validation. I really want to talk about that.
So when he’s frustrated, validation is simply saying, “I understand. I see you. I feel what you’re going through,” and sometimes with my kids, they needed me to go to a deeper place and really feel what they were feeling, where I’d be like, “Oh my gosh,” I’d just kind of go deeper into seeing it through their eyes, as Pam had said, and which we always suggest you do anyway, and just really feeling their frustration and letting them know from the deepest places in you, that you understand how difficult it is.
I know with my Jacob, when he was little, I’d hug him after a really hard time, and I’d say, “You’re doing SUCH a good job being you, and I know it’s so hard sometimes,” and that really helped him. I could just feel him relax into that, because that was what he was feeling, that it’s so hard being me, it’s so hard being me right in this moment and nobody can see that and I feel upset about this.
When you see that and you radically validate, which I’ve changed to one word, “radicate,” that just really helps them. People’s fear about this is that the shit will hit the fan if you acknowledge something negative that a child is feeling, that they will just pick that up and just run with it and you will not ever get any sanity back in your home ever again. I know so many people who feel that way, and the opposite is true. When you get out what they are frustrated about, even if it’s you, even if it’s their siblings, to look at it, and validate that from the depths of your beingness, “I so understand. I have felt like this too when I was a child,” or “I remember feeling like this,” that helps them get it out, look at it, and it helps to roll over them easier.
ANNA: Yes. Okay, so now I have even one more thing to say, because the thing is about the validation, it was something that I said earlier, was just especially when it’s something hard to hear and just diving into that is just what Anne said, even when it’s “I hate my sibling,” or “I hate you,” or “I don’t like this,” or “I don’t (whatever),” or “I don’t want to be here,” or whatever those big emotions are. What we found over and over again was when they were just met with that, “Oh my gosh, of course, that sounds so hard and I hear that this is just the biggest deal,” it was this complete relaxing, and then two minutes later, they were playing with that same sibling that they never wanted to see again, because it was like they were heard and we saw them and so it’s almost like magic. That’s something I’ve talked about in the podcast I did with Pam before.
Related to what Pam said, two things that jumped out at me, was I think that what she talked about with participating with the TV is really important. As she was talking about it, I thought you’re jumping to the conclusion that it’s the TV that’s making him angry and I wonder if participating with him will give you some clues that maybe it’s actually food. Maybe it’s a big chunk of time and snacks would be helpful or maybe it’s connection, needing to connect with you during that time.
So, then he has been involved for a little while and you haven’t been connecting and maybe that’s what’s bubbling up. So, I just loved that idea to keep connected through that time and it might give you a little bit more of a clue, instead of just jumping to “It’s the unschooling. It’s the TV.” That’s that same kind of gut reaction.
ANNE: I just wanted to insert something quick. Some kids have to move, too, while they’re watching TV, so that’s another piece. I know families who have gotten little trampolines for kids to jump on while they are watching television.
ANNA: Exactly. And as you have connected with him during that time, you will see, “Oh you know what, he hasn’t been moving. He likes to move.” Those little clues will become more clear as you guys stay connected through that time.
Okay. And the other thing that really jumped out at me that Pam said is, he’s six. And then I thought about your situation, with all of these little bitty ones, and I bet he looks really old to you as you’re holding a one-year-old and nursing or whatever. He seems like this big grown child, but I’m telling you as a parent of a 16 and an 18-year-old, he looks like a bitty baby to me. And so, he really is still so young.
I had my girls close in age and I was so aware of that as something that people do, like, “You’re the old one, you’re the oldest, you’re a big boy now, or big girl now” and I didn’t want to do that. And so, I really parented as if I had twins, as if they were the same age, because they both were experiencing their emotions as young people do and it’s just so normal. I just bet that can be easy to fall into when you have little ones, so I wanted to put that out there too.
ANNE: Another perspective of that is Jacob was always so larger than life, saying poetic things when he was two years old and everything, that I’d catch him from across the room and realize he was a little kid and I needed to see that, because he was so full of so much wisdom and everything, so it’s in our own vision, also.
PAM: And I’m just going to pop in, because when you were talking about how some kids need to move, Anne, and you mentioned the trampoline, Anna, when you’re there with them, you’re going to see that. It’s not even that you need to know he likes to move, but you can see fidgeting on the couch, or these are your clues when you realize it has been a while and bring a snack and see if maybe he might be hungry. So, it’s all that experimenting that I’m talking about. In those weeks, instead of thinking about techniques, you’re thinking about him, and you will gather so much information and learn so much about him by focusing on that time.
All right. Question number four, Anne.
ANNE: Question number four, from Helena.
“Our kids are nearly 7, 5, and 1 and I’d love to unschool them, but my husband isn’t convinced yet and I have some fears left, too. I thought it might be a good idea to “show” him unschooling in action rather than convincing him to read books about it (which he doesn’t want to do).
So, we were happily enjoying an unschooling lifestyle for the first few weeks of my daughter’s summer break, which was easy because the weather was good and we were all relaxed. Everyone loved it, even my husband. But then some challenges came up, financial worries and stress at work for my husband. We started arguing and discussing things. On top of that our toddler was teething and we didn’t get any sleep at night.
I wasn’t able to attend to my kid’s needs as well anymore, which caused them to be upset and behave badly. That started a vicious cycle of slipping back into mainstream parenting techniques, which made everything worse. Now it feels like we are back to the beginning and I don’t know how to build up our trusting relationship again, which had just started to develop. I’m afraid that I can only be a good unschooling mother as long as things go well and I’m not stressed or worried. How do unschoolers cope with life’s challenges without putting their kids’ needs second?”
The really wonderful thing about unschooling, as we said earlier, is that it’s simply life and if you happen to have an idyllic picture in your head of what unschooling should look like, it’s really important to shift that over to a bigger canvas that allows whatever your lives look like in each moment to flow. When I look back at when my kids were younger, some of my most precious memories are when we went through challenging times and we came together as a family.
I remember when the kids were little and I was sick in bed and feeling upset, because I could not take care of everyone. And my kids were fine, actually. Not only fine, Sam would stop playing his game and come and check on me and ask me if I needed any food or drink. When I got lonely, I asked Jacob to come and be by me, and read me a children’s book, and this was our life because we lived connected and we enjoy each other’s company, and this life.
And even during the most challenging times, our trusting and flowing and loving and messy and joyful lives would really shine brighter because of our radical unschooling dynamic. As I said, the trust we have in each other, the support we give each other, the lack of controlling, the respect we have for each other, the absence of the “shoulds” and the “have to’s” that other families have, all of that creates a better and stronger family dynamic.
If you slip back into something that doesn’t feel good to you, I used to let my kids know that I made a mistake. That’s how I felt our trust was built. Sharing my vulnerability and honesty and my desire to do better.
I’ve always felt that if we take the ups and downs of life and keep them as close to the middle as possible, this is a really strong, empowering, and wonderful place to be. Then when a challenge comes along, we are not so close to the edge that we come close to losing it or going over the edge. We can easily still access joy and see the shine and stay connected to each other during the challenges when we stay close to that middle when times are easy and happy and joyful and wonderful.
So, maybe you get an unexpected check in the mail or news that something a child has been desiring is a yes. It’s really good to feel that fully and be so appreciative and yet not have it be such a huge high that we feel dependant on life being that way in order to be really, truly happy. In our family, so much of our joy and our contentment and our challenges and our satisfaction and our dissatisfaction, are all swirling around each other, and flowing in and out of each other, right there in that middle of either extreme. We feel appreciation for all of it.
I also believe that your children wouldn’t want any other family than the one that you have, with the youngest teething and everything, and that’s again the family dynamic and what’s happening right then.
PAM: Cool. I really liked that description of the flow, Anne. That was really beautiful and it helped explain a little bit, too, about finding the joy in learning from the moments. I think, Helena, that was your question, even though, as you write about it, you seem very disappointed in how things went.
When I read it, I notice that you seem to have a pretty good idea of where and why things began to feel stressful for you and how they kind of went off the rails, as you’re describing it. I’m thinking about all of the learning that happened for you in that moment. You got more experience under your belt now. You learned more about yourself. So, I’d just suggest not beating yourself up about it, not thinking, “Oh no, I’m not going to be able to unschool, because life.”
No. As we were talking earlier, it’s about not being stuck in those moments, but using them to learn from and to incorporate as you move forward. It’s just another piece of that puzzle as you guys are learning more about unschooling and deciding whether or not that’s something you might want to do.
That would be one other thing, just to mention, you were talking about your daughters’ summer break, and definitely, I’m trying to go with calling it an unschooling lifestyle, but you were on vacation. I hesitate calling it unschooling just because you still have those fears. You’re not actually unschooling. But you’re playing around with the idea. You’re learning more. I got the impression that you’re releasing control a bit more and really enjoying those days off. You still have those days, whether or not your daughter goes back to school, so that’s part of what life can be like every day.
The other piece is what Anne alluded to, as well. With the older ones, as she was talking about apologizing, you can definitely briefly explain, at whatever level is comfortable for them, what’s up and that when these things come up, they do take our attention for a while. It’s better not to leave it as the elephant in the room, because I’m sure that even if you’re not saying anything, they are picking up on the stress. They are picking up on your arguments and longer discussions with your husband.
So, it will help them to know that something is up, something is going on, you guys are chatting about it, “Sorry that I’m not able to spend as much time right now,” and that’s part of moving through everything together as a family. Not only will you continue to learn and grow, as these things come up in life, but so will they. And they’re seeing that you’re treating them as a person, not as a child who things need to be hidden from. They are seeing how you guys process and move through them. There is just so much that helps fill the relationships, the connections, the trust.
As Anne was talking, I thought it was so interesting about being in the middle, not relying on the really good times, not needing that to happen a lot, and not ignoring the bad times, but being yourself, in the moment, in the middle, and all of those other things are part of the ups and downs of life. That’s such a nice place. That’s where your connections and trust are going to build and going to help you even more in the harder moments, building stronger in the good moments and be nice and solid throughout. Okay. I’m done.
ANNA: So, the last part of her question was, “how do unschoolers cope with life’s challenges without putting their kids needs second?” and I think we’ve really touched on this a lot in today’s episode. Because, for me, again, my first touchstone is the relationship. Am I putting the relationship first? Life is going to throw things at us, but if our relationship is strong, then it’s just much easier to manage. I find that when I start focusing on problems and lose sight of our relationship, that’s where things start to go off the rail. What I can control is our connection and how we’re doing together as a family.
A friend and I have noted many times that when things are out of control at work, people tend to clamp down at home and I think they’re just really trying to look to control something, anything, when they’re feeling that spinning out of control. I think sometimes just to be aware of that can be helpful, so that you’re focusing your concern, energy, anger, whatever, on that actual issue and that kind of steps us back to, it’s not the unschooling.
Life has thrown some things at you and I think a question that I’d ask, were you here Helena, is, what would be different? So, you had this life situation happen with finances and work that was challenging, how would it have been better had your children been in school? They’re really just on summer break, so I’m not really sure it’s about unschooling, per se.
Again, as I said earlier, I find whenever we’re faced with particularly challenging problems and we’ve certainly had them, that I’m so grateful for unschooling, because I feel like it gives us time and space to breathe and the ability to connect and to focus on what is important, which is our relationships with each other. I just feel like when we are facing things as a team and as a family, we have the ability to weather any storm and I’ve just seen it over and over again over these past 18 years of being a family.
ANNE: I talked about Jacob reading me a children’s book and all of these things kept flashing through my mind when you were just talking about focusing on relationships. I remember when my grandmother died and I went to speak at her funeral and I had seven-year-old Jacob volunteer to come up and hold my hand while I was speaking at my grandmother’s funeral and everything.
This is a testament to our relationships and why we put that first, because that’s who we have. Like we’ve been saying, life is swirling around us and we are living life and really have each other. Unschooling, if anything, is a gift that allows space for that to happen, for these relationships to grow like this. We spoke about the last Childhood Redefined Summit where we voiced that.
I always felt like we’ve been the weird ones, like when we go out to dinner and we are talking as a family and we are so passionately talking, and we are listening to our kids and they are contributing and people are looking at us like we are aliens, because you can pick up on our connection and our respect for each other and I love being a weird alien like that.
PAM: That’s very true.
Okay. Question number five is from Jennie.
“I have three small kids 6, 4 and 1 and a half and I’ve been radically unschooling for about nine months. My six-year-old only attended junior kindergarten part time for 1 year.
I have a couple of questions about how to handle certain situations more gracefully with my two older kids. The first is, how do I handle supporting them through situations I’m uncomfortable with, especially as it relates to animals? For example, we watched a butterfly cocoon and when it hatched, she played with it until it passed. Same with a frog she caught. It makes me really sad to watch these beautiful insects and animals die. And I understand she’s learning from the experience, however it’s our disagreement in this area that negatively impacts our relationship. Any suggestions on how I can kindly navigate through this exploration with her?
Next, I have a very passionate 6-year-old girl. When she believes she’s right, she will challenge me. When I attempt to correct her, in the hopes that she’ll learn something from our exchange, she becomes angry and even more firm. For example, recently, she argued with me about the details of a particular show or how the butterfly above needs her to give it flying lessons. I want to be there for her without judgment or fear, but these are the areas I get “stuck” in.”
Okay, Jennie, thank you very much for sending in your question. Let’s see here. For me, when you’re talking about the animals, I think it’s important to bring that to the table. Maybe a perspective shift can help you. So, it’s not about stopping her. It’s about supporting her within the parameters of caring for the animals. So, of course you’re sad about the animals passing on and the idea of unschooling and her learning through the experience is not for her to handle them until they can’t handle it anymore.
I’m sure that her goal is not for them to die. That’s just something that’s happening as a result of her actions. And you don’t need to stand back and just let that happen over and over. You can help her figure out ways to meet her goals, like what she wants to do with the frogs, and keep them alive. It’s important to get to a place where it’s not you versus her, where you’re defending the animals against her, and fighting with her about that. You can support her within the parameters of that situation.
I remember when my kids caught frogs up at the cottage, it was about creating a nice habitat for them, learning the food that they needed, learning those things together so that they could explore and have fun with them and keep them alive, and eventually release them after we kept them for a couple of days. So, it’s the learning and the working together with her, not standing back and watching her do things that you know are going to injure the animal.
So, that’s part of that whole relationship and connection building so that she doesn’t feel attacked when you’re talking with her, so that she really feels like you guys are working together, so that she can get all that she wants out of the experience while still taking care of the animals. I’m hoping maybe that perspective shift can help.
When it comes to your daughter’s arguing, I found that if our children are not receptive to our information, if I continued to argue with them, it really shifts and becomes about power. The information itself is lost in it.
So, when you see your six-year-old has shifted into feeling defensive about something that she believes, you know at that point that she’s not in her receptive or learning mindset and it’s really okay to let it pass. There’s no need in that moment to say she’s right when, for a particular show you remember it one way and she remembers it another, but there’s no need to push it, either, to prove that you’re right. As I said, at that point, it has moved beyond that piece of information and it’s now becoming a power struggle. It’s okay if she walks around for a while holding some misinformation. Over the next few times, as she goes to use it, it will not fit into her next experience and she’ll eventually figure it out.
In the last episode, Meredith talked about how part of real human learning comes from our mistakes, from experiences where what we thought was true turns out to not be true. We talked about how we don’t set our kids up to fail, like completely ignoring them, but we also don’t force them to see things our way. Sometimes they really just want to try things their way, to see things their way.
So, in those moments, when you feel that pent up energy or frustration of thinking that she’s wrong, rather take it and try to apply it to being curious about her, about why she remembers things in that particular way, why she thinks something works this particular way, why she thinks that butterfly needs flying lessons, and just absorb that. Be curious and have that be part of the picture of her that you’re putting together.
Working through our need to be right in each moment is a significant part of the shift from teaching, because you’re trying to teach her that piece of information, and shifting to seeing things as learning. It’s a moment when we think we are needing to teach them what is right, but they are not in a mindset for learning now. So, letting that go can really sometimes feel wrong, I imagine, the first few times. I remember that.
But over time and with experience, we see those moments when they do eventually learn that piece of information or that skill, and they learn that on their timetable. That’s when we start to see how well unschooling works without all the fuss, without all the arguing about the facts that aren’t fitting into their picture in that moment. You trying to keep stuffing it in at that moment isn’t going to work. They aren’t going to remember it. What they remember is the power and the struggle and the argument.
With experience, you’ll see that that moment comes up again and again. It’s not like a curriculum where this is the one time that you have to learn that fact. No. It’s life and things come up and come up and you will see them learning about it when it makes sense to them, in their day. Okay, who’s next?
ANNA: It’s me, I think.
PAM: Anna? Okay.
ANNA: So, being a wildlife rehabilitator and passionate animal lover, I will say that we have talked about interacting with animals with care and respect since my kids were itty bitty. If I felt like they were not able to be respectful of an animal’s life or comfort, then I just wouldn’t put them in those situations. It sounds like it might be too early for the butterfly hatching in this situation.
Just know that there is plenty of time for that. Everything doesn’t have to happen right now and there may be other ways to interact with nature that are just safer and more satisfying right now. We did a lot of foster work with kittens and there would definitely be times where we took breaks when the kids were ages where impulses were harder to control or they just weren’t able to be around kittens in a safe way.
I would also, along the way, help them see things from the animal’s perspective and talk about the cues that I was seeing, so that they could learn to identify the distress on their own. So, we’d talk about cats with their ears laid back, what that meant, dogs when they have a certain posture, to identify those things. It wasn’t just me saying, “No. Don’t do this,” or, “Stop doing this,” it was helping them giving them the information about why I was even jumping to that conclusion. “It looks like this is what’s happening.” Again, we’re partners in that, versus me having an agenda to share something.
Something Pam said, and then your question reminded me, too, so your daughter was saying she wanted to give flying lessons, so there may be a way to playfully come at that and say, “Oh yeah? You know what? I’ll hold the butterfly here and you give us this display. Show us how this is done by flapping around or whatever it’s you want to do and I’ll have the butterfly safe here to learn.”
So, there may be a way to meet that need of hers to do that while keeping the butterfly safe. So, again, being a partner to find those solution helps, versus the authoritarian or the person with an agenda. Kids pick up on that so quickly and that’s when they dig their heels in. So, it’s just using your judgment to decide, are they ready for this experience and we can work through this together playfully? Or, no, actually they’re really not ready and this creature’s life is at stake here and that’s important.
Again, I think it just helps to know your child and what I see is that you’re seeing she really isn’t able to hear your feedback in these situations right now. And Pam talked about this. Giving it some time will help. They grow and develop quickly and things change along those lines and right now, this is her asserting herself and figuring out her way and that’s such an important growth time. There will be ebbs and flows in all of that too, and so, I think just keeping the lines of communication open and validating along the way, the two of you will grow together in that. Anne?
ANNE: It all felt very simple to me when I read your question and I wrote down, “Play more, challenge less. Win-win.” And I want to talk first how when she said, “the butterfly above me,” she wasn’t speaking about the one they were handling. It sounds like it was one that was flying above. And if a little girl said to me, “I need to give that butterfly flying lessons,” oh my gosh, I would be right there in her imagination with her and I would just be playing with her about that and just seeing that world from her glorious eyes, instead of challenging her and saying “No, you don’t need to give that butterfly flying lessons.”
I’d like to talk about conversations in an unschooling family that are respectful of all parties. When you develop trust from living an unschooling life with your kids, you go into conversations knowing that there’s going to be a win-win outcome, that everybody can get what they feel they need, as long as you keep connected, as long as you keep talking, and throwing out ideas, and everything.
I just want to talk about that, because it just sounds like you’re not seeing that, like with the animal situation you chose not to say anything. And there’s such a win-win conversation waiting to happen there. The child can win and the animal can win, completely, just by your respecting both and respecting yourself and your opinion. There are three beings there that need to be heard: your child, the animal, and you, and you can do it in a wonderfully playful way. It’s very simple when I look at it, because it just feels like the child would understand that everybody can have what they want in this case.
In the second one, you said that she challenges you, but I see you challenging her. You, being the adult can easily just let it go and I don’t see it having a lot to do about her learning or anything. I just see you not seeing conversations from a win-win perspective and not choosing peace over being right, not choosing just smiling and playing and connecting with your child over being right. And those are really, really important things, energies to live your unschooling life with your children. Let me just see if I have anything else.
Basically, in unschooling families, everyone’s voices are heard and I always advocate continuing conversations until everyone feels like it’s a win-win. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about connections and playing and finding the joy in everything, in what you’re doing. That’s it.
ANNA: Okay. So, I think that I have the last question, which is from Maria.
“I’m a mom to three children, ages 16, 14, and 11. We are on our fifth year of unschooling my two younger children, who are both boys. My oldest, who is a girl, chooses to go to school.
Both of my sons had behavioral problems in school from day one and were asked to leave the public school and were put into the special education programs. We were not aware of unschooling at the time and didn’t pull them out of school until they had been in the system for a few years.
My daughter has had no problems with school and actually tried unschooling for a few months, but decided it wasn’t for her.
Unfortunately, my husband isn’t super supportive of unschooling and often worries aloud how our sons are “spending too much time on the computer,” or “aren’t socializing enough,” or “aren’t learning basic math skills.” My sons pick up on these mixed messages and sometimes feel as though they are “less than” because they are unschooled.
When we discuss the merit of unschooling versus attending school as a family, I often find myself discussing the negative aspects of school and my daughter gets very upset. My question is, how can I verbally support their unschooling experience without diminishing my daughter’s choice to attend school?”
And for this, I feel like, Maria, that you really already touched on the answer in your post, because the beauty of what you’re doing is finding what works for each person individually. We each learn in very different ways and we respond to environments in different ways.
I remember my dad, early on in our unschooling journey, was telling me after he read some books, (my dad would come into our house and whatever books I had laying there, he would start reading, which always cracked me up. It didn’t matter what it was, fermenting, unschooling, he would just pick it up and read it.) And after reading some unschooling books, he said that he had really enjoyed school but that he could certainly see how it didn’t serve everyone and how certain people were just really left behind in a system like that. I feel like you can really celebrate both paths without one being a lesser path.
Now, also in your note, you’ve mentioned that your husband out loud is saying disparaging remarks to your sons and I think that’s a conversation I would want to have with my husband, to just say, “We know how bad it was when they were in school. We know what we were dealing with there. And we know this gift we’re being given by them being home and recovering from this experience.” Hopefully you guys can all get on the same page, because I do think that’s a lot for those boys to carry and weigh. That’s a chance for you to have a culture as a family of accepting everyone and understanding that each of them learn differently and that you all learn differently and you each have your own path and each path is just as valid.
So, that would be where I’d put my attention, I think. Okay. I think it’s Anne next.
ANNE: Hi, Maria. When I’ve spoken with unschooling families whose children have decided to attend school, I focus on how the child is able to attend school in a completely different capacity than all of the other kids there, because the child from the unschooling family has the choice of whether to be at school or not.
That one factor makes all of the difference in the world. And because she chooses to be in school, she also understands the things that other people say about school are not true. She understands that you don’t have to go to school. She understands that good grades do not determine your self worth, nor do they secure you a happy future.
You can talk about school in these wonderful ways and these ways that your daughter is able to experience it, and see it through an unschooling family’s eyes. And that allows her to feel empowered in her choice to attend school and to also know that she has the option to not attend again if she wants to.
And then, do the same for the other children who are choosing to unschool. There is so much beautiful common ground, because you are an unschooling family with one person going to school. So much beautiful life of learning happening in both scenarios, in completely different ways. And there are possibilities for wonderful, connecting conversations instead of dividing ones.
I agree with Anna about your husband. I would ask him to be a parent who supports his children and not speak badly in front of them. And I’ve got to go back to talking about allowing our children to feel good about themselves. My goodness. Having somebody speak badly about your life just doesn’t bring good feelings in them and that really is one of the only blocks for an unschooled child to having learning flow as they’re living.
If they are holding on to this the whole time, that dad doesn’t approve of what we’re doing, we’re just playing games, it’s nothing, that’s a lot of weight for them to feel and definitely deserves a conversation between the two of you. Pam?
PAM: I’m going to echo what you guys have shared, because I think what will be really helpful is, instead of focusing your conversations on school versus unschooling, yes, you bring it up to the bigger picture, the common ground, and that’s learning.
So, as Anna mentioned, the conversations about how people learn differently, the different learning styles, that the school environment can work well for some, like your daughter, and not for others, like your sons. One isn’t better than the other, but they’re different and you guys can choose what works best for each person as an individual.
Maybe you can talk about your experience in school, whether or not it was a good fit for you. Maybe talk about a few friends. Maybe your daughter has some friends at school for which school is not a good fit. So, you probably have lots of examples in your life that you can bring into this conversation. That way, you’re supporting everybody.
Yes, your daughter’s experience at school is very different from her friends in that she’s probably the only one that has the choice, so you can even talk about the extra advantages for her in that environment and situations.
Again, your husband’s comments aren’t going to be helping them. That’s just going to be stressing them. It seems that he’s not yet seeing the learning that they are doing, because he, too, is looking for learning to look like school. And that happens a lot. The parent at home that sees the unschooling in action and who has done the research and figured that stuff out is further along on that continuum. The parent who is working outside the home doesn’t have that kind of experience, so it is completely understandable.
You know your husband. In what ways you can speak with him, tell him that you understand his concerns, meet him where he is and tell him that you want to help him get the answers that he’s looking for from those comments, but instead of the passive aggressive comments, you want to really get into his question. Sometimes, you want to just ignore it and hope that the frequency dies down and you can protect, but those things are negatively impacting your boys, so it will really help to open up the conversation with your husband and see ways that you can help him through his doubts and questions.
Ask that he keep that conversation private with you, by explaining how that is affecting your sons, as well. You can also talk to your sons a bit, open up a conversation with them as well. Explain their dad’s perspective, because I’m sure they see that more conventional advice, parenting. School is kids’ job. They are going to be getting those comments not just from their dad, but from TV shows that they watch, movies, whatever they do online.
So, talking with them about how that has evolved in our culture and how that has developed and how you guys see things differently, why your husband doesn’t yet see things differently, so that they, too, can start to build up an understanding of where those comments are coming from. That might help them also process through them and not take them internally so much and feel them as a big weight. Anything else you guys want to add?
ANNA: Nope. I think that does it.
PAM: Okay. That is our last question for this month. I want to thank you guys so much for answering questions with me. You’re awesome and it is always great to chat unschooling with you. It’s so much fun.
ANNA: It is. Thank you.
ANNE: Thank you to everyone who writes to ask the questions, because it allows me to organize my thoughts for my own life, even though I don’t have the same issues. It helps me to get in the mindset of what I need to be doing, so I benefit greatly, also. Thank you.
PAM: Exactly. I love that, too. And just a reminder for everyone, things that we have mentioned, some of the books Anna mentioned, I will put links in the show notes to those. And as always, if you would like to submit a question for the Q&A show, just go to livingjoyfully.ca/podcast and click on the link. Wishing everybody a great day! Bye!
ANNE: Bye! Thank you.