PAM: Welcome 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!
ANNE and ANNA: Hello!
PAM: Hello and a very Happy New Year to you both.
ANNE: To you too.
PAM: Thank you. It feels like it has been a while, but it’s our first time in 2017. So would you like to get us started, Anna?
ANNA: Yes, definitely.
Anonymous Question [TIME: 4:27]
I have twin boys (almost 8) and an 11-year-old daughter. I have always said yes, because of the whining and crying with the twins (they are high strung, zero patience and harp on things). So the boys have tantrums every day about wanting to wear a specific shirt or shorts (that they missed placed) and its everyday and fighting in the car and punching and hitting and screaming and I am at the point where I lose it and flip out (my parents NEVER yelled at me). My husband yells; now I yell and I try not to but they get me to my wit’s end. I do not know how to fix it. I do what you say, sit with them, play games, and read to them (they fight over who sits next to me…). There’s no control (not that I want to control them—they don’t value my husband or me and only act good if I break down and cry).
ANNA: So first I just wanted to hold space a moment for her. I know that it doesn’t feel fun to be at your wit’s end and it sounds like there is a lot of stress. I’m not sure specifically what the question is but I hear in general that you are overwhelmed and that there’s a lot of challenging energy in the house.
For me, it helps to break things down into smaller pieces and also to look for patterns, because it’s just something I like to do. Are things hard at certain times of the day? Has everyone eaten? Are you feeling rushed? What’s going on inside of your body? Watching for patterns allows me to see if there are things to do to head off potential issues.
So you mentioned that clothes are missing every day, so maybe it’s figuring out a system together, a place to throw the clothes so they are easy to find the next day. I had some friends that would actually bathe at night and get into the clothes for the next day because they didn’t like that kind-of stress in the morning time.
When there are disagreements, you know, we have talked about it a lot, but it’s validate, validate, validate. Help each child feel heard and as you get better at doing that, they will too. It will set this foundation for stating needs and hearing out the other party and then moving to that work of finding solutions together.
Right now, it sounds like they are needing some guidance with that process. But that doesn’t mean that you have to jump in, or solve, or pick sides, or figure out what’s going on. I found it most helpful to be the neutral observer that’s helping each party to feel heard and loved in that moment of stress and conflict.
As a more general recommendation, I found it very helpful to focus on what I loved about my children and sometimes that involved making a list that I could refer back to. We have a friend, Deanna Buck, who has a process she calls joy writing. She takes time to write out a loving note with all of the wonderful things about her family and what she envisions for them all.
So yours might talk about how much you enjoy being together, how you easily solve problems, how you laugh and play and feel peace and love when you are together. Then you take that paper and you read it. Ask your husband to read it. Read it again. That helps put you in the energy space of love and seeing all that is good around you.
In my experience, where we put our focus is what grows, so instead of describing the boys as high-strung, zero patience, harping, you can envision them flowing with the family easily, bouncing back quickly from upsets, detail oriented, fun to be around, etcetera. How we see our children becomes a part of their inner talk and it’s worth taking a look at what’s being put out there related to that.
Ok, that got a little bit long, so I’m going to hand it off to Anne now.
ANNE: I think mine is not much shorter. I wanted to address radical unschooling in general because of how you said you always said ‘yes’ because of the whining and crying with the twins.
What I’d like to do, is I have an excerpt I’d like to share from one of my conference talks that is called, What Is So Radical about Radical Unschooling? I have the transcript for this talk on my website, shinewithunschooling.com. Pam, was that a Toronto Conference talk too? [link to audio] Do you have that on your website?
PAM: Yes, I’m pretty sure I do have the audio too, so I’ll put that and a link to your website in the show notes.
ANNE: Good, because the same talk comes up again in the next question.
In this excerpt, I’m addressing the spectrum of what people believe radical unschooling is; from unparenting to saying yes all of the time. So, here it is.
Radical unschooling is not abandonment or neglect or merely just the removal of control or rules. And by abandonment and neglect, I don’t even mean those words literally; although this is what some people think unschooling is, sadly. I mean to abandon and neglect our children emotionally, parentally and leave them feeling like they are alone on their path in life.
It saddens me to think that some people do think this is unschooling, because, to me and my family, the glory of our lives is found in just the opposite. It’s not control or rules, but it is joyfully involved parenting, partnering, sharing and guiding. It is giving information and sharing experiences and opinions, as well as being open to the child’s information, experiences and opinions. It is seeing the world through your child’s eyes and sharing in his path no matter what it brings…the joys, the frustrations, the challenges, everything that is sweet and grand, and the challenges as well. It is walking away from trying to control a child’s life and walking toward being co-creators with your child in his own, unique path and life.
Some unschooling parents even think the answer is to say “yes” more, but that doesn’t feel right to me. I can see how it might help those who have felt a need to control their children and it might help those who automatically give a knee-jerk “no” in response to a child’s request. If it helps them to STOP and not give an automatic negative response, then that’s great. But I think it’s still just surface stuff.
The surface seems to be the place where there are only yeses and noes and nothing in between. It’s the place where the rules and parental control exist, as well as the absence of rules and parental control, without any real explanation, or consideration, or information.
I like to go deeper. I think you have to dig deeper in order to really find and live radical unschooling.
Because radical unschooling has a foundation built from the entire family’s input, based on everyone’s feelings, opinions, experiences, and information. Not one person is saying yes and not one person is saying no and nobody is telling anyone to go and figure it out on their own. Everyone is working together to explore the possibilities that lie within that spectrum between those two answers: yes and no.
It is within the depths of radical unschooling where I am able to be a student of my child. I can choose to ignore all of the typical societal messages, or even unschooling messages, that exist on the surface and I can go deeper and truly know and understand my child. Not only his joys and his passions and his strengths and his interests, but also his sensitivities and his challenges and his fears.
Living a radical unschooling life in my family involves holding onto each of these things that make up Who My Child Is, and taking them all into consideration as we walk forward every day toward those things that allow him to Shine the brightest. We hold onto these things that make up Who He Is as we work together and talk together about the things that happened yesterday, what’s happening right now, what this day may hold, and what tomorrow might look like. This is how we are partners and co-creators in our children’s lives.
By digging and reaching and living deeper, I am able to build and nurture a relationship with my children where we truly know and respect and enjoy and assist each other. They are not left alone to figure out the world…I am there as their guide, their translator, their interpreter, and a direct, unencumbered, nonjudgmental connection to their Shining True Selves. I am the one who listens, who shares, who Trusts in them, who allows and encourages them to Trust in themselves.
This is my radical.
That’s the end of the excerpt. So yes, you yourself can make the deliberate choice to not be at your wit’s end. Right when you think you are at your wits end you can say, “Ok, I can choose to NOT say that I’m at my wits end right now.”
Allow what is happening in front of you to be full of possibilities for communication and connection and knowing each other better. Then you’ll be in a better position to allow conversations to happen and to allow possibilities to open up. Besides all those wonderful practical things Anna said also.
So, breathe. Breathe. And have some conversations. Perhaps try what I always refer to as briefing and debriefing. Before you get in the car with your kids in the morning (or whenever), talk about where you are going, what you’ll be doing, who needs what in the car to stay happy and what you can do while you are out to communicate with each other if somebody is having a hard time. Let them know you’ll listen to them, whatever they are feeling. Then the debriefing afterwards, talk about how they felt about it, how they feel now, and any difficulties that came up. Talk about the fun you had.
Anna was pointing this out too; talk about how you loved it when you did this certain thing together, or when you saw that amazing sunset together. See if they feel anything needs to be done differently for the next time you go somewhere together. It really is the best gift in our unschooling lives: connecting with each other through mutually respectful conversations.
PAM: I love that. I loved all those suggestions that Anna had that fit so nicely in between your yes and no, Anne. Plus the ones you had at the end there, it really ties together.
That’s what jumped out for me too, that piece where you mentioned you were saying yes because of the whining and the crying. That’s a big clue that I think you can use to start pointing you in some different directions. Because what it says is that really you are still keeping that control and power dynamic alive in your relationships with your children.
It sounds like you’ve stopped using power and control as a parenting tool, per se, because you are saying yes, but your relationship is still based in that power dynamics and your children are still using those tools. The whining and the crying, those are control tools, because that’s all that they know. So, not only do you want to stop using control, but you want to replace it with a different kind of relationship. That’s what Anne was talking about too. It is a whole different thing. You’re not just taking away the control but you are replacing it with something.
I dug deep into moving from that power dynamic to trust and connection in your relationships with our children in my talk, A Family of Individuals. I don’t know if you happened to listen to episode 48, but my conference talk is there, that you might find interesting. And I’ll link to a blog post that I have about Unschooling and the Power Paradigm, as well, in the show notes.
I think, to start, just to start right now before you have a chance to go through that stuff, is what they were both talking about, you’re getting to know your children more deeply. So rather than seeing your twins as high-strung with no patience and harping on things, what you want to do is start to dig into the reasons underneath those behaviors. Those are just the behaviors you are seeing on the surface. Start to ask yourself questions and understand them as human beings. Start to see the world through their eyes. What is it that is making them impatient? Anna had some great ideas, even just for the clothes in particular. So, don’t just say yes because you have no patience for how they are expressing their feelings in the moment. Find the other reasons for saying yes. Like how you want to help them with those underlying issues that’s causing their upset in the first place. It’s all about starting to get to know them really well, connecting with them, focusing on those positive moments so that you start to see a deeper relationship with them.
Sonia’s Question [TIME: 17:53]
Hi, my kids are still little (five and seven), and we follow their interests as much as possible, but, to be honest, it’s expensive. I often find that I’ll invest in something that they’ve shown a sustained interest in, only to find that as soon as I spend on it, they are on to the next thing. I find that what happens then is that I turn into school-teacher-mum and ‘we have to do this because I’ve spent money on it.’ How do I balance providing rich resources without being rich ourselves? And teach the kids to value resources that are invested in them? Thanks!
ANNE: Hi Sonia. I completely understand what you are talking about and I know that it can feel like a lot. I’m going to echo what I’ve just said about the decision-making process and that it is about conversations for me.
If the kids are wanting to purchase a big-ticket item, perhaps find ways to get that item without purchasing it. If you know someone who has it, perhaps ask to borrow it. If it can be rented, consider that. But again, the exploration and opening of possibilities comes from conversations that you are going to have with your children about this. It’s not found in the immediate, “Yes, let’s get that.”
The conversation may look more like, “Wow, that’s fantastic and that sounds like so much fun. Let’s look into this together and see what it costs.”
Or, for me and my family, I would often do the research myself and bring that information to the table to enable an informed conversation with everybody. Then perhaps the next step might look like, “How can we make this work? How can we do this? How can we get this for you?”
When you open up the conversation toward what it is the children want, it allows them to understand how a decision gets made. They understand the financial end of it a little bit, even at their young age. They come up with really amazing ideas on their own and they feel valued for your wanting their input in it. It’s really fun to just start brainstorming ideas to get what they want.
Like I said, renting the item or borrowing it, looking for used ones to purchase. What you’re looking for here is not only supporting and encouraging their interests but also for you to feel good about it. So you can share how you feel about it as long as you have a ‘yes energy.’ And that’s not so much a ‘yes energy’ meaning ‘Yes, we can get this’ about the item, but the ‘yes energy’ is about that thing that your child is drawn to having and that’s what should make you light up because that’s a part of who your child it because it’s something that has sparked their interest. What you want to give them is an enthusiastic, loving, yes-energy to something that they’re interested in.
Another very important factor is this: if you do end up purchasing an item, whether it costs a lot of money or not, it’s really important for you to release any expectation of the them ever using it, like you said you have a hard time doing.
Kids can feel when the parent is holding onto an expectation of any kind and especially if the parent has invested money in something. From my experience, nothing makes a child turn in the other direction faster than to have a parent attaching an expectation to something.
The general energy you want surrounding any purchase is to feel good about it and to let go of your attachments and expectations. Just let it be, and let it flow.
And even if they still don’t want anything to do with it, after they expressed an interest in it, just keep living forward because children’s interests swirl and flow and shift and evolve and change. This is not only natural; it’s a necessary part of their unschooling lives. This is how they learn what they love. This how they learn what they don’t like. And even if they are walking toward it enthusiastically one day, the next day when something else lights a spark within them, we don’t want to redirect them from the new spark back to the old spark. We want to keep encouraging and nurturing them.
When my son, Sam, was young, he really wanted a nice guitar. We had a lot of affordable guitars in our house. The guitar that he wanted was an eight hundred dollar guitar. We did what I suggested to you. We talked about it a lot as a family. We looked at a lot of options. We looked for the best deal and found this one that he wanted. We decided as a family that we would trade in an old video game console for some money toward the guitar. These were family discussions that we had.
Sam is now 22 and you can probably guess that I’m going to say that he has never played that guitar. In fact the only person who has ever played that guitar is Sawyer Fredericks. Do you remember, Anna, when we were in Sam’s apartment? The Fredericks family was visiting one time and we happened to be in Sam’s apartment and Sam’s guitar was there. Sawyer picked it up and played Sam’s eight hundred dollar guitar. That was a really nice time.
But the important thing is that Sam has never felt bad about us purchasing this guitar for him. He really felt strongly about wanting that guitar and we saw that in him. He brought it with him when he moved into his own apartment. I can see that he feels great pride in his guitar. He has this guitar that he wanted and maybe that’s enough for him. Or maybe someday he will play the guitar but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how we connected over his desire to buy this guitar all those years ago and how we all came to feel good about this purchase with no attachments.
There also have been times when we’ve spent money on karate lessons, Zoo School or Not-Back-To-School Camp or even college and it turns out that my kids did not want to be there. That’s what I was saying about the story of the Not-Back-To-School Camp as part of the conference talk, What Is So Radical about Radical Unschooling? that Pam will have the link to. So you can hear that story there. But in these cases we have never, NEVER, held it over our kids’ head that we have already invested the money in the class, or the school, or the uniform or the apartment or whatever, and we can’t get a refund.
We have always only celebrated the fact that our children know themselves well enough to say, “This is not feeling right to me and I need to go in a different direction.”
That is our focus. That is our energy.
And as far as the money we had already spent on it we would shift our thinking and consider it a wonderful investment in our children getting to know themselves even better. It’s an investment in the fine-tuning of the direction that they do want to be going in and that really is a beautiful thing.
One more point I want to make is, my adult kids don’t live in my home anymore and as I was reading your question I was looking around my house and I saw numerous things I had purchased because I was passionate and curious and wanting to learn and go in a direction of something that ignited a spark in me. Over there is my guitar, which I did play a lot at one point, but I have not picked it up in a few years. There’s my ukulele hanging on the wall, and boy I really want to get back to that soon sometime. Under my kitchen island is a box of gadgets: a panini maker, a tortilla press, and a pizelle maker. We’ve got games and art supplies and craft supplies and sports equipment. Really to us, it’s all a part of life, of the flowing interests, the sparks that ignite us.
It’s the same for the kids as it is for us. We wouldn’t want anyone reminding us of how much we paid for that appliance that is now collecting dust. Well, I wouldn’t want anybody to do that to me. We wanted it when we wanted it. Maybe we will want to get into it again in the future, but again that doesn’t matter. You’ve got to get to a point of feeling good about it when you make the decision to make the purchase. That all starts with opening up the discussion, which opens up the possibilities.
PAM: I loved everything that you said. What I wanted to do, because what struck me, just for a moment, was taking that whole expectation piece and maybe plopping it a little bit earlier in the process too.
I remember when we first started unschooling and I found myself in that kind of situation where I was thinking, “Oh, we spent money on this.” Maybe it was a membership and people didn’t want to go, or whatever.
So, what I did, when I first started noticing those feelings was to dig a little bit deeper and ask myself some questions. I would remember why I thought that the kids were interested in this. I would look at what MY motivation was behind going out and purchasing it.
Then I’d think about the kids’ reactions at first and then over time. Like when you said, “They’re not interested any more.” Then I’d put all that together. And I came to realise that I was usually quicker to spend money on stuff at that point that I deemed more educational or I thought might look better to others to show them what we were doing. So I had jumped on it early, even at the mere mention of any interest for them. I had started to attach expectations to it. That is when I would have thoughts of, ‘We have to do this because…’
So I started to see some patterns that were my clues that this was something that I needed to work through that was part of my deschooling—not really any lesson that I needed my kids to learn. There’s where you get into all the stuff that Anne was talking about.
So when it came to my children’s interests, I started to work really hard to make sure I kept my own expectations out of the mix when they were asking to purchase things and to see things clearly through their eyes. Then I prioritised them, brainstorming all the fun ways that we could pursue that interest. Which is what Anne was talking about. Rather than jumping straight into just buying it. Saying “yes” right away just to the interest.
If buying something became part of pursuing that interest, that’s cool. We would have those kinds of conversations Anne was talking about and we would pursue that within the real constraints of our budget.
To me it just kind of jumped out how it might be part of the deschooling process just like jumping to lessons as the first answer when our kids want to learn something new. They express an interest in dancing so we want to run out and sign them up for dance lessons when really maybe, they would be super happy to dance around the family room to their favourite music.
We can have a tendency to buy things as a first answer to pursuing an interest too. There are lots of other ways to dive into things. So, I think it can help to take that moment to brainstorm all sorts of other ideas and check those out first as part of pursuing that interest and having it more organically grow to that space and through the conversations.
ANNA: Anne really covered almost point by point everything I want to say down to the fact that I do this exactly. I have a super nice guitar that was also only last played by Sawyer Fredericks and I just lent my ukulele to a friend because it has been sitting here collecting dust. [Laughing] So we’ll move on.
So all the things that she said were the things that we did. I did just want to say, tap into your community. I’m fortunate to have a big homeschooling community but really it doesn’t have to be homeschooling. When you have an interest, find those people out there doing that interest. What we have found is they love sharing things with you. So if it’s woodworking, we would go to people’s houses that have woodworking equipment we would never be able to afford or get and yet they are thrilled to share that with us. So people really love sharing their passions. Utilise the community is just a great option for that too. Yes, everything they said, so we can just move on and not talk about all my things collecting dust. [Laughing]
PAM: And I will say, musical instruments, we rented them from a local music store for a couple of months at a time. Of course, then we bought a drum set and it’s now out in the barn, but yeah.
ANNE: Ours is in the attic.
PAM: Yeah, there you go. Tons of fun.
Jennie’s Question [TIME: 31:20]
Hi Pam, Anna & Anne. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions. I continue to learn so much every week.
I’m a mom of three kids, aged seven, four & two. I’ve been deschooling for a year and only my eldest daughter attended one year of JK.
I find myself in a bit of a dilemma after a conversation with my husband (who hasn’t deschooled to the point that I have, not that I’m that far at all, but he has less overall patience with the kids)
Here’s the dilemma, it’s the holidays so I’ve been super busy trying to do everything and think of everything plus work has been a little more involved these last few weeks (I work part time from home) and today after numerous attempts to get my older two to stop hitting one another, I raised my voice and got angry. Now, I have made a lot of progress with patience and compassion but I’m human and I made a mistake. Afterwards, we were getting in the car and they started again. I angrily got in the driver’s seat and forgot to pass them their iPads; normally I would have pulled over at this point and grabbed them for them but not today. Today, I decided, no iPads on the trip back home. They complained for a bit. Got over it. Mistake #2!
When I picked up my husband, I explained what had happened and his reaction upset me. He said, “Good. It’s good for them to understand that people have limits. It’s human nature and their behaviour can sometimes result in negative consequences.”
Although I disagree with my own behaviour towards them and don’t feel it helped deepen our connection at all, the fact that he connected it to people’s human nature having limits and the kids learning I had my own jolted me a bit. It caused me for a second to think that he had a point (shocking!). Is this part of learning about one another?
I should add that I believe I often struggle with balance between being too permissive however that might be me working through more deschooling while being surrounded by people who aren’t.
Curious about your perspective, thanks!
PAM: So, just to start off: yes, I think you nailed it, Jennie, it is part of learning about one another, BUT, that’s a big ‘but’, it doesn’t mean that the learning stops there. You guys continue to learn. So after things calm down you can talk with the kids a bit about what happened. You can apologise for your reaction and your choice in that moment. You guys can talk about what happens when you are feeling frustrated. How it can shut us down to where we don’t see any other choices. You can mention a couple of things that led to your frustration, the overwhelm of the holidays, and how you’ll watch out for those clues to try to catch yourself before you get that frustrated next time.
So they’ll understand you a bit better. They’ll see that frustration is a human thing, not just a kid thing and they’ll see you wanting to find a different path beyond punitive measures to try out next time. You can ask for their suggestions about what you might do to help them next time they are arguing with each other, whether it’s at home or in the car. So that it’s not just about your reaction but also about the things that led up to it, everybody’s role in the situation.
So that’s the really cool thing, is you get to learn more about how they see things and have something new to try out next time. I know it can be really tempting to try to ignore these times we behave in ways we wish we hadn’t, but if we, instead, take responsibility for those moments and then have those conversations with our kids about them after, we can all learn a lot more about ourselves and about each other and come up with some real ideas about ways to do things differently next time. Rather than just finding ourselves in a repeating pattern of blowing up, or doing something we regret and then not learning from it, ignoring it, and then it happening again and again.
This is a great way to take something that happened and learn from it and come up with a plan to try next time. You are going to keep doing that over the years because everybody is going to be growing and changing, different things are going to be bothering them, there will be different levels of frustration. We’ll learn over the years that, depending on what’s going on, our cup will fill sooner or take longer to fill depending on the environment, depending on so many things. Those are the pieces that we are all learning about ourselves and about each other and that’s all stuff we can bring to the conversation moving forward and finding the tools that work.
ANNA: I agree with all of that and I’m kind-of saying the same thing. It is why I like to talk about living consensually too and finding solutions that feel good to everyone because I do think we all obviously have feelings and limits and needs. I think it’s important for relationships that we communicate those to each other. To me, that’s what a real relationship looks like. I don’t believe in punishments or withholding love or support.
It sounds like where that is coming from in this question is really from a place of having passed that limit, so I think I would look for clues before getting to that point. Talk about how you are feeling. How the arguing is making you feel. I know for me, I’m super sensitive to energy. So if there is a lot of arguing or contention around me it can make me feel scattered and I’m certainly not my best. I can help talk about how that’s making me feel and what’s going on in my life if it’s a stressful time or if there’s things going on then it helps me to be able to say that so that they can see because maybe they didn’t know that. Again, that’s a part of that relationship and communication. Helping them hear each other and giving them tools to communicate.
Unschooling is not about ignoring our own feelings. I think that’s a common pitfall that people new to the journey fall into. You know, all that stuff that Anne said, with, “just say yes,” that’s not….nooooooo. It’s much more, it’s discussions, it’s talking, and it’s relationships. I think some people are making up for lost time, not really sure what tools to fill in with, so that’s part of what we are talking about.
The challenge is that you do reach a point of no return. I think it’s much harder for kids, or anyone, to understand the dramatic difference and to understand that you are human and have needs and feelings along the way. I’m going to give an example just in case that’s not making sense.
Years ago we were at a house and the kids were running around the house with food, like, messy food, everywhere, all over the house. I was kind-of-like a deer in the headlights. But the mom was acting like it was fine and I was like, “Ok.” Deep breath, we’ll see. The kids kept doing it. So I was like, “Ok, she’s fine.” I talked to my kids, but you know, this is what was happening and then suddenly it wasn’t fine. There was yelling and upset and I could see how confused the kids were, because this is what they had been doing for hours and then now it suddenly wasn’t fine.
In our house, when my kids were little, I told them that it really stressed me out to find sticky food all over the house. We live in the south, so that means, bugs, if you have food around the house. So we talked about eating, especially popsicles, but really, any kind of snacky things, in the kitchen. So we had a special spot and we made it fun where it was a connecting time where were would all hang out and have our snacks. So, if you were to say, on the surface, “We eat in the kitchen,” that sounds like this limiting, controlling piece. But I knew what my limits were and we worked together to find a solution that felt good to all of us.
Kids really want to be part of that community and family so these are discussions that they are happy to have and be a part of. I think sharing information and feelings with them is just really all a part of that. But just to clarify, say there were ever a popsicle outside of the kitchen, there would be no yelling, or punishing. We would just talk about it, “What’s going on? Do you need to do something?” And if there was something that required them to be somewhere but yet we had to have the popsicle right now, we’d grab a towel, or we’d figure out another way to address my concern about sticky food being left around.
So for me, it’s just all about that communication and understanding each other’s needs and working together. We’ve found that there are always solutions to these problems. It’s just that black and white thinking that gets us stuck but when you are open and talking and sharing, things just flow so much more easily.
ANNE: Hi Jennie. I can tell you how I hear you and the part about your husband. I need you to know that with my kids being 22 and 26, once in a while, not very often, my husband can still pull out a line from his own father’s mouth, like I said, very infrequently, but still once in a while. And we all still think he’s really the most fabulous father ever because we, me and my kids, we understand how deeply ingrained those definitions from society and from our own parents lives (and mouths) can be.
I’ve learned that if I need to vent to my husband, I first look at him and say, “I need to vent and I don’t want you to jump on my bandwagon. I just want you to hear me.” So then I vent, and he understands that he hears me and we both go back to seeing our children in how they shine again.
I understand what you are saying is that you were holding bad feelings of what you did to the kids and your husband jumped on your bandwagon, like, “Yeah, good.” So that’s just one way that my husband and I have learned to not go in that direction, to not let him go in that direction anymore.
And I knew Pam and Anna would address your concerns wonderfully so I just want to talk about also when you got in the car angrily. I was reminded of a post I had once written at Shine with Unschooling. It was about a day when I was frustrated with my boys when they were younger because we needed to get to an appointment and by the time we got in the car, I just got in, slammed the doors and peeled-out because my focus was on ‘getting there.’ And my energy was in a place of frustration.
I remember driving and looking in the rear-view mirror at my kids in the back seat and looking at myself even, and what brought me back to where I needed to be is the fact that I missed who I was when my being-ness was not being hijacked by frustration. Those kids in the back seat, oh my gosh, I so missed enjoying their presence and their company and our joyful conversations that we always have in the car.
Not only did I miss who I was in connecting with my kids in who they are but I was also so focussed on ‘getting there’ that I wasn’t noticing all the gifts that the universe puts in my path that I notice all day long every day. Like the way the sunlight filters through the clouds, perhaps that day it was reaching down to touch me, or a female cardinal that flies in front of my car, it’s my favourite bird, just all these little gifts from the universe. When we’re in a different state of mind and holding onto frustration and just letting that negative experience play over and over in our head we are missing out on all this lovely stuff.
So I just remember that time when I was surrounded by such love and so many gifts and I was able to shift because there was no way I was going to stay in that place where these things would go unnoticed and unlived. So that’s what helps me pivot back to a place of love and kindness and appreciation.
Also when I was listening to Pam and Anna talk I was reminded of part of my Childhood Redefined talk, where I talk about the weight that we are owning. You were talking about how it was the holidays and all that other stuff, and by the time you get out to the car you are owning all this weight. We have a tendency to just hand all that weight to our children and it’s really important to be mindful when we are doing that.
I do talk about that more at Childhood Redefined, if you can get to the next one.
Jen’s Question [TIME: 44:12]
I have an almost 18-month-old and I’m very drawn to unschooling. I’m curious how you would apply this philosophy to the sleep issue we are currently dealing with. I believe that sleep should be like food—that my son should sleep when he’s tired and be awake when he’s rested, regardless of whether that is on the schedule people think an 18-month-old “should” be on.
But, it seems the last couple months my son has a very hard time actually going to sleep. Often in the evening, he will start to seem tired—rubbing his eyes or getting a little cranky. So we will say, it looks like you’re getting tired & we’ll brush his teeth, get him dressed for bed, read a story, turn on the white noise in the dark and then nurse or rock to sleep (depending on whether it’s me or my husband doing it). He will be floppy, limp, drowsy—clearly ready to sleep—but it will either take 2+ hours before his eyes actually close or after about 30 minutes he will wake himself up and be ready to play again. At that point, if we continue to hold onto him and try to put him to sleep it becomes a wrestling match with a lot of crying that lasts an hour or more before he finally sleeps. If we don’t fight him, he will often stay up until 11 or midnight or even later, and when he starts acting tired again and we try to put him to sleep again, it still takes over an hour before his eyes close.
If he were able to just go in his room and go to sleep on his own like an older child, I wouldn’t mind him staying up so late – but that is later than I want to be up, and it means I’m not getting enough sleep to function during the day, and it also means I’m not getting any time to myself or to spend with my husband. We don’t have this issue with his nap—when he starts acting tired for nap, I change his diaper, turn on the white noise, make his room dark and he nurses to sleep within 10 or 15 minutes.
Thank you for your insight!
ANNA: Hi Jen, sleep is certainly something that comes up a lot with little ones, and sometimes big ones too. I think it’s this challenge of trying to figure out everyone’s needs when sleep needs can be so different.
Just me personally, I always check-in with diet. My husband is super-sensitive to caffeine and if he has any after about three in the afternoon he will be up chit-chatting with me the entire night. It can be very challenging. So I’m like, wait, do you really need that chocolate when it’s five o’clock at night.
We found when our kids were younger that dairy causes what we called, ‘The Dairy Dance.’ It really amped them up so it wasn’t something we wanted to do close to bedtime. Also, artificial dyes can have that same effect of amping up and making it harder to fall asleep, making it harder to calm the nerves. So a quick check of patterns around diet can be helpful to see if there is anything going on there.
There is a book that people liked, again, my kids are much older so it’s been a while, but it’s called The No Cry Sleep Solution. For me, I don’t think it’s a magic bullet, but I think she has some interesting thoughts and tools and you can see how it fits for you. She has a belief that there’s a window for sleep that actually a lot earlier than people think and that if it’s missed, she would describe exactly what you described above because that window was missed.
For us, because we are night-owls, that part didn’t really work for us. We just ended up flowing with the late nights and I would start getting my quiet time in the morning, which was new for me because it used to be at night. I’d find time with my husband at other times. I will say that having young kids is a time of creativity, so, it will definitely get easier.
The thing with toddlers is it changes so fast, so even though it feels kind of long in the moment, it’s changing monthly, weekly, and suddenly you have a much older child that has a completely different thing going on. So I think it can help to look at that longer perspective too.
ANNE: My response is: Anna will talk about diets and patterns and my very last note says remember that this is flowing and changing all the time and ‘this too shall pass.’ So, that’s about it.
But, the thing about it flowing and changing all the time and ‘this too shall pass’ is to maybe loosen up your definition of what it ‘should’ look like even though you are very good at that already, maybe you can loosen a little more.
Like, you are saying, “I’m not getting time to spend with myself or with my husband.” I don’t think I ever had time to spend with myself or with my husband alone and therefore I learned how to get that during the day in ways that don’t look as typical as you would expect time for yourself. You know what I mean? It’s kind of appreciating when you have a moment to do something that is completely yours while your child is awake or next to you, or maybe napping for a minute or whatever. Really taking in, noticing, deliberately choosing to appreciate the times when you are able to focus totally on something that belongs to you.
The same thing with your husband—I mean, those times when you are connecting and sharing a glass of wine or whatever. Your child doesn’t have to be asleep for you to have these wonderful moments as long as you pay attention to them and deliberately choose to feel appreciation for them.
ANNA: Can I say one more thing?
I want to just really reiterate what she just said because we didn’t do ‘date night.’ We didn’t have lots of time alone. My kids are close in age, so there was just a long period of time where it was a lot about the kids and we did look for those moments, those small moments to connect. Now my kids are older and we are as happy as we have ever been, each stage was so wonderful and now we are in this wonderful stage where we feel like teenagers again. I know Anne and Dave have had the same kind of thing, but it was great along the way, it just looked different. I think that’s ok. I think understanding that it will look different at different times but it doesn’t take away. My husband and I have been together for 30 years, so it’s okay for it to have these different stages and look a little bit different. I just wanted to throw that in.
PAM: Yeah, I think that’s great. I think the point of noticing those little moments, rather than expecting to find big pieces whether it’s alone time or time with your spouse. I know, Jen, that you mentioned that you’re not trying to keep your son on a schedule that other people think he ‘should’ be on. I think now is your opportunity to step-up that unconventionality again. Some of the ways that you spoke about: time for yourself, time for my husband, getting him to bed. Some of those, you can play with more creatively, I think.
When I was looking at situations like that I always step back to try and figure out what my real needs were in that situation. So instead of thinking about how I thought those needs needed to be met and then trying to create a schedule for that, I would step back and say, ‘Ok, what is it that I’m really trying to accomplish with that?’ Then start looking and see if there are other ways I can do that.
So you mentioned that your son goes to sleep quite comfortably for his nap. Maybe look at, ‘What is it that he maybe seeing differently that makes going to sleep at night different than going to sleep for his nap? Is there a way that I can make night time more similar to how he goes to sleep for his nap?’
So maybe you’ve got a nice night-time routine with him because you talk about how you start it when he seems tired and that’s great, but maybe he’s ready for that routine to change. You talk about letting him stay up, then you’re getting tired, does he fall asleep where he is? Then you can just carry him to the room. Think off all sorts of crazy ways that you might be able to meet those needs.
It reminded me when I was reading it, for him to play quietly at night while you nap, whether that might be something you could figure out. I remember so clearly when Joseph was around 18 months old and I was pregnant with Lissy. When I got home from work I was so tired that there was a few times where I swear I really needed a nap so what I did was make sure his playroom (which was technically the living room, but we didn’t have living room furniture) was very safe, with just his toys. I laid on the floor across the one open doorway knowing that he would have to climb over me to leave the room and that would wake me up.
Oh, there was another time I would lie there and he would just drive his cars over me, because especially when you’re pregnant, I had this nice, big hill for the cars! But I caught a few minutes of sleep that way too. There’s just so many different ways that we can still meet our needs and that’s the other big point, is that things change over time. This isn’t going to be the way it has to be forever. Just take the time to play around with things, to see how things happen. Then look after, as in, after the fact, the next day, ask, ‘How did that work? Am I a little less tired? Is he a little more comfortable? Did he sleep about the same amount of time?’
Think about those couple of hours you’ll free up every night if you’re not trying to coax him to get to sleep. If you’re trying to play around more with different ways to change his routine, start to make it closer to the way he goes to sleep for his nap and just see how it works out and then try something else, and then try something else. I think you may find that you’ll find a new routine that works for him and don’t think that’s going to work forever either. Maybe a few months or a year down the road that’s going to change again.
I know it can be hard to think of it as “fun” now but that really is the fun thing about living with our children and figuring these things out. I do find it fun to think, “Something’s not working here. Let’s go back to first principles. What is it that I’m really needing to do and what are some of the cool ways that we could actually get that done?” And it doesn’t matter, as you said, it doesn’t matter what it looks like from the outside looking in.
ANNE: It just occurred to me when I have said before about when our children feel our expectations, I REALLY believe that our children feel that we want them to go to sleep and they will not go to sleep.
So that is a huge thing that if you are holding this tension, especially with nursing and everything, when you want him to go to sleep. I’ve been there. I was there yesterday waiting for my corgi to poop. I took my bulldog to the doctor and my corgi would not poop! I so get that. You just want this so bad but they feel it and they feel something is off. It’s not that they’re not doing it because you want them to do it, but something if off in your energy.
So if you just take the time to breathe, because it’s the energy that they are picking up, breathe, and trust and look at your beautiful child and let if flow. Just have the energy of ‘whatever happens will be just fine. I’m good with anything.’ So that might release a little of the tension energy that your child is feeling.
Jen’s Question [TIME: 57:20]
I have one son, 18 months, and I am unschooling him. I love everything about it: watching him learn, explore, get excited, discover things, and share all of that with him. I love showing him the breadth of the world – for instance, he got interested in some toy trains so I have showed him pictures of real trains, videos, we have ridden trains and gotten him other train sets with tracks. It’s so much fun to explore each interest with him.
My question is about how to balance that with the household work that needs to be done—cooking, cleaning etc. I try to let my son participate in these things if he wants, or go off and play by himself while I work if he prefers. He is often content to play on his own without interaction with me, to the point where I could spend most of the day doing housework with little interaction with him beyond changing diapers and helping him get snacks when he asks for food. In so many of your answers to people you talk about spending time doing the things your kids love with them to see what they love and see them shine – so I’m curious how you balance that with the time needed for housework, especially with young children (since “help” from him can make a 10 minute task take hours) and also any thoughts on whether I need to more actively stop my adult agenda to engage with him (sit near him and watch him play) or just let him go on his own until he asks for my attention.
It just seems like a lot of letting him do whatever he wants without engagement, but if I always engage with what he wants to do then I never get housework done. (While he’s sleeping isn’t really an option for us, because he will rarely sleep without me lying next to him, and in those rare times that is my precious alone time for self-care).
ANNE: I’m not sure if this is the same Jen as the last question, but it just struck me that maybe if it is the same Jen, the night time thing could be from your child just wanting to be with you more and have you totally to himself, focussed on him.
Moving forward, with this answer, just as we have been saying that there is a broad spectrum with a lot of choices in-between a yes or no answer, there are also infinite amount of possibilities between not engaging with your boy at all or not getting any housework done at all. There are so many ways you can be with your child, fully and deliberately be with him, not just playing next to him or watching him play. Joyfully connecting with him while you are doing some housework if that works out.
As I was reading your question earlier and I tried to relate it to my life with my children, I had a hard time and I realise that is because I didn’t seem to separate life into categories like that. I always loved and felt that my job as being my children’s mother and an unschooling parent was my priority. Whatever got done around the house outside of that priority got done and what didn’t get done just didn’t get done.
To me, my daily job description as my children’s mother and unschooling parent did not include focussing on housework. That’s not to say I didn’t do any housework. I did, but it was all within the flow of our lives, within the ebbing and flowing of my children and I doing things together. Connecting together. Then doing our own things once in a while.
Most of all I incorporated getting things done as we lived our lives through our everyday. We would clean up as much as we wanted to when we were done playing or creating together. Mostly we would just talk and hang out together when I would do stuff around the house.
To this day, with my sons being 22 and 26, (I seem to say how old they are a lot, but it’s important because it’s been a long time that we’ve been unschooling) they still view folding the laundry as our time connecting with each other because for all for all of their childhoods I would ask, “Do you want to come and be by me when I fold the laundry?” and they did, because we love being together. We connected together so joyfully. They always knew, all their lives, that this was a time when they were my focus, not the laundry. I’d listen to their stories about their games or we would talk about some plans. When they were very young, like your child, I’d have something interesting there for them to play around with, but my focus was still on them because you can do that when you are doing laundry. You can do that with a lot of jobs. You don’t need your focus totally on the job.
When my boys were older I just starting handing them things to fold: cloth napkins, the square things, washcloths. They just started folding it. If they had said, ‘No, I don’t want to,’ that would have been cool. But all of that just evolved into all of us folding the laundry because our focus was always on our connection with each other at that time.
The same thing goes for emptying the dishwasher and setting the table. We just enjoy being around each other and we would do these jobs while we were talking, while we were together. I never called them chores or housework. They really just felt like a part of living together in our home. I never attached any negative, separate energy to it. It was life, so if we were in a joyful place together that joy would flow into us starting to do a job together because we wanted to have a clean kitchen counter and we wanted clean dishes and we wanted a clean place to eat dinner and we wanted a dinner to eat.
Something I have used as a guide to make sure my focus stayed on my children and our connection together are these words that I had made into a bumper sticker a while back. I have probably said this a hundred times before, and it has helped others as well. It goes: “How can I connect with my children today? Expand their worlds, bring joy into their lives, nurture, encourage what they love to do.”
And you can easily turn that question into a daily job description. A mantra almost.
Today I will connect with my child, expand his world, bring joy into his life and nurture and encourage what he loves to do.
So that might be helpful to you to remind yourself to stay focussed on your job as your child’s mother and his unschooling parent. Cultivate (I’m stealing Anna’s word right now) your joyful connection with your child. That’s your energy that you get to choose to invest in that. It’s the most beautiful thing.
PAM: When I was listening to your stories about your conversations over laundry, for us, and my kids are 19, 22 and 24, our conversation time would seem to end up being in the kitchen. I remember when they were younger, if I wanted to start dinner, we would have a quick conversation about what we would be having for dinner, and I’d ask if they wanted to come play in the kitchen so sometimes that was an option. If they were starting something and they asked me to play, I might say, “Hey can we play in the kitchen because I can take my turn in between while I’m cooking and I can cook while you guys have your turn.” It was just like Anne was saying, it being a part of our days, a part of our lives.
Even now, that’s still a great place where we have conversations. If they know I’m cooking they’ll come in and that will be a time when they know, we’ve got each other’s attention. There have been times where we are having conversations, because I was there and I was cleaning up the dishwasher and then the dishwasher was done but we’re still talking …so maybe I’ll wipe down the counter. You know, whatever extra jobs are there, because you know what, that’s one nice way to have conversations, is when you’re doing something else along side. It’s easier to chat than it is if you’re staring at each other in the face. So that’s something that I’ve really noticed over the years and have really enjoyed.
One thing that jumped out, because you said that he’s often content to play on his own without interaction and I just thought that would be something fun to explore for yourself because it may certainly be true. You don’t want to keep inserting yourself into his play—if he’s in the flow and totally engaged you don’t want to be interrupting it, yet, that’s the other piece: you do want to stay well connected.
You want to know what he’s enjoying. You want to be enjoying his interests with him. You want to stay connected so that you can bring new and interesting things into his life. You mentioned trains and all the other things you did around it. There may be other things other than trains that you might have noticed if you were spending more time with him that way, rather than housework. Yeah, the housework is always going to be there.
So maybe, it might help to tell yourself, “You know what, I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks, actively trying to engage with him more, rather than worrying about the housework because, yeah, that can all flow together rather than seeing them as separate.” Just see what happens. Does he like us having more engaged time? What new stuff am I learning about him? What are the other things around the house that we could do? And it doesn’t matter if it takes longer to do them.
There’s another one: take the idea that housework needs to be done efficiently. No, you can think of it as another connecting thing, something that’s done while you are connecting with your child or something that you are doing together, enjoying together. The time itself doesn’t need to be something that you measure or judge yourself on, whether it’s done quickly.
So that’s what jumped out at me when I read your question, Jen.
ANNA: Yeah, and really, the same things jumped out at me too. There was an internet meme though that says, “You’ll never look back on your life and wish you’d spent more time cleaning the house.”
So, it’s fairly important to think about that, but I really love what Anne said. We didn’t really separate it in that way either. We’re just living life, we want to eat dinner, we need to have the dishes clean, and so we’re loading things together. It’s all life, so I think separating it can cause the rub there.
Since you guys covered all those other pieces, the same thought occurred to me, Anne, is if this is the same person, this could be a puzzle piece for the night-time because I’m wondering if your child is seeing that time as special time with you or with your husband who maybe is gone during the day, I don’t know that, but you didn’t mention him during your day-time descriptions. So I’m wondering if your child is playing independently during the day and then ‘now I get this great time with Mom at night.’ It may be looking at those patterns and asking ‘Can I meet those needs during the day?’ so that that’s not happening. I don’t know, but that’s jumped out at me too. But you guys covered everything else.
PAM: Yes, that a great point because he’ll be wanting to stay awake to have this time.
ANNE: And not only that, our children can feel when we are really present with them or not. Even if we’re sitting by them and we’re thinking about something else, that’s not being present with our children. We want to give ourselves to them and receive from them the giving of themselves also, so it’s a beautiful connection. You are talking about connecting with each other during the day so that he feels safe at night and doesn’t want to cling on to you tighter at night because he knows you are right there.
PAM: Yes, I think that’s a great point, because even if they are not the same Jen, you know, sleeping Jen, it could be something that seems unrelated that is affecting it. That’s all part of the digging in and just playing around with what’s going on. So I think that’s a great point, whether or not they are the same Jen.
ANNE: Now I’m going to call my adult children and invite them over for dinner and do laundry with me.
PAM: You know what, that’s why I’ve always kept ‘pizza night’ once a week. I know it takes me three hours to make individual pizzas for everybody, but oh my gosh, it was always so much fun as they come in and chat. I’d ask, “What would you like on your pizza this week?”
There were a few years there where I was known as ‘kitchen lady’ because maybe I was baking or whatever but that seemed to be the place where we would always have such great conversations. Everybody was relaxed. We were just doing things and I would just extend what I was doing until the conversation died out. It wasn’t, “Ok, I’m done. Let’s stop talking.”
ANNE: It’s a family dinner party. When you have a dinner party, that’s what you want. You want people to gather and have conversations but that’s our lives because of the connection that we are cultivating.
ANNA: Cultivating, yes. [Laughter]
PAM: I do love that word.
Ok, thank you so much to both of you for answering questions with me. Yay!
ANNE and ANNA: It was fun. Thank you.
PAM: It’s always so much fun to chat with you guys about unschooling.
Just a reminder for everyone, there are links in the show notes for stuff we have mentioned in the episode. If you would like to submit a question for the Q & A show, just go to livingjoyfully.ca/podcast and click on the link.
All right, everybody, wishing you a wonderful day. Bye!