PAM: Welcome to another Q&A episode! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and I’m happy to be joined today by Anna Brown. Hi, Anna!
PAM: Hello! Just to let you guys know, Anne is taking care of herself at the moment and not able to join us this month. Hopefully she’ll be back next month, but Anna and I are looking forward to answering about your questions.
So, would you like to get us started, Anna?
ANNA: Yes, absolutely. Okay, so question one is from Vanessa in beautiful British Columbia.
Vanessa’s Question (from BC, Canada) [TIME: 4:10]
About 6 months ago I was seeking out homeschooling podcasts and I stumbled upon Exploring Unschooling. I was hooked. This has been our first year of homeschooling/unschooling our 9-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy and I have been balancing between the 2 methods. Luckily, I live in the best province for homeschooling and the “school” we are with fully supports the child centered approach. What I have found the most fascinating about unschooling is how natural it felt. I have been unknowingly unschooling my children their whole lives and the transition from a traditional school to a natural home environment has been a very easy one. The more I listen to your podcasts and the wonderful guests you have on the more confident I feel about our choice.
Onto my question:
I’m an only child and I spent a lot of time on my own. Along with that came 2 words that now as a mom make me cringe. “I’m bored.” My own mothers’ response was always the same “Use your imagination!” My 8-year-old self would be so disappointed in me as I have to succumb to using the 3 most dreaded words of my childhood.
When my children say they are bored I feel as though I am failing at unschooling. I don’t even think that can be possible and yet here I am trying to fill the day with busy work just to avoid boredom. So, I ask you this, did your children ever get bored and how can I help my children fill their day without directly influencing their activity or interest choices?
Many Thanks, Vanessa
ANNA: Hi Vanessa. I think we can maybe give too much power to the word “bored.” And I see that you’re sort of taking it personally when really, it’s just a passing state. A state that can often push us forward into something new. It can also be something that starts a conversation about our days and what’s going on and what do we want in those days.
Anne actually sent us a few thoughts on this question when she knew she wouldn’t be able to join us and she started off with the definition of bored, which is an adjective:
“Feeling weary because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity.”
This is also from Anne: “This is so perfect because it’s so benign. There’s absolutely nothing wrong and everything right with that definition. The definition shows that “bored” is exactly the space that is needed in order to stretch and grow out of where we are and becoming who we can be. Listen to that weariness. Allow your body, mind, and spirit to be at rest. That’s when you can best listen within, listen to intuition and guide you to your next steps.”
So, I loved that from Anne and wanted to include it because I think that’s really it.
I think it’s observing and taking it for a sign that they’re ready for a shift and that you don’t have to take on the energy of it. It’s just a word. It’s just an expression like any other. It’s not a failure on anyone’s part but an expression of where they are in that moment. It can be something that can actually be embraced and welcomed.
You know, toying with that and how that energy feels so different can really open up opportunities. And since this is a trigger from your past specifically, I’m kind of curious about what you as a child would have wanted to hear from your mom and I think that might be interesting to explore. So, it’s just some things to think about and maybe not taking in on.
Amanda Palmer has a book called The Art of Asking and in it she says we’ll continue on with the behavior—and she calls it “sitting on the tack”—until it hurts too much to get off. And I think boredom can be a similar thing. It’s like we’re restless and maybe want something new and we get to this point of “I’m bored” and then that spurs us on to the next thing. I feel like it’s probably part of the process and letting go of it as this big scary thing I think can change the energy a lot in the family.
Pam, what about you?
PAM: I loved your point about thinking about what you would have liked to have heard from your mom when you were expressing that feeling. That ties nicely, Vanessa, when you said your eight-year old self would be so disappointed in you.
Sometimes Lissy and I have conversations like that. It’s so interesting to think about what our previous point of view or our previous perspective would be versus our perspective now because it’s so interesting to see how it changes over time.
Anyway, I do love that you are revisiting the idea of boredom and realizing that it is a trigger for you for that particular reason. And I know in the last Q&A episode we talked about the idea of boredom—and you’d probably already submitted your question at that point—but just to re-iterate, as Anna was saying, being bored isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
And as a mom, definitely when I heard that, it was a clue for me to consider whether we are offering up a variety of interesting options and helping them do the things that they have already said that they want to do, but beyond that, really, it can often be part of the process of learning more about ourselves. As the definition that Anne had looked up—maybe our interests have waned and we haven’t yet found something new to excite us.
So, I don’t think it helps us to think of our goal as filling the day with busywork to avoid boredom, because I don’t think the opposite of boredom is busyness. It’s not a problem to solve so much as it’s a feeling we’re experiencing so, just as we wouldn’t try and whisk our children from feeling sad, I don’t think we need to whisk them through feeling bored. Because in that time of not knowing—in that bit of uncomfortableness that has us stretching our mind to figure out something to do—it’s in there that we can find so much insight and creativity.
It’s funny, the other day Joseph and I were talking about how incredibly valuable time is; I think that’s one of the huge benefits of the unschooling lifestyle. It’s that time to do nothing in particular—we’re so scared of the in-between, that we always need to be doing something, if we’re not productive, at least we’re not being “lazy.”
PAM: It’s such a big thing, isn’t it?
ANNA: It is.
PAM: And if we keep jumping in to occupy our kids when they say they are feeling bored, our actions to try and quickly solve that are implying that those feelings need to be fixed. That’s the message that we’re giving them without even saying it out loud. I think to sit with them—it’s still uncomfortable, you don’t need to celebrate it and go “yay! yay! we’re bored!”—but you don’t need to fix it, right? You can commiserate, you can empathize, you can hang out, you can do quiet things, you can just be with them and be an example of just sitting with it, with them.
And each time you go through that they will see that there’s another side. That, “Oh, you know? I don’t know exactly what I feel like doing right now. I’m going to sit with it for a while and see what comes up.” Because after a few times they will realize that something will eventually bubble up and then there’s that curiosity even in the in between times, it’s like, “I wonder what’s going to come up?” So that’s something that I have found over the years as we worked through those times.
ANNA: Yeah. And I have a couple of thoughts floating around after your conversation with Joseph about time because we’ve always unschooled and, really, we didn’t hear a lot of “I’m bored” when they were younger, but I think that as a society we kind of value this busyness and filling the time doing and I think it really is a gift of unschooling that we have this time that stretches out.
I think that it might be good for people who are experiencing this to check in and see if they are trying to fill their own time, are they busy busy busy? Because I know here, if I’m getting too busy, it’s actually a sign for me STOP! I want those moments to unfold. I want those moments of “I don’t have anything to do right this second, what do I want to do?” And I was going to say that we did it when my kids were younger, but we do it now, when those moments come, it’s “let’s go sit outside, let’s just listen to the birds!” And it’s valuing that quiet time, too.
So, I think when we’re rushing in to fill and do and make and we always have something going on, we’re setting this expectation and we’re laying this foundation that we’re always supposed to be doing something. We really value here at our house, just not! Just having that open space and really cool ideas bubble up from that! I guess it really is a paradigm shift that people can try on and see how that energy feels for their home too.
But, anyway, I’m going to think more about this concept of time and unschooling after we get off (laughs).
PAM: And then, you just reminded me, I haven’t gone back to it in the last couple of weeks, but I’ve been reading this book called Rest. And the value of that in-between time—I know that I have a ton of things on my “to-do” list and I am super excited about every one of them, but I am consciously not saying, “I’m busy, I’m busy,” because each one of those is a choice.
And I am also choosing—I had this conversation with Rocco just a couple of days ago—because his challenge is, when he chooses to do something he gets focused in it and he can’t release even when he wants to. So that’s the measure: Is the person uncomfortable? It’s not what are they doing. But even when I have lots of things that I want to do, I am also cognizant of taking rest breaks and doing something else. Like this morning, we’ve already been out, we mowed the lawn a couple of days ago, and I was just out clearing the grass off the porch because it gets traipsed around. But having those quiet moments in the day where there is no particular thing, where my thoughts can just bubble, that’s where that inspiration is!
Like Anne said, that’s the best time that you can listen within, best listen to your intuition to guide you to the next step. And I know I have always so many interesting ideas and stuff pop up unbidden. I need to give my subconscious those free times to pop up, for it to appear.
So that was all very interesting!
ANNA: It was! Thank you, Vanessa!
PAM: And question number two is from Alex in France.
Alex’s Question (from France) [TIME: 15:37]
Hello, I hope you are having a good day.
I was wondering if you could help me with one small issue. I have been helping my children to wear their clothes from their birth but now they are 4 and 6 (both are boys) and they still ask me to help them (they actually do not really participate or very rarely participate so I put their clothes on alone). Recently I was thinking that probably they should do it themselves and I have been keeping asking them to do it alone and each time they do not agree and ask me to help again and again. I don’t mind and do it with love and patience. I was just wondering what is your attitude about it and should I push them to do it themselves or should I wait until they are ready? They already put their shoes and jackets themselves but not the other clothes. Should I wait until they are ready or should I ask them more firmly to do it themselves?
Thank you in advance.
Very kind regards, Alex
PAM: Alex, thank you very much for your question.
For me, when questions like this arose, I’d look at the words I was using to tell the story to myself and if I was using the word “should,” it was often a big clue for me that I was letting expectations cloud my perspective of the situation.
For skills like this, ones around taking care of themselves, I’d often remind myself that they aren’t going to be 18-years-old and I’d still be doing it—like dressing them, or dishing up their plate of food, or whatever it was at the time I was struggling with.
I’d remind myself of the things they were doing—like you’ve done right there in the question, mentioning that they put on their shoes and put on their jackets—and that this particular thing just isn’t on their radar right now. And that’s okay, their mind is busy with whatever they are happily doing while you put their clothes on. Even if there’s a particular something that’s stumping them right now such that they are choosing to avoid it, like maybe they have a hard time with buttons or are uncomfortable putting something over their heads, that is perfectly okay too. When it becomes important to them, they’ll naturally take it over—let them focus on what is important to them now, and keep “getting themselves dressed” as a future mystery. As in, “I’m curious, I wonder when they’ll start dressing themselves?”
Again, always going back to the child and noticing this is what they are doing and this is what they are interested in, we’ll just wait and see how this turns out instead of putting my expectations on top of them.
What about you, Anna?
ANNA: Yeah, very similar.
I feel like there are a lot of these kind of things that come up as our children are growing and I’ve just always taken the approach to let it come naturally. Because sometimes we don’t know what’s behind the request and, by that I mean, they may like you dressing them because it’s special time with you—it’s a comforting ritual to the start of the day.
And when it comes to these things like going to the bathroom, dressing, sleeping alone, reading alone, like you said, putting food on the plate, for most children we can pretty safely say they won’t always need you for those things. And honestly, the time passes so quickly that I really wanted to cherish those moments because one day is the last day that they’ll ask for help and you won’t know it, it will just happen and I don’t want to rush those last times because they come quickly enough.
If there is something in you that needs it to change, some reason that it isn’t working for you, I feel like that’s a different story but if you’re only concerned because other people think they should or they are “supposed to,” by some outside standard, I would encourage you to let those things go. Because, like Pam, I use those words as red flags for myself. A should is pretty much always coming from somewhere outside of ourselves so it’s a good red flag.
Just focus on the boys and the joy you’re having with them because it sounds like it’s working. And again, if it’s not working for you, that’s a place for you guys to dig deeper and think about, “Okay, how can we make this work so that we all three feel good?” But if it’s just coming from outside expectations, you can let those things go (laughs).
PAM: Yeah, that’s a great point. That difference, to take that time to realize where it’s coming from and if it’s from outside expectations that you’re feeling you should be passing on, those are a lot easier to work through. And if not, if it’s something else, then that’s the start of another conversation and another kind of fun brainstorming to try and figure out a way to move through it where everyone’s needs in the situation can be taken care of.
ANNA: OK, so I’ll go ahead with question three which is anonymous.
Anonymous Question [TIME: 20:50]
Hi there! I am the mom of 2 kids, a daughter 7.5 & a son 6. We have been homeschooling for 3 years (my daughter went to preschool) and have been on a steady road towards unschooling. Your podcast has been an invaluable resource for me on this journey.
I have 2 questions:
1. Both kids love TV and video games. At the moment, IOS games and online platforms are sufficient for them. However, my son is in LOVE with YouTube videos where he watches people play games on other gaming platforms – Nintendo, XBox, etc. The issue I foresee is with my husband. He has issues with gaming and finds it easier to manage with IOS or online games. But the second a game controller hits his hands he can’t leave it. He will become obsessive about playing, stays up all night and gets hostile towards anyone who tries to interrupt him. Therefore, we have kept these things out of the house. We are aware that this has to do with his past but he is not terribly willing to do the work to deal with the problem head on. I wish he would so that we can have these devices in our home to allow my son to follow his delight. So, I guess I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the issues that arise for parents when their children’s delights are triggering like this to the parent? I know that for myself, I have welcomed these triggers and see how they are an opportunity for me to grow. But what about a resistant partner?
2. Do you have any thoughts on the introverted parent who unschools extroverted children?
Thanks in advance and my deepest gratitude to you 3 lovely ladies!
ANNA: Okay, so for part one, I guess I just feel like it’s an opportunity for conversations. You know, it could be something like the console is kept in the child’s room or put away when your partner is home if he works outside the home.
I also think he could share his concerns with the kids. You might find that they choose to keep doing online games to make it easier for their dad once they understand the situation. I guess I feel like transparency will help keep everyone feeling heard and understood. I think if we’re making decisions and not talking about it—so we’re keeping the consoles away but maybe the kids don’t know why we’re keeping the consoles away—then they may just feel that they are being misunderstood or that you don’t understand how much I like this or want this. But when everyone is talking, then they can go, “Oh, okay, I get it. This is why we’re making this decision, let’s decide as a family.” And you’ll be reaching those decisions as a family, understanding everyone’s needs in the situation. And I feel like those conversations where we’re sharing deep parts of ourselves are so valuable to the loved ones in our lives and it’s a skill that will be helpful to the rest of their lives because we’re going to keep bumping up against triggers and baggage and all kinds of things as we interact with the people in our lives.
And so being able to put words to it and being able to have conversations around it and being able to come up with solutions that are gentle with each other, these are just the wonderful part, I think, of our unschooling lives. Because again, it’s that time we’re together that we’re able to have these conversations and we’re able to look at these different aspects and nuances. It’s not a top-down, or decisions being made without everyone aware, so I really love that piece of it. Those are just some things I would think about and maybe talking more to your partner.
And I’m wondering if maybe when he’s involved in the conversation with the kids and when everyone is talking about it, if you might find that it does give him some opportunities to look and examine his own feelings about it. And it doesn’t have to be this big, “You’re going to go deep and you’re going to examine now!” Just having the conversation may give him the opportunity to go, “You know what, but I do see this that this is bringing joy.” Or “No, I’m feeling scared about this.” And again, those vulnerabilities and that honesty can really open up a lot of connection for all of you.
Part two was the piece about the introverted parent and an extroverted child and, first, I think it’s just so helpful to be aware. It’s awesome that you’re even thinking about it because you will hear me talk about similar issues more from the reverse because I’m thinking about the extroverted parent and the introverted child—being the introvert, I’m that advocate, you know?
But, I think, again, open conversation can really help to not only find solutions but to help you both understand each other because I think that’s really important. I’ve talked before about how my best friend is an extrovert and I’m an introvert and she really had no idea about the differences until we became friends, which would have been in her forties. So, it’s so great to have those conversations early about different needs and how people gain energy and how they feel in different situations.
Then, once everyone is kind of understanding each other, I feel like you can look for opportunities to meet those needs. And you can look for opportunities that maybe feel less draining. Maybe there are some drop-off play-dates or maybe one or two friends coming over versus a large thing. Plan the activity so that you can get down time to recharge between the outings. I think just talking about your different needs will help you find ways to meet both of your needs.
You know, we are all introverts here but I definitely have a child who really likes to be out socializing with friends, so for me I had to just keep it so there was a balance for me so that she could be out and get those opportunities but then I would get some down-time and then we would tag-team with other families so that then she could have more time and she would go over to people’s houses and would be doing more than maybe I could do myself but I could find those opportunities for her.
So again, I think if we can just be aware that we don’t have to hold all of this weight ourself, that we can have conversations, that we can include our children, that that just helps us move forward through all these different things because it’s a common theme. It doesn’t really matter what the situation or issue is, if that same solution is to just open up and have conversations with each other.
PAM: I love that point because that’s one of the huge shifts with unschooling I think, is the realization of how capable children truly are, you know? They’re able to have these conversations, they’re able to come up with wonderfully valid and useful suggestions and ideas and take in information. Conventionally, we don’t think of children that way, right? It’s so easy to think, “Well, we’re the adults, we’re the parents, we need to make the decisions upfront and then tell them.” It can feel so scary to open up the conversation because we always think that children don’t have value to add to it. That they’re just going to come up with some crazy kid thing and then we’re going to be stuck with it. No, no! You’ll be amazed when you open up conversations with them. Because it’s not even about “yes” or “no”-ing ideas that they have, it’s just that time. (laughs)
PAM: It’s that boredom and staying in that space for a while and just seeing what bubbles up. That goes to so much of the questions, right?
ANNA: It really does.
PAM: It really does. That space for things to bubble up. We don’t need answers immediately, on so many of these issues, these conversations. We don’t need to know “yes” or “no” right now, that our child needs to be dressing themselves, or that we need to fix their boredom, or that we need to have a path forward on games or whatever it is. Conversations and time are beautiful.
But yes! I’m just going to look over my notes for that first question and I love that the questioner and her husband have recognized that this is a trigger for him. I think that’s awesome. And as she mentioned, we, of course, don’t have any control over when they may feel ready to talk about it or process it. You had a great point in that maybe even just having a conversation with the kids might help but you don’t pin any hopes on it.
And it sounds like, at this point, avoidance is his strategy, and that’s definitely one strategy that can work and that’s great. And now what’s coming up is your son’s growing interest in other gaming platforms, so, as Anna mentioned, that can be a way of opening up to start the conversation.
I think that it’s important to remember that it’s not about convincing your husband to try and tackle this challenge head on, but about trying to find some ways that you can support his avoidance strategy AND your son’s interest. So, as Anna mentioned, maybe keeping the console in your son’s room rather than out in the family area, maybe playing when dad’s not home. Brainstorming all these possibilities that might fit in with your particular lives. So that’s having the conversation and including the kids in that.
Something that I wanted to mention, it also might be useful to step back and revisit your prediction that your husband is going to have an issue with it. Consider how you described the situation. You wrote “… the second a game controller hits his hands he can’t leave it. He will become obsessive about playing, stays up all night and gets hostile towards anyone who tries to interrupt him.”
You may have created that story in your head before moving to unschooling and this new way of looking at people’s interests and passion, especially when it comes to technology and games. Maybe you can retell the story through the lens of unschooling with a more favourable view of his passion: “He loves to play console games and once he has a game controller in his hands his focus and concentration are amazing. Sometimes he is so engaged that he finds it hard to be interrupted and chooses to stay up late.”
I mean, that sounds like me if I get into a zone with reading or writing. Maybe you guys can revisit the idea that he has an issue, maybe what he’s got is a passionate interest that you can support, alongside supporting your children’s. So, really, back to what I mentioned before, it depends on how HE sees things. That’s the wonderful thing about unschooling. It’s not just about for our kids, right? It’s for everyone. How does he see this? Does he see his behaviour as detrimental to himself? Is he okay with being tired the next day when he’s stayed up late playing games? Does HE feel that he’s missing out on things with the family because he stays in the zone a long time?
Sometimes we’re worried that we’ll be opening a can of worms with something, but maybe we created that can and closed it up before we began unschooling, and now we can open it up and maybe we see something completely different.
So, it’s just, again, conversations and seeing what you find and not being scared to open up the conversation. Instead of being worried that you open up the can, something pops out and you need to address it right away, give it space. It’s okay if you have that uncomfortable space for a while and see what bubbles up.
For the second question, as for introverted parents with extroverted kids, for me, as Anna mentioned, it was about being open about it, yet what really helped me was also being willing to step out of my comfort zone. So, I was always checking in with myself, wanting to be careful not to use it as an excuse, while also taking care of myself. That is also important that my needs are met so that I don’t feel like I’m going to burn out and that I don’t feel like I’m being taken advantage of. I would dig into my thoughts and feelings because I am loathe to try to guilt myself into anything. So, when I’m like “Oh, I should do this…” – there’s that word again! Should, should, should!
ANNA: Right! (laughs)
PAM: I had to get to the roots, like, “Oh man, I have to figure this out!” If I really felt I couldn’t swing something, I’d be upfront about it. I’m tired, or whatever it was that I was feeling at the moment but I would also work hard to not to be a roadblock. Like you mentioned other people helping out, going visiting other people, getting rides from other people. I would try to find another way to make that thing happen, and keep expanding the possibilities of what they could do and not just roadblock it because I wasn’t the one who would be able to do it with them.
And, on the other hand, so many times when I made the shift out of my comfort zone, I was amazed at how wonderful things turned out! So, after I had done it a few times, I knew there were possibilities there. There are positives either way: taking care of myself and stretching myself. What kind of situation was it this time? And I would also find ways to re-energize myself when we were out and about, too. I remember sometimes we would be lining up for a show for a couple of hours, two or three or four hours before doors opened, and I would be reading or I would have my headphones on and I would be listening to music or I’d be listening to a podcast or something. So, I found ways that I could address my energy needs. I didn’t always have to be home to do that.
You know what I mean?
PAM: So again, it’s just brainstorming and thinking outside the box, really. Just thinking about ways that I might be able to meet everyone’s needs along the way. So that was always fun. Even asking them and having conversations with them. Kids have amazing ideas!
ANNA: Always! It’s true.
PAM: Always! Oh, it’s so much fun. Okay! We’d better move to question number four which is another anonymous question.
Anonymous Question [TIME: 35:36]
Our son is about to turn nine and is an only child. We belong to a homeschooling community where we meet once a week for a field trip and once a week for park day. He enjoys it. The other days we spend at home, for the most part, as my husband and I both work from home, albeit not full-time. Our son loves Minecraft, Skyping with his homeschool friends and just started playing Roblox. We’ve always had unlimited time on the computer and he’s on it from when he wakes up until he goes to bed, literally. When we leave anywhere he wants to use my phone to watch videos to and from the places we go to. We just went to the grocery store where he spent the whole time watching my phone to and from and while in the store. He spends more time watching a screen than not watching a screen.
I’m sad about this as he doesn’t engage with me or with my husband, doesn’t want to eat meals with us (we suggest only dinner with us), isn’t the kindest person to me, etc. I offer other things to do and he’s not interested. I ask him to not get my phone from my purse when we get in the car and he grabs it anyway and says, “ha, ha!” We went on a weeklong trip without access to a computer and no internet and I saw the kid that I once had … interested in things, more joyful, playful. I miss him. I beat myself up for not having another child, but I had him at almost 44. I feel he watches YouTube videos to pass the time cuz there’s no one else around to spark interaction with. I support him by getting food and drinks for him throughout the day. I feel disrespected and of no use to him. My husband thinks he is disrespectful to but offers no assistance to the situation.
Any thoughts about sorting out these feelings?
Thank you, ladies.
ADDED LATER: I want to expand on it as my son opened up last night about his desire for a sibling. He was crying over it and it breaks my heart. He said if he had one, he could play all the time with a brother (his preference). He said if a kid is walking on the streets, we could take the kid home. We talked about the adoption process more. We have homeschool friends who adopted three siblings and he mentioned that if they could do it, so could we. He said that he watches and plays videos a lot because he doesn’t have anyone to play with (which relates to my previous question). I offered suggestions like more playdates. No, he wants a kid to be with us all the time. I offered more playtime with us (mom/dad) and he said no, he wants a brother. I woke up crying. He asked why we didn’t have a kid right after we had him and I didn’t know how to answer. I focus on how we are so happy that he was born, and he said why didn’t we start earlier so as to have more than one. I had my son when I was almost 44 and my husband was 48. We met and married in our early 40s. My husband didn’t want another child, and I was on the fence. I feel like he’s going to grow up thinking back on his childhood and summarizing it as a lonely time because he didn’t have a sibling. He’s mentioned it throughout the years. He turns nine in one week. I can see how his life is so different than those with a sibling. There are positives and negatives to both, I get that (I have 8 siblings, my husband has 5). I feel like I’m letting him down and not supporting him. We could do x y and z but the underlying wish he wants realized just won’t be happen unless we adopt, which I hadn’t really entertained seriously until now as he was so emotional about his desires. Oh, my heart is heavy.
PAM: Big, big hugs. I know that heavy heart when we can’t always make our children’s wishes come true. And I wanted to say, this is how things go as we leave space—that time that we’ve been talking about a lot this episode—for conversations to flow, that this conversation came up. She came back to add this information later. This is how things go. It doesn’t need answers right away. So often we don’t get the whole story at once—so often we don’t even know our own whole story at once, it comes to us in bits and pieces of insight. It’s wonderful that he is comfortable sharing his thoughts and feelings with you. I thought that was amazing.
And sometimes we are going to be disappointed about circumstances, and so are our children, this is a part of life. You can commiserate with him and empathize with him, and it’s not something you can or need to fix for him. Over the next months and years, you can share stories with him about growing up with lots of siblings—the good and the bad, as you mentioned. There are positives and negatives; it’s not about judging one better or worse, it’s just different.
And if he’s looking for more interaction with other kids, make an extra effort there, over a long period of time. I know when you first bring something up, as you mentioned—we can play more or you can do more things with us, we can play more with kids—and of course his first reaction is going to be, “nope, nope, and nope,” because that’s where he’s stuck. But you don’t need to ask for permission for these things, right? You can just do these things, offer these things up over the longer period when his attention has shifted a bit out of this space of his dream of having a brother. There’s always other opportunities.
But that’s one thing, instead of asking our children, or even anyone, setting up a situation where they can say “yes” or “no.” You don’t need to ask yes-no questions, you can just offer, do things, something that he loves doing with you guys. Is it going to a movie? Then just say “let’s go to a movie!” Instead of saying, “Can we play with you more?” just offer it more. If he likes to play card games, do that. If you find a new video game or if he really just likes YouTube stuff, immerse yourself in that and share videos that you find. Connect through those things that he enjoys without asking for permission, yes-no. You don’t need to point out, “See look! We’re playing, we’re playing, we’re having fun!” Just do those things, just bubble up that life.
And you mentioned that he enjoys homeschooling outings and park days. So maybe just invite one or two of those kids over more, if there are some of those kids that he enjoys hanging out with at those things, invite them over once or twice a week. You don’t have to point that out, again, just say so-and-so can come over to play.
You can make a point of mentioning group activities—maybe look for things besides just those two outings during that week that he might enjoy. Again, don’t say yes-no, do you want to do these things, you can just point out, hey there’s this possibility for hanging out with other kids. There’s this soccer league or whatever else it is you think he might be interested in, just point out their existence conversationally. Not with a “yes-no, you should do this because you want to hang out with kids more.”
And I also wanted to touch on a couple things that jumped out for me in the original question. One was when you mentioned asking him to not get your phone from your purse and he grabs it anyway—when you know there’s something he’s likely going to want to do, don’t set up him to go against your wishes—don’t set him up to fail: help him DO that thing. Offer your phone up front—would that make him smile? At a minimum, don’t set him up against you. If you really didn’t want him to get the phone, and you knew he’d be tempted, then put it in your pocket—take the temptation away entirely, don’t set him up. Don’t tempt him.
The other was the comparison between that week-long trip away and your everyday home. That was a novelty, it was a different location, different possibilities, and extra fun—unless it isn’t, as sometimes kids don’t enjoy being away. It could have gone completely differently. You don’t know. It’s unrealistic to envision that if you just didn’t have a computer and the Internet that that’s the kid you would have every day at home. That is just us projecting into the future and that’s unrealistic.
I know that he’s disappointed and that you’re sad, and that is all okay. You guys will be moving through it, sometimes slowly, sometimes more quickly, you’ll be zigging and zagging, and dancing around this idea for lifetime. That is life.
Sometimes we might discover that we’ve settled into a bit of a routine and clues like this from our children just remind us to be more proactive. Like I was talking about earlier, it’s not about making suggestions and waiting for him to agree. We can just step out of our comfort zone for a while and see if our child wants to come with us too—maybe we’ll find that we like the view here. Just do things instead of offering and being rejected. The same thing about not setting up temptations. Just set up possibilities. That’s probably what I was trying to say!
What about you, Anna? (laughs)
ANNA: (laughs) Okay. Oh my goodness. I can feel your heavy heart too.
PAM: I know.
ANNA: And thank you for sharing that with us. As you mentioned, having a sibling doesn’t always mean roses. I chuckled a little bit at his characterization of it (laughter) Personalities can be quite different and needs for space in playing very different as well.
What I see is that it feels really big to him right now and I think validating his big feelings is so important but you don’t need to take on those feelings. They are his. This is what we were talking about with the question before—this weight, you literally said a “heavy heart”—you’re taking on this weight of his.
And I’m wondering, it sounds like you might have some feelings of your own around this and maybe examining those separate from his experience would be helpful as you guys work through this. I think there also may be some space for sharing and for talking about how we can create our own families and friends and cousins and how that can be really beautiful.
Maybe there is a way that you could provide child-care for another child to provide him with more of an all-day companionship and see how he feels about that. I would focus on finding friends and opportunities and bringing different things into his life because it sounds like that is what he’s needing right now.
And also finding a way that the two of you can connect and play together. I was never really great at pretend play, but I really enjoyed playing games and reading to my children and so those were things that we would do for hours. It’s like Pam said, it’s not like you have to present it like, “Well, we’re not going to have a sibling but will you play a game with me?” That doesn’t need to be part of the conversation. Just add more of those things into your life and take joy in the time that you spend with him and fill that space with joy and connection.
I would look inside and see if there is a way to change your energy about it—that weight that you were talking about. Is there a way for you to release that? That may involve working through your own feelings about not having more children first, before you’re able to find that new place. But you don’t have to take on all of his feelings as your own. You can be there and to validate and to listen without taking on guilt or blame. He is expressing his feelings, and, like Pam said, that is wonderful and just so beautiful that he is able to express those feelings to you. You can be there for him without taking on those feelings. And in fact, I would suggest that it’s really important for him that you don’t. He needs to be able to express his big feelings without worrying that you’re going to take them on and become upset. I feel that can be really unsettling for children.
And as you came from a big family, I did just want to throw out there that I have several friends and family members who are only children and across the board they are grateful for it. So, while he may feel later in life the same way that he feels now, it’s just as likely that he won’t, and that it’s really a passing feeling that I would say is just kind of bubbling up as an underlying need.
That’s when I think that it’s really important to talk about the underlying need for a minute. It’s being expressed as needing another sibling but may be met in other ways. And, like Pam said, just start adding more time and more play-dates and people coming over and more games and different things that you’re doing together. And as you meet that need that he’s having for connection, that deep connection—he’s wanting that deep connection with time spent with people—and as that need is met, this surface issue of needing a sibling really may fade away. That’s often what we see when we deal with that underlying need and so, I think that it can be a really helpful tool.
I would fully validate without any “buts” or new solutions until he truly feels heard and then I think you’ll find that he moves on to finding other solutions. And, of course, I don’t know exactly the conversation you had, just from what I read, I’m wondering if you’re expressing validating that he wants a sibling but again as you’re taking on that weight you’re like, “but we couldn’t do it, or we’re too old, or we didn’t think about that,” and it’s that explaining and that isn’t really hearing him.
So, just giving him full, “You wish you had a sibling, someone here every day to play with.” And, “What would that look like? Tell me what that would look like!” And, “Oh my gosh, that sounds fun!” and this and that and do you feel the energy of that differently? He can express that and talk through it and once he feels truly heard you may find that he’s like, “But, you know what, I really like having Bob come over too and that’s really fun!”
And so you just don’t know where that will lead but let that space open up. Give that space to let him really sit in that spot where he is right now without owning it or adding to the weight of it. And I think that can be hard at first because we do really want to solve things and because you’re taking on those feelings and internalizing them, but when you can separate out and just hear him and engage in that full validation, I think you’ll find it becomes a lot easier. So those were my few thoughts about that.
PAM: Yeah! I loved that piece—here we are again—is not needing to solve it right away. Give it that space. Sitting with it, validating it, empathize with it, without feeling like you need to jump to solve it. I love that piece.
The other piece that jumped out was when you were talking is the idea of a solution. To realize that what he’s sharing is his solution. It’s not his need. There are needs underneath which he’s come up with the solution is a sibling—a brother, specifically—right?
ANNA: Right! (laughter)
PAM: And we’re caught trying to solve that as his need, right!? It’s like, “Oh, he needs this, he needs this, this is what I need to solve!” No. Absolutely, validate. I love your idea of the conversations with him. What would that look like? Because in those conversations you’re going to find what needs are underneath it that he’s wanting to solve and that’s when you can have some brilliant flashes of things you can do to meet those needs because “sibling” is not the only solution, the only way to meet them. It’s just the one that he’s focused on right now, right?
ANNA: Right. And maybe just something that’s come to mind from something he’s seen or whatever but again, having two children and you having three, I’m thinking, “Oh, bless his heart, it’s not going to work out that way!” (laughter)
So, I just feel like you’re right, this is just his eight-year-old solution, but what we can do is just talk to him and get to that spot of okay, this is what he’s looking for. It’s this deep meaningful connection, it’s this time with people, it’s this whatever it is. And you’ll find that out as he’s exploring that and so don’t just latch onto that one thing that he’s decided is the solution.
PAM: And I think you had a great point about her working on really seeing her weight around it because I think that’s why she’s feeling so caught in something that particular. You know, she jumped right to the sibling and the brother because it touched a nerve for her. So, she’s having a hard time moving past that to start looking at the underlying things because she’s also stuck there. I think that was a wonderful point.
And that is the last question for this month. Thank you so much, Anna. It was a great time chatting with you. I love answering questions with you!
ANNA: Me too! It’s fun!
PAM: It’s so fun!
And just a reminder for everyone, there are links in the show notes for the things that we’ve mentioned in the episode and as always, if you’d like to submit a question for the Q&A just go to livingjoyfully.ca/podcast and click on the link.
Have a great day everybody!