PAM: Hi everyone, I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Lucy AitkenRead. Hi Lucy!
LUCY: Hi Pam! How you going?
PAM: I’m going very well. Just to let everyone know, Lucy is an unschooling mom of two kids, and I have been following her adventures online for quite a while now, including her family’s experiences living in a yurt in New Zealand, and now their travels back to the UK. So, I’m really looking forward to diving into her unschooling and deschooling experiences at this point on her journey.
To get us started Lucy, can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
LUCY: Yes, of course. So, I’m Lucy and I’m married to Tim. And he is a Kiwi, but we spent most of our early marriage in London, where I’m from. And that’s where we had both of our daughters: Ramona who is now six, and Juno who is four. We lived really happily, living quite a normal life I suppose, in London, until a couple years ago when we decided to sort of up sticks and move to a forest in New Zealand, where we now live in a yurt.
PAM: That is so awesome Lucy. And I’m sure you’re going to share some amusing stories from that time as we go through this.
Can share with us how you actually discovered unschooling? How’d you come across it?
LUCY: Well yeah, it’s quite interesting for me, because I guess, deep in my heart, I’m a bit of a socialist, and I always really held onto the idea of school as being a really important common good, and that my children would definitely go to school. We would support that school. Because education is something that every child deserves, and people who are able to input into their local schools, it’s a really great thing that we should support. Basically, I had a really strong belief around that.
And then I had my children, and my first child Ramona really took me on a huge learning curve, I guess. She’s a child who is just incredibly spirited, and I believe that her spirited nature caused me to ask a lot of questions about how I wanted to raise my children.
When our second child Juno was born, we sold everything in our London home and we sold our London home, and we packed our bags into a VW camper van and we went traveling around Europe. And someone had given me John Holt’s How Children Learn, you know, which is always a slippery slope when you pick up a John Holt book, I think.
So, I was kind of reading this probably a little skeptically, but also knowing that I was already raising Ramona in quite a radically different way to how I thought I would. I guess my mind was already beginning to open about some of these ideas about raising children respectfully, for sure.
But then we went to a forest kindergarten in the Black Forest, in Germany, as part of our big trip around Europe, which we were doing. We’d set aside six months to do that. And then we got to this forest kindergarten, and I was reading How Children Learn, and I think it just was like a potent combination for my mind.
I was reading John Holt, and seeing all of these children around me, basically just unschooling in the great outdoors. There are teachers there, and they’re well trained teachers, but they see themselves much more as facilitators for a child’s own learning. And yeah, it was just so incredible to see it in real life in action, exactly what John Holt is talking about. I guess that was the moment when I knew that we would be unschoolers, and that all these ideas I held about school weren’t actually necessarily going to be the reality for my family.
And so, then we ended up back in New Zealand with our kids, and even though Ramona was only three at that stage, and Juno was a tiny baby, we rocked up in New Zealand and immediately attended an unschooling camp. And there were 150 people there, and we just kind of arrived and we felt like we’d found our people. This is a community that we wanted to stay within and raise our children within. So, I guess that’s the story.
PAM: How did you hear about the camp? Was it just random?
LUCY: I googled it, yeah. I actually googled “unschooling NZ,” and instead of any websites coming up or any groups or resources, there was just an event detailing where to turn up and how much to pay. And we were like, “Okay, let’s do it.” Google had spoken. (laughter)
PAM: And that is such a nice introduction—actually in person. I know when I first came across unschooling, it was all online. There wasn’t like local gatherings that I knew of. All those connections came so fast and made so much sense, at the point that I was there. But definitely seeing it in action would be a nice introduction, right?
LUCY: Yeah, it was really, really cool. And there were definitely a few moments where we were like, “Oh! That’s interesting!” It wasn’t at all like, “Oh we do everything exactly this way.” It wasn’t at all like that.
But it was the community that really inspired us, I guess. We really just felt at home within the way that adults were interacting with the children, because that was something we really felt certain about at that stage. We really knew that we wanted to be parents that interacted with our children in a really respectful kind of democratic way, I suppose. And that is what we saw there.
And that was probably the magic for us, that made us go, “Ah! Yeah, this is something we’re going to really dive into.” And now we actually go to between four and five unschooling camps a year. They’re a really important part of our family’s unschooling framework, I guess. And all of that. Just a whole massive group of people just being in their element for a few days and every season. We make it happen come hell or high water.
PAM: That’s awesome. And you mentioned there too that already before you even came across John Holt etc., that your parenting was less mainstream, right? So, you were kind of already primed for that. You noticed the difference in the relationships even just at camp, even if some of the details still weren’t … ready for you.
Because it really is a journey, isn’t it? I remember at first I would read about unschooling and I’d think, “Well, you know, it’s super cool. So much of it makes sense. You know, this little bit … I don’t think we’ll do that. I don’t think we’ll be doing that.” But as the months went by and I learned more and more and I understood why they were doing that, it really was a journey. Because it’s like, “Oh, of course I’m going to do that!” Right? (laughs)
LUCY: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I see it a lot. Like with my writing, I’ll be writing about some sort of specific and then people will really kind of grab hold of that specific and be like, “I can’t see how that can possibly work, da da da da da.” And it’s like, well I guess it really does only work when you look at the whole picture. It’s sort of like people really want the detail, but, I mean, the devil is in it. The devil in the detail.
It’s not really so much about the very specific practical details as much as the big picture of the life you’re trying to lead, which is one where you’re not making decisions based on fear, but you’re making decisions based on connection. And having that overall philosophy is what makes then the details make sense.
PAM: So true.
LUCY: I don’t know if I made sense. (laughs)
PAM: It did! Absolutely. Because, if you look for the details too quickly, I think there’s a tendency to kind of interpret them like the rules of unschooling, right?
PAM: “Tell me exactly what you do each day and I will do that.” But it might not work in your family. Because it’s all about how the individuals relate to each other, and how the individuals like to pursue their interests and everything. So, what my day looks like isn’t going to look like anyone else’s, right?
LUCY: Yeah, that’s exactly right.
So, let’s talk a little more about your family’s move to unschooling. You went to the camp, and it made sense, it connected, you guys loved that. Did your days just kind of keep on going, or how did that work?
LUCY: Yeah, yes, basically nothing changed, I guess. We just kept on just living our life. And that’s the thing that, you know, because we’ve never been to school, we just keep living our life, and nothing has really changed much at all. So, the life that we were living with our children age one and three is now pretty similar to age six and four, really.
I guess they’re way more vocal in what they want to do. But we still just go about living our lives, all of us ticking away, following our little hopes and dreams each day. Yeah, there’s not been any momentous shift I don’t think, since that camp. It’s just been living each day as it comes to us.
PAM: So you just kind of kept on keeping on. That’s awesome.
LUCY: Kept on keeping on. Yeah.
PAM: Yeah. Have your kids mentioned school at all?
LUCY: Ramona does sort of every now and then mention school. And it’s nearly always when there’s been a bit of time in our life where we’ve been quite farm-bound, for whatever reason. She’s an incredibly social kid, and I think sometimes when we drive past a playground she’ll see the hundreds of kids kind of just running around there, and she’ll think, “Oh, I’d do really well in that situation.”
So, we tend to work really hard at getting her enough of that social interaction. And when that’s going really well, she doesn’t mention school, or she knows that she’s getting all her social needs met. And every now and then when she does pop out with this sort of question about school, I can almost always look around us and see that we maybe dropped going to something, or we’ve been a little bit caught up with all our farm chores and haven’t quite managed to meet up with as many people as we usually do, or that sort of thing.
And one of her best friends started going to school for a couple of weeks, and she was quite intrigued by school at that point, which was really interesting for us. It was somebody that we live on the farm with, and they’re an unschooling family, but their boy wanted to give it a go. And so, they did, and that was really interesting, because I guess we had to ask ourselves the question, would Ramona go to school if she wanted it?
And we sort of did a bit of soul searching about that, around that time. And then he decided it wasn’t actually all that. You know, he liked having a lunch box and he liked having play dates after school, and his mum realized that both of those things could be done outside of a school context. And he didn’t like being told what to do, when, and where. And he really quickly just went back to being at home on the farm. And then that moment just kind of disappeared. But it still was an interesting one, to figure out whether, in your unschooling family, you would be willing to support a child going to school.
PAM: Yeah, when it first gets mentioned, it can knock you off a bit, just because you feel like, “Well, what am I not doing? What’s wrong? Am I failing? Am I not doing it right?” So, it takes that soul searching—that work to get past that reaction—and realize, this isn’t personal.
But, like you said, it’s a great clue to start looking around, you know, and you see that that question—it might be just the solution that they see to a need that’s missing. Right? Like you said. Maybe it’s a need for some more social interaction, and they’re not going to come to you: “Mom, I need more social interaction.” But she may see in her mind that playground full of kids at school and think, “School is a good solution.” And then come at it that way.
So, I think the first thing is to look around, like you do, and see if there’s any clues to what need they’re trying to fill with that. Because then from there, you can say, “Well maybe the need is, literally, to check out school.” Maybe. But it might not be. There might be a million other ways to meet whatever it is that they want. It’s a hard time, but it’s so interesting, and when you can get past that initial fear, it’s a big release to do that soul-searching, figure that out, because you’re in a stronger place, aren’t you?
LUCY: Yeah, definitely. And I think it might—who is it—it might be Peter Gray. Let me have a little bit of a think about that. But someone speaks about this idea that if a child really wants to go to school and they don’t get to go to school, they might forever feel like school was a club that they weren’t allowed in. And that is probably something to worry about more than your child actually going to school and you being merely kind of phlegmatic about it.
I kind of came to two conclusions, I suppose, with this whole soul-searching period. And that was: I really felt like six is too young to make a decision to put yourself into a situation that so drastically impacts your family’s circumstances, and your own well-being. And I do think that school really does impact a child’s well-being. And I guess I decided that I wanted to try and protect Ramona from that, for as long as I could, until she made it really clear that it is school that she’s after. I would try to meet her needs as much as I could, and then, if it still is school, I would support her to do that, but I would do it in a way that supported her as a person, without making all of the school’s toxicness something that impacts her. So, I’d be very nonchalant, shall we say, about testing and exams and homework. You know, all of that stuff I’d just hold really lightly, but support her in going to school, if it really was the need that she had to do that.
PAM: Yeah, and I think that’s such an important point, because you’re so right about the atmosphere, the environment, and the effect that it can have on a child. And to realize that it can be such a different experience for a child if we choose not to bring all that home, right? If we don’t buy into, “I need to be on top of them at home to study,” and to use the grades as a judgement of them, and everything. Rather than, just, it’s a place they go for a few hours, and did they have fun? And supporting them if they’re like, “Mom, I have a test this week. I’d like to study. Can you help me study?” or something. Of course, you’re going to help them—
PAM: Yeah! Because I can see, if we’re still feeling resentful about their choice—like it was a choice against us—how we could so easily, “Well, you chose school, you have to finish your homework.” You know, to make it as bad as it can be, in hopes that they’ll leave. But that’s just going to hurt!
LUCY: Yeah, and I guess that’s why I really like to take the school out of unschooling, you know. And I suppose it’s why I talk more about this other concept, which we might address later on—because for me, it’s not about education or even learning actually, but it’s more about the relationship that you have with your child. So, if there’s any one thing that you’re totally hung up on, it’s a good sign that it’s moved away from being about the important partnership you have with your child and it’s become an unhealthy fixation or something, do you know what I mean?
PAM: Yeah, yeah. We talk on our Q&A episodes so much about whenever there’s an issue, go back to the relationship. Does this feel connecting, or disconnecting? And choose the actions that feel connecting. Because no matter the environment, you’re right, it really does all boil down to relationships. And you know what, during my deschooling—though that keeps going—but that realization.
Because, at first, my kids left school, and it’s like, “Okay, so I’m replacing the learning that they’re not getting at school.” But, the realization after a few months that it’s not really about the learning. Because the learning’s going to naturally happen if I keep the relationships strong and connected; everything’s going to flow from there. So, I love that point.
I was wondering if you might share a little bit about your husband’s journey. Was unschooling a new kind of idea for him, and how did you guys work together along the way?
LUCY: Okay so, unsurprisingly my husband is a teacher by trade, and I say unsurprisingly because I know a huge number of teachers in the unschooling world.
PAM: So many. (laughs)
LUCY: Yeah, it’s like as if their experience in the classroom, you know, actually is the thing that opens their eyes and says there has to be a better way to treat our children and for our children to learn in a really joyful way.
So, Tim is a teacher by trade, and he did that for quite a few years, but these days he focuses more on a bit of youth work. Which, for him, is what it was all about. It was being able to help young people find their way in the world by having really healthy connections and relationships with them.
So, yeah, teacher by trade, and he really gets the learning stuff, for sure. Like we check in, not formally, but just by nature of the whole thing, once or twice a month about little interesting learning points that have happened with Ramona and Juno. And I guess that his teacher training makes him do that perhaps more than me. So, he’ll point out something that Ramona’s done, which is such a classic learning point, but that she’s come to it completely by herself using an everyday situation. Yeah, so he’s completely on board with the learning side of it, and I guess both of us are still on this learning journey about living democratically and consensually with our children.
We’re both trying really hard to read as much as we can and talk together as much as we can. And I guess the challenge is constantly how in a family of four you can all feel as though your needs can be met, and that it can be win-win for everyone.
PAM: Yeah, I think the parenting side of the journey, that we’re always learning because they’re always getting older.
LUCY: Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly right.
PAM: There’s always something new.
LUCY: Yeah, I do like to think though that every bit of learning you’ve done paves the way for the next bit of learning. And, right now, with the kind of really incredibly amazing and opinionated and determined six-year-old, I’m thinking about how much this is paving the way for those incredibly opinionated and determined teenage years. (laughs)
We’re going to be just like so radically on board with everything they want to do by the time they’re teenagers, because we’ll have developed this sort of trust and acceptance. So, I’m quite excited about the future really, or maybe that’s just incredibly hopeful.
PAM: Well, I’ll just share my experience a little bit. The groundwork that you’re laying now and those first couple of years of really doing all this work to figure out the ways we all communicate our needs—it’s even about figuring out our needs, because we’re not used to that. Even as adults, to be able to just reasonably say, “I’m tired.” Or, to really bring ourselves to the moment without being manipulative about it.
PAM: Yeah, to just bring all our stuff lightly, like you were talking about before, and finding ways to work through them and find those kind of win-win-win opportunities for us to move forward.
And I must say, by the time my kids got to their early teens and through their teen years, it was never argumentative. It was never issues that way at all. Mostly it was me stretching my comfort zones. (laughs)
Because they knew themselves so well, and the trust that we had together. Like, I knew they weren’t making choices or wanting to do things that they didn’t think they were capable of doing. There’s the way to put it. They were choosing things for reasons of their own, that made sense, and that they felt ready to do. So, when I was ready to stretch my comfort zones and help them accomplish those things, we were never at odds. It was all finding ways for myself to support them in ways that I was also comfortable enough with.
When my daughter was 13 and wanted to go into clubs for shows, for me to be comfortable I just said, “Sure, I’ll go with you.” You know? So, we did that. But yeah, it never felt like butting heads, let’s put it that way. So, I think you’re right. That was a long way to say you’re right, you’re building an amazing foundation. (laughs)
LUCY: (laughs) No, I always absolutely love hearing from people who have older children and who have been through those teenage years, because we talk about those teenage years as if it’s some kind of impending horror show I suppose.
And, I mean, I suppose mine was a little bit of a horror show for my parents, but I had an incredibly different upbringing. But I really believe it doesn’t have to be that way. I really believe that this partnership that we’re developing with our kids now is something that lasts your whole life long, and one of the things as well I think that unschooling has done for me—it’s made me trust everyone a lot more.
My children have asked that of me, but it’s something that I can extend now to everyone. I’ve become much, much, much less controlling about all these different situations. Like I can remember in the early years of our marriage, I would be texting everyone trying to get them in the right place at the right time, and kind of guessing what people’s needs were, and trying to kind of preempt how we could get them met. And I would just never do that now. I just sort of sit back and see how I could support someone to get their needs met, or, perhaps I can’t, and just need to trust that they’re making good decisions for themselves. And that’s something that you know extends from my children to my in-laws to my neighbor. It kind of is a really cool stance for all relationships, I think.
PAM: I just love that Lucy. And what’s really funny is I’m writing a book about the unschooling journey, and this is what I’ve been writing about this week!
LUCY: Oh, cool.
PAM: Yeah, that point where you realize it’s about being human, and it applies to everyone. And you lose that need to try and control other people “for their own good because you know the best way things will work out so smoothly.”
Because, after you do it a few times, isn’t it just amazing all the places that the ways things end up working out, like even better than we could have imagined at first, right? And tried to control it to A, but B was so much more awesome!
LUCY: I know! Like seriously, I talk about this a huge amount. Like the ridiculousness of taking a step back and just being like, “Look, I’m not going to get involved in this, I’m just going to see what happens.” And then the thing that happens is so much more better than anything you could have planned for. Yeah, it’s actually, it feels serendipitous. But maybe it’s because it’s the way the world is meant to work. You’re not meant to be hung up on everybody else’s choices. (laughter)
It sounds so obvious when we’re talking about it, but it’s really not obvious. And I think I had quite a few anguished years because I felt that I had an important role to play in lots of other people’s lives.
PAM: Oh no, I totally can remember just the uptightness back then, of trying to make sure everything worked out. That there needed to be Plan XYZ, and we need to follow it, and if we didn’t I was getting myself so frustrated and worked up. But anyway, anyway. (laughs) I guess we don’t need to talk about that forever. But it’s such a huge part …
LUCY: We probably can.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. I mean we could share a million stories I’m sure. But …
I was wondering what you have found to be the most challenging or the hardest part of your unschooling journey so far?
PAM: Or was that it? (laughs)
LUCY: Oh, well, that’s been like a definite shift.
The hardest challenge? Probably it’s not the hardest thing but the challenging thing has been: I guess unschooling has taken me on a journey to sort of ask questions about all sorts of different things and to really try and dismantle institutionalized thinking. And it’s a journey that I’m really appreciative of, but it’s been a journey that has definitely shaken the ground beneath my feet a little bit.
I was raised in a church, and I was raised in the Salvation Army, which is a really beautiful social justice loving movement of people, but it’s also quite regimented, or ordered, at least. And it’s been interesting for me to sort of look at institutions that I’ve been raised in, that have always provided a sort of structure to my life, and just try and hold on to the really good and beautiful parts of those things while really asking questions about the healthiness of other parts of it. And I guess what it comes down to is this sort of imperialist history of the human race, which is quite a big deal. Maybe we shouldn’t really go there. (laughter)
But when you look historically, the last hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, we’ve been living in an incredibly controlled hierarchical society, that is really, really unhealthy. And I guess that was an unexpected challenge for me, was to become a bit of an anarchist. I mean, not quite an anarchist, but to just want to dismantle some of those structures in society that I don’t think are very healthy. And move away from those that have had a really important role in my life. So yeah, that’s probably been the biggest challenge, I think.
PAM: I think that’s a great one, because when we start, we don’t realize how far reaching it’s going to be, do we?
PAM: No, it’s amazing once you start realizing that choice is important. Not only for learning, but then for living. And when you start to see, you start to knock up against all these places where, like you said, the systems where we don’t have choice. And you start questioning every single one, don’t you, by the end of it?
LUCY: Yeah and I think I just say to myself, “Lucy, you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water.” (laughs)
LUCY: So, you know, with the church, I guess where I’m at now is holding on to really healthy spirituality, which is really beautiful and really important, I think, whatever your spirituality is, for your well-being. And community and all that sort of thing. So, holding on to that. And then kind of letting the rest of it blow away. So yes, I say that a lot. “Don’t throw away the baby out with the bath water, Luce.”
PAM: That is such a great point, that was something that helped me. Because feeling uncomfortable with something didn’t automatically mean to reject it. Which I think lines up with your “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” phrasing. And to be able to hold my discomfort alongside my positive feelings about choice and whatever, so that I could dig deeper.
Like, when you can hold them both together, that’s when you can start to tease out the pieces that are helpful, like you were saying, alongside the pieces that aren’t working for me anymore. Because automatic resistance or knee-jerk “noes” aren’t much more useful than blindly following things either, right? Because you don’t understand yourself better through that process. We talk about that with our kids, right? Try not to automatically say no. Maybe you can say yes, but also, “Say yes more with your kids,” doesn’t mean always say yes. Because there’s no thought or consideration in that either, right?
LUCY: Yeah, but we so want black and white answers, don’t we?
PAM: I know, we do!
PAM: Those rules are so easy, right? (laughs)
LUCY: Yeah, we just want it there in black and white. We just want to be able to go, like, “This is how it goes, this is the rule, this is what I need to do in this situation.” Yeah, but it’s just not really how we are, and it’s not really how the world should be. We need to kind of learn to operate in those gray areas, and to be flexible and fluid and resilient, and not need that sort of sturdy ground under our feet, but to feel really comfortable just floating in the chaotic unknown gray substance. (laughs)
PAM: Yeah, and like you said before, going back to the relationship, right? When you don’t know—yes, no, I have no rule to follow. Okay, let’s look and see foundationally how that is going to impact that relationship. Because, when it comes down to it, school years, childhood, those are just a flash of a lifetime right? And these are relationships that we’re going to have for our whole lifetime. They will always be our child. We’ll always be their parents, no matter the age, right? So that relationship is a lifetime thing. So, it’s so useful to keep that as your guide.
So, I am curious—what has surprised you most about your journey so far?
LUCY: Okay. The most surprising thing has probably been how unsurprising it has been, in the sense that it’s just been a life lived, I guess. And I think like maybe a few years ago when we were at the start of this unschooling journey, I think I imagined that with a six-year-old and four-year-old we would be rammed with projects and activities and it would be like a non-stop kind of educational life that we were all living together. And actually, I think that’s been the surprise, that it’s not. It’s just—we just wake up, and we do our thing.
And we have really fun days. We have those epic days of non-stop projects and making and learning, but we also have a huge number of just little bits and bobs in the day, da da da. And I think that’s the thing that is surprising for others when they sort of see our lives in action. (laughs)
We just have a really slow, really simple life that we’re just trying to live with as much time and space and patience and freedom every day. And I just think that the key to that is to not really be doing loads and loads and loads and loads of stuff. So that’s probably been the most surprising thing about it, is how unsurprising it’s been.
PAM: I love the way you describe that, because that was a huge revelation for me too. The concept of time. Time and space. When I write about unschooling, I use that phrase so bloody often. (laughs) Time and space. Because we are so used to go, go, go, go. I had no clue how much actual time and space we need; that we would take if given the opportunity.
PAM: Right? To process, that down time, which we used to think of as “lazy,” or not doing anything productive, et cetera. How valuable and important that time is. I had no clue. (laughs)
LUCY: Yeah, and, you know, it might feel like it takes an hour for everybody to put their shoes on, so you can go out to the woods—I’m speaking from experience from this morning.
And that hour is really important because if you feel like you’ve got an hour for everybody to find their shoes and put them on, you’ve got space then for the trauma that happens when you can’t find socks with the right seams in the right place. You’ve got time to validate that person’s feelings and hug them until they’re ready to move on from that moment. You don’t have to snap at people to get them to hurry up, and you don’t have to forget things because you’ve all rushed out the door too quickly. You can definitely have all the snacks you need, you can definitely have the right socks with the right seams, and you can definitely all have the space you need to be patient with each other.
And increasingly I see—perhaps it’s in contrast because we’re here in England at the moment, and I’m quite busy with lots of different work things, and we’ve got hundreds of people it feels like to catch up with while we’re here, like friends and family. And so, at the moment, we are kind of a little bit like go, go, go, and it’s in such stark contrast to our life in the yurt, which is just basically no, no, no. (laughs)
Just like slow, slow, slow I should say, actually. It’s just really, really slow. And here I find myself having a quickening of the breath and a kind of, “(gasp) We don’t have time for me to validate all of these emotions!” And I realized how much of my parenting comes down to basically not really doing very much, but just being really present with your children and having the time to let them feel everything they need to feel, and connect with them in all those down times.
PAM: Yeah, that patience to be with them, right? Like you were saying, validate. Because that patience keeps your connection with them, and they see, through your patience, that you see them.
PAM: Right? Because if we’re trying to rush them through things, they really don’t feel seen. Like I’m just putting myself in those spots. When I feel rushed through things, you have to kind of close off part of yourself, don’t you? Because you don’t have the time to feel whatever it is that’s coming up. Yeah, that’s brilliant.
You recently started a group and a website called Parent Allies, and I have joined. I am really looking forward to that. And I would love to know the inspiration behind it, and a bit about your plans for it?
LUCY: Cool. So yeah, ParentAllies.org is the website, but there’s also a Facebook page and a Facebook group. And the group is probably the bit that I’m most excited about, because there’s a real community rising up around this idea. And the idea is taken from social justice movements, where in every rights movement so far there’s been a group of people who are in the sort of dominant group but have chosen to stand next to the marginalized group and advocate for them and support them and be people who will just show solidarity and do whatever they can to allow this group to have their rights met.
You’ve seen it in the Civil Rights movement, and in all sorts of movements over history. I’ve come to believe that children are one of the last marginalized groups in society; groups where it’s really socially accepted to basically marginalize them. You have conversations on Facebook where people are just like, “Yeah I don’t like kids.” And they’re almost proud or cool to sort of say it. And I really believe that there’s quite a systemic marginalization of children too, just in things like not having steps in public toilets so they can reach the taps or reach the toilet without having to climb over this grim thing. So those are a couple of little examples.
And the idea is that parents are invited to be allies to their children, to advocate for their needs and to show solidarity with them, and see their role as one where they’re partnering with their child to make sure their rights are fully honored and upheld.
On the website we are putting out lots of resources for people who are in different situations to share how they are allies to their children. And this is where it’s really exciting for me, because it’s moving right out of the education sphere. And I guess the root of the concept of parent allies, for me, came because I’ve been writing about unschooling for five years or so, and every time I write about unschooling in terms of respecting children, I have a lot of teachers and mums and dads of children who are at school say, “Well, how can I do this at home?” or “I feel like I do this, but my children do go to school.”
And so, by talking about parents as allies, we’re moving out of learning. We’re moving into the whole of life, whether you’re at school or not at school. Whoever you are in the world, you can be an ally to your child. So, the website is meant to be a resource for people who are choosing to be that.
And the Facebook group is a really, really supportive group where people can come in and they can ask for advice. You have to ask for advice—we don’t just give it willy-nilly, because I guess I’ve identified that that is a bit of a problem in our world. We’re so quick to give advice, rather than simply hearing someone’s story, or hearing someone’s problem.
So, there’s a tag where you can just say #solidarityplease, and that’s where you can come and you can talk about something that’s been bothering you or something you’re finding really hard, without getting any advice. You just get people saying, “Love to you” or “You’re doing really well” or, just showing solidarity. And then you can also ask for advice. And you can also get a high-five. You can go into the group and you can be like, “High five! I did really well with my kid today because this has been a bit of a struggle and I realized that in my role as an ally I need to help her and get this need met.” And then, you know, they’ll give details, and then everybody will say, “High five! High five!” (laughs)
And it’s sort of like, I guess it meets needs. It meets those needs of the parents to be heard, and in a way that is also respectful to their children. And it is a way to receive advice if you’re struggling with how to be an ally.
I think so often we have—I don’t really know what it is—maybe it’s a thing to do with human nature, but so often parents will think that they’ve got a problem that can only be solved with a punitive or disrespectful measure. They think, “Oh my kid doesn’t like brushing their teeth,” for example, “So the only thing I can do is hold them down and clean their teeth.” They sort of put up their own barriers and they say, “There’s no other answer. I’m mostly a respectful parent but, in this situation, I have to coerce my child.”
And the idea of the group is that we kind of crowd-source solutions. So very often people go in there and they’re like, “My child doesn’t want to clean their teeth.” And then we can say, “Oh I’ve been there and this worked for me, and this worked for me.” Because something I’ve found with parenting and problems is that answers one, two, and three don’t work, but four and five and six and seven and eight and nine might work. And I really think that in our role as an ally to our child, we can find the patience to look for four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine. Because it’s so important to us to remain connected and remain in partnership, and to respect their rights, that we’re willing to dig deep for those creative solutions. (sigh) That’s a little bit.
PAM: Yeah, that’s beautiful. And I love the idea of expanding it to all parents, and even the “come get a high-five” deal. Because it’s still an unconventional way to parent, right? If they tried to share that with like a more conventional friend or whatever, they would get the side-eye, like “What the heck did you—just tell them to brush their darn teeth!” (laughs)
LUCY: Yeah, “My child’s got a really creative urge to paint on the walls, so today I dedicated a whole part of the wall so my child could literally just paint the wall. Can I get a high-five?” You can imagine having that conversation with a conventional parent, and them just being like, “You let your child paint on the wall?!?” Whereas in the group, everybody is like, “Rock on! You’re amazing that you could come up with a solution for that urge!”
PAM: Yeah, that works for everyone. Because, as we were talking before, when we were talking about school, there are ways. If that’s a necessary part of your life, there are ways to still respect and nurture and care for your relationship with your child. Just because school is part of the picture doesn’t mean all your relationship has to be about control.
LUCY: Exactly. And I used to find myself writing to unschoolers, and unschoolers at heart, and what I mean by that is people who loved all of this rights, respecting, freedom-loving stuff, but did, for whatever reason, have to send their children to school. and I guess that is really why I tried really hard to come up with a term to describe all of the people that are wanting to live this way with their children, whether their kids are at school or not.
Because certainly we need parents and teachers within the education system—which I believe is incredibly coercive and oppressive—we need people in there standing up for children and saying, “You know what, it is a child’s right to go to the toilet when they need to go to the toilet.” You know, we need allies within the education system.
My kids are having fun, by the way. (laughs) I’m sure you can probably hear them, and it sounds horrible and terrifying, but they’re all gleeful sounds. (laughs)
PAM: (laughs) No, that’s lovely. Oh, and, I was going to mention, Emma and I, we do a book chat every couple of months, and we’re reading the Childism book.
LUCY: Oh, cool.
PAM: I forget her name—I’ll put it in the show notes [Elisabeth Young-Bruehl]. And I’ll have links to your Facebook group and your website, and all that stuff as well. I think that’s awesome. People are going to have a lot of fun checking that out.
LUCY: Oh, cool.
PAM: And I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. It was a lot of fun to finally get to chat with you Lucy.
LUCY: Yeah, totally. I feel kind of like, you know, we’re basically friends now, rather than people who know a little bit about each other from the internet. (laughs)
PAM: Yeah, exactly! Yeah, I was very much looking forward to chatting with you.
LUCY: Yeah, it’s been really lovely to be on here. Thank you so much for having me.
PAM: Yay! And before we go, where is the best place for people to connect with you online?
LUCY: I would probably say YouTube. People find me really personable on YouTube for some reason. It’s kind of a new channel, and I’ve been writing for seven years but only doing YouTube for a couple of years. But I think people find videos really helpful in a way that perhaps writing isn’t so. So, I’m on YouTube with my channel Lulastic and the Hippyshake. And I update that really regularly, like every single week, whereas other parts of the internet I’m slightly more like I pop in and pop out.
PAM: Awesome. I will definitely have the link to your channel there as well.
PAM: Thank you very much and have a great day. Have fun with the kids!