PAM: Hi, everyone! I’m Pam Laricchia with livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Deb Rossing and Pat Robinson. Welcome, guys!
PAM: Deb and Pat are two lovely unschooling moms that I’ve known online for many years, and have also met in person at unschooling conferences and gatherings.
This episode came about because I’ve had a few listeners suggest the topic of unschooling an only child a few times, but since I have three kids, I don’t have much experience to share on this particular topic, so I’m really excited that they both agree to chat with me about it. So, my role here is to really going to be the curious question asker this week.
To get us started, can you each share with us a bit about you and your family and how you discovered unschooling!?
And how about you start, Deb.
DEB: Well, first off, our situation is a little bit different, in that I work outside the home full time. I’ve done that since Joshua was a toddler—he’s now 19. Can you believe it? My husband, who has been the at-home parent since Joshua was a toddler, he was podcast number 10, by the way.
So, my take is a little bit different because I haven’t been the at-home, all the time parent. But it’s been interesting seeing how that all worked out. Joshua was still a bump in my tummy and my mother-in-law needed some information on homeschooling laws here in Connecticut where we live, and so Rick and I did some researching and found that homeschooling in Connecticut is really simple.
And then we found this unschooling message board, back even before Yahoo groups, and so I was telling him about it, and we would start throwing questions back and forth, and basically, we said, ‘You know, that makes a lot of sense.’ So that’s where we started, from the get go, basically.
PAM: How about you, Pat?
PAT: Well, we never didn’t unschool. We attachment parented. A friend of mine in the neighborhood was attachment parenting and gave me the parenting books by Dr. Sears and Mothering magazines and I read those and did the Bradley birth and homebirth stuff.
Attachment parenting just kind of evolved into unschooling in that I just delighted in watching our son learn and observe. And The Continuum Concept was a book that I read that really spoke to me about the child having an innate desire to learn, and to just watch.
And around six months old I met Anna Brown, she’s my best friend, we live about a mile from each other, and we have journeyed together, watching our children grow. Her children are a couple years older than mine, and we just watched, and we saw them learn, and so we just always unschooled. It wasn’t a separate thing we did from living and listening to his desires.
There was a family that first introduced me to the idea of homeschooling—I didn’t know it was even a possibility! We were at a park day, she has an eight and ten-year-old boy, and they were curious and assertive, questioning and confident. We went on this park hike up into the woods and it was magical!
He was only like, I dunno, 15 months old then, and all the children—there were like a dozen children of all different ages—and they were all learning together in this natural environment, in this creek. The boys, the older kids, they wanted to build a dam, and they were involving the little kids to “Get me this kind of rock! No, that kind of rock, and bring it over here.”
And everybody was collaborating and working together to make this project work. And it just brought tears to my eyes, just because I thought “Oh my gosh! This is what learning is supposed to look like in the real world!” And it was just like, ‘That is what I want to do!’ She was doing it, and she had a six-month-old also, and I was like, ‘Tell me more about this homeschooling idea.’ and I just wanted to be with them and to watch and learn!
PAM: Wow! That’s awesome!
PAT: It really was magical…
PAM: Yeah, I got goosebumps just listening. Because my kids, my eldest I guess, was nine, really, and I had never heard of homeschooling either! That sounds like a beautiful way to learn about it. And you came across it, Deb, doing some research for someone else, isn’t that cool!
DEB: Yeah, because Rick has three sisters, and two of them were still around nine, 10 years old when we got married, and so by the time Joshua was coming along, they were in the high school ages and having some issues at school. His mom was just at the end of her rope because the school wasn’t helping, so we did some research and found out that she could just pull them from school and that was it! So, then we were like “Hmmm! That sound like a really interesting idea!” It just made sense.
PAM: Yes! So, it sounds like for both of you your move to unschooling was really just to continue living, because you guys got familiar with the concepts before your kids were actually school age. Is that true? (affirmative noises)
PAT: Well, a couple of other things that were interesting to me.
My husband was valedictorian of his class and he was left-brained and always excelled in school. And I had always done well in school, but I was right-brained, and I was always curious wanting more information on, ‘Oh, is that related to that?’ and ’What happens before that?’ And I just was told “Well, we are not covering that right now,” and “That’s not on the test,” and “That’s not what we’re talking about today,” and I just remember that experience of not being able to learn and explore information as my interests were telling me, “Oh there’s more to this story!” We loved school, my husband and I did.
But it was like, my sister had finished sixth grade math in fourth grade, but when we moved to a different state, they wouldn’t give her seventh grade math. She had to do fifth grade math all over again for a year, and then she had to do sixth grade math all over again for a year. And my parents fought the board of education, went to the board of education and they went to the school and tried to get accommodations. And they just wouldn’t make accommodations. So, I just thought, “Whew! If we’re going to have that kind of struggle, I don’t need it to be that way. And when I first heard homeschooling at your child’s own pace, and just allow your child to learn as fast as they want about something, and whatever it is that they’re interested, that just made more sense to me, And it sounded easier than fighting the school system.
DEB: Yeah, actually we are kind of the flip of that from you guys, because I’m the left-brained person, and Rick is very much the creative, curious, wants to know all the other things. And he did very well in areas of school that he was interested in, and basically ignored everything else. So, it was a bit of a struggle for him to get through because he just didn’t see any point in a lot of it.
PAT: I also found that the stories that the school teaches you about yourself and your abilities isn’t necessarily correct. I was told that I wasn’t good at history because I wasn’t just memorizing, and memorizing isn’t my forte, but the story about what happened and what led up to things, that part of history I was fascinated by. But that wasn’t what I was taught by this older teacher who wanted us to memorize things.
And so, I knew there were two different ways of learning, and like with math. My sister was excelled at math, and I felt like, well, I wasn’t good at math by comparison, but it was that whole thing of comparing us to other people. When I went to college, I was really good at math, and I didn’t know I was, because I had been told that good at math meant you do it easily, like without effort, like my sister. And so, they just tell you things and you believe it in school, and a child doesn’t need to be told these things or limitations of their ability to learn or things they need to focus on because they’re not good at it. We just didn’t do it that way.
DEB: Yeah, my sister always thought she was bad at math, because she’s a very right-brained and thinks visually.
PAT: The story problems I could do!
DEB: Her thing was, the story problems only worked once you could figure out how to make a picture from it.
PAT: But you can’t write it on the paper, you had to show your work. And you were like, ‘I just figured it out!’ But like, you would get points deducted just for figuring it out! That didn’t make sense to me. None of that kind of regimen made sense to me as a right-brained person.
PAM: Isn’t it cool to how valuable it is to process all our own personal school experiences? Because we can get to the same things, from a really ‘good’ school experience, and when I dig into it and think about what was ‘good’ and seeing was the effects of that—and by ‘good’ I mean, you know, ‘marks,’ because that is the only way you judging good and bad in school.
PAT: I’m really good at taking tests!
DEB: Oh yeah, me too!
PAT: Really good at taking tests. It’s a skill set. Some people are better at it! But that’s not really a life skill!
PAM: But whether you did well at it or you didn’t, thinking through it still makes sense and helps you understand why unschooling is such a, hmmm, natural way to learn.
PAT: That’s how we learn now! Just like how people are learning about unschooling, they find mentors, they ask questions, they read, and that’s how we learn everyday!
But that’s easier with fewer students in the classroom. I understand the math education is structured for a different purpose. Because you have so many people, you can’t have them all asking questions at the same time. But one of the luxuries of having an only child is just like one-on-one tutoring, in that you’re just responsive to their questions. And whatever they ask, we can explore. And if I don’t know, we just find out!
PAM: That’s a great point. And that’s the thing about…That’s why I call it the “education system,” because that’s the priority. The priority is the system. The priority is getting mass numbers through it. And managing those numbers—I mean, that is the priority, over and above the learning, right?
PAT: Yeah, because if you do have 20 or 30 students to get through to the next grade, and which ones can and cannot proceed. You have to have a structure to make it manageable. And it certainly isn’t the best way for them to learn. And it certainly isn’t the best for right-brained people, in my experience.
PAM: OK, next question!
Because we are talking about only children, let’s dig into that a little more deeply. Since an only child spends their home time hanging out with adults, I wondered if you guys worried about them having the opportunity to socialize with other children. Is that something that you worried about regularly? And if so, did you do anything in particular to address that.
Do you want to start, Deb?
DEB: Well, the short answer is, did I worry about it? No. But, did we find opportunities to hang out with people of all ages? Oh, yeah!
When Joshua was younger, he was maybe five or six, one of the people he called ‘my friend’ was an elderly, African-American, wheelchair bound lady at church. And every week he would say “is my friend going to be there?” and when she arrived, he would go sit next to her, and sometimes he would chat away at her about what he was doing. Sometimes they would just sit next to each other being companionable. And other times he was running around with the other kids, he loved the teenage girls when he was little. His favorite thing was to hang out with the teenage girls—he was a flirt.
The one thing he never quite could get were kids his exact same age. And I think the thing was, most of them, unless we were at like an unschooling conference or something, most of the kids his age had a school playground mindset, of, you know, pecking orders and pushing boundaries, and trying to get around the rules and that kind of thing. And he didn’t think there was any need to get around the rules. If he didn’t like the rules, he’d leave. You know, that was his thing! If he was there, it was because he agreed that the rules made sense, and if the rules didn’t make sense, he wouldn’t be there! So, pushing the boundaries, and doing that “who’s got what things” or “who’s better at this or that”, that was not a thing for him. Older kids were great. Younger kids were great. Kids his age confused him.
PAM: How about you Pat?
PAT: We’ve had so many varied experiences around the idea of playdates and friends. I can remember going to a fourth of July fireworks, and he just thinks everybody’s a friend he hasn’t met yet. And he was telling a little boy, “Ok, our phone number is seven-oh-four, eight-four …,” and he’s four or five years old. I’m like, “Well, I’m like, we’re like in the middle of Charlotte, and we don’t know where they live.” “We live really far south!” And he’s like, “Well, he can come and play,” because we have a huge homeschooling community in Charlotte. There are a lot of resources for classes, co-ops, discounts at businesses—there are lots of opportunities.
And in our home—we had invited on a homeschool loop, you know, for people to come, that we had a playset in our yard and some video games. And we would have twenty families every week come. So, he just thinks anybody could come to our house, just tell them, and so he did, he just told everybody to come, even if he just met them and we like them and he liked them. So, it’s not been an issue in that regard.
We also created opportunities. When we kind of outgrew our house, and going to the park, and reccing, I called around and called around and called around, trying to find different places that would have resources for us to have a game day or a video game day, or a board game day, or a photography club or a chess club or all these different things that kids can have interest in and be exposed to or explore without having to join something. We found a parks and rec that allowed us to come weekly, and so we had probably 100 families that would come each week on a varied schedule as their schedules would allow. So, we had a whole bunch of interest based activities.
And along the way, another thing that has been kind of a learning process for me, is that—and Anna’s helped me—she’s swears since he was very young that, “Your son is an introvert, and I’m going to protect him from your extroverted ways.” And so, I’d be like, “Let’s have 100 people over EVERY day!” And Erik would be amped up, and like, he wanted it, he liked it for like an hour and a half, he liked that we could leave when he was overstimulated and overwhelmed as a young child.
Or he didn’t want to sit in the class where the teachers were making him do things, like we never did that kind of thing, so we just needed to pick and choose what worked for us, and so we would just create opportunities around his interests, like a video game day or a Mario Kart day at our house, but it was for a limited amount of time, so the introvert was done long before mom was done socializing, so I needed to find a way to meet my social needs outside of his playdates, which is a thing that I consistently see is an issue for some families where there is an extroverted mom and introverted children. And it worked out for us that Erik when we came home from those things, that he wanted his alone time. And I think it must be harder for a child who’s extroverted with an introverted parent, and harder for the parent to meet maybe those child’s extroverted needs, but there are tons and tons of opportunities for classes. We just made them interest-based.
PAM: That’s a great point. And I loved when you said calling around and around to find these places. Because that is something that I have had to do—that a lot of people are doing. It’s easy to just say, “Oh we don’t have it, we don’t have it,” but if you think a little bit creatively, and you just keep pursuing it, keep trying, even for an interest. I remember that when Michael started karate—maybe that dojo isn’t going to be the right atmosphere, there’s more. Not to worry about, “Oh, there’s only one close to us.”
Sometimes we’re driving—I mean, when we moved, for the first year, I would drive Lissy back an hour to go to her Girl Guide group once a week, because that was something that was important to her and her socializing. That was a group that she was comfortable with, kids that she knew. It was important to her to be able to do that as well. It’s so worth making the extra effort to create these situations that work for our child. Like you were saying, maybe putting a time on it because you know, maybe he only needs a couple of hours, or driving 45 minutes or an hour, because that’s a situation he will enjoy.
There are so many unique and fun and creative ways that that we can meet their social needs. I mean, it is really personal, isn’t it? Totally personal to the child. I have one that is super-introverted. And, you know, it’s really different. It just takes time to get to know them really well, and it takes that determination to keep looking. And not get discouraged. It’s not something that needs to be solved immediately.
Like you were saying Deb, the places that you guys went, he found and connected with some people. He discovered the age ranges, the ones that he got along with better, that he enjoyed their company more, and I found that too, that for quite a while, it was the older ones, or the younger ones, because at that point, at that point, age isn’t an issue anymore, right?
DEB: Yeah. He was actually, for a while, he was what I would call “the goat.”
PAM: The goat?
DEB: So, all the littler kids would chase him around and around, and then their parents would signal to him over their heads that it was time to go, and he would run around and he would run past the parents and they would scoop up the little kids and they were done! The little ones never really caught on that that was what was happening. They just enjoyed chasing him, and he would take his big long legs and run really slow so they could kinda almost catch him.
And it’s been interesting, finding that balance, because we found, when he was younger, he could be extroverted three times a week, and then the rest of the times, no. He’s not going anywhere or it’s gonna be ugly.
PAT: Yeah, we found it changed over time too.
DEB: I think it was more pronounced when he was younger. Because, when he was younger, we helped him deal with situations where, “You’ve got to go to this fourth thing because it’s a set appointment for something, so you can’t opt out of it, but we can help you make it easier.” And so, as he got older, he learned to take those tools and apply them himself. He knew, “Ok, we are going to a fourth thing this week. Mom, can you make sure that we have this snack on hand?” Or, “I need to be sure that I bring my headphones when we go to this thing,” or whatever. As he’s gotten older, he’s been able to apply them himself and deal with situations that he might not have been able to when he was four, five, six years old.
PAM: I think that’s one thing that I hear, the worry that they are getting less social experience, but really, what I’m hearing from you guys, is that it is really just up to the child, how much social experience are they looking for, and you find creative ways to meet it. There’s not like a line that every child SHOULD have. You know what I mean? Because when they are engaging in a social experience because they’re choosing it, they are learning so much there! But if they’re not choosing it, like if they’re overwhelmed or whatever, they’re not gaining…well, what they’re gaining is the tools with how to manage that overwhelm, right?
DEB: And that’s where we come in with helping them to manage it, but also, I think that even if it’s just twice a week or three times a week or whatever, it’s a more varied experience than the same people in the same room doing the same thing every day.
PAT: We found, up until about age ten, it didn’t matter so much who the playmates were, so we could go to a variety of parks, or different events or activities, like a snake day at the museum of whatever, or go to the museum where there were other kids playing, it was more just exploring and curious. After probably about age ten, the interest was more specific. It didn’t matter what age the participants were, like you were saying, like if they were older, he learned from them, and if they were younger, he was the leader guy. And so, he got different social skills from those varied ages, because, in the interest based thing.
He was getting more depth and breadth of information. I remember at Pokemon years ago, the sensory overload because of the high ceiling and the loud voices and everybody laughing and I just thought, “He loves Pokemon, but this is going to not work because it is so loud!” But there was an older teen who took the time and sat there and taught him how to play, he was completely absorbed in it, and he was able to master that in a manner that was comfortable to him, and he’s loved Pokemon ever since. But if I had said, “You need to go to this environment of something you’re not interested in with all this sensory overwhelm,” there is nothing he would have learned from it, other than frustration perhaps.
And now, with his interest still in different areas, a lot of the people are older than him by five, ten, fifteen years, and they are teaching him other life skills of patience and strategic thinking, and just being calm in their reactions with disappointment even within competition and such, and so it’s different skills from different people at different ages.
PAM: You know what just occurred to me, you know, how we talk about how the point is not learning to read, but you will pick up that skill as you pursue your interests.
PAT: Yeah, you don’t have to make that a priority.
PAM: Yeah! Same with, social skills. The goal is not social skills, the goal is being who you want to be in the world, and you’ll pick those up along the way!
PAT: Yeah, having a good time!
PAM: Oh, that makes sense!
PAT: Even now, we drive an hour to go to the north side because he has lots of very specific friends that he wants to see, doing lots of different things that he wouldn’t choose to do with people he doesn’t know, but he’s exploring different things than he might because his friends are there. And so, there is no agenda that he explore new things or meet more people, that he learn to do this task at any certain different time, and the reading, he’s 16 now, but he just learned that from the DVR actually.
PAM: I think that might be another piece too for people, because travelling and taking my kids distances for the things that they were interested in, has never been a big deal. It’s just what I choose to do. I remember that when we moved rurally, some of the other parents would say to me—because they were 10 and under, maybe 12 and under—“you know, when they are teens, they are going to want to hang out with people and they are going to be mad that you live rurally, and I just said, “We’ll see what happens.”
I never expected it, and it never came to pass, because I wasn’t trying to stop them. I was trying to help them do the things that they wanted to do. If it meant driving into the city, then we drove into the city. I wasn’t going to take that on and think, ‘Oh, they’re making me drive places!’ and feel put upon. No. Because I was choosing to help them explore the world and dive into their interests and do all those sorts of things. It was something I happily chose to do, you know what I mean?
DEB: You know, that’s one upside of having just one. Instead of going in six different directions, we’ve got one who maybe gets a few things going at a time, but it’s just one. It’s a lot easier on the gas mileage.
PAM: Yeah, and a few times trying to juggle getting two people to different places. I would drive Lissy to some dance classes then go drop off Mike, and then I would pick up one and be like, “Ok, we need to hurry because we have to go get the other one.” Ok, I guess we should probably move on to the next question!
At home with an only child, you are, in essence, the child’s only playmate. I was wondering, did that feel like a restriction or a pressure or a weight on you as their only playmate? Were there times that they wanted to play something or do something that you didn’t enjoy, and, if so, how did you handle these moments?
Do you want to start Pat?
PAT: I think a lot of it is that if somebody is wanting to play, they are wanting connection, so I would meet the need for connection in ways that were mutually satisfying, instead of doing Barbie or dress up or trains, ad nauseum. I didn’t really consider myself a playmate—I would facilitate. So, if he wanted a train thing, I wouldn’t do choo choo sounds or whatever, but I would set up this most elaborate train system with bridges and tunnels and things like that. Or, I would sit and watch shows with him that he was specifically interested in, and we would draw or do cutouts or things that were more intellectually facilitatory, as opposed to playing at the same level as a six-year-old. I provided other opportunities for other children to do that by inviting them into our home, going to other people’s homes, meeting at parks and such, having video game days here, because, I can’t play video games. He can tell you, “Mom can’t do video games.” I can research when the next one is coming out and make sure that we are at the GameStop to get the free download, I can make sure we are there, but I can’t find the A button.
DEB: I’m with you there!
PAT: But we would do things that I love too. So, he learned how to garden when he was three, four, five years old. He knew trees because we were out in the woods, and he knew flower identification. We would go places, we travelled. We would go to animal things. There are things where we would be exploring. We would go to museums and all kinds of nature things, so that we were doing things or exploring things, watching them on TV when we are at home, providing things for him musically that he could explore at home. But I didn’t do Barbies.
PAM: What was your experience, Deb?
DEB: Like I said in the beginning, it’s a little bit different because I was gone from 7:30 to 5:30, Monday to Friday. So, the times that I had that I could play with him, it was a really small window, a lot of times, and so that was really important for connecting. But, I can’t play video games. He started playing when he was five. I actually get motion sickness watching a lot of what he does.
PAT: Me too!
DEB: But I could make sure that he was at Toys’R’Us to get the legendary Pokemon. And I could remember to plug in his Gameboy the night before so that it was fully charged. But the flip side of that was that he learned that, sometimes he really wanted me to play—you know these particular video games that were really important to him at the time—but he also knew that mommy gets really uncomfortable playing those games, so what he would do, was to find the most open scenario. You know, the most big open field, instead of stairs and turns, so I couldn’t bump into any walls, it would just be a big open field, and he would set the in-game timer for the match to be like 10 or 15 minutes, as small as possible, because I could hold it together for like 10 or 15 minutes, and it was just enough that we could share that experience without me being really uncomfortable or him getting frustrated.
There were times that he wanted me to sit on the floor and play things. I’m not a ‘sit on the floor and play things’ person. You’d need a crane to get me off the floor! But I could sit on the couch and say, “Ok, move my blue character to use this ability, attacking your yellow character.” And he would move them and make sound effects and then he would do something. And so, I could verbalize it and let him figure out doing the physical part of it. And we could still interact around that particular thing, those particular characters.
So, it was important to clarify that these, to set the expectations. ‘Yes, I can do this for 15 minutes, but I can’t do it for 20 minutes. We will have to find something else if you want to go further.’ That was really important. It’s important in business even! You set the expectations for your customers, and setting the expectations of what I can do and what I can’t do was really important.
PAM: And I think that’s sharing ourselves, right? Our strengths, our weaknesses, the things that are hard for us, etc. And those are just kind of the constraints that come in when we’re brainstorming things that will meet everybody’s needs. Those are just our needs that we are expressing, right?
“How about we play this—it will only take like 15 minutes because I know you don’t feel well afterward?” Or setting up in an open spot so you’re not running around through enclosed areas in the game. You know, that’s all just this level of trust in the relationship that we’re not trying to get out of something, we are not trying to get away from them. But we still can work together and find a way that we can comfortably move forward, right?
DEB: I think that’s an important thing that it’s not an automatic ‘no.’ Its “this thing is hard for me. It hurts my knees, it hurts my eyes”, you know, whatever, but I can do this level of the thing, and then we can go do something else. It’s not just an automatic “No, you just go play by yourself because I can’t do that.”
PAT: I can do card games and I learned Pokemon, and I had a really great set and I would be tutoring them, and saying, “Are you sure you want to do that, are you sure you want to do this?” And learning with him and our other kids, and to explore with depth his interest in a manner that is comfortable for me. It’s not moving, it’s not jumping, it’s not disappeared somewhere into the video game space where you’re supposed to find it…It’s a card, sitting in front of me. I could do the card game. So that was a thing that I could do with a lot of time, energy, and interest. And so that was another way that we could connect even though it wasn’t video games of that thing.
DEB: Actually, the one thing that was very interesting, when he moved ahead in video games, I inherited his little game boy, and I actually beat Pokemon Sapphire (whooping) But the interesting part of it though was that he became the leader, because he knew how to get through the game—I didn’t.
PAT: Oh yeah, so they’re the teacher!
DEB: He was more experienced than I was at this particular thing. So, I might be able to help him play chess, but I couldn’t find this Pokemon I needed to get. And how to I beat this particular gym or whatever. It was a role reversal that was really important and helpful.
PAT: I mean, we do that naturally all the time with people. Sometimes we’re the learner and sometimes were the more experienced person.
DEB: It’s just interesting when the person who is the more experienced person is six.
PAT: Well, that happens all the time here.
PAM: Yeah exactly! But I think conventionally that might not be, because parents, either they don’t respect their child’s interests enough to want to learn about it, something that their child knows more or is more experienced with. I think that’s a huge piece.
And I think that is a great step to make the focus is on the learning. It’s not on who’s older, it’s on who knows what and ‘Let’s share this piece of knowledge.’ Like you were talking about. Just sharing what our interests are. You know, Erik hanging out in the garden with you, right, Pat?
PAT: Just the connecting and the collaborating.
PAM: It doesn’t have to do with an adult or a child. It has to do with interests, connection, just hanging out together and getting to know one another.
DEB: I gotta ask, Pat. What kind of deck did you have? What did you build?
PAT: I had a psychic water deck.
DEB: Oh, ok. We might have had fun, because I preferred fire and electric.
PAT: I know. Well, Scott learned too. We created games that we could do all three together. Scott and my sister were all in state tournaments in North and South Carolina for Pokemon card training game. With Erik. It’s been an interesting journey. We love the Pokemon family.
PAM: Okay, I’m going to go with Anna, and say I’m more of an Animal Crossing kind of person.
PAT: Oh, yeah.
DEB: Yeah, I never got there…
PAM: Next question!
As parents of an only child, you are the person at home that they come to for engagement, I think we touched on this before, to share their thoughts, to play games, just to express their emotions. You are the other person there to connect with, all the time. And I can imagine that sometimes that might feel overwhelming. So, I was wondering if you could share some of the ways you found to keep yourself refreshed and energized?
Pat, you were talking about this earlier, about knowing about you being extroverted and how to get that need met while still meeting his introvert needs.
What did you find in that area Deb?
DEB: Well again, we kind of have a tag team situation. I would tag in as soon as I got home from work. So, while Rick was making dinner, we would transition to me finding out about Joshua’s day and start connecting back up again. A lot of times it was not so much me feeling overwhelmed because I hadn’t been there all day, it was more about me taking some of that off of Rick who was at home all day.
I would do things like, it was refreshing for me to have a date night with Joshua. We would go to Starbucks and play Battleship or Cribbage or whatever, for an hour or so. Rick would have the house to himself, so he would be refreshed and I could reconnect with my boy, which was refreshing to me. So, it was kind of a tag team partnership kind of thing of who needed what at that point. There would be sometimes where we had been out all day and I would say “Look guys, I need to go take a nap, because I’m just socialed out.” And they knew that that’s what I needed.
It became a habit that Mother’s Day, I got a big bubble bath. Joshua would pick what flavor it would be, Rick would run the tub, and I would sit there until the water got cold. Currently, it’s my tea time. I have a whole collection of teas and a kettle, and I just sit and have tea, and they know that when I’m sitting there with my book and a cup of tea, I kind of need to chill. But I think another thing too, is that because we have a partnership kinda thing where it’s tag team, that’s a lot easier in some ways than some of the moms I know who are at home with their kids, and their husband or partner is not on board as much, so they don’t get that respite some of the time.
PAM: Mmm hmm. What did you find, Pat?
PAT: Well, I’ve had some healthy and unhealthy ways. I think self care is really important, and what I would find for meeting my own social needs, is that I would stay up really late on line, and not get enough sleep. So that was not healthy for me. It, I felt, really stressed my adrenals.
When I started taking care of myself better and going to bed at 10 o’clock feeling refreshed, I just felt better than even getting my social, extroverted needs met at one and two o’clock when the house was quiet. Instead, we created Daddy Day on Saturday. I started getting a massage occasionally, and that was just a piece of wonderfulness. To go and know you were off for like 60 minutes, it was wonderful.
Anna and I would go to the grocery store together, we would have grocery store dates, and I would be getting to see her, and we’d be like, “Oh, have you seen this thing on Aisle 4?” And learn about different organic foods and whatever. I started a mom’s night out once a month. And then the Daddy Day on Saturday became Anna and I would go out to lunch on Saturday, and they would go out to lunch. And then it grew to that they started going to the train museum which was like an hour away, and so I got like half a day off. And then it became Carowinds.
And so, as they’ve grown older, their connecting time grew, and it was always part of a relationship, and that provided me opportunities for taking care of myself. But staying up late wasn’t the healthiest piece, but when he was very young it met a need.
PAM: Yeah, I think that’s a whole part of us growing and learning about ourselves, isn’t it? And finding things that refresh us, and finding that, in the longer term maybe they don’t. Yeah, exactly.
Trying to think of a few things around here. It was another thing that I would do too, as you were talking about earlier, were the things that I enjoy doing as well. If they wanted to do something, then I would say, ‘I don’t have the energy for that right now, but I’d love to play a board game or watch a movie or something.’ It was always about being up front. You know, sharing what we were feeling when we were hitting a wall. Really talking about those times and not shying away from them, but also, I was going to say, not hiding them, but not martyr-ly showing them off either, you know what I mean? Being honest and open.
PAT: Not marginalizing our own feelings, but not putting them on the child.
PAM: Yeah, exactly!
PAT: Not marginalizing our own feelings, but not putting them on the child. Just saying, “This is what I need. I need 10 minutes for a cup of tea, and then we can do that for a half an hour. And then I gotta do dinner.” Just talking about it, like “I have needs, you have needs.”
And Erik since like age four maybe, he’s been like a master negotiator. “OK mom, but what if you have the tea now, and then you do the half an hour…” OK, maybe that’ll work. That meets your needs and meets my needs. He would be the one making suggestions too. He would be the one taking the other people’s preferences, and say, “Hmmm, I still want to get my need meet, how about this and this and this?” And it meets everybody’s needs He’s a great negotiator.
PAM: And that’s a great skill that they pick up. And my kids were so good at that as well! And I would, when I got stuck someplace, I would go and ask them, even if they weren’t involved. You know I’d say, “I really want to do this and that but this is happening. How do you think I can work that out?” And they would have great ideas!
PAT: And it depends on your assumptions too, because sometimes people assume the child is manipulating and trying to get their way, and it’s like, “Well, they are trying to get their way.” I want him to get his way! He wants me to get my way too! We both are working together for both of us to get our way. It’s not like he’s manipulating me to get his way, saying he’ll do this if I’ll do that. It’s not like that. He wants me to get what I need, and I want him to get what he needs so we are brainstorming together to do that.
PAM: Such a good point! And when you’re open and honest with your needs, that’s how we can come up with a plan to meet them without anybody feeling slighted. Everybody knows we are all working together, nobody’s got ulterior motives.
PAT: Sometimes the need is delayed in gratification in that, “Ok, you’re really wanting to go to the Pokemon thing, but, we have to get this thing done today, or we have to get this thing done and this thing done. But let’s do it after this or tomorrow, first thing.” The need is important to me, and we are still going to get it met, and sometimes my need is the one that’s delayed.
PAM: And when you follow through the next time, that’s how you build trust, and then they are willing to wait next time because they know that it will come true, right?
DEB: And I think, too, we are trained to an “or.” Either you get your thing or I get mine. And changing the mindset to “and.” How can we get mine and yours is an important change in the mindset, because we are trained up to, ‘If I get what I want, then you don’t get what you want and vice versa, so I need to hang on to my thing.’
PAT: I think that is one of the benefits to being with your child so much as opposed to being schooled, because those adaptive or maladaptive negotiating or bullying, as it were, skills, aren’t being taught. In some homes I guess they are, but…
PAM: Yes, in general. That is one thing that my kids have found, with their friends and such, it’s not a skill that a lot of them have, like you said, developed, have a lot of experience, you know, negotiating. They will be standing around in a crowd, and it’ll be, “We want to do this,” “Well, we want to do this,” and it’ll be whoever can shout the loudest, rather than taking five minutes to find out a reasonably meet both of them. So, my kids have kind of taken on that role sometimes too. OK, last question here!
I’m really excited to hear what you guys have to say. At this point, what has been the most surprising thing about your unschooling journey?
Let’s start with Pat!
PAT: That I am learning all the time! I am fascinated at the things he’s teaching me! Because the things that he has learned through some kind of osmosis of the world that I know that I haven’t exposed him too, and it’s like, “How do you know that!?” And he’ll ask questions that they say they’ll never ask. “Mom, what’s an adverb? What’s a participle?” And it’s like, “ok, this is just a funny sentence!”
People were saying this would never happen! And I find that amusing. We have travelled a lot, and just his curiosity has been constant. It’s not that I have to point things out or tell him to learn things, it just that it’s always been easy. He’s just curious! He’s never been thwarted from learning, he’s just been facilitated, so whatever he’s interested in, we try to find a way to find more information about it.
If I don’t know, we find books, videos, documentaries, research it on the internet. It’s just, he has those skills, too, now, you know, since, you know, 12 or something, where he just researches things himself.
For having been in a homeschooling environment. He knows so much about foreign politics, world issues, countries, constitutions of different countries, history of wars and things. Things that are world topics, Because of his interest in learning, as opposed to, “You’re going to be tested on this so you need to know the dates.” I’ve just found the joy of it.
PAM: That’s awesome. What about you, Deb?
DEB: I’ve actually been thinking about this for the last day or so since you sent them. I think the most surprising thing is just how much I enjoy his company as an adult in the household.
I mean, it was fun when he was a kid and we were exploring things and we’d find out all kinds of interesting things like why soccer is called soccer but some people call it football, you know, all those kind of fun things, where words came from. But I’ve got a 19-year-old who voluntarily goes grocery shopping with his old mom, and we have fun doing it, and I think that is just amazing, that we can have these kind of family in jokes, and we can just have fun together, not as parent/child specifically, but he’s just a fun person to be around. And I think that’s just, and I’m not really surprised by it as much as I’m really enjoying this, that it’s something that you don’t always see in the larger society. That kids can’t wait to get away from their parents, as far as possible. He really likes to help me do the grocery shopping, because we get some time together. We can talk about stuff in the front seat of the car when you’re not looking at the other person, which really helps some kind of conversations. He comes up with something. It’s like, “Do you know why they call it soccer?” But he does because he picked it up somewhere and we are having lunch, and the question came up, and he just throws it out, between the french fries! And it’s really serious, so Rick had to look it up on his cell phone, and sure enough, he was right!
PAM: Well, I think it can be surprising, because I think it’s something that you’d not expect to be an outcome of choosing to not send your kids to school.
PAT: Well, he can go if he wants, too. I feel like he’s made that decision too. I think that for most of us who have done this long term, listening to our child, aren’t making the decision of going to school or not going to school. I think that he’s always had the option of going to school, he just doesn’t want to go to school. He likes having fun and learning.
PAM: Ok then, giving them the option of not going to school.
DEB: Every couple years, we would ask Joshua, “Hey, school’s coming. Do you want to go to school?” And he would think about it and say, “Nope.” When he was five, we were coming back, so he was just barely school age, and we were for the homeschooling group park day, mid afternoon, and I had taken the day off because it was like a big park day, end of the year for the homeschooling year, big picnic thing, and as we were coming back and we get behind a school bus, and, and he gets really quiet for a minute, and then says “You know, if I went to school, I’d have no time to play or anything.” And it was like “OK, he’s really got this figured out already.”
It was always on the table if he wanted to. I know some kids, you know, they really need and want to do certain things that only some sort of a private or public school is going to provide, you know, certain resources. But a lot of times you can find those other ways. But not always, depending on where you live, so that always needs to be an option. If this is a resource that they need, that’s where they’re going, because this is what you’re choosing at that time for that particular reason.
PAT: And kids can always try it, you know, in the future. It’s not like you can’t next year or the next year or the next year.
PAM: It’s an option and it’s there, it exists. I know that when Lissy was looking at photography programs in local colleges and such. It’s always an option to consider. It’s just, it’s not the only option. It’s not what you need to do to get x, y, z. There’s always possibilities. You have conversations about all of the different ways that it can be met, and maybe, yeah, that’s a way they want to try and meet their needs, you know, and a lot of kids try it out and see and get a more experience, and decide to come home, or not. I think a huge difference is the atmosphere, right? We are not going to bring that whole school structured authoritarian environment home with them.
DEB: You’re not going to get a dollar for every “A” you get on your report card. Because that is the mentality a lot of people have. You know, like this is your work, and you learn things if you do this. And that just doesn’t fly.
PAM: Exactly. It’s about the learning. And it’s like you were saying, Pat, we’re learning all the time. And even in school, they’re going to be wanting them to go to school and learn those things for the report card so they can get those As and reward them for their As. But they are learning all sorts of other things about being in the system I think.
PAT: I think that one of things that being home offers also is the opportunity to learn and to live compassionately with other people. I think those learning skills are really important. Learning consent, learning choices, learning what is best for you as a person as opposed to what you have to do because you’re told to, because you have to. I think the self knowledge is a big benefit of being home together and being out in the world.
DEB: And the ability to learn how to negotiate, how to resolve things, without needing to necessarily push your point or be aggressive about it. You don’t necessarily need to push somebody off of the hill to be king of the hill, when maybe both of you can be on top of the hill.
PAM: That’s something that I’ve found. The self-awareness is amazing!
And the understand that we are always growing and changing. I think that’s something that they pick up over time too. They will think about it and say, “You know, oh, I really liked that two years ago!” Sometimes Lissy will say, “Gee, I wonder what my 15-year-old self would say about me making this choice now!”
Understanding how we grow and change—I think that’s awesome. And to have the self-awareness to be able to see this progression I think is great. And the point we were talking about earlier. Finding a way through, negotiating, and understanding that other people have needs. I think that’s a basic thing that’s hard! To be able to take in other people’s needs and not think they are at the expense of yours.
PAT: I think with the video games, as Deb was saying, our perspective of trying the video game is different than our child’s perspective. They may like rollercoasters or Japanese food, or riding a bike. We all have different experiences of it. And there’s a right experience and a wrong experience in school, and you have to do well in every subject, or else, and it’s like, ‘not necessarily.’
Some people do really well in music or some people do really well in art, or some people do really well in history! It’s just, we all have our own perspectives and experience.
I don’t think it’s better with an only child, it’s just different than having siblings.
PAM: I think “just different” is a great way to put it. We are all just trying to understand ourselves, learn, and meet our needs. If part of your needs are other siblings are involved, that is just part of the environment, and if they’re not, they’re not.
DEB: And I think that perspective, for a child, having their perspective taken seriously, instead of just, ‘you don’t understand this because you are…’ whatever age you are. You know, you’re too little, you don’t understand this yet, you don’t know enough. Taking their perspective seriously from the get-go, even if they are totally convinced that the grass is purple, you know, take it seriously in saying, “You know, well, I take it this way. How do you see it that way?” It starts them out being able to see everybody else’s perspectives a little bit more than if they’ve had to elbow to maintain their space.
PAM: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. It’s just something we’re embracing as parents and we are choosing to give our children that space and that voice. It’s a lifestyle, right?
Ok, well, I must say, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me, and for living through the tech issues as we figured this out.
And before we go, where’s the best place for people to connect with you online? Deb?
DEB: Facebook, though I will let you know that evenings and weekends I’m usually not online at all, because I do software testing so I have my computers open all day every day, and yes, it is plural, computers. And so, when I leave work, I kind of leave technology behind as much as I can.
PAM: Wonderful. And you, Pat?
PAT: I’m on Facebook a lot, and I also host Heal Thyself on Facebook about mental health and healing. I’m probably in a bunch of the groups, but we kind of do that pretty naturally without the groups now. There’s less politics.
PAM: I’ll put a link to your Heal Thyself group too, I love that group.
Thanks very much guys!
Have a great evening!