PAM: Hi, everyone! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Jennie Gomes. Hi, Jennie!
JENNIE: Hi, Pam.
PAM: Just to let everyone know, Jennie is an unschooling mom to three young children and we thought we would try something fun today. Jennie was on the podcast just over a year ago, so episode 25, and I will put the link in the show notes. We chatted about her deschooling journey. She has graciously agreed to come back on the show to answer the same questions but now with another year of unschooling experience under her belt.
So, you guys can listen to her previous episode and this episode to see how her understanding of unschooling has evolved over the past year and how things have changed and how it plays out in their daily lives.
So, I’m definitely looking forward to that, diving back into unschooling.
Jennie, to get us started, can you just give us a quick reminder, share a bit with us about you and your family and how you first came across the idea of unschooling.
JENNIE: Hi Pam, so, there’s five in our family. I came across unschooling after my daughter Madeleine attended JK, and after our shared experience with the schooling system I decided to explore a few other options. So, with myself, my husband and my three kids now, we’ve all decided to move into unschooling. We practiced attachment parenting with all three of our kids—unschooling just felt like a natural extension of that. So that’s how I’ve kind of come into unschooling.
PAM: That’s beautiful. And thanks for the little update.
So, let’s start with this question…
What were some of your bigger fears or uncertainties as you first began unschooling and now what do they look like?
JENNIE: I knew that in order to do it right, I had to commit. I had to commit to unschooling. And that was really hard for me at first. So, I think the biggest hurdle was accepting that the schoolish ways or my schoolish definitions weren’t the only measures of intelligence.
For example, it was hard for me to accept that my kids wouldn’t be able to read or do math until they were older. Once I accepted that, and once I started to focus more on what they could do, instead of what they couldn’t do, it changed my focus completely.
That was when I really started to dive into unschooling and that’s when more doors started to open for me. The more I read, the more lightbulb moments that I had, and the more that I looked at them, the more wonderful things that I saw, and the more peaceful that I became because the more comfortable I became and the more we settled in just to day to day life. So that’s sort of how it went from being really hard to just stepping back, looking at it and settling into something a little more calm.
PAM: It goes back and forth, doesn’t it, right? It’s like, we take a step, then we watch and we see some things in them, and that gives us a little more confidence, and we take the next step and see how our new way of interacting, or even just our new way of seeing things, we see that reflected back in the kids and it’s just back and forth and back and forth.
JENNIE: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s amazing to just watch them grow and learn and take things in. So, it was finding comfort with that, and then my own ideas of schoolish ways, and stepping away from that not being the only indicator of intelligence or that not being the only important thing. And focusing in on what they learn, what they knew already, really helped me.
PAM: You’re right, taking the time to committing to widening how we define learning, I think that’s it. Because we are so trained growing up to that there is a specific way to measure learning and intelligence, right? And that’s the right way…
JENNIE: Like, it’s bonus points if your kid is three and knows how to read, it’s like, ‘Wow, you must be a great parent if your kid knows how to read that early!’
PAM: Exactly! It’s not only a definition of our children but it’s a definition of us and our role as parents.
JENNIE: Absolutely. So, stepping away from that I think was hard for me, but once I got over that, that really helped me dive into unschooling. Because the more I read about unschooling, the more sense it made. It’s like one of those things you feel, it’s like a thread in your mind that once—and it’s a quote you mentioned, you mentioned in one of your first podcasts—it’s like, once you see something, you can’t unsee it. And so, I remember that quote. It’s like, once you learn something, and the more I learned about unschooling, I couldn’t just avoid that I had learned that.
PAM: It’s like this seed inside you, right?
JENNIE: Absolutely, and then it starts to grow and the more you nurture it the more it grows, so that’s how it happened for me.
PAM: Oh, maybe, thinking of that—like you said up front, it was choosing to commit to it. So, it was, the seed is in there and every once in a while the connections start peeking through. ‘Oh, that relates to that,’ and then when you choose to commit to it and you bring that seed out, you start nurturing it and actively taking care of it and looking for connections. Yeah, that’s a really nice metaphor.
Has your relationship with your husband changed as your family has embraced unschooling?
JENNIE: Yes, absolutely.
I used to think that we were sacrificing all this time together because we were spending so much time on the kids, but the opposite has happened because we started to notice more and acknowledge the time that we do have. So, this is a change. I used to think it was, you know, everything was depleting, time was depleting, my energy level was depleting. But when I changed my focus to think about the time that we did have, I noticed that it was so much more and so much more valuable. A quick kiss as we walked by one another, or holding his hand while we drive, or having dinner together, because sometimes the kids don’t always want to sit at the table with us. So, we treat those like date nights. We catch up on our day really quickly together, sitting at the dinner table. So really noticing that we actually really do have a lot of time together if we pay attention. That was really cool.
And I’ve also learned—and this one took me a while—I’ve learned it doesn’t make me any less of a feminist to appreciate him and all he does for our family. And that’s really, truly the reality of it. And in turn, he ends up feeling more loved and appreciated and he’s more loving to our family. And that one was a big one for me. Because I resisted that one for a little while.
PAM: Oh, yeah.
JENNIE: And I really had to learn that it doesn’t make me any less a feminist to really appreciate him and say, you know what, “Thank you.” I work part time, he works full-time. I work part-time from home, we have this wonderful nanny named Jane who plays with the kids in the morning if I have to do something that’s more intense or work-related.
He works every day, he takes the train into the city and then a train back and he’s commuting two hours a day and he’s doing it for our family so we can provide this wonderful life for our kids. And it took me a long time to accept that I should appreciate him for that and it’s okay that I appreciate him for that. So, it made a big difference to us, because once he felt appreciated, he was more loving towards our family. He was, ‘Okay, I’m feeling acknowledged, thank you for acknowledging what I do. That this is the way that I support our family.’ So, we’ve come a long way in that regard and that’s kind of nice.
The other thing is too that I’ve come to realize the unschooling journey, it really has little to do with not going to school. (laughs) And it has so much more to do with living in harmony and living the best possible life that we can on this earth during our time here.
I’m going to get all philosophical here but I can’t help it. But I’ve come to understand that it’s a philosophy of our life. Which is why, I think, that there are so many layers to it, and why there are so many people that are so passionate about it and they stay interested in it. Because it’s so much greater than not going to school, right?
I feel like it’s at the heart and breath of most philosophical beliefs, anything that I’ve learned about. Like you can see threads of it in every philosophical discussion, and that’s amazing. And it’s so funny because I thought about, I was putting together some thoughts for our chat, and Sandra—and this is just the way the world works—on her Just Add Light and Stir emails that she sends out the one that was called ‘Two-way change.’ She wrote:
“Unschooling is more than just the absence of school. As we change, our perspectives change, and the perceptions of others towards us change as well.”
And I was like, “Yeah!” It’s really about so much more than school. And this is the other thing, people can see it. When you’re living a more authentic life—and that’s really such an overused word—but when you’re choosing peace and being grateful and choosing it more, people can see it. And people all around you can see it.
Because my husband and I, we get approached all the time by complete strangers who admire us playing with our kids, and they come over and they talk to us and—at the beach this year, one lady actually said, “When you guys are here playing with your kids it’s like a ray of sunshine on the beach.” Isn’t that beautiful?
PAM: Yes, yes.
JENNIE: Oh my gosh, it’s just incredible, but people see it and they’ll come over to us and talk to us and they’ll say, “The way you guys are with your kids is so incredible.” And so, when you’re living this life and you’re appreciating all these moments, people see it. It’s not just you, other people see it too, it’s an actual thing.
PAM: It really is, I mean—I got goosebumps through that whole answer, it was totally beautiful and I’ve just finished writing my unschooling journey book—so much of what you’re talking about connects so well with this whole journey that we’re on and it grows so much more than just not going to school, right? It does just become a lifestyle.
And yes, I remember those times when just complete strangers would just come up to say hi and, “Hey, I saw how you guys were …” So many times it happened with Lissy and I, and it happens with Michael and I now, places that we would go to, say, the dojo or girl guides, or even now the diabetes clinic—I was just there with Mike this morning.
People would say, “You guys are always smiling!” Because we’re going back there, they see us consistently, they’re just acquaintances, most often I don’t know their names, they’re parents at the dojo who see us on and off when we say hello or goodbye, and stuff like that. And so many people surprisingly will come up and comment, like you said, you’re just living, you’re just being yourselves out there in the world. But it’s true, people will see that.
I talk about how for me anyway, that is where I have my joy. I don’t feel like I need to go out in the world and convert or convince anyone. We are just out in the world happily enjoying our lives. And people notice something different. And then you’ve planted another seed there.
Remember the seed? Even in my children’s friends, because they may be parents one day. There is a different way to be between adults and children. It’s just knowing that that exists, whether or not they choose to take that seed and do anything with it, it’s not our call. It’s not our need to control or convince or whatever.
JENNIE: It’s just a different need. It’s like they come over and they’re almost like, ‘I want to know your secret,’ you know? (laughs) I don’t get into unschooling conversations like that or anything with anybody at all, it just doesn’t get to that point. But I do say, any time that people say, ‘Oh, you’ve got your hands full with three kids,’ I say, “You know what? We have a lot of fun. We have a great time. And I love spending time with my kids.”
And people are almost taken aback when I respond that way, but it’s the truth!
PAM: And the other seed I plant often, like at the dojo, they’ll come and say, ‘Oh, Michael must practice a lot at home.’ And the undertone of that question is, you must be telling him he needs to practice a lot at home. And I say, “Yeah, he loves it! He takes his nunchucks or his bo and he’s out there for hours.”
Just flipping it for them, saying this is his choice. And that’s it, for the seed to be planted. And they can just walk forward with that. ‘Hmmm, they can choose, we don’t need to control, maybe.’
So that’s always so fun, I love that.
Can you share what you’ve learned as you move away from control and punishment as parenting tools. Are there patterns that you’ve discovered as to when those urges come up?
JENNIE: Okay, I’ve actually learned they are a total myth.
In fact, I think the only pattern that I’ve noticed is that using them breaks away from any relationship, and not just the ones with our children. It’s so sad that they’re justified in some places, or that people still believe that they work in this day and age, it just breaks my heart.
But one thing that I do love is the idea that our children are whole people. And somebody mentioned—I tried to find who it was that mentioned this on one of your podcasts—but they said that children are whole people so when they come into this world, our job as parents is really just to teach them our ways, right? Respecting them as whole people. That visual brought up on one of your podcasts has actually really, really helped me daily with my kids and how I interact with them. That’s been really helpful for me.
So, my two-and-a-half-year-old, she likes to say she’s five, if you ask her. That alone tells you she’s wise beyond her years! She’s been radically unschooled now her whole life. And if she’s any indication of success as a result of unschooling, then we have to be doing something right.
My husband and I, we were at the beach and we said something like this to ourselves the other day, ‘If she’s any indication of what an unschooling child is—like a fully, completely, since a baby unschooled child is—we’re doing something right.’ She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s articulate. Opinionated, passionate. She’s really all the proof we need.
And I feel it’s like her trust in us and confidence in herself that catapults her development. She’s amazing, she’s actually fully swimming now, she’ll dive right into the water, she’ll swim to us, and people are just like, ‘How is your 2-year-old swimming? In water? Did you have to dunk her head?’ No, I didn’t have to dunk her head. She did it all by herself. She’s doing flips and all kinds of things and people are astonished at how amazing she is. And really, it’s trust in us and her own confidence that’s just catapulted her. So, it’s pretty amazing.
PAM: I love that image. It’s such a huge shift in perspective, isn’t it? To see kids as whole people, as capable. Just exploring their world and figuring it out. And knowing that you’re there. That trust that we have in them, they can take that on and use that as a stepping stone maybe, of confidence?
Because they know that they can always come back to you. So, they can take that little extra step because they know the safety of you always being there. Without judgement, but with support. So maybe they feel just a little extra, ‘It’s okay if I fall, if I stumble, because I know that they’ll take care of me.’ They can put that little extra effort or stretch their own comfort zone a little bit to try something new.
JENNIE: And that’s what she does. I see it all the time with her.
So, how do you handle the daily challenges that come with having three kids of different ages, temperaments and interests?
JENNIE: I think this is where I’ve grown the most, actually. When I read this question, I honestly don’t think of it as a challenge. Now it’s an opportunity to see what we’ll do on any particular day—how we’ll handle any difference of opinion, and how we’ll spend that time together. That’s how we learn, that’s how my kids and I really learn to be together, what we need to do to feel comfortable, and how we’re kind of hoping that will happen. Problem-solving 101.
And my kids are experts at it too, especially my 2-year-old—she has just as strong a voice. There’ll be times when I accidentally forget to ask her, I think there were one or two times when I forget to ask her, “What do you want to do,” and she’ll pipe up, “Mommy, you forgot to ask me.”
Her voice is just as heard and just as respected, so she comes up with great problem solving too. She’ll often go up to my son and my daughter and say, “Well, how about this idea?” and she’ll run something by them and she’ll say, “How about that?” and wait for them to answer. Age has really zero to do with any sort of weight on who gets to decide what. Age doesn’t matter when it comes to discussions about what we’re going to do or how we’re going to resolve any particular issue. It’s problem-solving 101. Like I said, my kids are experts.
So that’s basically how I think of it now, ‘Hmm I wonder how this day is going to flow. I wonder what we’re going to do and where we’re going to end up.’ Because you never know, and that’s kind of how I like to approach every day. You never really know what we’re going to do. We could be at home all day, or we might decide to go to Reptilia.
PAM: I remember that point, that is where I realised that there was such a—I talk about it as an undercurrent of joy to our days. Even though we don’t know what’s going to happen, what we’re going to do, like you were saying, there’s the possibility, the opportunity, right?
I love the way you describe this as probably one of your biggest shifts over the past year because when we get to the point where, how you described it, it’s when we step back from judging things so much as a good outcome or a bad outcome, but we see the value in whatever we’re choosing to do, no matter how it works out. Because we learn a little bit about ourselves and the world, and why didn’t that work out the way we expected. So, they’re not challenges anymore. Because challenge means you’re looking for something. You’re looking for the “right” answer when you’re framing something as a challenge. So, you’re still looking for something that’s best, you’re still judging whatever choice you move forward with.
JENNIE: And you’re also weighing whether it’s good or bad in the back of your mind, right?
PAM: Exactly. For me, it was thinking things were going to not work out so well and yet they did. Or, they don’t turn out well and we still learn so much about it for the next time that we make the choice. I love that, because, there you are, perfect shiny example, because that was a huge part for me on the journey. And it really takes time, doesn’t it? You really need to have these experiences to realize, ‘Oh, all that stress I was putting on each of these challenges and trying to get the right answer…’
JENNIE: It was pointless.
PAM: Yeah! Everybody can have their input. They have such valuable thoughts to share.
JENNIE: They do!
PAM: It’s so beautiful, it’s that shift from challenges to possibilities, right?
PAM: So, the next question.
The curiosity and energy of young kids is incredible. So, what are some of the little things you do during the day to recharge your own energy? You were talking a little bit about this when you were talking about your husband, right? When you start to notice moments … mindful of moments instead of looking for big chunks, even with your kids, that all of a sudden you have so much more time than you realised, right?
JENNIE: It’s so true, and it’s so funny because I actually made a note that was something I wanted to talk about when I answered this question because when you asked me this question last year, it felt draining, it made me feel heavy when I read it, and that’s how my days kind of felt and I was still balancing back and forth. And this time around, it actually recharges me to think about my kids’ energy and their vibrancy and their smiles and their excitement. Their spirit actually recharges me when I need it; just being around them recharges me. All I have to do is watch them and be present around them at any moment and just notice them. And that’s how it is, just watching them play recharges me.
And I have learned to notice things and appreciate them. Like how sweet a quiet moment is. And how the only reason it’s sweet is that it wasn’t quiet five minutes ago when everybody was upset about something, but now it’s a quiet moment and it’s a really sweet quiet moment. So, I’m noticing and appreciating this quiet moment and I’m getting the chance to make a note of a quick idea that I had in my mind that I had or something, whatever I’m deciding to do with it. And then how thrilling a loud moment is too.
And then also being able to—and this was the other thing too—find comfort in an internal to do list rather than an external one. So, I might have had a to do list at the beginning of the day that I had to do x, y and z, I had to tidy up the house, fold the laundry, and all I might have done is played with the kids all day. And at the end of the day, they’re so much happier, and the laundry’s not folded, but my kids are super, super happy. That’s my internal checklist. My checklist that my kids are happy at the end of the day became more valuable to me than an external one that shows that my house is tidy when nobody walks in it. (laughs)
PAM: Exactly! What am I worried about?! That’s so true, focus on the relationship, right?
JENNIE: Yeah, and noticing the moments too is so helpful.
PAM: I love when you talked about watching them, because I talk about that quite a lot on the Q&As. For me, whenever I was feeling some sort of challenge, or off, or whatever, even if I didn’t know what it was yet, it was just discomfort somewhere, watching my kids always brought me—and still does bring me—back to my centre. As you know, this is the important thing.
So, if it was worry about, like you mentioned earlier, without needing to fit into the school classroom environment, reading does usually come later, when it’s not needed. And skills like that. So, if I was starting to feel uncomfortable because I had some sort of conventional timetable running around in my head for some reason, focusing back on them, I could see all the learning that they were doing. And remembering how much I value all that learning about life that’s going to be useful and helpful throughout their lives, versus all these facts and stuff in a curriculum that may or may not.
JENNIE: That they probably won’t remember. That’s one thing that I love, when somebody does start getting into a conversation with me about homeschooling and unschooling, I often open up with that: “How much to you remember about what you learned in school?”
PAM: Exactly. And over the years that belief that has gotten stronger and stronger inside me, that you really don’t remember much, or it doesn’t make as much sense, unless it is related to something in your lives. To understand something better means to connect to other pieces of your life so that it makes sense, so that you can put it in your picture of the world. It needs to connect to something or it’s just floating around.
JENNIE: Well, it’s funny, Pam. Today I was supposed to do yoga in the morning on the beach, but it was raining, so I ended up sitting in front of a convenience store with three older ladies, because up here at the cottage, almost everyone’s retired. We sat—it was in the pouring rain, but we had shelter—and we were just chatting.
And there was this lady, she’s now retired, she said when she was younger she had read a book about a beachcomber. And she remembered it, it stuck with her entire life, and now that she was retired, she wanted to buy a metal detector and, in her retirement, she wanted to comb the beach.
And I said to her, “What a simple thing that you remember from when you were little and now you finally have the freedom to do that.” And quietly I observed in my mind that the opportunity that I’m giving my children is that I can do that with them now, when they are little, they don’t have to wait until they retire to feel like they have the freedom to do that.
They don’t have to waste all of this time figuring out that there’s a connection that they value and that’s important to them and that they want to do. They don’t have to wait until they are 65 to do it, they can just say, “Mom, I really want a metal detector,” and I’ll figure out how to get them a metal detector so they can go out on the beach and use it.
PAM: Right when that interest or urge is fresh. I just imagine these little tendrils of interest wanting to connect, wanting to connect, wanting to learn more and you are able to help them to find things to connect to it right then.
And I think they make such strong connections—I guess that strong is probably the best way to describe it—and we can help them expand it as much as they want. And it’s totally okay if one of them goes somewhere different. Or, ‘I’ve gone as far as they want and I want to back up a little bit and I’m going to go out this way.’ But I think that the learning that they do in this sort of fashion is so much more powerful and life long, because it’s making strong connections, it’s something that they’ll remember.
JENNIE: When it’s meaningful to them, right?
PAM: Meaningful, great word, exactly. When it’s meaningful to them, that’s when I think the learning connections are just so much stronger than when someone’s telling you that, ‘This is connected to this and then we do this, and then we do this.’ Those just seem like such weak connections.
So, what has been the hardest part of your unschooling journey so far?
JENNIE: The internal work I had to do has definitely been the hardest part of my journey. And then finding a balance. Because I feel like I teeter-tottered for a while, like on a roller coaster going back and forth between two extremes. Like giving more than I could to my kids and feeling justified in taking it back. And I always felt like I had to be doing it right and if I made a mistake, if I got angry or frustrated, I’d get discouraged. I’d feel like I was messing everything up, it was like a vicious cycle.
And for a little while it was like that until I found some stable ground. I find that I do still teeter-totter but it’s not as high points and they’re not as low. It’s sort of like—it’s not as mountainous, I guess—as it would have been, if I can describe it that way.
But that’s what it feels like now, it feels like I’m finding a bit more of a balance, like we’re in a bit more of a groove. And I’m not going to lie, it really helps that they’re getting older. Because reasoning with my eight-year-old is so much easier than reasoning with my two-year-old. And that is just common sense.
It’s funny because, I’ll often talk to people and I think people just forget the toddler years, like people forget childbirth pain. You know, you forget how hard it is to give birth until you’re in the moment again and then you forget how painful it was. And that’s how the toddler years are. It can be really gruesome sometimes trying to just reason with a two-year-old. And you want to respect them, but it can be challenging. It definitely helps that as they’re starting to get older, they’re open to more reasoning, especially my eight-year-old. It’s amazing how much she’s grown in the last three years through being radically unschooled. Oh my gosh, it’s incredible.
My mom, sometimes she’ll say—well, she watched them for a day recently and she’ll say— “Madison should be in school, she should be reading, she didn’t pick a wrapper up off the floor…” And I said to her, “Really? Well, she cleaned out my entire fridge yesterday.” She’s just one of those kids. She said, “Mom, I think we should clean out the fridge today!” She literally took everything out of the fridge, wiped the entire thing down and put everything back. And I was like, “Okay, sure, I’ll help you.” But she didn’t pick the wrapper up off the floor.
It’s funny, watching things like this and paying attention to them. It’s just gasoline to me, it adds fuel to my passion for unschooling. It definitely helps as they’re getting older. And then a funny thing happened too, because as I began to radically accept them—I love that term, by the way, radically accepting your children—I also started to radically accept myself and my partner.
I was able to be more gentle with myself too, and then when things did happen, I would be kinder to myself about them, almost. I didn’t have to follow through on continuing to be grumpy; I had the tools I needed in order to be kind to myself and realize. ‘What is it about what I’m feeling right now? What might have happened? Do I need to go and take a walk?’ Maybe I didn’t have my cup of coffee this morning. Maybe I need to eat something. There’s got to be a reason why I’m feeling this way, I’m not a mean person. I’m not usually grumpy. So, I began to radically accept myself and my faults. And my husband’s too, so I wasn’t so hard on him. And that really helped us too.
PAM: That’s beautiful you mentioned that because that was something I was going to mention: the kindness and the acceptance of ourselves is I think what helps that roller coaster not be so mountainous because we aren’t holding onto things so much more tightly before we’re able to let go and let things flow more naturally. To notice our moments when we are getting uptight before we’re super uptight, and taking that out and having it affect a wider area around us. But part of that is totally accepting that it’s okay for those moments, like you said, that kindness is so important.
I found that it was hardest for me. I learned that acceptance from my kids and I saw them accepting themselves, when things went wrong. And moving forward and keeping trying, whereas I would have been devastated. I was just so used to judging myself as wrong and bad when something happened.
JENNIE: Right? That’s our schooled thoughts.
PAM: We’re so used to judging ourselves and feeling bad and then we just aren’t bringing ourselves to each next moment because half of our brain is still pounding on ourselves. I think that stage where we open up and start to accept ourselves, our nature as human beings. Sometimes things go wrong and that’s okay. Sometimes I’m not feeling my best self and that’s okay. To be able to accept that more quickly or more easily helps temper some of those swings up and down.
JENNIE: Exactly, exactly.
PAM: Oh, I love that.
JENNIE: Oh, there’s a couple more things I wanted to mention.
The other one is that I do find unschooling lonely sometimes. I’m so grateful for the podcasts and the information—the free information that’s out there with your page and Sandra’s page, but one-on-one I do find it very lonely. So, I’m trying to make more connections with people.
I was a member of the La Leche League, I’m a La Leche leader now, and I’ve found that there’s so much of that for babies, and there’s so much support out there for attachment parenting for babies, but, as soon as they go to school, there’s nothing. Unless you’re following a certain discipline criteria or something, there’s really nothing out there for unschooling parents. So, I do find it kind of lonely.
My friends don’t parent the way I do, so I don’t really find their advice very valuable. I try to take information where I can from some pieces that they might add, but not very much. Because all it does is end up making me not feel good. So, I just separate myself from that, and that too has grown with my confidence in unschooling as well. I actually didn’t tell people that I unschooled for a really long time, and even now I don’t. Now I don’t a lot of the time; it depends who I’m talking to.
But I am definitely more comfortable talking about it now than I used to be. I didn’t even go there before. And the other thing is too, I find it a hard balance for me to decide my own idea of how my children’s skills are and their development versus society’s. I have been rereading Sandra’s page on freedom a lot and I’ve been trying to figure out a good balance because I’ve been finding that there’s lots of limitations on kids based on their age in society and that’s been a real challenge for me now.
Like my daughter, for example, Mirabelle, who’s two. Swimming, dunking her head, and swimming across the water to me—most two-year-olds can’t do that. So, a lot of people think she’s drowning at the beach all the time. Or they’ll look at me and my husband to see if we’re paying attention. We’re watching her, but that might come across as bad parenting, too. So, I’m finding it hard to find a balance.
And my son too, he’s a fantastic swimmer, and he’s limited at our local pool because he’s five and apparently you can’t swim unless you’re six. The fact that he’s not six yet means that he can’t swim. So, I had to actually meet with the regional manager of recreation and I got him to pass this swim test again, and he can at least jump off the diving board now—he was so upset when he couldn’t jump off the diving board at a local pool because he wasn’t old enough, even though he can swim two ways across the pool back and forth.
So now I’m at the point where I’m having a bit of a challenge navigating that within the limitations that society has without coming across as a bad parent.
PAM: I tell you, that is something that I found, and lots of parents have found. That as our kids get older and start doing more things out and about where there are these more conventional rules, that that is where a lot of our effort is. Our support for them is, ‘Hey I think our child wants to do something and we think they’re capable.’ And it is finding out, well, who can I talk to so that he can jump off the diving board, right? That is literally a lot of our work. Mike moved up into the adult class earlier than the typical age for kids at the dojo because he was already paying good attention. He already had the mind set and the approach.
JENNIE: They’re motivated. They’re intrinsically motivated to do that. And when they are, and they have that drive, they do it! They do it at a fast pace.
PAM: Yes, because it’s their choice, right? It’s something they love, they throw themselves into it. So yes, a lot of our effort goes into helping them find a space where they can be themselves. So sometimes it is ‘Hey, I think they would enjoy this activity,’ this class, this whatever, and it’s just talking to the people and saying they’re at this stage, they have this skill already. So many times—I remember this photography class Lissy went to, she was thirteen and it’s full of all adults. Because you’re finding the interests, you’re finding peers at that level; it has nothing to do with age.
But for kids out and about in the world, it has everything to do with age. So, it’s just us, not confrontationally with them, not coming across as this badgering, helicoptering, pushing mom. But, you know what, part of it is accepting that some people may see me as pushing, as my motivation.
JENNIE: It’s advocating, we’re just advocating for our kids.
My son is a good swimmer and I feel, if he doesn’t get the opportunity to continue to learn to be a good swimmer and he gets held back… He had that actually, I actually have an example of that. He did swimming lessons and he was swimming at the lake with no life jacket for most of his life—he was four at the time—and he went to swimming lessons, and the instructor told him he had to wear a life jacket and if he didn’t he’d sink to the bottom of the pool. And so, every time he gets to the deep end now, he’s afraid and he wants to put on a life jacket. He’s gotten over that now, but it took him almost a month to get over the fact that he would not sink if he didn’t wear a life jacket.
PAM: Because they trust what adults are telling them.
JENNIE: Exactly. Fully and completely.
PAM: That’s the word I was missing, advocating.
JENNIE: So, it’s just advocating for our kids and being like, ‘He is able to do it, and I feel like I’m okay with him doing it so what do we need to do to allow him to continue to practice his swimming skills?’ Because I don’t want to hold him back.
PAM: Being okay with the hoops they want you to jump through. ‘Okay, I’ll do that swimming test again.’ They just want to see this, they want to see that, and you supply it. Do what you can to make them feel comfortable with their choice.
JENNIE: So that’s been the sort of new thing that I’m kind of starting to explore now the kids are getting older.
And the other part of this too that I’m kind of seeing come up is that I’m struggling to accept each of my kids’ passions with equal vigour. A lot of the times one of my kids keeps me on my toes and feeling like I need to do more internal work on myself. So that tells me that there’s still some areas that I need to grow in. I feel like I’ve come a long way, but this is the one piece … I feel like sometimes, if I’m more interested in something, I might be more excited to help out with this than helping out with something that I’m not as excited about. So, it’s trying to find that equal vigour for everyone. Starting to explore that a little bit.
PAM: That level of self awareness of ourselves. And to notice when, ‘Oh geez, I’m giving this…’ Because it can also be a negative when you’re overexcited about things, right? Because your kids can feel, ‘Oh, she’s really excited.’ And they can start to feel a bit of pressure to keep going with it longer than they might have chosen because you’re super happy. And you may discourage the other one. So that’s—and Pam Sorooshian mentions it as well—that dance of parenting.
JENNIE: I love that quote, that’s a good one.
PAM: Yeah. This is all about being human, and we’re just going to dance with people and notice, ‘Oh, gee maybe if I did a little bit of this,’ and I pull back and somebody leads for a while, and somebody else takes over for a little while, and it’s always that do a little something, observe what happens. See, ‘Oh maybe I was a little overexcited here, maybe I can help out a little more there.’
Living mindfully is just a good mantra for me, just to remind myself to pay attention to all of it. Just to pay attention to myself, to pay attention to the environment, and how I dance with that and with the other people that are in my environment. And it helps losing that judgement of ourselves because we can see things more clearly as well, and it’s okay if, ‘Oh gee, I think I overstepped that, I’ll be more careful next time. I think I want to step up more over here.’ It’s just making choices with our days and knowing we have full control over ourselves, what we choose to do. And we don’t have to beat ourselves up if we took a misstep and stepped on somebody’s toes. It is life and that happens. And it’s not, ‘I’m just going to be a bull in a china shop and charge around however I want.’ It’s that dance, right?
I say one thing, but I’ve got to say the other!
JENNIE: You do. You’ve got to be kind to yourself, and it’s so funny: being kind to your kids, it allows you to then be kind to yourself. It almost teaches you to be kind to yourself. And that personal growth and that personal work was hard for me and it’s still something that continues. And that’s the interesting thing about it, because it’s layers and we go back to that in the previous answers, it’s the layers, of this unschooling life, the more you delve, the more there is. You start to scratch the surface and there’s always more. And that’s the part of it I love.
PAM: I know, exactly. I love it too. And it is something that doesn’t go away. Like you were talking, your kids are getting older, starting to do more things out, you’re finding, ‘Oh, I’m peeling back these advocating layers,’ and they are going to keep getting older, no matter what you do. So, there’s the next thing and the next thing. Even when they’re older, there’s the next thing in their lives and there’s the next thing in ours. Realizing that this is life, that I’m not trying to solve things and figure things out so that I finally have the answer—we’re going to be dancing forever.
Okay, last question.
What’s been the easiest part of your journey?
JENNIE: There have been so many. Just being around my kids and watching their faces light up. Being close when they’re sad too, being able to hug them when they’re upset about something. Even when they’re angry. Just being able to see all of that, be present there for all of that, being that one person who’s present for all of that has been incredible.
And the flexibility, oh my gosh, for unschooling that we have, to travel or to day trip or to stay home all day when it’s snowing outside. Oh my gosh, that’s the best.
And then, finding information, the pure generosity, the people that we have in this unschooling society, like you and Sandra, has been so amazing to find information and to find these resources. And then, you know, watching them learn so much about themselves. Like watching Madeleine—the other day, she said, “Mom, that says caution, what’s that saying caution about?” ‘Oh wow, you can read caution?’ I didn’t say that out loud but, oh, cool! (laughs)
And Matthew tracking his soccer scores, he loves soccer. Matthew has gotten into soccer too, and this is how you can really tell, because he will play soccer for an hour after soccer ends. Like he will play the game and everyone has left the field, but he and my husband are still out playing soccer on the field because he doesn’t want to leave. It’s the coolest thing.
And he’s tracking his soccer scores and he’s going, “Daddy, we have to get two more points and we win the game.” And my husband is, ‘You know, you’re only five, they’re not really tracking the scores yet.” He’s like, “We’re going to win!” He’s so excited.
And then learning from them too. They have these amazing insights, if you just listen. All these thoughts. The other day Matthew was walking along the beach, “Mommy, it’s so amazing how I can tell my arm to move like this and it just moves. Or I can tell my leg…” And I’m, “You know what Matthew, you’re right! I never even thought about it that way, I can just do it. It’s quick.” And he’s like, “How does that work?” And so, we got into this big long discussion about the nervous system and the brain and how it’s the coolest thing.
But they allow you to take a step back from your everyday life and just think about the little things, being able to move your hands and being able to move your fingers. Just having those experiences with them has been the easiest and best parts of this journey.
PAM: I’ve got to say, I know. Their insight and the connections that they make between things out and about, the insights that they pull—I swear, when any of them wanted to chat and have a conversation, I was like, I’m dropping everything. Unless someone was bleeding to death in the corner, I’m having that conversation because it’s so fun. Just to hear where their mind is going, to hear what they’re thinking. It’s like a window into their thoughts, just to see where that connection went, and where that went and where that went. And all of a sudden an hour’s gone by.
JENNIE: To me, it’s wonderful because it’s just pure. It’s non-conventional, they haven’t been trained out of, or been sped through life and told what’s important and what’s not important, it’s just pure.
PAM: And you know what’s really fun too, as they get older, and they’re spending more time…even for my son who was more of a home body and he liked to play games and play online, I’ve said before, seeing my other children who liked to go out and about and do more activities in groups but they still had the same insights because they’re still relating to other people.
So, to see their insights as well when they realize how different their family’s life is, and they start to understand why we’ve made these choices. We sit down and have these conversations with them, and they make these observations. And they see how things are out there. They see other kids making choices and they’re observing, because that’s just what they’ve always done. They observe other choices kids are making, they observe other parents interacting with those kids and we have so many interesting and fun conversations about the insights that they have just about wider society, differences in people, backgrounds of families, that’s when conventional messages come up in conversation.
JENNIE: Oh, I can’t wait!
PAM: It’s just so fun! The way they observe. And they are so accepting. They’re not judging. Because judging isn’t something that we do, right? So, they see that and they’re like, ‘Why? Why would they choose that, why would they need to do that?’ And kids would come and visit at our house and would just be more excited, so conversations about that. ‘Oh when we go over to their house we can’t do x,y,z, so they’re coming over here.’ But it was all, this is life! We’re navigating life as it is and people who they are on their journeys, not expecting that they can change things or that other people should change. But the observations and insights that they have as they start navigating the world are just incredible on a wider basis as well.
JENNIE: I look forward to that.
PAM: I probably talked enough!
But thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me Jennie, it was so fun to chat with you again.
JENNIE: Oh, I loved it Pam, thank you so much for the opportunity again.
PAM: And thanks so much for sharing. I’ll have to talk to you again in another year!
JENNIE: I hope so. I hope so.
PAM: And before we go, where’s the best place for people to connect with you online?
PAM: Excellent. And I will share links to those in the show notes. Thank you very much and enjoy the rest of your vacation.
JENNIE: Thanks, Pam.