PAM: Hi everyone, I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Anna Brown and Pat Robinson. Hi, guys!
PAM: Hello! This week we are going to talk about everyday, ordinary unschooling. We want to focus on celebrating all unschooling children and dig into why we may—especially at the beginning of our journey—be drawn to seeking out or sharing stories of “successful” unschoolers.
To start us off, you have both been on the podcast before, but let’s just do a quick recap for new listeners.
How many children do you have and how long has your family been unschooling?
Do you want to start, Anna?
ANNA: Sure. I have two daughters, and they are about to turn 18 and 20, and we have always unschooled. Our oldest led us to unschooling very early on and I actually met Pat very early on, just after we moved to Charlotte, when I guess my girls were probably one and three and her son was even younger than that.
PAT: Well, we’ve pretty much always unschooled. Anna introduced us to the idea of unschooling when our son was about six months old. He’s 16 now and we just explored it and we continued to observe him learning and we’ve just always lived and learned together.
PAM: That’s awesome. So, let’s dive into our topic for this week.
There’s a tendency for people new to the idea of unschooling to seek out success stories in an effort to prove to themselves that unschooling is a viable option before they make the leap. And that’s totally understandable. But the challenge with that is that it can set up expectations for our children to, “find their passion” or “start a business at 15,” etc. I saw a quote the other day, “homeschooling is private school for poor people.” That attitude can make life challenging for unschooling kids, can’t it?
Do you want to start Anna?
ANNA: I think that any time we have an agenda or a set outcome in mind, we’re really closing off opportunities and that ends up harming our connection with our kids. So, there’s that quote, “expectations are preplanned resentments.” I think when we’re putting ourselves out in the future that can be hard. I think the most harmful aspect of this idea is that it takes our focus away from our child. We can’t see who they are. If we’re looking at what other people are doing and thinking it will look the same for our children, that will take us out of the moment in front of us and it disconnects us from seeing our child and appreciating their unique path.
And I think another idea that Pat and I have talked about before is this idea of the composite unschooler. We actually noticed it recently in a comment on another group where someone was comparing their inside, their family, who they are, with someone else’s outside. Because what we’re seeing when someone communicates on Facebook or even with us directly is just one little piece and it’s so much more complex than that.
So, I just turn that focus back in on that connection with your child, and that’s where I like to keep my focus.
PAT: Well, most people define unschooling, or success, as achieving or accomplishing, advancing, progressing, attaining something, performance-oriented, outcome-oriented parenting or product-oriented parenting. We’ve seen that a lot, even with an independence agenda where there’s this pressure to get ahead and show off, basically.
I was asking my son about this and he said, “Yeah, it creates a lot of pressure and it reduces your desire to learn because you’re afraid that somebody’s going to be judging you while you’re doing it according to their definition of success.” Instead we just enjoy doing what we love, and we’ve just been focusing on what our son loves all along.
He liked trains and we explored trains, and we went to the train museum every week. And we happened to learn about engines and we happened to learn about the train being built across America, but it wasn’t that we were exploring history—he just wanted to do trains. And it wasn’t that there was an agenda for him to learn, he just loved trains. We did trains morning, night; all the time.
And there was a time when there was music, and he just wanted to explore music. It wasn’t that we had an outcome that he was going to become a musician, or that he was going to become a train engineer, or that he was going to be some performance artist with music.
And then it became Pokémon cards and we collected Pokémon cards and went to Pokémon league and found friends there. And it wasn’t that there was an agenda, or an outcome associated with doing the things that we love.
ANNA: I agree.
PAM: I think this is something that comes up in our unschooling journey often enough, depending on the people you’re surrounded with. At first, it’s, “I’m going to make this really unconventional decision, I kind of want some proof that it’s going to work.”
And then, once you start, you have family around you who are watching you to see, and you feel this need: “Well, I have to prove to them that this was a good choice.” You can almost get caught up in, “I need to prove this is better than school because I chose for my kids not to go to school, or we chose together to not bring that into our lives.” And that’s the thing you can get really sucked into—this needs to be better because you’re still stuck in that comparison with school, right?
PAT: I think that if we just allow … that’s not the right word … just continue to enjoy being captivated by the things that we’re fascinated with and immerse ourselves with things that we’re delighted with, like video games or animals or outdoors or birds or whatever. Those things don’t need to lead to something, they are their own thing, part of a fulfilling life, it fills our life with joy.
I’ve found that families and strangers are fascinated when our children are so informed and passionate. They’re like, “Our kids don’t know what they want to do.” As if that’s supposed to happen at a certain point. And children are just doing what they love, it’s not something that they have to do.
PAM: And it looks so different, doesn’t it? That point you made about the assumption that if they’re into something then what career is that going to lead to. I know my daughter with photography, from the time she was 13 people around her were saying, “Well, she’s going to be a photographer.” ‘Oh phew, they found their lot in life.’ [laughs]
A big part of this issue involves how we choose to define success. That was definitely a huge part of my deschooling process because when we define success more conventionally—like you guys were talking about, through accomplishments—that can definitely be at odds with the unschooling lifestyle that we’re trying to cultivate. I just thought it would be fun to chat about how we define success these days.
Would you like to start Pat?
PAT: I’ve always—even before we learned about unschooling—I’ve always just chosen the lifestyle that brings me joy. And if something hasn’t brought me joy, joy has been the compass point, the North Star, to follow that which brings me joy.
And if I find that it’s not, I veer away—I veer a different way. And it has changed my career and it has enriched my career and broadened my life. And it’s not just the career time, but even before, when I learned of unschooling. So, it’s a lifestyle that brings you joy.
I asked my son and he thinks it’s a life where you’re happy and enjoying yourself. That’s success. I know adults who don’t have that definition of success. And they’ve done the mainstream thing, and they’ve done the things they’re supposed to. And they’re still not feeling happy and enjoying their life.
ANNA: And I think the idea of success is really just a completely different paradigm. Because there’s pretty much always an external measure. And so, I love that unschooling really gets us out of that deficit focus, success looks one way, school model that’s so pervasive in our culture.
So, I think that’s why it’s hard even for us to answer that question. I think it’s that other paradigm. What I know is that I can only speak for myself, what my life looks like for me. And I look at my life in terms of connections, how am I spending my time, how am I moving through the world. Am I spending time with people I love? Am I doing work that’s meaningful to me? Am I connected to my family and community in a way that feels good?
And I found that when I care for those things and cultivate that feeling of connection and joy, just like Pat was saying, in those moments then the rest kind of takes care of itself. Opportunities arise, doors open. We’ve just always encouraged our girls to think about what they love and how they want to spend the time that they have here, trusting in their journey, and have seen paths and opportunities open up as they walk towards what interests them.
So, it’s just like what Pat’s saying, I feel like that’s what we’ve seen. But you’re right Pam, it’s just like this very different idea and so it’s that first step of feeling like, we’re going to unschool, but then it’s really just leaving all of those other pieces behind because it just clouds the way.
PAM: I love that, it’s a huge paradigm shift and I think that’s where the challenge is.
Like you were saying, when you focus on connections and joy and meaning, doors open, opportunities appear. But before you start, when you’ve learned all your life to look for those opportunities first and then that’s what you need to accomplish, and you define your path by that opportunity, it’s a huge shift to trust that first to say, “You know what? I’m going to focus on now, the connections, joy, meaning in my life now, and to trust that awesome opportunities and things will appear.”
Because they do, but there’s that trust that comes first, before you’ve experienced it a few times to realize, right?
PAT: I think that in the mainstream, there’s this external measurement of what success is, right? It’s either a title, a big house, wealth in a financial way, and when I was done with high school a thousand years ago, I just wanted to contribute to my community. So, it wasn’t an external measure of success. I’ve always felt successful at doing that. I was able to do that by being in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters. I was able to contribute to my community.
So, it’s like you’re saying Anna, with connections, it’s a different paradigm from a measurable outcome that somebody’s observing. You need to measure learning in school, where you have to have a test to make sure you’re learning, although they’re not testing the things that you may be learning. So, you have to learn the things they want you to learn so they can measure it. But they can only measure things that they value in a concrete, quantitative way as opposed to your ability to be in a family, your ability to balance a check book or to compare and contrast a financial decision or how to build a garden. Those are not things that they are measuring, that families can be learning that contribute to their joy, to their family, or to their community.
ANNA: Right, and so I really see those things as outside limits, you know. Is it measurable, are people defining it as success, do they see us as successful? I mean, obviously these are not questions that I have, but if someone were, look at how limiting, feel the confinement of that verses just following your joy and creating one garden or learning to have chickens, or doing this, or creating relationships. There’s so much meat in that day to day ordinary life that I think you can miss out if you’re worrying about these measurable outcomes.
PAT: And have algebra by 8th grade. Really? As opposed to 9th grade or sixth grade or verses a college course? If you’re measuring that as success you’re missing all in the world that’s happening, all that’s adding joy to their life.
PAM: You know what piece came up for me as you were talking in relation to what we’re saying now and the question before when we were talking about that need to prove to other people, because it’s about measuring success, right?
And I think that something that can come up—I know it’s one thing that I worked through—is that it wasn’t even me trying to prove so much, it was about getting approval. There’s one or two people in our lives that we really want their approval, you know what I mean?
Oftentimes, it’s parents or somebody significant in our lives. And this shift to our definition of success is now a very internal measurement—that’s the whole point, we’re not looking at external measurements. Yet external measurements are all other people can see, right?
Because they’re not inside our family day to day, they don’t see our kids, our connections, our happiness, our joy in all the little things. Curled up on the couch watching a movie together. They can’t see all this beautiful stuff that’s happening in our families that we understand, yet we can still have a need for their approval. We feel like we need to explain it, and try to say, ‘but this, but this, but this …’ and it gets us defensive and then we start to worry, and we look at external measures and it’s that whole cycle.
PAT: Exactly. We need to choose. What do we want to model? Do we want to model letting others define what success is for us? Or, as my friend says, his definition of success is enjoying himself. And that’s what I want to model.
My parents discomfort with us unschooling isn’t my focus. My focus is my child enjoying video games 24/7 because that’s what he loves. And if I’m limiting him because my parents don’t see the measurable value of video games, then I’m teaching him, indirectly, by modelling, that I focus on what my parents think.
ANNA: You’re showing him that what’s external matters. And so, I think that’s a super valid point.
And what I found to kind of address what you’re talking about too, Pam, is that my energy sets the stage for how people see us. And I’ve seen it with Pat so many times, her joy and exuberance about Erik and Pokémon and those things just turns people around instantly. Because they may not understand it and it may not be something they felt was measurable or fits into the box that they’re used to, but her joy, their connection, his joy, we can give people that information, we can share that energy with them and it turns around those conversations so quickly.
PAM: It really does, and I found when I was working through that in that first year or two when we were unschooling, that’s where I got toIt was the process of not needing their approval and then realizing, ‘we’re not going to try and show off within your parameters, we’re just going to show up as ourselves, our happy, joyful selves.’
And that energy, like you said, it just bubbles over anywhere, doesn’t it? All of a sudden, there were no negative comments or pointed questions. It was more like…holy—you guys are talking to each other and having fun and everything, and they just kind of sat back and watched for a while, so that was awesome.
PAT: That might not happen.
PAM: Yeah, that’s true.
PAT: The grandparents may choose not to connect, they may choose to continue to judge, they may choose to continue to disapprove and that is a choice that the grandparent individually can choose. Whether they want to have a relationship with their child. Whether they want their child or grandchild to feel judged. The grandchild may say, “I don’t want to spend time with them.”
PAM: One of the things I did, I felt like I was preserving the future possibilities of a relationship between my child and extended family, because I was providing this buffer so that negative messages really weren’t there. Sure, we got phone calls after, we got questions after, but not when my kids were there. Not when we were all together.
So, let’s talk about ordinary days and ordinary people. I was trying to think of another word for ordinary, but you know what? I like that. I don’t mind that word at all.
Unschooling parents and unschooling kids going about their ordinary days. Because when we’ve now gone through that process and we’ve redefined success to these internal measures, measures for ourselves and individually, not just a measure for a family but for each of us individually because we are all different people. But now we see so much more goodness around us, don’t we? We love that when we’re cuddled watching something or playing a game or whatever. There’s just so many more great moments around us.
So, I was wondering if you could share your perspective, Anna.
ANNA: Right, because it is about appreciation for those moments because that’s what we have, that moment right in front of us. And learning and connection, it happens as we actively engage in the world around us.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean out in public, because when I said that out loud I thought, oh wait, I don’t want them to think it means that, because it can mean reading, cuddling on the couch, research, gaming, hanging out with friends. In each of those pursuits, we learn more about ourselves, what we enjoy, how we fit into the world, and that’s the beauty of cultivating, caring for each of those moments.
Many people in our society are running after this external definition of success that we were talking about and in that pursuit, I feel like they lose themselves and, at times, even sacrifice their relationships to try and please this external source that probably, in the end, really doesn’t care.
There’s that meme, you know, that you don’t wish for more time at work when you’re lying on your death bed. But even that—there’s an idea in that meme that work is drudgery and to be disliked. I don’t think it has to be that way. I think we can throw away that whole paradigm, like we’re talking about, and then it just opens up all these new and exciting possibilities. We can really, honestly just leave all of that behind, and I know it feels foreign to people and scary at times, but you really can, and this amazing life is waiting.
PAM: What I like about it is using the word life, because that dichotomy between play and work, it really does disappear when joy is your measure and you’re making choices. I loved you calling it the North Star, the compass point that you’re following. Because, you know what? Even if work isn’t a dream job, there are reasons that we’re choosing it, that we’re doing it. Whether it’s because we want to learn something new, whether it’s because we want the income to support our family or to support our other interests and hobbies, we know it’s a choice, not something we have to do because it’s the path we’re supposed to be on—it’s so different. And all our days can more weave together as life rather than this dichotomy of stuff you get through so that you can get to the stuff you enjoy.
PAT: Our ordinary days are our own goals, just exploring our own goals. Pretending it’s summer, but it always is. Whatever you want to do, you have this big expanse of open time, you get to explore this, investigate that, without an agenda or an expectation that you’re going to accomplish something or you’re going to achieve something, it’s just enjoying, it’s just being present and relaxed.
ANNA: And Pat, you and I have talked a lot about that unfolding. How is the day going to unfold? Because it surprises us.
PAT: We’ve had too little of those lately. Because if you have things on this schedule, then that creates this interruption. You can’t just brainstorm or dream.
ANNA: Right, that flow, sure.
PAT: Oh, Oh, Oh! You find that something and then you go down a rabbit hole and you find, ‘Oh, I’ve learned this,’ and ‘What about this?’ And we just do that. Erik loves to explore different things. He’s fascinated by South East Asian history and politics because of video games. He wants to find out how it works in South Korea vs North Korea and it’s just all because of video games. He’s fascinated by the music of the Japanese culture, and it’s not something that I set out to say, now we’re going to learn Japanese, South East politics and history.
And it’s not that he has an agenda to use the information, he’s just fascinated by it and he immerses himself in it. And he’s passionate about it and he’s captivated to learn more and more and more. And that’s a much more enjoyable life, when you are in the flow of joyfully learning. Then it’s just easy and just fun; it’s joyful, it’s not work.
PAM: I think that’s one of the huge pieces.
PAT: Ordinary days! What’s better than that?!
PAM: Yes, I love that. That’s so true.
And that’s another one of the things that I just love so much about unschooling. Like you were saying Pat, learning isn’t work. And kids, when they go to school are taught, ‘This is your job. This is what you need to do. Learning is work.’ So often they graduate—my kids are older now, and from their friends who have gone to school, they’re like, “Oh, I’m so glad to be finished learning.”
But it’s absolutely true from their perspective, right? Because that is how learning is defined in their lives. They don’t see the bigger picture because, in their life, there has been much less value on stuff they learned outside school. So that’s not real learning, that’s just play.
PAT: That’s disconnected from real life.
Children think work or learning as disconnected from real life in the mainstream. Or that it’s going to give you some future real life as opposed to the real life we have right now.
We’re already whole, people! Why give eight hours of our life away, or whatever, to something that’s not real life?
PAM: And I just love the image—we’ll just bring that up one more time—of your days unfolding. Everybody listening, just sink into that feeling for a minute. When something’s caught your attention and you’re, ‘Oh, I need to try this, and I need to try this.’ You just get into the flow of that moment. It’s so peaceful and relaxing. I can just feel my whole body relaxing and pursuing with excitement.
I also want to take a moment to touch on the unschooling kids who are doing things that look more conventionally successful. I think that’s the phrase I’m going to use. I think what’s so different is the entire unschooling ethos within which they’re living that moment though. They’re choosing the things that they do. Not because they can be successful at them, not because ‘I had this success goal and now I’ve created my path to it.’ But because they’ve chosen the activity because it’s interesting to them, because they’re interested in pursuing it. And diving into it, and may become very passionate about it and spend a lot of hours.
So, it’s not about having other people see them as successful or judging them as better than others in that field or activity, whatever it is. It’s not about what other people think at all. It’s more about their personal aspirations and goals and joy and interests. But it takes some unschooling experience for parents to understand this. It’s still, “Here, we can hold them up as a successful unschooler because what they’re doing looks really good.”
What do you think, Pat?
PAT: Well, Erik’s 16 now, so five or six years ago, he heard about this Pokémon World Champion, so he has had this idea that he wanted to go to Worlds, to the Worlds tournament.
I don’t care if he goes to the Worlds tournament. I don’t care if he’s number one. It’s not even something he tells other people that he does. It’s something that he has asserted as something that he aspires to and is working towards. A video game world tournament.
So, we’ve been to Nationals, things like that, where he’s been aspiring to something that he’s measuring himself against his progress. It’s not something that obviously externally people are saying, ‘you need to be a video game tournament champion’ as a conventional measure of success. It’s not something that is outside of him that’s generating this “conventional” type of goal. He just loves playing the video game. He loves the music, he loves Pokémon, he loves the crowd of people at that level because it’s more challenging and there’s more interest. Competing against somebody that’s at your same level. So, it’s somewhat conventional, and yet it’s not externally driven.
ANNA: Right, and so that’s for me, it’s back to letting go of those external measures. And something I think is so cool about the unschoolers that I know, including Erik, is how internally motivated they are. So, even though this is kind of traditional competition in a sense, it isn’t coming from ‘I have to do this for someone else.’ It’s this internally motivated piece which I think is so cool.
And I think it doesn’t just manifest as saving the world and backpacking Europe and starting a business at 12—you know the flashy things that we’ll see out there—and they certainly happen and those unschoolers are awesome too, but it’s even in making just small decisions to follow an interest or a curiosity or flow of that particular day.
I know I’ve mentioned before on the podcast that my youngest works at a movie theatre. And that’s just a job she wanted to get as a teenager. She was like, “That’s where I want to work.” She wanted to be around different teens and young adults and she likes movies, she always has. She likes the schedule, and she loves it—she loves this job. I don’t know how long she’ll stay there, but again, it will come from her internal drive to stay or to go. It won’t be about what others think she should or shouldn’t be doing related to it.
I think we have this energy of racing towards the future and it really pulls us out of the moment. I love the time and space that unschooling really allows that unfolding that we’re talking about.
PAT: As far as unfolding, also, Erik decided at five that he didn’t want to fly on a plane and he didn’t fly on a plane for ten years. Didn’t want to fly on a plane, he said he didn’t like planes, didn’t want to be up high, didn’t like heights, wouldn’t do rollercoasters, didn’t want to fly. And then Worlds was in California. He got on a plane, flew to California.
So, just allowing that space for the unfolding, it wasn’t like we’re going to have some traumatic experience where you’re going to have to get on a plane and you have to get over this fear and you have to do this—why? Plenty of people don’t ever fly.
Sometimes we have this idea of what children need to be able to do to get on in the world, but when they’re ready and needing to do it, they’ll choose. I need and am ready to do this. This thing that I may have been afraid of. But allowing years to unfold too. Not just days.
ANNA: Oh! I agree so much. And something Pat said to me earlier before we were on the call, talking about Steve Jobs?
How little pieces may seem disconnected when we look at them with this external mind of judging and success, and is this leading to a career or doing whatever, but really, we don’t know what all those little pieces are leading to and that’s kind of the beauty. And if we can allow that time and space to unfold and follow the rabbit holes, you know if we look back 20 years from now, it might be like, oh my gosh, all those things really did come to this one point.
But it doesn’t matter. So, I think that judging in the moment, let go of that. Because we don’t know where all these little pieces, where they’re building, what we’re learning from it, even if it’s just what we like and don’t like, that’s valuable, but it may be that there’s this bigger picture being formed that we can’t even begin to understand.
PAT: Zigzagging to the future rather than this race, this straight line. Like there’s this end point where you’re going to get to the future and you’re going to be a real person with a real life.
PAM: I love that—you can see the connections looking back but you can’t anticipate them going forward. So, letting them unfold is just a beautiful image for it.
Zig zagging around you will see, looking back, how those zigs and zags, how things wove through. What seems to be totally unrelated in the moment. That zig to that zag? Where did that come from? But, six months or a year later, you see that it enriched the journey in some way that you eventually see.
For this piece, there was one other observation for me because I was always asking myself, why do I feel a bit uncomfortable with this idea of successful unschoolers? And only in that, because as we’ve been talking about it, they’re all coming from exactly the same place. From the same motivations, because they’re following their interests and joy, and to me, it’s all unschooling kids living their ordinary lives day to day are in the sense of our internal definition of success, successful! Right?
I know I would feel uncomfortable sharing sometimes that Lissy’s living in New York City and she’s working as a photographer and, you know, she moved there when she was 18. Because when you look externally at those, those are cool, “successful” measures. When she wins an award, and gets this show and everything. Well, part of me feels uncomfortable sharing it because it’s not about the external measure. It’s not about the number, it’s not about the award. Those are things that happened along the journey. And absolutely, we enjoy them and everything, but it’s still all coming from every single ordinary unschooler’s days, right? Does that make sense?
ANNA: Yes, yes.
PAM: Okay, good.
One other thing that we wanted to talk about which is another aspect of conventional expectations that we so often see talked about and I loved Pat’s phrase a little bit earlier—independence pressure.
PAT: Independence agenda (laughs)
PAM: Independence agenda, yes.
It’s about when teens turn 18. It seems to be such a significant age for so many parents. It’s right there behind hitting school age. Hitting school age, hitting teenage, hitting 18. And as parents we may have been unschooling for many years and been quite relaxed and enjoying the unfolding of our lives, but we may well find new concerns popping up as our eldest starts to get close to that age.
Would you like to talk about that a bit, Anna?
ANNA: Sure. So, Pat’s son, as we mentioned, is a couple of years younger than my youngest, not quite two years younger, so she’s been hearing me gripe about this for a long time, and warning her that it’s coming.
Because I think to some extent we are just going along, doing what we love, we have this vibrant community all over the world who we visit and interact with, we’re living our lives, and then this age started to approach. And every single person we met has something to say about it. Everybody. Not just family members or acquaintances, but complete strangers. And they were all quite insistent to know, what are the plans now, what are you doing now you’re turning 18?
And to a certain extent, you know, I’m trying to see the positive intent, I think people just don’t have language to talk to young adults, so they honestly don’t know what to say. But there also seems to be a belief that somehow, we’re entitled to know the personal plans of every young adult. And I’ve come to think maybe it’s just another form of ageism. Because I really feel sure that we do not think we have the right to know the personal business of every other person we meet on an airplane or in the grocery store. And yet, we have this belief about kids and young adults.
So, I just want to take my moment here to encourage everybody to think about how we communicate with young people and instead of asking about school or college or life plans, talk about their favorite book or show, or have they been to any good restaurants or do they have a favorite place to hike, how their week’s going. Anything that actually connects you with the actual person standing in front of you. And if it’s a complete stranger, maybe just a friendly smile. Because the pressure we’re putting on young adults is just enormous. And it takes a lot of work to sort through all of the outside noise so that they can focus on what’s coming from inside of them.
So, that’s really where I’ve been putting my focus with my girls, trying to help quiet the noise and protect that introspection. Because that’s really what I think this time in life is about for them; coming in and looking and deciding about next steps. And also, just doing what we’ve been doing, just enjoying each day and letting it unfold. It doesn’t need to change just because of some arbitrary age.
I’m going to step off my box now (laughs), and see what Pat has to say, and Pam.
PAT: Well it’s interesting because my son doesn’t believe that schooling is necessary to learn. I mean, obviously. He’s learned plenty and he’s never been to school. So, he doesn’t believe that it makes sense to get into debt with a college degree in order to learn. Because we’re not into debt with a schooling degree and he’s still learned. He hasn’t been asked to my knowledge, ‘What are you going to do now?’
And he says, when I talk to him about this, have you been asked this, he says, no, I’m already doing it. I’ve always been doing it. Because what he does, and has been doing for years, is creating stories, developing video games, strategies, characters, plots, graphics, arts, language, music. And he’s been doing that since he was 11. It’s not going to start when he’s 18. He’s already been doing it.
He embraces being an artist as a full life endeavor and he’s already doing it. It’s not going to be something that is happening in the future, he’s been doing it. And recently he’s found a Japanese music school that he’s considered because he wants the cultural immersion of all of that, South East Asia, politics, culture, food, language and he needs to have a language proficiency of N2, so we’ve been going to conversational Japanese and all the different ways they write that I don’t understand. He’s exploring that possibility. He may or may not decide to do that, but that’s the direction he’s going in. He may decide he wants to go to England because he likes the English accent too, it’s just this exploring, weave over here because that’s more interesting, and he’s already been doing that his whole life. So, he’ll just continue to do that at 18, there isn’t something that’s going to happen differently.
ANNA: Right, and that’s exactly what I want and had envisioned and desired but then, I am telling you that when you are constantly faced with people—I mean, Afton would get quizzed on an airplane, she would get grilled. And I just wonder, ‘Why!? Why are we doing this?’
And Pat got a tiny taste of this when she went to pick up something that I normally pick up, our eggs from this wonderful woman who we love and telling them, “Afton is away, she’s in Chicago and Anna can’t be here.” “Oh, is she going to college there?” And it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, woman!’
PAT: It’s that there’s only one right way. It’s the limited way. The mainstream limited way ignores all these infinite possibilities of living a joyful life, like there’s one way. You’re prescribed this way. But that’s not true! Because we’re not living that way and we’re happy!
PAM: What I love is, you know, you were talking Pat, about your son and Japanese and considering that Japanese music school, and I think for some, depending on what their interest is, there may come a time, independent of age, when they want to immerse themselves more deeply with other people.
You were talking about that with the Pokémon tournament as well, Pat, with people that are at their skill level, because the conversation is different. They have a language of their own that is immersed in that particular culture. That’s what Lissy was looking for when she first went to visit New York City when she turned 18, she was looking for her tribe, for lack of a better word. We were totally supportive of her interests, completely, and helping her as much as we could, but we didn’t have the depth of knowledge to have those conversations with her, and that’s what she was looking for and that’s what she found, which is why she’s stayed there.
Phoebe, a few episodes ago, with her drawing, same thing: her parents were very supportive, she was looking to immerse herself more and she went to RISD for college for a few years to get her degree there. And that’s where she found her tribe. And if it didn’t work out she wouldn’t have stayed for the whole thing.
It’s the whole thing, right? When unschooling kids are making these choices, they’re making them for themselves, from their interests, their aspirations, what they’re looking for—not because that looks good on those external measures.
ANNA: And from this field of infinite possibilities, like Pat said, verses this one path that’s one size fits all that doesn’t fit all.
PAM: And the other piece of this is the whole moving out, because I see comments every once in a while, “Are there unschooling kids still living at home in their later 20s?” or whatever, and saying, ‘that is not successful,’ you know what I mean? And the idea that, for a young adult to be successful in having grown up to a workable—I don’t know, is that the right word?, workable adult, I don’t even have the language for all these external measures—but that they need to move out on their own.
And why is that even a useful measure? Unless it’s something that they want to do and are drawn to do. Because then they are alone and it’s harder to connect with people, they don’t have people around them, they’re spending extra money for this space. If they are interested in that, that can be a super cool experience for people, and they want that space, they want to feel like they’re taking care of themselves in their own way.
But I don’t see that as a measure of success or failure of their childhood, how they grew up. That is just them continuing to make choices and trying out the things and doing the things that they want to do. There’s no problem if kids and young adults are happy in their childhood home, or hanging out with their family. I don’t see that as a useful external measure of success or not.
PAT: Well, I think a lot of parents may be judging themselves against that external measure, ‘I’ve done parenting successfully, the child’s moved out.’ That independence agenda. Where the parent is feeling judged or judgement.
I heard or read that the average American child is financially dependent on their parents until age 27. Now, most of those are not unschooling. 99% of them are not unschooling. They’re mainstream public schooled children who are financially dependent on their parent until age 27. So, there’s older children and younger children. Some of them were 18, some were 36. It’s not like there’s only one path to becoming an adult. And the role of the unschooling parent is facilitating. And you don’t stop facilitating at 18. You don’t stop parenting at 18. It doesn’t have to look cut off.
ANNA: Something just struck me when you said the statistic of age 27, which we’ve talked about before. It’s kind of a fallacy. We have this cultural fallacy that kids are independent at 18. So, maybe it’s just having a dialogue around that with people and letting people talk more about that. It reminded me of the idea of co-sleeping and kids coming to their parent’s beds when they’re young and people not talking about it. Saying it never happened. Then when somebody opens it up saying, ‘Oh my gosh, they come in all the time and we love it and it’s okay,’ because we have this fallacy that it’s one way.
My gosh, if we could just talk openly and acceptingly about that without this need for this independence agenda, which, in our culture, we’re starting very young. Pop them in the crib by themselves, head off to school with your briefcase by yourself, do this by yourself, by yourself, by yourself, and what I love about our life is community and connection and relationships. So that’s what we’ve cultivated instead.
PAT: Yes. I want to be a trusted advisor, not have my job done at 18 and have him stop listening, or stop consulting, or stop using me as a resource. I want to be a facilitator, I want to be trusted as a sounding board. I have another family friend that, her son, he’s graduated with a Masters and he was applying for a position and they were offering him less than his current position, but it was going to be remote, so he could work from home. And he was consulting her, and saying well what is the added value of working from home? And the other male figure in his life was saying well there’s an $15,000 value because of the cost of driving, so he was consulting these people that he respects. It doesn’t have to be like, he has to make the decision, all by himself because he’s 18. Or 25.
ANNA: And not only that, not only from that perspective, but how enriched is our life with these young adults. I mean, we’re learning, I’m constantly learning from things you’re telling me you learned from Erik. I know I’m learning from mine. They’re bringing all of this—we’re all together and contributing together, I just love that.
PAM: Our lives are fuller, right? Totally.
PAT: When people talk about the empty nest and feeling sad, it’s like a transition to this independence, but it’s an interdependence. It’s not…like, culturally we hand that interdependence off to college and a dorm mom or whatever, to keep them from killing themselves their first year in college, or whatever from their bad choices from not having the opportunity to make choices.
Our children have been making choices all along with support, facilitation, discussion, and it doesn’t have to be this jump off the cliff and you’re an adult. Do it by yourself, and suffer the consequences. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I love that phrase, the interdependence. Because, you’re right, there doesn’t have to be any difference between one day and the next.
When we talk about kids turning school age often it’s a flow from attachment parenting into unschooling—if you’re lucky enough to have heard of unschooling—from one day to the next. Although, it can feel big to parents because we’ve been so conditioned that way, but the days themselves don’t have to change at all. And it’s exactly the same at 18.
Jumping back to that conditioned to think, you mentioned that Anna, and I thought that was great in relation to that study that kids are dependent on their parents in some way until 27. But yes, we…I see that so often. Parents either try to hide it or feel guilty that they need to help, because they feel like they are being judged, so yeah, it’s so much conditioning.
ANNA: But what if we let go of that? What if we just supported each other and not judging and worrying and comparing each other, enjoying that they’re supporting their kids and they’re working together. It’s none of our business!
PAM: I tell you, I was reading through Facebook this morning and there was a beautiful comment of a mom, not even an unschooling mom, but she was talking about her teenagers, her teen kids. And she was talking about how she connects and relates to each of them—it’s very different. But she loves it so much and she’s just loving the teen years, and I’m like, ‘Yeah! Isn’t it the most awesome dance with them, of understanding them and learning so much from them,’ because she was talking about what she learns from her teens. And I was so happy to just go in and acknowledge that. Whenever I see it come up I always make a point of engaging with them, just to try and increase that conversation just in general.
PAT: You used the analogy the dance, and I think that’s interesting because it’s come up recently. I heard that about somebody who was dying of cancer, and the person said, ‘This is your dance—choose how you want it to be. You can have it mainstream or conventional or alternative, drawn out, or short, you get to choose. This is your dance with death.’
And similarly, with our children, it’s their dance. It’s their life. And we’ve been there as a partner, but they get to choose the dance. When they’re going to get on a plane and fly to Japan by themselves, or maybe we’ll all go for a while. My friend asked me, “If Erik goes to school in Japan, is he going to go by himself?”
I don’t know. I guess so, if he chooses it. And if he wants me to be there in some faciliatory way, we’ll figure out some faciliatory way. It may be that he has a family there that is facilitating in an emergency situation, I don’t know. I don’t have to know. I just trust that we’ll work it out together.
PAM: I love that, and I love answering that way because so often people are asking, ‘Well, what’s your child going to do?’ Even at the dojo, ‘Is Michael going to go to this tournament? Is Michael going to do this?’ But for all my kids, I love saying, I don’t know, I’ll ask him. It’s his dance! I love that.
Oh, my goodness, almost an hour. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today I really enjoyed our conversation.
ANNA: It was great, thank you.
PAT: Thank you.
PAM: And before we go, where’s the best place for people to connect with you online?
PAM: That’s awesome, thank you so much guys. Have a great day!