PAM: Welcome to another Q&A episode! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and I’m happy to be joined again by Anna Brown.
Anne isn’t able to join us for the call this month, but she did take the question she was going to read and recorded that separately along with her answer. And with the magic of editing, she starts us off with the first question.
ANNE: Our first question is from Katerina from the UK and she writes …
Katerina’s Question (from the UK) [TIME: 5:19]
Hi, reading Q&A episode 95 gave me goosebumps. Validating someone’s feelings makes so much sense. I know how I feel when I feel understood. Someone once said that to feel understood is to feel LOVED.
My 11-year-old, though, often says: “I have the worst luck in the world.” He gets frustrated often while video gaming and when he can’t do something (like his Nerf gun is jammed, his shoe laces are not cooperating etc) and his explanation is always: it is because of my luck. It breaks my heart to see him feeling so powerless and defeated. I guess what I’m asking is how to help him feel a bit more capable and “lucky.” Apart from validating, which I’m working on now.
ANNE: Hi, Katarina. I’m glad our words landed in the right place and gave you goosebumps! And it sounds like you can see why validation is so necessary and valuable. I often call it radical validation because of how authentic our validation needs to be and to feel. So, when I validate, I do go to a place when I have felt much like how my child is feeling. And I can validate him with nothing but a deep and authentic understanding.
However—and here may lie a little tricky part about validation—it is crucial that we don’t own our children’s feelings. Our connection to and understanding of what they are feeling with validating is completely separate from taking their feelings and owning their feelings as a heaviness and a weight in our own lives.
So many people say that seeing their children in challenging situations and feeling bad about themselves breaks their hearts, and I get that. But I make sure I don’t feel that way. It would be easy to slip into feeling that way, and that’s why I make sure that I am mindful of doing the work of holding my child in a vision of light and trusting in his feelings, trusting in his path, even and especially when it is challenging and maybe a painful stretching time for him.
I have some writings on my shinewithunschooling website that are about validating our children and there’s an excerpt there from a conference talk I did years ago. The talk is about when Sam started working at his first job in a professional restaurant kitchen and was having a difficult time. Here’s a part of that talk:
While I can see my child’s world from his perspective and DEEPLY validate from that place, I also need to be in this place of trusting that all is well—both for him and for myself. My child needs this from me, especially when he is feeling sad or otherwise challenged and is not able to connect to any light in his life, not able to reach for a better feeling place at all.
When I am able to hold a trust that these challenging times are a time of stretching and growth, then I am the one who remains at the door of infinite possibilities! I am the one who can still see and accept the goodness that is there for my child to claim at a time when he can’t do it for himself and he can feel that I’m holding onto his light within me, even if I’m crying and sharing raw emotions with him when I am sincerely validating this darkness that he’s feeling.
He can feel that I am not pitying him. He can feel that I am not feeling sorry for him. He can feel that I UNDERSTAND him, that I SEE him, that I HEAR him, that I know that this is hard and yet he knows that I do trust in him and his path, no matter what. He can feel that I am ready to help him in any way I can, any way that he needs me to. He can count on me to throw him a lifeline when he needs it because I have stayed in the perfect position to be of value to him by not disappearing into his emotions and doubling the weight and the darkness that he is already carrying.
And while I have no expectation of my child to be happy, because I wouldn’t want to presume that even THERE is where he “should” be, I do tend to trust that this is what he WILL naturally want to reach for when he is ready, because I know that this is where my child feels good about himself, and that’s the feeling we’ve always walked toward in our family—feeling good about ourselves.
I trust that my child will, eventually, be able to let in his own light, with my help, if he desires it, because the very thought of “I want to feel better” IS, in and of itself, a sliver of light. And even a sliver is enough, because it always grows from there. So when he is ready to let in some light, I am ready to offer it to him because I never let go of it for one second during HIS darker times. I never owned his feelings… I radically validated them.
So, Katerina, I’m just asking you to be aware of your energy when you are with him. If you are saying this is heartbreaking and you are feeling that when you see him, can you feel how that comes across as pity and hopelessness? Then that is the weight he’s receiving from you, if that’s what you’re holding onto and feeling. And if that’s what you’re holding onto then it’s even more difficult for him to get out of his own weight that he’s holding onto because he’s also feeling the weight of your weight upon what he’s feeling!
Do you see what a vicious cycle that can be?
So, I said that this is the tricky part about validation, but only tricky until you really understand it. You can validate your son’s feelings by holding onto times when you have felt frustrated with things that are happening. That validation could sound like, “I’m so sorry! I get frustrated with things like that, too. Can I help you with anything?”
Or if it’s his game, validate the frustration that comes with gaming because that’s what gaming is! It’s not all easy and winning! But it IS easy to validate how he’s feeling about a frustrating part in his game. And then maybe end on a note that shows that you’re not owning his weight, like when I added “Can I help you with anything?”
Sam used to appear to be grumpy and rude when he was frustrated with his game, but I didn’t see him as being grumpy or rude. I knew it was the real work he was doing in his head about the game! And after validating that and not taking what appeared to be grumpiness and rudeness personally, he would head back to the game and try again.
Because that’s what’s happening in their heads when they walk away from it in frustration and, again, it’s easy to validate that very real frustrating work that they are doing. It allows them the space to see the frustration and then that kind of creates a space for them to see the possibilities of another way to approach the game. That’s why Sam would come out about it feeling all grumpy and he would get validation from me, “You want a snack? What do you want to do?” And then he would be right back at the game because it all opened up for him.
Our validation helps our kids to see their frustration, see that it’s a real thing in everyone’s lives, and then that allows them to release it when they’re ready.
What I feel is most important here is to be aware of the language in your validation. When your son talks about having the worst luck in the world, I wouldn’t say, “I know, I have felt like I have the worst luck in the world, too!” Use words that are simply a part of what he’s really feeling in this moment. Like, “Oh no! I see that you’re so frustrated about that!” or “I understand, sometimes I feel frustrated and upset when I can’t do something, too.”
This language—these words—are words that describe what most everybody feels throughout the course of any day. And if you also show him throughout your day the times when you feel frustrated but are able to laugh at yourself or shift to feeling good about yourself right afterward, this will give him a map of how he might be able to navigate his feelings, as well.
And I feel like you definitely don’t want to help him to feel more lucky—luck is just not a thing! I actually looked up the word to see what it actually means and its definition is: success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions. So, I don’t feel that that’s something we want to foster in our children’s lives.
What we do want to hand to our children is assistance in feeling empowered about how to choose how we feel about something, how we react to circumstances and how we don’t have to own the weight of what feels like a mistake or a frustration but is simply a part of learning and of life.
Because it is always a choice. How we are feeling is a choice; how we respond is a choice.
PAM: Thanks so much, Anne! Great question, Katerina!
As you mentioned, fully validating when things get frustrating makes so much sense, and I love what Anne shared about not taking on our children’s feelings as our own, that’s so important. As well as using words that more closely describe what is happening, like frustration, if that’s what you’re seeing. So, fully validate his frustration when things don’t go well without taking it on, and, in relaxed moments, chat with him about different ways to move through those times, helping him explore the kinds of tools that might work well for him.
If he continues to use the concept of “luck” to frame things right now, I think that’s okay—it may be helping him gain some distance from things, helping him process things a bit detached from them.
When things go “wrong,” he might be finding it easier to blame “bad luck” than “himself,” the only other choice he might be seeing right now. Eventually, we want to help him move through the need to blame anything when things happen.
It might help to be extra careful not to use “blame” language when you’re talking about things, either outright or implied with the impression you leave with your words. But if that’s his framework of choice right now, you could meet him there by unobtrusively mentioning when you see “good luck” happening—by that I mean, just commenting “What good luck!” when something goes his way.
No need to say anything else, just continue on with whatever’s happening. You don’t want to be heavy-handed and point out, “See, it’s not all bad, you have good luck too”—let him make that connection over time.
I think that could also help him make the connection that it’s not really about “luck” at all—he’ll realize that the “good luck” you point out is often the result of actions he’s taken, and he’ll make the connection that he has a good deal of agency and control in his life, more than he’s been giving himself credit for. It may be easier for him to recognize that at first on the positive side, on the “good luck” side, but eventually he’ll make those connections with the frustrating, “bad luck” side as well.
But as Anne mentioned, “luck” is a layer on top of reality—we really do have a lot of control in our lives and it’s more helpful to use direct language to describe situations. So be sure to pay attention to his language: over time as he gains experience and shifts how he describes things, be sure to shift too—as well as taking any opportunity to use that more direct language so he can see it in action.
ANNA: I love what you both said because I do really think that holding that energy and light is so important for interactions with many people in our lives. It’s just a helpful tool to not take that energy inside of ourselves, seeing them and validating them but holding them in a space of love and light; not taking on their energy gives them a guide to a lighter feeling whenever they’re ready so you can be that person.
And yes, watching the language really gives him new words for those experiences. You know, you can decide—you don’t have to buy into the whole “lucky” paradigm. Maybe he’s heard that from somewhere or as Pam mentioned maybe it’s serving him right now for reasons we don’t know—and I thought what she said made a lot of sense that he’s just needing to distance himself—but you can give him those different words for the feelings and experiences during your validation.
I also love that idea of pointing out things in the world, whether you use lucky or not, just kind of observing and enjoying him and giving him language around all of those experiences will help him think about that and say, ‘OK, look at what’s happening here and how is this working?’
So, I loved all of that and I don’t really have a whole lot more to add!
PAM: That’s a good point because when we get in that headspace where we’re seeing things from a negative slant, we see everything through that lens and we don’t notice the other things around us. So, to just help bring those things to his attention but not in a way like you’re trying to change his mindset or anything because that, of course, will bring resistance.
ANNA: I think it could be something that we talk about when we are trying to shift things in ourselves. It can keep you, Katerina, in that space or energy to just enjoy an openness and that kind of gives him this model for this feeling.
I often have found in my family that my energy really sets the tone. Like Anne mentioned, when you’re going to that place of despair or heartbreak—which I can totally understand, because it’s very hard to see our children struggle—but when you go there it really does just add a weight to everyone around. So, finding those things in your life to keep you at that level shows him, ‘Look what mom is doing. She sees things in her life that are working for her.’
PAM: Yeah, it helps keep it all light. Okay question number two is from Lucie in Quebec, Canada.
Lucie’s Question (from Quebec, Canada) [TIME: 21:03]
Hello Pam and thank you so much for the podcasts you do. I have only discovered them recently and they have been very helpful and reassuring in our journey to unschooling.
I have a 10-and-a-half-year-old son named Julien who was attending our local Waldorf school. I myself am a trained Waldorf teacher and a professional gardener who now works at home growing sprouts. I live alone with my son but he sees his father quite often. He and I are very good friends.
My son has been out of school since May of 2017. He had become very unhappy at school. He showed little interest for most of the curriculum; not understanding why he had to learn what he was told to learn.
Socially, it was hard for him to connect with his peers in the school context. He was often left out, rejected or bullied. Since he was limited to making friends with the boys in his class, Julien found it difficult to find someone with the same interests or with whom he could truly connect.
He was diagnosed with dyspraxia and of course, all written work, handwork or any fine motor skill activities were a challenge for him.
As a result of that school experience, Julien felt that nobody loved him. His self-esteem was degrading and he just did not want to go to school anymore. Every morning was an ordeal: he did not want to get up, get dressed and he almost walked backwards as I dropped him off to school.
Julien has definitely been happier since he has been out of school. He is finally able to live his days at his own rhythm which is so important to him! He plays and plays a lot! He much enjoys the freedom and space he has to do what he wants to do. He is not the kind of child you can force things on.
It has now been 6 months of unschooling basically since I do not follow any curriculum. I felt that my son just needed to be free and rebuild his self-esteem. But now what, I ask myself?
My son’s interests are quite limited to a few things. I am trying to create a stimulating environment but it seems like very few of the things I bring are of interest to him. I suggest activities and outings but he responds with little enthusiasm. I would love to help him research stuff and work on a project together but none of that is happening!
He seems to be mostly happy with his limited field of interests but he also complains about being bored at times. I myself sense that he needs to broaden his horizons and be stimulated.
I am a very curious person who likes to explore and try everything! But he is not. I am a high achiever; he is not. Our interests are not the same and therefore it is not always easy to live our days together. I am really struggling right now. I am wondering if I should follow a curriculum or if he would be better off going back to school after all. It is hard for me to accept him as he is right now. I hear all these great stories about other unschoolers and ours is not like that.
And then the fears and worry creep in. I worry that he will never develop any other interests or passions. I worry that he will always be closed off to trying out new things and not learn a variety of things. And this unschooling experience is supposed to be fun right? How can I make it so? because right now, it is not.
His father is worrying even more and as a result, he tries to force ideas and specific activities on our son. He would like me to push our son to have interests ‘of value’ (besides video games) and to work on them as a research project of some sort. He said he was not pushed enough to perform as a child and he does not want his child to turn up like him.
I too want to be ‘living joyfully’ with my son. My main reason for taking Julien out of school was that he be happy again and that he rediscovers the joys of living on this earth. My deepest wish for him is that he flourishes with all his vibrant colours: colours that are his own. I want him to learn to listen to his own voice and to trust his heart. To never lose sight of who he is and to nourish and honour the great being he is.
So there it is! I hope you can make some sense out of this. I am just wondering what my role has to be now and am I failing my son’s education? I just feel I need to do more but what?
Thank you for your help and taking the time to answer the many different questions in this story.
PAM: Well, hi Lucie! Thank you so much. I just love your question and I love that you’re feeling that you want to do more! I want to point out that you are in the earlier stages of your unschooling journey and I want to encourage you to keep going—there is lots more you can do.
So, I wanted to pull out a few things you wrote and talk about the unschooling paradigm shifts around them to help you see the vibrant colours that, I would bet, are already there.
You wrote: “I felt that my son just needed to be free and rebuild his self-esteem. But, “Now what?” I ask myself…”
With those words, you’ve framed for yourself a before and after: that he just needed some time to rebuild his self-esteem, and then things will be as you envision them to be. Now six months have passed, things don’t look as you expected, and you’re left questioning it all. But one of those paradigm shifts of moving to unschooling isn’t about expecting things to turn out a certain way—it’s getting rid of that vision of that certain way.
It seems the challenge is that you want to be living joyfully with your son, but you’re only using your definition of what that looks like, and your definition is wrapped up in how you wish your child to be, not in who he is.
You wrote: “My son’s interests are quite limited to a few things… I am trying to create a stimulating environment but it seems like very few of the things I bring are of interest to him. I suggest activities and outings but he responds with little enthusiasm.”
Here’s part of that future expectation: You are wanting him to have a wider range of interests. He’s telling you that he’s not interested in the random things you’re bringing to him that you think are stimulating. Take note: that’s great information about him that you can use to help you hone in on what he thinks is stimulating. If your son’s interests are limited to a few things, use those few things as your inspiration!
So often we think that having only one or two passionate interests means our children are closing off their world—but that’s really not true. Even a singular interest is an amazing window to the whole world. I wrote an article titled Unschooling Passions. Please read that and be sure to look at the connection maps I created around two of my children’s singular passions.
You can turn his existing interests into a passion project of your own, exploring all sorts of fun ways to bring those interests into your lives even more. It’s not about trying to push those down and belittle them and find new ones. Bring those into your life even more.
You also wrote: “I want him to learn to listen to his own voice and to trust his heart.”
Show him that’s a good thing by listening to his voice and trusting his heart right now. Enthusiastically and fully support the interests he has right now—that is trusting his heart. When he says he doesn’t want to do something, enthusiastically and fully listen to him, without judgement or disappointment—that is trusting his voice.
And when he sees you completely listening to his voice and trusting his heart; when he sees himself shining in your eyes, he will begin to listen to and trust himself even more deeply. If you change up the way you are seeing things, you can be living joyfully with him right now. It’s there. It’s your vision that you need to start working through so that you can see all the great things in the “vibrant colors,” to use your words, that are there right now.
ANNA: Hi Lucie! Thank you for the question because there was so much there and so many things to think about and I love the things that Pam pulled out and for me it was kind of similar.
One of the first things that jumped out for me was there’s a lot of projecting and fear and it’s pretty common for people to project way out into the future but it’s just not a helpful tool. It basically removes us from the present moment and we just end up borrowing trouble that may or may not come to pass.
I found that it’s very hard to see clearly or to make sound decisions from a place of fear so that’s just some inner work to set that aside before you can actually look at what’s in front of you. If we stay present in the moment, connected, and curious, the future unfolds in ways that we can’t predict, that we can’t plan and map out in beautiful, beautiful ways.
You said this, and I’m going to repeat it, “My deepest wish for him is that he flourishes with all of his vibrant colors, colors that are his own. I want him to learn to listen to his own voice and to trust his heart. To never lose sight of who he is and to nourish and honor the great being he is.”
Lucie, that is so lovely and maybe it’s something you can print off and tape it in a spot that you’ll see it every day. So much of the rest of your question is really the opposite of this feeling.
You mention how different the two of you are. That’s okay. One’s not better than the other, it’s just different. You don’t want him to flourish in your colors, you want him to flourish in his colors. To be who HE is. And finding ways to celebrate the person he is can help you connect and find joy in your time together, even when you’re doing different things.
And you continue to be the vibrant, curious explorer that you are! Enjoy that but know that different people enjoy different ways. He may be a person who prefers focusing on one thing at a time or who has these singular passions and that’s lovely.
Like Pam said, singular passions lead to all kinds of connections across the world. My friend Pat has a theory and an essay somewhere out there that says you can take chocolate and learn about the whole world. It’s so funny how it connects with everything: with economics, passions, cooking, recipes, and math and everything else because that’s just the way it works.
That’s the great thing about unschooling is that there are no subjects, there’s no putting things into a project or report like you and your husband are talking about. We connect with all the different aspects of what’s happening in the world and that’s a beautiful way to learn and things really stick more because they’re grounded in this foundation of things that we’re interested in things that mean something to us.
It also sounds like he’s been through a lot and the healing from that may take longer than you’re expecting. We have had many people over the years talk to us about experiences and it will be years later and their child will still be talking about difficult experiences from first grade. There’s no real timetable for healing the spirit after there’s been some trauma and upset. It sounds like he had a difficult time with bullying and not wanting to be there and feeling left out and lower self-esteem. So, giving him space and unconditional love and seeing the beauty inside of him will go such a long way to create a space for this healing to happen.
I also wanted to point out as more of a generality that those preteen years often have a lot of hibernating periods. What I’ve seen and what we’ve seen with people that have asked questions over the years is that they’re opening up to seeing this bigger world and kind of figuring out their place in it and that can sometimes be scary and it feels really big at times, so retreating and cocooning to regroup is really common. They’re just trying to take it all this new stimulation, all this new information about the world and make sense of it.
Then they want to go out again so you’ll see these different periods of things. You know things change, people grow, it just happens and we can’t stop it. Learning to be comfortable and finding connection in the moments will help build a foundation that will serve you both as he moves in hit into his teen years and as your relationship grows and develops on this unschooling journey.
PAM: I love all that! Such great points and you’ve heard about my kids, that when they left school it was at least a good year before I saw them—I was going to say come out of their shell, but it’s more just being just totally open in the moment. Being able to be in the moment, but like you said, still things will come up and will be mentioned over the years as new connections come in as something tweaks a memory. It definitely takes lots of time.
I love the idea of the idea of everybody’s vibrant colors being different. That was just such a great point that we don’t have to change our colors to match theirs. That’s the point—is that now seeing their beauty, the things they love without being clouded in our judgement while accepting ours as well is beautiful.
ANNA: I just wanted to add to that length of time piece, that is that my nephew was in school until about fourth or fifth grade but I feel like the next four or five years he refused to do anything that kind of “looked like learning.” He would just buck and say “No.”
People were thinking, ‘He’s not learning, he’s not doing anything.’ But he was exploring his own passions. Now he’s almost 30, and oh my gosh, he’s learned and does amazing things and has a great life. But it took time because he had baggage and felt pinned in by people forcing him to learn it a certain way and he was just not going to have any part of it and that’s just kind of his personality. It just really takes longer than people think. It’s kind of like, ‘Oh, we solved that, we’ve moved on, now we can do this.’ But no, we have to make sense of all those things when things happen.
So, I will go on to question three which is from Barbara in South Africa:
Barbara’s Question (from South Africa) [TIME: 36:16]
What to do if your 11yo son flat out refuses to shower, brush teeth, etc. We don’t force him and have explained personal hygiene, but he just doesn’t seem to be that concerned.
Hi Barbara! Thanks for that. You may be surprised but this comes up a lot for kids around that age! Oh my goodness, I have known so many friends who have dealt with this and we also had bits of it here, too, and I have two girls.
For some kids it’s a sensory thing. I think it’s helpful to peel back the layers and see what some of those issues are. Showers may not feel comfortable. Some people may not like to get wet or they don’t like the feeling of it or it’s cold or whatever. Whatever those sensory pieces are. So, spot cleaning is an option. We called it “pits and parts” here! If he doesn’t want to get fully wet from a shower then maybe just cleaning pits and parts can help with the hygiene concerns of those around him. So again, just peeling back the layers, there’s not just one way to do it.
Dry shampoo was another great tool for us and for those who don’t want to shower all the time. I made my own but there are plenty of others that you can buy.
There are definitely tools for keeping teeth clean. There are certain foods that help get plaque off teeth that you can eat and there are swishing options, things like that. We looked into it years ago and learned that the brushing before bed was the more important time so we kind of prioritized that and just didn’t make it a big deal, and really never had issues and we haven’t had any cavities.
I think it’s also helpful to realize that things change, especially with boys. My friends with boys went from preteens who would never shower, who went months without a shower, who when they became teenagers they could not pull them out of the shower!
I would just talk about things that impacted me and we would look for solutions for that impact—not necessarily trying to change what they are doing or put something on them but just if it was smelly than that was hard for me because I have a sensory thing. I could talk about that and we could find solutions for that but just know that it changes and they grow and change and while it seems long in the moment it will be quickly something different soon.
PAM: That was great! I loved all those ideas. I think right now it’s a great time for him to explore the different comfort levels around all those different aspects of personal hygiene. Anna had some great examples of how you can help him explore that. Maybe you can try the dry shampoo, try different things.
Over time he’s going to discover his own tools, his own cues for when he’ll want to do something, his own personal body cues that tell him it’s time. And of course share in a particular situation if it’s impacting you or bothering you, share those observations. That’s how they learn to see the cues around them as. That’s all part of figuring it out.
I think it might be helpful to dive into what’s making you feel uncomfortable about his choices. If it’s not about something in the moment, like we have mentioned earlier in our questions, often times it’s us plopping our current age child into adult situations. Just thinking, ‘He won’t shower now! He’ll never shower. He’s going to be 25 and he’s going to get fired because he stinks at work!’
But they learn and grow and change and they figure this stuff out. That is just extra worry that we’re adding, an extra filter that we’re adding to the situation that adds no value. They’re going to be a different person even when they’re 15, when they’re 18, they’re going to grow and change and the whole situation is going to morph before it has a huge impact.
Now is the time for him to be playing with all that stuff. At most, he’s going to smell and make the family uncomfortable. But you guys are there to chat and work with him through it. He’s going to have that figured out long before he’s in the situation where it’s going to have significant impact on his life.
ANNA: I think another thing that is important and kind interesting is that we found out that people tend to have very specific ideas about this.
So, I had friends that had to shower everyday. It was important to them. They got up, they took a shower everyday. Well I don’t like a shower everyday. I have long, long heavy curly hair and it’s tough on my hair and I don’t like the wet feeling of it and I find it just isn’t good for my skin. So, I don’t shower everyday. They are surprised by that. And I’m surprised that they are showering everyday. So, it’s important to realize that it takes all types.
And like Pam said, he’s going to find his rhythm of that and it may look different than yours and that’s okay because there’s lots of different ways to take care of personal hygiene.
PAM: It’s empowering for them to figure out for themselves what works for them.
Okay! Question four is from Shelsy in Florida:
Shelsy’s Question (from Florida) [TIME: 41:56]
Hi! My question is about honoring family members with different preferences and needs. My husband and I are very much introverts. We tend to stick to home and aren’t very social, but we like to go out as a family on the weekends when he doesn’t work. My son, age 6, is mostly the same. He likes doing things, but a lot of the time he prefers to be home. My daughter, 8, is extremely social. She is always wanting to be out doing things and talking to people. She is also content at home, but I know she would always prefer to be out and about.
The problem is, when I do take the kids out to do something, I often wish I hadn’t. Sometimes it’s because they fight the whole time we’re out, sometimes it’s because my son runs away from me or is mean to other kids. Sometimes it’s because they each have something totally different they want to do can’t agree on anything. I have tried so many times to do things with them and we have had so few successes (by success I mean everyone actually enjoys whatever we set out to do) that I really just don’t take them anywhere during the week anymore. Unless my husband can be with us so we can split up if things aren’t working out, it’s just too much for me.
I don’t like that. I want to do fun things with them, I want to take them places. I’m just not sure where it’s falling apart. When similar questions have been asked on the podcast before, the advice usually includes talking things through and having conversations about what everyone wants and how we can work it out. I haven’t been able to get that to work. My son doesn’t seem to want to listen. When I try to talk to him, if it’s something he thinks he doesn’t want to hear, he just runs away screaming, “Stop talking to me!” We have been able to work out compromises with him if we can get him to tell us why he wants a particular thing, we can sometimes make it work. But usually he doesn’t want to cooperate long enough to get to that point.
So, I stay home. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I worry that I’m not exposing them to enough interesting things. I tell them no a lot when they ask to do things because I’m just tired–I don’t want to go through it all again. When outings go downhill I start to doubt my choice to unschool–they certainly don’t act like the other unschooling kids mentioned on the podcast (if someone saw my kids at the park they probably wouldn’t describe them as kind and respectful.) I feel like I’m doing something wrong, but when I stay home I feel like I’m holding them back.
I’m trying to get my daughter involved in groups where she can go regularly to be social with other kids and help fill her up that way. But is it okay to stay home and only go out on weekends? How can I get to a point where doing things with them is actually fun? I had hoped that it would get better as they got older, but that hasn’t really been the case so far.
I hope this question is clear, I had a hard time finding words for it. Thanks so much for your help!
PAM: Hi Shelsy, I really appreciate your question. This dancing with different personalities is challenging, isn’t it?
Let’s start with your final question, “Is it okay to stay home and only go out on weekends?” Sure! If that’s what works well for your family right now, absolutely. Realize that that’s going to change over time.
You wrote, “I had hoped that it would get better as they got older, but that hasn’t really been the case so far.” Your children are only six and eight years old—they are not very old at all. When my eldest two were that age, they were in school and I hadn’t even heard of homeschooling, let alone unschooling. I would say give things more time. This all “going out places together and everyone having fun” is not something that needs to be “solved” quickly, and when you do eventually find a time when that happens pretty comfortably, things are going to change up again, and again—it’s the ebb and flow of life together with other people.
You mentioned the suggestions we usually give in similar circumstances about “talking things through and having conversations about what everyone wants and how we can work it out.” Absolutely. Then you added that your son “doesn’t seem to want to listen. When I try to talk to him, if it’s something he thinks he doesn’t want to hear, he just runs away screaming, “Stop talking to me!””
Those are great clues to tell us that our approach isn’t working and to find another way, for now. So often, these conversations that I, as the parent, have brought up specifically don’t work. It helps for things that come up in the flow of our conversation.
Here’s an example: maybe we’re chatting about a game he’s playing, and I mention he’s been playing it a lot the last few days, and he talks about how fun the boss battles are at the end of each level, figuring out how to beat each one, and I comment about how cool it is to dive deep into something that’s fun and challenging at the same time, and he agrees enthusiastically, and I say, “Hey, is that why you didn’t want to go to the park yesterday?” And he says, “Yeah, I just got to the boss for level six and wanted to figure out his weakness so I could beat him.” And I reply, “Cool! Did you figure it out? What do you have to do to beat him?” And he proceeds to explain the pattern he discovered and followed to win the battle and beat the level six boss.
In that short and fun conversation about his game, I learned why he was upset and refused to go to the park yesterday, and I learned, for future reference, that when I notice he’s deeply engaged in a game, it’s probably not a great time to ask him to go out and do things.
And from our conversation, he may have made the connection between his unhappiness in being asked to go to the park, something he often likes, and his focus on progressing in the game, and he may also have picked up that I’m okay with being into a game as a reason for wanting to stay home, and now he’s comfortable sharing that reason next time—maybe he thought I would dismiss it, saying it wasn’t a “good enough” reason. I want him to know that any reason is a “good enough” reason.
Can you tell how even in that short, happy, fun conversation about a game, we managed to exchange some information that will help us move forward with figuring out how to meet everyone’s needs?
So, you don’t have to have direct conversations with your son to figure out those pieces of information. You can be watching him, you can be seeing patterns, you can be making comments to help him see connections and to confirm for yourself that that really is a connection without having to directly address it. We both learned things without me coming up to him and saying, “Hey, why did get so mad yesterday when your sister wanted to go to the park?” That puts him on the defensive, maybe running away and screaming, “Stop talking to me!”
So much of learning about one another is done, not through specific, pointed conversations, but through observations and lightly sharing observations to see what they think, and taking what we think we learned forward—testing our hypothesis—and learning more. And, you have time.
ANNA: Hi, Shelsy. I think it’s, again, how things quickly change with kids. They still are really very young and it will definitely keep changing.
Like you’re doing, I would look into the things that meet your daughter’s needs and see if she’s comfortable with drop off events. That might be an option.
What about having people over to your house? We found that hosting things was a good way to meet my social daughter’s needs but leave space for my introverted daughter to retreat whenever she was ready in a space that she was comfortable with. That involved much less schlepping of people and stuff and much less conflict. So, we made our home the fun home to visit and to hang out to kind of meet those divergent needs.
One of our Summit participants just shared with us a very beautiful idea related to this issue. Her son would often tire of events before her daughter would so she made a den for him in the back of their minivan where he had cushions, his electronics, and this really cool space and he loved it! It allowed her daughter more time with friends.
I love the kindness and the creativity involved in this solution. Being an introvert myself, I can see myself retreating to the den with that child while the other child would be out enjoying all of the hoopla and fun of the big crowds! I love that idea so much I just wanted to share it.
And, like Pam said, you asked “Is it okay to go out on the weekends?” Well, of course! If that’s what feels best to everyone right now, trust that. But as I mentioned it will change and be open to revisiting it as each of your needs grow and change. Again, avoid that projecting this moment out for the next ten years because it’s going to change just right now this is what’s working for you going out on the weekends. Next week it may be completely different so it’s that being open and ready for that ebb and flow and just roll with that.
And I love what Pam said about those sideways conversations away from an event where you can gain some insight. It’s definitely not going in with this agenda but asking “What can we do differently?” You know, sometimes that works for some kids to have that direct conversation but for a lot, it’s really more just being.
I see it with my younger daughter. It’s like we just have to have this parallel time and then things will bubble up. We’ll be talking about different things and then suddenly she’ll come out with “I didn’t like the way this happened last week,” which kind of surprised me. I’m like ‘Oh, okay, I didn’t know we’re going to talk about that.’ But it gives that open space.
There’s just some kids and adults that like to bubble up and get comfortable with a conversation but when someone comes at them with questions, they can retreat. My daughter just closes off and it sounds like your son is more like “get away!” Again, those are the clues that that wasn’t what we need to do. Let’s figure out another way. Just sitting and being and being open and also sometimes it’s just observing some of the things that are happening and taking yourself out of it because I think sometimes we can feel that we’re being thwarted, perhaps when kids aren’t agreeing or they’re fighting and we’re taking that on as our own emotion like we talked about in an earlier question. Let some of that wash over you and observe. ‘What happened to get us here? What led up to these events?’ And sometimes that can give you some insight into ways to approach it differently, even without a conversation you’ll be able to see some of those pieces.
I think that’s just a few things to think about related to that. Thank you for that question.
PAM: I just wanted to point out—that is one of the hardest shifts to unschooling is to be in that moment without projecting that into the future. It is hard to do! It’s just in our nature to think, ‘Okay, even if this works for us now what about five years from now?’ and then all of a sudden, we’re caught up and, ‘That won’t work out when he’s 20!’
But we’re not going to be that person when were 20. To not devalue the moment. For this moment to be totally okay the way it is and to not have any expectations that that moment is going to go into the future. It’s a big piece of almost every issue.
ANNA: It is really a huge piece and I think it’s trusting in that journey, where we are now.
When you said that it reminded me: my youngest daughter is a big-time gamer and she would stay up through the night gaming with people on the other side of the country and other parts of the world and people would say, at the those times, that she’s never going to be able to get a job, she’s never going to be able to work a regular schedule or whatever.
But at the time I would just be ‘maybe she’ll work an alternative schedule, maybe not. I don’t know.’ Well now, years later, she works all the time and often she has to be there at nine in the morning and she just adjusted her schedule because she loves her job and she wants to be there. I didn’t need to train her out of that or stop her from living that life that she was living then because oh my gosh, it was such a rich life. We’ve met so many wonderful people through it.
Again, if there’s anything you can take away from this episode it’s don’t project out. Just look right here, be right here and connect. See the beauty and the joy in what your child is doing right now and celebrate that because the rest of it will, really, unfold if you keep that connection going.
PAM: And that’s the last question for this month.
Thank you so much for answering questions with me, Anna. And thanks to Anne for recording her question and answer. That was awesome!
Just a reminder there are links in the show notes for things that we mentioned in the episode. And as always if you’d like to submit a question for the Q&A show just go to living joyfully.ca/podcast and click on the link.
Have a great day everyone!