PAM: Hi everyone, I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I am here with Megan Valnes. Hi, Megan!
MEGAN: Hi Pam. I’m very excited!
PAM: Oh, I am too because one of the joys of hosting your own podcast is that when you come across interesting unschooling families online, you get the opportunity to invite them on show and speak with them in person. Yay!
MEGAN: I know it’s so cool.
PAM: I am really looking forward to chatting with Megan. To get us started …
Can you share a bit about you and your family?
MEGAN: Yes, so we are a family of seven. We live in Los Angeles. The seven is two adults, five kids. My kids (child speaking)—well there is one of them. That is my three-year-old. We have a three, six, nine, eleven and thirteen. We really enjoy being together as a family. We spend pretty much all of our time together, I think like most unschoolers.
I think, on a whole, we are a funny bunch. We love to laugh. We are just kind of light-hearted and we really love traveling and exploring and animals. We love to accumulate the most and we just have a lot of fun. We go to the beach, we game, we farm, we pretend, all of it. All of that, (child speaking)—sorry about that.
PAM: That’s okay.
I am curious how you actually discovered unschooling and what your family’s move to unschooling looked like.
So, we came across unschooling out of desperation. We were a very traditional family. It’s weird because I have always been a little alternative myself but when I became a mother it’s almost like I have this persona of motherhood and what I thought being a mother looked like or what we should do.
My husband is a very free spirit but he just sort of went along with what I did because I am bossy like that. So, we put our two oldest kids went to school. They went to Catholic school and it was like rigorous, education, year-ahead learning all these things that I believed were important. At eight years old he had really had enough. He just flat would not go.
At the time I was working. My husband and I have a business together. Well, I do not really work anymore but at the time we were running our business together, real estate brokerage in Santa Monica, California. So, I was working at the time and my son, I would drop him off at school, and my daughter, and he just literally would not go. He would walk in the building and he would sit on the stairs. It was a really small school like one class per grade and just not a big place. So, he would sit on the stairs or say he was sick so I would have to come and get him.
Now this just did not come out of nowhere, him sitting on the stairs. There was a lot that led up to it. He had really been unhappy for a long time. I used to think that he was having a lot of problems. Now with my unschooling education basically, I now know that it was always my problem. It was never my son but at the time I was just so overwhelmed and I just could not figure out—like I think I thought I was doing everything right and really by the book as far as being a parent and trying to give him a different experience than I had growing up. I thought it was better but I never took him into account, you see. I never saw him for who he was.
I saw studies and articles and, ‘okay this parent is doing that,’ and ‘this parent is doing that,’ and ‘I want you to reflect me so you need to be all of these things.’ I never saw him. He was just basically very unhappy by the time he was eight years old. I mean you could call him depressed. He would come home after school he would go to his room—he was not happy he was not smiling he was not interacting with the other kids or with my husband and I.
Finally, I just thought something has to drastically change here or I am going to lose my son. Because I knew from my own childhood and adolescent experience that by the time I was like thirteen or fourteen, I was out. You know, I could not be controlled any longer and I was going to go do what I wanted with who I wanted and those were not necessarily good things.
I did not want to lose my son to drugs or a bad path and bad friends who were doing questionable things. I wanted to keep my relationship with him. I finally realized that, and so I was just searching for different schooling options. I always thought that homeschooling meant you bring your kids home and you do school. I knew enough to know that would not work for my son and me. We already had enough issues and tension between us that becoming his teacher would just have been a terrible idea.
So, in my search, I feel really blessed that I came across Sandra Dodd’s website. I still remember the moment I saw it and I clicked on it and this whole new world was opened up to me. It was like the clouds parted and the angels sang and the beam of light shined down upon me. It was just this awakening. I mean I was lying in bed and I looked my husband and I was like, “Oh my god, we have to do this!”
That is my personality, right, to go from Catholic school—very rigorous, very regimented—to reading about unschooling and being like, ‘This is it, we are dropping everything, lets go.’ I really needed to heed her famous little saying, you know, “Read a little, try a little, wait awhile, watch.”
But I did not understand that at the time. I read it, I read the words, but I did not know what that meant really. Her website actually led me to your website which then I joined the unschooling series, those e-mails that you sent out. So, I did that, and I put my husband on that and that is really how we found unschooling.
So, I wrapped up one last project. I picked my son up from school one day and we had been talking about it—I read about unschooling probably a full year before we actually were able to pull the kids out of school. Just kind of started implementing little things at a time, like, okay I am going to free up—I was very restrictive about food, about everything—and so I started letting go of those restrictions. Then picked my son up from school one day and said, “You are not going back; we are ready.” That was the beginning.
PAM: Did he know about it beforehand?
MEGAN: He did. We had talked about it—well, he knew about unschooling because he recognized that we were changing. Like, I was allowing more TV or more video games. I think my oldest son suffered the most through my old parenting style. It was a big relief for him to just to have even some of concessions from me.
PAM: So, it was just kind of working its way towards this? As you were getting other things settled and organized to be able to have them home.
MEGAN: Exactly, because I knew I needed to phase out of working, get prepared, and so we did that and there were little steps along the way. In some ways we sort of dove in also. Because it’s a big difference when you are making those little changes, but they are still in school. Then when you finally bring them home and it really happens, and so that was where the big learning curve happened.
PAM: Well speaking of learning curve—I will say I had the same experience. Because I mean I did not know about homeschooling when the kids were at school. It was that moment where there was that revelation that it did not have to be that way.
MEGAN: Right, it’s so freeing.
PAM: It’s like, “Wow.”
MEGAN: It was like someone unlocked the shackles you did not even know you were wearing. You know?
PAM: Exactly, that is a great way to put it. (laughs)
After we have chosen unschooling for our family the learning does not stop there, does it. The words are there—like you were talking about the words—but they don’t really have meaning for us yet. We are just getting started. While the growing amount of information about unschooling available to us now is awesome, it also means more sifting to find the sources with solid information that connects with us, that makes sense to us. I was wondering how you found that process unfolding for you?
MEGAN: Well I have to say that I do feel incredible fortunate that the first website I did find was Sandra Dodd’s which led me to yours and to Amy Child’s. At that time I found unschooling, it was sort of right on the cusp of the whole Facebook wave.
So, there was that group, Always Learning on Yahoo, which is still alive but it was much more active when I first came to unschooling. Once you start, the learning is just starting. I mean, the ways that the mind opens, I did not even know were possible, I did not know part of this thought process existed. You know, it’s a really profound philosophy I think, radical unschooling.
So, at the beginning we decided that we were not just going to be unschoolers but radical unschoolers. Just felt more natural for us. I think now, with all the information there is, the first thing I would think would be to find out where you really fall on the spectrum of it, of unschooling—which now there is this spectrum, right? Some people just use it towards education, others like us it’s a whole life philosophy.
Then when you go to those discussions, for myself, it’s so important to remember to keep an open mind. Because when I was on Always Learning, a lot in the beginning, I thought I had a really open mind but then I realized how actually narrow-minded I was. I thought, you know I was like, ‘ah, I get it all,’ and really, there was so much I did not get.
The biggest thing is that we do not even realize that we have is all this narrow-mindedness around our core beliefs. People challenged those and it’s just natural to become defensive and feel attacked. These are things that we just believed to be true unequivocally; that is it. So, when we start finding out that they are not, it’s hard to deal with. I think that it’s confusing and then it can be painful for the parent. That is hard sometimes to sit with yourself and really look at yourself and why you do things.
See, those things all become more apparent the longer you unschool because, like you said, when the kids were in school and we could start lifting restrictions off certain things, that was fine. But when I brought my kids home, my oldest son, who had the most healing to do, he had been schooled the longest and it was really ultra damaging for his personality. For some kids, I think like myself—I went to school and I do not really think it affected me. Of course, it boxed me in, boxed my mind in certain ways, but I was not terribly unhappy in school. I liked my teachers, I had friends, whatever. But for my son it was really, really bad. He was not bullied, and he had a ton of friends, and he did well—he just hated it. I do not know how else to say it. Sorry, I kind of went on a tangent there.
PAM: That’s okay.
MEGAN: So, when we brought him home, all of a sudden, my son was watching television, not kidding, almost 24 hours a day; maybe 18 hours a day. He would sleep on the couch in front of the television. He would eat all his meals watching the TV. I had allowed this, but every now and again I would blow up. Because in the beginning we still are who we are. We cannot just change, poof, overnight. So, I would still get really angry.
Then I would realize, ‘You know what? I am allowing him to do this so I cannot be mad at him. Why am I feeling so uncomfortable with him watching TV? What is it about that that is making me feel this way and making me actually feel angry? What is at the root of that anger?’
When we start asking ourselves those really challenging questions I think it’s important to have a group that can really sort through those answers. Not just tell you, ‘Oh, it’s okay, you are angry, mom, and we all have those days.’ I don’t want that. There are certain times I want to be coddled and I know who to go to to be coddled. But when we are really getting down into the depths of unschooling, I think it’s important to have a group that can really help you work through that and has the courage to say things that will open your mind or shift your perspective.
That was another thing I really found on the Always Learning list, was Sandra Dodd talks a lot about shifting your perspective. Which is something else that I think the words are easy to read, but to really do it takes time and practice. So that is a big part of unschooling is—to continually involve yourself somehow in the discussion. The discussion is going on everywhere.
Make sure the discussion is challenging you. I have a couple of really good unschooling friends and I can go to them with anything and know that they are going to be truthful and honest with me. They are in the same philosophy that I am. Everyone is going to relate to people differently, right? I love Anne Ohman—she’s very different than other voices in unschooling. So, there are all these different voices out there.
I think, one, you have to find who you connect with, whoever that may be, who you can hear the best and then, make sure—for myself it was just try not to walk away just because I got offended. There were times where I felt almost like my feelings were hurt. You know, I would write in and I would be like, ‘I did not really want you to tell me the truth about it.’ (laughs) And then I would hear those words and it was just important to step away from the discussion for a little while and think about it. Which is hard online.
PAM: Yes, so much.
MEGAN: Because that is the other thing online is that you get to have rapid response and you need to say what you need to say right now or else it’s all irrelevant you know, because it just changes so quickly. I think it’s a good tool and it helps strengthen some other unschooling tools when you can just step away and think. Let it percolate.
PAM: Yes, because there is just so much value in that. Like you said, not just for that moment but for the process in general and that process in life. There are so many great points in there!
MEGAN: It’s so funny because I had written out things you know, what I was going to say and then I find it sounds kind of unnatural when I read it, so I am just kind of speaking off the cuff. Hope it’s making sense.
PAM: It is! That openness is such a huge point because this is something that is unconventional, and we have absorbed growing up so many conventional messages. Like you said, we do not yet know that so much is going to be challenged. So, being open to just consider—even if it’s just asking yourself, ‘What if?’ Maybe that’s true…
PAM: You know it does not have to be, ‘You are wrong, this is right.’ It’s not. It’s like, bringing ideas for you to consider and contemplate, and that’s the reason why it’s so important to find the voices that connect with you, so that you can be open because, if you are feeling defensive, too often you don’t consider them—if you just get you know the pat on the back and say, ‘Oh no, they can watch all the TV they want.’ If you just leave it there that is always going to come up for you, over and over until you work through it. You need to do the work.
MEGAN: You need to do the work. It’s exactly like you said, opening your mind to the possibility. Because unschooling is a simple philosophy that when you read it, you are like, ‘Oh yes, that makes so much sense.’ But to actually implement it and fully integrate that philosophy into your life, it’s so different because it radically contradicts what we grew up knowing and understanding about the world—at least for me. It’s like suddenly four plus four does not equal eight. Or, there is a possibility it might equal nine. Is it possible to stretch your brain out that far? You know, where you can think, ‘It’s a possibility what I have been doing all these years was not right? Hmmm…’
PAM: Yes, exactly. That’s a big piece.
MEGAN: Yes, it’s a big piece.
I know with my son with the TV thing I would write in and Joyce Fetteroll responded to me on one and I will never forget this because it just made so much sense for me. She said, if your son had two broken legs would you be yelling at him to get up and go running? That was just like, ‘Oh my god, that made perfect sense to me.’ He is broken somehow inside—I may not be able to see it and I may not see what is going on inside his brain as he watches all that TV and a lot of times he watched the same show over and over. And Pam, I just did not understand it. I was like, ‘What are you doing? Why are you just sitting there? You aren’t in school anymore, go outside, play.’
PAM: Do everything!
MEGAN: Yes! Like, come do a craft with me, let’s bake, play, explore, let’s look at rocks. Look at all the birds! Let’s play with ice. And he wanted to just sit and watch TV and it was making me feel bad about myself because in the end it was about me not feeling like an adequate parent. Like I was doing something wrong. I could not see everything that was going on inside of him and when Joyce wrote that it just all kind of made sense and I thought, ‘Okay I can’t see it but I am going to trust it.’ Because there’s also that there is kind of the big component of trust in faith in the unschooling process as well.
PAM: There is because you need that. You definitely need it.
It’s funny, for me, the idea of trust shifted. In the beginning I kind of needed to trust what the experienced, longer-term unschoolers and unschooling parents were telling me, so that I could give things enough space to happen so that I would then gain the experience.
And six months down the road I could look back and see, ‘Oh, yes, that did happen that way.’ But you do have to find trust or faith somewhere to let those six to twelve months unfold first. Then you gain your own experience.
MEGAN: Right. Exactly. Which is hard because we are doing something very different than most everyone around us. And we are used to wanting studies, evidence, facts, ‘give me the pie graph on that, how many unschoolers are going to college?’ You know what I mean.
PAM: We are used to productivity and fast; ‘this should be fixed by next week.’
MEGAN: Right, and ‘do you fall with in you know the regular learning curve of everyone else four to six age ranges.’
It’s such a leap of faith in some ways where when you really read it and start to understand it you finally do know on an intellectual level, yes, learning is natural to humans that is what we do, we have come a long way baby! I mean, like look at where we started as bipedal primates, right? So, it’s pretty amazing, and I am just so happy that we found it. It truly has been life changing.
PAM: Yes. Oh, I know.
Another important aspect of this deschooling process evolves around parenting and it lines up a lot with what you were talking about with your son. It turns out that helping our children’s learning thrive, and just helping them thrive as individuals, means shifting our parenting paradigm from having control over our children—even if it’s just wishing that they would get up and play and do all these wonderful things that we can now do because he is home—to being in connection with our children. To starting to understand their perspective. And that huge piece that you talked about, judging ourselves or seeing ourselves from what our children are choosing to do. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what that shift has looked like for you?
MEGAN: Yes. So, that piece about the reflection of our children or our children being a reflection of us it’s so cultural. That is something in our paradigm that is one of those things I did not even realize I was doing. I was working overtime on that one.
Before unschooling, that was just a completely foreign thought to me, I think. I never really thought about it. I grew up with parents that loved me very much but did not really play with me. It was never expected that they would play with me. That just was not their role, you know?
I grew up thinking being a good parent meant you kept your kids clean and like nice-looking, you educated them and they had manners and you really did not need to play with them. With my oldest I did not play—it sounds so regretful to think about it now you know but, I did not really play with him when he was little. One of my biggest regrets is I sleep-trained him.
I was twenty-two years old when I had my oldest son—I was kind of a baby. Now that I’m older I am like, ‘oh my god, I really was young and I never thought about it.’ I never even thought about the fact that I was young to have a baby. For me, I had always wanted children, and I wanted children young, and the women in my family tended to have children young. To me, that was just normal.
So, I was twenty-two years old when I had him and I just really wanted to do everything right. I truly believed what I was doing was the best thing for him. And my husband hated that I sleep-trained him and would always just want to bring him in with us. He was probably twelve weeks old when I did that and so I still nursed him for a long time, but that right there disconnected me from my son.
Putting him in a crib and letting him cry to sleep was a huge disconnection for us. I never did it again with any of my other children because I new innately it was wrong in my gut, but at the time, at that age, I was not really able to even be connected to myself and my own intuition and my mother’s intuition. I did not trust myself enough to connect with myself and therefore how could I connect with my children on that level.
Which is another huge part of the trust component in unschooling. John Holt says, “We are raised our whole lives as children believing we cannot be trusted so it’s no wonder we turn into adults that do not trust ourselves and then again do not trust our children.” And then it’s just this revolving cycle. It has to stop somewhere, right? We have got to change it.
Being disconnected was what was normal for me. When I came to unschooling and was starting to let go of all those controls, that led me to start learning more about myself and why I had those control issues over my children and what did that mean for me. How did I need to connect back into myself and connect with them and really making the effort to play with them, to watch TV with them, to sit on the couch and watch my son’s shows with him. To play their computer games, to really get into their world, helped me heal and helped me learn, I think, what a true connection means.
So, that was just part of the work and the process of putting down all those thoughts and ideas and opinions that I thought were so right. Shifting my perspective and trying something new because playing with my kids was really foreign to me. At the same time, Pam, I was only this kind of person parenting. I have always been fun and little bit crazy and a little bit wild and wanting to do things and I just have kind of a vivacious personality, it’s who I am. But when it came to parenting, I would turn into this different sort of person, like I thought I had to put on this persona. I sort of turned into what I thought was right, and it was not right.
PAM: That is such a great point though, because it’s our chance to be “good.” Like we said, we are seeing our value or our worth as a parent reflected through our children, so that drives us to control them to be perfect so that we can look perfect because, this is our shot. Because we know what a good parent looks like, right? Conventionally. Especially when you have bought in to that whole paradigm, you are just really pulled to accomplish it. I know what you mean.
MEGAN: Yeah and I was always so worried about how other people are judging the situation. For myself, I never really cared what people thought about me but, all of sudden, when I had kids it was like, ‘these kids need to be perfect and people need to think that I am doing a great job and know that I am a fit parent.’
PAM: That’s why, when you are shifting away from that control, you are like, ‘oh now what?’ Like you said, you have to learn so much about yourself. So that you can even connect to somebody because it’s very hard to see from somebody else’s perspective until—you’ve got to start somewhere. You’ve got to start with your own.
MEGAN: Right, exactly. Sometimes it’s fake it until you make it. Because, in the beginning, I did not really understand what I was doing but I did it anyway. I just kind of went through the steps. First off it was just opening my mind to the fact that what my kids were watching on TV was really great and was it funny and can I get into with them, and I could. Even if in my head I was thinking, ‘oh my god, I cannot believe I am watching this Barbie movie,’ or whatever I was thinking in my head. I did not say it out loud. It was also learning to control my mouth.
PAM: It’s like a million and one little shifts, at first. Every day.
MEGAN: I think as parents we feel like it’s our right to just unload our opinion on our kids. With conventional parenting—did you notice that—you’ll tell your kids: you’ll be like, “Oh my god. your hair is a wreck, your breath stinks, go brush your teeth.” You would never say that to anyone else. And somehow that’s okay to say to your children. It’s more conventional, so you hear it all around you. So, becoming more mindful also is a huge part in connecting. Being more mindful of what you say and how you say it. How are you treating these people that happen to be your children. Who, by the way, did not ask to be born, you brought them into this world.
PAM: All that ties together so nicely because it’s all about being able to stop for that moment and just contemplate. Not just react, not just say, “Oh, your hair!” or whatever. So, whether it’s ‘ooh your hair,’ or ‘ooh this TV show,’ or whatever, takes us back to what we were talking about before about just being open.
Just being open to those moments just kind of passing by and just contemplating them for a little bit and just doing that shift over again. ‘But we are having fun. We’re watching this TV show for the hundredth time, but we are having fun, we’re laughing.’ It’s this whole conversation that goes on in your head, isn’t it?
MEGAN: Yes, right, exactly. And that’s better, to learn that sometimes we just need to keep it in our head. Or talk to our friends about it. But we don’t have to unload it on our kids. Let them have their own experience.
PAM: Exactly. Then that is part of the just staying back and observing a little bit. You are with them and connecting but you do not have to verbalize everything, right?
PAM: To see how they take it in. I learned so much because they see things differently. That was all part of my deschooling to realize that the way that they see things is just as valid.
MEGAN: It’s almost even more valid because it’s coming from a more pure perspective, I think. It does not come with all our baggage. In the beginning, I had a lot of opinions that were just weighed down by all this baggage in my own experience and how I was really projecting this now onto my kids. Or onto their experience and not letting them just be an individual in the world just doing something and having their unique experience with it. And that is even hard to understand but it’s to allow them to be their own person, separate from us. Does that make sense? It’s huge.
PAM: It’s huge. It’s so valuable for us to see it, too. So many things on my unschooling journey for myself have been because I saw them in my children.
MEGAN: Right, yes, exactly.
PAM: ‘This is okay. Oh, so what do I really think about this?’
MEGAN: Right. I am learning from my kids all the time and now with my two older ones are eleven and thirteen—you know, my thirteen year old is smarter than I am. It’s just so amazing and I love hearing about his perspective and I thank God that I found it at the time I did. Eight years old—that is not early in the game when we are talking about children.
I am just so happy I found it when I did because now our relationship is so amazing. We are so connected. I do not have to control him anymore. I really can say that I trust him in what he is doing and that is a long time coming. I mean that’s probably been in the past year that I felt that way.
That is not saying everything is perfect. Being in connection with your children and your family is not saying that you never have an argument or get upset or have just issues. It’s not always hunky dory. But it means that we can really discuss issues when they happen.
PAM: Exactly. I mean, when you say it’s amazing—and it’s—and you are so well connected. You worry that people think, ‘oh it’s all candy, lollipops.’
MEGAN: It’s all rainbows and unicorns.
PAM: There you go that’s the phrase I was looking for! But no, it’s that connection that helps you. Even when there are issues and problems and people are worried and upset and everything, that connection is still there, so it seems like you are working together.
MEGAN: And it’s so important.
PAM: Right. It’s like you are working together.
MEGAN: Exactly and the connection is so important in those vulnerable times because to be able to connect into our children when they are not feeling their best—even coming down to my three-year-old.
When she is throwing a tantrum or screaming and crying because her toy does not look the way she wants it to, I do not have to get upset and control her and make her feel good again. I can just be there with her. Let her be upset and help her as much as I can. Maybe with the three-year-old, luckily, we can kind of guide their attention elsewhere to something that maybe will make them happy. A lollipop.
You know with my thirteen-year-old when he is upset, I can be there with him too. It even comes down to controlling their feelings, because before when maybe my kids would get upset, we’re just used to saying, “It’s okay, you’re fine. You’re fine, don’t cry.” We even want to control feelings. So now, with my thirteen-year-old, even if he is angry, if he’s mad at me, I can let him have his anger and be mad and I am still connected to him. And it’s even growing stronger in those moments because then I can just be there for him as a support and he knows that. I think he knows I am there you know and that is huge.
PAM: It’s, it’s huge. And yes, it’s wonderful and it’s so different and it’s okay. It’s part of the detangling yourself from them. They are individuals with their own valid, feelings, reactions, everything. It’s such a fine line, isn’t it? You say you let them have it and if they are upset and they are upset with me, that’s okay. Then you think, ‘Do people think then it’s just hands off? I just leave them alone and that is that?’ No. There is so much.
MEGAN: No, no. That is the thing about unschooling, it’s definitely not hands off. It’s learning what that means because when you are in that traditional paradigm it’s kind of like all or nothing. I think in our head everything is just black and white in the traditional paradigm of parenting and when you get into unschooling you realize that it’s mostly a big huge spectrum of grey. I think there is very little black and white and that was really hard for me because I like things to be black and white.
I have to tell you, my natural personality is more of a black and white personality because it helps me. I mean, human beings, we like patterns, right? We like symmetry and things to fit correctly. So, when things do not, it gets a little tricky. Learning that grey spectrum of, ‘yes, I am going to let him be angry at me but no, it’s not hands off in anyway.’
PAM: Yes, you have to support them.
MEGAN: Exactly. Which is tricky because sometimes he tells me, ‘go away,’ so I have to go away. But he still knows I love him. I tell him, ‘okay, I am going to leave you alone, but I love you,’ and not taking it personally.
PAM: Exactly because that is that connection and that trust underneath, and the time aspect comes in there too, that this does not need to be solved right this instant. You know that advice to ‘never go to bed angry,’ it has always struck me a little off because sometimes we need our feelings and we need to process them in whatever time that it takes us, but to know that the other people are there for us when we’re ready to reach out.
Then that is what we learn too—even if it’s just body language to know that they are ready for us to come closer.
MEGAN: Right, exactly. And he knows I am there. I don’t know if when I was thirteen years old I was allowed to angry at my parents or yell at them without there being some kind of repercussion; some sort of consequence to whatever behavior. My son and all my kids know they can be angry and they can be upset and that does not mean they are going to get in trouble later for it or I am going to punish them for their feelings. They still know I am there.
Now, some things are unacceptable, obviously if my kid came up and hit me or hit another one of my kids, that is unacceptable. Even with that, it’s still not I am going to punish you for that.
PAM: Yes, because you know when they are upset, angry anything, that is not fun for them.
PAM: They are not doing it to piss you off or something. They are where they are. They are doing the best they can in that moment. You are going to have opportunities to talk about that. Most likely not in the moment you are supporting them and just helping them get through the upset in the moment.
After, you can talk about how they got there, what was going on. You can help them because they do not want that to happen again and again and again. You know so you are still supporting them and helping them figure out ways for next time.
MEGAN: Absolutely. It’s important to feel. I think for kids it’s really natural because you have to learn how to handle the bit emotions. So, to really be able to do it in a safe space. You know, to go through that little roller coaster ride and then it’s okay and you can talk about it afterwards and grow from it and learn from it. That alone is going to set you up I think pretty well.
PAM: It’s huge, yes. Because to even know—to be able to see the other side of it. To see that you can get through it, that there is another side, that you can you know make changes and just the whole experience of being able to go through it rather than it being the end of the world.
MEGAN: Or it meaning something more than it is. Like when my son was in school, they wanted to say he had, it’s called ODD. What is it?
PAM: Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Yes, I know that one. (laughs)
MEGAN: Really? Who came up with that? When they told me that, that was one thing that I never agreed with. They told me that, I laughed in their face. I was like, so my son wants to say no, what does that mean? Your kid can get upset, it does not mean they are ODD. They can hop from subject to subject it does not have to mean something. It can just be what it is in that moment, and it means they are human.
PAM: Exactly and to be able to help them understand themselves, right? Isn’t that just a gift that keeps on giving. That no matter what their personality is and who they want to be and all that kind of stuff, to be able to see them for who they are and love them is so good for them.
MEGAN: It’s such a gift.
PAM: It is. So, I guess we should move on.
MEGAN: Yes, I’m sorry.
PAM: No, no that was an amazing conversation, thank you! So, speaking of personalities, see what I did there? (laughs)
MEGAN: Very clever.
PAM: Thank you.
With five children, I imagine there are a number of different personalities at play, so I was wondering if you could share your experience around finding ways to meet their diverse needs?
MEGAN: Yes, they are all so different and that is what I find incredible. I feel really fortunate that I have been able to have these five kids.
I used to say it’s crazy how each kid is so different and they have the same parents. Somebody once said to me they don’t have the same parent because you are a different parent with each child. That could not be more true in my case. Because if you look at the mother that I was and the father that my husband was with Julian and then the parents with our youngest Clementine and all in between, gosh, Clementine hit the jackpot, she really did. I mean we have just grown and evolved so much and being able to do that with our children has been so amazing and meeting all their needs has been a learning and growing process.
In the beginning with unschooling, it was hard for me because I was still sort of stuck in, ‘everybody should like what I like.’ If I like it, it must be fun! You guys, do you not know that? Why would you now want to go to the park day?
My oldest son is totally—all my kids are totally their own person—but he has always been much more introverted. Well, I have kind of got three extroverts and two introverts. My oldest and my fourth child are very introverted as is my husband. I am more extroverted, if you haven’t noticed. I have got my two middle kids are and then my youngest are more extroverted.
I really had to learn that it’s okay for them to be different and that my second and third child love doing classes, they want to try anything, they will go to a park day. Anything I throw at them, they are usually willing to try it. My oldest hates classes—ever since he we pulled him out of school. He has tried a few classes here and there at my urging. Because, in the beginning, when you first start unschooling, you’re like, ‘wow, look at all these classes, let’s sign up one for every day, then we’ll go to twelve park days a month, and we’re going to meet all these people!’
It really did not work for our family and I kind of learned that quickly and that was part of learning to trust my son and knowing that he knew what was best for him. He just does not like park days, and that was hard for me to understand in the beginning. I thought, ‘do you not want to make friends?’ And he was making a lot of friends online. But I was discounting that.
So, now how I am meeting their diverse needs really is just like we talked about before: connecting with each individual one and figuring out things that we can do that everyone will like because there are those things that we all love. We love doing things as a family.
Usually, if it’s all seven of us, everybody’s in. We went to Knott’s Berry Farm this past Sunday, which is an amusement park here, for my son’s birthday. Any amusement parks, everybody wants to go to. We love traveling together. When we travel it’s a really great time for us all to connect as a family. We just do a lot of stuff together—we go surfing or hiking or exploring or whatever. Everyone is game for that.
But when we are at home, which is usual, my son, really he is sort of on the gamer’s schedule. Vampire schedule, which wakes up around four in the afternoon and then goes to bed at an undisclosed hour—I am not really sure when it is but I know it’s late, or early. Then when he really wants to do something, he does. But I will go watch him play his video games if he wants and he lets me know what he needs. Like, he’ll say, “Oh I want to go to the mall.” He likes going to the mall now. Or, “I want to go get this game.”
I think the biggest way of meeting needs is by staying connected to your kids and knowing who your kids are. Which is huge, because there are certain things I know my oldest son and my fourth child—my two introverts—are not going to like. So, we talk. I always run everything past everyone, but I do not get offended or take it personally if they do not want do it. The option to say no is always available. That is kind of how we are.
Right now, my younger son just got a Nintendo Switch for his birthday so that has been so much fun because everybody can play and we all love it. We all are playing Just Dance and it’s hilarious and you know they all are playing Mario Kart so that is something bringing all the kids together, except for Clementine. I mean, she stands there with the remote thinking she is playing but she is not quite there yet. So that’s it. I feel like meeting needs is just really an extension of staying connected.
PAM: Connected, yes, yes. That and being okay with no. That is the other huge piece when you are connected. Then it’s just figuring it out, just trying to see how you can weave all the different things together.
MEGAN: Yes, it’s just life. It just really starts to flow and I think whether you have one kid or you have five—obviously the workload increases a little bit, I think, but—it just it hits a flow. There are ebbs too. I actually have been discussing this with a good friend of mine (Lisa Celedon). We were talking about the ebbs and she said something really beautiful: that during the ebbs the tide has pulled away and there are all these unexpected treasures on the beach that you can find.
That made a lot of sense to me because sometimes like we are all flowing so well, and everything is going great, then we feel like we start to ebb and it’s like, ‘okay, what’s going on?’ Taking that downtime which is really what it is and looking for the treasure in it. Maybe everybody needed a break. I think we get so caught up in another cultural thing, being busy. Because if we are busy then we are worthy. Then that means that we are productive human beings and we are worth our weight in gold and gosh darn it, we are going to make the world a better place. You know, sometimes it really is okay to have that down time. Your body needs it, your brain needs it, kids absolutely need it, and they know how to give it to themselves naturally.
PAM: Yes, they do they really, really do.
MEGAN: I am still learning that. I am learning how to give myself down time that has been another bit piece that came with unschooling which is huge.
PAM: Yes, I have found that too. I mean I love that the treasures that you find in that time. That’s another piece, giving yourself permission to be quiet, and to think, ‘it’s okay, we don’t have to be doing all these things, they don’t have to love park day.’
MEGAN: We are always learning through all of it.
How has the transition to unschooling been for your husband? That will be interesting, because you said he was a little more of a free spirit beforehand, so I was wonder how you seen his experience with this shift to unschooling?
MEGAN: Well, I think it came more naturally for him in some aspects because he hated school. Absolutely hated it. He has got no good memories of school. He ditched most of high school. He did not like it and he never wanted the kids to go to school. He never liked the idea of sending them for preschool, so the kids did not go to preschool, but I was like, “They are going to go to pre-K, though.” You know when they are four they have got start early, pre-K. He didn’t like it, ever, but he went a long with it because what was the other option, homeschooling them?
Like I said, I always some level wanted to keep my kids home with me too, but I did not know about homeschooling. I thought they had to go to school. I did not really understand that was an option.
So, in that respect, my husband got it very easily and he was always much more willing to say yes, too. Like, I would get so upset if my kids ate McDonalds when they were little. And these are really just my oldest two—my son was eight when we started, and I guess she was six. I was even more easygoing with her than I was with my oldest. I was so rigid with my oldest and I thought, ‘oh my god, McDonalds, they cannot eat that. The sodium content, diabetes—all these fear factors that I had. I was just projecting everything out.
He was always much more easygoing about those types of things, like letting them make decisions about what they wanted to eat or wear or play. But, like everyone else, he had his challenges with it.
But we both really got into Always Learning together, that group. He would read a lot. He wrote in once, that was interesting. (laughs) So, we would read that, and we got copies of your books and Sandra Dodd’s books. He would listen to Amy Child’s podcast—that was the only one around, I think, when we started. He learned in his own way as well—you know how unschooling can really apply to anyone in your life. I learned how to be different with my husband.
There were times when I would just send him tons of articles, and highlight this in a book, and whatever. That did not really work because I felt like when I would push it on him, he would resist it. You know which goes back to really hating school. I mean my husband works for himself. He cannot work for people. He does not want to be told what to do and so I had to learn too. We both had our own process.
We love it. I mean now we are at the point where we know not to really talk about it around other people, but in the beginning, when you’re just so excited you wan to tell everybody. Like, ‘you gotta unschool your kids, man, it’s awesome!’ Then you see them realize, people are just like what are you talking about. It’s just a hard deed. So, in the beginning I know he wanted to convert everyone and now we have both just settled down and let it percolate through ourselves.
PAM: I know, I would say something those first few months, say something to my friends when we got the families together and I just did not understand why they were not going, ‘oh my god, how do you do this?’ and asking a million questions. They’re like, ‘oh, okay,’ and change the subject.
MEGAN: When you read, it’s just like so logical. Like, ‘okay that makes perfect sense, now I need to go evangelize the world.’
PAM: Yes. That is a stage.
MEGAN: Yes, it quickly passes. You’re like, ‘okay, never mind.’
PAM: Yes, that was a huge revelation to me too. I think that really did improve my relationship with Rocco, with my husband, because it just shows you how individual people are, right? When I realized that the control aspect with my children was not helping our relationship, I started to recognize how many ways I was trying to control him too.
PAM: And trying to get him to learn things the way I like to learn things, all that kind of stuff. So, it really opened up that relationship too.
MEGAN: Makes for a much more peaceful household.
PAM: It really, really does. Now, for our last question, I am curious …
What is your favorite thing about your unschooling lifestyle right now?
MEGAN: Oh my goodness, right now?
PAM: Right now. I will not hold you to it in five years from now.
MEGAN: Yes, right, exactly.
My favorite thing right now, it has got to be my relationship with my kids and my husband. It has opened up so many doors, windows, worlds to me that I did not know existed. It has just opened my mind to so many levels. I just did not even know this could exist—this true family harmony and happiness is real.
I feel like the Velveteen Rabbit, you know. I finally have become real. I may not have any eyes and my fluff is all kind of worn out and worn down, but I am real and feel on such a deep level with my kids and with my husband and I don’t know what could be better.
PAM: Aw, that is so awesome.
Thank you so, so much for speaking with me today Megan. I really appreciate it. I loved it. Yeah!
MEGAN: I hope I sounded coherent. (laughs)
MEGAN: My mind was going like a million miles a minute. And I love talking. You are lucky you get to talk about unschooling all the time with all these great people. But for myself, because I kind of do stay out of like the Facebook world and stuff, only because for me I have found that it helps me to focus more on my family and I guess that was part of like the what maybe I should have gone into on the one question about sifting through sources, finding what works for you.
Facebook is like too much for me because I start responding and getting all wrapped up in these other worlds, it just takes too much of my time I think at this point in my life. So, it’s so great to just really have good conversation with somebody about this subject that I love to talk about but I do not often get to do it.
PAM: That is great, that is awesome and so true right? It’s another thing that you see how it weaves into your life.
PAM: And before we go where is the best place for people to connect with you online?
MEGAN: Instagram. I don’t do Facebook but I love Instagram. I love it, it’s light-hearted and you know there is direct message. I am on Facebook Messenger—I am on Facebook, if you go on you will find me, but I really never go on. So, the best way to find me is through Messenger and Instagram at momwifesuperstar.
PAM: Yeah, oh thank you so much Megan have a wonderful day.
MEGAN: You too Pam. It was such a pleasure.