PAM: Welcome to another Q&A episode. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and I am joined by Anna Brown. Hi, Anna!
PAM: Hello. I am going to get us started this month. This question is from another Anna in the UK. She writes …
Anna’s Question (from the UK)
Hello! My name is Anna and I have 2 children, a boy aged 7 and a girl aged 6. We live in the UK. I am a primary teacher and my husband is a teacher, as were both my parents! I have read a lot about unschooling and REALLY enjoy your podcasts, and my husband and I really see the positive points of unschooling and feel drawn to trying it out, but it feels extremely challenging. We started our home schooling journey a year ago. My son did not do well academically at school, although he enjoyed some of it, and this is the reason we took them both out. He gets extremely focused on one thing (we think he may be ASD) and does not tend to be interested in anything else, for months and even years. Can an ASD child self-regulate? He spends most of his time sitting reading History books, is an introvert and also wants to watch a lot of TV which I am uncomfortable with. He often does not want to go outside at all.
My daughter however, is an extrovert (as am I) and loves activities and going out. They have always had a difficult relationship (only 13 months age difference) and this is getting worse. Son sits and reads and hardly plays with her any more and I think she misses playing with him. She was upset a couple of nights ago saying she misses school, more precisely playing with groups of friends and doing “proper learning” (her words), and she misses doing learning “like school.” She has asked if we can do handwriting and maths worksheets together. I tried this yesterday but when presented with the worksheets she doesn’t want to do them!
We live in a small house with a tiny garden and haven’t found many other home schooling families we are all keen on. I myself am feeling quite lonely and confused and am struggling to find joy in this journey. I can’t help thinking it would be easier with a dog, a big garden, etc but money is very tight on one income.
I am trying so hard but sometimes find myself getting so angry, for example I tried letting them watch as much tv as they wanted the other day, and they watch it ALL day. I wandered around feeling at a loose end and did what you recommend, sitting with them etc but it was just so boring! Then when tv had to go off for dinner my son had a tantrum. We were all left definitely NOT feeling joy. They ask for TV when they wake up, I tried that early in the year but it led to my son getting up super early and him grumpy and tired for the rest of the day, so now the first thing I say every morning is NO! I am not doing very well at this am I!! Please help, I have some much personal deschooling to do but it is so hard I feel I can barely do it and with 2 children who are so different and the associated guilt and feeling sorry for my daughter is very hard! Despite all this I am very sure it is ultimately the right path.
Thanks so much.
PAM: Hi Anna, thank you so much for sending in your question. I do completely understand what you are saying, and I can feel your anxiety about it all, also your love for you children.
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you said you have so much personal deschooling to do—that is the biggest and really the most important piece when you choose unschooling for your family. As you work through your own deschooling, so many of the challenges that you describe will melt away—deschooling will help you see another way to approach all of those different situations you are talking about. That is why I so often talk about taking the first year off, like think of it like an extended family vacation—so that you can deschool and you and your children can really get to know one another.
In the show notes I’m going to link you to a month of blog posts on my website that I did that were dedicated to deschooling. I urge you to go read them—from the bottom up because the way they get displayed is in reverse chronological order so start at the bottom. Read them lots of times over the next few weeks, sometimes when you are feeling really good, sometimes when you feeling really down, after something has gone well, when you wake up in the morning before the day starts. At various times because different things will make different connections for you and maybe something that happened yesterday will click for you when you are reading through it and you will say, ‘Oh, that’s like an example of that.” I think that will be really helpful.
With a lot of the unschooling information out there, it’s not about just reading once and making the connections that you make in that moment and then moving forward, because there is just so much. It is a different way of living of relating to and engaging with our children and connecting with our children and our families. It’s not like a switch, that, ‘Oh, I learned this, now I have the answer for the test and our next day, our next encounter will go fine.’ It just does not work that way.
If you do not take this time to deschool, unschooling really isn’t going to work well because this whole deschooling period is really about learning how unschooling works. As you are deschooling out of all the conventional ways of learning and the conventional ways of being in relationship with your children, deschooling is about learning a different way to approach it all. It really is the whole foundation of setting up unschooling in your family.
It is totally okay that you do not understand a lot if it right now, that is what this time is for.
So, the only other thing I want to do is just share a few little observations about the situations that you described and these observations are going to make a little bit more sense to you as you continue deschooling.
So, about your son, I am wondering if you have you listened to episode 120 with Erin Human? Definitely go listen to that one—we talk about the value of unschooling in giving children, wherever they are on the spectrum, the time and space to dive deep into their passions—and it is really a wonderful, wonderful aspect of unschooling.
If your son’s not interested in playing with his sister, you can play with your daughter! Have fun with her, play her favorite games, watch her intense learning in action just as she goes about her day, doing her things, doing her things with you—it will help you see learning looks like outside the classroom.
It will also help your daughter’s deschooling as well, since she already equates learning to the classroom. You can tell because she was thinking she’s not learning because she wants to learn like “school.” So, this is going to help her as well—you’re going to discover together that so much valuable learning happens outside of the classroom.
As you deschool, you are going to find immense joy in your relationships with your children, and in the much deeper self-awareness that you will develop. Sure, a garden might be fun, a dog might be fun, but those things are not necessary for finding joy.
As for TV, don’t focus on the TV shows, that is maybe what is boring for you. Focus on your children—what is it that they are loving about the shows that they watch? What kinds of conversations are sparked? Because you are there with them to hear the comments they make. You are there to notice what they laugh at, what they find funny. You are going to be able to start seeing connections between what they are watching and what they are playing or what they are saying, outside of TV.
Maybe when you are eating, when you are out and about in the world and they make some comment that “this looks like that” you are going to understand these. So that means you are going to start to understand your kids better and you are going to be able to start bringing other things into their lives too that they are going to connect with. The root of their interests because the TV is just that tool to access their interest, it is not the interest itself. It is not that they are just interested in TV and when I take that away they are mad, no, they are using it as a tool to gain access to something that is brining them joy, something that they are enjoying. So once you start to discover what that is, now you really got something. So best wishes to you on your deschooling journey, Anna and I am going to turn it over to the other Anna.
ANNA: Really just the same that Pam is saying.
One of the things you said was, “I let them watch TV the other day,” and, you know, one day of TV does not really give you time for learning self-regulation. So, I think you are still kind of operating in this environment of scarcity. It will take time for them to trust that they have the freedom to choose how to spend their time. What happens in an environment where things are limited, when that “thing” is presented, we want to like mooch onto it and we are a little bit hoardey about it and want to do it because we are thinking you are going to take it away again. And then when you took it away again, it just proves that.
As hard as it is to kind of get through that first piece while they are learning, “Hmm is she really going to take this away? If I watch the whole entire day, is she going to take it away? If I watch for two weeks straight, is she going to take it away?” Because they are testing and trying to understand.
I think if you have open conversations about that, it can help too. Like, “This was hard for me, I get it, let’s try this together,” and whatever. But try to resist that swooping back in and taking it away because that just kind of resets the clock when you are talking about that stuff.
I actually personally love that your son has such a strong singular focus. I think that is such a gift to be able to dig deep into his areas of interest. Digging deep is truly how great discoveries are made. It is how people change the world. This idea of a balance of interests is not really how most people learn. It ends up creating people who know a little bit about a bunch of things. It is not that in-depth knowledge that one needs for a true passion area and to move forward with that.
Those two ideas—and I think you said you were teaching background and family with a teaching background—that is a very common idea: we are going to get this level of knowledge across this broad range of subjects. But, when you look at how adults learn, we actually pretty much dig deep into our passions. We are not just going, “Woops, clock is done, we are not going to do gardening anymore, we are going to do this, then we are going to do that.” We have these passions and we dig deep.
That is also partly personalities, but I know for myself and my husband and my kids, we explore, explore, explore and then we may move on. There is not a time table for that that maybe you are used to, so maybe giving a little space for that.
I do think that the personality differences are probably a big piece here and your level of comfort. It may be hard for you to understand his introverted ways. I am an introvert and I can tell you that a lot is going on in my mind even when I am singularly-focused or I am sitting off by myself on the floor.
It can be hard for parents when they cannot see what is going on inside introverted child’s mind, especially if you have an extroverted child who is telling you everything because they are wanting to process out loud and tell you all the things they learned and saw and thinking about. Then so you are having this kind of delta between the two kids but really, trust me there is a lot going on in there. Finding a way to see that beauty will help you keep you connected to your son as we always talk about—that is the goal, staying connected to him. Even when we may not understand each other sometimes because we see the world a little bit differently.
About your daughter, I think you probably are going to be in a position now and in the future of helping her find friends and activities and things that interest her. My guess is, when she is asking for school, it is really more about the social group piece. That is probably why when she was presented with the worksheets at the table, that was a no go because she is like, “Wait a minute, I thought the worksheets had friends around the table,” so she is processing all of that too. Finding groups and creating groups would probably feed both of you. As an extrovert yourself I think it may come easier for you than it might for me so think of that as a great opportunity.
Now with that, your next task is going to be finding ways for your son to have space and to not have to participate in the new groups you and your daughter are bringing into your experience. If you are at home, can he be in his room? If you are going out, can you find someone to stay with him? Or maybe there is a quiet place at the area where you are going where he can have his own space for games or reading or whatever he wants to do.
So again, it is going to be about finding out how do we meet these different needs? But it can absolutely be done. I think just breathing and seeing your children for who they are and finding the beauty in that will go a long way. We are all different and it takes those differences to bring out that rich tapestry of life and so I think just stepping back and seeing the beauty of the two of them and how differently their mind works but yet how amazing those are will just again help ground you in that moment and help connect you to your children. Which is really what we are all about here.
PAM: I loved all that.
The piece about it being harder to know what introverts are thinking because they are not external processors (verbal processors), that is a huge piece and I think that is part of what we get out of hanging out with them and actually listening to what they say and seeing what choices they make. Instead of telling us with their words, they are showing us with their actions what they are thinking. So, it’s another language to learn for us but it is so worth it. They are still communicating with you, it’s just in a different way.
ANNA: I agree so much. I think you will start to see these connections. You will be like, “Oh, I see he likes to do things this way, he saw this here.” “Oh, I have seen him do this this other time.” So, things will start to make sense. It is kind of a decoding process and I get that we are a little bit harder to understand than other people but it is worth that time and effort. Once an introvert trusts you and knows that you are there to really hear and listen and not change and interfere, they will open up and they will share things with you so often. But we are a little more guarded sometimes.
PAM: Before we move on, there was just one other piece: the phrase “self-regulation.” There were so many little pieces—don’t worry Anna in the UK, you will get to these—but I did want to bring that out maybe even for some of the other people listening as well who might not be quite so new. Looking for self-regulation, that really gets in our way because it adds another filter. We are looking for our kids to “control themselves,” so it’s like we are looking for our kids to put an external framework on top of themselves. To say, “I should only be working or watching for this long” or whatever.
ANNA: Even a layer beyond that, we say “self-regulation” as if it is about the child, but it really is not at all. What you are saying is, “I want them to do what I want them to do, the way I want them to do it, in the timeframe I want them to.” It is really all about me or the parent or whoever is wanting; “I want you to do these things and I am going to call it self-regulation,” because, again, that is just not how people operate. We get excited about things and dig deep into things. I’m not thinking about, “Oh, should I not be doing this anymore? Because I’m interested in it and should I be stopping this and maybe be going and doing this other thing for a little while?”
No. I am engrossed in the passion of tomatoes at the moment, so whatever it is for me (and my husband will tell you it will change and be something different all the time) but it is really intense when I am doing it. I think, kind of watch that language and also just watch where it is coming from. It sounds nice. It sounds like we are saying, “Oh, he is going to have these skills.” But what you are really asking is for him to do things the way that make you feel comfortable. So, just watch for those things.
PAM: To do it from a sense of control, to control himself. Instead, look from the inside and see the choices that they are making. Self-regulation is really about them making their choices. To me, it is really, ‘I want them to gain experience making choices that work for them.’ That is kind of how I would explain what self-regulation would be.
ANNA: Exactly. I am just not sure that is how people use the term. On to question number two. This question is from Loretta in Philadelphia.
Loretta’s Question (from Philadelphia)
Hello! I have been an alternative educator of sorts my whole life. Either on the road or with my friend’s children, I always have people using me as a resource for finding interesting opportunities for their lives. Naturally unschooling was attractive to me for that reason. As someone who doesn’t have children yet, but plans to adopt and/or have children in the future, how can I integrate myself into the unschooling culture now? I have always been a researcher and planner, and through my work I find that this type of schooling would fit best for my life and the skills I would like to pass on to my (future) children. As a child myself, I went to public school during the day and was homeschooled at night, so I can see both sides of the coin. However, there are amazing new opportunities like world schooling and deschooling. I am almost obsessed with the idea of traveling with kids, especially teenagers. I want to explore and learn, but would it be weird for me to show up at these conferences or even sending you questions as a person without children yet? I’m not sure and do not want to seem weird or out of place I guess. Otherwise thank you for being a great resource so far.
ANNA: Hello, I love your enthusiasm! It is so fun. Of course, you can write anytime you want.
I think there are definitely conferences that lend themselves to people checking out unschooling. You would fit right in and really enjoy the community of that in meeting the speakers and different things that are going on.
Something else I wanted you to consider is possibly offering your services to the local unschooling community, so share a passion, share something that you love with a group and meet people that way. I know in our local unschooling community, it’s always so fun to find new mentors and new opportunities. Someone really sharing something from their heart and with a passion is such a gift. It is something you can give at any time.
You might be interested in connecting with Blake Boles. The work that he is doing with unschooling teens and young adults I think that you would really get a kick out of. If you have not read his books and seen the work he is doing—he may have kids now but he did not when he started—because he was quite young when he really got into all of that. I think he might be somebody that you would be interested in looking up.
One thing—just a quick word—when your children come along, they are going to be here on their very own journey. It might not always look like what you are planning now or picturing. So be sure to leave room for that to unfold. I think you will find that they will lead you to all kinds of new and interesting directions that you cannot even imagine now. So, it is going to be wonderful. Just wanted that little caveat there. Sometimes I am a planner too so sometimes I can get ahead of myself and I need to keep that in check when other people are involved.
PAM: Yes that was basically what I wanted to focus on too.
Absolutely, there are all sorts of resources books, websites, blogs, everything out there for anyone. I know I have gotten e-mails from people who are maybe studying it, doing their thesis on alternative learning, people who are just curious. Absolutely anybody can be curious about it, at any stage.
For younger people, sometimes it’s their passion, like I am sure it was for Blake and for you Loretta. You mentioned travel and teen unschoolers, there are unschooling camps for teens and other trips too for teens.
I think the big piece is, just to think of ways you can add value to the community. Like you were talking about even with a local community, something to share. You can offer that to the organizers if you want to get directly involved. You can just have conversations with them and see—ask your questions of them if it is the kind of thing you are looking for at first. They may be looking to hire. They may be looking for volunteers. Maybe even for a travel something, you might get involved by helping with the website. There are just a million ways. That doesn’t literally mean you need to travel, but that you can engage and support and help and just become more connected to the community. That is the really fun piece.
For conferences to, like you said, there will be good ones, ones that will be a good fit for you. Often, they are geared toward unschooling families or families that are interested in starting unschooling, but I would just connect with the organizer and say, “I love the idea and I would love to learn more and I would love to come hang out.”
I know I said yes to a few people over the years when I was running the conference who approached me that way. I think it is probably worth connecting with them because you will be a little bit different than most of the people that are there, but as long as you have engaged with the organizer, they know you are coming, it will be fine, I think. They will be excited for you too. They will be glad that you are exited about it and they know the people that come to their conference and how comfortable they will be. I think it is worth just reaching out to whomever you feel a connection with and bringing what value you see. You could even do a funshop at those.
ANNA: That’s what I was thinking. I think you are right, some conferences will lend itself more that others. Yet, I am thinking volunteering. These conferences are a lot to put together. They may love to have your support in that way and that will integrate you too into the community in a fun way—so yes, just lots of options. Just talk to people and see what is going on.
PAM: Don’t worry about talking to people.
Okay, question three is from Talya in Montreal.
Talya’s Question (from Montreal)
What do you do when you know that unschooling is the best path for your child but you do not feel like you have the emotional, financial or time resources to truly follow what is calling? I am an artist – a poet and theatre performer and creator and highly passionate about what I do. I have no desire to be a SAHM. I also have a teaching degree and went to an alternative arts school and am happy to follow intuitive, child-led, natural learning. But I can’t find the balance at this point.
My son is incredibly self-directed, knows exactly what he loves to do, but also has SPD (a sensory processing disorder) making all group settings and classes difficult for him (to say the least). He is highly intelligent, but when he tries to even take a music lesson (begs for violin lessons and has since age 3) he finds it terrifying and wants to flee. I feel like I am never enough to support him. And I feel like I am failing him. I want to walk this path alongside him, but quite simply feel I can’t. It seems to me like a full-time job to support a child this curious, alert, high needs and in some ways, special needs, and I am worried I will not be able to find a balance and make us both happy. He is 5.5.
Hi, Talya! It is a really great question, thank you so much for sending it in.
You know, it reminds me of the choice I made many years ago now to leave my job—and that was even before I knew about homeschooling and unschooling. For me, it essentially boiled down to choosing what was more important to me: my job, which at the time was entirely the linchpin of my definition of “success.” It was the definition of me at that time, or my kids.
It feels like, from what you have written, you might similarly be at that crossroads here: what do you want to be the most important thing for YOU? In the end, it can only be one thing really, something has to be “most” important. Certainly, for me, that was my experience because it helped me make all those smaller, every day choices. As you can surmise, I chose my kids, which eventually led to discovering homeschooling and then unschooling.
But truly, there really is no right or wrong choice—it is only what is right for you. So, if you choose to take on the seemingly full-time work of supporting your child and helping him thrive, you can definitely learn how to do it. It is the kind of stuff we talk about all the time on the podcast. It is something that you can figure out. You will learn if you choose to.
If it is what you are going to do, you will likely need to release that current need to find a balance to make both of you happy. We are back to that idea of balance. The fascinating thing though, in my experience, is that once you release that constraint of trying to find a balance between the two of you and sink into your role as an unschooling parent—which means, taking that time to deschool like we were talking about in the first question; to learn the ways you can support your unique child; to learn who your unique child really is and to embrace that child and to sink into the flow of your unschooling days—you will find happiness and joy, and you will find ways to weave your artistic passions into your days.
It may well look different. It probably will look different than it does now, than the way you are envisioning. Trying to get it to balance, it is what your challenge is right now. But unschooling definitely is another path to get there.
But if you choose to accept that you truly have no desire to be a stay at home mom, it is okay too. Making that your highest priority does not mean you have to leave your son to flounder in the world. You know this because you mention you attended an alternative arts school—you can try to find an alternative school that will support your son and his needs as much as possible. There are a growing number of schools that embrace self-directed education, from Sudbury schools, to agile learning centres etc. It may not be the closest school to you. It may not be the cheapest school, but it is how you are trying to also fulfill your wish for him to have a more natural learning experience.
So, as I was kind of describing those two kind of directions, which of those snippets of possibilities connected with you the most, Talya? Think about that, that might give you a clue as to which direction you might wan to lean to.
ANNA: Yes, I guess I really do believe, when I was reflecting upon your question, that children are a full time job. I mean I do, I really think they are. I will say that the time goes quickly—so quickly. Along the way I found that there was room really for everyone to learn and grow and pursue passions—especially with unschooling.
I would say, for me, I did not have the reaction to being a stay at home mom, I had the reaction to, ‘I don’t want to be a schoolteacher.’ So, when people originally first said homeschooling to me I was like, “No, I do not want to be a school teacher.” No offense to schoolteachers, they are lovely, but I did not want to be one.
But that is what I love about unschooling, because it is really about all of you following passions together and doing. So, I love that aspect of it in its flexibility and its room for passion—its foundation upon passion—which is so great. I am someone who loves to do all the things. I have so many interests and there are not enough hours in the day.
I did make a conscious choice, like Pam did, to prioritize my children. They are with me for what really has turned out to be quite a short time. I wanted to provide that foundation of love and support and unconditional love. I found ways along the way to keep it super interesting for me. Sometimes that was to pursue arts and different things in that way and sometimes it was diving into all of this, this intellectual aspect of parenting and unschooling. All of those things have just been a fascinating journey along the way.
So maybe there are ways for you to reframe the time and really find the joy in supporting your son because, oh my gosh, he sounds like a really amazing kid. So, I think you could have a lot of fun if you could let go of that idea of balance, like Pam was saying. That is where you are getting stuck—I want this exactly like I want it to look, and then, I like this thing, this amazing kid too—but I think you will find that it is actually a little bit more blurred together and a little bit more different that you thought, so just leave that open to unfolding.
Like I was saying before, we have ideas about how we think things are going to play out but really if we can just step back and let things unfold, it is often a lot better than we could ever plan or imagine truly, truly.
PAM: I know that it is the hardest piece, that trust piece. And especially at first because you are trusting what other people are telling you. You don’t have any personal experience yet.
That is why I always talk about taking that year because within that year, I know that you are going to have two, three, half a dozen revelatory moments where you see how things have worked out better than you could have imagined. Where you thought, ‘Oh, I need to go, A, B, C, but I am going to sit back, like they say.’ Not sit back uninvolved but sit back and let it flow the way it flows—instead of trying to direct the flow. Then X, Y, Z, ends up super amazing.
Even over the years I still had to get to that place where I remember to trust and look back and remember all the times. Like even for myself, the things that I want to do in my own life, as well as my kids and family. This is a forever thing. This is a life thing.
So much of anything that you have questions about unschooling, it is really life. Because, my kids are all older, now but I still have these moments. These are life moments. These are trusting that things are going to unfold even if I do not try to control them to go in a certain direction. There is so much more anguish, pain, frustration really when you try to direct the flow of your day. Letting yourself discover the flow of the day is amazing. But yes, it is that trust piece.
ANNA: For sure. On to question four from Rachel in Louisiana.
Rachel’s Question (from Louisiana)
I am writing because I struggle with feeling like I am not present enough for my children. We have been unschooling for a couple years. I was a stay at home parent when they were both little. Then when my youngest child was 19 months I went back to work. I was exhausted physically and emotionally due to many, many years of sleep deprivation. Going back to work was a breeze compared to staying at home! However, being away from my kids all day made me realize that I missed that lifestyle (and them!) and I knew that I definitely wanted to homeschool/unschool with them for the long haul. Work seemed meaningless compared to the joy of being with them.
So, I decided to quit my job again and figure out a way to nourish myself enough that I could happily and energetically unschool with them. They are 4 and 7 years old now. I can see that things are becoming less demanding of my energy as my kids get older. They don’t wake up as much anymore, so that is a huge help. However I keep trying to find balance and focus. It would be much easier for me to find balance and stay present if I didn’t have this burning desire to cultivate my own passions. I am an artist and I also keep trying to work on writing some children’s books. Oftentimes I wonder how other homeschooling and unschooling moms or dads make sure to balance their own needs and desires with that or their children’s.
I don’t seem to be able to start working on something while my children are awake. I can’t find focus enough to break away and do my own projects. I will start doing all these mindless things like organize a room or clean something, when I really want to be painting or writing. I have played around with waking up early to paint. When I do that I can easily focus with the house so quiet and so little distractions. It can only be 3 minutes of creativity for me, but it sets the day up to be beautiful and present. I am so content and present with my children when I first have that time to myself. And I try to wake up early more to give myself that time, but then I am tired or someone woke me up at night and I just couldn’t find the energy to wake early again. So, basically I am feeling stuck because I found this great solution, however I can’t seem to realistically put it into practice. I need so much sleep to be happy and healthy. I have never been the type of person who can go with less than 8 hours of sleep.
Also, it’s not that my children require me to entertain them during the day. They have always been able to get deeply engaged in play. I think the problem is with me! But I can’t seem to figure out a solution. Thoughts? I get a lot of inspiration and guidance from your books and blog. I’d love to know how you were able to be present for your kids and devote time to your passion of writing as well.
LATER SHE WROTE IN AGAIN:
I wanted to send in an update. A few weeks ago I sent in a question for your podcast. A few days after, I listened to one of your older podcasts as I often do. It was a q&a podcast, and the person was asking how to balance her two kids needs. Well, one of your co-hosts responded how she does not think about balance, but thinks about flow. I have started doing this and it has transformed me!! I am feeling so much better about our days and am really better able to see things more clearly. Thank you so much for all that you do for unschoolers!
However if you have anything to add about finding success with nurturing your own creative pursuits while nurturing your kids, I would be all ears.
ANNA: Hi Rachel, I love that Anne’s ideas around flow really hit home for you. It is such a simple shift—it is a nuance, really—but it can make all the difference. Just like when we were talking about in the question before, that balance, that seeking of balance is kind of a stuck position versus the unfolding and flow and stepping back and letting that have its own life.
As I mentioned earlier, also, I think there is tons of room for creativity and joy even when we are focused on being a mom. I found that some things I did have to set aside for a while when they were young. Writing for me was actually one of those things. I know some people are able to write in fits and starts but I found, as a writer, I really wanted quiet concentrated time where I could really have all my thoughts and have time to get them all out on paper.
I found I could create art and pursue other passions right along side my children. I taught myself how to play the guitar and make jewelry and created all sorts of art. I even found ways to write after a period of time where I wrote short articles. Novels were not going to happen for me at that point, but when they were little I enjoyed the intellectual pursuit of writing about parenting and unschooling and relationships in general in the world and all of these things —composting and sustainable living—that I was passionate about. So, I got that writing in but in a little bit different way than I was doing it before I had kids.
I think as you follow this new flow that you have discovered, you will find that new opportunities arise that will feed you and your creative side. Kids love to create and bringing them along for that journey can be really satisfying. Sometimes it will parallel play where you are all doing pieces and sometimes you are creating things together.
That is just that idea of being open and letting things flow. Seeing all these new ideas bubbling up. Like we were saying before, I feel like it’s limiting to plan only what is in my head. What I learned the most about having children is there is power in that synergy of all of our brains creating amazing solutions. It is not just about me. I think you are already on that right track.
PAM: I thought I would just share a blog post I wrote back in 2013 that really speaks nicely to my experience with nurturing with writing basically along side my kid’s lives. I called the post, What is Behind a Typical Unschooling Day. It talks all about that, so go read that.
It’s definitely important to acknowledge that when our kids are younger, we are more actively engaged with them too, so we are not going to have longer stretches. I loved all those ideas that Anna talked about. It is so true: you will find moments when you are looking in the flow rather than trying to create those moments. Those moments are there for you to engage in something that engages you. When you are more open—like what you were saying—there is beauty in doing things with them.
I used to have such a strong delineation between what adults did and what children did. We are just so disrespectful of what children do: “It’s so childish, and it is just what they do, and it would be totally boring and I am not using my brain to do this stuff with them.” It’s like we think we have to turn off our brain to play board games with the kids or to do Legos.
Oh my gosh NO, there is so much that we can engage with them at our level—they at their level and you learn that they are entirely capable, intelligent, human beings. When you start engaging with them as human beings, everybody can be on their level and it is amazing all together.
I did want to share a very short little story. My book editor is also an unschooling mom. My first book, Free to Learn, which was published in 2012, that book took us a year to edit! We sent chapters back and forth, each of us working on it when we found the time in the flow of our unschooling lives. We did not set deadlines on each other, we checked in with each other. You know, “Hope things are well, haven’t heard from you in a month.” “Yup, we are doing X, Y, Z.” And we would share little snippets of our lives with each other. That was the joy of that relationship and of that work. It was work that we were doing that fit into our lives. Sure, I loved the book and I was excited to release the book, but it was not more important than everything else; because that would have put a wrench in everything.
Now, my newest book, The Unschooling Journey, which I edited with her as well and it came out just a couple of months ago, took us less than two months. And it was significantly longer than the first book—it was like twice as long as the first book. But all our kids are in their 20s now and have their own lives. So, life is just different.
I thought that might be just a fun little snapshot to see that we are engaging in our things as they come up. But, over the years, the flow of our lives changed too. Embracing that rather than getting upset about it is really valuable because, once you notice you are starting to get mad about it, that is the time to step back. When you are starting to feel frustrated, “Oh, I wish I could …” you know, “have more time to write,” or “have more time to” whatever, that is when I know I have disconnected from the other things in my life. Those other things are awesome too and I have lost the awesomeness.
So, I know I am getting disconnected because I am not seeing the value, the importance, the joy, the everything, that all those other things are. I have started to place too much value on something that is disconnecting our lives, not connecting them, and my choice is a connection piece.
Okay this question is from Maddy in Taiwan.
Maddy’s Question (from TaiWan)
Dear Pam, Anna and Anne,
I am Maddy from TaiWan. My son has been a unschooler for 10 years. He is 16 now. I’ve been brought up in a very conservative education system and I didn’t like it, that’s the reason when my son asked me to unschool him at home when he was a first grader. I was afraid but I knew I had to do something to help him. We started from homeschooling and then to unschooling. He is interested in computer games and music. He’s got the talent in music. The problem I am encountered right now is that he knows that he has the talent in music and he likes his classical guitar teacher very much but he only practices the music spontaneously. When we talk about this and he said he knows that he has time-controlling problem, but he hasn’t found the way of controlling it yet. And he went back to his computer again. I know he has learnt a lot more than we can imagine through reddit, games, youtube…etc.
My question is: Most of the school students or those children who learns the discipline to practice for a certain amount of time. Even though they are not happy to do so most of the time, once they form the habit to do it, they will eventually experience the abundant fruits and have the chance to be the master of this field. That also brings them confident, isn’t it? But somehow when I do the research of the unschoolers’s when it comes to the achievement, of course they can live happily if they are satisfy with their life. I guess I am just thinking too much for their adulthood future cause we’re living in an eastern society. ><
Thank you very much for your time.
PAM: Hi, Maddy! I was wondering if you have you listened to my podcast interview with Alan Marshall? Episode 110.
He is a music teacher and we had a great conversation about the idea of practice. So, I actually want to share just a little snippet of something Alan said, he said:
“Actually, I would discourage, particularly someone starting to do music and most other arts from doing practice. I would say, ‘do not practice.’ And really, I think the problem is formal practice. Like, ‘I am going to sit down now, and I am going to practice the piano for an hour because it is my practice time’. Because I think that just doing just THAT is pretty doomed to be counterproductive. In my opinion, as a musician, and somebody who wants to help people who want to learn about music, that has discouraged a lot more music making than it is helped.
For most people, if you start by saying, ‘I am going to practice an hour a day,’ even if they are motivated, even if they want to do it, that is often not the best way to help them learn about music. I think it is much better to get involved in music-making. You are not going to practice an hour a day if you do not want to. You might tinkle around on the keyboard and seem like you are practicing so that you do not get in trouble, but you are not going to practice. But if you are involved in making music that you are interested in and you care about, than that counts as practice, particularly if you are doing it with other people.”
I love that and I feel what your son is feeling might be an expression of a resistance to that idea of “practice.” We all have that voice in our head and he is hearing that voice where, “you have to practice, you have to practice,” and he is feeling intuitively that not working for him. That is building up this resistance.
When you remove that pressure of the “you have to do that”—it is that HAVE to—he may actually find that he ends up playing more in the end, because now it is just fun for him to do. Like he said, I am just making music and then they are actually playing more and as you said it is more valuable practice. I think that would be something really valuable for you guys to explore.
And just a heads up, I have an interview coming up in the next month or so on the podcast that you might be interested in. My guest and I are going to dive more into the hurdles of deschooling and unschooling in eastern cultures, so I think that might be interesting too.
ANNA: Yes, that will be interesting.
So yes, I think there are a lot of beliefs in the world about how things HAVE to be done. What unschooling has taught me, is that there is never just one way. Endless practice and regimented practice is one way, but it is not the only way. As Pam’s guest said, probably not the best way.
But you know, especially for someone who finds music comes easily—and I am thinking of that because my daughter played piano for years she did not practice often at all yet she continued to excel through the lessons and she loved it. She picks things up super quickly and she did not need hours and hours of practicing in that regimented way. She would play the songs she liked until she felt comfortable with them and then she would move on. Sometimes she would not practice for several days and sometimes and we did not really even call it practice we just said, play the piano. “Oh, you are playing the piano,” that kind thing. We just never even used those terms.
In fact, when we first started the music lessons he had obviously more traditional students in the class too—it was a group class—and he was like, “Okay, we are going to have the sheets and sign off and check the practice,” and I just took him aside afterwards and was like, “We’re not going to do that. So, if you find she is not performing in a way that you are comfortable with as a teacher when she is here, then we can talk to her about that and maybe this is not a good fit, but we will not be checking off any sheets about practicing.”
You know, she was one of his best students and he loved her love of music. So that was really cool.
I also think, kind of along the lines of the other guest too, when something is a deep passion it just does not feel like drudgery to be working on it. So, you do not even have to have that kind of framework around it. I know a lot of musicians and you can not keep the guitar out of their hands because they are wanting to play it all the time and express their emotions through it all the time. Just tinker with it and, “How does this sound?” and “What is that going to be like?” I think it is just trusting that it will all unfold how it needs to, how we have been talking about.
Also, maybe coming to terms that he might not end up doing music. I say that because my daughter—the same piano daughter—has show outstanding talent in a lot of different fields and then she will just leave them behind. It is really hard for people. There are times that it is really hard for me, but I have gotten used to her and it, so I’m really just like, “Oh, here we go, it’s fine.”
What happens which is kind of fascinating, is as soon as she shows an aptitude for something everybody jumps in. All these adults around her, “Oh, are you going to be a welder?” or “Are you going to be a potter?” or “Are you going to be a piano player?” or “Are you going to do this when you grow up?” kind of thing when she was younger.
She was just exploring, she was just trying things on and seeing how it feels and just enjoying that intellectual pursuit of learning something new. So, her journey is to find the one thing that not only does she have aptitude for, but something that really holds her interest and has a spark in her. She may be more like me and want to do lots of different things. Again, there is just no one right way even though society likes to pain that picture.
Again, it is one of those things that is fascinating that I think eastern cultures do it but we do it here too, you know, this painted picture of this path is not very linear but the reality even when you talk to people that have followed that linear path, they are going all over the place too. It is a myth, or whatever would you call it, like it is not even a truism, this one path that you are going to go to college and you are have the one career and you are going to have the one career for the next 40 years, that really does not exist anymore.
I think just realizing that yes, people do give lip service to these things that they think it should be one way; it is really not that way. So, I just try not to even give that energy at all and just focus on what do we—what do I want to do what does my child want to do, how do we want to move through the world in this moment, right here. Because that is what we have, this moment right here.
I think some of those things might help and I am fascinated about this guest that is coming up. A friend and I talk a lot about eastern cultures because her son is interested in moving to Japan and the dramatic differences and how they view some of this stuff so that is interesting.
PAM: Yes, yes, I just finished arranging the interview. I never like to announce, and especially, there is a twelve-hour time difference we are trying to negotiate.
ANNA: That is going to be tricky.
PAM: I am sure it will all work out. I am very excited to speak with her.
So, I am going to move on to question six from Dee in Tennessee.
Dee’s Question (from Tennessee)
I just started homeschooling , and also just moved (tn). So, we had to submit what we were going to school. But that is not working, so how do I start unschooling without getting in trouble?
ANNA: Hi Dee, I do not know the specifics of Tennessee law, but I know there are plenty of unschoolers there. If you are homeschooling in the United States, basically every state has a different set of laws. As you move and even before, just really start digging in to that.
Also, reading the specifics of the law, but also join the local groups because what you will find—like now I live in Virginia but at the time I lived in North Carolina when I was homeschooling and unschooling—we had an annual test requirement in North Carolina and that can scare people. But when you look at the law and you talk to the local homeschoolers really you realize, ‘Okay, this has a lot of flexibility. Here is what we can do. If we can give it at home, you do this.’
Now, we never had issues with it, but talk to those people in Tennessee and there is a lot of them. I personally know a bunch of unschoolers in Tennessee.
So, I was thinking maybe we could post a few links for you with some Tennessee groups but honestly if you just Google “Tennessee + Unschooling” I had a whole page of stuff that came up. There is even a wonderful unschooling summer camp for teens that my daughter has attended in the past and will actually be attending this summer. There is a lot of unschooling going on there and they would be happy, I am sure, to help you navigate the laws and understand. It looks like maybe they have some umbrella options and you have some other personal options so I think you have go plenty of options to work with.
PAM: Yes that is the answer, for anybody, anywhere. There are pretty much unschooling groups all over nowadays.
ANNA: All over the world, honestly; even people that thought countries were not super friendly, there are unschoolers. It just takes time figuring it out though.
PAM: The other thing to remember is if you do not find unschooling, google with “homeschooling.” Because really, regulations are homeschooling, there is really no such thing as ‘unschooling.’ Unschooling is a style of homeschooling. when you are talking about the regulations and the legalities of it.
You will find some local unschoolers that will tell you how they are living and unschooling and how they are making it work where you are. I think that will send you down a fascinating rabbit hole.
I know it is how I found, you know, before, the kids left school there were homeschooling families in Ontario actually doing it. I found a forum where they were. I just saw people’s names and I saw they were in Ontario and that was enough for me. They were making it work somehow, okay kids you want to come home? Okay, the next question is Anonymous.
I am firmly supportive of my kids and their choice of activities, I play with them, we are a radical unschooling family who has few if any issues with kids having agency over their choices.
One struggle that still remains even though we’ve deschooled so many over the years is how to create an environment that supports regular physical activity in all of our kids. Our daughter does an exervise class weekly and is quite active, one of her brothers is not as active but will get outside to do things periodically, but specifically we have a child who seems to be becoming more interested in eating foods that fuel him well, yet still tends toward high carb options more often than not and it’s made him overweight and a Dr would say obese. I have prepped foods he likes (cut peppers, broccoli, cut lettuce, fruits of choice) and he will eat those readily, but more often than not, he asks me to make calorie dense foods like Macaroni Salad, and Goulash, Chicken Picatta, Meatloaf/mashed potatoes, and Potato Salad. When these foods are made and in the house, he will eat them through in 1 or 2 days — that means 2 pounds of pasta in two days!!
He also loves Ramen, but has it only 1 time a week because we’ve discussed that it shouldn’t be a daily food. He only drinks sugar soda when we go to a restaurant these days and he recognizes the sugar content of soda. I am also asked to go out and get chicken fingers or tuna clubs, Chipotle burritos (of which he’ll eat twoO) or rice and refried beans. When he is eating, his hunger cues tend to be slow to signal as he can eat large quantities of food at a sitting (4 bowls of goulash, 2 chipotle burritos, etc.) Although he does mention to me when he is not hungry at times (outside of eating a meal). Over the years I’ve observed him having a sensory relationship to food and he has tended to food jag often – where he’ll be eating all of one thing and then be off it for months, then on to something else.
Snacking late at night is also an issue. He often has crackers and apple sauce and cereal, various bars, and chips in various stages of being eaten next to his bed – as he watches videos before falling asleep. My husband thinks that his odd sleep/wake schedule affects his circadian rhythms and really thinks we need to actively step in to help him control his behaviors. I know that I need to be better about providing healthier options and make them more readily available – but seriously the volume of food is large and it is hard to stock up for long and with the jags, I can stock up and essentially throw away all that food because he’s moved on.
FWIW, we live in the Northeast so winter tends to have us indoors more often than not. We also live just outside Boston in a neighborhood with few other children, so there is little daily incentive to jump outside for activites. The child of which I speak does not like to be over hot, so he only likes going outside in Spring and fall when it’s cool.
What we have done to make physical activity choices easy and accessible: trampoline, swings, offers of walks uptown in good weather, outdoor play stuff = zip line, swingset, local parks (although less interested in these now), park days (not so interesting), jump ropes, C2 Rower, med balls, weights, standing desks, ergo seats. We have yard games, bows and arrows, basketball hoop, fire pit, and I’ve started buying yard gems like cornhole and ladder ball, stuff like that.
I guess I’m looking to hear from parents who have had kids who when given freedom of choice have ended up heavier than just (a little fat here and there) and who may be concerned about the potential for diabetes. I am fearful to bring him into a pediatrician because of the potential to make him overly self-conscious of his body. I’m sure that they would suggest imposing a nutritional plan (diet) on him and I am not sure that aligns with RU (at least I have to understand how to present this idea in an RU way)
He is open to exercise, he is open to suggestions on food – but I don’t think he knows how to change his behavior and I sit in inaction because I dont’ want to create a worse issue by making him have issues around food, yet seeing the bad that comes from not having guidance here — overweight and incapable of sustaining walking or any physical activity for long out of fatigue or pain.
I would welcome any ideas as to how to approach this. I have place one of my favorite pictures of this son from when he was 3 yrs old and smiling on my computer backdrop so I could shift my energy when I see him to seeing that wonderful smiling kiddo full of vim and vigor… that has helped immensely in my interactions with him, but I still have no idea how to tackle this in a way that supports him vs. controls his choices seems to run a fine line.
PAM: I really appreciate your question, it is a great one.
Now, what jumped out at me, was that you say he is open to exercise and food suggestions, but the challenge is that you find yourself not knowing how to move forward from there because you are feeling like you will come across as judgmental and create a power struggle around the issue—that is how I interpreted what you talked about as ‘inaction.’
I remember that stage of inaction, of not yet seeing a way to freely help my child explore something new because I had some issue around it. So, for me, the way forward was to do the personal work—it is always our work—needed to get to the root of my feelings of judgment. Like, I’m stuck because I know I don’t want to share those feelings. Even talking, you will be able to hear it and feel it coming out of me. So, that is why I am choosing not to act right now.
I can see that, but this is where you are feeling stuck, right? So, it might be helpful for you to dig into some things that you mentioned in your question. I just thought I would pull out a couple of things and that might help you find a place to start.
For example, you mentioned you chose a picture from when he was three and was full of “vim and vigor.” So, maybe ask yourself why you chose that particular picture, why the image of being physically active has more value to you, than say, a picture of him deeply engrossed in a more intellectual activity or a less physical activity. You know, deeply engaged in Legos when he three or anything like that. Again, there is no right/wrong answers it is why did THAT pull you? Maybe it is just because this is what you are looking for, you are digging into where this is coming from for you.
Maybe think about how you feel at the thought of visiting the pediatrician—might your worry about your son’s reaction to the possibility of having a diet plan suggested to him be more about your worry of feeling judged yourself in that situation? If you are going into it openly, maybe a doctor suggesting this or sharing it, is just information for him. Nobody is forcing him. It is just information, it is just conversation—it might be a starting conversation for you guys. So, what is it that is really holding you back? It might not be a big deal for him. It might be—you don’t know—but maybe it could be something from yourself. That feeling of being judged or disappointed or whatever it is. I think that that might be helpful to dig in.
So those are just some ideas to help you start. Because, I think what you are going to find as you explore is that your thoughts and feelings about all these difference aspects of the issue are just that: they are YOURS.
Your thoughts and feelings say a lot about you, and how you like to engage with the topic. You are seeing them through your filter—your judgment of what is good and what is bad. In this case, we are talking about food and exercise but, you know, for me it can be any topic that we are feeling judgmental about and we feel like we cannot act because we are stuck.
Again, it is not about burying your thoughts—about them being “wrong.” It is important to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings around it all—to OWN your thoughts and feelings. Then realize, they say nothing about your son.
Once I managed to disentangle myself from all of it, all of a sudden I could more clearly see things through my child’s eyes. Oh my gosh, the weight of any expectation that they make the same choices as me was gone. It is pretty incredible because now I could find my voice!
That inaction that was stopping me, now that I have untangled and realized all that was my thoughts and feelings around the issue and owning them as mine, now boom, they have nothing to do with my son—nothing about what my son thinks about food and exercise.
He is open to hearing my suggestions and ideas around food. And he is open to hearing suggestions around exercise. Now that I know all that stuff was mine, now I am curious, and I can now help him explore and engage with the topic on HIS terms, through his eyes. I am excited and curious to see what my kid might see. To discover where their path might be through it—now I’m okay with their path being different.
I have now pulled out all that was mine and am owning that and I am happy with that and I am living that because those are the kinds of choices I make. Now I am not owning his path anymore. I am not trying to control it. Now I am trying to help him discover.
Now we can have lots of conversations with them, without that fear and judgment and expectation hovering below the surface that we do not want to pass on, giving them issues because then they have to worry about incorporating our expectations. Now you can freely talk. After he has been active. If he is feeling sore, out of breath, whatever, how does he feel about that happening? After he eats a meal quickly, after he eats lots of carbs? Now you are going to be able to help him explore and discover how he feels about all these things. Not how you think he should feel about this stuff.
If he wants to try out a plan, whatever it is, you can help him follow through however he would like you to help him. And then chat with him about how it turned out, help him process it. What is important is that HE make the plan. This is what is interesting to him, this is his question about it all. Then you can help him make it happen and you can help process it and you do that over and over. That is how you can help him explore and learn and discover what his path is going to be through all this.
Thank you very much for that question, it was very interesting. It brought up for me those times when I felt, ‘Oh, I can not say anything because all I feel right now is judgment,’ and it was, every single time, me working out and teasing out the pieces that were me and understanding that they were me. Owning that they were me and then being curious to discover and help my kid.
ANNA: Yes, and just using it as the red flag. I know when I read the question I can feel your angst and all that you are holding on to related to this.
It made me kind of wonder what your own history is with food and exercise and how you were treated as a child. Because, I have my own baggage that I have from childhood related to that and I know how insidious it is. How it just kind of creeps up and it changes things so, like Pam said, I think using that as a “Hmm, why am I having this reaction, where is this coming from?” Really looking deep will allow you to then come through with that curiosity that she mentioned.
I think it might also help to think through what would control look like? I am saying that because I think if you walk through that, realizing that even if you try to control his behavior or eating or exercise that you would realize that we really cannot control another person. I have had friends who had their eating strictly controlled and exercise was mandatory and this was just the way their family was. Basically, it did result in a lifetime of issue around food and their bodies.
So, I am wondering if this is just one of those situations where we need to say first off it is not the unschooling—because really this is not about unschooling. We cannot control another person, what they put in their mouth, how they react. You can pretend to do that and think that you are doing that, and they are going to sneak or do or whatever if that need is not being met. This really is not about unschooling. This is this child’s journey.
With that said, I share a lot of information about the food that I eat and my body and my experiences. I have always put the focus not on food or activity but on listening to my own body and encouraging and helping my girls learn to listen to their own body. How does it feel? There is not a judgment about, ‘this is right, this is wrong, this is whatever;’ it is like, “Oh, how do you feel?”
What I have learned with food—and food is kind of a passion area for me—is that a diet or way of eating that makes me feel great, makes someone else feel bad, and someone else, the diet that works for them does not work for me. I have shared that with my girls. It is just how do you feel. That becomes the guiding principle versus this judgment about what is right or particularly wrong; because that is just from our unfiltered perspective.
I am wonder, you mentioned early on that you played together, but I am wondering if there is maybe activities to do together. What I saw a lot of later in the post was wanting him to go out and play. I think that is different because I think kids want to be with us a lot of times. So how is that energy around the family? Are we just enjoying being outside together or doing things together? Maybe looking at that again. Sitting here going “I want him to do this,” feels different than “Oh, I am enjoying this, do you want to join me?” And he may say yes or no but there is just a little nuance there that might be making a difference.
I guess in the end, I think that he will be so much better served letting go of that idea that there is one right way to look. To just love him, love him for who he is. People come in all shapes and sizes. Continue to share your journey and trust in his journey. I feel like the priority for me would be, love and acceptance over anything else. His ability to live a happy life and contribute to the world around him is not based on his size or physical shape. I would really hate for anyone to give that impression. I think that type of thing really sits with a person for a long time afterwards.
Just celebrating that who he is is amazing and what he brings to the world and the way his mind works and the way he interacts with people and the things that he does—focus on all those pieces. Even if you can tell yourself, just for a month or whatever, ‘I am just not even going to think about those pieces, I am going to really see him, and I am going to connect with who his spirit and soul is inside of him.’
I think it may change things for both of you. Some of it may be unspoken because I hear you, that you are holding yourself back. I also know from experience with mothers and people that you know it’s there. You know it is there even if it is not being said. When someone can truly see me, like, see who I am and what I am separate from those things, THAT connects me to that person in a different way and that changes things.
Those are the few things I wanted to throw out there.
PAM: I love that whole piece of celebrating him for all the amazing things he is, who he is right now. Just diving into and remembering the amazing picture of him today, you know maybe that just reminds you to see the whole person that he is. Do not just see that one issue.
ANNA: Yes, right and just loving that picture.
That might be personal work, if that picture speaks to you the way it sounded like it did in your post. Seeing that picture of him today and just loving every second of that picture. Because you know, that is the energy that you want to greet him with. That, ‘I love you right now, who you are,’ and so I feel like there may be some opportunities there.
PAM: Yes, that is awesome. Okay last question, Anna?
Okay so our last question is from Jané in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Jané’s Question (From Johannesburg, South Africa)
From the start of our parenting journey, my husband and I have both been committed to instinctive, attachment parenting. Just before my daughter turned 1, we came across the philosophy of unschooling, which led us to investigate and start applying radical unschooling principles to our everyday lives. My daughter is now 2 and her little brother is 7 months old. We also share our days with our housekeeper’s son, who was born only 2 days after my daughter, so it’s almost like having toddler twins running around!
I listen to the old episodes of the podcast every day and I have found such amazing value from your perspective, especially with the Q&A episodes where you all give different opinions. The running theme of connection really resonates with me, and I see it playing out daily – whenever I experience conflict or frustration with the children, it is when I have allowed our connection to slip for a moment. I KNOW that the secret to connection (and joy in general) is mindfulness and being present to the moment at hand.
What I’m struggling with – and what I’d love to get your input on – is how to balance mindful presence with the necessary planning and preparation that is part of daily life with three little ones. I try to join them in their flow, and I’ve made a mind-map of sorts to help me figure out things we can do together, e.g. I can hang laundry when the toddlers want to jump on the trampoline. The obstacle I’m facing is that I need to think a few steps ahead (when to work in diaper changes/prep snacks before they get hangry/get the baby into a quiet space when he’s ready to nap/etc.) so that I can put things in place to help them do the next thing they’re interested in (prepare art supplies/keep an eye on them when they want to roam outside/etc.).
This constant thinking ahead makes it difficult for me to stay in the moment and connected to their perspective, because it seems like there’s always another thing that needs to be done (specifically for the kids, I’ve let go of my personal hobbies like sewing and such for now). The preparation is also often wasted – by the time I manage to facilitate what they want to do, their interest has been grabbed by something else. Any advice?
ANNA: Hello. I think there is a dance involved with being fully present and thinking ahead to help things run smoothly. It is not a balance—balance has come up again—it is really like Anne said in the other podcast, it is a flow. I am going to call it a dance here because I think it is this movement, it is this back and forth, just kind of finding this sweet spot.
You mentioned that your preparation is often wasted. I think that might be a clue that staying focused and connected in the present moment may actually serve you more right now than trying to be a few steps ahead. That connection and present focus will help create the flow that we are talking about. I have seen that make those other moments more manageable.
I think you have seen a little bit of this just based on something you said earlier in your question. When you keep that focus on connection and being present, when those times arise when it is time to switch activities or someone is hungry or whatever, you are so connected that that flows a lot easier than if you disconnected and that happens with you not present or when the two of you are out of sorts or the four of you are out of sorts.
You have a lot of little ones running around and that is exciting and so much fun and things are going to change so quickly too. We can find a strategy right now with you and it is going to be different in a week or two. That is how amazing kids of that age are. I think toddlers teach us so much about being present. They give us so many opportunities to flow through different emotions. I love how they can be in an emotion and them bounce back and change and move on and I am kind of reeling from whatever we have just been through.
I love their ability to do that and it has helped me a lot in that, ‘Okay, I don’t need to hang on to this, I can come right back.’ I do still feel like even though I am a planner also, that present moment is much more helpful with children than even my planning. Even though that is just who I am, so I am going to be thinking ahead sometimes but I love that process of toddlers and kids and again it is just finding that gift—that interest in all of those moments with all the different pieces.
PAM: You are going to recognize some of my answer. I loved your question, Jané, it does sounds like the flow of life, what you are describing. I have to go with that dance of parenting—I have always loved that dance metaphor because, as in life with children, there are often lots of changes of direction! This way, this way, forward, back, sideways and sometimes you do get out of sync and are looking just to get back in step with one another. That happens.
The back and forth of “being in the moment” and “thinking a few steps ahead” just to try and keep things kind of running smoothly—sometimes it flows and sometimes we step on someone’s toes, or they step on ours. It really is life! And with younger kids, I think it can sometimes feel a bit more like we are dancing in a mosh pit—hands on and just bouncing off one another, this way, this way. But just being there, I learned so much from just seeing them be able to fully embrace an emotion and move on. It is beautiful.
Just a couple of quick ideas that came to mind. Maybe just think about whether you are doing more than is needed. So, for example, when you talked about setting up art supplies, are you putting out a bunch of options that will eventually all need to be put away? Or, will they be completely happy with lots of paper and crayons and some scissor to cut? Sometimes we have this picture when we plan things and it gets more and more extravagant than it needs to be. So, sometimes it is worth taking a moment to get back to the moment and seeing, ‘Am I making it bigger because of my needs or can I just do—not get away with—what meets them where they are?’ You don’t have to do more than that.
I love that you are thinking about ways of doing multiple things together, but if they do not seem to flow together, really feel free to move on from that. I remember times when I was insistent—I would be more and more insistent with myself that this was going to work, it seemed so logical, like, ‘They can do this, and I can do this, and it will be beautiful.’ And my frustration would grow, and I tried to make it work. Instead, try something else—including just embracing one thing, just being in that moment and that is okay too. Sometimes it’s like, ‘Okay, stop trying to think and plan and just be,’ too.
It is fun and that is one of the things when we are talking about adults engaging with their children—that is the part we can bring to it. Use our adult capabilities to try and set things up. Like that whole dance—I enjoyed that dance. I enjoyed trying to figure it out. That was what I could bring—additional value that I could bring to the relationship because I had more experience. I knew more things, I knew more of what things we had and everything so that was part of what I brought to the equation.
I also learned that there is so much value even for me in slowing down and making sure that I was engaging and being with them in that moment. I learned more that way too. Again, back to that dance, it is just that back and forth and discovering what is working for us at that moment for that day—that flow, following that flow.
Okay, that was the last question.
ANNA: Yes, thank you for the questions. I just wanted to acknowledge the video is fun. This is our first Q&A podcast video. We do them for the summit but…
PAM: I know it was, it was really fun to do. I think this one is definitely longer—I know we did a few more questions.
Just a reminder that there are links in the show notes. We did mention a few things in this episode so there will be links for that.
Thank you so much Anna, I really appreciate your time.
ANNA: Thank you, I loved it.
PAM: I am looking forward to many more podcast adventures with you.