PAM: Hi, everyone! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Ronnie Maier. Hi, Ronnie!
RONNIE: Hi, Pam!
RONNIE: Just to give everyone a quick little intro. I’ve enjoyed Ronnie’s participation in online unschooling groups for many years and I think we actually both started unschooling around the same time. I’ve always loved the name of her blog “zombie princess” and I am very glad you kept the name even after you sold your boat! I enjoyed reading the stories.
She’s also spoken at unschooling conferences on the west coast over the years and all of that is to say, that I’m excited I finally get to actually chat with her in real time. To get us started, Ronnie …
Can you tell us about you and your family?
RONNIE: Sure. We are Frank and Ronnie and MJ and Chloe and then we’ve had our niece Emma with us part-time—long story—but MJ is 25, Chloe is 24 and Emma is 19. We’ve done a lot of traveling and had the unconventional situation where I was the working parent and Frank was the unschooling parent.
PAM: That’s really interesting. I’m curious.
Can you share with us how you discovered unschooling and what your family’s move looked like?
RONNIE: We had always planned to homeschool for middle school because middle school is a very dangerous place for kids, but then Chloe, our youngest, was actually very unhappy in elementary school.
So, I started researching homeschooling a little sooner than we had planned and, with all the different methods, I came across unschooling and thought, ‘these people are crazy,’ but kept coming back to it.
I was really drawn to the kindness on the old unschooling.com website. The kindness that people showed toward kids and the emphasis on relationship. My kids were in a “gifted program” that supposedly was for people like them and yet still, here was Chloe very unhappy.
With unschooling I caught a glimmer that maybe, not only would it be tailored to them but tailored by them, at their own pace, because pace was one of the things Chloe struggled with. In school they want to move on to the next thing and Chloe is a kind who wants to immerse and so she was very frustrated by that.
We took them out in December in the middle of the school year and started off by taking a trip to San Diego. So, I was kind of thinking, ‘We’ll let them choose,’ but then I would have them do unit studies. But San Diego showed us how it could kind of be. It was very familiar because we had done some traveling even while they were in school and we know what that lifestyle looks like. The rhythm—or the lack of rhythm—during the day, and it felt right. We tried one math lesson and then we were unschoolers! Haha! Which is not to say it was night and day. I struggled. I had to reset myself quite a bit but that was the beginning. Chloe was in third grade and MJ was in fourth.
PAM: That’s really interesting. It was just a recent conversation I had on the podcast, last week’s episode, and we were talking about the transition when she was saying how she didn’t use the word unschooling at first. I was talking to her and her husband and she used project-based learning as kind of a transitional description because it’s such a huge jump from school to unschooling.
RONNIE: I got some really good advice from those boards, and I wish I could remember which of the moms actually said it, but I went on there just full of, “What if we do this and it ruins their lives?” And somebody said, “What if you leave them in school and it ruins their lives?”
And with what we had seen in Chloe at that point that was a very real possibility and so that helped a lot. And the ‘what ifs’ are kind of a trap. It’s better if you can turn them around and make them fit what your heart is telling you anyway. We knew what we wanted to do but it was scary.
PAM: That was the same with my oldest too, at around that same time that he was not enjoying it and I was figuring it out as I was trying to work with the teachers. As you were saying, it was just not a good fit, just the style of how a classroom has to run.
RONNIE: She had amazing teachers and it was an amazing program and if my kid couldn’t succeed in that environment—she supposedly had all the learning styles that schools value and it wasn’t working. She got very badly unhappy. In that sense it was an easy decision because there was no way we were leaving her in there.
PAM: That’s how that quote, “What happens if you leave them there?” because I remember that as well and that hit me as well—it’s already so bad that I’ve gotta try something different. For me, I would notice when he was home, summer vacations, and weekends when we did things, he was a different person. You said when you guys traveled you experienced that because you could see the night and day thing.
Your children are older now, so I was hoping you could share a glimpse of what they’re up to. I love to hear what unschoolers are doing!
RONNIE: Emma is 19. She’s following in her cousin’s footsteps and pursuing an AA at the local community college. Quick plug for community colleges here. Frank and I had come from this academic ivory tower kind of background and you have that learned attitude toward community colleges.
PAM: It’s so true, right?
RONNIE: We just loved their experiences at the community colleges. The teachers are engaged and experts in their field and they’re thrilled to have kids come in actually wanting to be there. It was wonderful for all three of them. It’s been really good.
So, Emma is 19 and at the community college. She’s thinking about doing something in set design or something in the film industry.
Chloe is 24. She moved herself to Minneapolis two years ago, against her mother’s wishes! Haha! She seems very far away and yet, with the online tools we have, we’re in contact a lot. She’s finished her first term at the University of Minnesota. She’s finishing up her history degree that she had started on this side of the world. She’s working as a barista in the world’s cutest coffee shop and taking advantage of the lower rents out there to live her dream of living alone. She’s got her own apartment, a really cute little place. It doesn’t have air conditioning, which she feels in the summers, but it’s hers—she and her cat.
And MJ is 25 and planning her wedding! She’s getting married in August so that’s pretty much dominating her life and she is “making bank” as a barista at one of the local stands here.
PAM: That’s very cool! And congratulations and enjoy the wedding prep!
RONNIE: She’s putting together a heck of an event. It’s going to be really, really special so I’m excited.
PAM: That’s awesome! I did want to revisit that point you were talking about—community colleges—because I think that is a significant piece of our deschooling. As we start to see learning for the value of learning versus the status. That conventionally, ‘this kind of learning is better than this kind of learning.’ It’s so important isn’t it?
RONNIE: Yeah, and that attitude that the teachers at the community colleges are there because they couldn’t get any better. No, that’s not what we saw at all. These are passionate, engaged, interesting people. It brought some amazing people into the girl’s lives. Both the students—that’s where MJ met her fiancé—and the professors and the instructors there.
PAM: That’s wonderful. I love hearing that.
Now let’s dive into our topic for this week—dismantling shame. Shame is definitely a very popular tool of control.
RONNIE: It’s the key tool.
PAM: So, I just wanted to talk for a minute to start about why we even want to do this hard work of removing it from our lives.
How does the shame that we experience as kids get in the way of our unschooling journey, our move to unschooling with our own family and how can it hurt our relationships with our kids?
RONNIE: It’s going to vary by person, but the short answer is that when shame hits you you’re going to parent by reacting instead of by responding. You’re going to react from the hind brain instead of responding from your intellect and your heart and your goals for your family.
We learn shame messages as kids, and this is what’s different in every family, but it’s things like: you’re inadequate, you take up too much space, you’re unimportant, you’re powerless. You are going to know for yourself what messages you took in from the parenting you received and they’re going to be customized from your family going back generations. Which we can talk about more, but really, the easiest way to see it in action in your life is to look back at your most painful moments with your parents, the things that your parents did that hurt you when you were young. The things that, if you’re lucky enough to still have your parents, that drive you nuts now.
I can give a couple of examples from my own if you want.
RONNIE: The thing that is wrapped up in a lot of pain from my youth, that my mother was so worried about, is being embarrassed in public. Public appearances were sacred to her, and they still are, but certainly when we were growing up.
So, the messages we got were that we were kind of risky for her to be around, that we needed to be controlled, that we would make too much noise, that we take up too much space, that you say the wrong thing.
That plays out in me now, for instance, with all of the anxiety I had about doing this podcast: what if I say the wrong thing? I will see it in things like, when I give a description of my kids. MJ is a barista. Planning the wedding is occupying a great deal of her time, but she’s a barista and that’s what she’s doing—and the conventional attitude is she’s a failure. That has nothing to do with the kid that I actually see who’s happy and excited and totally engaged with the world and going out with friends and politically active.
But what I wanted to do when I was introducing her was, “Oh, but she went to university, she got into the University of Washington.” But that’s my mom’s voice in me saying, ‘You have to appear successful by conventional terms. You have to appear conventional. You don’t want to stand out in negative ways or in any way a lot of the time.’
With my kids, I had to let them stand out. I had to let them say the “stupid things,” and that was very difficult for me because my early training is, ‘Don’t do that. That is scary. That’s dangerous.’
PAM: I’d love to dive into that little bit because that one hits really close to home for me as well, because I was responding to a comment on my Facebook page today. Somebody was asking, “Do you have podcast episodes of unschoolers who grew up and went to college and got high paying jobs?” I said, “Yes, go listen to some of the ‘Growing Up Unschooling’ interviews I’ve done with grown unschoolers and they’ve chosen to go to college, but I had to say that they’re not choosing college because it’s leading to a high paying job. They are choosing college because they want to learn more. They WANT to go there.
RONNIE: Chloe is not getting into a high-paying job. She’s getting a history degree! Haha! She’s in college because she loves stories, she loves history. That’s why she’s there.
PAM: That’s the same thing with if I do an introduction and I talk about Joseph and how he’s happily living at home with us and he’s 26 and doing his stuff—writing and his interest there—and some people could judge that as failure if they’re looking at outcomes but again, that is not at all what I see: this highly engaged, interested person, with so much knowledge that he astounds me still to this day. I learn from him almost every conversation we have.
RONNIE: Who are your best teachers? Your unschooled kids!
PAM: Exactly! And just because his journey is taking a different timeline than conventional timelines means zero! I also feel uncomfortable if I share because Lissy’s and Michael’s stories sound more conventional, yet they didn’t come from a conventional place, right?
They were pursuing the things they loved and it looks more conventionally successful but all three of them I love to bits and all three of them are enjoying their lives and making changes and things go sideways and they’re making different choices. They are all living fully. It just looks different looking from the outside when you have more conventional filters.
RONNIE: If you were raised to put on a good show it’s going to be challenging to face that. People who are new to unschooling look for poster children. I’ve talked about this in the past. At any given moment my kids could have been poster children for unschooling. There was that moment when both my girls were at the University of Washington, top-flight public university, and it’s like, ‘Okay, there are my poster children for unschooling.’ By the following winter they had both dropped out. Different reasons, and then suddenly, so does that mean they’re not poster children anymore?
I think that means they are poster children even more because they recognized something that wasn’t right for them and they were able to move toward something that was more right for them. It doesn’t mean they’re never going back to school. Chloe did. She went back to school, unlike her mother. So that freedom to look at her own life and to decide what’s right for her played out where she was able to reconstruct her entire life and go back to school. Something that I never managed. I just went on a path and stuck to it and after a while that included babies so … that’s one of those commitments you don’t turn away from!
PAM: That was it! I so bought into that path: did well at school, got that scholarship to university, did the hardest program I could think of—engineering—and combined it with a business degree and get on the Dean’s List and get married and have children. I totally had bought into that messaging that this is how I show everybody that I have value, that I have worth.
RONNIE: Exactly. Which ties back to shame. You had to prove your worth growing up. It’s one of those things that if I told my mom that I felt like I had to prove my worth she would be devastated. It’s not intentional for the most part.
Although some of the stories I got when I was researching this from unschooling parents that happened to them as kids were horrifying, some of the things that supposedly loving parents will do to their children. With my mom, it was all pretty unconscious, and that comes around to you can do better than that by examining the messages that you grew up with—at least about yourself, that you took in.
PAM: That leads very nicely into our next question and we talked about it so often on the podcast.
When we find ourselves facing a challenge like this is a first step, it’s often to dig into the roots of the issue if you find yourself reacting with those kinds of controls, shame-based messages. I was hoping you could share with us some of the roots of shame that you’ve seen. You’ve mentioned you had talked to people about this, you dove into this topic yourself so where can some of our feelings of shame come from?
RONNIE: Our parents is the key. You’re going to pick up some incidentally at school and at work—the people you are around can shame you in different ways—but the key is from our parents, and they got it from theirs. Shaming goes back generations and centuries.
I knew my great-grandmother and my grandmother and my mom, so I can follow these attitudes coming down: my great-grandmother to her daughter, my grandma to her daughter, my mom to me, and me to my kids. I didn’t find unschooling until they were in third and fourth grades. I didn’t find more peaceful parenting until MJ was five. Absolutely, my kids have early messages in shame, but I think that unschoolers who are raised ‘without shame’ from birth are still going to feel shame.
What I’ve noticed is that their sort of shame meter gets set at a different place so they’re going to take in shame from much smaller cues than what we had to deal with. They’re so perceptive, all kids. That little half-second face that you make when they say something. They’re going to see that. They’re going to take in some shame from it, so I think it would do a disservice to pretend that our kids can be raised without shame because they absolutely can’t, but that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. We still have to do the work. We still have to look at our own issues, look at the things that trigger us. The damage that was done to us as kids—try not to pass that on. When you see shame in your kids, you’ve got to shine a light on that and say, “Oh, I see what you’re feeling. I recognize that, too.” It’s got to be talked about.
It never was when I was a kid. Just by awareness it’s going give them a better ability to cope with it, to recognize it as an emotion and that they can handle it like they do with any other emotion. Maybe implement some tools. Hopefully you’ll have learned enough to model coping with your own shame somehow.
PAM: I love that point of their shame meter. They’re just so perceptive and they pick it up so fast even when we are doing much less controlling than we expect but that little bit, that little hesitation in your voice, has impact.
RONNIE: I was just going to say there’s a thing in Little Women where I think it was Jo sees her mother’s lips and knows that her mother is extremely angry and that’s the kind of thing that happens when you are trying to raise your kids without shame—they’re going to learn what you look like when you’re holding back the shame that you experience.
PAM: And then there’s that like, “Oh you’re mad.” “How did you know that?” When I grew up, you knew that a parent was mad, but now I have to not purse my lips! But you’re right, the key is conversation. It opens up the doors for us not to feel shamed by realizing that we created that reaction, even with some subtle things that we did and it’s like, “Oh I want to be an unschooling parent, peaceful parent, I don’t want to use this as a tool of control,” and when you see that they recognize something like that, there’s a little bit of shame that we need to work through quickly because, if you ignore it, then it just builds. If you can acknowledge it and talk about it and explain where that came from, I mean, so many really interesting conversations flow from that.
RONNIE: It opens up a lot. They get to know you better, they gain some awareness, and if you’ve talked about it enough you’ll know as they get older they start responding like, “I know, Mom. Okay, Mom.” I have totally communicated this issue.
PAM: They’ll go, “Yeah, you need a couple minutes there, mom?” But that’s great because that tells you that the communication lines are open and they get the point and everybody just needs their space in that moment to move through.
So, we’re talking a bit about how it helps to know when shame may be getting in our way. That’s often when you find yourself maybe saying something and you say, “I just sound like my parents.” That’s almost cliché because it happened so much. “My mother just came out of my mouth.” But I was hoping you had some tips that you might be able to share that can help us with that?
RONNIE: John Bradford, is one of the key researchers on shame—if you dig into it at all, I recommend his writings. He has a list of triggers. Things that trigger shame in us. It’s quite surprising the list and it’s got things that you might expect like, making a mistake, or saying the wrong thing but it also has some positive things, like success.
If you’ve experienced success, that can trigger shame. If you’ve ever had someone say something nice to you and you burst into tears? These can also be shame triggers. He mentioned dangerous relational situations, which I turned into ‘dangerous situations with relations,’ which are relatives. Family gatherings can be a huge shame trigger because you’re going to step into—Frank calls them, ‘your old tapes.’ You’re going to step right into them, those can be really tricky.
Absolutely making mistakes can. Receiving criticism, or, like, I cannot receive feedback at work from my manager, who has the role, who has the assigned task of providing feedback to me. I can’t receive feedback without crying. I feel really bad for my manager. It’s not fair, it’s their job to do that, and here I am weeping. It doesn’t mean I haven’t received the feedback, but it triggers me big-time to get criticized like that. To feel like I let someone down. Having someone apologize to you—a lot of us hate receiving apologies. That can be a shame trigger. And your feelings are hurt entering into a new relationship. And definitely making mistakes.
PAM: I just remember when it took me 6 months thinking about even starting this podcast. The worry about saying the wrong thing. There was that push and pull. I want to be able to think and speak on my feet—I wanted to gain experience with that. I want to get better at that. I always felt before I could have a conversation with someone I needed to know what the topic was going to be, needed to know what my answers would be or what I would say. All communication I wanted to be in writing because I had more control over it that way.
But this just felt like something I really wanted to do because, one thing I learned from unschooling is, when things are more open they go so many cool places I could never have imagined and I couldn’t have plotted out a path to. I would love to open up the conversation and see where things go because in my experience they end up going in delightful places I couldn’t have imagined but oh my gosh…
RONNIE: Make room for vulnerability.
PAM: Oh well there’s a word for it!
RONNIE: It pays off to be more vulnerable in your home, in your relationships with your family members, in the workplace—it pays off. When I put together the talk that got you interested in this topic. See the way I phrased that—it’s going to be one of those things that I rehash after we hang up.
PAM: The cool places things go to when you’re open to them.
RONNIE: When I wrote my shame talk for “Life is Good,” I opened it by talking about getting laid off and, near the end of it, talk about being sexually abused as a kid. Made myself vulnerable big time in a couple of different ways and ended up reaching a lot of people. It’s far and away the talk that seems to move people the most and I think part of the reason is obviously the subject matter—we all experience shame—but to lay myself out there like that allowed people to step a little closer and you can see it play out in lots of different ways in your life. And now I’ve done it again: I revealed both of those things on the podcast!
PAM: But it’s so true, and like you mentioned, us being vulnerable within our families, because it’s in there that the connections, such strong connections are made, and stronger relationships built and that’s one thing that we discover through unschooling.
You start by replacing school and you start worrying about the learning. You soon enough, through deschooling, get to the point where you realize the importance of the value of the relationship and the connection, and that’s what you focus on. You know the learning will happen along the way.
But that vulnerability, connection, and relationship is all. I can imagine why you got such a response to your talk. That’s beautiful!
So, do you have any tools? I think people start to realize and recognize when shame is coming up for them. Are there some tips that you could share to help people working through those moments?
RONNIE: So, I put together a list if you have a way to publish it I can send it to you, but people need to keep in mind that I wrote that in 2010, so I mentioned a therapy approach. Therapy approach has evolved. Acceptance and commitment therapy is the one I mentioned in my toolbox. We can just shorten that to therapy.
You can absolutely work through things with a therapist. One of the ones that helped me a lot to help me describe a situation you went through as a kid and the therapist plays the role of the parent you should have had in that moment and reacts the way you wish your parent had reacted. It can kind of shift the memory in your brain as if it didn’t happen quite so horribly. It can be really healing and something like that you’re going to want to work through it with a professional.
There are also things that can help people in varying amounts. I’m not going to say that any of these are cure-alls. This is a toolbox. When you’re feeling triggered by shame, pull out the one that feels like it’s going to help you the most in that moment.
I’m not a huge Byron Katie fan, but her exercise that’s called “the work.” It’s this little worksheet where you write a belief that you have and then you answer four questions about that belief and then you turn the beliefs around. So, if you have the belief that my mother is ashamed of me, you answer the questions about it and you get to the end you turn around and you do the opposite. You say, “My mother is not ashamed of me. My mother is proud of me. I am ashamed of myself.” There are different ways that you could turn it around. That worksheet I love, so I recommend that. Byron Katie I would take with a grain of salt. She treats it like it’s a cure-all, so enough said on that.
Some people get a lot of comfort from tapping. It’s an emotional freedom technique. You can find websites about that.
Meditation is huge. This is what I would wholeheartedly recommend. Meditation and the ability that it gains you to be more mindful in any given moment where instead of going, ‘Ack!’ you go, ‘I’m feeling very upset by that.’ It can help you gain just enough time to respond instead of react, so I highly recommend meditation. Yoga, meditation, doing morning pages. Meditation is a catch-all term. You’re going to find the meditative approach that works for you. I use all of them.
John Bradford’s book talks about thought distortions. Instead of thinking I made a mistake, “Oh I forgot to put the leftovers in the refrigerator last nigh,t” you distort that and it becomes, “I’m a terrible failure.” So, if you start learning to recognize the way your brain does that…
PAM: It’s very spiraling.
RONNIE: One of the ways I did it—which may or may not have been good, in retrospect, but it definitely helped me—when I would have horrible thoughts about myself I would say them out loud. And Frank and the girls would look at me, just horrified, and say, “Why would you say that about yourself?” And it helped me recognize how bad those thoughts are and how irrational and extreme they are. I don’t want to advocate using your kids as your therapist but seeing their honest reaction to that negativity was good.
A big one is mistakes. We talked about mistakes and what a big trigger those are. You need to reframe mistakes. John Bradford says mistakes are a label that are applied in retrospect. Mistakes is a label applied in retrospect. Instead of looking at it as failure you think of it as a warning for the future, it’s a gift that allows spontaneity, it allows you to turn something into fun, and it’s certainly always a learning opportunity. Christine Kane talks about becoming an imperfectionist so she’s got a blog post about doing things imperfectly on purpose. You set out to do it…
PAM: …just to get used to it.
RONNIE: Unschooling moms Laura Endres and Colleen Paeff are embarking on a project called Second Best Self. They’re on Instagram. You should check it out. They’re working on that and that’s another way to say, “Well, my first best self didn’t show up, so there’s my second-best self.”
PAM: We hold ourselves to such a high standard. Not even a high standard but an impossible standard. We always want to be our best selves in the moment, but we always forget about that “in the moment” piece.
RONNIE: And no matter how good I do, I never think I was my best.
PAM: Well, that’s how important “in the moment” is. That’s the entire point!
RONNIE: You can develop a little habit, almost a tick, for yourself to help you. I don’t know the median age of your audience but if they’re familiar with Carol Burnett on every episode of her show she used to tug her ear and I can’t remember now what that message was but it was her message to a loved one. That’s an idea. Maybe you put your finger against your nose.
Anyway, I think it was John Bradford who calls that the shame siren. You turn on the shame siren somehow. You tug your ear to turn the shame siren on. It’s like, “Oh, there it is! There’s the shame!” Just another thing to help you.
PAM: Just doing anything physical helps pull you out of your head a little bit.
RONNIE: Definitely writing for me has been huge—morning pages, journaling. Words.
And I love this one—it’s play. I’m going to get a little weepy… reclaim the things that you were shamed for. The being silly, having feelings, reclaim those. Those are yours.
A thing went by on Tumblr about realizing you’re an adult and you can do the things that your parents didn’t let you do, like pay the extra money to go to the butterfly exhibit and I can’t remember the other examples they gave but, you reclaim your childhood. Live it now the way that you wish you could have lived it then. That’s been a huge part of unschooling for me because I wanted my kids to play and have fun—I got to play and have fun. I got to be my younger self all over again and do the fun things.
PAM: I think that was the biggest piece of deschooling for me. I was so busy following that path which was all about making the perfect grown up. It’s not about being a kid at all!
RONNIE: I hate to tell you kids, but you never get there!
PAM: So, I literally had to learn how to play. I had to learn how to value play and for it to be okay for me to play. That it’s not a “waste of time.” That was a huge piece. It was another thing that brought me closer to my kids because I could just be with them. It wasn’t that adult/child separation. I wasn’t an adult playing—it was just us playing together but that took time to get there.
When the answer to the why question, like, “Why are you doing that?” and the answer is, “Because it’s fun,” that’s a good thing.
PAM: I know. All of a sudden, I just want to stop because that’s when they’re engaged in the moment and that joy is just oozing, even if what’s fun is hard. Even if it’s challenging. Okay!
RONNIE: Back to work!
Oh, you wanted me to give you the John Bradford quote that you love. He said, about shame, “You either pass it back or you pass it on. The only way out is through.”
PAM: That is what we talk so much about—sitting with the discomfort. Sitting with the fear. Finding the roots, exploring it, and moving through it, or else you’re just going to keep batting up against it. You’re just going to keep handing it back. That gave me goosebumps because it’s so true and you see it. I see it in other people’s writings.
That’s one thing I love that people are getting to these points about what it means to be human through so many different windows. So, you can see these kinds of messages through Brene Brown and her vulnerability work. I see it through the art work of Amanda Palmer.
RONNIE: She’s shrugging off a lot! And showing us how to do it in the process.
PAM: Exactly! I see it in so many different places, it’s beautiful. And when we find the window that connects with us, whether it’s through John Bradford’s work—maybe you need to come at it sideways, which I would kind of consider more Amanda Palmer just seeing somebody else doing the work, or whether it’s Brene Brown that speaks to you.
Like you said before, there are all sorts of things, but it’s very individual. You pick what might work for you and it may mean trying a whole bunch of things, trying a whole bunch of windows to help you start poking holes and seeing what it is for you in those moments and then just finding what works for you.
Okay, so! Let’s shift our focus. Bring it back to some of the happier thoughts.
As you mentioned, your kids are all older and your niece is with you. They’re all older now so I would like to ask you, looking back for yourself, what for you has been the most valuable outcome from choosing unschooling all those years ago?
RONNIE: Relationships. Definitely. I wanted to say something more original because I’m sure you’ve had people say relationships quite a bit. Having grown kids who enjoy your company, who call you when they’re feeling sad and want to go shopping with you or have you come visit them in Minneapolis. It’s huge and it continues to be work.
Having grown kids is an interesting challenge. How much do you say? How much do you not say? It’s constantly walking this balancing beam trying not to interfere too much, trying not to give advice when they’re not looking for that. You kind of feel your way. And that’s another one where you just keep shining the light on what you’re trying to do.
Like MJ, the older one, I leave her alone a lot. She’s fiercely independent and of the two of them has more baggage with me because she was that kid who experienced, before peaceful parenting, lot more bag baggage, so I leave her alone but periodically I check in. I send her cute cat photos on Instagram. Things like that. And I check in and say, “I’ve been leaving you alone, is that what you want?” And she’ll say, “Yeah, I appreciate it.” She knows what I’m doing and recognizes that I’m giving her space that she wants.
And then, totally different relationship with Chloe, but still needing to walk that line. She and I talk almost everyday, joined-at-the-hip 1400 miles apart! But then there will be days when she gets quiet and then it’s like, ‘Okay Chloe’s having some mom-free time. I get that!’
Anyway, but the foundation that we have that allows us to do that kind of checking in with each other and trusting each other to listen if we’re getting it wrong, is gold. I could not have imagined how happy a family could be before unschooling. It’s just not something you’re told. It’s not something you lived, the bonds that you have and the fun that you have.
PAM: I love that Ronnie. It’s so true and someday I’ll put together an episode with so many of the guests saying relationships. That’s my answer, too. You have no idea before you start, the kind of relationships and I love the point that it’s not like we start unschooling, we develop this great relationship and we just keep going. And there it is forever. No… we’re all human beings living together…
RONNIE: … or 1,400 miles apart!
PAM: But in relationship! It almost makes it easier to accept our growth and change when we see it in our children and it’s perfectly normal. You understand how they’re growing and changing. People grow and change. Sometimes we step on each others’ toes and that connection that we can reach out and say this is mom-free space for the day or for the weeks—to be able to have that level of connection where you can just ask those questions and people will honestly answer.
That’s one thread that we’ve talked about throughout the episode is with our children—the importance, the value of that openness of communication that we don’t feel shame if they want their independence. They don’t need to communicate that often. Who knew that kind of relationship with any person could exist? Especially with parents and children. I love that. It’s just a shock because there’s no expectation or understanding of where you can get to when you start.
RONNIE: It kind of goes back to my first reaction learning about unschooling, “These people are crazy!” No. Actually, it’s the rest of the world that’s crazy because they don’t know what they’re turning away from.
PAM: Now that we’re both speechless, it’s probably a good time to stop! I do want to thank you so much Ronnie for taking the time to speak with me today.
RONNIE: I think it was fun and I think I didn’t say anything too wrong!
PAM: We both vow that the whole episode can go on.
But before we go, where’s the best place for people to get in touch with you.
RONNIE: My blog is much neglected but that is zombieprincess.blogspot.com and I have a hashtag, a label there—unschooling—if you want to ignore all the family news. And right now I’m taking a Facebook break so, can’t really find me there. If they want to email me they can get that through you probably?
PAM: Sure. They can get in touch with me or they can comment on your blog as well. Thank you so much Ronnie!
RONNIE: Thanks for having me.
PAM: I really enjoyed our conversation. Have a great day!