PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Anna Brown. Hi, Anna!
It’s so fun to have you back on the podcast. Many listeners will have heard you answering questions in the Q&A episodes, as well as that episode about parenting—that was over two years ago now.
But I realize that they haven’t heard about your unschooling journey in any organized detail so, I’m very excited to dive into that today.
To get us started just give us a little introduction to you and your family.
ANNA: Sure. So, I am married to David and we’ve been together for over 30 years. We’ve lived up and down the east coast and just recently a few months ago we moved back to Virginia which is the state where we both grew up.
We have two daughters. They are 18 and 20. Our oldest moved out at the beginning of this year. We miss her terribly, but I love that she’s doing her own thing. That makes it easy and that’s something I’ll talk about later, too. Our 18-year-old decided to move to Virginia with us while she’s figuring out what her next steps are and we have some traveling things coming up so she’s excited about that.
My mom is actually currently living with us for the first time and she’s going to be moving to her own place in a couple of months but we’re really enjoying this time with her. It’s been such a time of transition for all of us. I love that focus on family, connections, all our relationships and that’s really helped us with this tumultuous transitional time.
We have always unschooled. We are a family of people who enjoy just pursuing lots of different interests. My husband is actually big time into cycling. That takes up a lot of his time. But I like to do all the things, as Pam knows! I love learning new things. I love just the puzzle of it, the intellectual curiosity, all of those things that new things bring. I run the gamut from farming to technology to anything. Right now I’m sculling, sweep rowing like you see on the big long boats and we just started that and that’s been a lot of fun.
I think that unschooling was such a great fit with us because of that—we really just are kind of excited about exploring the world and doing things and that kind of thing so I love the freedom that it gave us. It’s been a really wonderful journey for these past 20 years.
PAM: I love that feeling, too, it’s like when you see the thing, and the next thing, and I find for me anyway that it’s always a step ahead. You’re just finally settling in and there’s just something else, ‘Oh there’s this and this.’ It’s amazing. They don’t have to be related in an easy sense but when you look back though you kind of see the thread. Don’t you? ‘That’s why that was really interesting to me.’
ANNA: I love that thread.
And the holes—the rabbit holes that that lead you to all these different things that seem to not be connected but really there is this connected path.
PAM: Like you said, that’s a really important piece of unschooling. I think even for the parents because you’re living that curious and learning lifestyle with your children. They see you doing it. This isn’t something just for kids where you’re sitting back and waiting for them to be inspired, waiting for them to be curious.
And I think when you don’t have that piece—when you’re just looking at it as this educational model for your children—you’re missing a big piece. And not only that, but I think that’s where people get caught up. They’re stumbling because they’re just focused on the child in front of them. Instead, if they were just exploring and living and doing life and everybody starts joining in that together and so you’re not just stuck on these places that people get stuck on, “What about this, what about that?” No, you’re learning, you’re doing, you’re seeing it in action every single day. I think that probably is an important piece that doesn’t get talked about enough, to pursue your own interests, together as a family.
PAM: I know. And it takes so much pressure off the child at that point because we’re just so focused on, ‘What are they doing next?’ and ‘What should I be bringing them?’
I guess it’s hard, especially at the beginning, because if you tell people, “Pursue your interests, do your thing,” then they take that as, ‘Oh I’m going to be hands off. I’m going to do my thing. The kids can do their thing there—we all go about living our separate lives.’ It’s that whole piece of talking about living connected with each other.
ANNA: And that’s it. That’s that connected piece—because my kids help me along that journey. It’s not a separate activity even if it’s something that I’m doing—even if maybe they’re not learning the guitar and I’m learning the guitar—they’re singing the songs with me, they’re right there with me. They’re seeing me struggle, too, which I think is important because sometimes I notice with my kids, and with friend’s kids too, we have this idea that adults know everything and everything comes so easy to them. I loved learning together. It wasn’t separate activities that was us each learning different things and struggling and practicing whatever the thing might be so then it just all just kind of makes more sense to everybody. Definitely not saying go off and leave your kids. Get involved, be involved, be interested.
PAM: Yeah exactly. Like you said, it doesn’t have to be something that you’re literally doing together but you’re all learning side-by-side and doing things side-by-side and sometimes things go well, sometimes there’s more of a challenge. Then they can see that in their own lives, “Oh yeah, I remember when mom ran into this kind of an issue, what she did with it.” Maybe that comes up in conversation, maybe it’s just their own internal processing, but because you’re living together, side by side, chatting about things if they want to bounce it off of you, if they want a little more help processing it, seeing connections, they’ve got the opportunity often to bring that up.
ANNA: And I think the connections that we were talking about with the threads and the connections maybe become a little more clear to everyone and that building of skills.
One of the things that school does that I don’t love is how it segregates learning; it’s not connected. What I think unschooling does a great job of doing is you really see, “Okay, so this learning that we’ve done over here, oh my gosh, how that helped us get over here and helped us find this with this skill over here that we didn’t even know we needed.” I think that helps build confidence to try new things and to explore out in the world because you see how it all fits together. You don’t have to just do it in segmented parts.
PAM: I think that especially when you first start unschooling, that first year or handful of years is gaining that experience—seeing that happen with yourself and with your kids. It’s like, “Now I get how this works,” rather than just staring at your child waiting for them to all of a sudden display all the stuff that we’re talking about. That thriving environment is for the family. It’s not just for the kids. It’s such a huge thing.
I’m curious to hear about how you actually discovered unschooling and what your decision looked like to not send your kids to school.
ANNA: Basically, like I said, we’ve always unschooled and I have told the story before, so people will have heard it but I’m going to say it again because this is the story. This is literally how it happened.
My oldest daughter had a lot of medical issues after her birth and they were not sure that she would survive and when it became certain that she would survive—at least to get out of the hospital and come home with us—they had a lot of dire predictions: she’s never going to walk, she’s never going to talk. But, thankfully, she did not get that but she went on to speak very early. Physical things were harder for her at times but she always found a way and it was beautiful and amazing to see her find her way around those pieces, too.
Early on, she was about age three, and she was into bones. So, I bought a fifth grade textbook to answer her questions and when we opened it up and it said ‘thigh bone’ and at that point she already knew it was femur and she knew this book is not right and they’re teaching fifth graders this! So, I ended up having to find this college-level anatomy text that was massive tome pages of flip things to get the questions answered to the depth and level that she was looking for.
Around the same time, we were at a playground near our house and she was playing on the slide, this elevated thing and I was down and I could see and I was right there and she pointed to this little boy in front of her, to his chest, and she said, “That’s your sternum.” He looked down and he said, “No, that’s a triceratops,” because that was the picture on his shirt. So, this heated argument ensued because oh my gosh, she’s very, “No, this is your sternum and it’s connected to your blah blah blah.” He’s going, “You don’t know your dinosaurs, lady!” So, anyway, we got through that we got them off the play set but that day I was like, ‘Kindergarten isn’t going to work for this child.’
We are still two years away from kindergarten at this point and she had already long knew colors, numbers, letters, things like that and I just thought, ‘What is she going to do in that environment? That’s not going to be an environment that feels good to her.’
I had to sit with that for a minute. What do we do? What does that look like? Because I had been working full-time prior to having her and really, in the beginning, before she was born, I thought, ‘I’ll do the six or eight weeks and then I’ll go back to working full-time in corporate America,’ whatever I was doing at the time. We’ll do this or that or private school, whatever school.
But then, after all of her medical issues, a lot of things changed for me: emotionally and just spiritually and all kinds of things that I knew I wanted to be with her and spend this time with her. Then I was like, ‘Okay, I guess.’ I resigned myself to homeschooling at that point. I found the classical method and I think it was The Well Trained Mind, that book from a long time ago—and I say resigned because I didn’t want to be a teacher. Like, that idea was not into me so I was like, ‘I can do it. I’m so grateful she is here.’
So grateful that she is this brilliant mind and all of these things, but then I found John Holt and I really don’t even know how. I feel like it might have been at the library but I think the first one I read was Learning All the Time so it’s a pretty small book of his and oh my gosh, as soon as I read it I was like, ‘This is her, this is my child!’ It just spoke to me so instantly, like, ‘This is how we learn!’
I loved his understanding as humans we really do like to dig deep into things we’re interested in and we learn with all these different connections and that it’s a truly natural process. I could see it. He talks about observe your child, observe your child, and I could see this with her. Here we were three years in, she’s still very young, but look at what she’s learned in these three years even. She was advanced or whatever, but any three-year-old: language acquisition, all of these relationship things, all kinds of stuff that they’ve learned up to this point without formal schooling.
I think maybe it was easier with her because she did have a lot of this academic knowledge that she had already learned at three years old so I was like, ‘Why would I sent her to a place that isn’t going to serve her?’ So I was so grateful to have found that book at that time because it also spoke to how I learned and how I could see things with my husband so I just thought this is the natural process. I want to see how that plays out and I never looked back from that point.
PAM: That almost describes the next question which is …
How did you develop trust in unschooling like from that intellectual understanding to knowing that it was going to work, was that really the process of reading John Holt, talking about that as theory then observing it in your husband and your daughter?
ANNA: Exactly, just that process of watching and so I stepped back because especially when I first made that decision, ‘We’re probably going to need to homeschool. I’ll talk to David about it’.
I kind of got it in my head that there’s this intellectual pursuit and I think that really stopped me to step back and let’s just observe where we are, let’s look at who she is and how she’s learning, how she’s interacting with the world and I knew that I needed to stay out of the way of that—and that’s not a hands-off thing. It’s facilitating, I’m there, even anticipating some things but really just listening to her.
If you look at something like a classical education it’s very specific, really specific if you’ve never seen it then you have to write sentences, you’re learning about this Greek thing for this and that, all those things are interesting, it’s not that they’re not, but it’s coming from me. What I found, of course over the years, is that she learned about all of that and more because she was interested in it because it really just became about stepping back to just get out of her way but being right there to facilitate and to follow those leads and to see because again, I feel like it’s such a natural process.
When we have an interest or we have a need to know something we ask questions, we read a book, we look it up on the internet, we find mentors, we explore, we just put our hands in and we start doing it. We dive deep until we have our curiosity satisfied of that thing. It may be a lifelong love that we’ve stumbled upon or it may just be we want to do this for a while and then we want to move on.
Then I guess that observation and spending that time stepping back I was just like ‘Wow, I want this natural instinct to lead the way. I want to see how this unfolds,’ and because I am kind of that scientific, left-brain mind, I was fascinated by this because I did well in school. School was pretty easy for me and I enjoyed it—a lot more than my husband.
It was fine, but I was like ‘Wow, so they’re going to learn to read without reading lessons, they’re going to learn math, what is this going to look like?’ I was curious and really didn’t know, but they did. I saw it every day, every year, all the learning these complex things that people think have to be sitting in a seat and drill, drill, drill. And I’m like, “No, they didn’t do any of that.” They just learned and talked and explored and answered questions and found the answers when I didn’t know them and all of that together and I found that fascinating on so many levels as a personal relationship with them but also as observing how as humans we learn what kind of implications that can have for us.
PAM: I love how you were so ready for that. Because you talked about how you were really uncomfortable with the idea of homeschooling because you looked at it and you said it was really about you having to jump in and take control now, so that was already feeling just uncomfortable even though you didn’t know what else there was until you came across it.
Yeah, we’ll get in to have fun it is to watch them.
Was there any particular part of that journey, the move to unschooling, that was a bit more challenging? You could see the learning. You saw the learning that she was doing all the time. Was there any other particular aspect that was a little harder for you to move through?
ANNA: I wouldn’t say that I had any challenges moving to unschooling but there were hard parts for me so, I’ll just talk about pieces of that. One of the things for me was putting myself out there to help facilitate my child because I’m an introvert.
Going up to strangers trying to find mentors and doing those kind of things was not always easy for me. What’s funny is, my oldest, especially, has no problem talking to anyone so, oh my gosh, she taught me so much about how people like to talk to you about the things they love. You just start talking to them and they were just so excited that she was interested and that really helped me. That was hard and I struggled with that a lot because the way I learn is typically read a book or look it up or do, but she really liked having people, people who were doing it—things like that really stretched me.
We were fortunate to have a thriving homeschool community in Charlotte where my girls grew up. Not always a lot of unschoolers, but enough interest-based activities that created this vibrant community. But still, at times, finding connections can be tough and I think that’s another area where I had to do a lot of work. I don’t know if that’s easier with school—I feel like school brings its own set of challenges—but I know that I did really have to work to find and keep connections in our community; to create community.
I think that in the end as I’m looking back at that time, our lives are so enriched by the diversity of the friends that we had and our unschooling journey with our friends all over the world. It’s made all of that work well worth it, but I definitely had to stretch myself over the years to keep creating community: traveling long distances; putting myself out there; organizing groups, which is something I would never have thought I would do; driving, driving, driving, oh my gosh, the hundreds of thousands of miles that I drove! People would say, “How do you put so many miles on your cars?” We are driving to see things and meet people and do things all of this because a lot of our friends were all over the place we traveled to see them, too.
These are things I didn’t know that I could do but I feel fortunate that I pushed through some of those initial things that were holding me back to create this amazing life for them so while unschooling was never a problem in the philosophy or the idea that in execution there were definitely areas that stretched me and kept me growing the whole time.
PAM: I really, really love that one because I don’t think about that often but it’s absolutely true. And, you know, I found it easier to stretch myself for my kids. It’s like, okay, it was that last little question, like, ‘This is for them—sure I’ll ask, sure I’ll phone—when, if I was reaching out for something for myself I probably would have put it off and put it off and eventually done it, but for them it’s like, “Sure, I can do that!” Just a little observation!
I mean I never thought I would host a conference and that was part of just trying to build community, to find people locally because we were driving down to the States every year and love the people that we met there. ‘Hey, we met them through a conference. What if I put one on up here? Let’s see who shows up that way.’ Just trying to build that community, the connections, and absolutely not being afraid to drive and go places.
ANNA: That’s a part of what we were talking about before, too. That’s how it’s all of us growing. It’s not just about the kids. It’s we’re all growing, we’re all creating opportunities because you’re creating opportunities for your kids but it’s also creating connections for you and it’s building different parts of the business, things that you didn’t even foresee way back then that have come to pass now so again but there’s that thread that’s connecting to them along the way.
PAM: And just to say for some people who might be worried ‘my child doesn’t like to go out, they don’t like to meet,’ it’s not even really about that. It’s still facilitating because my eldest wasn’t about going out. He went to conferences a few times but then he stayed home. He said, ‘I prefer here.’ He was still finding those human connections but he was finding them in a different way so it was still about facilitating him and his online access, and making sure you had the computers and software the whatever to find connections the way he wanted to have connections.
ANNA: We had that same thing happen, too. My youngest does enjoy seeing friends but online gaming is very important to her so another area stretch—I’m creating servers for Minecraft and all these things that I’m looking at YouTube and thank goodness YouTube walks you through the steps but it’s all those things and again I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the process for the most part but it is stretching.
It’s like, ‘Okay, I didn’t know I was going to be learning this today or doing whatever but again it’s those connections because all those skills that we learn in another things we put… I can do a server. This is similar to other things and different in others and then it helped her create these lifetime relationships that all of these years later we’re still close to from all over the world and I love that.
PAM: I know, for me too, the biggest thing was being open to stretching my comfort zone and it was doing the work to do it. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do this because my kid wants me to do this and I’m unschooling so this is an expectation on me.’ No. To do the work, to process, to understand why you’re choosing to do it because it’s always, always a choice. To get to the point that you’re literally, personally, choosing it for a reason makes all the difference in the world doesn’t it?
ANNA: And then you see for the fun, growth and stretching that it is instead of this drudgery or this “have to” because I don’t believe in “have to.” Everything’s a choice and I think it’s so powerful to understand that.
PAM: It’s so worth the time to get to that place where you realize why you’re choosing to do these things because then the whole attitude and energy that you bring to it. I mean, imagine that you’re working on that server and you come with frustrated energy and you’re like, ‘Okay, it’s done, it’s done.’ Then you run off to something else and something goes wrong—they don’t want to come and ask you because they’re like, ‘Oh she was already frustrated here, we don’t want to bug her.’ Because everybody is trying to be nice to each other—for the most part, for most days.
So, you’re cutting off communication and connection with them if you don’t get to the place first of understanding why you want to choose to do this. Whether it’s for yourself or things for your kids or whatever, because even when it’s something for yourself and you choose to dive into it then you’re more excited and more apt to share with the people around you and with your kids. It’s like, “I did this and this happened!” It’s just a way that your energy and your attitude becomes about sharing and connecting rather than drudgery and having to get through this and moving on. That’s so cool.
What was David’s journey to unschooling like?
ANNA: It’s so funny, David is honestly a natural-born unschooler and I had no idea and he wouldn’t have known the word at all before all of this, but he is, it’s just how he lives his life. He never liked school. He just didn’t fit into their box but he’s this super smart guy. We went to college together and in college he did get better and he liked it and I think it’s because it was interest-based. He was then finally able to do something that was interesting to him and it was kind of at a level that kept his interest.
Then he had a career that he enjoyed until some things changed with that and he ended up retiring in his mid-30s. But he’s always helped the rest of us to enjoy the moments and just do the things we love. He is the one that really guides that part of our family. He has always prioritized his relationship with the girls and with me and that decision to retire early—we had a lot of number crunching to do and a lot of, ‘Can we make this happen? What would that be for him?’ but we will never get this time back with the girls. If I can be here now with the girls and we try to do something else later when they’re older and I just love that.
He’s not a fear-based person. He’s like, “We’ll figure it out, we’ll figure out.” But what was most important to him was to not lose that time and so I love that about him because he keeps me lighter when it comes to things like that and helps me.
I could not have asked for a better partner for this journey because I know that some people struggle with that and I wondered, too, if some of that—and we talk about it when we talk to people that are struggling—is I think that person is probably hurting and not feeling heard and not feeling satisfied where they are in their lives if we can help them get there, too. Again, it’s that whole family working together that can help that journey be a little bit smoother.
PAM: You mentioned that he’s not fear-based in a lot of his thinking. I’m thinking that can be a real big challenge because that’s what society drums into our head: “If you don’t do this, this will happen, this will happen, this can go wrong.” We’re always so used to worrying about the things that might go wrong someday rather than being in the moment.
ANNA: He is so great at being in the moment, really, so much better than I am, although I’ve gotten better over the years, but he’s really led the way with that. I tend to be a planner. I’m not really a worrier necessarily but, in some ways, planning is kind of the same but depending on how you approach it. And so he’s just like, “It’s going to work out, we’ll figure it out, we’ll do it.” And so I love that we kind of balance each other because I’m still planning a little bit and he still flying by the seat of his pants, but it’s good.
PAM: You know what I have found over the years? Because I’m a planner, too. I love planning but what ended up working for me mostly is planning but then being able to release what actually happens. So, for me, I found the love of planning and planning multiple options and then getting to the place where it’s like, “Oh, now we’ll see what happens”.
You have a website choosingconnection.com which is home to some great articles you have written about consensual living. I was hoping you could share how your interest in consensual living developed and how that evolved over the years alongside unschooling.
Consensual living, the term, I coined a long time ago when someone asked me to speak at a conference about a philosophy that we had been talking about online. When the girls were little I was big into the online communities and parenting and unschooling—different things—so that’s kind of where that came from and it really developed out of a necessity for me personally.
I had practiced attachment parenting with my girls so things like co-sleeping, babywearing, and extended nursing all that kind of stuff and it made so much sense to me to respect and honor these amazing beings that were entrusted to me but what didn’t make sense was when I saw people suddenly become authoritarian and directive as soon as their child reached four or five, especially amped at school age. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. Weren’t we all just on the group talking about how great it is to follow their cues and listen to their things?’
I felt really disenfranchised by that. I thought why? I don’t understand. What I saw was that things that we began talking about—finding agreeable solutions, assuming positive intent, working together, communicating—how all of those things apply not just to my relationship with my children but to all of my relationships and all interactions. And that intrigued me because here’s me liking new things and puzzles and how does it all work together? How we could shape the world by how we related to one another. I just thought that’s so powerful and it’s this opportunity that were missing.
So, out of those discoveries and ideas and this philosophy of interacting was born and grew my friend Pat and I managed groups that talked about the principles and how they can be applied to all our interactions and how powerful it was to trust and work together. I think that how it reaches beyond unschooling and parenting and whatever is still fascinating to me. It isn’t something that I really talk about as much anymore but it’s still very much how I live my life. It colors all of my relationships and really all of my interactions.
A few years ago, when I had to find a place to park those articles I chose the name “Choosing Connections.” You asked about the evolution and that’s when I realized that’s what it all boils down to. I was choosing to connect with that person in front of you, whatever your relationship to them is. It’s choosing to find that human connection. So, when we focus on and choose connection there so many things become easier and I love how that has the power to shape our world.
Back when consensual living was blowing up and people were talking about it and I was on a radio show and Allen Colmes, who has actually passed away, but it was so funny because he got it. The callers were like, “You’re terrible, your kids are going to whatever!” That stuff doesn’t bother me at all so I’m just laughing about that with him. Then he says, “I’m thinking maybe if governments were doing what you’re talking about we’d have a different world,” and I’m thinking yes! You get it because that’s the thing: if we could hear one another we could talk to one another instead of posturing and fear and authority and all these things, it would just change everything. So, it’s something that is still near and dear to me even though I don’t do a lot with it except just in my personal life now.
PAM: Yeah, living it!
It’s huge and it’s such a big piece. I feel like that was something that for me I learned from watching my kids and from engaging with my kids and from realizing how that connection with them was, like you said, the foundation—everything blossomed from that. When that was strong, everything went better. It felt better. Even when things went wrong, it went better. The resolution went more smoothly, we could talk more about it, we could even understand what the other person was saying better because we had that connection.
ANNA: That foundation of connection to build upon.
PAM: Exactly and as you described it I found the same thing how that bubbled out into all relationships all interactions with other people and so I just ended up loving it through the view of the hero’s journey. It’s the same principles. That’s beautiful and like you were saying that when you’re out and about in the world even now as I’m chatting with people I find that they really enjoy having a conversation with you because you just see them relax and start sharing from their heart—they start sharing their real selves.
ANNA: We all want to be heard and that’s something we used to say a lot back in the group. Everybody wants to be heard, even that two-year-old, even that mailman, even that person. Whatever. We just want to be heard and it’s so simple to just take a step back and really listen and have a true conversation and it’s just something that we kind of stay in our head and don’t move past and don’t give an opportunity it really is, it’s beautiful.
PAM: That ties into the whole ethos of busyness I think. It’s something we so often work through with unschooling because our children and then we realize for us too, I had no clue the value of just time to be. Versus doing, doing, doing. The value of that time to just let your subconscious process. Now we’re talking about learning connections, relationship connections, all those connections need time. You have to give them that time to bubble up and life is just so much fuller and more enjoyable, all at the same time.
I’m making connections here—just let me think about that for a second! [laughs]
Can you share some tips for moving from conventional parenting towards creating that climate of consensual living?
ANNA: Well, one of the most simple things to keep in the forefront of all decisions is connections. Is what I’m about to do going to enhance my connection with my child or harm it? That quick little litmus test can guide the way through a lot of rocky areas.
Some of the things we’ve talked about: assuming positive intent, listening, validating, those are tools that we’ve talked about on other shows and different things. All of those tools can help so much but really it’s just having conversations. It’s having time when you can communicate. Its having that underlying connection, that foundation that allows those conversations to feel comfortable and to feel safe for everyone and I think it’s that simple.
People just want to feel heard, they want to be in relationship. You touched on this a little bit earlier. I think sometimes as a society we think that children are out to thwart and do. Children actually want to live in community. If you watch and observe them they want to know what you’re doing and how do I do it too and how do I fit into this group. That’s just a natural human instinct so, if we can tap into that by connecting and listening and hearing and protecting that piece, oh my gosh, it does create this foundation that makes everything so much easier.
I feel like because of that working together really comes naturally and once you quiet the noise from the outside voices or the way it’s “supposed to be” or the way people think it’s going to be—this fear and authority and deficit based focus that we have a lot through schools and really just through our whole society—if we can set that aside and just focus back on the people in front of you then I think we just see this is not so hard. We can have a conversation. We can do this. It’s just when you have all the stuff going on back here that I think it gets a little bit tough and I think parents really get in their heads a lot and I think that makes it more complicated than it needs to be.
PAM: There’s that piece that just jumped out at me. When you said they get in their heads a lot—something that I see, and I remember feeling it so much, being worried sometimes to open that connection, to take another step and connect because I don’t know if it’s going to go well as in, ‘Are they going to like what I suggest? Am I getting in the way?’ And even when things are going well, I don’t want to ruin this, so that fear, that getting in our heads, that stops us for a moment.
And it was an attachment parenting book that we talked about last year but anyway it talks about how when you’re connecting with another person or a child that so often, what do they say, 50% of our interactions aren’t going to go as expected. That was kind of their average but that the most important piece was the reconnecting piece. So, you know if you are reconnecting it wasn’t a big deal because that’s life. Who knows? It’s that curiosity about the moment. How is this going to go? But you’re still observing them and if you can tell that it’s more annoying than anything then it’s like okay, those aren’t the good times to do it but it’s all back to that connection, that relationship that being together with each other.
ANNA: It’s the work you do together because I think the parents often put a lot of pressure on themselves to have all the answers. It isn’t necessary. Our children have so much to offer. They have so many great ideas and they are carrying around a lot less baggage than we are so tap into that. Tap into that connection and I feel like the bumpy parts can smooth out so much faster. I think when we are in our head and think, ‘I’m supposed to know how to solve this, I’m supposed to fix this, it’s not supposed to be this way,’—those are just not helpful words. It’s just not a helpful energy place to be. But instead, if you can just come honestly like, ‘I don’t know what to do here but I love you guys and where should we go next? How do we figure out how to move on from whatever this conflict is, whatever this problem is?’ What a different set of energy than coming in with, ‘Okay I’m going to fix this, they better do it, and I hope it’s going to work!’
PAM: I know. So many questions. And I can so empathize with them because I remember that feeling of, ‘I need to figure this out. What do I think would be a good plan, then I’ll go talk to them.’ Because, like you said, they have such a wonderful perspective to bring. And then I’m not going in with an agenda—even if it’s buried in my head it’s still like an attitude; I’m still like trying to get us there if I think I know what a good answer is.
ANNA: And they can sniff that out in a heartbeat and they’ll react to it and defend and put up walls as opposed to, you can really go in and just say, “Let’s see. Here’s what I’m thinking, what are you thinking?” And suddenly these ideas pour out. Some of them will work, some of them bounce off the floor or whatever. But that agenda piece—let that go. That set outcome piece? Let that go because, again, they’re going to be so much more creative. You’re all going to be more creative when you’re doing it together with this moving curiosity.
PAM: I think that’s a big piece of deschooling is that we feel like we need to control things. We don’t even realize that it’s really about control at its root. We’re like, ‘My child’s having this problem and I want to figure out how to help them.’ We really think we’re trying to help them, but we’re doing it without them.
ANNA: Control rears its head in a lot of ways.
PAM: I know, I know!
It’s amazing, that’s one of the things I loved about the revelations of deschooling and they still hit me. I’ve had one or two here already! It’s everywhere. I think I mentioned it recently on a podcast that I just always remind myself to be open and curious, open and curious, over and over again because it’s so easy to get pulled in, to just think for myself and get stuck in my head but when I’m open things work out so much more easily because I’m bringing things in. I have so much more to choose from.
ANNA: Exactly and so many times especially with the kids it was ideas or things that honestly just weren’t on my radar but they brought it up and I thought, ‘Hey yeah, that could work, that makes sense,’ or just seeing them work it out. ‘I wouldn’t have thought that but they like it so that’s good.’ I love that piece.
PAM: And being comfortable with what they come up with. Like, if it wasn’t my plan or if it wouldn’t be the direction I’d go because they’re learning from the experience too. This is what they think is going to work for them moving forward so why not help them move forward with that because then they’re going to learn from that, from how they were thinking and analyzing the situation. They may move forward and the next day they may think that doesn’t feel right to me anymore because look I lost out on that deal and will bring it up again.
ANNA: That’s part of the learning.
PAM: Exactly. That’s what they’ll take in rather than if I kind of said “Well I think this would work”. Even if I talk to them and got their buy-in it was my idea so they don’t learn as much from it moving forward as well, I don’t think, because then if it doesn’t work out and it’s my fault (not that I’m worried about the blame) but they’re not processing that way, they’re not thinking about it. They’re thinking it’s you.
ANNA: We create this dynamic, this authority. Maybe a parent was going to solve this problem versus looking inside and using a more collaborative approach so I think again they can find out the next day “Well, this doesn’t feel great.” There’s no negative pieces associated with that. We’re just able to go, “Let’s try something different. Let’s try something else.” It’s not like you’re “supposed” to do it this way, it’s failed, it’s wrong, it’s bad. It just became this open curiosity. “Well that didn’t feel great anymore so what can we do now?” There was still this open communication that was fostered all through that process, which I love.
PAM: Yeah, it wasn’t nailing somebody to the wall, “Well this is what you chose, now you got to LIVE with it!” Haha! Okay now we’ll move on to the next question!
Over the years I have heard you talk a few times about the importance of the stories that we tell ourselves and I love it every time we talk about it because when we think about the stories that we tell ourselves we think it’s just in our head, what’s the big deal? but it really can be a big deal, can’t it?
ANNA: Such a big deal.
I think we often don’t realize the power that we have to control our own narrative. We got caught up in how other people are telling our stories but when we step in and we begin to write our own story, a story that focuses on action, growth, joy, it changes things. It changes how we see ourselves. It changes how others see us, too. It changes what we attract into our life.
I’ve had plenty of difficult things happen to me throughout my life but in all of those times there were bright moments. Moments of joy, moments of connection, moments of growth for sure. And as I focus my gratitude there, it creates a story that builds me up instead of a story that weighs me down, so I’m not carrying the weight of the tragic times or the difficult times. I’m carrying this built up of ‘You know what? I survived that. I’ve learned it.’ I found things in it that I can smile about.
Even if it’s connection with a friend that helped me through that time or whatever that is. I’d much rather focus on that connection with that friend that got me through that tough time than carry the weight of that tough time the rest of my life because, which one serves me? Thinking I’m loved by this person serves me more than staying back at this time. It’s just so powerful because I get to decide who I am, how I react to things, how I move through the world. That’s what I can control. We talk about control. A lot of times we’re trying to control other people and all of that, it’s like, ‘Hmmm, set that aside.’
But what I can control is who I am, how I react to things, and how I move through this world, and I always bring myself back to that piece. I think for some that’s a real revelation because they feel controlled by outside forces and all these other pieces and it’s really powerful to turn that around. So, I would relate to people to just be aware of your words, be aware of how you describe things and watch and observe and step back. See how little shifts in language can change the energy of a situation and how you feel about yourself and how you feel about what’s going on around you.
I think that’s such a simple tool that we have at our disposal in all situations because when something difficult happens we tend to feel off-kilter—like everything is happening to us. But when I take control of that narrative … for myself, in the midst of those difficult situations, it transforms them and again it doesn’t add weight to me. I can still see that. I can then get back to ‘open and curious’ because I’m checking in with myself. I’m telling the story like, ‘This part is hard for me but look at these other things, look at this other piece that I enjoy, look at how I can find this, look at how I can grow and change from this.’ Our words are very powerful.
Unschoolers that maybe are very cautious about the words they say to their children can sometimes say harsh words to themselves. I’ve seen that in our Summit group. I think, ‘Oh my gosh. The language they’re using to talk about themselves is so hurtful.’ I think that if we could just be more gentle and understand how powerful that language is when we give words to who we are, that really changes things. I think it’s so powerful—words, stories, all of that.
PAM: Maybe it helps to think of trying to see ourselves through the same lens that we look at our children. I’ve never thought of it that way but that may be a way for people to maybe just start because it’s amazing. And I think your point about when we’re apt to do that—get down on ourselves and feel that weight, when we feel things are out of control, when we have no control over the situation—it’s just in the way you frame it and it’s in the way you talk to yourself about it. You can find it’s completely under your control, the way you see things and every step that you take every reaction and action.
ANNA: And everything you tend to focus on.
In difficult times, for me, because I’m very connected to nature and that’s really important to me, even in a very difficult time I can still see a sunset and a breeze through a tree—that sounds simple, maybe it sounds silly even—but for me those things ground me because the sun still rising and setting, the breeze is still blowing, the trees are still there and everything will pass. It’s just a longer view and it just helps me to kind of not latch onto that kind of heavy darkness, whatever that is that’s happening to me and I’m able to step back and still see it because I’m still going to have to move through it; I still have to deal with it. Maybe I’m crying about it or maybe I’m upset, that’s okay. But when I can even shift my focus for just a moment to something beautiful, be it my child or my husband or a tree or a leaf or whatever, those moments build and then you’re moving through it. I just think that’s a powerful tool we have at our disposal that we can do anywhere and anytime.
PAM: Yeah, you use the word grounded and I think that is such a useful image. We are stuck in this spin, in the fear, in the spin and the tunnel vision and if you can find something that helps you ground for a moment that helps that stop, even just for a second, then you can see more clearly.
ANNA: And you can start building on that, even if it’s just for a moment. Then you have something to build on that’s different from this fear place, the scary place, whatever this thing is that’s happening. I feel like try to find those moments where you can and suddenly you’re stringing together more and more and suddenly you’re through that difficult time and you’ve made it and so I think that’s a powerful tool.
PAM: I think that’s something that I feel pretty good about from our unschooling lives. When I look at my kids, now, when things get really challenging, they’re absolutely challenging, things are going wrong, whatever, but they know that there’s another side. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a really hard moment. Maybe we have no clue what the next step is going to be but we’ve been through things enough times and have taken that approach so that they know they will figure out some step to take and it doesn’t have to be the right step or anything like that, but one little step. Just to see how things look different now. You’re just learning a little bit more in that moment to take the next step.
ANNA: It’s just like you said a minute ago—find whatever that is for you.
I’m going to share this even though David will laugh, but he probably won’t even see this. This whole transition to move has been challenging. We didn’t know we were going to have to move, kind of losing our house and having to move and everything is going crazy but what works for him is he has this time machine and he’s basically like, “We can’t stop time, Anna. It seems like all the scary things we’ve got to do but you know we’re going to be looking back a month from now—we will have done it. I don’t know how, but we’re going to have done it.”
And so, he’ll just be like, “Beep, beep, time machine. It’s over and we got past it. We moved. We’re here. We’ve done this.” Its silly and he’s silly but its it’s true, like you said, time just moves and we’re going to find a way. We’re going to take a step. Maybe some people think it’s a misstep but it’s a step. Then we correct over here and do this over here and keep moving forward so, staying in a place of fear and paralysis just isn’t helpful. Just knowing we’re going to get through it.
When you’re nervous about something that’s coming up, know that it’s going to pass, too, and you’re going to get through it. You’re prepared for it. Whatever you’ve done, you’re ready for it. It’s just one of those little tools or mantras that help you know we’re going to get through this. We always do and we’ll find a way.
PAM: Yeah I love that. I use that trick actually quite a bit. The “Oh, three months from now, looking back.” I’m looking forward to the day when I know how all of this works! I remember doing that at university. I would get a textbook before the course started and I go, “Crap! I know at the end of this session I’m going to know this stuff. That’s really cool!” That was what helped me get out of that moment where I was stuck.
ANNA: Yeah, that moment of fear. Because it works out, we get through it, we learn it, we’ll figure it out. That doesn’t mean there aren’t bumps along the way, but we get through it.
PAM: And I think the other piece I just wanted to mention was you talked about the step that whether or not it’s a misstep doesn’t matter, and even thinking of it as a misstep because that’s that judgment piece, too. I think we don’t realize how deep that goes as well. A step is a step and it’s only my future self who is choosing whether or not that was a right step or a wrong step. There’s no value in that. I made that step and here’s where I’m standing now.
ANNA: Shut that noise out because you’re just stepping forward and stepping forward with your best information and what you know and you’re exactly where you need to be at each step along the journey. Again, don’t even own that language from anyone else and certainly don’t put it on yourself.
PAM: I love that. So we talked about comfort zones a little bit earlier.
I was wondering if there was ever an interest or activity that when your kids wanted to pursue that stretched a comfort zone and how you moved through that?
ANNA: So, with my oldest—we have a lot in common. We look a lot alike, we process information the same, but they’re definitely areas where were very different. There was a time, kind of in her early teens, where she went through a stage of a lot of horror, death, darkness, really heavy stuff and I could see she was working through some things, but I also saw she was just enjoying it.
But, for me, personally I did not like the energy of that. I’m sensitive and I take that kind of stuff in and it hurts my heart to see people hurting or harming other people. That is really hard for me and I had to really work hard to be present with her exploration of it and not take it on as my own and to not tell stories about it, how it was for her, too so I had to keep my focus on our connection like where we connected and how I could facilitate her even if I wasn’t participating.
I think that’s one of the keys is realizing we all have different interests and we’re exploring things for different reasons. None is more or less valid, but we can always be there to support and facilitate someone, whether we understand what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.
Interestingly, this particular thing, years later when we talked about that time in her life, I learned how critical it was for her as she was moving through some very big fears that she had. These were fears she was not verbalizing to me at the time. These were things she was taking in, trying to make sense of. Had I tried to come and curtail the interest because I thought that was negative or, ‘You don’t want to have all this energy,’ or whatever because that’s how it affected me, I think it would have really impacted her ability to move through something that was very important and kind of pivotal in her development so that she could become comfortable with these things.
Like, that was her process of understanding some kind of horrific deaths that she was exposed to and some other things that happened. We each are going to do that differently so I’m grateful that I was—even though it was hard for me—able to step back and let her do that and still support her because as we talked about it later she never felt judgement from me. She knew it was something I didn’t enjoy so she would come and say, “Oh Mom, you’re not going to like this one,” but she still knew I was totally fine and supporting her and so I was grateful she had gotten that message because I wasn’t sure that had come through all the time because it was so hard for me.
We can’t always see what’s going on inside their heads and actually no, I’m going to say we never can see what’s going on inside their heads, so I think stop trying to write someone else’s story and why they’re doing it and what they’re getting out of it; that they should be doing it differently. Kind of stop that piece and learn to trust in their journeys and to keep that connection and again that’s just what has seen us through so many difficult pieces whether I’m stretching or they’re stretching or whatever. I think it’s just that connection that we keep talking about.
PAM: Yeah. As you were telling that story what popped in my mind was trust, then you threw that in there in the end.
That’s why it’s so important to really dig into deschooling at the beginning when you’re getting there and really understand what’s going on and understand why that connection and trust is so important to develop because you’re going to need those later to be able to trust when you don’t understand why somebody’s making these choices, or doing these things, or has this interest, or why they’re asking to try this, or do this. If it’s not something that you guys are talking about, you still need to trust that it’s something they want to pursue or need to, or whatever. Trust their choices because you’re there, you’re in connection. What they want to talk to you about at the time, if anything they will, but, like you said, to be able to as much as you can just not exude that judgement.
You said that later she didn’t feel that judgment from you. She felt that trust. It’s okay that they know that this isn’t your favorite thing in the world because they know you!
ANNA: And I can be honest about who I am but I don’t have to put that on her—you need to be like this—because she doesn’t and she didn’t. She needed to go through that time now that we look back how important was for her. But I think you can be honest and that may be another place where people get tripped up: “Well, I don’t want to pretend to like that.” You don’t have to do that. Just watch that judgment. Make sure you’re okay with your boundaries but that you’re not putting that on them: “That’s bad for you,” or “It’s going to affect you the same way.”
I think we do that a lot, too, so those moments are really hard for me in films or whatever but it doesn’t affect other people the same way. I just learned this! I learned that about clowns. I don’t like clowns at all. Everybody loved the new Stephen King movie “It.” They all loved it. I’m like, “OK, I’m going to watch it. It’s clowns. I’m being silly. I can watch clowns.” Oh my gosh! I didn’t give a flying flip about the clowns! The clown could come sit in the room with me but what I didn’t like was that bullying. How hateful the children and the adults were to each other. I walked out. I said, “I’m not watching this. I don’t care about the clown! This is what I can’t do.” So, they know that about me. I’m not going to change that piece, but they loved it. Then they could tell me about the movie and what they loved about it later but I just couldn’t watch it. I could be excited for them, “Oh that was interesting,” or whatever, but I think to be honest about yourself but realize that other people aren’t taking it in the same way you are necessarily and that’s an important distinction.
PAM: I think that’s something I love to emphasize—that difference. It’s not about putting ourselves in the situation that our children are in. It’s about seeing the situation through their eyes. There’s such a huge difference! I love that.
Question number ten…we made it to the last question!
Looking back, what has been the most valuable outcome from choosing unschooling?
ANNA: I think it really has to be time because, as I mentioned, we didn’t know how much time we would have with my oldest and really, the truth of matter is, we don’t know how much time we have with anybody.
Some people don’t like to think about that but it’s the truth. I knew early on because of our experience with her that I wanted to enjoy every moment. I wanted to be able to live with no regrets and if it all ended tomorrow that I could say we had the most awesome time together and I’m so grateful. That’s where I wanted to be and that’s what we did. That’s what we’re still doing. I still do it today all the time because you just never know and that’s what guides my decisions and my spending time with people that I love and my doing the things that I enjoy.
How does that look? I feel like unschooling was such a big part of that. It allowed us to build these relationships and visit amazing places and explore these things that we love and, oh my gosh, the magical people we met along the way. I wouldn’t trade a second of it and I am so grateful for all those things that happened and sometimes it’s hard to be understanding. I’m even grateful for the things that happened to my oldest because wow, did it change the trajectory of everything. Had that not happened I wouldn’t be here today. It’s just understanding that those are the choices. I just feel like unschooling—I’m so grateful. Oh my gosh, it goes by really fast! Bloop-bloop, it’s all over!
Even with that, so now I’m in this age where my friends—their kids are getting older and going off. A lot of them are upset and I don’t feel that at all. We have savored every stage. We continue to be grateful for the time we have together now but I’m so excited for them! I don’t have regrets about not having time or now they’re going and we’re losing time. No! We’ve had so much time and what a gift that time has been. I feel like unschooling was a gift and it helped us step off a treadmill that we were definitely on before all this happened. It gave us, as a family, so much that I will always be grateful for.
PAM: I just love that and too, you hit the nail on the head with the kids hitting this age. I just feel excitement for them whether they go, whether they come back, whether they’re staying, they’re away for a long time. Each piece of that time is a gift. Like Lissy is around here right now. She’s off visiting a friend for a few days and then she’ll be back for a few but that is a fun time and we’ll enjoy it but it’s not at all any feelings of regret or sadness when they leave, when they’re doing their things because the connection is still there. They don’t need to be physically with us for that connection. I don’t need to talk to them everyday for that connection to stay and thrive and be strong. There’s no expectation on that connection. But when one of us reaches out the other one is there. I love that the whole idea of time. It’s such a huge component, isn’t it!
ANNA: You talked about the busyness piece. I think as a society we use time in a way that is different than the way we do with unschooling where we do our days for so many years unfolded. We’d just wake up and unfold and that’s really a foreign concept to a lot of people. I think that is a beautiful gift because it’s helped me develop and grow as a person into that space and being able to openly trust and be curious because of that time and unfolding versus when you’re busy, busy, busy there’s just no time for that. So time is an interesting topic.
PAM: There’s a whole stage around time in the hero’s journey, the Unschooling Journey. That is one of my favorite stages is to write about and to think about. The whole thing we were talking about how there will always be the light at the end of the tunnel. That you can get through things. That life still follows the down moments, the good moments. Time flows. It’s beautiful.
Well thank you so much for speaking with me today, Anna! It was so fun to dive into it all just with you and hearing it all kind of flow together. It was beautiful. I really appreciate it, thank you!
And before we go where’s the best place for people to connect with you online?
ANNA: The email I’ll give is the Childhood Redefined. So it’s anna at childhoodredefined dot com and the choosing connection website there’s also a way to connect through there as well so you can get to me as well. The easiest is through the Childhood Redefined.
PAM: Don’t forget there are some great articles and stuff about consensual living on your website as well, so I bet people will enjoy checking that out, too.
ANNA: They’re old but they still hold water I think!
PAM: Exactly! I think it’s kind of a timeless thing. You’re talking about relationships and examples even from the time that really helps for people. Well thank you so much! Have a great day!
ANNA: Thanks, bye bye!