PAM: Welcome! I am Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I am here with Sue Patterson. Hi Sue!
SUE: Hey Pam!
PAM: Hey! If you don’t know, Sue is a long-time unschooling mom with three now-adult children. She continues to encourage and support unschooling parents through the wonderful UnschoolingMom2Mom website, Facebook group, and page, and I am very excited to chat with her today and to get us started, Sue …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
SUE: Sure. We started homeschooling back in 1996, so it was a long time ago. Things were different then. We were just talking about how the internet was so different—you can go start a load of laundry as you were waiting for it all to get hooked up—and now you can just fly through and get answers to your questions and meet people and that is so cool.
So, I have these three kids and they are grown now. They are 24, 27, and 29. One is married, one has a kid, one is getting married at the end of this month— she is having a Halloween wedding.
PAM: I love that.
SUE: It is so funny. It is SO her, it has always been her favourite holiday. So, I am excited that we get to do this with her. So that is happening at the end of the month and my husband is retired.
We were in the military, so we moved around and we had just been a regular suburban family that was on that conveyer belt. You know, where you are not really even thinking about it, and of course you send the kids to school, and of course you work, and of course you do these things, and then suddenly, it was not working that great. This little happy go lucky learner was like, bored and in trouble, and they were saying he needed medication so that he could read in unison off the chalkboard, and we were like, “Whoa.”
So, I started thinking about it and then we shifted gears. We did not know we were going to be on this great adventure, we had no idea what we were stepping into, and we loved it. Each day we were kind of like, “Well, I don’t know if we will keep doing this, I don’t know. It is kind of unschoolingish,” and Barry is like, “It is VERY unschoolingish,” and then the next thing you know, we are not going back.
PAM: That is really cool. I loved the way you called it an adventure. That was something we talked about, like, we would kind of wake up in the morning and go, “What kind of adventure are we going to go on today?” or you know, it was not go, as in literally going out all the time, but it was every day was still like an adventure, so I really love that approach.
SUE: The whole idea of like charting your own course, you know, kind of like your book where you are on your hero’s journey, it is your adventure, every single day, no matter what you are doing, so that is kind of cool.
PAM: I love that.
Can you go into a little bit about how you actually discovered unschooling and what your family’s move to unschooling looked like?
SUE: When we started, in suburbia, I was picking the brains of people, trying to figure out what to do. I was only around religious homeschoolers—the internet was not really available to me yet—and so in my mind, I thought, “Creative, curiosity, exploring,” and I really kind of still thought in subjects. I thought a creative way to explore geography or a creative way to do English, and stuff like that.
Then I found these catalogues because back then, that was what you did, you rounded up the catalogues. You would go to a mom’s night and you would get catalogues and look through the stuff and I was always attracted to the “Genius Tribe,” and they would have all these cool, microscopy, dissecting things, and you know, it was really interesting like that.
We moved to Alaska when we first started, so I’ve got my catalogues in tow and I am going through it, and we decide to get together with a few other families, and we are doing these mom’s nights. And who is at my monthly moms’ night, but Helen Hegener. She lived not very far from me and she was the editor of Home Education Magazine for a long time, and she would talk a little bit, but not a lot because she is really quiet, but really strongly opinionated. I just loved her because she was just SO confident and she had these four kids, and all they did was snowboard all day long, and I was like, “You are okay with that?” She is like, “Beyond okay,” and so then I was in the mode of picking her brain.
I read Mary Griffith’s book, The Homeschooling Handbook, and that is the first time I ever saw the word “unschooling,” and I am like, “That is what I want I want to do. That is what I am trying to create, I have got to undo some of this stuff in my head, because it does not matter.” That was Helen’s voice saying, “It doesn’t matter,” and so then Mary came out with The Unschooling Handbook, and I’m like, “Alright then.”
So, the moms in our group, we created a little book club, so we looked at different things. We looked at The Unschooling Handbook, we looked at For the Children’s Sake, is that Susanna…no, that wasn’t Susanna, I do not know what it was…
PAM: We’ll find it. [ED NOTE: Susan Schaeffer Macaulay]
SUE: Yeah, and we were like, “No, I think this is the way,” and really, what was the deal back then, is that we really did not care what way it was. We were like, “Okay, we want to do more stuff with our kids. We want them to just love their life, we don’t believe that the subjects really matter, because in real life they don’t, it is all intertwined and nobody says, “Stop, we are done with art, now it is History.” Nobody does that in real life, and so why would we do it there? ”
I think it helped that my husband was like the quintessential unschooler. Everywhere we went, he would dive into whatever it was. So, we live in Alaska, he is going to the fire station and picking the brains of the guys on how they unload their hose and make an ice-skating rink, and next think you know, he’s bought a giant squeegee and he’s watering the backyard. It’s freezing outside, and he is making an ice rink in our backyard.
And so, then we were in California and we are near the Davis Veterinary School, which had a horse ranch. So, he is over there with Alyssa, and they are picking their brains, and, “Can we help feed?” and “Can we do this?” and next thing you know, they are watching babies being born and learning how all of that works. Now it is astrophotography. Because that is his new thing. So, we had this living, breathing example next to us and he was not giving himself a quiz on Friday to check the vocabulary.
You know, we just lived, and then we realized this is the way. As they were teenagers, I think I had a little more nervousness, because I’m like, “Really? I mean, am I going to screw them up?” and now I am so excited to be able to tell people all those times that I worried, all those panicky moments that I threw a workbook at them, and said, “Just do a page,” was stupid, and a waste of time and it did not stick in their brain. And all that it did was make them look at me like I was a crazy woman. Certainly not someone they wanted to have a lifetime relationship with, and so I would recommend do not do that. Don’t bother and it will all be fine, because the more they dive into the things that they love, the more they learn and one thing leads to another. It is shocking how that works.
PAM: Yes, it is shocking…
SUE: But it does…
PAM: I love how focused you were on those teen years, because you can tell that was an important time for you, you know, asking those questions, figuring that out. Because that led you to doing your homeschooling teens survey, right? And the book you have got out about homeschooling teens, because there are different questions.
Even if you have been unschooling for a while, for a few years, when your first child hits their teens, there are new things that come up, because there are new societal expectations around it that we have absorbed growing up. We have not had to really question or talk about, because our kids have not hit that age yet.
You and I did a podcast episode a couple of years ago now, one of the very first ones in the podcast, where we talked about homeschooling teens, so I will put the link in the show notes if anyone is interested in following up with that. But yeah, that is really cool, I love that you took that stress and your experience and dove into that.
SUE: Well, I looked around and there really was not a lot out there for parents, to reassure them. And we could see it in their support groups, because we moved, so we had this interesting opportunity to see multiple places to know that this is not just this one location. This happened in five different places that everyone is gung-ho when their little boys are eight, but when their little boys hit 12, then we have this shift and where are all the big kids? Where are they going? And it’s because for some reason, as a society, we are okay with letting the little kids play, but letting the big kids play? Oh no, how are they going to support themselves? We get all of those questions. Am I going to close doors for them? Are they going to hate me and be mad at me because I did not make them? You have to work through it.
PAM: Yeah. That is a great lead into our topic this week!
We wanted to dive into some of the kind of questions that people ask when they first start exploring unschooling. I know on the podcast, we dive a lot into people through their journey and the experiences they have gone through and what they have learned through it, but you spend a lot of time helping newer people as they first hear about unschooling and start asking questions, so I thought it would be really fun to dive into some of those.
The first one we are going to tackle is: Isn’t this just for religious people, or super crunchy people?
SUE: It is the stereotype for homeschoolers, but the stereotype is really just the crunchy side. I just don’t see a ton of religious homeschoolers choosing unschooling. It is a little frivolous. I don’t know…that is not even true because we are Episcopalian. So, it is not like we are not religious, it is just not the reason.
PAM: That is the perfect point, yes, because, I mean, I do know a lot who value their religion, but they don’t impose it, and it is not the reason that they are choosing their lifestyle. It is a part of this lifestyle, but it is not the reason. They live it.
SUE: And I think that a lot of people are really unclear on that, and so they think, “Oh well, you know, unschoolers hate religion,” and that’s not true either. That is just exactly what you are saying. We are big on choice and we are big on letting people find their way, and ask their questions, and get their answers, and recognize that where you are today may not be where you are [later]. You know, Katie sang in the choir at the Episcopal Church and she is having Gandalf marry her at a Halloween wedding. Change!
And Michael, who had been a druid through his teen years and he’s Catholic now—things change.
Things happen, and that’s what happens when you talk to kids about being free to make the changes that you want to make. And no, it’s not a one-side or another, and I think that as unschooling grows across the world, really, it becomes more and more clear that it’s your neighbor, it’s your cousin, it’s your sister’s kids—it’s more first-hand knowledge. It was a lot easier to categorize people as ultra-religious or crunchy granola in the eighties when you didn’t really know very many.
PAM: Those were the things that made the news stories, right? Because they were looking for an angle, something to catch attention, so those were the kind of news stories that were out there, so that was really people’s only experience, like you said because, but now as it is spreading, and growing in popularity…
SUE: I mean, it’s every race, it’s every family combination, it’s every possibility out there. It’s simply a parent that wants something better for their kids. A parent that is willing to try some unconventional things. It is flexible enough to hear the education research and apply it and not be afraid of it.
PAM: That is great.
SUE: Because school’s you know, they have got all of that research, they just cannot make it happen. Because they have 30 kids they have to move from point A to point B. You have got a couple.
PAM: Yeah, and they have a large system. A humongous system within which they have to function.
SUE: And a tax that makes them have to show accountability, which makes them have to apply that learning happens every single day on this consecutive, “exactly the same learning,” linear path. It does not work like that. It’s peaks and valleys, and that is real life. They cannot do that. But we can! So that is my answer to that question. We were kind of all over the place.
PAM: Well, and you know what, this next question, you can see it coming out of that first one.
Am I going to make my kid weird?
SUE: So, the underlying part is the parental concern for popularity. It’s the parental over-emphasis of school kind of things.
PAM: The fitting in…
SUE: Of fitting in, of conforming.
So, we go to the far end of that, and we say, “Yeah, but he has to be able to adapt.” Okay, when you are in the world, you have to adapt. If you drive on a road, you have to merge, you know, you have to adapt, and that is what living in the real world is about. Practicing learning how to live in a school world is not really going to help you for the real world. If somebody bullies you and does something, you can file charges in the real world, you cannot do that in school. And you know, you just have to hope that the grownups are on your side…that is not how it works.
So, I think, am I going to make my kid weird. First of all, if your kid is already weird, I mean, let’s just be real. Some kids are not the norm, so they have like a total focus on something else, or they do not catch social nuances, or they struggle in situations like that and conversations. Putting them in a school is like the worst thing you can do to them, because then they are going to be kind of crushed. They are going to be told constantly that they are not right when maybe they were just developing at a later rate, or maybe they are not an extrovert. Maybe they are an introvert. Introvert is seen as such a terrible thing in a school, and yet, in real life, introverts do fantastic things, but you do not get to win the popularity contest as an introvert. And so, there is all this kind of weird prioritization that happens in school.
The other thing…when this question actually came up when my kids were younger, Michael was in the boy scouts and I remember thinking, “Wow, homeschoolers do not have a corner on the market for weirdness,” because this troop is full of a lot of weird kids! And those were all public-school kids! Weird kids are everywhere! It is just fine. What is cool about it is then they get to actually embrace it and not feel like they have to hide it or feel like they have to conform or feel like have to change who they are to be accepted, because that does all kinds of weird stuff to our heads. People have years of therapy for that kind of thing, and so the kids can flip the rate they need to unfold and with the strengths that they have and not.
So, will they be weird? A little, because they will not have the shared experiences. Even if they are the most gregarious, sociable kind of unschooler, they still have a couple of things they do not get. They do not get about some of the bad things that happen in school. Some of the things about how do you deal with people saying bad things to you and not internalize it? And little things like that. But I do not think it is anything to worry about.
PAM: Yeah, it’s all in that definition of weird, right? Because when they are asking a question like that, when you are speaking with them, you can kind of pull out whether they are worried about fitting in, and then you can go with talk about how, with unschooling, you are living in the real world now and you are engaging with the real world. It is not taking that little detour into school for those 10, 12 years or whatever, and then coming back. It is staying and living in this real world.
But then if they are worried about weird as you were talking about social challenges or whatever, introvert…it’s like, is that really weird? There is a wide range of people, of all personality types, all strengths and weaknesses, and challenges, and everything. Are you more thinking that you need to fit in or is it okay to just be ourselves and to learn how we tick and how we work as an individual, and to focus on the things that we want to learn. Like, if we want to engage in groups, to work with your child and help them figure out a way that it works for them. Because those are useful kinds of skills, if they are this person. Learning about how, as a person, they can engage with the world in the ways that they want to, to accomplish the things they want to. Look at all those wonderful skills that you are helping them develop that they will take with them for their entire life, rather than try to fit into and feel bad about not being able to fit into that microcosm of school and then having to learn when you get out how to live in the real world, right.
SUE: Right, and that anxiety that they have because they are not fitting in and they are feeling judged and they have shame; that anxiety keeps their strengths from growing.
PAM: And as you said, then they have to work through all that once they are out of that too, right?
SUE: I have a coaching practice, I have a lot of clients who have kids that are kind of introverted and they are in the 12 to 14-year-old range and what has been so fabulous to see is that they start so worried, especially the husbands are worried, about “Oh, is this a good thing? We should be pushing them. We should be doing this…” and what happens when they relax and they just love them for who they actually are, the kid relaxes and the kid is more communicative than they were, ever, because they feel unconditional support.
PAM: Seen! Yeah, they feel seen and heard, and appreciated for who they are.
SUE: That is that other thing; all anyone ever really wants is to feel heard. Yeah, so it is really beautiful to be able to see how those kids can leave a system that would have just churned them, and they can develop at the pace they need to develop at, and then those parents get to have that relationship with their child and not have that feeling, the negativity that happens when you are trying to force your kid to do something that is not really them.
PAM: Yeah, this leads really nicely into the next question, how cool is that? So now, we are letting them be themselves and develop at their own rate and that makes sense to me. But.
Am I ruining their future chances of success?
SUE: Oh, big question! Everyone wants to know…!
PAM: They do ask good questions, don’t they?
SUE: They DO, don’t they? Absolutely!
PAM: I remember asking that question, too…
SUE: We have got to look at how you define success, you know? Are you still stuck in a really mainstream, “Success is a college degree and a career that brings in X amount of money?” Is that success? Or is success happy? Or is success knowing themselves? Success can be defined so many different ways, and so what is cool is to be able to create your own definition of success. Do it with the kids. Talk about what would that look like. If you had the perfect adulthood, what would it be like? And as they are involved in their own interests and pursuing their own curiosities, they might have all kinds of ideas of what success looks like to them, you know.
For instance, Katie, my middle child, she always wanted to be an actress, from the beginning, and so that is what she is pursuing, and she is dirt-poor. You know, she is walking dogs and cleaning houses and doing all the things you can do, and she is my happiest kid. Because she is going to auditions and doing little voiceover things and puttering here and doing this, and she is living the life she wants to live. And if I said, “No, this needs to be a film degree…” Film degree, really, all you do is teach at the film school. You don’t really go out there. And she may or may not become like, okay a “success” as a movie star actress. Or is success just happily living your life? And so, I don’t know, and does she have to know at 27? No. She does not have to, she can continue to do the things she needs to do and she is figuring it all out. So that looks different.
I can remember when people would say that, when my kids were younger and I am like, “Yeah, but I want them to be…” and that was really something that I had to get through myself, that I had this idea, this story in my head of what I wanted their grownup life to look like. They do not need a director. You cannot orchestrate that for them. Instead, you can help them be the most confident and the most knowledgeable about themselves so that they can take the steps they need to take to be who they are supposed to be.
How many of us have one job in our 20’s, something else in our 30’s, and we have a completely later shift—that is not unusual for people. And how cool; we only get one life, do as many cool things as you can. You do not know what the future holds, so pursue the things you love. Find a way, and that is perfectly alright.
Now from a, “Okay, but will unschooling close the doors?” kind of part of that question, no, it actually opens the doors because they do know who they are, they do know their interests, they know their strengths and they know their weakness and they tend, as we all do, to go in the direction of their strengths. Because we like them, and we like to succeed.
For instance, my son who did not like to write, and we started with Calvert, and we did not write, and they were not happy about that, so we dropped that program. You know, I’m a writer, so I was really bugged that he was not writing until I realized, if I force him to write, I will make him hate it and that is more heartbreaking to me than having a kid that does not write—to have a kid that thinks that it’s a terrible thing.
So, he was super into storytelling, and I did dictation with him. But he did not write a book report, he did not write a research paper. He wrote thank you notes to grandma, and when he was younger, we did it on the computer where you could print it at a really, really low print and then he would use a felt tip marker and she would say, “His penmanship is beautiful!” Yeah…and so he did not do any writing.
And then he went to community college, and he had a little trouble with a persuasive paper, because he had never written one. He was still thinking of…and I might have said this in the other video, but he was still thinking, you’re talking to somebody. So, you see multiple sides to it; “Well, that is a big ol’ F,” far as persuasive papers go. They do not want you to see the other guy’s side. So, I showed him, intro, three supporting arguments, stick with one side, conclusion is like the intro, throw in a word like, “Incidentally,” it will boost your score a little bit, get all of your periods right, get all of your capital letters right, do not write words you do not know how to spell…and then he passed.
In Texas, the community college is so weird, because the writing topics are all school-related, so his first one was “Pass or Play.” It’s a thing we have here that the kid has to have a C-average for the week in order to play in the football game at the end of the week, or the basketball game. We are all about sports in Texas. And so, Pass or Play was the deal, so he said, “What if it’s the only thing he is good at?” So, he was both sides of the story, and they were like, “No.”
So, his next time when he came back, it was “School uniforms: Pro or con.” This is a kid that drew Zelda things on his shoes with markers, you know, I mean, he is not a uniform guy, but he said, “You know, I knew three arguments for uniforms, and so I went with it.” And he passed, and the funniest part of all of that, because we did not do all of those things to prep him, he ended up with a degree in journalism, and he was magna cum laude, so he liked it.
It was not just something that he had to do. And it was because he did not have all of that prep that everyone says, “Oh I have to prep them.” Maybe you shouldn’t. And so maybe you getting in there and prepping them for stuff is putting obstacles and speed bumps in their road; do not do that. And so, having this unschooling life did not close doors for him. You know, he was able to move forward and do really well. So, a lot of times people still think that success is about college. Will they not do well in college? They will do fine.
PAM: I love, love, love what you said there about not getting in front of them, trying to prep them, etc.
To me, that is always such a helpful image, because those are my fears about the future, that I am projecting onto them; worries that I have. So instead of me trying to prepare them ahead of time, I like to think about giving them the support and the help that they are asking for. Like you did, when he was doing that essay. You were like, “Oh, hey, they are looking for this, this, and this,” and he was open to hearing that from you. He was interested in that. That is when he had the question. That is when we add value. That is when we are being helpful.
If we are jumping out ahead and telling them all the things that could go wrong and that we are worried about them stepping in, that is just pre-supposing what is going to happen. You don’t know what is going to happen. You can ask. Maybe they want to prep a bit, but it’s always about helping them as they are trying to accomplish their goals. Trying to get to places they want to get to, and back to their definition of success—that’s really what it’s about. It’s not about OUR definition of what makes a successful life for them, it is about how they define it; how THEY want to approach their lives and helping them accomplish that.
People think they are just going to want to do nothing; that is not true. A couple of years with your unschooling child, you KNOW that they are not going to be just wanting to laze around forever.
SUE: And they may have really immature ideas of what they want to do, and that’s okay. That is how you get to the more mature ideas. If you say, “You can never make a living at THAT,” then they are going to just dig in their heels and not listen to you, number one, which is never what we are wanting, and number two, they are thinking, “Well, why not?” and “Maybe I can…” and they may even stay in it longer than they would have, because now it’s about an adult they do not want to prove right.
PAM: You have made it about YOU, instead of about their choice.
SUE: Yeah, every time you make it a power struggle, you may win the battle, but you won’t win the war.
PAM: Because they will be stepping away where you have less power, and until they can make the choice, and then they are going to want to explore it and know how it works out.
SUE: Yeah, and how much better for them to be able to explore it where you are their safety net, right? There with them, helping them. Not them having to explore it at 25, where they are like, “Well, gosh…” There are just so many other things going on then, you do not have to do that. So, no, you are not closing doors.
The other thing that I was thinking, and there used to be this article and I wish I could find it, and it has to do with like, red fish and blue fish in the ocean, you know. And it has to do with going the way that everybody else is going vs going your own way, and one of the things that is really becoming clear in college admission process is that those kids that have had full, rich, confidence-building lives, they stand out in the admission process from those kids that have the exact same cookie cutter kind of high school experience. Their two foreign languages and they’re one this and their one [that].
What we are seeing now is that admission processes are caring less about that and more about the kid who is pursuing something that they love. And when they do that, they have demonstrated that this is somebody that the college wants, because they already know they are interested in it, as opposed to the kid that all through high school, they said, “Oh, I want to be a marine biologist,” and they did not live near the beach, and they did not know what that meant, and then they went to college and they signed up for all of their marine biology courses only to discover that it is a whole lot of details and note taking … and they thought they were going to be swimming with dolphins. Better to have had a teen experience where you go do some stuff at SeaWorld, or wherever you know, and you can see what a real marine biologist is do vs an animal trainer.
PAM: Yeah, I think one of the things they appreciate is the engagement of somebody who shows that they are already out and engaging with their interests and know themselves and are choosing this vs following just you know…I was going to say conveyer belt, but that sounds so negative, but you know, just the typical path of expectations. I know, you don’t mind.
SUE: But you know, when Alyssa took a year and a half and went to high school—one of my kids—she said all they cared about was what college you were going to get into, what degree you were going to have. That is why I have that marine biology story, that is another one of our people, and they thought that was what they wanted, but they had no idea what that was. But that sure got the approval of the counsellors, “That sounds great, yes do that.” And the kid did not have the faintest idea what marine biology was all about.
PAM: Because they are just trying to do more school. Do more school, do more school, because that is what school encourages you to do, more school.
SUE: And then when you are done doing school, come back and teach school. It IS a conveyer belt, Pam.
PAM: Okay, okay…
SUE: It,s actually a loop…
PAM: Okay, next question. I love the way this goes. So, you know, we are going to stay home with our kids, and we are going through how they are defining success and now we are getting close to choosing to move in this direction, but …
What if we get on each other’s nerves spending all of this time together?
SUE: Oh yeah…that is reinforced every year in August, when everybody says “Oh, I can’t wait for the kids [to go back to school]. Did you survive summer? Oh my god…” And, you know, it is such an anti-child position and it’s this kind of bonding thing among parents, which is unfortunate.
I think that if you are having a lot of that kind of thought, it’s best to really look at it. Look at why you are having a hard time with your kid. What is going on? That might be first and foremost thing to pay attention to, more than when the library time is, or the park day. Think about having a better relationship with them, because with unschooling, a lot of times people just think that unschooling is just a homeschooling method, “We will do unschooling.”
In fact, it is this whole way of interacting with each other in a family and it gives you this opportunity to have such a different life. So, I think that if you had a hard time with your kids and they were in school and summer was rough for you, I think you have to realize that that is because you are on somebody else’s timetable. You are trying to squeeze everything in and you have been deputized to make sure that they do their stuff and it’s not fun. They cannot make them do it at school and you cannot make them do it at home. I mean, you can, but at what price?
PAM: You get on each other’s nerves.
SUE: Yup, getting on each other’s nerves, crying through the homework. Now why would it even be worth it to do that? And so, I think that when they are off from school and then they have just a little bit of time before dinner and they are trying to play the computer game their friend was talking about, and then they have got to get some homework done and they have got to get to bed because the bus comes at 6:30, yeah everybody is frazzled.
So, don’t look at that timeframe as that is what it’s going to be all the time, because it is not going to be that, because you are not going to have to do all of those things, and for those parents that are like, “Yeah, but my kids…” those parents that have been unschooling a little bit—because I have clients like this—they are like, “Yeah, but they just want to do stuff all the time, and I am an introvert, I do not WANT to go meet new people,” because we are still dealing with different personalities within a family. My personality will synch better in certain areas with one kid or another kid, or in different phases, or during different times.
So, you look for ways to connect with each of the kids and when you find, this is where we connect, this is what we do, this is how I show them how important they are to me. Because when you are like, “Oh he is getting on my nerves,” the message is, “You are not that important,” and that’s not the message that you want as a parent. That is, you know, when you think about your own parents, some people have terrific experiences, some people have great experience. Isn’t it great when you have something that you can look back and say, “Oh man, they really loved me,” and if they did not show that, don’t you want to make darn sure that that does not happen in your family? You want to make sure that your kid knows, “I want you here. You matter to me.” and where you go is interesting and an adventure and so…I lost my train of thought.
PAM: That’s okay. I’m sure it will come back but I love the point, the emphasis that the relationships. Like, if your kids are in school now or you are parenting conventionally right now, and you are investigating this different way of living together, to realize that the relationships that you have now and the way you interact right now are not a good indication.
That it is not taking those three hours at a time when people are under stress and not at their best and having 24 of those—with sleep time. That’s not what you are going to be getting to help them understand that you are going to be developing a different kind of relationship with them. You are going to be taking out those kinds of stresses and really getting to know each other and live together. So yeah, letting them know that they are not going to be bringing that relationship into these days. I think that is a really big and important piece that maybe people might not get at first.
SUE: And something like the mainstream way. Like, I can remember my mom—I was what they call a latch key kid. So, like, I had a key and she went to work—she was the first wave of women that went to work—and we were on our own making Hamburger Helper at night. I remember her saying, “I just want so much more for your life, I want you to be so much more than just a mom,” and “I want you to have a career and feel that,” and “You would be so good at these things,” so she would say those kinds of things.
And I remembered thinking in the beginning, before I had kids, I was like totally bought into that and when I had kids and I thought, that is not really what I want to do. I want to do this other thing with my kids. There is plenty of time for the other stuff, it’s only a little window that you are child raising, so you are going to take a little…if you want to go have a career. She didn’t do her big career stuff until she was like over 55, so I think that there is time to do all of those things.
The point that I want to make is that you might be kind of caught up in just a mainstream expectation and that you have not really thought it through on what you want. You are only thinking this is what society has been telling me to do, and this is what I am going to do, and what? You want me to step up…well look at it. Is it something? Would you prefer to have this really great family life? Because that is a good thing too. And has a huge ripple effect.
So, I thought that was interesting that there was a push…and I see that more, especially in the Mom2Mom groups, that there are a lot of people that are like “Well, I have this job, and I do this career and how can I do both?” and you can. A whole lot of people work and unschool their kids and they find ways to do it, but sometimes, they revaluate it all. Maybe you do not need that boat. Maybe they do not have to get a new car. Maybe they have somebody come and live in the back room…I mean, there are just so many ways you can have money come into your home, that does not require you to leave for eight hours as a career. And when you start to think outside the box, the box is small…the opportunities outside it…Oh my gosh…so there are a lot of ways that you can figure out how to look at thing from a little bit more unconventional way.
PAM: Yeah, that is a great point. I mean, I remember when I was working—my kids were in school and I was working, and I eventually chose to leave work and stay home when they were still in school. I had not yet heard of homeschooling, because that was something I discovered being home with them and spending more time with them and doing some research and stuff.
But anyway, most people know my story, but that what a big part of it at first. I’m an engineer, I have a good job, and that looks good, right? This is who I am when I go introduce myself, you know, “This is my job!” and people look down on saying, “Yeah, I am a mom and I stay home with my kids.
But that was part of opening that box and realizing what to me was important, and valuable. And also going through the work to figure out how to budget, how to make that work financially for our family as well. More thinking outside the box, for us it was a step at a time; a baby step and a baby step, and a “Oh, that might work,” let’s take another step, “Oh, that might work.”
what is the next question?
That is why I love going through these questions, because through each question, it is like, you think about that, maybe talk to people. You listen here, you ask questions of yourself, or in groups etc. and you find out more information. It is like, “Oh, I could probably make that work,” and then the next step, right? It is a very cool process.
SUE: You have to be flexible too. It doesn’t have to be, “This is how it is going to be forever.” But this is going to be okay for a little while.
PAM: Yeah, I can see that now, and that is one of the big deschooling, or through all of these questions as we make this decision, to try this out, is that you learn how things are not fixed. Oh, we are back to that conveyer belt that takes you.
Once you kind of crack open that box for now, you realize that “Oh, I do not have to go back in.” That with every baby step and every brainstorming outside, you see so much more and, once you start making your own choices, you realize that you can keep making your own choices and you stop judging your choices as wrong. You are making your best choice in that moment and then you can shift a little bit and shift a little bit, as you gain more experience, as you learn new things, as you grow and change and learn. Life is a process, life is an adventure.
SUE: That is SO new for people because you know, school does not promote that. School promotes one right answer, stick with it, stay with it! And that is not a happy life, because it does not really work like that. And so, when you can be like—I love that idea that there is not really a bad answer. That that one brought this data in and then this one brought this data in, and now I need to pivot a little.
PAM: Okay, I looked at the next question and I laughed because here we are, fits so nicely.
So we have to commit to unschooling everything right away? Can we get into it slowly and see what happens?
SUE: Well, I think you should never do something that does not make sense to you. You know, it should always make sense. Do not do it because Pam and I say it is a great idea. Do not do it for that reason.
PAM: That’s right because if you do it, if it does not make sense to you and you try to do it, it is really hard to do it effectively because you don’t understand why you are doing it. And if you don’t understand why you are doing it, how are you going to make that choice in the moment?
It’s not about understanding something perfectly before you do, but like I was saying, it is like, “Huh, that makes sense. I think I can make that work.” You do not have to know exactly what it is going to look like, but to understand why that next step. I always say that when I first came to unschooling and I was reading about what other families were doing, experienced families were doing, it was like, “Oh, yeah, I am not going to be doing that. That does not make sense to me.” Yet a few months I was making those exact same choices because now I had learned and understood what was behind it, it is like, “Oh, of course that is the choice I am going to make in that situation,” but it was not until it made sense to me.
It does not mean that every step that I made was perfect; of course, things go sideways, life happens. I make a choice and it doesn’t work out, I am not going to say it was a wrong choice or a bad choice. It was a choice that I learned something more from and I am going to make a different choice next time. It is through that experience. I will shut up now. [laughter]
SUE: No, I am so glad because your experience is your life, that experience that you are bringing to the table with these other humans that are in your family, in the community you live in. Mine is not yours or anybody else’s.
I know we are all wishing we could go to the back of the book and read the answers, then come back and fill it in. It does not work like that. You know, there is no answer key in the back. Someone ripped out the back of the book, because you have to go page by page, you have to live your life, day by day. You have to have experience by experience and then one thing really does lead to another.
You really get there and no, do not try to do something just because you want to wear that unschooling badge, because it sounds all cool. That is not a good plan. And you will see, I mean, if that is what you are doing, you will see. I had a lot of people who have come back to me and said, “Well, I read about unschooling and I listened on the group and I came home and I told my kids, “No limits! No limits to anything!” and she had five children and they were all under nine.
PAM: Wow, yeah.
SUE: And so, by July, she was a nervous wreck and the kids were like, “You said no limits, I don’t want to wear clothes to church, I don’t wanna…” They just tried everything and then one kid played off the other, and that is the perfect example of why baby steps. You know, step into it. Do not say, “No limits,” when you do not really understand what we are talking about when we say, “No limits,” because it does not mean zero limits. Real life brings limitations.
It is about arbitrary limits and it is about looking at the situation and partnering with the people involved and saying, “I do not know if we can pull that off. I do not know if that is great idea, have you considered these things?” and “Well that is a good point, okay.” And so, then it is a negotiated thing. And so it is not about walking in and saying, “No limits,” because again, like you were saying, when you have not thought it through what that really means…
It reminds me of when my kids were little, we lived in the country and we had this rule that you could climb anything you wanted, as long as you can get up there by yourself. Nobody was to put a smaller person up higher than they could get themselves. And it was frustrating for the younger ones but the point being, if you can climb up, you can climb down. But if somebody puts you up there, you are up there with no foundation. You do now know how to get up there and unless they lift you back down, you are stuck.
SUE: Yeah, and so it is the same thing about not having a foundation. So, what do you do?
You read a ton about unschooling, you read a ton about deschooling, so that you can start to think about what is making me think these things. When the story in your head is more important than the kid standing in front of you, you have got a problem. I mean, it is not, “You have a problem,” it is like, something to look at. It is something to consider and to think about and break apart, and that is why I was thinking of unschooling success, unschooling confidence, knowledge and support. That is all you need. You just need more information and some people to bounce your ideas off of, so that you are not just in a vacuum, where somebody else can look at something and say, “Have you thought about this?” and you are like, “Oh, that is the key.”
PAM: Which is what we are doing with our kids, right? I mean, we are being that support and that sounding board in conversation with them, so it is finding that “team” to be the sounding board. Life for me, at the time, it was email lists and forums back then. Where I was seeing those kinds of conversations. Even if I was not participating, I was seeing other people’s conversations and understanding learning until things made sense.
So, you can see what people are doing, but like you said, it becomes chaotic if you just jump there and do that without it making sense. Without you understanding why and how you are going to be participating in that moment, rather than just saying, “Okay, this is what we are doing because this is what they do.”
SUE: From a parent standpoint, when we come to the conversation with our kids about stuff, our ego is really attached to it. Our ego wants to convince them that our way is right; “I have more life experience, I know more than you.” Because the truth of the matter is, yes, you have more life experience. But it is THEIR life. They have stuff happening in their head and in their world, that you don’t even know about and so this may be the thing they have to learn the hard way. This may be the thing that they cannot use your experience—they cannot make that leap, and that’s okay, because that’s how they learn. And maybe next time, they will make the leap. Or maybe next time, they will find something that you didn’t even know they could find and they found something way better than you would have ever thought of. Because they are already operating in their world.
PAM: You know what, that was always one of the things that was just so exciting to me, and why, you know, the sense of adventure was always seemed like a good way to describe it. I could think of a path forward, but where they went and the ways that they took things, widened my world so much. And that was how I learned that my world was small. I did not really realize that before.
I was doing it all, doing the things, and looking right, but my world was so much smaller and it’s just so beautiful the way they have opened that up, by giving them that space, and that support. I would not have learned much about it if I just left them off to do whatever, because I would not have understood how they got there. I would not understand what they are getting out of it, I would not see the connection with my life.
SUE: And that is why when people say, “Oh they are in this room and we are in this room,” no that is really not it either. You really need to be communicating more. It is not like I just do my thing and now they are on their own with their interests and their child’s or whatever.
PAM: Yeah, back to that wonderful metaphor you talked about building the foundation, right? I love that. And in the end, we end up talking about how unschooling is a lifestyle. It is a way to live your lives and this foundation that you are building is for life, it is for your relationships with your kids forever. It is not about just those school years.
And I think sometimes as parents, we have a lot of fear. We are afraid they are going to get hurt, we are afraid they are going to make the wrong choice, and then they will have to back pedal and it will be awful, and that is life. You made some crummy decisions in your 20s, I would bet money. You are better person today because of it. Even if it was a disaster, you can relate to people about disasters. And it’s just another thread in your tapestry, that you just have; there is this really bright colourful part. That was that disaster. I mean, everybody’s tapestry is different, and you just cannot tell them what to thread in theirs.
PAM: I love that, and for me that is such a huge piece of the journey, is understanding the value in all those moments. I love that they are weaving their own tapestry and you cannot make those threads [go where you want]. And eventually you discover the magic in the mess, of our days, of our lives, right?
And it may not be for months, years, whatever, but every one of those threads make them who they are. And years later, you will see that connection; every moment is valuable and whether you think it is a good moment or a bad moment or whatever, every moment of our lives is ours, and fills our tapestry, I love that.
PAM: That is beautiful.
Well, I want to thank you SO, so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Sue.
SUE: You know, Pam, I could sit and talk with you forever.
PAM: I know, it was wonderful! And before we go, where is the best place for people to connect with you online?
SUE: Um, they can connect with me at my websites, suepatterson.com, they can connect with me on Patreon, really, I just have to tell people about this really cool thing.
SUE: I am all excited about it. I have made this monthly unschooling guide, because I kind of feel like I am sitting on all of this unschooling information, and I want to find a way to get it out. So, what I am doing, is I am making this monthly guide as just something for one of the Patreon levels, $5 a month, that you can get information about how to create an unschooling environment, how to think about your parenting, how to think about unschooling and deschooling, and ways to look at the kids so that you can bring these things to the front of your mind.
The October one is 17 pages and I am about to post it, and so I am going to try to do it on the first of each month, so this is just the first one, and I think it is really great, it is just the right amount of information to help somebody start to build that foundation, so I think that it would be cool. So it is Patreon.com/unschoolingmom2mom.
And then I have a coaching group, I have a small membership group which is nice if you feel isolated, if you feel like you would like to talk to somebody more often, but I really do not want to do the coaching thing, and we do a weekly call with a group and it is just a fabulous group of really supportive unschooling moms who are helping each other. We have got people with little kids and big kids and everybody is in there together giving ideas and suggestions and we have got a guest speaker coming next week, and you get the monthly guide for free in that group. So yeah, it is fun. The kids are grown now, so I am just trying to figure out all the ways to get this information to everybody.
PAM: Oh, that is awesome, that you so much.
PAM: And we will have the links to all that stuff in the show notes. Thanks so much, have a great day, Sue.
SUE: Thanks Pam, bye.