PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Sue Patterson. Hi Sue!
SUE: Hi Pam.
PAM: Hi, hi. So, I thought it would be fun to embrace the fresh energy of a new year by diving into some intention setting. Now I personally am not a very big fan of New Years’ resolutions, because I find myself, after a couple of weeks, as life gets going, using guilt and shame on myself. “You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.” You know, I just end up shaming myself when I don’t do it. So they end up taking kind of the same path as rules. As I thought about why was I so resistant to them, they really ended up being more like short cuts, trying to change my behavior. Right? Okay, these are my resolutions, I’m going to do this or I’m going to do that.
PAM: And they were really just shortcuts. So instead, I found it more helpful when I think about the kinds of changes that I’d like to see in my life, and look at that through the lens of intention, because that encourages me to remember why I want to do that. So, it’s not what I want to do, per se, it’s *why* I want to do these things.
What, in a general sense, am I trying to move towards? When that’s the kind of question that I ask myself, that motivates me to assess the moment, and then make the choice really each time, right? So, I’m connecting and thinking about the person that I want to become, and I’m looking at changes in me, as a person. Not just changes in my behavior. Kind of surface level and the deeper level.
So, to chat about this, I invited Sue to join me. (laughs)
PAM: Yay. Now if you’d like to hear more about Sue’s unschooling journey, I will link to her earlier episodes in the show notes. She’s been with us before. But today we’re going to talk about the kinds of unschooling related intentions that we might choose to focus on for the next while in the New Year.
So, let’s start with the kinds of intentions that might be helpful for someone who’s recently started learning about unschooling, but hasn’t yet decided to take the plunge. You know, maybe their kids aren’t school age yet, but they’re looking into it. Or maybe their kids are in school, and they’re contemplating whether or not they want to take their kids out. What kind of intentions in an unschooling sense might be helpful for someone at this stage of their journey?
SUE: I think for those that haven’t taken the plunge yet, I would ask them to think about what it could be like, visualizing it. Thinking about how could life be if we went this other route. If they’re under school age, it’s a lot of the same of what they’ve been doing, right? They’re still playing, they’re still engaging, they’re still eager to learn.
I think about my own son who went to school and how he started like that, and then when he went to school, he was just kind of weighed down. And how kids end up not really liking that whole process. And it’s so closely tied to their natural learning that they think that that’s what they don’t like. It’s the process that is so oppressive.
So, with littler kids who have never been, they just see life so joyfully. So, it would be – imagine what it would be like, if they had that kind of joy at 5 and at six and at seven and at eight, and at 15. I mean that’s just unheard of, right?
SUE: But that’s because if they don’t have all that oppression, you know, all of that –
SUE: – “learn this now, shelve your stuff now.” So for the younger kids, the parents of younger kids, I think, just envision what it would be like if you could keep doing this. And you just keep bringing more to the table, and seeing what they pick up on and what they like, and then going with it.
And then for the people who have been in school, now they know what it’s like. (laughs)
Now they get to envision something different. They get to envision a life that’s not about wrangling for homework, or a life that the kid is happy to get up in the morning—because they’re rested, and their day is ahead of them and it’s what they want to do. And that’s what unschooling is like. You know, lots of times people are like, “Oh I don’t know if I want to do that, every single day.” It’s not even going to look like how it looked as a school kid. An unschooled kid’s life looks way, way different.
So, I like to have them think about what could this look like, what could it feel like. Kind of like what you were talking to about the Why. Where you think about why would we make this choice, why would we do this kind of unconventional thing? Well, because what would it be like, what would it feel like, if they had these happier days. If we had more connection. If we could engage in the things that really bring joy. So I always think, you know, there’s that thing on New Year’s where they talk about finding your word? I always feel so much pressure around that. “Ooo, what’s my one word??”
Or then I think—what really happens, because you were talking about your shame and that that stays with you with the resolutions. For me, I’ve forgotten my resolution by about the third. (laughs)
So, I always thought I’m one of those people that gets the word but has it tattooed on my arm, so that I can remember it. So, we all have our own little mountains to climb. (laughs)
PAM: Exactly. (laughs)
SUE: But, um, I don’t know. I lost track of where I was going with that. But I think when – oh! Joy! Because I always come back to joy. That seems like the best word. Have the word joy – do things that make a joyful interaction or a joyful experience in your day. So yeah, you’ve got the laundry and you’ve got the groceries and the lines are long and you’ve got all these things. Where are you going to fit a little joy in? What are you going to do for joy? And so when I ask clients to visualize what this could look like, where could there be more joy, how could they plug that in.
So, I don’t know. That’s what I always think of when I end up coming back to that one word. And maybe that would be my key, is that every year I should have the same word. And then next year I’ll remember it until the 5th, and the next year I’ll remember it until the 10th. (laughs)
SUE: Oh shiny objects.
PAM: That’s awesome. I mean, people do know that I really connect with the word joy, because, you know, my website has been around for –
SUE: Yeah! Right!
PAM: – you know, many, many years. But that’s always something that’s so helpful for me, that lens of taking the step, making the choice that steps closer to joy, rather than away from it, right?
SUE: Yeah. Something else before we go to the next – I was thinking the other thing that people really – yes, it’s great to visualize how awesome it could be, but it’s also really important to get clear on why are you hesitating. What are you afraid of? And really pull it out into the light.
Isn’t that what they say, that fear is kind of like mold; it doesn’t survive in the light. And so, what are you afraid of?
Find people that can talk to you about unschooling, so that you can discover whether it’s a rational fear, or an irrational fear. Is it a fear that happens because you’re conditioned to think that learning is drudgery, or that learning has to be linear, or that learning means experts, or all of those kinds of things? Is that what’s holding you back? Because if that’s the case, call me. Because in a quick 30 minute phone call, I can crank out a bunch of explanations that will shoot all kinds of holes in those kinds of fears.
Because sometimes it’s just a lack of knowledge, right? They just don’t know. They only know what school’s been telling them, and then society reinforces all along. And that’s not the case.
So, I think that looking at what your fears really are and getting specific. Because you know, too, when you have fear and you’re like, “Uhh, I’m so afraid.” And then you keep it really big, you can’t deal with that. That’s just too big. You have to chop it up and then figure out, “All right. That one? Not a problem anymore. That one? Not a problem. That one’s still a problem.” Alright. So that’s just something else I think that the really new people need to think about. What are myths. What are just irrational fears.
PAM: Well, that’s it—because you don’t know at the beginning. For people who are just starting to learn about unschooling, they don’t know – they just know their fears, they don’t know if they’re rational or irrational, like you were saying. So for me, when I thought about this, something that was really important for my perspective was about this learning, right? Because they’re learning about unschooling. I like to think of it as beginner’s mindset. You know, being open. Because you’re going to end up coming across all these new ideas that seem so counterintuitive at first. Because they’re very unconventional.
And tied in with that is being extra careful about feeling defensive. Because so often when we hear new ideas our first reaction is to defend our current outlook. Our current answer. What we think right now. But right now, when you’re learning about something new, just going through your days, like when you’re learning, when you’re reading about unschooling, when you’re listening to podcasts, reading books, you know, online groups, websites, whatever it is. Right now you’re in information gathering mode.
So, approaching it with that beginner’s mindset – that openness to new ideas – just because you’re open doesn’t mean you’re agreeing, per se. Because you’re still learning. You don’t know yet. Like you said, these fears are popping up as you’re reading things and you’re thinking, “Oh but what about this, that doesn’t make sense,” et cetera.
But, just keep that openness. Approach your information gathering with the intention of being open to new ideas, and to not let that defensiveness jump up right away. Because that closes you off, right? You can’t make connections, you can’t think. So, right now you’re just wanting to be open to it. And I love how that ties in to – open to learning new things, and imagining what it could be like.
PAM: Right? Imagining, “Wow! What might this lifestyle be like?” And you made that great point about how your relationship with your kids is going to look very different with unschooling than it does while they’re at school. So, that’s one of the first things to kind of work through and break through. Because if I have such a hard time getting along with my kids right now, because you know you’re trying to get them ready and out the door, and you’re trying to get them to do their homework, and all that kind of stuff. That stuff—that control piece is really hard on a relationship. And if that’s mostly the kind of relationship you know right now with them …
SUE: Right. Which it has to be, if they’re school kids.
PAM: If they’re in school.
SUE: Because that’s what your four o’clock to nine o’clock is all about. (laughs) Y’know? Trying to reinforce and all. It’s so hard. I was talking to this one person and she said, “Oh I don’t even want to be a teacher. I couldn’t do that.” And I’m like, there’s not a lot of teaching necessary. And she’s like, “No, like today my kids had a snow day and I painted and they watched YouTube videos.” And I said, “See, I don’t have a problem with that. You’re saying that like that’s negative.” And she’s like, “Oh! Well then maybe we could be friends.” (laughs) I’m like, oh my goodness, people are so funny. (laughs)
PAM: Okay! Let’s move on to number two.
How about some intentions that might be helpful for parents that are in their first year or so of unschooling. They’re deep into deschooling, actually trying to learn about, live, engage with their kids. And they’re deep in that challenge of shifting their parenting style often, like we were talking about, from control to connection.
PAM: So not only are they deep in shifting how they see learning, they’re also deep into that parenting shift. It’s a lot of deschooling that first year. So what kind of intentions do you think can help people when they’re in that situation?
SUE: I think that first year is really—I wanna say that it’s really critical, but it really can affect your trajectory. It can affect, “Okay, so I went off this way and now I gotta come back this way.” So, I think it’s really important that first year to remember that – and as they step into our community – they start to see all kinds of ways people homeschool. And what things that they call unschooling, and they’re kind of eclectic. They’re doing a little of this. So, I think it’s easy to kind of get off path. And then next thing you know you’re looking at curriculum. And you’re like, “Well, he’s into bugs, so I’ll do a unit study on it, and we’ll do all these little cute writing sheets.” And that’s not unschooling.
And I think that while on one hand, I don’t care whether people unschool or not. I just want them to have a happy, joyful life with their kids. But I think it is super easy for us to fall back to the familiar. Worksheets are familiar. A teacher telling us what to learn is familiar. And so, when you don’t have a really solid foundation yet, because you can’t have it – your first year you’re just kind of grasping at what’s familiar.
SUE: You get a little nervous, and then you slip back into familiar. And so what I would say is: Don’t look at anything curriculum-y. Don’t look at the cutest worksheets on bugs. Focus on your child for that whole year. Because let me tell ya, we are mere mortals when it comes to the marketing complex that’s out there. It’s going to tap into your fear, and it’s going to drive it home. And the next thing you know, it’s midnight and you’re spending $499 dollars for this kit that’s sure to be the thing! (laughs)
It’s not the thing. I can’t tell you how much money I wasted because I didn’t make this promise to myself – don’t go buy anything. Buy games. Buy things they like to do. Buy things we could do together. But without that veil of ‘This is real learning,’ or ‘This is academic’ or ‘This is the most sugar-coated academic we could get in there.’ You know, don’t let yourself do that.
Because, if you can just hold off, just tell yourself, “It’s just for a year. It’s just for a year. It’s just for a year.” If you can tell yourself don’t do it for a year, what you will have done is you will have created an entire year of experiences that you’ll be able to tap into what life looks like when you don’t dictate it. What life looks like when you’re not orchestrating everything. What life looks like when you trust that your kid’s hard wiring is going to propel him in the direction he wants to go.
So, I think if you can just promise yourself I’m not going to look at that stuff yet – because everybody’s all about second guessing. “Well I’m on this path but I don’t know.” So don’t do that. Say, “I’m on this path for this amount of time and I’m not looking at a single marketing thing for sale. I only want to get my head on straight.” Because that’s where you can make all the difference in the world.
Because what you’ll see, and what unschoolers discover – some people discover it and then choose unschooling and some people start unschooling and then discover it – is that when you prioritize what your kid wants to do, when you value what they want to do, even if it’s watching Ryan open gifts, open things on YouTube, over and over and over. My husband the other day, he’s listening to my grandson and he’s like, “Gosh, that guy says Dude, dude, dude.” Because he’s watching YouTube, you know? And I’m like, “Just go with it.”
But if you can prioritize what they love, that connection that’s going to happen between you is going to be off the charts. It’s so interesting because it’s kind of a byproduct, that that connection comes because you listened to them. Because that’s all we really want as human beings, right? To be listened to? And so if you’re listening and valuing what they value, without that little, “Hmm.” It only takes a little. These unschooled kids they’re like honed in on that expression on your face. That you’re like, “It’s okay.” Oh, they know that’s not good.
PAM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
SUE: And so, you’ve gotta get into it. You’ve got to be fine with it. Or turn your face away. My daughter’s like, “Mom, you have one of those faces.” I’m like, “No, you’ve just had a lot of years to read it.” (laughs)
But I think that if you can value the things that they value, then connection’s going to be so strong. And if you give yourself a full year. Because if you’re busy thinking, “I’m going to find this cute little spelling program, and push it on them,” then what that means is the things they want to do have to be shelved. You want them to walk through these steps, because it’s good for them. Because their life ahead of them will need it, you think. And that’s interfering with your connection. So don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
But number one, and I’ll tell you because I did buy those little spelling programs in the first year – it’s a waste of time. You know? My kid that’s a speller is a speller. My kid that is not a speller, is not a speller. And no amount of quizzes on Friday are going to really make a big change. What’s going to make a big change is how often they see the words. They see the correct spellings, in texting and in reading, and in games, and instructions. It just becomes part of their world. And next thing you know, they know how to spell it.
PAM: I love that. I love the idea of giving yourself that first year, right? And just releasing that need. And I would say, along with avoiding curriculum, be very careful about even formal activities. You know what I mean? Like signing them up. Because what we’re trying to do in this first year is really see all the other kinds of learning. All the other ways that our kids can learn.
And I loved, because that was something that I had here too – when you mentioned being with your kids. Right? Really getting to know who they are – watch them, play with them – that is how you discover the learning that is happening without the curriculum. If you’re not with them, and seeing what they’re doing, and having conversations with them where they’re using these new words that they found, where they’re sharing this idea, this video they say, and then three months later making a connection between this video they just saw and the one they saw three months ago – you need that year to really see the connections and growth of their learning and all the learning that happens outside.
Once you give yourself that year, then you’re like, “We don’t need this.” Right? Because you can see that learning. Real learning isn’t memorizing. It’s making the connection and building that picture of your world. So, that’s why you need this time, because then you can see the connections they’re putting together. You can see them building that picture. So, if they say, “Oh I’d love to play guitar,” and your first reaction is, “Let’s get you guitar lessons.”
SUE: I know! (laughs)
PAM: (laughs) That is a clue that you’ve got more deschooling to do. That you still think that formal lessons are the best way to answer the question, “I’d like to learn something.”
And that’s why avoiding it kind of the first year, so you can discover the other ways; pick up a guitar. I remember when the kids were younger, we went to the music store in town and we rented an instrument for a month. If we couldn’t buy one. And when they just want to try it out, maybe you don’t want to invest in buying one. I mean, we rented drums for a month. (laughs)
PAM: We rented all sorts of instruments for them to play around with for a month. There’s YouTube, there’s a million ways. Maybe they just want to sit there and strum and figure it out themselves for a while. So, it’s not saying formal lessons are a bad thing. It’s not a judgment about that at all. Maybe their interest grows and grows, and then the next step of formal lessons, he’s like, “Hey I want to take some lessons with somebody.” I know somebody right now, an adult, who’s doing guitar lessons with somebody on the other side of the world.
SUE: Oh wow.
PAM: Like us here, right?
PAM: There’s a million ways to learn. So, in this first year, as you’re avoiding curriculum – because you don’t want to give it more value than all the other learning that we’re seeing – also think of that in the way of formal lessons. Don’t jump to: My daughter loves dancing, I need to sign her up for dance classes. Maybe it’s okay to put some videos on, put some music on, and dance around the living room and she’s perfectly happy. You know what I mean?
SUE: Right, right.
PAM: Maybe –
SUE: Or maybe have a couple friends over and have a dance party.
PAM: Exactly! Like just use this little constraint on yourself this first year of that not being your first choice, to be more creative. Because now you’re going to start thinking about all the different ways that people can learn. Think about the way you learn. So, this is another step of your deschooling.
And now, the biggest piece about hanging out with your kids is actually seeing all that stuff you read about and heard about – seeing it in action with your own kids. It’s like, “Oh, look, they made that really cool connection with that other thing, you know, when we went to the park and then two months later we’re watching a nature documentary and they’re remembering ‘Ah, I saw that beaver, that was beaver marks on the tree.’” Or whatever it is. But seeing it in action with your own kids. That’s how you’re building trust in unschooling, right? You’ve read about it, you’ve learned about it, you know in your head how it’s supposed to work, but now this first year –
SUE: You realize, this can work.
PAM: You’re going to hang with your kids, you’re going to see it in action. You’re going to be developing trust in unschooling because you’re actually going to see it happening with your own kids. And you’re going to be, like you were talking about, developing trust with your children, right? Because you’re going to be hanging out with them, you’re going to be talking with them, you’re going to be connecting on what they love, and you’re going to be building that trust in the relationship with them as well, that’s going to pay off.
SUE: Because I think too that a lot of times people think with unschooling that it’s kind of hands off or something. That we just wait and hope that the kids pick something and soar with it. And you know it’s really all about what you’re saying, that this connection. Because you really do bring life experiences.
SUE: But instead of seeing it framed with courses and classes, think of it as – because we’ve had this connection, I know about this cool thing that’s happening in town. And maybe we could go see it. But then, be careful, because sometimes what happens is then we’re like, “And the kids said ‘I don’t wanna go,” or, “The kids said, ‘I don’t like that.’” And so part of unschooling is learning how to introduce new things, because sometimes maybe it’s on our way home from something else. You know if you have a kid that doesn’t like to leave home, sometimes we’re going to expose them to other things but maybe we don’t have to do it in a real intrusive way.
PAM: Do it in a way that’s easier for them.
SUE: Yeah. And then we have to pull our ego out of it, right? Because we’ve got a big great idea, and how dare you reject my idea. (laughs)
And I think that we have to let that go. And realize that even when we say that and they reject it, that doesn’t mean they won’t come back to it later. And you just keep throwing out a little thing here, a little thing there.
And what’s super, super cool about it is that when you let a child reject what you want, it’s so empowering to them. That you can’t say, “I gave them a choice, but they don’t really have a choice.” The choice means you get to say no. And so, I think that that’s been really a big eye-opener for me. Because I’m like, “But I’m full of fabulous ideas!” (laughs) And they’re like, “But those are great for you.”
PAM: Exactly. You know what, I learned just as much about my kids by the things they say no to, as by the things they say yes to.
SUE: Constant course correction, right?
PAM: Yeah! For me it’s all good information, right? And like you said, even if they didn’t choose to do it, whatever it was in the moment, they now know it exists in the world.
PAM: Like you don’t have to keep asking them every quarter, “Do you want to do this? Do you want to sign up for this?” Every week, “Do you want to go to the park?” You don’t have to. Because that’s going to build a resistance, like, “Mom really wants me to do this.”
SUE: Exactly, and you’re ignoring the data that’s being presented. The data being presented is: No. The data being presented is, “I like cozy,” or “it’s cold outside.” Then when you’ve had your whole year, you can look and see, “They really kind of like to cocoon in the winter.” And you start to learn things about them, which you can’t really see when you just take that one little snapshot. But when you look at it from the whole year, you’re like, “Yeah I remember every May they start to kind of want to move outside a little more.” You just start gathering more data about them.
PAM: Yes. You need that time to get to know them, right? And the most fun thing, too, is to just help them do what they’re wanting to do. So yeah, sure, I bring the things that I think would be cool if we did, but yeah, not having the expectation that they think the same things are cool. That’s a great piece. And then, finding out the things that they would like to do, and doesn’t even mean having to leave the house, right? Just things they would like. I remember so many forts, so much fort building. Those first six months – “Oh! We can take the couch apart?”
And embracing that and just seeing them – let’s go back to the joy! Figure out the things that make their eyes shine with joy and just help them do that often. And it’s amazing, isn’t it?
SUE: You know, we were talking too, before – I know you got another question for us – but you’re talking too about things to avoid in the first year. So, the things I think to do instead – I mean there are some things to do. And some of the things to do are work on yourself. Work on undoing some of that conditioned thought that we all have. Even those people that didn’t go to school – which, there are now more and more of them – but they still have society’s input, and they still have PBS shows that are telling them Daniel’s going to school – Daniel the tiger. And it’s there, everywhere.
And so I think that one of the things that is really helpful is that while you’re having this hands off of orchestration, focus on yourself. Think about things, think about learning, think about children. Think about what is your philosophy, what’s your big Why. What fears do you have and what proof do you have that those aren’t true? Just different ways that you could kind of play with it. And get your book. Listen to these podcasts. Put yourself on a steady diet of it. So, that this is what’s countering some of the stuff that’s been coming at you for 20-some years, 30-some years.
PAM: That reminds me, because that first year I did exactly that. We really did cocoon for like at least the first six months. Because I didn’t want to keep going out and being bombarded with questions from people, from lots of family and friends. Because I didn’t understand unschooling well enough to explain, to answer the questions yet. I was still learning and still seeing it in action with my kids. So that’s why it was really important for us to cocoon for a long while. Because then, we were talking about, I did all that thinking, and I saw it in action with my kids. That’s how I solidified my trust in our choices, and understood them beyond the intellectual, “This is how unschooling works.” Now I understood it in my bones because I had seen it in action, and been a part of it. And that’s when I could finally start stepping out a little bit more. And more confidently saying, “Nope, the kids don’t go to school.”
SUE: And you know it helps sometimes to have some handy things, handy comments, in the back of your pocket, where you can say, “Yes, this works for us now.”
SUE: Just some little –
PAM: Just not inviting conversation about it.
SUE: – so that you don’t have to engage, like you were talking earlier about defensiveness.
SUE: You don’t have to defend it, you don’t have to be the poster child for unschooling. You can just say, “Yeah I’ve thought about that. Yeah we’re thinking about that. That’s a good thing to think about, thanks.” (laughs)
PAM: And then you just change the subject, right?
PAM: Yup. Alright. Now let’s step forward a few more years.
PAM: So, we’re thinking about unschooling parents who’ve got a few years of experience. Sometimes, you know, things are going pretty smoothly, right? And we think we’ve got this unschooling thing down. And then things change, don’t they? Right? Things are always changing. And then it’s like – I do love that saying that goes, “Change is the only constant in life.” Right?
PAM: So if unschooling parents kind of find themselves here, they’re quite comfortable with unschooling, they understand it, and maybe they’ve been in a spot where it’s been pretty comfortable.
Their kids’ interests have kind of been the same, everybody kind of knows each other, and is hitting their routine. You’ve gotten in the flow for a little while, maybe for a few weeks, maybe even for a few months. That depends on your kids’ personalities, right? And then things might be changing up. What kinds of intentions or focus can we bring to the New Year if we’re in that situation?
SUE: I think we have to remember that parenting is all about being flexible. It’s recognizing that your kids, from zero to 20, are in this rapid growth. They’re taking things in and they’re adjusting their course. And they’re taking things in, and then their maturity level is getting bigger, more developed. And then their life experience, body of knowledge, body of life, that they have more. So, of course they’re going to change. And so I think that we’re really unrealistic when we think, “Okay we’ve got this down.” Yeah, they’re alright right now, but next week—just like when they were babies. As soon as you’re like, “Okay, I finally figured out how to childproof this house!” – and now they’ve discovered something else.
PAM: Now they’re climbing the stairs.
SUE: Yeah! It’s the same. It’s always going to be some change that’s happening. And the other thing that can happen is that lots of times people fall into unschooling, or it makes sense to them right away, and they’re clicking with their kids in a way that moves everybody forward in this kind of joyful, wonderful way, and then they didn’t do the foundation work. And so, then they discover that when they hit a bump in the road, or their kid makes a choice that they just think is horrible, or now they’re a certain age and in their mind they’re thinking, “Yeah, but at 10, shouldn’t they be … blah blah blah?” Then if you haven’t done the foundation work, you might get tripped up by that.
So I think that what happens, if that happens for you, is that know that foundation work can happen at any time. At any point of time you can decide, “Alright. Time to listen to the podcast. Time to get Sue’s monthly unschooling guide. Time to get a little more help and connect with people.” And talk about how it’s really going. And what’s always interesting to me, over at Unschooling Mom 2 Mom, I would get messages from people who would say, “I don’t want to post this on the group because people turn to me for help and I’m having doubt.” And I’m like, “Phew!” One thing I know is that when your insides don’t match your outsides, you are in for trouble. You really gotta get clear, so that it matches.
And so, I always think it’s not a bad thing to share with people that you’re having problems. You don’t have that kind of power. You can’t really shake somebody to the core. If they’re finding what they want, and they’re working on their own foundation, you and your stuff? That’s you and your stuff. So, don’t worry about that. Always go ahead and be true to yourself. Ask the questions you really have.
I have a private group that has 40 or 50 people in it, and we do weekly coaching calls. So, once a week they come in there on a Zoom thing like this, so it’s like the Brady Bunch where everybody has questions and answers and stuff. And it’s really, really helpful to just go ahead and say your truth. “I thought I was going to be fine with this and now I’m not.” And then we can kind of help peel back what part’s not fine?
What part is giving you trouble? Because you’re probably – I mean, not even probably – I guarantee you, 100 percent, you’re not alone. Somebody else is having this same kind of second guessing. And the way you get to unschooling success is knowledge and support. You just need those two things. And if you need more knowledge, we know how to get it, right? We know how to find it, read it, listen to it, internalize it. And support? We know how to find that too. Even if you live in a community that doesn’t have an unschooler within 20 miles. You still can get support.
PAM: That’s such a great point. And I like the idea, again, that it’s that perfectionism. That we need to be perfect. That when we make a choice, we need to be perfect at it. That’s one of my favorite chapters in my unschooling journey book, is the chapter on temptation. Like second-guessing yourself, not being sure of your path. For every hero, on every journey, that is so ubiquitous to being human, that it is literally a whole stage on the hero’s journey.
SUE: Right, right!
PAM: And we see it ourselves in the unschooling journey. And it’s not something to be embarrassed and ashamed of. It’s just something to work through. Life isn’t about getting to a point where I’m never second-guessing. Because then you’re kind of closed-off, you’re not still learning. Maybe this second guessing piece is something – you’re second guessing it because it’s something that you haven’t dove deep enough into to really understand the foundation of it, to really understand why these choices help. Whatever the issue is, you haven’t peeled back all the layers on it. I mean, that’s what that second guessing is there to help you do. It’s not to be totally embarrassed that it’s come up. It’s like, “Oh! Gee, I haven’t really thought about that. My first reaction is this and I’m not comfortable with that. And this fear is coming up.” Whatever it is, that that’s okay. Those things come up.
But the thing to do is to use that to dig deeper, not to just throw your hands up and say, “Oh my god we’re going in this totally different direction.” No! And you may make different choices at the end of it, but it’s the peel it back so that you deeply understand the fear, and you can get through that fear piece so that you’re making real choices again. Because when you’re stuck in fear, and second guessing, you’re not really making choices, you’re reacting to things. Right? Rather than choosing things. So yeah, I think that is a really great point for bringing up now, because once you’ve got a few years under your belt, because of course –
SUE: You are a person that people are turning to! You know? And you’re still in the thick of it!
PAM: Yeah! I mean, we all have questions, we all have things that are coming up in our lives.
SUE: I’m in the thick of it! Yeah! I mean, you know, my kids are all in their 20’s, and I still am mis-stepping or wishing a choice went differently. And all those things that are real life, it’s just part of being human. And I think that sometimes people get this idea, like the perfectionism, people get this delusion that you’re going to get there.
PAM: Yes, that there’s a there to get to.
SUE: That there’s a there that’s like paradise. I mean, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s no there.
SUE: But I think too, to remember that if you’re somebody that a lot of people have been coming to and you’re really afraid – because that happens a lot, right? You start to get confident, your kids are doing great, next thing you know you’re starting a support group, and now people are coming and talking to you. I think the thing to remember is that you having second thoughts and figuring out what to do to correct your course or how do you find answers to what you need, where do you look for the resources, is the perfect modeling for the brand new unschooler. You know when people feel like, “Oh, I thought everybody else had it all figured out, and I’m the only one that doesn’t have it figured out, so I need to just go ahead and go this other way.” No, they can see, society is constantly coming at us, parenting is constantly changing, kids are constantly changing. It is not the slightest bit far-fetched that you could have some second thoughts along the way. Expect that you’re going to.
PAM: Yes, exactly.
SUE: And think about how your resources, what resources do you have when you have those low moments? What do you do? Start thinking about it, because I’m promising you you’ll have a low moment.
PAM: Yeah, have that structure around you. The other thing I wanted to mention, too, that I found helpful when things are changing is to focus back on my kids. Get back to that relationship, rebuff that connection and trust, and watch my kids again. Because you know what? So often I began second guessing when things were going so well, things were flowing, so I kind of was off doing my own thing, and we kind of just slowly grew a bit distant. And then all of a sudden now things that they’re choosing don’t make sense to me.
PAM: Because I’m not quite as connected with them.
SUE: That’s good insight, Pam. That’s really good to think about. Yeah.
PAM: So, when I notice disconnection, and you don’t even know what that is. I’m second guessing because they’re making choices that I don’t even understand, or they’re doing things that are making me uncomfortable. It’s because I’m not knowing them well enough to understand where they’re coming from.
PAM: I don’t know that in the moment. That’s me understanding having seen that pattern happen over and over again.
SUE: Just a couple times! (laughs)
PAM: But that’s one of the things I learned over the years, was when I was second guessing and I was uncomfortable, it was like okay, I need to turn to my kids more. Not step back and fear and try to process it logically. Try to logic out of it. Because that makes me even more distant, right? Because I’m not comfortable with what they’re doing, so I’m staying away from them and trying to get in my head. But rather, go to them more, spend more time with them, engage with them more. All of a sudden the things that they’re saying and doing will truly make more sense, because I’m knowing who they are in this moment better, because they’re changing all the time—just as we are, right?
SUE: That’s good. That’s going to be really helpful to people! (laughs)
PAM: (laughs) Ooo, here – here’s a favorite one for you.
Fresh intentions for the new year when you’re unschooling with teens?
SUE: Well, I think the thing to remember is your teen path isn’t their teen path. That you think, “Well I did this when I was a teenager, and I loved it. So, they should do it, because they’ll love it.” Or the other thing: “I did this and I got in so much trouble and I want to prevent them from ever having that trouble.” Neither of those is going to fly.
I think the thing to remember is, this is why that connection part is so important. Because they’re not a mini-me. You know you always see those things where people write, “My Mini-me!” And you’re like, “Oh, sweetheart…” (laughs)
No. No. No. (laughs) I understand that we like to connect to our offspring like that, but they have their own choices and their own path and their own experiences and all that. So, I think to remember that you have to give them room to do that.
And you have to get okay with really terrible choices. Terrible choices in your mind, because you’re a little judge-y, because we all are. We all want our kids to stay happy all the time. We want them to have all the best choices, all the doors open, all the everything. They’re going to make choices that might close a door, or might make them unhappy, or might do something. And what is more important than their happiness in their choices is that they got to do it. That they got to make the choice and see what happens.
Isn’t there a Piaget quote that is about that if you get in there and solve it for them, you’ve robbed them of the opportunity to figure it out. And just like when we move to a new town, how do we learn how to get anywhere? We probably get lost. And then we learn all the back roads. And so the worst possible things that you think could happen during a teenager’s life will help them at some point. And I’m not saying set them up for like disaster but I am saying don’t catastrophize it so much that you never let them fail. Let them make choices that flop, while you’re right there as a safety net.
Because if you don’t, then you know how people complain about how kids go off, they go to school and they’re on that thing to college, and then they go to college and they have no clue what to do because everybody has told them what to do their whole lives? This way, your teenager’s lives, they’re seeing what happens when you make their own decision. How do you regroup? Because they will, in their life, and so learning how –
PAM: You know what? I wouldn’t even call it a wrong decision, per se, but it’s a choice that doesn’t go as they expected. Right?
SUE: There you go. Very good. And that’s really an important thing to reframe it in your head like that. Because so often we’re like, “Ugh, they’re hanging with the wrong kids.” As opposed to just thinking, “That looks different than how I saw it in my head.” And, “I wonder where this is going to go, and I wonder what kind of support I can offer.”
PAM: Yeah, exactly.
SUE: As opposed to trying to control it, right? It’s all about we get fearful, then we get controlling, then they resist. It’s such a predictable pattern.
PAM: Yes, exactly.
SUE: (laughs) And then you’re mad that they resisted, because, “They had this great life!” (laughs)
PAM: Well yeah, because as soon as we try to control it, we own the experience. They don’t own the experience anymore. So, when something – whatever happens that comes out of it – they’re not owning it and understanding it and processing it as something to learn from, a choice they’ve made. They’re just like, “Hey mom, that didn’t work,” or “I didn’t like the way that went.” Or whatever. Or like you said, resentful that they didn’t get to do whatever. But yeah, once you’re making the choices for them, you’re taking the experience out of their hands. And what they’re learning is not what they would’ve learned by making the choice.
And back to what we’ve been talking about all along – we’re still connected, involved, hands-on, having conversations with them. Maybe chatting pros and cons. If we have concerns about something, trying to figure out a way that our concerns can be met while they’re still doing what it is that they’re wanting to do. It’s not, “I’m going to let them out in the wild now.” Or anything like that. And, “I think that’s a bad choice so you just go do that and live with whatever the consequences are.” That’s not the kind of relationship that we have.
SUE: It’s the opposite of connecting.
PAM: Yeah, exactly.
SUE: So, if you sever your connection because you didn’t like their choice, and then you’re mad that you’re not connected, but you did that. You said, “I’m only going to connect if you make the choices that I like.”
SUE: You gotta be careful of that.
PAM: That’s definitely something to be careful of. And, I mean, I think that’s kind of the biggest thing, right? So what’s specific about the teen years, and I think you mentioned that as well, is that space. They’re going to be wanting likely to do more things when you’re not right there with them. Maybe you don’t even have to take them, if they’re going out places. It’s that trust that you’ve been building up over the years is now going to be trust at a little bit of a distance. That doesn’t mean, like we’ve just been talking about, that doesn’t mean that your connection is less, doesn’t mean that trust has to be less, or any of that. It’s just trusting to give them the space that they’re asking for.
PAM: Right? I think that’s kind of the biggest shift when they start hitting the teen years, is they may have –
SUE: You know that Mira Kirshenbaum book is always the thing that I recommend to people, Parent/Teen Breakthrough: The Relationship Approach And I would say get it before they’re teenagers. Because the whole thing is about learning how you have fear, and your fear makes you want to control. And if you can learn how to not do that when they’re seven and eight, then when they’re 13 you’re going to have a different experience. It’s not going to be so foreign to you, because this will be how you’ve been living all along.
PAM: That’s awesome. Alright, so, there’s one other place that I wanted to touch on, situation, so – often, in unschooling families there’s one parent who’s doing the bulk of the parenting and the unschooling, while their partner focuses more on earning a family income. I know that’s not all situations, absolutely. But if there’s one partner / parent who is less hands-on involved all the time, I did not want to forget about them.
So, I wanted to chat about the kind of New Year’s intentions that can help the parent who’s a little less involved in the day to day unschooling. What can help them on their journey?
SUE: You know I think this is one of those side things that we don’t talk about a whole lot, but when our family choice is unschooling, everybody wins. Everybody benefits, because there’s connection. So if you have a lot of connection, because you’ve got that exposure that’s happening, you want to help your spouse have more connection too. Because that’s what they’re wanting.
And sometimes what happens is that the spouse hasn’t done all the reading you’ve done. Hasn’t gotten on the groups and read through the questions and answers and listened to the podcasts. They’re doing their job. They’re bringing in the money so that you can do what you need to do with the kids. And I think that it’s easier for us to kind of get swept away, that we totally get it, we’re all on down the road and they’re still way back here going, “Why are you still in your PJ’s?” Or, “What’d you learn today for godsakes?” (laughs)
And I think that if we can, instead of getting defensive – because that’s what happens, because you’re like – well remember, defensive comes because you didn’t get your foundation strong enough. So, if you feel defensive, know, “Oh, I need to read a little bit more about this.” Because it’s not necessarily what they have to say at all. Because you know how it is when somebody says something that is critical of a position you have, and you’ve already addressed that in your mind? It’s just like water off a duck’s back. It doesn’t even – you’re like, “Yeah yeah.”
Now it’s a little different when you’ve got a spouse. Because they get to have a say. Other people you’re like, “Sorry, no vote.” But he, or she, does get to have a vote. And so I think that recognizing, “I want to bring you on this journey with us. This is a blast! I want you to have fun too. So, I need you to understand.” What often happens is someone says, “So I handed him an article and he didn’t read it.” Or, “I told him the podcast and he’s never even opened it.” Okay. So go another way. There’s your data. (laughs)
PAM: Yeah, exactly.
SUE: Don’t keep going at it like that. That’s not the way. So, maybe the way is to send him texts throughout the day of something cool that happened. Or send him a text that, “I just heard the funniest conversation with our kid on Skype with this other kid, oh my gosh it was adorable.” Send it to him. Send him a picture of something they made, or talk to him about how they were able to do something, that they worked so hard for, and this is the same thing where they were throwing the remote across the room and they were mad and they can’t do it, and now they can do it. So, show them how they can persist. And if they’re still kind of in a school mindset, read some things out. Talk to them about story development. Talk to them about, “Oh my gosh I noticed that his texting isn’t all this phonetic spelling anymore like it used to be.” Explain to him – take the time to do it.
Because getting your spouse on board with this will make your life easier in the long run. It’ll make a joyful home. Find games that he or she likes to play with the kids, or things they like to do together, and make it available so that they can. Do the things that help them have a connection. Because just because you’ve been reading a whole lot about how important connection is, he necessarily hasn’t. So you just need to kind of, “I’m going to help you figure this out.”
And maybe you go out to eat with him, just them, and say, “Okay, I’m going to stop sending you articles. My new year’s resolution: No articles. No podcasts. Instead, I’m going to send you texts of real life that’s happening. Because if you could see what I can see, oh my gosh, you would love it.” And I think that when you really joyfully embrace it? They married you for a reason. There’s something there, or they’re sharing their parenting with you because they want to. And so, I think that if you can tap into that and talk about trusting each other, that they can trust that you are going to share those things that help with their connection. It’s like you need to toss them a lifeline, so that they can come back in and be more participating in what’s going on.
And so, I think sometimes it takes some deliberate effort on our part. And a lot of times people are like, “Well, he’s a grown up, he can go read it himself.” Yeah but, okay, so you want to draw the line in the sand there? Is that really where you want to draw it?
PAM: That’s the other thing too! Maybe the way we like to learn is reading, but maybe that’s not the way they like to learn, the way they pick up things. Meeting them where they are is so important. Maybe you’re going to be using schoolish-y words for a while, because if he’s in, or she, whoever is the less involved parent, maybe where they are is that they’re looking for learning that looks like school. So exactly, when you talked about, instead, if they don’t connect with reading about it or listening to conversations about it, or that kind of stuff, then yeah! Just dive into real life and just start showing them. You know what their questions are. The kinds of things that they are confused about in the moment. And you can pay attention to your lives and just point out little tidbits that will connect with what they’re thinking about or are concerned about right now.
Now, I took this question from the tack of the intentions of the less involved parent. But it ties just beautifully with what you were saying. Because I would encourage them to focus on being engaged with their children when they can. Like when they’re home. Finding ways to connect with them. So you were saying, the things that enjoy doing together. Encourage your kids, and encourage your spouse or partner, to do those things so that they’re hanging out with their kids more in a relaxed situation, because then they’ll get to know their kids better.
I would encourage the less involved person, parent, to really just focus on discovering who their kids really are. For now, try to get rid of that layer of expectation, and say, “For now, I’m just going to find out who they are, what they love, watch them in action, and play with them doing the things they like to do. And let’s just do that for a few months. That’ll be my focus for the next six months.” And just see who they are and see them in action.
And I think that will open their eyes so much, they’ll start to see all those pieces. And especially if the other parent, the more involved parent, is sending little texts here and there, because you’re getting the opportunity to hear about what they’ve been doing, and those little moments that you’re not seeing, right? And so being able to connect – because that parent is just trying to build a picture of the unschooling world that their kids are in, in their mind. Right now the only world that they have is the school world. And they see how learning happens in the school world. Chances are, they experienced that kind of learning. So, when they’re not there to see it completely, all the time, encouraging them or being encouraged to just hang out with their kids. Have fun with their kids. Back to that joy, right?
SUE: Right. Because I think a lot of people – the spouse that is away feels really separate, because like in our situation, the mom and the kids have become this unit.
PAM: Yes. Yes.
SUE: And I think that it’s really important for a family to make sure that everybody gets as pulled in as possible. And that’s probably going to take deliberate effort on the stay-at-home parent to get that happening.
PAM: Yeah. And you know what else I found really helpful at that time, too? Not only trying to find things that my husband and the kids enjoyed doing together, and encouraging them to do that – also, encouraging him to pursue the things that he was interested in. And not complaining about, “Oh, he’s going out golfing.” Or, “He’s going out…” whatever it is that they’re doing. That I realize, I used to complain about all the time they spent doing X, but now encouraging it and trying to bring joy into their life as well, so that they are enjoying their days too. Like their time, their free time. Because then they’re experiencing the same kind of environment that we’re trying to create for our children.
SUE: Right. And we can even sometimes say that occasionally. Not over and over, but say, like, “Isn’t this so cool when we get to direct our own course? When we get to have as much fun in our life as we feel like having?”
PAM: Yeah, yeah, no. Exactly. I love that.
Alright, last question. We often talk about how unschooling becomes a family lifestyle. One that doesn’t end when the children become adults. So how we approach our days once we’re officially not unschooling anymore doesn’t really change, does it? Because we’re always learning. We both said. We still hit new pockets. We’re still questioning things. We’re still always learning and growing.
So, I was curious what maybe a couple of your intentions are for 2019?
SUE: Well … which I normally don’t even think of until the last day of 2018.
PAM: That’s what New Year’s Eve is for.
SUE: But now I’m thinking of it ahead of time. And I actually do. I think what I really would like to do, so I’m actually going to say it, put it out in the universe, is I want to do – and this, I mean, it could backfire. We could be talking next year and you could be like, “Ohh.”
I want to do big family trips, like we did when they were little. I know that it’s hard to get away from work, and I know that it’s hard to get everybody’s schedules. But I want just three days. Three days that we can go somewhere big, all together, and do that like a couple times a year. A winter and a summer. That would just be so cool. And I don’t know. I’m going to talk to them about it when they all come, because we will all be coming together soon, tomorrow?
SUE: No, Wednesday. They come on Wednesday. And they come, and then more come on Sunday, and we’re doing our gift exchange on the morning of Christmas Eve. And so, we’ll have everybody. So, I’m going to approach the possibility of this, because this is my intention. Because what I want is to make sure we all stay connected. And it really takes deliberate effort when you’ve got all this kind of outside stuff. And there’s not—I have a decent sized house, but there’s starting to be not enough beds for everybody. And so I need to – anyway. So, that’s an intention that I have. That I want to do more travel with them. I did a lot of travel for conferences and stuff like that. I kind of want to do less of that. I want to just travel with my family and go see some cool places.
And then, for my business intention, I want to do more videos. I’m kind of just embracing the fact that I look like I look like, just go ahead and do it. Because I think that’s one of those things you kind of gotta get over. (laughs) And you know, Unschooling Mom 2 Mom has kind of shifted a little bit, and I had to take a little break because we had family stuff going on, and I think I would like to deal with it a little bit differently. Instead of for the past four years it’s like a constant barrage of questions and answers.
I think that I want to do some more video that could still help people figure out how to have this joyful happy life, and come on over, it’s not so bad. I just want them to be able to find that. So, I’m going to have an intention for doing video. You know, my intentions are always so action oriented. I’m such a problem solver, doer. Others have these lofty, love and peace, and I’m, “Okay! Here are the action steps!” (laughs) What are your intentions, Pam?
PAM: Well I mean, yeah, that seems like a little more action. Anyway, I guess there’s the one thing – I do like the trip idea, and what we’ve done –
SUE: Yeah because it’s connection. So my intention is connection.
PAM: Yes. Yes. And that goes great into mine. Like what we’ve done is we’ve planned a vacation like a year ahead, with the kids.
SUE: Right! Yeah! Takes some time!
PAM: So, we’ve already booked it for next November.
SUE: Where are you going?
PAM: We’re going to Florida. We have a time share there, but what we do is we go every other year now. That usually works well, so we can do a week at the time share and exchange and do like a week at the beach, or whatever. Because we had a lot of fun kayaking and hiking and biking and all that kind of stuff. We’re going to focus on that. But that way people can kind of work around it. They have many, many months to work and plan around.
SUE: It takes some effort.
PAM: And it’s the same old same old, but reminding myself – I wrote it as, “Pay attention to the dance of space and support.” Because the kids are all in their 20s, working, doing all those things, and it’s just wanting to make sure that I’m paying attention to when I can be helpful. Clues that they’re reaching out and maybe interested in some more information from me, where I can help and point things out, still bring things into their lives, and still react when they bring something into my life.
Not think, “Oh, I’m busy doing this, this, and this.” No, to make sure that I’m keeping that as a priority. And it’s not like an obligation priority or anything like that. This is who I want to be. I want to be the parent who is engaged. But also, that’s why I love the metaphor of the dance, because I also don’t want to be leading a lot of the time with expectation. Because they can feel that, they can know it, and then, when I have expectations, I just set myself up to be frustrated.
SUE: Right. It never goes like the story in your head, right?
PAM: Yeah. (laughs)
SUE: That’s what I’m thinking. I don’t know – these two big family vacations a year, I may be setting myself up.
PAM: But that’s what – I know you’ll walk into it feeling it out. Like you said, you’re going to bring it up, and you’re going to see, and it’s going to morph when you hear the feedback and what people say. So, that’s great. And so, I just want to make sure that I’m staying kind of on top of that dance. Because that’s an important part of the person that I want to be.
And then, my other intention is to try and make a little bit more room in my weeks for a couple of hobbies of my own. Things that I want to make some space and time for. So basically, I love thinking about time. And I don’t like saying, “I’m busy, I’m busy.” Because time is my choice. Time isn’t in control of me. It’s just my priorities and what I’m giving enough priority to take the time that I have. We all have the same amount of time, right? So for me, it’s just taking that time to prioritize some new things that I want to play around with. So there. (laughs)
SUE: What are your hobbies? I’m going to ask. I’m going to turn this on you.
PAM: Oh my gosh!
SUE: What are your hobbies you want to make time for?
PAM: Well, one of them is yoga.
PAM: I’ve enjoyed that very much over the years, but very, very, very sporadically. So I want to make that a more regular thing. And, jewelry making.
SUE: Oh! Fun.
PAM: Bracelets. I have like a thing for bracelets and earrings and things. I enjoy that.
SUE: And now you have your home, right there, ready for you. Dive in! I mean, I think I’m going to start getting up earlier. I think that’s my new intention. Every now and then I get up early, and it’s so pretty out, and it’s so quiet, and it just feels like –
PAM: I get up between 5:30 and 6:00 every morning.
SUE: I get up about 8:30 or 9:00. (laughs)
PAM: (laughs) I go to bed earlier than you, I bet! Sleep is very important to me.
SUE: Yeah. This has been fun.
PAM: Yes, it’s been lovely.
SUE: Always. Always!
PAM: Thank you so much, my dear, for taking the time.
SUE: And Happy New Year to everyone!
PAM: Yes! Happy New Year.
SUE: This is going to be on in 2019, right?
PAM: Yes, this will be the very first episode of 2019.
SUE: I should make sure I get a picture of a party hat that says Happy New Year.
PAM: There you go! (laughs)
Thanks so much Sue. I’ll have links to the stuff that we mentioned, and all the places that you can connect with Sue online. They’ll be all in the show notes.
SUE: That sounds great.
PAM: And Happy New Year everybody!
SUE: Happy New Year!
PAM: Have fun setting your intentions.
SUE: Bye y’all!