PAM: Welcome! I am Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I am here with Kirsten Fredericks. Hi Kirsten!
KIRSTEN: Hey Pam.
PAM: Hey. Just a little introduction; I have known Kirsten for many years; first online and then in person through lots of unschooling conferences and gatherings over the years. Her children are all now young adults and I am thrilled that she agreed to join me, to answer 10 questions about her unschooling experience. So, to get us started:
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
KIRSTEN: Well, lets see, so my husband’s name is Carl and I have three boys; Skyler, Aric, and Sawyer. My nephew also lives with us at this time, I think for the last four or five years. Their ages; Skyler is 22, Aric is 21, and Sawyer is 19. We live on a farm in upstate New York.
KIRSTEN: And yeah, so we raise beef cattle and pigs for pork, and it is just a small family farm and my husband also does construction work. I know I am talking about what we do, and I wear like five million hats.
PAM: Yes, literally, especially in this weather, right? So, what did your family’s move to unschooling look like? How did you discover it and how did that move go?
KIRSTEN: Well, we did start out in public schools. I had never even questioned the concept of public school. I thought it was the thing to do. Both of my parents were public school teachers. I went to college to become a public school teacher. Never really questioned it, you know. Questioned some teaching philosophies within the structure of school, but not school entirely.
Also, I didn’t know any homeschoolers and starting in first grade, my oldest Skyler was struggling a lot. It gets complicated but I would say the biggest thing was dealing with transitions, having to stop what he was in the middle of doing and move on to something else, and it was resulting in multiple meltdowns. Basically, I was on call at all times while they were in school. It was pretty awful. We spent two years there, which is how long it took me. I was fighting the whole idea of homeschooling because in my head at the time, I thought it was something just weird. So fringe that it is not something I would ever do.
And I really thought I could change the school system to fit Skyler. That did not work and it took me two years to really get that driven in. But the summer before he went into third grade, I started meeting some homeschoolers in the area, telling myself that this was my last resort, because I do not want to put him in a special school where they were talking about their restraint systems and things like that.
I just started that summer treating it as if I was homeschooling, to the best of my concept of what that would look like and for us, because I felt that keeping everything as fun as possible was the easiest way to do this, and the fewest battles. That looked like just going places. Tons of field trips, which you know, it is funny. I do not use the term anymore.
At the time, field trip was like, “Oh, you mean going out into the real world.” It is so funny to think of how then you would describe it as a field trip, something separate from learning. I do not even know what it would be. I did kind of encourage them to keep journals and there was definitely a certain amount of measuring going on that would not be considered unschooling.
Anyways, Skyler ran away from school, I think the second week of third grade and he was heading home. It was not funny at the time, but that was a Friday and I said, “I am keeping him home.” The other two said, “Well, if he is staying home, why can’t we?” And it was like, “Okay, here we go.”
So, it started out mostly as, let’s just relax from this perpetual state of crisis we have been in, and try to calm down from that, for starters. For us that was the beginning of our deschooling; it was just recovery.
PAM: Yeah, that sounds very familiar; I went through that whole stage too, of working with the teachers and they were trying too, for the most part, you know. It was so dependent on what teacher you got too, right.
KIRSTEN: Everyone was trying very hard but it was as if certain perspectives were so ingrained, and I understand that, but I just could not get through on a number of things.
PAM: Yeah, and it just was not worth…I was going to say, “Their soul,” you know, because it really was about breaking them to fit in. That was ultimately what had to be done and I remember the principal after I took him out, we tried a private school that last year. Because I still at this point had never even heard of homeschooling yet. And the principal had said to me later, because my other two kids were still at that school, so I still saw her, and she was like, “It is great that you can do that, because we were not going to be able to help him here, you know, create an environment that is good for him here.”
And then, I found homeschooling, because the other environment was better, but it still was not great, right. There was this moment, where it is like, “Oh, okay, this just is not going to work.” Realizing that, ‘Oh, I guess we are here.’ Then meeting that whole, let’s just relax and get through that crisis mode really.
It was like an extended crisis, because like you said, you were always on call, waiting for when they were going to call. That was why I ended up leaving work and staying home, even before I discovered homeschooling, because it was just so much, you know. Getting the call at work or whatever wasn’t working. I wanted to be putting my time into this, my kids.
KIRSTEN: I mean, the whole journey taught me so much. It was necessary for us to take all those steps and break all of those little barriers, understanding more and more of what the kids needed, what we needed. Just learning to question things and learning to question authority and start trusting my own gut feeling and trusting my kids. That trust, it has been the best thing and the hardest thing.
PAM: Yeah, exactly, all of these are such important steps for us on our journey. So once you guys were home and you had a little bit of time to move past some of that trauma and stress that was built out of that.
Over the next couple of years, as you were doing the bulk of your deschooling, what did you find to be the most challenging aspect of that, do you think?
KIRSTEN: I think I continued to struggle to let go of some really strong opinions I had about things like TV and video games and screen time, in general, to broaden that out. It took awhile to get rid of having schooly ideas of what had value and what did not have value. You know, categorizing, well this is playtime and this is learning time, not understanding that it was happening at the same time.
So those things, and also a lot of it for me, because we had been in the school system, so all of our friends, again, I did not know a lot of homeschoolers, and even when I started reaching out to a wider online community, Locally and in person, and anyways, so I felt a little bit like I was inventing the wheel, when I definitely was not.
It just took awhile to realize all of the resources that were out there. There was another point there that I was worrying about what other people thought. My mother lived with us at the time, and she is a passionate public school teacher and she loved school, she loved being in school, she loved being a student, she loved the whole structure of it. All of these things worked great for her. So I found myself feeling supervised or judged, and some of that came from myself. So that was challenging for sure, to just be like, okay, I am going to do this, and I am going to try not to worry what you think of me.
PAM: Was that a conversation that you had with her all the time, because I know a few people have found themselves in that situation and I bet they are curious.
KIRSTEN: I am not certain that it did, at this moment, because we are talking a long time ago now. I am sure that we had the conversation in bits and pieces, multiple times.
The interesting thing, even though she still loves her methods of teaching and all of that, but at the time she was in her last few years of teaching, and she ended up retiring early, largely because the spectrum within the public schools had gone so far to standardized testing. That idea of teaching to the test, and that was not her method. She was just watching us doing what we were doing, and seeing the benefits. So in a lot of ways, she gave up and chose to retire early because she could not deal with it anymore and she was fully aware that she could not bring some of these ideas into the school system at that point.
PAM: That is so interesting.
KIRSTEN: Yeah, I was worried about her judgement but in a lot of ways she just learned so much from it.
PAM: And it is amazing when we look back and we realize how much of it was our journey to take, right?
KIRSTEN: Yes, absolutely.
PAM: Yeah, because when you are in the thick of it, especially near the beginning, it feels like you know, we want to educate others, and get them to see our point of view, and try to convince them. Then later we realize we were kind of trying to convince them, because it was part of convincing us, because if we can get someone else to agree and understand, then it was a little less responsibility for us to take on. Like you were saying before, how we feel like we are inventing this wheel and we are going against everything.
KIRSTEN: Yeah, and it was a huge weight of responsibility, just this thought, ‘Wow, now I am in charge of…’
KIRSTEN: Basically everything. Not just their preschool formative years, but also their entire schooling formative years and yeah, it was a scary thing.
PAM: So along this way, as you were working through all of this stuff, and with your mom,
I would like to hear a little bit about your husbands’ journey and how you kind of worked through that. How did you help him learn what you were learning and how did he come along for the ride?
KIRSTEN: He was a first-hand witness to the struggles that we were dealing with in pubic school, so there was no need to convince him that it was not working. That was very clear to him and he could immediately see that his children were happier. And at first, that was really all that freaking mattered to us, at all, that was pretty much everything.
And I think he had concerns about my abilities to teach, because in the beginning we were still thinking homeschool, not unschool. But I think the fact that I had a degree in teaching, kind of pacified him there a bit, and when he was witnessing the amount of research I was doing and throwing myself into it, I think that helped a lot too. He also struggled a great deal in school, so he could relate to what was wrong with school to an extent. So I think the hardest part was some of the doubts, some of the need to be like, “Shouldn’t they be doing X, Y, Z by now?” or “What did you do today?” We were both separating what did you do today that was learning? What of this had value?
PAM: You guys were still separating out what was learning from other things that you were doing. You were still looking for learning to kind of look the way you were expecting it to through schoolish eyes, right?
KIRSTEN: Yes, and he would be working all day and I would be home, and I think what was hard for me was to translate the moments that I felt could only be understood while witnessing them. It was hard to translate that into some sort of report of what our kids learned today and what progress was made or anything.
So as a couple, we had to come to this, “I need you to trust me,” point. I am seeing it. I am seeing things getting better and better. I would keep sharing things about unschooling, because as I was discovering that, it was becoming more and more the direction I was going, and realizing how right it felt.
But I do feel like he struggled with it a little bit more, but mostly because he was having to trust that I was handling it, and not able to witness it every day, you know? And also, he was not doing the reading, he was not doing the research, so I was sharing it with him, and again, that became trusting me to do it.
But I think he definitely reached the point where he was able to see the differences in how his kids were handling things and how other people’s kids were handling things, and not in a, ‘This kid is smarter or this kid is more advanced,’ but just happier. It is the hugest thing.
PAM: Yeah, just the way they approach their days. I think they eventually gain more experience just being with their kids and as they get older, like you said, you see, as you mentioned, it is not a comparison of smart or not smart, smarter, any of that kind of stuff, it is just really, I think, how they approach their days, their attitude, even their excitement with life in general.
KIRSTEN: The amount of self-motivation there is and their understanding of themselves and what they love and what they do not love, and what they want and what they do not want to do and virtually, in comparison to what I went through, I feel like they are practically peer-pressure proof.
PAM: Yeah, that is a great way to put it.
KIRSTEN: Yeah, and I do not think that is necessarily true for every child that is unschooled. I am not saying that is completely about unschooling, but it sure helped.
PAM: Yeah, I was going to say, it helps, right.
Absolutely, there are no guarantees, we are all individuals, but in general that has been a help because they are given that time and the support to make their own choices, learn from their choices. They become more self-aware just by the fact that they are making choices, because if you have the openness and the responsibility to make those choices, you are going to want to make good ones, for yourself, right?
So it is like, ‘Oh do I really want to do this?’ You are going to ask yourself those questions that a lot of other kids do not get the opportunity to ask themselves. They are only just expected to do what they are told to do, right, rather than figuring out for themselves what they would like to do.
KIRSTEN: Yes, absolutely.
PAM: And just to mention that we did a little change and now Kirsten is inside and hopefully this will work a little bit better, because now she is plugged in, which is awesome. So, we will go to the next question. As I mentioned earlier, I have known you for many years and I loved watching how you dived in to fully support your children’s diverse interests and their passions. As I thought about it over the years, I think that is something that parents can sometimes struggle with.
That if their child is passionate about something, that they need to really encourage their child to take care of all aspects of it from the get go, or else they are really not as passionate as they say about it. They feel it is moment that they need to teach them responsibility, right. Teach that if you really want this thing, you need to take care of all aspects of it. That has not really been my experience over the years and I would love to hear your perspective on that.
KIRSTEN: Okay, well, I agree with that experience, even the word ‘passion’ which is used a lot, but I do not know if I use it the same way that some other people do, because I feel like passions can be very temporary. So, what I found with my kids a good amount of the time is that they would jump from passion to passion and I do not think really where the question was going, but…
PAM: That is okay; take it!
KIRSTEN: Okay, yeah, so I guess for me, the way I saw it was truly my job to help facilitate what their interest were, and as an unschooling mom, if I was ascribing to this belief that the learning was where their joy is, and the learning is where their interests are, that was right there, they just set the curriculum for me.
I was still thinking in those terms. So, I also felt that they can be passionate about certain aspects of things, without being passionate about the rest. Why should a child have to handle, let’s say, the business side of their music career, just because they love making music, when we would not even do that to an adult?
If most adults had the choice, they would delegate a good portion of their career to others. The parts that are not their strengths, possibly, or that they are not ready for. So, it just seemed kind of like an obvious thing for me, at the time. What I learned is that I actually love supporting other people’s passions, it is a passion of mine. I just really enjoy doing it. I love looking for solutions. I love looking for, you know, possibilities and opportunities to try things.
I am trying to think of decent examples, but for Sawyer, with his music, I mean, it was clear that music was a passion and a talent for him, but more importantly it was something that he loved doing, and he simply loved to sing, so for me, it was, well how can I help. I do not know how to explain it now.
He struggled most with some insecurities at first, that his singing was not good enough, that his guitar playing was not good enough and he had a hard time seeing his own abilities, I think, or trusting in them, and so that was where I focused my work. Trying to surround him with a supportive environment, with people that helped him see that he was actually a really good singer and that people wanted to hear him sing, and that when he did sing for others, it had an amazing effect on them. So it took him awhile but …I feel like I am just not hitting this question right at all.
PAM: But I think that is such a great point, though. There was so much in there that I would grab onto, because there is that point of creating that environment for them, but to expect that we can tell our kids that they are good at something, right. It is something that they need to come to on their own, and that is the other point too, I think when you are living in the real world, everybody has their own expectations of themselves, their own goals, their own aspirations, right.
I seem to remember even having this conversation around reading. That a lot of unschooled kids do not go around saying, “I can read,” until they are reading adult level books, because that is just reading in the world, right. It is not, “I can read because I can read this grade one reader, that has a certain set or words, vocabulary that it draws from, etc.” So, it is a whole different thing, and it is about supporting them and helping them explore, like when you are talking about these anxieties, you are helping them explore their passion or their interests, or what it is that they are interested in doing, in a safe environment so that they can keep exploring it, because it is what they want to do, even if they are uncomfortable about aspects of it.
Even if they do not, in their eyes think they are good. I can see why you are struggling with the words. It is hard to explain, but it is such a different way to approach it, isn’t it?
It is an understanding that okay, I do not need to convince you that you are good at these things so that you can not be anxious or you can relax and just do them. It is about continuing to create an environment for them where they are comfortable trying all of those other things.
Like, I remember many years ago, you and I connected over this, because I was helping Lissy with her photography, and you were helping Sawyer with his music. We were connecting over the fact that there were lots of different aspects that we enjoyed handling for them, to create an environment where they could dive into the stuff that they loved.
Because you had a great point that adults, if there is stuff that we do not like doing, but we want to have done, we hire people to do that for us, or we ask other people to help. Why is it bad for a child to ask their parent to help them with aspects X and Y because they do not enjoy them, but they want to get there, they want to do this thing, but they do not want to do THIS little thing over there.
It is okay for them to ask their parents. It is, again, why would it be okay for an adult, but not okay for a kid to ask for that help, right?
KIRSTEN: And it goes with “Have to,” there is this mentality that I am not teaching him about the ENTIRE reality of being a musician for the rest of his life if I do not show him the struggles of booking shows, or whatever it is. Like, no you meet them where they are at right then. So at that point, for him, it was all right, can I take a video of you singing this song that you are playing in the kitchen, and it was okay, but only with the lights off. So then, to play that back for him, and he was like, “Oh that is pretty good,” and then get his permission to put it on YouTube and get feedback from our friends and family, because it was not like he was famous or anything. So that feedback at the time, it encouraged him to go further and if it had not, that was okay too.
PAM: Exactly, right? You are just helping them explore.
KIRSTEN: Helping them explore is the right thing. It is not like I did the right thing and I cured him of his anxiety, no, I tried something.
PAM: Yeah, exactly.
KIRSTEN: It happened to take him in the direction that was right for him.
PAM: And the feedback from that would have helped you take another step, whether it was in the same direction or a little bit different. That is when we talk about facilitating and exploring interests and passions, you know, whatever you call them, that is what we are talking about. It is not like we have a set end goal in mind and we are trying to help them get to that end goal.
KIRSTEN: Yeah, I don’t have this agenda. He likes to sing—well that locks him in, he has to be a musician and a singer and a performer. It’s not like that. Because he is, whatever he was at the time, 11 and so it looks like we did this amazing path, looking back, and we did, it was awesome. But the path was not ordained.
PAM: Exactly, that is it. That is what I love. That is the amazing thing about unschooling, when you look back, you can see the thread, and the path to where you got to, like, where you are right now, you can see how you got there, but you cannot look forward.
Other than in this moment asking what are my aspirations, my goals right now? Because they just help inform what direction you are going to take that very next step. Because then you learn something new and you are in a whole new place. That self-awareness is right there and that helps you take that next step in whatever direction.
That is another thing too, that is part of our deschooling right. Is to not to take on those things as our own. So often we have talked on the podcast about how, if our child is interested in something, we can all of a sudden get all excited about it and kind of take it over with our energy and where we think it should go. So, it is part of that processing to completely be able to separate ourselves and realize we are just helping them. It has nothing to do with how we see ourselves as a parent or how, we feel judged by other people around us, etc. And that is not always easy to do.
KIRSTEN: It is hard not to start to become vested personally in these activities, because they become your own passions. Like, I still follow him, but yes, if he decided, “Okay, I am not going to perform anymore and I am done with this whole thing, this life is not for me,” I would need to process that for myself, because it has become so much part of my life. That does not mean I would judge him, or stop him in any way, right? But to be completely honest, it would be something that I would have to move through on my own as well, you know.
PAM: Absolutely, and that is the thing about, well, we are calling it unschooling, but it is a way of life now, right. Things are always going to grow and change, and we always need to process and figure out where we sit in everything. Those will be big changes, and you know, I suspect that, because we are aware, it probably would not be a 90-degree angle change. You would probably get some clues along the way that he was starting to change. It is the same with any of our children’s interests, our husbands, good friends, whatever. People that you are strongly connected to, you are going to get these clues when people are starting to lose interest or not being happy with those kinds of directions and we are probably not going to be blindsided by big turns. We are going to see little steps along the way.
KIRSTEN: Right, and because that has been become a habit, a life skill for all of us, to kind of keep taking stock in where we are at, and whether everything is okay. Are there aspects of my life right now that I could change and it would make things just a little better?
Little things, like being Sawyer’s manager, we have had to gauge his off-time in the sense that I used to just get excited about something that would come up in an email and I would just walk up to him where ever he was and be like, “Hey, guess what!” and it was hurting things. Because he did not have, necessarily the same excitement about the same kinds of things, first of all, but also, I was interrupting his off time.
His manager lived in his house, and would just find him in any room. So you know, we were like, well that is not working, then it was like, okay, if it is work related, text me. Okay, but then we discovered, once we tried that for a while, and it was like, no, texting is still a bit intrusive. Yeah, so it was like okay, anything that can wait, you email, and then if there is something urgent, you say, “Hey, I need you to check this out within the next hour when you have the chance,” or whatever it was, and so there are just little ways that we have tried to modify things.
PAM: Tried to figure out a way to make it work for everybody, right?
KIRSTEN: To make it work for everyone because I am also his mom, so you know, the relationships sometimes did not work well together. The manager relationship and the mom relationship.
PAM: But yeah, and those are the kinds of conversations that you have, because it comes up, because you are living together, right.
KIRSTEN: And you are looking for them, you are paying attention and notice if he is not happy, you know what I mean? And so I do not think we would ever get to the point where he would be completely out of the blue, “I am quitting music” or something like that, for example, because there would be so many little…
PAM: …little steps. Exactly.
KIRSTEN: Frankly, like, I feel like he would work on, he would not jump to that the way someone else might maybe if they felt so trapped in a situation that they had to give up everything in order to be happy.
PAM: To make a change.
KIRSTEN: Yeah. I do not think he would come to that conclusion. He knows he is not trapped.
PAM: Exactly. That is such a great point, you know, because so often when people feel the need that they have to make a big change, it is because of that exactly. They felt trapped where they are, and they do not see any way out except to blow everything up and start again.
PAM: Yes, well that is cool.
All right, so what has surprised you most about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives?
KIRSTEN: I think there are a number of things, but I feel like one of the biggest surprises was how much it helped my husband and I in our life choices. Going into it, it was all about doing this for the kids and this is about them. See the problem with that is thinking that this is during their schooling years, so realize that unschooling is just living, that it is not just during the school years or whatever.
Anyway, we just found that the principles of it related to us as well, which was a surprise because we thought of it as an education thing, and we are not in school anymore. But I mean, even just moving to the farm, that was just a couple of years after we had started unschooling and applying the principles of unschooling, of following your passions and addressing your issues where you are not happy was really what brought us here.
Carl was struggling and to realize that I could give him the same gift, that we could give ourselves the same gift that we were doing for our children and that it applied to everyone. I think that was a huge surprise at the time.
PAM: That is beautiful. So we did the same thing, we ended up moving a couple of years after we started unschooling as well, because I do not know what it is, because you just discover you have so much more choice in your life than you thought.
KIRSTEN: You realize you have choices and nothing is “Have to.”
PAM: I know, right?
KIRSTEN: That whole “Have to” thing, I rebel against that, and as soon as someone would say, “I have to,” in a “Uuugggh,” lamenting sort of way, it would be like, “Well, wait a minute, do you?” Wait, no we do not have to. How can we make it work so that you do not have to?
PAM: Yeah, it just opens up the whole world.
Can you talk about your journey from control to trust in your relationships with your children?
Because I think is a big one for people, you know, it is challenging because it is so against what we grew up with right? When things became hard, we reached for more control, our parents reached for more control. It is the tool that we know, whenever we feel a little afraid or worried, or anything, it is, “Okay, we need to get things more under control,” so that journey to trust will be a challenge.
KIRSTEN: Yeah, and it definitely was a challenge, and it is not a constant challenge, it just kind of rears its head every once in awhile.
PAM: In those moments, right?
KIRSTEN: Like, through the journey.
I am trying to think of an example but it usually has to do with fear and trust and this idea that what I do not like about what is happening right now is always going to be that way.
PAM: Yeah! Right?
KIRSTEN: And getting stuck in that fear, you know, forgetting to trust. So most of the time when I would get in those types of situations where I found myself asserting more control than people were happy with, there is usually a pretty clear reaction that this is not working. So, I might have tried something that was kind of knee jerk reaction or something that was an old tool, just because in the moment I just could not think of anything else or something like that, but the thing is that it never really worked.
So, most of those times we basically needed to step back from the moment and I would talk to friends. I would talk to you. I would talk to other people in our unschooling group, because sometimes I would find myself stuck and not able to see it from my child’s perspective. As much as I thought I knew their perspective, and as much as I thought I progressed, I would still get stuck in something and it almost always helped, first of all, to ask other unschoolers, because we have all been through it, and it was amazing to me, just how people could help explain a perspective that I was like, “Oooohhhhh.”
PAM: I had not thought of that.
KIRSTEN: Yeah, and you know, once you hear it, like what is right for you, you recognize it. And then it is, “Oh, okay, that feels true to me, that feels right.” And then you would try that. And another thing was, one of our struggles when the kids were younger, was just sibling conflict, fighting, arguments over different things, like gaming or you name it.
They are three young boys close in age and sometimes, even though I could get to the point where no one is hurting each other anymore, we are good there, and everyone is doing their own thing and trying to calm down, but we are still mad and we have not found a solution and it feels like we never ever will. Sometimes, I would just go outside, I would just remove myself for the moment and remind myself that every other time I have been in this position where it felt like there was no answer, just wait and it will come. Just have faith that the solutions will present themselves.
And I think just believing that, and that is where the trust is. Just believing that a solution would come about allowed me to see them. Allowed us to see the solution. Allowed everyone to say, “Okay, well, we have figured out something that is going to work for now.”
That was also a really easy thing for us, to think this might not be the perfect solution, but it is the closest we can think of right now. So, let’s do this one now, and we all agree that if it still does not work, we are back to talking about it. And that just kind of said, “Hey we are all still listening and everybody’s opinion is valid and important.”
PAM: Yeah, I love that. I do. That is the whole thing about trust. That was something that helped me to was remembering previous times when it worked out. I could always tell later, you know, the looking back thing, when I was holding on really tight to something, because it was always when it got to the point where I could not wait any longer, and it was always just beyond that.
I just had to wait that extra time. It was like, I cannot wait any longer but I could not think of what to do, and so often the next moment, the next couple of days, it just came. So, that was that patience, that trust. It is like, even if I cannot see a way forward, in my experience. We talked about this a few episodes ago, I think buying confidence, or trust from other people, you know, because when you are first learning about unschooling and people tell you these things, you think, that sounds good, but you do not have the personal experience, right. So at first, you are kind of doing some things or trying some things out because you have heard about it and it made sense but it was still new for you. But after awhile, you gain that experience yourself and then it is remembering those moments. I try to remember, “Okay, remember how you saw no way forward, yet you were able to wait a bit, relax, chat with everybody, and they came up with this super cool way that I could not even have thought of if I tried to control them and tried to tell them what to do?”
This is even better. This trust and this working together, and remembering that, and then using that. My trust, each time as we move forward, when we came into these situations, because you know, we talked so much about how you do not choose unschooling because you think you are going to get a perfect life.
Because when you first read about it, it kind of sounds like a perfect life right, because of where you are right now. Where we found ourselves, this was so much better, looking back. This is really life, but the great thing is that these are not obstacles that we are putting in our own path. Now it is just life and navigating life and our growing self-awareness and really understanding how much choice we have in our lives, it becomes a whole lifestyle, doesn’t it?
KIRSTEN: It does, it really does. And another part of the whole control thing, the boys were coming from the public school system where behavior modification was definitely everything, like it was rewarding and punishing. You reward the behaviors you want to see, punish the ones you do not want to see and what I learned was…oh shoot, I am losing it, because I really wanted to talk about this…
PAM: Control, behavior modification…
KIRSTEN: Control and behavior mod…oh, okay, so for example I learned early on that what other people would see as rewarding poor behavior, for me, was no, we are shifting to a place where everyone can come down from the challenges and the crises and the pain of what we were just going through.
So, let us say there was a big argument and one kid broke another kid’s toy, just really random. Okay, so everyone is furious at everyone, everyone is upset. The one who broke it is upset for whatever he was upset about. The one who has got their toy broke is miserable and I do not have a solution right now. Right at this moment and everyone is too mad to even think about it. So, I often would change gears and literally just look for something that was like, “Alright, right now, this sucks. Let us do something else for a little bit,” like maybe it was watch a favorite show or go outside, be around water.
You know, depending on the age, whatever it was that I knew was a really neutral, positive environment that we could shift to and then come back to it later, and say, “Hey, so everyone is feeling better now, but earlier today Skyler broke Aric’s toy, and we should talk about why he was upset but we also need to talk about how Aric really feels it is unfair that Skyler broke his toy and what can Skyler do to offer a kind of restitution for it.” That was usually how we approached things like that. It was not punishment, and I left it up to them to come up with what was considered fair.
PAM: I think that is another point, that “fair” piece is something that was a big ah-ha moment for me, because it was not my situation, right. And what I would think of as a fair way to resolve it, was irrelevant, really. Growing up, so much of what was fair was equal, which really is not fair, because we are all different people. Sure if they were all robots, equal would be fair, but it’s up to them and what feels fair to them, right? And so that is what supporting them, just helping them figure out what works for them to move through a situation is so much more valuable.
KIRSTEN: And I think that also remembering that for us, adding punishment instead of restitution simply added to the trauma of it all, to an extent. Aric certainly did not want, not once he had calmed down, he did not want to see me go and break Skyler’s toy, “Okay, now you are equal.” You know, or worse, if a family said we are going to spank you, or it is a time-out or you have lost your privilege to do x, y, z, now. It does not solve the problem; one is not related to the other at all. So yeah, what we were raised with, what was considered completely normal, perfectly good parenting, didn’t work for me.
There was one day when Skyler was still in school and he had had a meltdown during the day and it was a hard day for him and you know, he ended up coming home for half the day and he had soccer that day, and he loved soccer. And the school psychiatrist at the time questioned my choice to still take him to soccer because she felt I was rewarding his poor behavior in school.
And that is a common perspective and I was like, “No, I am recognizing that poor behavior was coming from a very difficult, horrible experience for him as well,” or what they called poor behavior. He was having an awful day, why should I make more of his day awful. The whole concept of punishment, how would that help? “Now you cannot go to soccer,” great now I have a kid that is dealing with even more disappointment, who has had a horrible day, and does not get to address the issues at all that caused his horrible day. And to not chose something that could make his horrible day better. I do not understand it but that is the normal reaction to struggles.
PAM: I know. They just pile on more struggles. You are struggling with something? Let’s make it worse. It is like, they just make it so bad that they think they won’t act that way again.
KIRSTEN: “You do not deserve to be happy this evening,” you are not worthy of it? Like what message am I handing him?
PAM: Yes. On to the next question:
What have you come to value most about your unschooling lifestyle over the years?
KIRSTEN: Mm gosh, we have talked about so much of it really.
Number one, my relationships with my kids, absolutely. Like the connection that is there, that feels so authentic and comfortable and good, so that is huge. Then everything that it has taught me about the choices I have in life and how much more freedom is really there than I might have thought and how these choices, solutions apply to every aspect of our lives.
So yeah, it is just everything. It is our way of life now, I do not think of it as unschooling as much anymore, just because it is living, this is what we do.
PAM: This is how we live our life, and speaking of which, this leads greatly into the next question here, so as our children get older, talking about more conventional messages, the conventional message is loud and clear that kids need to move out of the house to prove that they are not failures at life, right?
You have older kids living in your family home, and I do to, and they are definitely not failing at life by any stretch of the imagination. So, I just thought I would ask your thoughts around that one.
KIRSTEN: Yeah, first of all, I think that the whole pressure to move out is a huge societal invention. To get real political, it is consumerism, it is capitalism, it is this concept that we need to sell more houses and everyone needs their own washing machine. Like, maybe it is because we have been in a little bit of a recession for awhile now, that I see the value, even from a practical sense of being home, having everyone home and having an extended family within the home. I feel like it is nothing new either.
This is a much older way of living, it makes total sense on a farm, and lord knows having four grown young adults at home is a huge help. I do not in any way resent them being home, like not even the tiniest bit. If anything they are doing me a favor. But also, I love having them, and we just do not even think of it that way.
Sawyer is looking at apartments right now, and that was like, “Oh my gosh, okay wow…alright,” but it is going to be kind of an adjustment for me as a mom, but not in the sense that that is a mistake, or he is making more mature choice. I am not comparing, okay he is moving out, but Skyler and Aric are staying and he is the youngest. It doesn’t make him more successful, it is simply that right now he has a girlfriend and our house is not really structured that well for privacy, you know. They are all very logistical decisions, and not sure, you know, the principle of what magic age you need to be independent.
PAM: Exactly, you know, I think that is the thing, is these are real choices, right. They are not because I am expected to do this, they are not expectations that I have to prove or I have to do something, or anybody has an expectation.
KIRSTEN: An example, like college or whatever it is that society has said this is, you know…Sawyer gets that all the time from some of his older fans, “Do not forget school, when are you going to college?” and it cracks us up every single time, because I am just like, he might choose to take classes or learn a lot more in a certain area at some point, but are you actually questioning his choices right now? And the amount of learning is of value of what he is doing right now, this is his education, this is it.
KIRSTEN: But if we phrase it differently and we say, “Oh, he’s doing an internship or…you know.
PAM: Well yeah. I mean, I remember at first, because that was it, it was a real choice and a good choice for Lissy. She basically moved out when she was 18, and she moved to another country for crying out loud. But that is how we ended up kind of phrasing it too, for the more conventionally minded around us, it was instead of paying for college, you know, using that money for a visa so that she can still learn, we did that intern comparison, right.
KIRSTEN: You do not have to justify it to some people, for us it is so ingrained that we can just laugh at the absurdity of it.
PAM: We all knew what great thing it was for her, you know, it was not a choice between one thing or another. It was a choice between them only in that they have the choice to do what they want to do, right? And they know that choice is there, but this is where they are fully engaged right now. This is what they are enjoying it and that is when they are learning so much about it.
Back to what we were saying earlier, you cannot convince other people. And then you eventually come to realize that the need to convince other people is your issue to deal with. But you can frame things for other people so that they understand them, so there is nothing wrong with making that intern comparison for them, because it gets them to the same comfortable place that we are. And it is just through the lens that they understand things, right.
KIRSTEN: It is still true, it is just a different language, and it is a different way of seeing themselves.
PAM: Exactly. Okay, question number 10 Kirsten!
KIRSTEN: Oh boy…
Looking back, what has been the most valuable outcome from choosing unschooling as a lifestyle and continuing to live that lifestyle now?
KIRSTEN: Yeah, I think for me personally, I think that it has helped me with a number of things. I am prone to anxiety and anxiety is often an emotional thing that affects you, but the reassurance that there will always be a choice, and I am sure that if I learn more about this, and I will find the solution and also the trust in letting things be for a little while. Even seeing the value of identifying the problem and letting it be like, okay, I have identified it, now I can take a break because that was hard.
But you know, trust is the biggest word. It is the biggest thing that I have learned from unschooling. And whenever I do find myself really struggling, sometimes I can get back to that place by myself, but I have a really great group of friends that know—they just go, “Oh yeah, so you need to trust, right?” and I will be like, “Oh yeah, that’s it.”
And it’s not saying I am going to trust that all of this will be made better for me, magically. I’m trusting that certain people will come into my life, little situations. I’m going to catch something on Facebook that connects with what I’m going through. I trust my ability to do research and to listen to my gut about what is right for me. I think that’s a huge thing. And my kids do it. It’s beautiful to watch them because they know themselves so well, and they don’t have these kinds of doubts that I am prone to.
PAM: I love that, I love that piece because I have noticed that too, and it is always like I feel a pressure that I need to solve something quick and remember looking at my kids and seeing that we can trust this and give it the time that it needs. Does it need to be solved now? Because to me that is where the fear and the worry comes in. “I need the solution, I need to get to *here*, I need to solve this by X time.” To be able to sit with that discomfort and trust that things is so important.
I used to say trust that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if I cannot see it yet. But now, when I am stuck in worry and swirling, it is like, ‘Oh, I can trust that there is a light there even when I do not see it right now.’ I love that, that is such a great piece, and I really love seeing that my kids have gotten to that point too, because it is just so fun to watch them, isn’t it? They do not get so stressed and worked up about it.
KIRSTEN: They really do not. Things are very much in the moment, it is amazing. I am blanking now and I just had an example I wanted to share, but okay, that is how my brain…
PAM: Trust is awesome.
KIRSTEN: Trust is awesome, so many questions that they have got like, what are your plans for this, or what are your plans for that? You know, people will ask Sawyer, you know, funny ones like, “So do you want to do music as a career?” like while he literally was earning money doing music. Because he was young, it did not count as a career yet, or something. I do not know what it is, but it was the whole, “Well, he is. He actually IS doing that NOW.”
Now is he going to want to do it later? And the thing is, Sawyer would always be like, “I do not know.” He would say, “I am sure I will always have music be a part of my life but I am not worried about whether it is my career or not, because there are other ways to make money. There are other things I will enjoy doing, but music will always be there.” But the thing is, that would be the answer he would give, but the truth was, it was more like, “Why? Why do I need to know that? Why do I need to know that now?”
PAM: Yeah, why do I need to presuppose what the next 40 years of my life is going to be, right?
KIRSTEN: Right, that is a strange question, this is what I am doing now, is that not what matters?
PAM: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today Kirsten, and it was so much fun, I really appreciate it.”
KIRSTEN: Thank you so much for asking me to do this, it was really fun to look back through the years and the progress and the journey.
PAM: I know, right. Because I bet for years it has just been living life, so to think back on how you got to unschooling, that is a bit different.
KIRSTEN: It is a really great reminder of the choices, I am just really happy about the choices we made.
PAM: That is awesome; thank you so much and have a wonderful day!
KIRSTEN: You too!
PAM: Thank you!