PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and this week Anna Brown joins me to answer some questions from you guys. Hi Anna!
PAM: So, would you like to get us started?
ANNA: Sure. So, our first question is from a listener in Italy and he writes:
We are an Italian family here in Italy. Unschooling is almost unknown and very few families practice it. Last year my older son, now 11, did his first unschooling year. It was successful. He found out his passion for wood crafts and enjoyed free time.
Last September our second child, six, was ready for the first grade. We are going to unschool both of them and I, the father, was the one taking the daily responsibilities for this family choice. I felt overwhelmed to have to handle not one but two children of different ages at the same time. Having to work when they ask for children to play with, we decided to move and live where there was a solution for them. The older one is now attending two days per week a private educational project founded and managed buy some parents, including me.
My question is how can you handle two or more children unschooling? So much is required.”
ANNA: I know it can seem like a lot when we have multiple children and competing needs but I think it doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it out to be.
I feel like when somebody is feeling overwhelmed it may mean that they’re putting a lot of pressure on themselves as opposed to working together as a family to lighten that load. You know having conversations together, expressing needs- it’s a learned skill and it builds a foundation that makes day-to-day living easier.
So, I don’t know exactly what the struggles are in this particular situation but anytime you take three people you’re going to have a variety of needs being expressed. But when the three of you can work together, finding out what each person wants to do and then figuring out ways to make that happen, it’s just so much easier than all of that falling to the parent to solve.
It can be simple things like Dad needs to work in the morning and one child wants to go to the park and the other wants to see a friend. You can talk about that together, how that can play out for the day. Maybe one child sees his friend in the morning while the dad’s working and the other child is playing games, hanging out and then you guys go to the park when you’re done. Obviously, that’s an oversimplified example, not knowing the exact issues but basically if you look at these as opportunities of building those skills of negotiation you can see how valuable they are for everyone, including adults because in business and our personal life they’re so important.
Basically, in all aspects of our adult life we take other people’s needs into account. I feel like knowing how to fit that together just puts us in a great position for solving work problems and having meaningful interpersonal relationships. I think when we view children as subordinates that need directing we can lose sight of the gifts that come from really working together. The greatest gift from that is engaged, connected, interested people that we can live and navigate the world with.
So, think of it as investing your time in learning those skills together of listening, expressing needs and problem-solving and the more you work together I think you’ll find the easier it becomes. When you get overwhelmed just step back and think, ‘We can solve this together.’ My belief is there’s always a solution and if we keep turning it around we’re going to find it. Pam?
PAM: Yeah, I love that focus on the working together piece because when you feel like it’s all on you to figure things out, that’s when it can really start to feel overwhelming. I did want to mention, because you said that you guys live in Italy there is a website for information about homeschooling and unschooling in Italy. It’s controscuola.it so I will put the link to that in the show notes so that might help as well to get some more information, maybe some more connections.
A couple of things came to mind for me: first, you mentioned that so much is required and then it feels overwhelming, it’s not really about the time itself, because we all have the same amount of time, but it’s really about our priorities.
It’s true, when we have chosen the unschooling lifestyle for our family, we are choosing to make engaging with our kids one of our high priorities.
The understanding that the time that this takes, certainly as our children get older, depends on a lot of things. It depends on their personality, if they’re generally introverted or extroverted, if they’re spirited, have higher needs, it depends on their learning styles because some like to learn by talking things through while they’re doing them, others like to work on their own. It depends on their interests- are they really interested in things that they can dive in at home or do you need to travel a distance regularly for them?
So, just realize the time that’s needed will ebb and flow over the months and years. It may feel like it’s a lot right now but that will definitely change over time. The other thing that jumped out at me was you might want to consider whether all the things that you are doing are really things that you need to do. It goes hand-in-hand with what Anna was saying about the three of you working things out together. As part of that are there some things that your kids would like to be mostly managing for themselves but you haven’t thought through and been comfortable releasing control over those things? Sometimes we do things just because we feel it’s easier for us to just do them because we can do them faster or it’s less messy when we do them or whatever seems to be the challenge but when we can recognize and release those constraints that were putting on ourselves, it can really open things up a lot.
So, just a little quick example I thought of was how long it takes to make lunch. Maybe you want to make them food because then boom! you get it done, it’s faster and you can move on. But if they’re interested in gathering up food, stuff for themselves to eat, that’s such a nice transition and it’s something they’re interested in taking over, taking the time to help them. Then, also, it’s great for them. It’s what they want to do. It’s what they’re learning, so much in it. But it’s also releasing some pressure that you might be putting on yourself. So, that was just a thought to consider. If there are some things that you are automatically doing because you’ve always done them or because it’s easier, quicker, whatever that you can really be letting them take over as well. Okay!
Our next question involves unschooling in teens:
I’d love to hear more about unschooling teenagers. My daughter is 13 and has ASD with PDA which is pathological demand avoidance so unschooling works best for her. I love the unschooling philosophy but often have wobbles because I wonder if she is learning enough or rather deeply enough.
I’m impressed by how much she does learn by herself but wonder if she will get enough depth on certain subjects that she’s not so keen on. For example: she learns a bit of basic maths through things like baking and shopping but how will she learn it at a more advanced level or does it even matter.
PAM: I think that you’ll find that she does get deeper into things when the need arises and you’re right that it doesn’t matter right now. Right now, you can be focusing on helping her pursue and learn the things that she’s interested in right now. So later, as she gets older, when she wants to do those more advanced things you guys will figure out how she’d like to do them at that point.
At that point she’s not going to be the 13 year old that’s in front of you right now. So, how you guys approach things may well be different six months from now, two years from now. Today you don’t need to know how she might choose to learn something that she might be interested in some day. There was a lot of parameters to that! And that’s a lot of things to be worrying about and trying to figure out now, just in case of someday, maybe.
So, trust that you guys will figure things out when they actually come up and focus on how you can help her do what she wants to do today. If you do that and you pay attention as you do that over and over, week-in/ week-out, month-in/ month-out, year-in/ year-out you’ll come to realize just how good you guys are at that. You will start to learn so much about each other. You will get to that point where you realize, ‘Hey, we can handle whatever comes up.’
Whatever someone’s interested in and when that interest shows up or that need because maybe it’s something to pick up along the way to pursue whatever she’s interested in, at that point you’ll know who you are then. And that’s when things will be most effective for you. Anyway I hope that made sense. Anna?
ANNA: Yes to all of that and I think the worry piece is important to pull out of what Pam said, too.
We had a chain of ‘what-ifs’ in that conversation and it’s really taking you out of the moment in front of you and it’s taking you out of connecting with her right now and maybe even seeing all the things in the depth of what she’s engaging in right now.
I find with all the members in our family, including myself, we go really deep into subjects when they have meaning. Meaning in our everyday life, in the moment. And there’s no timetable for that because what might not be relevant today, in a month from now we might be diving deep down that rabbit hole.
So, I think maybe also look back and you’ll see that she’s done the same, that she’s dove into things and gone to this really deep level, maybe not with all these things that you are thinking of with this worry of the future, but you’ll see that she has a process because you’ve already said you can see how she’s learning, you can see how she’s getting information. She’s needing to do the things that are important to her and for me that’s it. That’s awesome because she’s showing you that she knows how to learn and for me that’s really the key.
We don’t know what any given individual is going to need to know in his or her lifetime, but if we know how to learn, how to try and how to fail (as last week’s podcast guest reminded us) then we can do anything.
We can do anything if we know those things: how to learn, how to try, and how to fail because we’re all going to have ups and downs there and then we try again. My girls are now 19 and 21 and my hope was to help them know how to find information, know how to find mentors, books, opportunities to gather the knowledge that helps them to live their best life and I really feel like that served them well because, again, I think that when they were thirteen I couldn’t have predicted where they are now and what they need to know. I wouldn’t have had that information.
So, as Pam said, just let that unfold organically because you’ll see that as a new interest arises, as a new opportunity comes into your lives, then you’ll be able to gather the information, the knowledge, and the help that you need to make that work. I think you’ll see it if you look back that it’s probably already been happening.
So, our next question is also regarding a teen:
We are one month into deschooling our 15 year old son and I’m feeling chased by an emotional rollercoaster demanding I get on board. Our once physically active son is delving deep into “Fortnite” gaming into the wee hours of the night. My husband and I cannot differentiate between this as an addiction or a new passion and we are unraveling.
Our son has always been a mono-focused fellow regarding his interests, but in the past those were all outdoor activities that my husband and I admired. Now, today I recognize we are deeply lacking faith and trust and that we have projected this emotion more than I would like to admit.
We’ve been living in the middle of the road, semi alternative lifestyle since early elementary when my son first felt and said, “I’m not smart.” From that point we dove into third and fourth grade homeschooling and at our son’s request entered back into four years of public school until now. It’s hard to have faith when your child’s uninterested in what we view as “worthy.”
The fact that he only wants to game right now and stay up until 4 a.m., if we let him, makes us want to jump off a cliff. We are certainly in need of finding some like minds in this journey and only wish there were people in our own community to lean on. Any resources you can turn us to would be deeply appreciated. Truly, we want to have the faith and patience on the journey committed to unschooling but find that we are impatient and feel we accept the journey intellectually but feel spiritually challenged by it.
We can’t help but want to manage his gaming, bedtime, and eating habits but feel that every time we open our mouths with desire to direct him, we are defeating the purpose of allowing him to find his own motivation and self-care.
ANNA: Okay, so there’s a lot to unpack with this question and I’m not even sure we’re going to be able to cover it all but between the two of us we’ll hit some of the highlights. I wanted to pull out a few things: multiple times you talked about how your son is interested in things you don’t find “worthy” or doing things that you don’t “admire”.
I want to strongly suggest letting go of that judgment and changing your language around it because how you’re talking about it feels so conditional: “You have value if you do what I want you to do.” I just know that that’s not really what you want to be communicating to him. The world is made up of people that do all kinds of things. Just in my family we have such diverse interests, likes, and passions.
I find as we support people in their interests it connects us and we can see the value in the things that they are doing, even if they weren’t, at first, an interest to us. It opens our mind and our perspective.
And video games, as an interest, is so rich! There is strategy, puzzle-solving, reflexes, quick-thinking under pressure, and in most online games there are relationships as well. Learning to work as a team, finding your strengths and developing them. If you can take the time to understand his passions, it will give you insight into who he is at this moment and why this has piqued his interest right now.
I love the outdoors. I try to be outside as much as I can. I find it meditative and calming. I also like physically challenging aspects of being outside like hiking, biking, that type of thing. But I would not say that it’s intellectually challenging in the way that video games are, that fast-pace, “solve the puzzle or suffer the consequences” and it’s such fun for those of us that like those kinds of mind and brain puzzles. It develops a different skill-set and the thing is they aren’t mutually exclusive. You can like to do both.
As you mentioned he’s mono-focused, so he’s really diving deep into this passion and this interest. That doesn’t mean he’s never going to do the other. It just means he’s really wanting to give great attention to what’s in front of him and what’s interesting to him right now and that’s really a beautiful quality. It’s actually what propels very successful people along because they’re able to give that hyper-focus.
I found with my kids there are also seasons and that interests change and things ebb and flow and I don’t want to be standing in judgment of that process. I want to be walking with them, connecting, and learning more about them.
So, the piece about managing bedtime and eating habits for a 15 year old is kind of a whole other piece of this question. What was important for me was for my kids to learn to listen to their body, eat when they’re hungry, sleep when they’re tired, observe how food affects them, how more or less sleep impacts them. Me controlling that wouldn’t help them learn to listen to their own body and really only they know how different things make them feel.
Our world is made up of night owls and early birds and snackers and big-meal people and there isn’t one right way. The best I can hope is that they intimately learn about their body, what it likes, how it works. I can share what I’ve learned about me and my journey but with the understanding that it’s about me. They may find what works for them is very different but I think being open about the process and transparent about how I’m making decisions about my own health and why I do things just gives them information that they can then take for themselves or not.
I do think it’s such a gift to understand our bodies. I have seen way too many young people binge and struggle when they’re first on their own if they’ve come from very controlling environments. They basically separated and tuned out the messages from their body because they were required to listen to outside voices instead and it can take a long time to really tune back in and undo that. Whereas kids who had agency over their body don’t have that same learning curve. They’ve been doing it all along and they know what works for themselves.
You know trust, communication, connection, these are things we always circle back to and I think they really apply to the whole of this question and all of its individual aspects. Pam?
PAM: I’m so glad you focused in on the son and seeing things from his perspective. They already know that he likes to be mono-focused on something, really likes to focus in. He was on the outdoor activities before and now he’s diving into this. He’s not changing. He’s still the same person who has this new interest. So, I think that’s really interesting.
I wanted to take a moment to say it’s really important to recognize that it’s only been a month, that you’ve only just taken the first couple of steps on this journey. I’m not sure what you’ve said to your son about it all because just from the way you wrote the question, I’m thinking that up to this point you probably had some control over his gaming, his bedtime, his eating habits, etc.
So, just to think about whether you dropped all of that at once because you said it’s only been a month and you worried about all these things or whether you took it a little more step by step in saying “yes” more when he wants to stay up a little bit later or he wanted to eat something different. I think releasing control over everything at once can feel quite chaotic at first, like now in this first month, because we haven’t really figured out what we’re replacing that control with because it’s not just about giving up control. That’s not even how we talk about it after a few months in.
We’re replacing that control with conversations as Anna was talking about. We’re considering everyone’s needs with that growing self-awareness that she was talking about.
Him being able to listen to the messages from his body, to acknowledge when he’s feeling tired, when he’s feeling hungry, what kind of foods, water, whatever and that’s going to be how he’s learning as he’s getting overtired and then realizing what happens when that happens and just playing around with all that stuff. That’s how he’s learning.
Having conversations with him about that when you get to that trust point because at first he may see those conversations as controlling because he’s used to you trying to control his choices in those areas. That’s just another piece to consider. Either way, whether you dropped it all quickly and jumped in feet first or whether you’re slowly just saying “yes” more and more. Either way, the key now is to keep learning about unschooling.
And alongside that I think it’s key for you and your husband to dive into why you feel his interests in video games is unworthy. Anna talked about that a little, too. So, while he’s joyfully playing because it sounds like he’s having a lot of fun and really enjoying what he’s up to- diving right in there- you guys have some time to learn more intellectually about gaming. You talked about how important you understand the principles of unschooling intellectually but that’s only the first couple of steps of the journey. You’ll be figuring out the rest of it along the way.
So, really dive in and contemplate the different perspectives and possibilities that this new way of looking at life is going to bring you. Maybe read books like “Everything Bad Is Good For You” by Steven Johnson. I’ll have links to this stuff in the show notes as well. Jean McGonigal’s TED talks and follow the trails. Remember this is unschooling. Those rabbit trails are gold! When you’re listening to her talk and she mentions something… because you’re trying to rekindle your own curiosity. You’re going to be unschooling in action as you’re learning about unschooling and gaming and all the things that your son over his lifetime finds interesting.
Listen to the podcast episodes that I did with a couple of grown unschoolers (119 with Xander McSwan, 159 with Max VerNooy) who were active gamers in their teen years and they talk about what they learned through that and what their life was like then and what they’re doing now and all that kind of stuff. Also, pay attention to what your son is up to in the game. Anna talked about a few of the really interesting skills that you develop along the way because it’s just wide open from everything to interpersonal relationship to leadership skills and you’ll hear them talking about that in the podcast episode to actual skills within the game. It’s a wide gamut of everything.
Give him the space to share what he’s loving about it with you without judgment- that’s that piece- because if he feels you’re not listening or if he feels judged by it, then he’s not going to want to share. Over time that’s another way that you’re going to be able to pick up what he’s learning. You’re going to be able to understand it better, you’re going to be able to start to recognize it’s worth. And that’s what’s important. And I really think you have the answer right there in your question- control defeats the purpose of letting your son discover his own motivation and self-awareness. All this learning that you and your husband will be doing will help you discover how and why that works through the unschooling lifestyle. Okay!
Our next question it’s kind of two questions so we’re going to break them up. It begins with:
There are two aspects that are starting to worry me a bit. Nevertheless, I appreciate this opportunity to ask specific questions. I have two children. My son is five and my daughter is three. My son is very shy and quiet around new people in larger groups. He loves being with friends and family and is very social amongst them and also needs a lot of time at home to read, draw or play with Legos. There are no other kids his age in our neighborhood and friends don’t live nearby. We only managed to see them about once a week. So far, he seems to be happy the way things are but I do notice that after meeting friends he is even more content and balanced.
So, I have started wondering if school might be an opportunity for him to make friends because he might benefit to be around the same people every day and less building trust in getting to know them. He is not the type of person to chat up other kids at the playground and he is not interested in attending any sports clubs or other structured weekly activities. Also, our friends with kids are around that age are getting busier now that their kids are all starting in school which is compulsory from age six.
We have been attending Meetups at a park with our local unschooling community but he does not enjoy these meetings very much and has not made friends there either. I am wondering how he will be able to develop friendships without this continuous contact with the same group of people. Basically, all of this applies to my daughter, too. I see that her personality is a little different though and her getting a bit older I can imagine her attending clubs and courses and finding friends there.
PAM: So, we’re going to come back to this, too, projecting our children into the future and imagining what they may or may not do isn’t all that helpful.
Interestingly, as I think about my kids, say 10 years ago and where they are now, and you alluded to this earlier Anna, I really couldn’t have imagined it back then at all. But looking back based on their choices over those 10 years it’s not as it’s not a surprise where they are at now. So, you can look back and you can see the connections between things and it all makes a lot of sense but you can’t know where it’s going you can’t know who they’re going to be five years from now, you really can’t.
It really is very different. I mean I could sit here and come up with a whole bunch of things that are so different. Even our kids, they choose, like, ‘I want to get better at this skill. I want to get better at approaching people I don’t know.’ Most of my kids have all gone through that phase where they just decided that’s just something they want to get better at. But that’s not something you can force them to do or require them to do or worry that, ‘I think I need to send them to school because they’re never going to pick up that skill.’
We’re back to when things are important to them and on their timetable. So, help him meet his friend needs now and then just see where it goes, like we were saying. You’re going to get good at understanding each other and figuring ways out and talking together to figure it out what a plan is because right now, the way you described it he’s pretty content the way things are.
Understanding that he likes time to get to know people is great and knowing that he is not big into playground chats or structured weekly activities is good but it’s so important to realize that those things will also change over time. I remember Michael wasn’t very interested in any of that either until around age nine when he was. Then it’s like, ‘I do want to go to a group weekly karate class.’ And maybe that local unschooling park Meetup will mesh better for him six months from now or a year from now or five years from now when you come upon a time when he is looking for more friends. New kids will have joined that group, others will have dropped out, he’ll be in a completely different place than he is right now.
You just don’t know the future. I think contemplating a solution for a problem that hasn’t even bubbled up yet takes your attention and your thought away from the things that you could actually focus on today. Things you could support and improve for him and for your daughter today. Dive in to today and meet it head-on and then you’re developing all those skills that are going to help you do that same thing three years from now and five years from now.
So, you want to hit that first half, Anna?
ANNA: Yeah again I think we can’t predict the future but also what we just talked about in the last question, that worry takes you out of right now and it disconnects you so then you’re less likely to work together to meet the needs as they come along.
What Pam just said is so critical so I’m going to say it again- stay in the now. He is happy, you are meeting his needs. He is meeting his needs with how he’s interacting with his friends and trust that and stay connected because as it changes you both will change and grow and those skills will change and grow.
I guess I just want to say too, I don’t think I would ever consider school strictly for making friends. Maybe it’s me remembering, ‘don’t pass notes, no talking.’ Silent lunches are a big deal in the state where we used to live and no recesses and we were always told, “We are not here to socialize!” So, I just feel like it’s an odd kind of suggestion if we’re looking at it as a social opportunity. Now will kids make friends in school? Sure. Some might and some won’t but I don’t think it’s the best environment when you’re taking all the other negative aspects to into account and how he is enjoying himself now and how he is learning and how he does have friends.
It just doesn’t really make sense to me in that way.We just found doing what we enjoyed was a way to find like-minded friends. I had one that enjoyed group activities and that one that didn’t, she was much better with one-on-one play. So, find kids with common interests, host something that your son loves, look for connections at the park Meetups but then plan on one-on-one time because maybe he’s slow to warm or it’s harder for him to connect in a bigger group but he likes this guy and they have something in common so you can pull that out and do something more small grouped or more focused on a specific interest.
Like Pam said it’s just giving it time, trusting where you are. You mentioned he seems fine with it, yes he’s enjoying friends but that doesn’t mean that he wants it every day. You know I would wager that he’s an introvert from some of the things that you said and number one- school environments can be very stressful for introverts speaking from experience.
He is young and he will grow and will change and he will continue to communicate his needs to you as long as you guys stay connected. Part of your work over the coming years may be to help him create a community, but that would be with him and what’s working for him and you’re going to keep in mind who he is and what serves him and maybe let go of this society idea of everybody needing this big group of same-aged peers and friends because it just really isn’t true, so you can set that aside and focus on the child in front of you and what he is doing what he is enjoying and just quiet the outside noise.
PAM: So, we’re going to go to the second part of the question:
So, apart from the friends’ topic, I am so confident that unschooling is the right choice for us. I am loving to observe the kids explore their interests, their games their own way. It is so fascinating. I would love to continue like that. However, we live in Europe, Austria, and the legal system does not completely allow for unschooling.
Children who do not attend school need to take exams once a year from the age of six based on the Austrian curriculum. In these exams they will have to prove that their basic knowledge is equal to that of school children. So, even if my children will be able to determine what to do and learn themselves for the most part of the year, come spring I will have to make sure that the curriculum is covered. If they don’t pass the exam they will have to attend school the following year according to law.
Do you have any suggestions on how to keep the unschooling spirit alive in the face of this legal requirement? I am worried I will be feeling stressed and adding pressure on them and lose the great relationship that we have now. It is such a joy seeing them develop their interests and exploring their questions together without having them have to follow any curriculum.
PAM: I think this would be a great question for the other parents in that local unschooling group. What did they do about it? They are all in there as well. They’re unschooling their kids. How do they incorporate that constraint, because that’s what it is from where you live.
Right now, this is just a constraint that’s part of your lives. That legal requirement needn’t mean that you have to focus on teaching them the curriculum, that you need to toss out the great relationships and the joy that you’re finding. You can talk with your kids about it. Talk about it being a school thing that you guys need to do so that they can stay home, if that’s what you find out it really is. I know there’s all sorts of places where they’re certain reporting requirements and testing requirements and it really depends on how it works locally.
I can’t speak to Austria, per se, but as you mentioned you’ve got that great group, access to other unschooling parents in the area so see what they do. It can be the two of you making it fun together. It’s the energy that you bring to it. It’s just a little piece of your lives. It doesn’t need to take over and it’s not like you’ll need all day, every day, all spring to cover those bits. In fact, I don’t even know that I would think about it as a “spring thing”. Maybe I need to keep in my mind what this year, end of year, needs to look like and if I notice those things in our lives- bring them out. Make that extra connection but over the year because you’re right, if you’re just leaving it to two or three months then all of a sudden you have to start pushing it more. But if you’ve got the 10 months, 12 months that you’re considering, so much of that stuff is going to come up in their lives. So, what do you think Anna?
ANNA: I was just going to say the exact same thing that you have a group of people there that are doing it so definitely talk to them.
The only other thing I wanted to add because I did live in a state that had annual testing when my girls were younger—read your law. The specific statutes. Not just summaries of it, not what somebody else thinks it says. The actual statute and the law because it can be very enlightening.
People will say, in the state that I used to live in (North Carolina), that it’s so strict that it has this annual testing or whatever but when you read it, it is not. There are lots of ways to make it work in an unschooling life. I learned that from reading the statutes myself, but also from talking to other unschoolers in the state. So, use those resources and make sure you really truly understand how the law is written and what’s required in your locality and in your state, or your country as the case may be. I just wanted to add that piece. You can make it fun, too!
PAM: Yeah, you don’t have to toss out the whole unschooling lifestyle approach to your days just because there’s this one little aspect that needs to weave in there.
ANNA: I’ll just say we never did, “Oh we’re going to study for the test”, we just took the test and my kids thought it was grand fun! They had never done it and so we’re filling in the bubbles, we’re doing the whole thing. I had no energy about it so it was not stressful at all and they always tested off the charts. The only thing I would say is that as they got older, they felt bad for kids. We’d be in the English section and it has subject-verb agreement, that was one of the sections in the elementary English piece and we had never even said those words. We just talked and read and did and they aced it and we thought, “Oh my gosh! There are kids that are sitting in school for hours having to do worksheets of subject-verb agreement and you just need to talk and read and do. So, I think you’ll find it may not be as stressful as you think but it was just that light energy, curiosity that got us through it easily.
We have one final question for today:
My son is 16 and my daughter is 14 and we have been living the unschooling life since they were born. Even before that now that I think about it. I can’t even imagine living any other way. The teen years have thrown me for a bit of a loop. The emotional and developmental stuff I can handle most days but my faith in our unschooling life regarding schooly things got a bit wobbly.
Both kids have dyslexia in varying degrees which affects their writing, spelling, and math skills. Their reading is fine. They tend to avoid doing things with these skills and I find myself panicking about it and doing crazy things like insisting they go to a math tutor a couple of years ago- yikes! Eight months of torture for all.
In spite of all the challenges, my daughter feels that she must get her high school diploma which she’ll start working on in her home learning program which will start next fall. She loves to sew and wants to design formal wear and for some reason feels that her real life can’t start until she gets that diploma.
My son is not remotely interested in schooly things. He has a lot of anxiety about academics and even before the math tutor fiasco and basically becoming an adult. He spends his time gaming, researching gaming, reading sci-fi, watching movies, and thinking about a fantastic story that he would like to turn into a film one day. Getting his high school diploma doesn’t appeal to him at all.
So, one has anxiety about getting a piece of paper and the other about not getting it. How did this happen? I wasn’t pushing high school, just worrying about the basic skills and I guess they picked up on that worry and may be feeling that I don’t have faith in them which is not my intention at all. They are both such creative and wonderful people and I know in my heart that can create the lives that they want for themselves even with all the challenges that they have. They have our love and support and lots of time to figure out things.
I do miss the days when I was able to enjoy the day-to-day wonderfulness of living creating our lives together without worries about the future and “what ifs” keeping me up at night. I’ve had my ups and downs with feeling this way and I’m doing my work around it. For the most part I’m back to following the children’s leads and remaining curious and excited about this incredible journey that were on as a family and as individuals.
ANNA: I just wanted to say what you are describing seems so normal. I think the time of transitioning into adulthood is stressful and it’s not about the unschooling. We see it in our schooled friends as well and they have the additional pressure of all of these expectations and more schooling ahead before they can even begin to figure out who they are. I feel like it sounds like you have cultivated that curiosity and openness and honestly, I think that’s all we can do sometimes.
Other times there will be opportunities to support and facilitate but often at this age it’s just being present and doing our own work not to be projecting out into the future and worrying and to remember there’s plenty of time. That’s really the mantra that I continue to tell my two- there’s plenty of time.
All decisions don’t have to be made today. We don’t have to know what we’re going to do 10 years from now, 20 years from now. We can just walk towards what feels right to us right now and we’ll discover what we need along the way. Sometimes that might be classes or may be a mentor, maybe research or any other number of things but those things will unfold as we walk towards our passions.
We can also encourage them to just work on things right now. With your son, for example, starting to work on his screenplay and see where that goes, see what he learns from that process and reading about screenplays and how that works. And for your daughter- start designing. My guess is she already is because she enjoys sewing but maybe it’s finding an internship or even some informational interviews to see what people who are doing the job that she loves, what did they have to say about it, what helped them, what got them to where they are? What would they tell someone starting up now? Those could be so powerful and important for people starting out, to talk to the people that they idolized in their industry. She can still be pursuing the diploma if that’s important to her but all the while she’s doing the work that she loves and she’s learning about what’s needed there and that can really help her chart her course.
This is going to be reiterating what I said before but look at the laws where you live because I don’t know where you’re from but we were able to issue diplomas because we are considered private schools in the state that we lived in when the girls were younger. And that’s part of our state law so that didn’t require an outside institution. So, if a diploma is what she wants there may be other ways to get that and she can still be focusing on her design work and the things that she’s enjoying.
I will say, just in general, I just wish there wasn’t so much pressure on teens. If that’s one thing I could change, I would really love to do that because I feel like it’s so much pressure. But we can do the best we can to mitigate it with unconditional support and trust in their capabilities and helping them feel and develop trust in their capabilities.
If they see in our eyes that we know they are capable I think that goes a long way and you are already enjoying it. Continue to enjoy it. I know that it can be stressful but things also change quickly and suddenly you’ll be in a very different place looking back going, “Wow, here we are!” I loved your energy about how much you enjoy them, how much you guys are enjoying your time together. I think that that’s really beautiful.
PAM: Absolutely, me too. I loved when she talked about the difference between her son and her daughter and their approach to that diploma. It’s just so fascinating how different our kids are! They’ve grown up in the same environment, the same parents, all that kind of stuff but they’re themselves. They’re going to take things the way they take them and we don’t have control over that. And absolutely I love that you found your way back to being curious and excited about your lives and the journey that you’re on and realizing that it’s a journey and that we do have time as Anna was talking about.
I did want to say that life is not about never having wobbles.
Like you said, this is life. They don’t mean that you failed in some way. Yet it’s not like, “Okay, whatever.” I toss up my hands and do nothing because wobbles can have painful implications like eight months of torture math tutors hahaha!
For me it was and it continues to be, will forever continue to be about gaining the self-awareness to recognize those wobbles, recognize them a little more quickly each time and know what tools work best for me to work my way through them because those wobbles really are about me and I would like that they have minimal negative impact on our lives, of my family and everybody around.
But that’s the good news. It’s our work to do so we have control over that. And you know, on the other hand, it’s bad news, too. It’s our work to do and it’s often not easy work. We talked about the personal work and it’s a phrase but we really understand how hard that is, how challenging that can be to dig in and really sit with what we find because it can be very uncomfortable. But it really is worth it. As your kids are taking these different paths through it they will each make choices that make sense for them and then they’re going to see what happens and does the next step that they thought they were going to do still make sense or might they change direction?
That’s where when Anna was talking about them, seeing in your eyes that you know that they are capable because they can turn right, left, take the next step forward, whatever and that you trust and know that they are capable of seeing where they are in that moment and making that next choice and that next choice. Because it’s not about making that decision 30 steps down or a mile down your path, however you want to measure it. It was just about that next step and that next step and knowing that you can learn a little bit more about yourself, see what happened with that step and make a new choice again.
And you talked about having that time, lots of time to figure it out and your love and support so I think that’s awesome. And as for worries about the future, that has come up through most of these questions, all of these questions. It’s something that we all struggle with. I still find myself getting caught in that space where I’m thinking too far ahead and you just can’t know. There are too many variables when you get too far ahead. I wanted to share because there’s been a lot of podcast guests who have talked about it.
Taylor Davis back in episode 55 said, “Every minute that I spend living in that place of fear about whatever hypothetical thing I’m worried about might happen in the future, it’s just eating away at my time right now with my kids and my family.
And Jessica Hughes in episode 136 said, “99.999 % of the fear I experienced as a parent comes from focusing on the adult I want to create instead of the child I have.”
Focusing on that future rather than the moment so come back to the moment and the child, the person because it doesn’t matter their age the person in front of you.
Well thank you so much, Anna, for joining me and it was so fun to get back to some questions!
ANNA: Yes, it was fun!
PAM: I love it. That’s the whole thing. It’s not about having all the right answers. I don’t want when people are asking me questions and I’m sharing my perspective and they’re like, “Oh, that’s the right answer.” That’s not it. We are contemplating these situations and playing with perspectives. Things are coming to us as we read about it, read the question and things pop up.
It’s really just digging into what might be laying underneath. So often these questions really are about what’s underneath it. I feel like what we do is kind of till the soil around the question and just share that so then people can whether it’s a person who actually asked it or people in similar situations or people just like, “I just want to contemplate because my kids are younger now.” We had a few teen questions now but, “What might I think about that?” It’s just fodder for them to think about as they are contemplating what this question means within their family. How they might think about it. It’s just more fodder for your thoughts. That’s how I see it.
ANNA: I think so, too, because definitely no one right answer. I think it’s just that sometimes when we are in a situation it feels so black-and-white, it’s everything, and big and scary and intense.
But I hope that we can just help you step back and see, “Oh, okay. There are a couple of ways to look at this and which way feels good to me?” Because in the end it needs to be what feels in alignment with you and your relationship with your child and that’s hopefully what you take away from it, which is, “Okay, I can check back in with my child I can reconnect and we’re going to find our way through whatever this stumble or wobble is.”
PAM: I love that. Thanks so much Anna! Talk to you soon!