PAM: I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Sue Patterson. Hi Sue!
PAM: So, here’s the idea for this episode. I get a lot of questions around unschooling during the teen years as I imagine you do as well Sue.
PAM: So, I thought it would be really helpful to focus a whole episode just on this topic. I know that you have a special place in your heart for unschooling teens, because that led you to conduct that teen survey a few years ago, which you eventually…
SUE: That I ever so suddenly put over here. I need to get one of those neon flashing arrows! OK…
PAM: It is a really interesting book, and you know what, I’m going to link in the show notes to my review with some of the stuff that I found really interesting. But anyway, what that meant is that I thought you’d be an awesome guest to dive into this topic with. So, to get us started, I think that there are typically two periods during the teen years that unschooling parents can find challenging. Even if we’ve been unschooling relatively comfortably for a few years.
The first one is that transition into the teen years. And I want to talk about that transition from both the teen’s and the parent’s perspective, but let’s start with the parent’s perspective, because that is the work that we have to do. So, let’s dive into some of the conventional messages that we might see bubbling up at this time and see how we might shift to see them through the lens of unschooling.
SUE: I think that a lot of times people have it in their heads that, “OK, it’s time to buckle down.” You know, you’ve had all this fabulous childhood, and now it’s time to get serious. And you know even like biblically, you know where it says, “Put away your childish things”, so it’s like constantly reinforced in us that childhood’s fun, adulthood isn’t, so let’s transition.
PAM: Yeah, they have to start to get ready for it, *it*. It’s ok to let your child play, and you can, it makes sense to you, but now when the teen years are starting, it’s just a few years down the road, now they should start buckling down. I feel like all of the sudden we feel like they need to start producing things, and I think that ties into what their school friends are doing, at this time.
They are doing more things that look, you know, impressive in the educational sphere and that can throw us for a loop too, can’t it, because we can to see more worthwhile things, we want to start seeing things that might someday turn into a job or just producing something that we can show, something tangible.
SUE: And I think a lot of people think that’s what unschooling is about, that we are going to have this total play thing, and then they will reach for that algebra book off the shelf. Or they will suddenly choose to do academics that look like school academics. And you know, that’s not the case.
PAM: Well that’s a really good point!
SUE: Because we’re not there yet, that doesn’t get resolved in our heads, and then we think, ‘Well shoot! I’ve been unschooling for six years. I should know this by now!’ But unschooling for six years when they were five to 11, that’s a whole different world, or at least in our minds we’ve told ourselves that that’s a whole different world.
PAM: I think that’s definitely part of it, because I mean, especially when your eldest starts reaching the teen years, you’ve really not been in a situation where you’ve had to think of unschooling through the lens of older children. So, understanding the value in play, I mean that kind of information is all over the place, you know, later readers, all that kind of stuff is reasonably—I’m not going to say easier, but, there’s lots of discussions around that, you can do that first step of deschooling.
SUE: And there’s more people, really! Because didn’t you see when your kids are growing up, that there’s a ton of people in the support groups around age 8, but by the time your kid’s 14, that’s a smaller number, because a lot of people have fallen off along the way! You know, so there’s not going to be as many people writing about it and asking about it as just the volume of people that are unschooling are little, and littler.
PAM: So, I think it’s really important for people to recognize that this is a transition, and that feeling uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing, it’s not a judgement on you as a bad unschooling parent or anything like that, because…
SUE: Like, “Maybe I did something wrong!”
PAM: But it’s definitely time, that’s definitely a clue, if you are feeling uncomfortable with this, then it’s time to dig into unschooling further. Like ok now, I’ve got this new thing coming up, there’s a new stage in our lives. And now I want to go dig into what unschooling can look like at that time, because…
SUE: Anytime we have that feeling that, ‘Oh gosh, maybe I did it wrong. Maybe my kid wasn’t a good candidate for unschooling, or maybe…’ all those kinds of things, then we know that’s just fear talking, that’s just leftover schooly kind of stuff.
PAM: Because you are busy with your kid at seven, right? With all the unschooling things you do with a seven year old or an eight year old. Then when you get here, life may not look different for them, but that’s why we are talking about it from the parent’s perspective right now. It looks different for us because we are noticing the age. We are noticing things bubbling up for us, now we have expectations of a fourteen year old that I didn’t really realize, and they are coming up now.
This is the deschooling piece, again. Time to start figuring out where those expectations came from, to figure out continuing to learn through the lens of their interests. And realizing, and looking at them in action, and asking other parents, doing more research again, just to understand how learning still is learning, they still learn the same way.
Their interests may not change. We can just get caught up in that timeline, right? That age-based thing, that they need to be doing certain things at certain ages. And to revisit why that doesn’t work on an individual level. We understand why school needs to keep it that way, because school needs to get kids through during that certain amount of years. But when we’re unschooling, we are choosing a much more individualized lifestyle where they are just following their interests and passions, and to look at it again and remind ourselves why that works.
SUE: Right. Because it’s not an individualized lifestyle until they get to be teens when now they must choose from three boxes or between two tracks. It’s still an individualized life. But also, as parents, we have a lot of pressure that comes when we have teenagers. Pressure that other people are putting on us and that we are putting on ourselves.
You know, when you go to a family get together and somebody is telling you all the things that your nieces and nephews are doing—National Honor Society or they are in this math club or they are taking this school trip or they are doing these things, and we’re like, “They’re playing video games, they are having great conversations at midnight with me, they’re…” all the things, and I just picked those two things that people get scared about. They are like, “WELL THAT’S NOT ENOUGH!” and it IS enough.
It moves, it doesn’t always stay like that. It moves around and it grows. And we end up, and like you were saying, it’s individualized, so that the path is going to be different, and it’s not going to look like those nieces and nephews. You’ve gotta remember your “why”, you’ve gotta remember why does this matter. Why does it matter that we are not stuck on these two tracks, college track or non-college track! You know? And…
PAM: I think it comes back to…I was going to say, spending that time again. Often those fears can come up when we get a little bit disconnected from our kids too which can happen around this time, because maybe you’ve been unschooling pretty comfortably for years and everybody gets into doing their things and off we go, and we’re not looking for the learning anymore, you know what I mean? We looked at that a few years ago when we started unschooling…
SUE: For a couple years when we started or something, yeah…
PAM: We were so worried, what are they learning? And we figured that out. And now, as they hit the teen years, all the sudden what bubbles for us changes in our learning expectations, and revisiting that self-awareness for ourselves.
Recognize that these fears are just old conventional assumptions or maybe ideas that are bubbling up for us that we just haven’t considered yet and we can get back to connecting with our child and seeing the learning that that they are doing and seeing. Now we’ve got years to look back on typically, too, and see the threads of things, and see what uniquely is interesting to them and the learning that they do.
SUE: That’s really a great point, because I have clients who then look back and say, “Oh, we really didn’t do a lot. Maybe we messed up.” When they start listing all the things that really had happened, there was a lot, but it didn’t look like conventional school, so no, you can’t…they had gotten past feeling the need to check geography, check reading, check math, they’d gotten past that! But then when they start getting fearful again, that little voice in the back of their head is saying, “Oh yeah, you didn’t do any of the creative writing! And you didn’t do any of the civics!” And so, I think then you’ve got to kind of reacquaint yourself with what you did.
PAM: You’ve got to get back to your “why”!
SUE: Remind yourself of what you did! Look for the positives! Look for the good things that did happen. Look for all the things that didn’t happen because they were having this great path. There’s a lot!
I think too you get your ego kinda wrapped up in it and we think that somebody says, “Oh yeah, their kid is only doing this,” and you’ve gotta figure out, there’s that why. No, I’m doing this for a choice because I think it’s important that they follow their own path, that I’m not spooning them from one box to another, and that looks messy, and it doesn’t always look clear, and that’s ok too, because I’m really ok with it, and if you’re not ok with it, let’s get ok with it because it’s a good thing.
We say we want all these critical thinkers, we want all this individualized thought, but we don’t always like what that looks like to get there. Because that’s how you learn, because you try and you’re like, “Oh, not that!” And now we adjust, and then we adjust, and then we adjust, and it doesn’t really bode well for Thanksgiving dinners when you’re trying to trot out your kid in front of somebody else’s kid, and if you’re doing that kind of stuff, it won’t look that great. But that’s ok! Because you’re past that!
PAM: That’s not your value, that’s not why you’re doing it, to be impressive to other people. And so yeah, from the parent’s perspective, when you see this bubbling up, it really is our work to do again, to revisit our why. To sit with the fear. To realize where that’s coming from. And to re-energize our reasons, and to look to our kids and see all that they really are doing. And I know, you’ll get back to that place, to that understanding. But it is work to do. Don’t stay stuck in the fear. Once you realize this is what’s happening, do the work to move through it.
SUE: And it doesn’t mean just stick your head in the sand and know, “OK, they said it would be ok.”
PAM: “Pam and Sue said it would be ok!”
SUE: No! Pull it out! Let’s look at them! Where’s the rational part and the irrational part. Because that what fears are. And there’s often some little grain of something that’s true, and then the rest grew around it.
PAM: It’s similar because a lot of us go through this, this is one of the typical periods. But it’s going to be different for everyone because we all have different kids. We had a different upbringing. We have so many different expectations or constellations of expectations that it really is our individual work to go through, right?
SUE: Right, right.
OK, so now let’s look from our child’s perspective. So, what if we find that maybe they seem to be struggling somewhat with their transition into the teen years, so let’s talk about what this time might look like through their eyes, and how we might support them as they move through that.
SUE: Yeah, I think the thing to remember is that we are really doing something different, and of society, it’s in the air that everybody is going in this one direction on this conveyor belt and your kid’s not.
And so, I think that if I look back at the things I did or didn’t do with my kids, I wish I had talked a little bit more about why we are making some of the choices that we made.
They didn’t need to hear it when they were six, but they may need to hear it when they are teenagers, because they are up against people that say, “You’ve never used a scantron? You don’t know what that is?” Or “You’re going to work in fast food restaurants for the rest of your life because you don’t know how to do this.”
People say that stuff to these guys all the time, because they really are out intermingling with other people because they are following their path, they are following their interest, and so they are going to see people who are schoolish thinking people, or they are going to have relatives that are going to say things like, “Aren’t you worried about…”, “Don’t you wish you could…” And so, if you’ve never had those conversations with them about this, which I’m not saying have them when they are younger, but have them now when they are a little more introspective, you can say, “Yeah, we did this on purpose!” This really wasn’t just because nobody wanted to get up in the morning and catch the bus. You know, it’s a bigger than that.
PAM: That is such a good point, and you’re right, it’s around this age that these conversations bubbled up in our family, because the kids really were now starting to be out on their own with their friends and their friends’ families, and you know, these comments were being made, and we were having conversations about it after. It’s something you might be able to try bringing up on your own, you know, asking a question here or there or making a comment, and just seeing what kind of reception it gets. You’re just planting a seed, right, and then that can come up in conversation later. That’s why there’s no one way to unschool. You are getting to know your child.
SUE: And you know that if you’re starting to tell them something about unschooling, and they are looking out the window wishing you were finished.You wrap it up!
PAM: Move on to something more interesting!
SUE: Know that it’s not like you have this one moment that you get. You have their whole life! But like you said, dropping a seed, you’re dropping a seed! So that when somebody comes up to them, they can go, “No, we have a plan! Check with mom!”
PAM: Well, and that’s the other thing too that I think is really important, certainly at this stage for your child, early teen, is to be really paying attention in your conversations to the comments that they make. To understand what thought might be underneath those comments, so you know what they might be concerned about so you can share those little tidbits. It’s not like you have an Unschooling 101 outline that you want to get across over the next six months. No! It’s the same as learning about anything that might be interesting. It’s connecting it to a moment. It’s connecting it to something in their lives that is happening now. And, even for kids who aren’t big into doing a lot of group activities or playing outside a lot, because you always hear that. “My kid likes to stay home”, it still comes up! Whether it’s through online conversations or just reading online!
SUE: Or just watching online! I used to say that every show geared for a teenager happens in a school.
PAM: It’s great fodder for conversations, tv shows and movies and everything!
SUE: That’s what I mean when I say it’s kind of in the air, because it really, it’s just everywhere, from television shows to back-to-school sales. School is everywhere, and so they maybe didn’t notice when they were younger, and now they are, from a growth and development standpoint, they are naturally feeling a little bit like, ‘everybody else knows something I don’t know’, and they start to feel self-conscious, they may feel it about the thing that makes them a little bit of an outlier, right?
So, whatever makes them a little different than what they see on tv, you are going to help them figure out that some of that is your strength! Some of that is what we deliberately tried to protect, so that you could have it, so you could have the time and space to move at your own pace. And that’s what those guys don’t get to have. I mean that could be the sum total of the conversation, and then another conversation comes later that. That way they know that you are doing this on purpose, you know?
PAM: That’s a great point! Sometimes it’s just a sentence here, like you said about those seeds, a comment here or a comment there. I think that’s one of the things that I find in general that parents seem to have a little bit of a harder time with is just having those conversations. You know, like any conversation. Asking their kid! Talking to them about what’s going on, what’s happening. If there’s some sort of uncomfortableness, working it out together, having those conversations.
And if we’re a bit fearful about our unschooling choice, we can almost unconsciously pull back from unschooling related conversations with them, right? Because if I’m worried that I’m going to come across like I’m trying to convince them, because maybe part of me thinks this was a wrong choice, and to have the conversations, right? Because or else you’re just kind of putting up a wall there and everybody gets more uncomfortable. The other piece I wanted to mention was that, something I noticed too, is that in the early teen years, as they transition into that time, you might find that they cocoon for a while.
SUE: I’m glad you said that.
PAM: They might feel a little at loose ends I think, because they can be losing interest in the things that they loved when they were younger, and they are like, ‘You know, that doesn’t catch my attention anymore.’ But they haven’t quite found what’s new. There’s that transition time there too to be completely supportive and understanding of. I’ve seen that pretty regularly too.
SUE: I do too. And I think that, as parents, if we can just see that as normal. You know, if we can try to look at things from like a bigger arc, you know, as opposed to, ‘he hasn’t come out of his room in days!’
But be careful, because sometimes we get caught up in saying that kind of stuff, when in fact, they have come out, but we say, “They haven’t come out in days”, and you know, they went to taekwondo, and they came down and fixed some food, and maybe you didn’t have a big conversation with them. Maybe you are talking about a lack of connection that’s kind of happening. So, as the parent, do something! Show up at the door. Say, “Hey, do you want some of this?” Make something that smells really great downstairs. That usually brought mine down!
You know, just somehow convey to them that this is ok. This isn’t a bad thing to want to be by yourself, to want to have your own thoughts, to stare at the ceiling for a lot of hours. Everybody isn’t just lining up to do one activity after the other, you know.
I mean, some kids are! But it’s ok to not be that kid, and I think that we’ve talked about it before on one of the other calls. We make it like extrovert is the goal, and introvert is bad, but no! The world is full of both! We need both! And one isn’t better than the other!
And so, I think parents sometimes have to look at that because, maybe they are introverted, and maybe they feel bad about it, or maybe they wish they weren’t. Maybe they have some of their own work to do to figure out that this is just personal preference. That’s ok! That’s part of all of this! Seeing, what is your personal preference, so you don’t have to wait and learn that at 28!
PAM: And the other great thing to notice is that, what I love about embracing them and supporting them during that time, because it’s a time when they discover that things change. They are going through this transition, and they don’t know where it is going to end up and what they are going to learn when they eventually get through it. But they are going to be able to look back and to see oh yeah, there was a time when I was feeling kind of at odds, kind of adrift and not quite sure what I was going to do, and I can trust! Look how I made it through that time! Maybe I was a little more extroverted.
SUE: Because those adrift feeling will come up again!
PAM: Yeah, exactly!
SUE: They will resurface in life again and again in life, and, you know, and that way you don’t have to have panic that somebody’s gotta fix it fast,
PAM: No exactly!
SUE: And if you do have somebody fix it fast, then doesn’t it really become a problem, because then you never really looked at, you kind of cheated them out of it, because it would have been better if they could have just learned to sit with it and learned to see where they wanted to go next.
This was my parenting struggle, because I’m a problem solver, I was always trying to fix things faster so that nobody was unhappy, and that’s not really the best option. It’s really important to let them, I mean, be with them. Don’t say, “You’re on your own!” But be with them, don’t fix it for them. Let them try and tell them it’ll be ok, and tell them it’ll be ok to make a mistake, And it will be ok to choose terribly, and you will always be standing right there with them, and you’ll always help them figure it out if they want a little input!
PAM: That’s the thing. It’s not solving it for them and telling them, “Oh, you should be doing this, you should get out and do this, come on, pick something to do.” But, it’s the being with them, and having the conversations with them when they want to. Sitting quietly beside them while they play the same old game or watch the same old comfort TV show because they’re not sure quite what else to do right now, but this gives them that sense of comfort for a while, that cocooning sense for a while. You know, you can go with the butterfly metaphor, but no expectations on timelines!
But yeah, if they want to have those conversations, and they say, “What do you think?” and you suggest ten things and none of them is interesting to them, you know, don’t get upset about that, don’t take it personally.
I spend lots of time just sitting quietly with them, just listening to what they want to say. That time is so valuable, you’re there to help them bounce things around. You are there to help them process their thoughts. When they want to have conversations, and being there quietly also shows them that you trust them implicitly to work through this, that it’s not going to happen forever, that it’s ok right now. That this is not wrong. There is nothing wrong with this moment, they are good where they are right now, and you are totally happy to be with them. Right?
That just gives them so much more support than even if you’re just sitting there with like that energy of, “Jeez, I wish he was choosing to do something else!” or some questions like, “They don’t seem to have a passion!” That kind of stuff.
That’s ok! They are figuring themselves out. All that quiet time is not blank time, you know what I mean? They are still processing. Even if you ask them, “What are you doing?” They are going to say nothing, they are likely going to say nothing. But their brain is not doing nothing. Even when they are watching the same old show, they are processing. Connections are being made subconsciously. They are learning how long they are comfortable in this zone. You know what I mean? They are learning so much about themselves, it’s crazy! Even when you can’t see any of it on the outside.
SUE: And I think it is harder when your personality is way different than your child’s personality, so you’re like, “No, we need to be doing group things! We need to go out.” As opposed to, you have a kid who is really not in the mood. That’s not bad, that is their preference. And you have created a place that they can feel safe enough to say their preference. That’s a good thing! It’s ok for them to choose differently. We are not creating little mini-me’s. That’s not the goal! The goal is to let them unfold at their own pace and to be who they’re meant to be.
PAM: And that’s how they are going to find it.
Ok so, what about some teens that are actually choosing to leave school at this time and transition to unschooling. Alright so, first they’ve been going to school for quite a few years and now they are probably kind of hitting the high school years, and now they are choosing to leave school. So, what might you suggest for parents who find themselves here?
I think that whole last conversation we had might be really useful to think of it as a deschooling phase for them, if that’s what your child finds themselves doing anyway. So, they might be leaving high school, and they have a deep interest already that high school was just kind of getting in the way of, and now they’ve got the time to just completely plow into that, to dive in, all their time dedicated to that, but they also might need a whole bunch of recovery and deschooling time as well, right?
SUE: Yeah, and I think as parents we need to not think, “How are we going to balance that?” You know, they are always trying to think about establishing some balance. And, you know, no. And I think balance, again, it’s that arc! Look at it over the long haul for balance, never look at balance on today, or even on this week, even balance on this season, how we act in winter is different than how we act in summer.
And so, we have to always have this bigger look at the whole thing. And we are conditioned to think of it like that, because balance when you are in school means 7 subjects, every 45 minutes, let’s go, let’s go, bell’s a ringin! Let’s go! And that way you have balance because you have a little of reading, a little of social studies, and a little of science.
But that’s not the balance that’s real life. Think about what you as a parent, think about what your real life looks like? Do you decide, I mean , just for an example, do you say, “I’m going to make this quilt.”, so all my free time, if I’m not fixing dinner or doing some laundry, I’m working on this quilt. Or whatever! Or maybe, maybe it’s starting to be spring, and every spare moment is getting your garden set, because now’s the time.
So, I think that knowing that balance is not really that big of a deal in real life, and if you feel off-kilter and you feel like, “I don’t have any time for myself.” Ok, then carve it! Let’s figure out, ok, what do you really need and how can you get it? And so, the same thing happens with kids, they’ve come from this ‘7 subjects in a day’ or whatever it is now, and they may think that, “OK, I need the balance”. You may say, ok, how are you going to balance that?
I know you love theatre and you want to be doing everything dance, voice and acting related, but what are you going to do for science, or what are you going to do for these other topics that aren’t going to be incorporated into their daily life. And some subjects may not be. Some people may not be.
I think that, when you’ve got a kid who’s coming home from school, resist that urge to make sure that they have balance. Let them have joy! Let them dive into what they love!
Push up on the priority list this connection time between you and them so that now’s the time that you can hear them without hurrying because they gotta get to bed because the bus comes at 6:45 and they won’t be worth anything if they’re not in bed on time.
And I think, relax! Relax! It’ll be ok.
PAM: I really love that idea of focus on the relationship, because the relationship is the thing that you are going to have for a lifetime, right? And now you have the opportunity to give it the focus, that it deserves. To get to know your child, who they are, versus who they had to be to fit into the school system, because those can be super different things.
SUE: And a lot of those kids that are leaving in high school, have had a miserable time. I mean the last few years have been torturous, and I mean torturous for the whole family. Because the family has been trying to meet with the counselors and trying to make them do this, and they’ve been kind of deputized to be the warden of the school when they are not in a school. You may have to do a little bit of repair work, because, you might have to talk with them a lot about that that was perhaps a really bad path.
PAM: It didn’t fit for them. It’s didn’t work. And I think the other piece too, you know, is that they are going to need, as parents, if you’ve chosen the unschooling lifestyle, even now as teens, you’re going to want to learn about it. You’ve gotten there enough to make this choice, or maybe even your child has said, “I want to do this,” and you’ve learned enough to say, “I’m good with it, let’s try this.”
Keep doing this. And your child, even though they were having a bad experience, they’ve absorbed a lot of that ‘school in the air’ that you were talking about before, right? So there, they too are going to have a lot of expectations that they are going to be working through, that you can be working through. But yeah, just to realize that that first year, just to take it off.
We still need that deschooling time, no matter their age when you start, just really take any of that academic type pressure, that balance type pressure, just take that off and just dive into the relationship and look for fun and joy. I think that’s just a good way to put it, right?
And find out who, you are now. Not the parent who has to, like you said, be kind of controlling and managing the environment so your child can manage at school, and your child, teen, can no longer be that person, that teen that no longer has to be that person fitting into that environment. Now you guys together can discover who you really are, right? Who that person really is! And so that’s awesome. Oh! And I do have! Oh, go ahead!
SUE: Oh no you go on.
PAM: I was going to say that I do have a podcast episode with Noah who left highschool to start unschooling, so I’ll put that in the show notes as well and people can listen.
SUE: And in Homeschooled Teens, because there were 75 teens, you know, ages 17 to 35, and lots of them had friends who were in high school, and then that had an impact on them, and so that book could be really helpful you know when you think, ‘OK, I’m not going to do anything to create balance. What am I going to do?’ Well, you’re going to read.
And that’s a really great start because that book was all questions that they have during those teen years? What does it look like? And because nobody can say, “Here’s how it looks, it looks like this”. There is nothing like that. It looks 75 different ways that’s how it looks! So, it’s like, my kid is nothing like that but kinda like this in this area and kinda like that in this area, and it just kind of loosens that grip, so that you don’t feel like you have to make them kind of like this. You can see how they don’t have to do the things that you thought were have tos! They’re not have-tos! So many of those, right?
PAM: I think that’s one of the biggest things about deschooling, it was for me, was discovering how much of the internal language for myself that I framed as have tos. “You have to do this, we have to do this, I have to do that—blah blah blah” Just opening that up to say, “Do you really? Is that something you really have to do? And if I still said yes, then I’d be like, “Why?” It didn’t mean that I had to not do it, at all. If I dug enough, there was a reason why I would still choose to do it. But what a different approach when I went to do the thing when I realized I was choosing it. It wasn’t one of those ‘have-to-dos’ on my list. I was so much more motivated now because I knew my “why”, right?
SUE: Right! Right! Yeah. And so many of those have tos have to do with the school, that they are going to graduate at age 18! The school says they have to because that’s when the school is done with them, so they have to be checking their box of “finished”. And not only is that not even true, but they have their whole life to learn many things. 18 is not a magic number. Some kids are going to understand way sooner, and some kids are going to understand way later, and how fabulous that they don’t have to be on some kind of a, “we’re all doing it by age 18”, you know. When that’s no longer applicable, when you remove that, suddenly a lot of those have-tos are gone, because they were all hinged on that.
The other one that, I have a free ebook called called, “Unschooling Your Teens”, and I’ve talked to a lot of people who have found that really helpful. They were just able to have this whole way of thinking about unschooling wash over them and relax a little bit and know that it’s going to be ok, and that they are hardwired to learn, but their curiosity may be kind of tamped down a little bit after all that time in school, and this is going to allow them time to like grow it, and not have to bury it and shelve their stuff because they gotta do somebody else’s stuff.
Now they get to try different things. I’m excited for those people to get to come home! One of the coolest things about that crowd is that they know what they’re leaving. They are like, “Yeah, I think we’re done”. As opposed to those kids who are always a little second-guessey, they are like, “I dunno, would I like to go there? Would it be good?” And then they go and they are like “No.” And then that’s good too because people have to take whatever path they have to take to resolve the things that are bugging them. But I love those kids that are leaving because they get to see that their life really is their life. And even make the choices that are not good for them, and even make the choice that are not going to work for them, and that’s how they find the ones that will.
PAM: Exactly. I think another big question during deschooling is that question of failure. We are all so fearful of failure or things going wrong, and I mean our whole language around it, you don’t want to make a mistake. I mean how, it’s literally a black mark against you when you make a mistake in school. But in reality, in real life, when you’re making a choice and it doesn’t go the way you expect, you learn so much from it, right? You learn so much more about yourself, even just about that process of making that choice in the first place, you think, “Oh, what did I miss that might have told me that that wasn’t going to go the way I was hoping?” It’s just more experience, more knowledge of yourself, Everything! That that little mistake gives you for the next time you’re making a choice. It’s just all learning, it’s all crazy learning. I love that.
SUE: I don’t know where I was writing about, probably answering somebody’s question, and it was becoming really clear that when we are so fearful about making mistakes, then we don’t take risks, and I don’t mean risks like playing on the side of the highway, but I mean risks like ‘Should I try that?’ We, sometimes, some kids, and some adults are super cautious, overly so, because they are just afraid to make a mistake because of what making a mistake meant when you were in school. And in real life, it’s not!
PAM: And even, I think that fear of mistakes is something, you know when I was talking about earlier, we can be scared to have a conversation with our kids, right? Because we are fearful they may take it the wrong way, or we are fearful they may not like it. Worrying they might have a bad reaction to something we might say.
But it was a defining moment for me when I was reading, I think it was Attachment across the Lifecourse, when he mentioned that 50% of the connections that we try to make in a relationship go awry, and what is really important is your next connection.
SUE: Right! Your next move!
PAM: That you come back to it! That doing or saying something wrong is not the end of the world. Oh, I just learned something! He didn’t take that the way that I meant it. Or, she doesn’t like when I use that word. And we are learning more about them, we are learning something new for the next time.
SUE: And about ourselves! Why is that a big deal to me? Why? What am I trying to do? Just trying to get them to agree with me? I’m trying to say it yet another way that maybe this way they’ll choose what I want them to choose! Oh, you learn about yourself, man!
PAM: Yeah! You learn so much about what our underlying agenda is. By what we say, right?
SUE: Oh, it’s like holding up that big mirror and saying, “Well now, lookie there!”
PAM: On that hand, you’re opening, because,
SUE: So much learning from that…
PAM: Yeah, we know each other so well, they see everything beneath those words that we say.
SUE: Oh my gosh, yeah.
PAM: These are real connections that we have, and it’s ok for them to call us out, “Mom!”
SUE: Oh, and they will! And they will continue to! And that’s good. And that’s good and healthy. And that may be something we have to work through. We may have this thing about respect and listening to your elders and all that kind of stuff that a lot of people grew up with, and when you get a little nervous and a little panicky about things that come up, those pop back up. So, dismantling it is important.
PAM: I always, have always and am always a big fan of just asking myself why. Why is that important to me? Why do I think that? Just to dig deeper.
SUE: And then for me a lot of it would boil down to, “What am I afraid of? What am I afraid is going to happen? Is that a rational fear? Could it maybe go differently than this disaster story that I am telling myself?”
PAM: And you know, and then I would get to the point that I was like, “OK, what if that disaster story happened? What would it look like? And then if you actually imagine yourself on the other side of it, so often it’s really not as bad as you imagined. We are still alive, you know.
SUE: So often, all that worry, and it’s gonna happen. Whether you are running around ‘Henny penny! The sky is falling’, or if you decide, ‘No, I’m just going to be the calm spot.’ I’m going to be the place that ideas can be bounced off of, I don’t lose it the minute somebody thinks differently than me, that makes people more likely to bring things to you more often if you don’t lose it. Trust me.
PAM: It’s so true. I think this fear just makes us want to be able to solve it so fast. We were talking about that earlier too, right? And if you’re just so caught up in reacting and trying to solve things, you’re not going to be that calm port in the storm, or that rock, or that person that can bounce things around.
If you can instead, be in the moment, and seeing what’s happening and processing with people, and realizing that it’s ok to sit here for a while. 95 percent of the time, we don’t need an answer immediately, it’s not a true emergency. We can take the time to talk about things and to process things and to say, how did we even get here?!
SUE: Hard to say! Hard to say! But I hope your dear listeners don’t mind travelling down this windy road with us!
PAM: Good question! But I think it’s an important question!
SUE: Hey y’all! Come on!
PAM: Hey, you know what, I think it leads so nicely, or I think it is a lot of the answer to the next question, so I’m just going to let people know what the next question is.
SUE: There you go. Whatever.
Sometimes the questions that I get involve extra challenges for teens, things like anxiety or things that we touched on before, what they often describe as laziness or the cocooning time or the deschooling time, and what are your thoughts around approaching those kinds of situations, and I think that’s a lot of what we’ve been talking about!
I don’t think they need something different because the point with unschooling is that we are getting to know each other as individuals, as the person they are, as the constellation of who they are as an individual is. So, you know, if anxiety is something that they are dealing with and struggling with, we are helping them find their way through that, right? If laziness is, if that’s a way we are labeling behavior, that is, again, a fear, and we are processing through that, right? You know, whatever our fears are, we are taking the time to connect.
SUE: Well and I think that, we, and again, I think that it is really, really important that when we have these negative thoughts, like laziness, and that is so tied to this idea of productivity, and what we expect, that we really need to look at that, so that when we think, “I can’t have him on the couch for another day in the row.” You know, can’t you? Really? Is that really the end of the world? So, he needed a couple more days than he thought. What are you afraid of? So, pull it out! What are you afraid of!?
Are you’re afraid he is going to lay on the couch for the rest of his life? I can tell you, 100 percent, that they are going to get up and leave eventually, and how they relate to you then is directly related to how you relate to them while they are laying on the couch. So, if you walk around saying, “Oh man, you’re such a lazy bum! Oh man, I wish I could just lay around on the couch all the time. Oh man…!” If it’s just a dig every time every time you walk by, are you making this relationship better or worse? Are you making your connection to them better or worse? Can you just sit on the couch too and say, “Oh man, what a great couch!”
Can you just connect with them? Can you relate a story of when you just didn’t feel like doing anything, or something happened and it bummed you out for a while? Or you couldn’t figure out what to do next? It’s so nice to have comfy furniture!
PAM: That’s so important I think to be able to connect with them where they are. Instead of trying to pull them to where you want them to be, connect with them where they are. That’s where you can join them! That’s where you can learn more about them. And I think if you’re constantly trying to, even in the nicest language, trying to get them to change…
SUE: Oh, I know! That nicest language can really, really hurt you! Because you are clearly saying, “Where you are is not good. Where I want you to be is the good place. Make my choice.”
PAM: Yeah, and, what you’re doing at that point is helping them stay longer on the couch, because what you’ve made it is now, when they choose to get up, it looks like and it feels to them like they will be choosing it to make you happy. It’s no longer their choice. You’ve just taken that choice out of their hands because you’ve made it about you.
SUE: And turned it into a power struggle! You’ve got enough power struggles, you don’t need to create them!
PAM: You’ve created that! It’s a power thing! And now if they get up, they’re going to be giving it to you.
SUE: They lost!
PAM: They lost that battle! Right, and so they are going to stay until they can’t put up with it anymore.
SUE: So, stop with the battles! And more than stop with the battles. Get ok with where they are, with who they are right now, even if it does not look the way you thought it was going to look. It looks how it is! Do you still love them? Of course you do! Do they need to know that? Of course they do. They do. They really do.
PAM: That stopping with the battle is the first step, but you don’t stop there, because then, if you stop with that battle, you think, ‘I’m going to stay away, right?’ If I’m not going to battle them, I’m going to go in the kitchen and do my thing, or I’m going to go wherever and do my thing and leave them on their own.
That’s better I guess than battling, but there’s still that next step of connecting with them of being ok with where they are, of understanding and supporting them and letting them see your trust and love and knowing that they are ok who they are, right now. Because that helps them, and that takes all that weight off of them of worrying. They are worrying if there is something wrong with me, etcetera. Does my mom hate me for what I’m doing, she’s never coming around.
SUE: You know they are.
PAM: All those things are going through their heads, and they are so busy worrying about that stuff that they don’t actually get much of a chance to actually figure out why they literally feel like laying on the couch. Right? And that’s where their answer is, and if you keep them worried about all this other stuff, it takes them so much longer to get to the actual self-awareness piece of understanding what’s going on for them deep down that has them in that spot right now.
Next week’s podcast will be Part 2 of my interview with Sue Patterson. Join us for the rest of the conversation.