PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with the wonderful Anna Brown. Hi, Anna!
We are back today with another unschooling context episode!
The idea behind these episodes is to deepen our understanding of unschooling by exploring it in the context of other related things. This week I’d like to explore unschooling and how it eventually weaves itself so tightly into the fabric of our lives completely. So, we’re going to look at what does that look like for us when we begin unschooling.
We soon find ourselves deep in that deschooling territory. We question so much of the prevailing wisdom around learning and around parenting and eventually around life in general and through our journey to unschooling we really come to see life so differently, don’t we?
ANNA: I feel like it’s a doorway to start questioning. If we don’t have to send our kids to school, what else? We’ve been told that is a have to. But really, is it?
So, that’s that gateway opening up and getting the wheels turning. I think that’s one of the really cool things to watch in people, that gets the wheels turning, because school is one of those things, “You have to go to school.” “You have to send your kids to school.”
They turn four and a half or five and off they go on the bus. This is just what we all know and believe, right? So, when you can first start to question that I think then the floodgates open.
PAM: Yeah. I found that I was thinking back to my first years of unschooling and another thought just popped up.
My third book is titled Life through the Lens of Unschooling. It’s an edited collection and reorganization of quite a few of the blog posts that are on my website. And the other interesting piece so often when I was in that writing phase and writing a lot of posts, as I would go through whatever the issue was, at the end, so often I ended up with “unschooling is life.” That almost felt like a mantra for me.
I look at things from various sides, through unschooling eyes, and then, in the end, I always got to, “Unschooling is life.” So, it’s so fascinating. As you were saying, things you wouldn’t think to question or to wonder about. All of a sudden, it all opens up once you start to question one big thing. And, in our case, with unschooling. With a lot of us, one of the first things we question is, “Is school necessary?” That whole system.
ANNA: Yep. And something just came to mind when you are saying that. I’ve lost it. But it’s that questioning that really leads to looking at all of these pieces. Oh, I know!
What we’re talking about in this episode today is because unschooling becomes life. Sometimes we don’t see those nuances, we go to, “Is it the unschooling?”
That’s what we’ll talk about more, if people are kind of wondering where are you going with this. Because we’re kind of explaining yes, it does mesh with life. Unschooling is life. And yet, don’t get hung up on that if you’re running into conflicts or problems, which we’ll discuss later. I think that’s just a really kind of helps people understand where we’re going.
PAM: Yes. And that perfectly leads into the next question.
The thing is our exploration of so many of these aspects of life was prompted initially by our move to unschooling, So, as you said, they do all get woven together.
And then we widened our perspective on so many different things. But, as you were saying, it’s really helpful to start putting that into the context of the bigger picture because, when you’re looking back after the bulk of your deschooling—and I say bulk because we’re always running into new things to question that we haven’t come across before, right? That new things are coming up in our lives and we’re going to go through the process of thinking through them.
But when we’ve done the bulk of it, we truly are a different person. And one of my favourite quotes, and I know it’s in my What is Unschooling? book, is:
The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.Ralph Waldo Emerson
Many of our thoughts were prompted by our journey to unschooling. That’s what got us starting to question and the things we’re looking at have grown beyond unschooling.
As Anna alluded to, we’re going to tackle some of the common questions we see in unschooling circles that, in the bigger picture, often aren’t really about the unschooling.
A big part of deschooling is changing how we see and engage with our children. We see lots of questions around building trusting and respectful relationships with our children. And yet, when all is said and done, is that really about the unschooling?
PAM: Even if my kids went to school next week, I know I would—most people would—still want to cultivate those trusting and respectful relationships with their children because they’ve come to really appreciate those. So, I think that that’s one of the things that we’re prompted to by this. Because we learn and discover how that’s so helpful for unschooling and for our lives in general. That’s one of those ideas that gets stretched but doesn’t come back in, right?
ANNA: Absolutely. I mean, I love that quote because I think it also helps me when you’re talking to someone that maybe doesn’t quite understand where you’re coming from or you’re running into conflicts and just realizing that just by showing a different perspective their mind is opened in a way. It’s a stretch to like, “Okay, there is this different idea, this other idea.” And so, I love that quote. That’s a little bit of an aside.
PAM: Yeah I always think about it when I’m out in the world. It’s not about convincing or changing, it’s just planting that seed, that little seed, that may grow and stretch, and it may not. It may not be for them it may not be for them in that moment, maybe it years later, whatever.
ANNA: But you can’t unhear it. Then you know you’re making a choice and that’s what we’ve talked about so often with unschooling is, the beauty of knowing and understanding unschooling is knowing that you have a choice, whatever choice you choose to make.
PAM: Yes. And I think with our relationship with the kids, when we’re going through that process of understanding why it’s important and building that relationship with our children and when, like you were saying, when we understand unschooling and why we’re doing that, that really ends up being a fundamental change in the parent that we want to be, right?
So, we’re not going to all of a sudden, if we stop unschooling, shift back to those power-based relationships. Like, those aren’t an either / or, that you’re only that kind of parent when you’re unschooling. Maybe unschooling introduced you to being that kind of parent, more engaged and trusting all that kind of stuff, but, you don’t have to shift out of that. You’ve grown into that person, that parent, now and you’re going to stay there.
The other piece that stood out for me when I thought about that is, part of that shift too is seeing our children as real people. I think that’s another big shift.
You lose that age dynamic that, “I know better than you because I’m an adult.” And you see how capable children really are of having a conversation, of doing things, of learning about themselves, understanding themselves, adding to choices and conversations about what we might do as a family.
And I think that’s another piece that we don’t lose, even if you take the unschooling away. They are still capable. That’s part of who we are now, understanding that, isn’t it?
Speaking of kids, let’s shift to sibling relationships. That’s another thing we get questions about quite often, and how to help them move through that. And often we see them in unschooling circles because with unschooling maybe now we’re all home together and we want to put an unschooling lens on them and not just go in and say, “Stop fighting!” or drag them away or whatever. But again, that’s another thing that ultimately really isn’t about the unschooling, is it?
ANNA: Right. Because, I mean, I think that dynamic of the sibling is so interesting because with unschooling, like you said, we’re actually seeing those interactions. We’re with them, we’re together.
Say you’re coming into unschooling after your kids have been in school that they feel very intense because that has not necessarily been a huge part of your day to day life because there’s a much more limited time when you’re together if you have school all day. And so it’s new territory. It’s interesting when you think about how school kids are segregated by age so, often your siblings are going to have separate peer groups because of just kind of how that’s designed.
And so, with unschooling, that really isn’t the case. You have a lot of mixing of ages, you’ve got a common peer group, which can be great and cause problems. So, all of those things work together. And with unschooling, we’re living and exploring our life together and it provides this really rich environment for creating these lasting, strong relationships.
I think while you can have that initial reaction, “What’s happening? Why is this not working? Why are we fighting?” I really looked at those as opportunities for growth because here what was important to me, and I’ve talked about this before, is I feel like this ability to be in relationship, to be in community, that’s such a critical skill.
Going forward, that’s much more important to me personally than any kind of math fact or history fact or whatever. It’s that interpersonal piece. And so, I love with unschooling we’re able to be working on that. To be together, to give feedback, to facilitate, to have the time.
It’s always about the time. We have the time to walk through these things and so while the conflict can be uncomfortable, I think it’s such a great place to start. How can we work this out? How do we work with someone we’re in conflict with? How do we turn this around and look at it a different way? And in terms of the episode and what we’re talking about, it isn’t the unschooling.
This is just learning relationships. Now, in a school situation, that can be happening at school but without the facilitation; with some other things going on with kids that maybe don’t want to be there and you have some different kind of conflicts because we hear a lot about bullying and just even difficult friend relationships and things like that.
But what I love about unschooling is that we’re there, we’re present, we’re facilitating. You have that closer dynamic with adults and children working together and they’re seeing you do it too. They’re seeing you in relationship and they’re seeing you have conflicts and you figure that out. And so, it isn’t that if we took away the unschooling we’d have no sibling conflict. We know that to be true. But sometimes we feel that way, you know I mean?
What do you think?
PAM: Yeah, I love that.
I think at the root of it, as we’re coming to unschooling, the kids came home and all of a sudden they were spending a lot more time together, right? So we did have a lot of focus on sibling relationships. And I love that word, ‘facilitate,’ and helping them work through them and figure out the tools and the ways to do that. And those are such valuable skills—those are life skills, no matter your age, whether you’re school age or not. Those are those are really valuable skills.
And I figured out so much of them as an adult because they were home. I mean, before, I was mostly in more formal relationships like school and work and that was the bulk of it. So, it was wonderful for me as well to figure out ways to help them and support them. And that was, like I said, the bulk of at least our first few months when we were together because that was the biggest change: all of a sudden we were all home and we were all together.
Unschooling was the motivation for that, the reason for it. But again, it’s a bigger picture thing, right? I’ve fundamentally changed how I want to view relationships, how I want to be in relationship, how I want to help my kids. If you pull the unschooling out of that, I would still want to do that.
It would be having the different conversations, if they had chosen to go to school we’d be having conversations about those kinds of relationships, just as we had lots of conversations when my kids chose to do activities, or were online and had some sort of thing flare up. Just being in relationship in any aspect is something that we want to continue facilitating with them and giving them tools that are more consensual rather than power-based.
ANNA: It’s just a great environment for that to develop and to learn different personalities and, “How do we deal with people that have different needs than we do?” And this is going to happen in any environment.
But again, I think unschooling provides us the time. Sometimes that can feel like, “Whoa, it’s all bubbling up. Why is this happening?” But no, you’re just getting this beautiful time to work through these things that, like you said, sometimes can take us 30, 40, 50, minutes to figure out these dynamics. And so, how great that we can do it in the safety of our home with people that love us, to figure out these different nuances of our own personality, of understanding that people see the world differently.
I think about one of my best friends. She’s an extrovert. I’m an introvert. I’ve talked about it before but, honestly, I swear it was not until we became friends which was, probably in our late thirties or early forties. But anyway, she didn’t see that people saw the world differently than she did until she met me and we really started talking about nuances because we like to talk about all these different nuances.
And so, I think because we have that time together and to facilitate and to talk about them, she really sees this differently. “The park is not fun for him, but he enjoys this, and you really love this piece.” It’s just all of this interesting human dynamic and information that I think is so wonderful and so, even though it can feel bumpy and challenging at times, it’s just such a rich area for growth and development. Like you said for me and for them.
PAM: I love that because that’s one of the huge pieces that we come to through unschooling, is that self-awareness. Like you said, through the time that we have all that knowledge and understanding of each other, of people, and human beings in general, that isn’t sucked out of your head if unschooling is no longer in the picture.
I mean, that’s one of the big reasons we’re going through this, because it can get tangled up.
Now, let’s talk about issues around housework.
PAM: Like cleaning and chores and tidying up messes—toys all over the place. Lego.
And these can come either from maybe stress that we’re feeling about it cause we’re putting expectations and things on ourselves, or conflicts with our spouse or partner who also have other expectations that maybe don’t align with the way we’re seeing things.
I think most of these challenges stem from us choosing to be with our children over time spent with the house. That being with our children and engaging with them and having all these conversations—maybe it’s not always conversations because some people think ‘Well, my kid doesn’t like to talk about that stuff,’ but it’s still about observing and noticing things, right? And maybe just sharing a quick something, “Oh hey, I noticed this,” with your child and maybe they put something together. But anyway, it really is a fundamental shift in our parenting priorities. So, as we move to unschooling and we have that shift, it’s so easy, I think, to conflate the two. “This is because of the unschooling.” But again that’s something that wouldn’t go away if we’re no longer unschooling.
And I think we’ve seen this a lot with questions where the spouse who maybe isn’t at home as much is really, “Why is this chaos? This unschooling is terrible!” I think sometimes we can feel defensive about that.
So, first of all, breathe through that because they’re just reacting to their own pieces too. I think if we can just kind of help and calm everyone down it helps us get there. But, I think it’s helpful to just walk through it. Because I have good friends that have kids in school and holy smokes. I was staying at one of their houses one time, a couple of years back, and it was the first time, I think, that I’d stayed at someone’s house who had kids going to school and it was a school day. And we get up and it was chaos. They have three girls and all different schools, and some drive, and some girls have to be taken and picked up, and getting kids out the door. You have your lunch and you have that permission slip and you have that thing and I was just like a deer in headlights against the wall going, “This is crazy!”
And then you add in homework and you add in the stress of school and all these different pieces and all these different things. These relationship pieces are still happening that we talked about in the question before, but yet you don’t have the time to really dive into that. So, I think there’s a whole lifestyle associated with school that sometimes we don’t think about, it’s just like, “Oh well, they’ll go to school,” because we think that’s what you do. But there’s all these other pieces that go along with that that really make those issues just as complicated.
And I think they also bring time pressure and I think that time pressure increases stress. So, while that spouse might be saying, “It’s chaos,” adding the stress of that time pressure might not make anything better. I think if we can figure out, look at opportunities, “Okay, what’s happening? Are we feeling disconnected?” What are the particular issues?
Because sometimes it’s just people have hot button issues from childhood about messes or whatever or, it’s just for me and I’ve talked about before, that my mind is calmer when the space is clear and so I would keep spaces for myself that were clear because it would be a way for me to calm down. So, looking at those underlying needs and doing that—again, we’ve got the time to do that. We have the time to solve and dig in and peel back the layers instead of being in crisis survival mode with this time pressure that school can bring.
So yeah, this is definitely another one where it isn’t the unschooling, I think it’s just an opportunity to figure out what are our needs. What are the needs of my spouse, and my kids, and the house, and what do we need here?
PAM: Yeah, Exactly. I mean I see it all the time too with families, like there’s somebody I work with, trying to get three kids to three different schools, with all the paraphernalia for school, and having to go back and take glasses to somebody, or somebody missed the bus—there’s always something that seems to go wrong.
And if we don’t take that moment to think about, “Is it the unschooling?” we can so easily just kind of blame it and say, “because we’re unschooling, the house is a mess,” or “because we’re unschooling, it feels chaos,” or any or all of those things that can come up.
ANNA: And I think it runs us in the wrong direction. So, we’re really not figuring out the problem. We’re really not peeling back the layers to understand how we can change. We’re just putting this blame here. And if you have spouses that disagree, then you’re just creating distance.
“No, I’m going to hold on to the unschooling. It’s the unschooling,” as opposed to, “Hey, let’s dig under this.” Because part of this is just having a family and kids. It does bring some chaos, it brings some complications, but it also brings so much joy and wonder to one’s life. So, yes, I think that not running down that path to blame but stepping back and connecting and figuring out just really helps, because that running to blame unschooling, again, I think it just takes us off course.
PAM: It does, exactly.
The next question we often ask ourselves is, so, they go to school, right? The whole point that we’re saying is, that’s probably not a solution that’s going to fix things. Like you said, you’re not looking at the people involved, you’re not looking at what the root needs are. How can we maybe adjust things for that? As you were saying, set up spaces for yourself in the house where you were you could go.
I’ve seen it called like periodic unschooling panic disorder or something. Because something in life has come up that’s a challenge. And we think of it as the unschooling because it was something that first came up maybe as a result of our choice to unschool, but it’s bigger than that.
And when we start thinking about it as an unschooling thing, then the next thing is to question, “Well, should we be unschooling? Should the kids go to school?” And that sends you off in the wrong direction. You’re spending all your time worried about and thinking about should they be going, what is it I love about unschooling, why should we continue doing this? Those are all not questions that are going to literally help you with the particular situation you’re finding yourself in in that moment.
What about bigger life events? Let’s chat about medical emergencies, or big family events. Maybe there’s something that comes up medically for a child. Or moving, that’s another big family event that we see questions about relatively often. Because, chances are, we have also made some unschooling inspired changes in how we approach these kinds of things, right?
ANNA: Yeah. And I can speak to a couple of things. I think it changes our approach to so many things, that foundation of respect and trust. It’s such an integral part of our lives you can’t really set that aside. It’s not just about the decision-making process to go to the park or to do the class or the playdate or whatever it is. It really comes into play when you have moving job changes you know big things coming up. I mean these are things that I think the triggered reaction this kind of came to me in the other question too.
I think when you have a conflict or a panic or something that kind of stresses us, we revert back to what we knew in childhood. And so I think that’s why school comes up. I think that’s why more authoritarian parenting may come up. Because it’s just this panic and how do we deal with this?
I think when we can just breathe through that moment, that 90 seconds that I talk about, breathe through that and look at that. Now, how do we make decisions as a family? What have we cultivated here? Then we realize we want to all be talking about this.
We made decisions about job changes and things like this when the kids were very little and we all sat down. Here’s what it might change. How do we feel about this? What’s the priority? We can get more time with Dad, but it would change a few things here. Here’s what he’s thinking. Here’s how he feels about his job. I thought these were such interesting, rich conversations for them to hear, even at that young age, because they were seeing how we made decisions, the things that we looked at when we were making decisions. And then they could tell us how they felt about that.
So, I found those to be such wonderful times for unschooling. I was so grateful for those foundations that we have built because we all felt comfortable, even when it was kind of, “Okay, we’re not sure,” and I’m not sure, and we have different opinions. Once we took that time and got to consensus, we’ve made this choice together.
Then you make it work together because I think if you have a situation where a job changes and we’re going to move—we’re moving. Then on the other side of that, when there’s conflicts—there’s going to be conflicts with moving and it’s going to be a stressful period. I’ve done it a bunch of times recently, there’s really no way to do it without that. If you don’t have that buy in, you have a lot more conflict whereas, if you’re all choosing to do it together, then you work together when the stumbling blocks happen. You help each other and that’s what I love about unschooling and that’s what I love about that environment.
So, that’s my piece about moving but I do have a medical piece. But do you want to chime in about kind of those big moving job decisions first.
PAM: Yeah. What you said made so much sense because then you’re back to, if you don’t have that consensus, or that understanding together about why and the choice to do it, you’re back to, when you hit a stumbling block, you’re going to blame the moving.
ANNA: Yes yes yes!
PAM: And you’re going to get back to arguing about the move and “I didn’t want to move,” and whatever. And again, that’s not going to help you with that particular stumbling block no matter what it is, right?
I remember we had been unschooling maybe a couple of years when we decided to move out of the suburbs, out of the city. And it was a shift for me to have the kids involved and to have those conversations where they had a say in it because I was worried, what if they don’t like anything that Rocco and I like or vice versa. But, that was another stage of me seeing how capable they were. Even at those younger ages they came with us to see properties—it took us a year to find a property that we were all, “Yeah, let’s go for it!”
But it was so worth it, and they were so valuable in the process, and I would not have learned that or seen that if I hadn’t taken that step. It was another natural step. We’d been living together like that for you know a year and a half maybe at this point. Those first six months were a lot of a lot of me learning about unschooling and then and the bulk of the deschooling that that first year and change. But this was something that hadn’t come up before.
So it was, “Okay, now I’m going to look and moving through the lens of unschooling, through the lens of the relationships that we have. Am I going to now revert in this particular big family event to the more power-based dynamic where dad and I choose where we’re moving and hope you’re happy with it?”
And I learned so much through the process and they were so valuable to it. And again, even if they were in school, now I wouldn’t remove that. I wouldn’t take them out.
I mean I have medical stuff too with Michael. It’s sticking up for him and bringing him into the conversation. And that was further along on our unschooling journey, so that was a lot easier for me in that particular case. It was actually just kind of funny at this point. Him and I were just like, “They don’t even look at me. I’m the one in the hospital bed. They just keep looking at you.” And I’d say, “Well, he’s right there why don’t we ask him?”
You want to share too?
ANNA: Yeah, well, I think yeah your story is so important.
With medical issues, body autonomy was just always very important to us. Separate from medical is just everyday food eating, going to the bathroom, sleeping, all of those things really were so important to me because I wanted them to listen to their bodies because I had found at times when I wasn’t doing that as a child or as a younger person it really takes a toll.
So, it was just so important to me for them to have the opportunity to really listen and tune into their bodies. And when it came to a medical decision or crisis, be it around teeth that needed something or some other kind of issue, we talked about it and made sure they felt comfortable. And again you have that buy in.
And I think in your case it’s probably more important because there’s ongoing pieces. We have other friends who have medical issues that have ongoing pieces that need cooperation from the patient. So, having them buy in and understand the why. Earlier, I thought maybe this is one of the most important points, understanding the why. When we take the time to understand the why then when you run into conflicts you still can go back to, “Okay, but I remember why we’re doing this,” as opposed to, “They’re telling me to do this. I’m supposed to do this. I have to do this.”
It’s so different when we all understand why we’re making this decision to move, or to do this medical intervention, or to take care of our teeth in a certain way, or to do whatever the thing might be. You know that why, taking that time for us all to understand that why, is so so important.
And there’s just another little aside related to the medical thing that it brought to mind an old story. It’s something you’ll hear when people are being so critical of the way that I parent, one of the things they would say to me is “Yes, but what do you do if it’s really emergency and you have to go right this second or they have to cooperate? You don’t have time to have this discussion or chit chat?”
I would get feedback like that from people. And I just thought, because we just never really had that issue and then this this incident happened.
The girls were pretty young and we were at a friend’s house and my husband was on a trip and I got a call that he had been in a motorcycle accident. And you know, instantly, it’s like go time. I pull the girls over and I’m like, “Look, your dad’s been in an accident. He’s fine, but I need to go there right now. I need to get in the car and leave right now to get to him. Do you want to come with me? Do you want to stay with Christy?” They took just a minute—not even a minute—to go, “Okay, we want to stay with Christie.” And I’m like, “It’s going be a few hours. It’s going to be a while.”
At this point, they’re very young we’d never really been apart for that long, but they sensed my sense of urgency and they just made a quick decision. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m playing my game,” or doing whatever, like we might have if I’m going to the grocery store. They just got it and they got it because we have—I’m getting a little teary—because we have that connection.
And when they come to me with something that’s so important, and are adamant, I know and I can stop and I can connect with them and I can do it. And I don’t think you can explain that type of relationship to somebody that doesn’t have it. Because I think it’s just so different from what you see. They know that I don’t ask them to do things arbitrarily. I don’t make dramatic emergencies out of nothing. You know, “I need to go right now to the store and if you don’t listen to me …” Like, that is not happening.
And so when they saw that I was I needed this, seriously, I need you to look at me. I mean we need to figure this out. They just responded instantly. And so, I think it’s important for people to understand that’s what we’re doing here, we’re creating this foundation. We’re building this level of trust so that we can be there for each other as a family.
PAM: That was a wonderful example and a beautiful story and exactly it.
I too haven’t had to resort to being a different kind of person or a different kind of parent just because of something happening. Because we’ve developed that relationship with them. That trust, that connection. We don’t make up emergencies. We don’t. We don’t try to make things look worse than they are just to get them to do something.
Manipulate—there’s the word! Because we don’t manipulate them. They know we’re not trying to do it in this moment. So they understand right then and there.
As much as they can, of course. But you’re also understanding them in that moment too. Like, you said to them, “It’s going to be a while,” because you understood that for them this was going to be longer than usual, than you’d been apart before. So, we say things so that they’ll understand because we know what they might find uncomfortable, right? And they’re responding to where we are in the moment and the urgency of it.
Like you said, this is all the foundation that we’ve built with them. And again that’s the bigger picture. That’s life. That’s “unschooling is life.” Because even though we were motivated to build that kind of relationship with them through discovering unschooling—and discovering that was one of the huge things when I was reading about unschooling, at first it’s like, look at these wonderful relationships they talk about. That’s the kind of relationships I want to have with my children.
Unschooling was the lens through which I came to it. But it’s so much bigger than that, isn’t it?
ANNA: So much bigger. Yeah. Like you said if you were to take the unschooling out of our lives, even at that time, I would still want that relationship. I would still want that connection and we would still make decisions in that same way. And I just think that’s important to realize because again they’re connected and yet they’re not.
PAM: Even if school was in the picture right behind it, that’s what I would be spending my time doing. Cultivating that connection with them, working through things with them. At that point, I’d be working through things that came up at school.
And as I think back, that’s what I was doing with a lot of my time when they were in school before I discovered homeschooling. I was spending all my time doing outside of work. Me at work then at school. That’s what I was doing. And you know it came down to that kind of choice I actually left my job my work before I discovered homeschooling because it was just taking up so much time supporting them with school and all the stuff that came along with it and I decided that was more important than working.
And then it was through having more time with them, working through that, researching and stuff, that I came across homeschooling in first place. And I was already home so, hey let’s try. Anyway. That’s a little bit of backstory.
But yes, whether or not school’s in the picture. As a parent, those are the choices that you can make if this is the kind of relationship that you want to have. The investment of time in it is a cost, I guess, but it doesn’t feel like a cost per se, it’s a choice right?
ANNA: Right. And what I always say to people with things like that is just like you just said you’re going to be investing energy in parenting no matter what because you’re going to be dealing with school issues or with whatever it is. I mean it’s always going to be something.
But for me it’s, “Where do I want to spend that energy?” and I’d rather spend that energy together, exploring the world, building relationships, all of that, as opposed to dealing with kind of outside issues that are being somewhat forced upon us by being in that school system. And again, it’s totally different if a child makes a choice to be there because again they’re feeling that sense of choice and then you’re able to operate in a completely different way. But I think it’s where do you want to spend your energy. And for me I wanted to spend the energy together and at home and exploring the world together.
PAM: Yeah I know I love that. Exactly. That’s when choice comes in. And the bulk of our deschooling is realizing how many things that we thought were “have to’s” really are choices.
So, just to give it a little bit of summary, I think it’s really helpful when challenges arise while we’re unschooling to ask ourselves, “Is it the unschooling?” Because as we were talking about before, it’s so easy to blame the unschooling just because unschooling was the initial motivation to rethink all these choices about parenting. The parent we want to be, the life we want to have. The impetus is often the unschooling that has us realizing these are choices, not have to’s. But now, when things come up, is it the unschooling? If you were to take away the unschooling, would my choice change in this situation? And so often it wouldn’t, would it?
And I think it’s just taking that moment to pause when maybe things are flaring up and you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh, this unschooling, if we weren’t doing this it would be better.” Just take that moment and pause and step back and say, “Is that true? Is that really true?
And walk through the different scenarios because I think you’ll find again that it’s not the unschooling but that you have this opportunity in front of you to peel back some layers and to see what’s going on instead of getting derailed by this idea that it’s the unschooling or even the flip side that it’s just the school. If your kids are in school, it’s not just the school. It’s still relationships and figuring things out.
And so, take at really high level issue off the table and start digging in. And I think that you’ll get there faster, or you’ll get to solutions faster, to feeling better. Because unschooling is the new choice for you. This different life choice compared to other people. That’s where we first go to—this is the outlier. This is the different thing.
But again, it’s just what we find you know when we’re answering questions and talking to people, we start peeling back the layers. If they suddenly have this aha moment like, “Okay, this is about maybe something from my childhood or this is about this dynamic between my spouse and I that we can change. Oh, this is about something else.”
There’s always something else. It’s just, always. I mean, we’ve been doing this for 20 years. Like, always it’s something else. So, if you can take that moment and pause and set that aside and then look at the situation for more clarity I think you know it’ll just be much more productive in terms of getting to a solution.
PAM: Yeah. And when you were talking there, you reminded me that not only us jumping to the ‘it’s the unschooling thing,’ I’ve talked on the podcast before and you probably have to, about when you’re out and about with extended family or friends, I don’t really talk about any challenges that we’re having because the answer is just going to be, “send them to school.” And you can understand that because, from their perspective, that’s the thing that’s different, right? So, that’s we’ll fix that first and then we’ll see how it goes.
You don’t blame them for their answer. “Well, your house is a mess, so send them to school.” You know, all these different things. That’s why I just never asked them or brought things up because that was the answer that I was going to get. Why would I set up a friend or an extended family member to give me advice that I was going to ignore anyway? Or it was going to get me worried enough that I’d start questioning our unschooling. It would send me in directions I didn’t want to go so I would always remember, when I had those kinds of challenges I would ask in unschooling circles. Which is why we see all these kind of life questions in unschooling circles because it’s a different way of life. It’s a different lifestyle.
ANNA: And that’s what I was going to say, take those questions to people that are really digging into those issues. Because 10 years ago when I was talking to people about attachment parenting and co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding and all of those things—same thing, do not take your co-sleeping questions to the neighbour because they’re just going to be like, “Put him in a crib.”
But if you take that question to people that understand why you’re choosing who’s sleeping and how and the benefits and what that can do, then they can give you that, “Oh, we just put a bolster at the side,” or “Oh, we did this to solve that problem,” or “Oh, this is how we address that particular piece.” And then you’re talking to people who’re with you.
And again, that’s not that you have conversations with other people about different things—this came to mind from a question we had in the Summit group related to spouses. When we take all of our fears about things and put them on our spouse, they want to fix it. They want to solve it. And sometimes the best that they know is, like you said, let’s get back to conformity. “Let’s put him in school.” If they haven’t thought through that any more than you’ve thought through that, it’s like, what that would actually mean and look like?
And so, I think when you’re exploring something, take time. I loved having friends that I could really talk about those nuances with, “But here, what about this? And this is negative, and what about that?” So that I could feel more confident and more assured because my friends, while some of them of course want to solve the problems, a lot of them could just go through that with me, whereas I feel like with a spouse a lot of times they’re just wanting you to feel good and solve the problem right away.
I think it’s a lot to put on someone that doesn’t understand the situation. There are a lot of support circles out there for unschooling and all of these different pieces. Just keep that in mind.
PAM: Yeah. I think that’s really helpful.
I think that’s a big piece too because often we’re the main unschooling parent—there’s one focused unschooling parent and then maybe one’s working or whatever the way your family is set up, whatever the family dynamic—sometimes it’s the dad that’s staying home with the kids, doesn’t matter, so that’s the person who’s who has some time and who is motivated to learn more about unschooling, who is typically quite passionate about unschooling. But to expect that our partner or spouse is at that same level, or even to wish they were at the same level.
Sure, that would be nice, but how fair is that to put on someone else? We don’t have to share all our same interests. To help them at the pace and the way they want to learn about it and ask questions about it.
They can see it in action, but if we’re putting our doubts on them when they don’t even know it or really understand how much we love it, that’s a great point.
ANNA: Funny, because one of my kids, she tends to be a little bit ‘look on the darker side’ kind of gal sometimes, and with a certain situation she kept just telling me all the things that were bothering her about it and this and that and I thought we were putting a lot of energy into this particular situation in relation to just talking about it. “Could you just tell me some things that we love? Can you just share those pieces alongside of the other? I’m not saying don’t share the conflicts but share those other pieces.”
And I think sometimes we can fall into that trap with our spouses and our closest friends because we just kind of assume they know the good stuff and so we just give them the tough stuff and then that can feel overwhelming to the receiver. Like, “Whoa, oh my gosh, it’s a problem.”
But when I have that conversation with her, she rattled off 20 minutes of things that she loved about it and I was like, “Okay then, we can spend time on this,” because that feels good. And so maybe that’s another message, to share the joy, share the good part, share the inspiration, share the fun, because then you have that coupled with those sometimes stumbling blocks that we all run into. So anyway, that may be important and they may resonate with somebody, like, “Oh yeah, I might do that,” because I think we all can kind of fall into that trap sometimes.
PAM: Exactly. That’s such a great point.
And I know for me at the beginning—we learn all these things through experience, right? Ae were getting started, figuring out how this worked, and for a while there I had to not share too much though I was excited about it because the dynamic was still that he felt like I was trying to convince him.
Once you’ve gotten to the place where there’s some push and pull there about the topic, I didn’t share the negative stuff. I took that to people who I could have that in-depth discussion with. And the good stuff, I’m not saying it literally but I’m showing it, right? The kids are happy, we’re doing these things, we’re inviting him to play with us. All that kind of stuff. You don’t have to tell everything, you can show things too.
And then he would start seeing things, and then he would mention things. Maybe something that I had talked about two months ago, but now it made sense because he saw it in action. There’s so much when it’s your own experience, and our spouses or partners timetables are going to be different than ours. But then when he started seeing it, then I could start sharing more because he’d had the experience, so he could now understand how the experience I was sharing could have happened.
That I wasn’t seeing through rose-coloured glasses or whatever.
ANNA: Right. Because they had that experience. I think that’s really an important point. The being and the showing is so critical because I think when you’re the spouse that’s outside of the home, you’re working and it’s hard, and you have your challenges, and you’re helping to create this lifestyle for your family. I mean, you do want to feel that they’re joyful and that they’re happy and that this is this is a good thing. That we’re creating this good thing whether they’re in school or unschooling. Again, it’s not about the unschooling, it’s just about this dynamic of, “We’re creating a family together.”
And so I think that that’s really important. I just liked your point about to just show and to be a part of it.
PAM: I love that.
So, two little things.
When issues come up, Take that moment to sit, to ask yourself, “Is it the unschooling?” Because that can help you more quickly get to the right path instead of bringing up the whole question, “Oh my gosh, should we be unschooling?” Let’s look at this particular situation and how can we work our way through that?
And, I wanted to end back on that quote again because I think unschooling has stretched our minds. It’s stretched in bigger ways. It’s had us question so many things that aren’t literally the unschooling.
The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.Ralph Waldo Emerson
I love that.
Thanks so much, Anna, for the conversation. I had so much fun!
PAM: Have a great day!