PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Shannon Loucks. Shannon has been on the podcast before, way back in Episode 63 and I will link to that in the show notes so you can listen and hear more details about her family’s unschooling journey. But recently Shannon released a book titled, Love More, and I really wanted to chat with her about it, so I invited her back.
But, before we dive into that, as just a quick refresher …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and how long you guys have been unschooling?
SHANNON: OK, we have two dudes, two boys. One just turned 17 and one will be 15 in August and they’ve never gone to school. We are originally from British Columbia Canada but we now live in California. Which we have, shockingly, for nine years now. My children have spent more time living in America than Canada. My husband wasn’t a big fan of school and I was a teacher. When we started out with the boys, it never made sense for me to send them to go learn from somebody else while I went to teach strangers’, children. And so, we were able to just, from the get go, figure out how to live on one salary and then just followed the boy’s natural progression through attachment parenting, on to this unschooling journey that has brought us to this point.
PAM: That’s awesome. That’s a very nice synopsis. And wow you guys have been out of Canada for a long time.
SHANNON: The federal law requires that we get back regularly. So, that’s good.
PAM: So, as I mentioned my imprint Forever Curious Press recently published your book Love More: 50 plus ways to build joy into childhood. And I loved the book, which is why I chose to publish it.
I would love to hear this story behind your choice to write it. I’m curious how that originally came about for you.
SHANNON: Well, writing has always been a really great way for me to understand myself better. When the boys were young and we were starting out on the journey, I would come up a whether it was, something I was struggling with, or an aha moment I had and I would write about it. And so, over the years the blog posts they start to pile up and I thought, ‘How can I make this into a book?’ I thought it would be a neat idea to have it as a book to share with other people or even just to have on my own shelves. And as I started to go through the book, I started to notice a couple of themes.
And there is this author I love, Patti Digh, and she always says write the book you wish you’d had. And so, starting out as a parent with this sort of wide open idea but there wasn’t the book I wanted necessarily yet. There were some books that would tell me what to do to my children or how to train my children or whatever. But that just didn’t connect with who I was. And so, as I looked at the blog posts and as I thought about what book would I have wanted I realized, I would have wanted a book that I could open it at any page and learn something that I could use right away.
That helped me to decide what the format of the book would look like. Open it up, pick a page, read that and go, ‘Oh I can do that!’ And so, that drove the direction, taking this big bunch of content that was about how we were living together and how we were figuring stuff out and then put the layer of this format of simplicity and ease together and out of that, and some years and some sweat came this piece of work.
PAM: Wow. You know that is the piece that I loved when I read it as well. It was that piece that was missing when I was when I was starting. Because I knew from the other books, from all the other stuff around me, I knew the stuff that I didn’t want to do. But what I needed to discover was, ‘Well, what am I going to do instead? How am I going to approach this moment instead?’ That’s the piece that was missing because I didn’t get that from my family, I didn’t get that from extended family, it just wasn’t the way that people were interacting. I didn’t have any examples. I loved as we were editing, I was going through the books so many times and there were just still so many fun ideas. It was just like you said, you could go to any page and there was just a nice little mindset shift that would help.
SHANNON: I was just going to say when I was working on it at a friend’s house and the dad was there. He said to me, “I would never read a book on parenting because it takes too long and I don’t have time. But I’d pick this up.” And so, I was like, ‘OK I’m on to something!’
Especially parents of young children. They’re busy. Your life is full, full, full. You don’t necessarily have the time to go through the big texts or even the time to learn a new thing. I feel like we just need simple. And so that’s what I hoped to put forward was easy to implement ideas for people.
PAM: And I think one of the things I love was they are really digestible, short little chunks. And they give you something you can do in the moment. But it’s the culmination of doing those things and making that little shift each time and each time that without even pages and pages of pages of explanation you get what’s different. Just by. ‘OK. Well I’ll try that. Oh, I can see how that helped. I can see how that helped us stay connected.’ A different way of looking at this and all those little things without being overly wordy, help you understand how they’re connected just by doing them right.
SHANNON: Yeah. Definitely. And I think that’s it. The idea of parenting has been marketed to us as this hard, complicated thing. And so, when you can strip it back to just these simple acts of connecting with your kids in a fun and joyful way, then your whole parenting over time is doing this little shift to align more clearly. For me, it was aligning more clearly with what my intention was as a mom.
PAM: That’s a great way to put it. OK. So, let’s dive into a couple ideas in the book. Now it’s divided into two sections so I thought we would tackle one from each.
The first section is Love in Action, and the one I picked out was “Smell the roses.” It seems deceptively simple. It’s something we’ve heard a million times before, “Stop and smell the roses.” But if we do it with that intention, it really can make a profound difference in our child’s life and in our own. So, I was hoping you could share your thoughts around that one in particular.
SHANNON: Definitely. I feel like my kids have been the best example of how to do that for me. They’ve been my greatest teacher. I remember when my oldest was little, he wasn’t even 2 yet and I was pregnant with my second son and I had my agenda. I’m being a good mom. I’m going to head out to the park today. We were going to experience nature. I had this whole agenda. And he’s sitting on the floor playing happily, naked beside me and I’ve got the clothes. It’s about time. “Hey buddy let’s get dressed and go to the park.” And you know he’s happy. And I keep interrupting his happiness to go be happy. And he looks up and he goes, “No thanks Mama.”
And it was there when I started to have that sort of slowing down reminder and of course not every day can we stay home naked with our children playing. There are places we need to go and things we need to get done.
When we bring that same slowing down idea, then the lens that we’re looking at things with is curiosity and wonder. So, it takes just as much time to stop and smell every rose as it does to hurry your child a long past every rose. Right?
However, when you’re able to slow it down then I’m noticing the roses. And I’m also starting to use that sense of wonder to help move my child along. “What do you think is around the next corner buddy?” Instead of, “We’re going to be late. Hurry up!” It’s not something a young child understands but “Let’s go investigate what’s behind the next corner!” is.
And so then you both go there with this sense of joy and wonder and paying a whole different level of attention to the world. And you’re not getting that tension between the two of you and you get there. You still get there. It’s just when you arrive, whether it’s at the grocery store or the doctor’s appointment, you arrive a little happier or a little lighter instead of using that tension to get you there. Hurry up, rush let’s go.
So, I think that stopping to smell the roses really helps to showcase how we can still get where we need to go by slowing down.
PAM: Oh exactly. It is. It is hard to wrap your mind around at first. That slowing down, staying more connected, being more in the moment can actually be so helpful in getting to the place that in the back of your mind you’re trying to go. I remember so many times the tenseness of trying to get the kids in the car and get them in their car seat and we’ve got to get here and got to go there and looking at my watch all the time. And then after we began unschooling and I started hearing about these kind of mindset shifts and bring like, ‘OK I’ll try it.’
And in just shifting those moments so that I’m with them and we’re having conversations and we’re talking about things and we’re noticing the things around us we’re talking about where we’re going and engaging with them as people, rather than trying to push them to my agenda. And we still got places, it was the biggest revelation. The world didn’t end. People weren’t mad at us. And along with that is questioning the places that you’re trying to take them. Like you said, he was sitting there playing and that was good. That was fine for today. Questioning all the places I was trying to drag them and what my agenda was and seeing them. When you slow down to be with them and seeing what they notice like the smell the roses piece, the flowers, stopping for all the flowers. It’s okay. Right.
SHANNON: And I think it shifts the importance to your relationship. So OK, we’re five minutes late to the doctor but we’re still intact over here and we saw some roses. We saw the bee fly by. And whereas I could also have rushed them and the doctor would be happy that I wasn’t late. I had to ask myself, ‘Who am I trying to be connected with? Who does this matter to?” It matters to us how we got there and what we see along the way.
I can’t even think of a single appointment that would hold more value than connection with my child.
PAM: That’s a great point because so often we want to be a good person, we said we’d show up there at 3. It does depend, but if it’s really important that you’re there by 3:00, shoot for 2:30.
SHANNON: Right, start earlier!
PAM: Give yourself all that extra time. I think there’s been times when we would just go really close to something and be there a half a day. We’d go there in the morning hang out, find something else to do that’s really close by, having fun. There are just so many other ways to meet these parameters that we want to meet but also questioning them to start with. Because is it really that necessary? Is it worth the challenge to our relationship?
SHANNON: Yes, absolutely.
PAM: If I put something else above it. That’s the other big thing, they can all be together. Things don’t have to be above one another. You know my kids can be as important as us getting to whatever it is. Dinner was a big one for me in that shift. I’ll never forget, we were outside swimming and my daughter had decided she wanted to dive. She wanted to master diving. And that was great. But she kept going. She just kept getting out and trying again and trying and trying again and then a half an hour goes by and she’s still going and I’m starting to say, “OK a couple more and then then we’re going go and I’m going to make dinner.” And that was going on and on and on and I was really happy in the end that I realized how important this was to her. For whatever reason, and the reason didn’t matter. I didn’t need to know the reason. I could just tell that she wasn’t wanting to make that transition. Me realizing that, “You know what, it’s OK if dinner’s half an hour later. The boys are happily occupied doing what they’re doing, I can explain to Rocco when he gets home that Lissy was really into what she was doing.’ You know and me just staying out there and being with her, was in the end way more valuable than that dinner time.
SHANNON: And she’ll remember you being there to witness her learning how to dive. She couldn’t tell you what you had for dinner that night.
PAM: Right. And I still remember it because it clearly was this amazing, amazing moment and it was another hour by the end of it. She was thrilled with her diving. So yeah it was amazing too, to notice and just to take that time to question yourself, ‘Hey, you know what if we didn’t do that? What would happen?’
SHANNON: Right. Right. And it is that questioning.
We live in a rushed world, so it ties into that slowing down. When you slow down you have a minute to question but when you’re running on that sort of hamster wheel, you’re just reacting. “We have to have dinner. We have to go now.” So, I feel like the slowing down piece really creates space for those questions to arise in us.
PAM: Yeah. And just to mention again what you talked about how it opens up curiosity and wonder and it does that. I love that. That’s the big mindset shift when you can just slow down. And for me, smelling the roses is being in the moment, it’s noticing the roses, it’s stopping to smell them and the shift, now all of a sudden it opens up you. I would literally feel more open to noticing. That’s the curiosity and the wonder. You can feel the weight fall off. We won’t rush we’re going to stop and literally it just falls off your back. And now all of a sudden you can see all the things that are around.
SHANNON: Totally. Yeah absolutely.
PAM: OK. So, the second section is called Love in Presence, and to me the distinction between those two sections feels kind of like things we do and ways to be. I thought that worked out so well. So, Love and Action are the kinds of things we can do to show that love and then Love and Presence is ways to be with them to show that love.
From this section I wanted to talk about the idea of seeing the child, not the behaviour.
As you mentioned in the book, and everybody knows this is so much easier said than done, what an easy phrase to say, right? “See the child, not the behavior.” And you can understand why but that is not an easy thing to do in the moment even though it’s such a valuable shift isn’t it?
SHANNON: Yeah it is and it’s a practice for sure. And I know my first born son had big reactions to things when he was smaller. And all I could see was the behaviour in the beginning because whether I was embarrassed about what other people were thinking about me, whether I was triggered by my own idea of what he should be doing, how he should be reacting and in all of that what I’m bringing towards him is, you need to change the behaviour. You need to change. You need to change. This needs to change, you need to change the behaviour.
When I could step back and see him. I could see him. I could start to understand what the need was and I could meet him and the same with my you know either one of them I could meet them there.
And that to me opens my heart and is an opportunity for compassion. When I can see him and wonder, ‘What’s going on for him right now? Can I help him?’ “Hey, do you think you need some water?” Or even just sit on the ground in the middle of it. We can let go of the part of us that’s worried about what everybody else thinks, about what is going on and just sit with our child in whatever the behaviour is. There is an opportunity for compassion to grow and for either the moment to pass or a solution to arise.
For me, one of those two things would come out of that. But when I was trying to pull them out, before I could pull them out of the behaviour or get them out of the store,it just made it bigger. Because he wasn’t feeling seen. He wasn’t feeling heard and so everything just got bigger and harder because I was trying to change a behaviour. I was not connecting with the child in front of me.
PAM: I love that word compassion because that really is where you can meet them. It’s not about you. Getting into their head’s not really the right word but it’s really seeing it through their eyes. Not like if I was them in that moment. Right? That is such a valuable shift, it was a huge shift for me. But it was hard to understand at first. It’s like, ‘OK well if I wasn’t able to get that toy or they didn’t have whatever and I was upset about it but blah blah blah.’ And I would be reacting from putting myself in their shoes. But that wasn’t working well because I was still seeing the behaviour in that I was imagining myself in that position saying well, ‘How would I behave?’ So, I was still comparing behaviours. And even my suggestions were things that would have suited me.
SHANNON: Right. Right. And that’s it. For me, I wanted to remember the moment I met them. And was just like, ‘Oh that’s who I want to see, this person who I wanted to love unconditionally and help with whatever they needed.’ And so that’s who’s in front of me right now and then it’s like and what I know about them is, ‘Oh we’ve got those new shoes on today. His shoes are bugging him?’ We can try and so on so on, then it is not about me like you’re saying it’s about what I know about them from past experience. And I can bring that forward. And it’s in bringing that forward, then the two of us sometimes can meet in a solution place or at least in a shared compassion. And I love now that I have older children, I see them use that (I’m getting all weepy) with themselves and with their friends.
SHANNON: They don’t slip into this place of needing to change anybody but they are able to come up with solutions or even ideas about what could have been going on for someone.
It’s still so surprising to me because it’s normal for them to meet somebody in whatever space they’re in and help them there.
PAM: Yeah. I love that you mentioned that too with older kids because that’s something that I found. And you know what, when things come up even for me, I love to talk to them about it because they will so often bring a perspective to it that I have missed or I’ve kind of gotten to this point (way up here) and they always calm me down because they can see situations, they can see people. They have that compassion you talk about. They bring that even for themselves, like in situations where I was in that situation, I would have been much more upset or frustrated. And this is happening to them. And we’re talking about it and they’re telling me about well what the other people involved probably thought or why they probably reacted this way or what they can say to them next time. I was so often in awe of that ability. Like you said earlier, we are always learning from our kids. Always, always. It doesn’t stop. We can learn when they’re younger and we learn no matter their age. There’s always more to learn.
SHANNON: And I think too, that there is that space. Obviously the older they got, the behaviours feel bigger and they feel like they have more dramatic consequences. But again, if I can just see them and not the behaviour, then there’s room for that conversation instead of me wanting to police it. Whatever those behaviours are or those opinions are, I don’t want to alter the behaviour. I want to see my child and help them.
And sometimes that help for me is asking for more understanding so that I can understand the choice right. And so, because I’m looking at them and not the behaviour, then I can see. I guess for me it’s always, ‘it’s not about me.’ Right. Nobody’s doing anything to me. My child is having a reaction to something.
And so when I can drop that, I imagine dropping on the floor behind me and we’re ready to have a conversation or a solutions session or a hug or whatever is needed in that moment because I can see them and I can let the rest of it just fall to the side.
PAM: Yeah I know, I love that. Because so often in the end when I thought about it, so often what I was missing was more information, like you were saying. They had compassion for me in not yet understanding what was going on because you know I’m still at that place where, “Well, this is what I would do.” But I know this is not what they’re choosing and there’s a trust piece, and understanding the trust in the relationship that we’ve developed over the years as things get bigger, as they get older there’s bigger consequences. There are just bigger things going on. And my trust in that we’ve done this many, many times. We’ve worked through things. It might not happen in the moment especially if that moment becomes charged for anyone. It’s hard to think and to be open and to wonder and be curious but those are the things that still help me.
I remember the first time Lissy said at 17, “I want to move to New York City.” “Ah! What??!” And, “I want to do it soon.” But through conversations I would learn more information. Normally if I couldn’t see why they’re making that choice it was just information I was missing. Well, there was something they wanted to accomplish, something that they saw that I hadn’t yet seen yet.
It was always more information and so rather than directing, trusting instead. And then just having conversations, paying more attention for more clues. All of those things would build me a bigger picture to understand whatever was happening through their eyes rather than mine.
SHANNON: Yes absolutely. Yeah absolutely.
PAM: Yeah. And that which is exactly it. See the child and their choices, their aspirations, all the things they want to do. Not the behavior, not that choice in the moment. Because there’s so much more behind it that maybe we just don’t see.
SHANNON: So much more! And I remember, my favourite story is my child at seven years old standing up and swearing in the middle of his birthday party to get everyone out of his house using a more colourful language than not. And just that moment of being horrified. “You’re rude. You’re angry.” You know these are the words that first came up. But since that day he’s never had another birthday party. He hated them. But when I could get down to level of he didn’t like the attention, he didn’t like the pressure. He didn’t want all these people asking him stuff but he loved gatherings. But when it was about him and his birthday that was the worst idea ever. And so, I could have had this story about him that said he was rude. That’s it. You know, but he was just uncomfortable. And so. Well let’s not have a birthday party in the future and let’s pretend we’re just hanging out with our friends now. So this solution that I never would have thought of came out of that space of seeing him was, “Oh, let’s just change it up right now.”
Put away the cake will eat it tonight or whenever you’re hungry, go get a piece of cake. We can move the obstacles that are that are there for you right now.
PAM: Yeah. That is such a great example. Because there are so many things that we just do automatically. Right?
PAM: And then once we embrace that big mindset shift, when you start to question some things then it’s like it’s OK to question all the things. Why does it have to be a birthday party? If the child isn’t interested in it, what is it for? We’re doing it so that the parents can come over, the grandparents get the experience. It’s just expected. But there are other ways to meet that too. It’s like, ‘OK. One grandparent and the in-laws come over on one day and another time someone else.’ You can you can find so many different ways through solutions.
So, your book is full of inspiration and ideas about how to bring more fun, more love, and more joy in to your days, into your family’s days.
I was curious why that aspect of parenting feels important to you? So important that you chose to write a book about it! This was something that you felt you wish you had. Is that the reason behind why this felt important to you? What is it about this aspect of parenting that is so meaningful for you?
SHANNON: I think from early on, I learned that my children were going to need a different kind of mom than I’d ever seen before. And society I think or my experience in the world had taught me that parenting was going to be my job. It was going to be something that I had to do and it was going to be hard and it was going to be long hours. You know we have a lot of negative language around it.
For me, parenting has become and started to become who I was. And so, when I laid that filter of who I was across it, then the words that come out are kind, compassionate, curious, thoughtful, loving. And so, when you’ve gotten that body of words, then it fundamentally changed how I was going to be a parent in the world. And it feels important for me to put that out as another option for people.
For someone maybe who is wondering, “No this doesn’t fit.” Because for me, a lot of it with my kids was, “It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t fit to put him in a crib. OK I guess we’re going to put him in the bed.” And then tomorrow night we’re going to try over here and then we’re going to try this. So, from early on, I had to bring that more curious energy to it and I also think the idea of joy. Isn’t a word we attach to parenting a lot. It is joyful right? It’s a lot of other things too but if we’re coming from this place of how I’m going to decide as the primary parent. I’m going to decide as the primary parent that I’m going to find ways to put more of this in because life is going to bring all the other stuff.
It’s going to break. It’s going to bring unexpected moves. It’s going to bring job loss and all of those things. Life’s just going to throw that in the middle. So, if I can just be the counterbalance of that, if I can be the one that is going to bring in the bubbles in the middle of the grocery store, the one who’s going to put the heart in the middle of the sandwich. If I can be that person, then we will build more of those joyful moments and in that place, it just feels like the love grows there. It just feels like that’s where love grows.
So, that’s why I wanted to put it together and put it out in the world. So, maybe one person picks it up and gets steered in a different direction or not steered in a different direction, steered in the direction they knew they wanted to go in.
PAM: That’s a great point. Because as I was saying before, I knew all the things I didn’t want to do that didn’t feel right to me. But I didn’t know what else there was. It was really just like I kept resisting. But yeah it was discovering for myself. I’m happy with how I got there but yeah, this this would have really helped me along the way. And I loved your point about bringing more love in because when people say, “Oh you know those are just silly little things to do.” You know when you play more, more play, more fun, it helps. Life’s tough but it is, it really is to bring more joy. It’s amazing.
We’ve been talking about how fundamentally these shifts are, these actions but you get to the intention behind it and you create an environment and an atmosphere within the family that fundamentally changes things. So, even when things seem frivolous in the moment, they really aren’t because of that connection.
SHANNON: Exactly, it’s that connection and almost that layer of healing you’re bringing in. I think about it when we have to do hard things. So, we have to go to grandma’s internment. OK well what are the things we’re going to do on sandwich sides of that, things that are going to remind us of the love that keeps us all together. And it is almost then we come into each situation from that place of love. Instead of coming into that situation from that place of dread or heaviness. But we’re going to come into it from love and I feel like it does help to change how you handle hard things. We often say that together we can do so many hard things. And I think it is that solid layer of love that we’ve been painting on over the years that buoys us, so that we can do those hard things together.
PAM: I love that image. This painting on more layers and more layers, more layers of love more connection like in all those moments. It’s almost like celebrating them in those lighter moments when you can. And noticing there are, that’s the other piece, noticing that even in those harder times that there are those other moments.
I know sometimes when we would go to family things, that felt maybe more like an obligation but we would approach them with love and with fun and with joy. And bring the bubbles so that when you’re at the hall and everybody has to sit properly at their table it’s ok. We can all go out by where the washrooms are and play around a bit and connect and have fun. You can make just about anything more. And when you bring these little moments to them and they have they meaning and they have more love in them and you understand the whole thing better. When you have those little moments with each other. That’s very cool.
I would love to know what is it that you love about right now, about what’s going on in your unschooling lives right now? I just thought it’d be fun to get a little snapshot.
SHANNON: I love teenagers, for so many reasons! I love that it’s that door step between children and adulthood. And what I notice about this playful and joyful way we’ve been together is my kids still play. And so, to see them playing and then turning around and doing the serious thing that needs to happen. Mitchell tried out recently for a hockey, high level stress situation. And in between, he was sitting there with a couple of the younger kids at the rink playing on his phone and showing them new games. And so, I love that juxtaposition. And how they’re just flowing between those two worlds and they’re coming up against and they’re sort of churning through those hard bits and then they’re turning around and let’s go jump in the pool, just that zest for life. That fuels me right now, I love it so much.
PAM: I love that. That’s because I think part of it is they haven’t felt judge. So, they can easily shift and understand the joy in all those moments. You can want the things that you’re striving for and putting yourself in challenging positions. And it’s OK to play as well. There’s no judgment on you. You know somebody watching you and saying, “Oh well, you don’t do that anymore because you’re this or that.”
SHANNON: Exactly. Exactly. That is what I love the most right now.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, that’s awesome. I love that little piece. And it does remind me often with my kids as well. Michael, he’s been working really hard the last couple of weeks and now like I mentioned before he’s driven down to Ohio for a weekend at a parkour gym. They’re sleeping, they’re eating, everything and just playing around with a bunch of other kids and adults who appreciate that that side of it. So, it is so fun to see them the way they can blend in those responsibilities, that they choose to take on as well as all the fun stuff. It’s so cool to see that you can just be yourself and be all the things, not all “I have to be an adult now right.”
SHANNON: Yeah, yeah totally. Absolutely.
PAM: That’s wonderful. Well thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today Shannon and I really appreciate it.
SHANNON: It was good. Thank you for inviting.
PAM: Yeah it was lots of fun. So, before we go, where can people find you and your book online?
SHANNON: Well, my book is available everywhere. I have space called Breaking Daylight across all the platforms, Facebook, Instagram, etc. And I’ll be putting up links and we’ll be having some fun with that. As it all comes together.
PAM: Yeah. Excellent. Okay. And I will put links to everything in the show notes for people who are interested in checking it out. So, thanks again Shannon have a great day.
SHANNON: Thank you. You too. Thanks.