PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Teresa Hess. Hi Teresa.
TERESA: Hi Pam.
PAM: Just as a quick introduction, I connected with Teresa online a couple of years ago now and I recently stumbled onto her blog. I really enjoyed reading her thoughts and insights around unschooling and parenting which is why I was so happy when she agreed to come on the podcast. So, to get us started Teresa:
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
TERESA: Yeah I sure can. But I just want to say first, I’m so happy to be here. Because I’ve been obviously listening to your podcast and reading your books for years and you provide such an amazing resource for the unschooling community worldwide. So, I’m just so happy to be here and be a part of it.
PAM: Well thanks so much!
TERESA: So, about me and my family. Five of us. My husband and myself and our three daughters and we live on an island north of Seattle, about 40 minutes north of Seattle, in Washington state. We live actually in a little co-housing community here. So, we have a small condo that’s just two bedrooms and one bath. All five of us in this space that’s about 670 square feet. And as I was just mentioning to you before we started recording, we’re making an addition on that space now. So, we’re busy with that. We’re excited to have a little more space for the creativity of our unschooling lives because we’re home a lot. We are definitely at home a lot. We do a lot out and about but as far as creating an unschooling nest, it’s going be exciting to have a little more space.
It’s fun to be in our co-housing community there too because that is a whole other layer to our lives of people to learn from and be involved with. My husband is a therapeutic body worker. He has a little office just a few blocks from our house. So, that’s nice that he can plan his work schedule with a little bit of flexibility if he needs to since he runs his own business. And most days he comes home for lunch and we get to see him during the day too. So, we try to keep our lives, really simple and close to home. A lot of people on the island where we live commute into Seattle for work. And so, we’re really lucky to be able to keep it all close and together right at home in our little town.
My husband and I met in a Zen monastery in Japan. So, we did a bunch of meditation and such there and it was actually like a fabulous preparation for unschooling. The work when we were there with our teacher was so much about getting into the basic nature of who we are and stripping down the layers to that through the meditation, to really touch and embody that vital life energy. And of course, kids come in with that automatically, just so bright and pure and themselves and which was exactly what our meditation was trying to get us to rediscover in our own lives. So, it’s nice that my husband and I have that in common because I think we both really wanted to offer that to our kids as much as possible. We wanted to just see them for who they are and their big spirits as they came into the world and wanting that to flourish and support that and not strapping on a bunch of our goals or expectations for who they were going to be or what they were going to do with their lives.
I remember when my first daughter was a little, my husband saying, “I don’t care if she is a cashier at Kmart or whatever, I just want her to be who she is.” So, it’s great that the two of us are both on board with having that angle and approach on being with our kids. We have that base together and that way of communicating about that together and our three kids have never really been to school.
My oldest went to pre-school for about three months, three or four months. Her name is Rose and she’s 12 now and she’s just super creative, feisty, strong willed person. She came in that way. She’s mellowed out a lot as she’s getting older and it’s been so fun to watch her evolve. She’s really into drawing right now and crafty things. She’s learning how to knit and loves cosplay and making cosplay and getting into character. Then watching various shows or movies and really getting into the characters and the plotlines and the theories behind the characters and the plotlines and where things go. It’s so funny, I was an English major in college and I feel like what she does by watching these shows and analyzing them is the same thing I was doing writing papers about Charles Dickens.
For her it’s about these animated shows or anime or we just watched Stranger Things together. It’s so fun to watch her just exploring in her own mind and her own interest and passions. She’s always been into story and character and I know someday she’d love to get until the live action playing and larping. She watches a lot of that on YouTube and someday will want to get into that more. So, it’s so fun to watch her journey with that and see what has stayed the same with her from very young till now as far as loving story and character and the progression of that.
My middle daughter is Fiona. She’s eight and she’s just a ton of fun and loves to play Roblox and Minecraft and Skype with friends. She has this little group of friends that she Skypes with that she calls the “Animal Gang” and she has a YouTube channel called “The Animal Gang” and loves to make videos for that. Every day she is showing me intros and outros she’s making on her tablet with this app she loves called “Gotcha.” She makes these animated characters and little story lines and sets them to music. That’s a big passion for her right now. And she also loves gymnastics and wrestling and being physical and jumping around and practicing her backbends. We have a gymnastics mat in our living room, in our small room for her to mess around.
PAM: So, great!
TERESA: Yeah. And then my youngest is Simone or we call her Momo for short. She’s three years old and she’s just fantastic and fun and three. She loves to bake cupcakes and make smoothies and cuddle on the couch and watch shows and play with our neighbours. She’s up for anything. So, that gives a little taste to who we are.
Oh, and there’s me. Of course. There’s me. I’m Teresa. And gosh, I mean I’m happy talking about unschooling and parenting and being with my children and writing and dancing. I go to this weekly dance group on Sunday mornings that the kids are welcome to come to or not. And I’ve just started going to that in the past half year or so and that’s really fun for me to get back into dancing because I used to love to do that a lot before kids. And then I also just recently got my real estate license which was sort of out of nowhere, it just kind of came into my life. A neighbour and a friend who’s a broker said I could work with her and it was so easy to get my coursework done online and I won’t be doing a lot of that. But if I can sell or help someone find a house a couple times a year and mostly work from home because my neighbor doesn’t have an office, she has a home office. And so, I just work from home and work with her. Just a fun thing to do to kind of challenge myself and stretch and it’ll fit in nicely with our schedule of being on the island and helping people on the island find a home or sell a home. It’s a whole new project I’m just getting up and started. So, I haven’t had a career really. You know no one’s paid me for the work I’ve been doing all these years. So, it’ll be very nice to add that element into our lives as well.
PAM: Yeah. I love that. It’s so cool isn’t it. It’s just like you said, it was a neighbour who just mentioned it to you and realizing, ‘Oh, that might fit!’ I love it. When you’re just paying attention, these little things show up and it’s fun to give it a try.
TERESA: Yes, so often when I try to make something up but it doesn’t work out. I have an idea for it. I don’t know that seems to work for so many people. For me, it doesn’t really flow then. It flows when I’m in a more receptive state. I’m kind of asking that question, “Well what could be next or what would be good?” And then listening for the answers and the cues and following that more than trying to push my will unto what is happening.
PAM: I know it’s so true. And I’ve journaled about that many times over the years. It’s been my discovery too. I think I should just do it, go after it, make it happen. Those kinds of messages that are encouraging yet, when you’re pushing and pushing, it really doesn’t always work. For me anyway, it doesn’t create a good atmosphere for life, for things to flow. And it is so huge for me and hard. It’s getting easier with experience. But it feels like you’re giving up, right? I don’t give up on that thing but I’m open to how it might flow in and might look different, like your dance class. That flowed in. Looks like that kind of dancing which is different than I imagined, than the kind of dancing you did before. But it’s nicely connected. Same way maybe real estate’s a new thing but it’s connecting so well to your lifestyle that it flowed in and it’s like, ‘OK I’m going to try this because it seems to fit with where we are right now.’ So, it much feels like giving up but if instead I think of it as being more open to things flowing. May not be what I imagined but they’re great too.
TERESA: Yes. Yes, the real estate thing totally looks like that for me and I had to keep checking myself to my mind, thinking I was not courageous enough to go after what I really want. Or you know but no it’s not at all like that, this just feels right even though it’s not something I ever really envisioned or imagined or anything like that.
So, I love to be surprised by that and if I look back at my life it feels like oftentimes the most profound and wonderful things that have happened to me came to me in that unexpected way. So, I love just trusting that and riding the wave of that because it’s brought the most fantastic things in over and over.
PAM: Yeah I know. Right. Right. It’s that trust, that shift to trust and understanding that it’s not giving up, really. Because that’s still us judging ourselves. That’s still us judging ourselves through a different kind of lens and that’s the lens that helps to change up or to refocus and to refocus on trust and being open to seeing. We’re seeing other things as they flow in because if we’re not open to that we don’t notice things and conversations just fly over our head and nothing else happens.
That flyer about something, it’s like ‘Oh yeah look there’s a dance class.’ Off I go to what it was I was really trying to do when I came out today.
TERESA: Right, right, right, right. I love that! Unschooling is so great for tuning into that more and more and learning how to do that and seeing how your kids do it. All of that.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. I think we’re going to get into that later too. I think are we. But yeah. My kids have been the greatest teacher there. OK. OK. Now there were so many wonderful things. Thank you so much for introducing your kids. That was so nice to hear a little bit about each of them. I love that and how you and your husband met. That was really cool because you were already working on stripping away some of those layers that many of us do as part of our deschooling. So, I feel like that maybe left you a little bit more open when you encountered unschooling so maybe you could share with us a little bit how that move went.
How did you discover unschooling and how you guys decided to go there?
TERESA: Yes, so I discovered unschooling, when my oldest daughter was probably two or two and a half and we’d been doing the attachment parenting style until then. So, you know, breastfeeding on demand and co sleeping and just being really close as a family. I was feeling so connected to her and just madly in love with her and loving moving through life with her, she’s wrapped on my body with a cloth all the time. (laughing) You know we’re just a total unit doing life together and watching her unfold and seeing just how bright and amazing and present she was and trying to be more myself so I could reflect that back to her as much as possible.
But then comes the twos with her personality emerging more and her willpower emerging more. And so, there’d be more conflict between us, whether it was just like “No I don’t want you to have that cookie before dinner.” Well she wanted that cookie before dinner and it was going to cause a rift between us. If I wasn’t giving her that cookie before dinner. Or other things, just trying to get her to go somewhere, “Well it’s time to go. Let’s go.” Maybe she wasn’t ready or she didn’t want to put her coat on even though it was cold outside or whatever was happening. It was all very normal developmentally at that age but first of all, I’d never seen anyone raise a child before. That’s the really strange part. Often when you have your own kid in our culture and I’ve not really been around kids for so long since I was a kid.
So, I just didn’t know how do I do this. How do I handle these situations where there’s conflict? And I knew that I didn’t want to use shame or guilt. I didn’t want to threaten her spank her or even give her a reward if she did what I wanted. I didn’t want to manipulate. I didn’t want to use all those tools that you see in mainstream media or know about from mainstream parenting.
I had no idea what to do. And then it was like, ‘What do I do if I don’t do those things?’ Or when I do do those things, it completely backfires. Maybe I would have done those things that if they had worked. If I got upset with her to try to get her to do something, she would often look at me and just laugh, just laugh and give me this big smile. It was like she almost thought I was joking like, “You can’t be serious. You’re going to get angry and expect your anger to steer me to do what you want to do?!” Even though. I felt like isn’t that what I was supposed to do? I don’t know. That was sort of what I thought, you get mad and then the child obeys, you know, you show them you’re the boss. I mean and this is coming from me who is a very flexible open, meditating mom.
I felt like I wasn’t someone who got angry until I had a kid. It was like well, I’m really mad that she’s not going listening right now. And those experiences of anger within me were. Yeah. They weren’t something that I had dealt with much before so I was surprised to see myself feeling those things and I didn’t like how it felt and it didn’t work to have her do what I wanted her to do. And it didn’t work for our relationship because it would break us apart.
So, I remember I don’t know what I would have Googled but somehow I googled something like, “What do I do with my 2 year old if I don’t want to do shame, manipulations, or a sticker chart. But they’re telling me no?” And somehow, I came across Jan Hunt’s site The Natural Child Project. And that was such a lifeline for me and she had so many wonderful articles on there about exactly those things like why not to spank or what to do when your child says no. It was things like, see the world from their perspective then really get down with them at their eye level and communicate about these things. And I just remember going back and back to that site over and over and she also had links on there to Joyce Fetteroll’s site and Sandra Dodd’s site. I believe that’s how I first learned about the term unschooling. So, it definitely came at a time that I was trying to figure out how to parent peacefully more than academic school system isn’t working out.
My doorway was definitely through how to relate to my kid in a way that felt good and kept that connection and that unity between us. Unity but also let her be her own person.
TERESA: So, that’s how I first discovered the term and then even as I read in those sites though I know that I was still holding back about certain things like food or media use. I wasn’t ready to just let her do what she wanted with all of that yet. But it did help me and a lot of problem solving with her and just moving more peacefully through our days together.
As she got a little bit older, I definitely had always thought about home schooling. I think even since she was a little baby because I just, I just loved her so much. I loved being with her. I couldn’t really imagine passing her off for a day to be with people that I didn’t know very well that didn’t know her. That didn’t understand her ways of communicating and so I always sort of had it in the back of my mind to homeschool and then finding the unschooling through the peaceful parenting angle.
We did try a pre-school for a few months mostly because I was looking for community and I felt isolated being at home with her and everybody I knew was putting their kids in pre-school and school and I just I wanted us to be with other families and be with other parents. No one else wanted to do what I wanted to do, which was just all hang out with our kids together and let them play. So, we did the drop off pre-school thing for a few months and it went all right. But there were definitely some red flags to me that it just wasn’t the right decision for us. And I’d been reading so much more about unschooling then so. Yeah. None of it really made sense that even if it was a really fantastic school, there are some great alternative schools where we live. It was still, “Well, now’s the time that all the children do yoga and now is the time where they all garden and now they will go down for rest and now they all eat this wholesome meal together.” And I felt like, ‘Well, maybe you only want to do yoga for two minutes and then you’re going to punish her?’ Because you have to go sit in the corner if you don’t want to do our yoga right now. That’s just, that’s just not where I’m at.
Then we decided not to go back to the pre-school. And then she was coming up on school age and I said let’s try this unschooling thing. And by then the power struggles we were having around media and food and those things that I was holding on to trying to control still.
It just felt awful trying to control those things. And it felt so good to say yes more often and partner with her and let go of some of my rigid ideas about right and wrong about what a healthy lifestyle looked like and really focus on making the relationship the priority for us.
Having that good feeling flowing between us was just like heaven. It was worth so much more than not letting her watch Cinderella twice in a row because she had just watched it and she shouldn’t spend that much time watching TV or you know it’s just those ideas started to slop off me and took a long time to keep unwinding.
I started moving more into that whole life radical unschooling lifestyle. And once we started, it was just so great and so eye opening.
Even when I had doubts and fears come up again it just felt like, ‘Well, we can’t go back.’ I can’t go back to controlling and fighting and power struggles about these things. It’s just not worth it to me. And especially with her personality, she was so strong willed. And that was awesome. I wanted to support that. To not make her doubt her sense of herself, in order to please me. No way. So, it was it was awesome just to follow her lead and keep reading and exploring unschooling and we just kept going.
PAM: Yeah. Really fascinating to hear. And I love the way you talked about it happening over time.
PAM: OK. I was just checking to make sure you’re still there. That idea of happening over time. And what you came down to as you were thinking it through was the relationships. That in the end, each thing became more of a power struggle and that you chose the relationship over the struggle. And I feel like that ties back to what we were talking about earlier. We were talking about the battle of wills with ourselves and the choices we make. Thinking, ‘I need to follow through on this.’ People might recognize that feeling to do with their children too like thinking, they can’t watch Cinderella twice in a row. And it’s us trying to enforce that view on them. For totally valid reasons to us, reasons that seem valid to us.
TERESA: And we believe that it’s absolutely true.
PAM: When you put that relationship overlay there, is it? That goes to what we were talking about earlier, that trust overlay, moving to the trust. When you start looking at the relationship as the most important thing, all of a sudden we don’t feel the need to struggle for those as much. Does that make sense?
TERESA: Yes. And you just get a new perspective.
That Cinderella example is so clear in my mind because I remember holding her in my arms and she was crying and upset and she wanted to watch again. I almost had the feeling, ‘Well if she died tomorrow would I be happy with this choice?’ That sounds sort of extreme, but you never know what life is going to serve you. And unschooling allows living in the moment because you don’t know what the next moment is going to bring, no matter what.
So, I really felt like, ‘Is this fight really, really worth it because you never know what’s coming?” And I remember just trying to do that. Tuning into myself, ‘What would it feel like to say yes right now?’ And with such relief you know and to also admit that as the adults we don’t know everything. I don’t know, like I said it feels like this, “Oh of course it’s bad to watch Cinderella twice in a row. There’s so many other things you should be doing with your time.” But we don’t know what they’re getting from that experience. To just admit your own, ignorance. I guess as a way to trust their knowing of themselves. We don’t know more about what’s right for them than they know for themselves.
But usually as parents we think, ‘Well, we know more. We’ve had more experience. We’ve lived. We’ve made right and wrong choices.’ So therefore, that gives us permission to make choices for the kid because we know more than they do. But, but we don’t. We can’t really get into the mind of another human being and who knows what about that storyline or that music in this show or what magic she was loving. Why get in the way of her trusting herself that she knew she needed more of that than I thought she needed.
PAM: Yeah. That’s exactly it. That’s another part of that shift. For me anyway, that came from spending time with them. When my kids left school, I could spend more time with them I could see the choices they were making. I could see how those choices made so much sense through their eyes. Even if they wouldn’t be the choice that I would make if I was in their position.
TERESA: Yes! You don’t have to worry about that. You can live your own life and model your own way of living. And that’s great. Oh! And in relationships too because we all come across that maybe in our partnerships of wanting that person to be different. If they would just make the choices I think they should make, then life would be easier. But that’s not a good model to go through your life with, to model that form of intimacy and relationship for them. You can be your person and I can be mine and we can share in each other’s passions but not have to control what each other’s doing.
PAM: I love that. All right, I think that leads really nicely into our next question. A couple months ago you posted a wonderful manifesto on your blog that explains that you’re a radical unschooling family and listing some of the things that you believe that led you to that choice. And I’ll put links in the show notes for people because I urge you to go read it and you talk about how you came to this and you mentioned this earlier through parenting. I ended up on Jan Hunt’s site too. One of my first websites and I was coming from the school perspective because my kids were in school and you landed there from the parenting and then we both found unschooling. Anyway, I thought that was really cool.
So, I was just wondering if you wanted to share a little bit more about what that process looked like and how you came to really feeling solid now in those beliefs that have led you to this lifestyle?
TERESA: Right. Well it’s funny I wrote that blog post, several months before I posted it. I was sort of scared to post it for a while.
PAM: I know that feeling.
TERESA: I wrote it at a time I was sort of feeling doubtful about some choices that we were making and I needed to remember why I was doing what I was doing. So, I think I needed to sort of talk myself back to what the core of this is for me because you know like I say in the beginning I was looking into schools and alternative schools because I was really longing for community. Community is such a big thing for me. It always has been whether it was like community at the Monastery of like-minded people getting together and focusing on something or in high school and college I was involved in theatre and I just love being with the people and creating something together. So partly what’s been so hard for me with unschooling has been the fact that no one around me in my daily life is living the type of unschooling lifestyle we are living. And that’s why it’s so nice to talk to you today.
So, that blog post came out like I just needed to say it again, even if it was to myself on my blog like a journal entry and I think just the act of writing that really helped. I’m sure there’ll be more but at that time some layers of doubt I was having just dissolve off of me because it took me just one step more into voicing and owning what I care about without feeling a little bit ashamed or a little bit like we’re making these choices that are sort of unusual but I’ll try to hide it a little bit to keep other people more comfortable or essentially to try to keep myself more comfortable while being worried about other people’s judgments.
I think I wrote that post when I felt like I had been judged by a neighbour, an acquaintance. Just being around moms who are always sort of monitoring what their kids are doing or eating or watching or saying or playing. It can seep in sometimes and make me feel like, “Are they right?” There’s something different here. And I think it’s radical and necessary what we’re doing. I can start to forget. So, that blog post was just a way for me to remember and step into my own voice and knowing more. And now I can’t even remember what exactly the question was. I think it was about… Go ahead.
PAM: I was going to say that part of the question I think you answered earlier when you talked about how you came from the parenting perspective when you talked about the move to unschooling. So,I thought that was really cool.
But I really loved where you took the question just now because this is hard and it can be challenging and there are ups and downs to it. And I know, for me, everybody is going to discover what works well for them and those moments. For me, writing is what helps me process and figure out what I’m thinking. Finding my clarity is pages and pages. I wrote 10 pages in my journal yesterday. I was trying to make sense of something. It was an idea that I knew I agreed with but I had to find all the different aspects. I had to find the thread for me, that worked out for me. Which is what it sounds like you were doing. Which is why the manifesto is so awesome to read because it’s so clear. In the end, you found that thread that led you back. These are all the things that that make sense to me. And then they added up or they threaded in to unschooling, into radical unschooling. So, it was moments I did that many times over the years. When something’s feeling off, when we’ve had an encounter, when you’re feeling judged like any of those moments that can knock us off. It’s okay.
That’s going to happen, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad unschoolers just because you know you get knocked off centre for a little bit but finding these ways that help us recenter, that help us, that remind us of those fundamental motivations and reasons why we’ve made this choice in the first place can be so valuable.
TERESA: Yes, and shout it from the rooftops, even if no one’s reading it! But then I was going to say another piece that I come to with that is that I circle around and I’m almost grateful for these people that maybe were naysaying or judging or that was my interpretation of what they were saying because that gave me the opportunity to step more fully into my own knowing, my own confidence.
Rather than, “Well if only they were doing what I was doing then I’d feel better about what I was doing.” I don’t have to put the responsibility on anyone else. There really is this well within me that knows that feels this on a guttural instinctual, resounding level. Thank you for reminding me that I’m still wavering and I don’t need to. I can step with both feet on what I know again and remind myself. So, that sometimes, I really get tears in my eyes. Thank you for that thing that really hurt my feelings because it helped me with my own development and my own knowing. And so, not seeing anyone as the enemy. Like this was bad or if only they did what I was doing. No, none of that. All that falls away, it really is all about me and my own journey with knowing what I’m doing is right for us. And that’s awesome too.
PAM: I love the way you put that! I have goosebumps because that ended up being, when I wrote the unschooling journey, that ended up being one of my favourite chapters. It was about that step where at first, we can we can quickly jump to blame other people for where we’re uncomfortable. When they’ve said something that touched a nerve. It’s touched a nerve in me for some reason that I don’t know yet. And our first reaction so often is to blame them, it’s their problem. But oh my gosh, when we take that moment to just instead go to ourselves, we learn so much more by digging deeper into whatever that issue. “So, why did that touch a nerve? What was I feeling uncomfortable about?” It was something right? And it’s always been better for me when that happened. So, I was just laughing here because that has been my experience as well. So often, when I get upset with something someone else has said or done. It’s really about me.
TERESA: I know! Yes.
PAM: And that’s why I can either choose to get mad at them about it, I can choose to talk behind their back, I can choose to cut them off, I can make all these choices that blame them for my reaction to whatever it is they said. But like you said what they’re saying is what’s true for them in that moment on their journey because their journey has nothing to do with me. So, my reaction has to do with me and my journey. And if I take that step, I learn so much more about myself rather than staying stuck in defensive mode.
TERESA: Yes, that’s awesome!
PAM: I love that. I love when I was writing that, all of a sudden I could see so many times when that happens. Oh, that’s so true.
TERESA: Right. Right. Yeah.
PAM: Okay. There is another blog post of yours that I want to mention and it’s titled “The Storm in the Ocean Mother.” I love that. And I wanted to share this quote from the end of the post.
Ok so, you wrote: “This is how I learned to be more fully myself by mothering my children. And this is how I learned to mother my children by being more fully myself.”.
I love how clearly in those two sentences you describe that ever spiraling circle. How one leaves the next and back and forth around and round. So, I was hoping you could share some of your thoughts around that.
TERESA: Yeah. In that post, I was really focusing on this emotional life of our kids. There’s this phrase going around “emotional intelligence.” I remember when my oldest with a baby, seeing a friend who also had a baby talking about how to raise emotionally intelligent children. I had no idea what that phrase even means. But the emotions of our kids are just, my kids at least, I think most kids right, they’re just out there and when they’re upset, they’re upset and they’re crying and when they’re happy, they’re just zoom bouncing off the walls. And seeing them in their natural emotional expressiveness has just, it’s just so inspiring.
And then it can also be so overwhelming because we don’t always know how to respond to their big emotions, for a variety of reasons. Maybe our parents didn’t respond to our big emotions. So, there’s a lot of shutting down of emotion that I see happening in mainstream parenting, like kids falls and gets hurt and it’s like, “Oh no, you’re OK. Don’t cry.” Or a kid is so happy and they’re running around it’s like, “OK can you just keep it quiet? Just calm down.”
I just feel like I’ve been learning a lot about how to feel my own emotions by watching my kids feel theirs and then I’m also learning how to be with myself through my big emotions by being there with my kids’ big emotions. And I feel like I’m able to be with my kids’ big emotions better, the more I am able to fully feel and be with my own big emotions.
And emotions just aren’t, I don’t know, I wish they were talked about more. I think they’re so vital. I find that more and more. Emotions aren’t just something to kind of be felt and gotten over quickly. I think they’re really there to be listened to. Our emotions are our guides for how to live our lives and they help us tap into our inner compass of which direction do I go next? And if we let them, I think it’s easy to come in with the rational mind and think about what would be the best choice. But as far as tuning in and really feeling it, like this feels right to me or this doesn’t, that can be hard to know and feel out in yourselves.
So yeah, in that post I was thinking about these emotions and I don’t think I did it as well from my first kid. It’s been a really long journey of if a kid is having a tantrum or feeling really upset about something that to our adult rational mind doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, to really let them feel it rather than trying to talk them out of feeling it. Totally validate where they are and hold it and hold them and just be present and then at the same time to slowly feel out when they might be ready to think about a solution or a next step or not. They’ll show you, they’ll get there on their own when they’re ready for it but it can be so uncomfortable sometimes to be around their difficult emotions, that you’re just like, “Stop. Just don’t feel that or don’t emote that.” And I don’t think that that’s healthy ultimately and that there is no such thing as a bad emotion but we’re just uncomfortable around certain ones.
But actually, those quote unquote negative emotions are so necessary for our growth as humans and our way to help us navigate through life. If something feels bad, feel it, let it go and it will then transmute and evolve into the next answer or the next step. But you couldn’t have gotten there if you just sort of stuffed it aside or tried to be happy or just dried your tears before you were ready.
There’s a woman whose blog I have read a lot and done an online course with her, Bethany Webster. She has this blog called Healing the Mother Wound and it was well, no, her blog is called the Womb of Light. But there is a big post that she has on there called Healing the Mother Wound and it really looks at this idea of learning how to mother yourself. So, everyone, no matter how they were parented there’s probably a gap in between getting what you really needed as a child and what you were given. Even if you had a fantastic mother and it’s not even just about the mother, it’s about the society and culture. A child has a ton of needs and they are not going to be able to get them all met and some of those unmet needs get repressed. Then in adulthood, how do we go back and even connect with that inner child part of us again and tend to it and mother ourselves?
So, I’ve been doing that work for the past few years and learning how to mother myself and be there for myself. Which is an interesting combination of feeling whatever I need to feel but also being present for myself with it. I’m not getting so lost in my emotions that I’m just like “WAH” but letting it out slowly and being able to soothe myself in the same way I soothe my kids. So, I’ll be with my kid and I realize, ‘Oh this is what I need to do for myself. The next time I’m feeling really frustrated.’ And then I’ll be with myself I’m like, ‘Oh this feels really nice to just let myself feel this frustration and not be judgmental of it. I’m going to do that more for my kids.’ So, that’s that spiraling again. And that’s one way that shows up in parenting is through this emotional lens that I’m talking about. I’m learning how to treat myself the same way and treating my kids and let it all swirl together. But that post in particular was about these stormy emotions that we all have and learning how to deal with them in a healthy way because oftentimes we haven’t had examples of how to do that.
PAM: Exactly and that was it. You know I came in to parenting with that very rational mind. I was very much in that conventional sense. And so, when I got to the point where now I was home with the kids all the time, they had left school and we were dealing with these bigger emotional moments. And the first thing was is it was easier for me to see them, to be with them. I was doing all this reading through unschooling and peaceful parenting. And I was doing it for them and I loved them. It was easier for me to do that.
TERESA: Yes, yes!
PAM: And I learned through that, ‘Hey, I’m a person too. It’s okay for me too.’ That’s how I got to not stuffing emotions down all the time. Or locking them away in a box and saying, ‘Hey it’s OK if I’m frustrated or I’m upset.” And then I would learn from doing that. Like you said, that helps me the next time I’m sitting with them. I can sit a little bit longer. I can wait a little bit more openly. I can sit with just a better energy presence with them. I can ask if they’re wanting to move on or something with even less judgment so that I can totally take the yes or no or whatever happens next. Dealing with emotions was not something I was good at before kids.
TERESA: And then you can model that for your kids too. I just need a break. I need to feel this thing. I can give that to myself. That’s good for them to see they don’t need to see just see the one sided person. Mom is an emotional human being.
PAM: Yeah exactly. And we were talking about these ever deepening cycles, these spirals. And so, you had something you wrote recently that was about learning to follow our intuitive sense of our own joy.
And this was something else that I find is a spiral. Because it sounds simple at first, you follow the joy, follow your joy, follow your bliss. And that sounds cool. And yet, I know as I think about it, it’s been more than 10 years since I named my website livingjoyfully.ca. But I’m still discovering the depths of that phrase and what it really means.
I was hoping you could share some tips for people who would like to explore that concept of joy and how it really does weave so elegantly into our unschooling lives doesn’t it?
TERESA: Yeah.It’s funny. I remember getting started on the unschooling journey and your site is livingjoyfully.ca and Joyce Fetterol’s site is Joyfully Rejoycing. Others use peace, connection and joy, this joyful life. And I’m a happy, upbeat person but what are these people talking about?! (laughing) You know like this golden stream of light coming down on you. Constantly in this golden stream of light through my days. And yeah, I didn’t really understand it as a day to day way of being at first. It didn’t make sense and it was like I’m supposed to have joy while I’m washing the dishes for the tenth time today and changing dirty diapers and stepping on Legos you. But, yeah you can, you can have joy while you’re washing dirty dishes and stepping on Legos and being with your kids and sweeping up the crumbs but how do you get there? I feel like lately I’m feeling that joy is our natural way of being. Actually, it’s our birthright. There’s this realm of joy that’s always there for us to access and I tried to say in that post it’s not necessarily that joy is this big robust sparkling golden stream of light, it can just be a really simple quiet, I’m connected to myself right now. I’m aligned with who I really am. I have less weight on me right now. I have less worry. I feel content. I feel involved, I feel present and connected with my kids. That’s joy. It can be really, really simple but really touching at the same time.
And again, it’s so amazing, we have these kids in our lives that are living from that place, unencumbered so much the time. So, as much as they have all those big strong negative emotions that we were just talking about. They also just have this aliveness and this vibrancy and this joyfulness that can help us remember how to connect to that in ourselves again.
And like we’re talking about, giving ourselves permission to feel what we need to feel. It’s like giving ourselves permission to connect with our own joy again and the same way we’re supporting our kids interests and making sure we have their favourite foods around and looking for things that will light them up and bringing more of that into their life. It’s like, ‘Oh of course, I should be doing that for me too!’
I think that took me a while because there’s sort of this unschooling rule of always saying yes to the kids. And I think that’s a really great idea to play with to get you out of saying your arbitrary no’s and your habitual no’s, seeing how to say yes to them but you can’t forget about saying yes to yourself. Or jumping so quickly into giving to them that you’re overextending yourself and really it’s a lifestyle about finding that harmony and that flow for everyone in the family and everyone’s needs.
And so, sometimes in the shower in the morning or something, I’ll just try to ask myself what would feel good to me today. What would I like to do and try to find little pieces, little ways to do more of that? It sounds so simple but it can be something that we negate doing when we’re busy in that active caregiving and looking out for others and prioritizing their needs and learning and everything like that. But it’s finding pleasure, moments for just pleasure and happiness. And that’s really what life is about. And I love that unschooling gives us that opportunity to dive into that more and more.
It’s like the academics and the learning, any learning that would show up on a school test is so, so secondary. Down the road to me. I never really think about that. Instead, are we happy? Are we enjoying life? Is this good? And then, if the answer is yes, then that’s great. And if the answer is No, that’s also OK.
I think for a while I would feel like, ‘Well if my kids are happy that means I’m being a good mom but if they’re unhappy then I must be doing something wrong.’ And my oldest daughter went through early puberty and adolescence and lots of hormones and she started to really hate her younger sister and was mean to her a lot. And it was so hard for me. So, I was like just, just be happy because if you’re happy then I know all this is working but that’s not what she needed. And that was for me to step into connecting to my own joy. No matter what was going. I mean that was the best thing I could do for her is to just maintain that connection with myself and kind of hold her in the space of that and not try to force her to feel or be happy or more joyful than where she was because she was living out some things that she was feeling strongly and expecting her to be different wasn’t working.
So, yeah it’s such a mixture. Joy isn’t just being happy all the time, it’s letting yourself be unhappy when you need to or your kids to be and yet knowing there’s that base of connectedness that’s always there for us. And we can make choices to return to it rather than waiting for the golden stream of light to shine down on us randomly. Which is how I used to feel about joy. Now I make the choices of tuning in, aligning. Who am I? What do I care about? Do more of that, even if it’s as simple as, ‘Do I feel like having a cup of tea or coffee right now? And do I want cream in it or not?’ All those answers can come from you, can come from a real tuned in place where you’re taking care of yourself. These terms of self-care and self-love that are around in a lot of articles, I just want to be in a constant state of caring for myself through all those little choices and caring for my kids.
PAM: So yeah, I think that’s one of the big things when they talk about self-care they’ve set it up as an either or. You are caring for your kids or you’re caring for yourself. For me, that was a big insight. So, a couple of things that came out exactly what you were talking about. Joy to me. It became that connection with myself and with my family. And to me, even as you were talking about those big emotions sometimes they come from that connection to ourselves right.
That is, to me, that’s still the root of the joy that’s underneath that. Joy as in allowing, giving space for expression, for that connection, for that understanding, for that self-awareness to develop because when we’re feeling something we might not know why yet. When you give space for that, that is how the understanding can eventually develop. Whether it takes minutes, hours, days, weeks, months it all depends. But like you were talking about, having that space still connecting to our own joy.
I think the other thing we do and we get it so early on to judge that self-care needs to be big things. So, not only do I need to be by myself and there needs to be big important things. But really it can be choosing between tea and coffee how does that feel. It’s a moment where I’m not connecting with myself and I’m seeing which would bring me more pleasure you know.
And so, it’s still caring for yourself in the same moment while maybe you’re making a sandwich for one of your kids or whatever. It’s just having yourself also in your mind and knowing that at each moment I’m making the choice that I’m making and it’s my choice. That wells up the joy if my choice in that moment is to help them do this and help them do that. And you know after that, I’m going to maybe do this other thing. So often it would be little things like lighting a candle while I was making dinner, each time I looked at it I smiled.
TERESA: Right. Right.
PAM: And I reminded myself that I’m here, I’m in this place, I’m making this choice boom. And I kept stirring. You know what I mean?
PAM: Finding that connection for you and understanding yourself and again back to that self-care but not the more conventional way they mean it. It’s not, I have to go out for drinks with friends once a week for it to count or else. It’s not taking someone else’s definition of it. It’s how do I define it? How does it look in my life right now? How can it look? It doesn’t have to be near them. How can the things that bring a little smile to my face and remind me to jump into this moment, how can they be there while I’m living my life with my family?
TERESA: Right. Right. I love your example of lighting the candle while you make dinner or something you could approach so easily. There’s a sink full of dirty dishes but I’ll just turn on my favourite song and I don’t have to do all the dishes, I’ll just do it while it feels good. Before you know you’re done. I try to never do anything that I don’t feel like doing either. I try to make it so I am enjoying it or choose not to do it and find an alternative to it though.
PAM: That’s back to touching base with yourself again. The dishes are piling up and it doesn’t feel good right now I don’t want do it. But later whenever the moment comes, it may feel ok again. It’s back to that trust again. Where maybe I will say, ‘Oh, you know what? In this moment I want to get the dishes done. I want to get some of the dishes done, I want to get enough dishes to cook dinner tonight.’ There was a time when Michael loved to build contraptions in the sink with dishes and pots and everything and turn the water on and see how it flowed through them in there. He was doing that and we kind of turned that into doing the dishes. You never know what’s going to come up just because you don’t feel like doing them in this moment doesn’t mean you will never ever feel like it again.
TERESA: I don’t like the thought of forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do…
PAM: “Because you have to.” I love that, I love that.
What is your favourite thing about your unschooling days right now?
TERESA: Oh that was a hard question because I just, I don’t know, I just love our lifestyle so much. You know everything that we’ve talked about in this conversation so far is what I love about it.
I just love having the space and the time to be together and get to know ourselves and each other. It’s just so precious. What else could be more important than that? I can’t think of anything. It’s back to the relationships and the connecting again.
It’s just it’s, it’s brilliant. I don’t know. Or so lucky. You know it’s such a privilege and a luxury to be able to live that way. And I’m just so, so happy that we’ve encountered this lifestyle. I’m so thankful for the Internet. I never would have gotten here without that. While I wouldn’t have known what to do if I hadn’t found Jan Hunt’s Web site really or to have people that are further down the path saying “It’s OK, you can be kind and generous with your kids and they will be wonderful human beings.” Because so many people parent from that place of well in order to make them wonderful human beings I have to make them do X Y and Z that they don’t want to do right now. That doesn’t feel right to me at all. So wonderful to have the resources of people who are more experience spelling that out for us so yeah.
My favourite part of our unschooling days is just being together. Just loving my children so much and having this time together. So many people talk about the years going so fast or you know looking at an old picture when their kid was 2 and now they’re kid’s 10 and where did the time go? I don’t really have that feeling about things. Not to say I won’t at some point but I feel like we’re really living our lives together. They’re not just flashing by. We’re not busy. We’re just here together doing what we love.
We’re not too stressed out except if we’re making an addition on the home. There are the natural stresses of life, of course, inevitably. And like I said, sibling tensions or figuring out what to make for dinner or things like that. But just that we can just be together. I mean how many people, what are those articles listing the top 10 things people on their deathbed, things like: I wish I would have worked less and spent more time with my family. I wish I had prioritized relationships and I wish I had done less of what other people thought I should do and done more of what I wanted to do.
And I’m just like so grateful that we’re in that from day one as a family. Not that we have it down perfectly ,not that we don’t struggle, not that we don’t have conflict but overall the overarching feel for our lives is spacious, is open, is fun and it’s about enjoying each other, doing what we love, cooking good food together or watching the shows together. Nothing’s off limits. Nothing’s bad like talking about those power struggles earlier. I can’t imagine living 18 years with my child in my house having those power struggles constantly over different things as they got older. My oldest will say to me, “Well I don’t know what we’d fight about mom.” She knows the stereotypes of teenagers fighting about things and she’ll be a teen here in a few months. It’s so nice to hear that. And my middle child will say to me, “Well if I ever have kids, I want to parent the way you do mom.” It’s just nice to feel so, to have this nice dialogue with them about who we are together, so precious.
And like I said, that’s the priority. If anything would come in the way of that, I would just find a way back to that open connection no matter what, if I was able.
PAM: No. I love that and I love to that it’s about the relationships for you. It really boils down to those. I love how you mentioned because so often when people first hear about unschooling it seems like this pie in the sky idea. What do you mean you have wonderful relationships with your kids? And when they imagine wonderful relationships they’re imagining, I feel like they’re kind of imagining, no power struggles but because the kids are all of a sudden listening to me and doing what I want.
TERESA: Doing exactly what I think they should be doing. (laughing)
PAM: And you totally understand that because they haven’t seen this paradigm shift to this kind of parenting, where it’s about the connection. Where when things come up when conflicts come up, when stresses come into life, that we don’t see those as arguments or problems. That’s why we can talk about this joy. We can talk about these strong connected relationships, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work through things, right?
TERESA: No kidding!
PAM: We work through all these things but we’ve built that relationship where we can talk about them. Where we can work together, like you were saying being together. That’s the root of it. That’s the most wonderful thing, being together. And it’s not all that shiny joy. Because that’s not what we’re talking about. It’s that connection, that trust, that conversation, that finding a path forward, that tweaking things that feels good because we’re all bringing ourselves to it.
PAM: I love that. I love that. Well, thanks so much Teresa for taking the time to speak with me today. I had so much fun I really appreciate it.
TERESA: I had so much fun too, it’s great to see you.
PAM: It’s wonderful to see you. And before we go where can people find you and you’re writing online?
TERESA: OK so I have a blog it’s called Sparkleandzest.com. I don’t write on there that often but well I started it several years ago and then I took a five year break. And then in the past six months or a year, I’ve started writing a post every few months. It feels so good to write when I do. So, I do want to keep going with that for sure. And then I’m also on Instagram as Sparkleandzest on Instagram and then I’m on Facebook as Teresa Hess. So, if anyone wants to reach out say hello, friend me. I love connecting with other unschoolers and supporting each other on social media. It’s so fun to see everybody living their lives together. So, those are all good places to connect.
PAM: Terrific. And I will share the links those places in the show for everybody and thanks again so much. Have a great day.
TERESA: You too, bye bye.