PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Jen Keefe. Hi Jen!
JEN: Hi Pam, I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
PAM: Oh, I’m so excited to have you. Now just to let people know, Jen was actually on the podcast before. I looked it up, it was three years ago, episode number 44. So, I’m so excited to have her back because you know it’s amazing what three years of living and learning can bring. You think things don’t change quickly but then when you start looking back over multiple years it’s like, “Wow, look at all that change.” So, I’m very much looking forward to hearing more about it. So, to get a started Jen,
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
JEN: Yes, I’d love to Pam. Just a touch based on what you just said, I was thinking about chatting with you again. I was thinking back to where I was three years ago. I remember where I was sitting when we chatted and you know I didn’t even really know what a podcast was. We were talking about this a little before we started. I didn’t even really know what it was and thinking about where I was mentally. It was really cool to think about where I am now as opposed to where I was then.
So, that was really fun. I have my husband and two kiddos that make up our family. My son is 11, he’ll be 12 in September which blows my mind. Twelve feels so big. And my daughter is 9 and of course they’re both wonderful and awesome.
My son has always been a big gamer. He has been a huge gamer from the time he was young and that obviously took lots of personal work for me to be able to really support his passion but we eventually did. And then he was always a console gamer. That was what he always played on, mostly X Box and then moved a little bit to PlayStation and had some fun with the Switch. Then it was really interesting, he went through this period where we noticed he just wasn’t gaming anymore and we were surprised because he had been such a big gamer. And then he moved into P.C. gaming and that has brought out this whole new, cool experience. He’s huge right now into World of Warcraft which has been so fun to get to know how this community works.
He had been searching and searching for a guild to join. Which is like a group of people who play together and they do raids together. It took a little while to find one. And he finally found one and it has been such a blast watching him connect with these people and because they have so many other things in common. Owen’s a big history buff, a huge history buff, he loves political science and a lot of these folks are too. So, on their Discord chatter, Owen’s always like saying, “Hey, look at what this person said!” So, much wit that he really appreciates. So, that’s him and he’s a gem just generally good guy and my husband and I kind of chuckle saying we don’t know where he gets this from but he’s the most laid back, go with the flow, flexible, everything’s OK guy. He’s the only one in our family that is like that. So, we don’t know where he gets it. But it’s a huge gift and we have to be really conscientious to make sure we don’t take advantage of that and exploit that. It’s just so important.
My daughter is 9, she’ll be 10 in November and she, too, is awesome. She is kind and a little bit fiery and very quiet, not shy. Which I would have used to describe her had I not done so much learning. She is very quiet and intentional about who she gives her energy to and she’s a creator. She’s been a creator for a really long time. She creates the coolest things out of everything. Yesterday it was saran wrap and nail polish. I mean just these cool things. And she recently, for her ninth birthday, she had been begging us for a guinea pig and we were in a temporary living situation where it didn’t make sense. We had been sort of thinking she’d move past it. But about a year went by and she hadn’t moved past it. So anyway, long story short, we got this guinea pig in November. We rescued this 2 year old guinea pig and she has just become the absolute baby of our family. Everything revolves around Daisy. And it was such a great experience through an unschooling lens, it was such a great learning moment for me as a mom. Sydney knew what she wanted and she has taken such good care of this guinea pig. And she did know all the responsibility that came with it and she gave us this huge gift of all bringing Daisy into our family.
My husband works for a large engineering company. He does something called geographic information systems which is really fun for our family too. He does aerial mapping stuff so sometimes the kids get to go and play or not play with but watch Chris while he works with folks who use drones and that sort of thing. We live in Denver right now. We’ve been here for about six or seven years but we’re moving back to New England in about six weeks. So that’s us.
PAM: Oh wow. So, that’s a big thing coming up too.
JEN: It’s a very big thing and there was so much thought that went into it. And it’s exciting but of course cumbersome and I guess I should also mention that my kids have always been unschooled. Owen went to about six weeks of pre-school that didn’t work. Other than that, they both have unschooled. Sydney’s never been in a program of any sort. So, they’ve always been unschoolers.
PAM: Oh yeah. Yeah that’s always really fun thing to hear as well. It gives us an idea of when people’s journey started. Like you mentioned a few weeks of pre-school. Yeah. A recent guest said a couple of months of pre-school etc. Everybody can imagine what that looks like.
PAM: Thanks so much for sharing those glimpses of the kids. I really love that. And I remember too it was so interesting, that transition from console gaming to P.C. gaming. I remember that with my kids as well. For quite a while it was the console stuff. But then you add the PC gaming. They found a way in a game that was interesting enough for them to try it out. And now you can get all the controllers and everything that you can use with the PC and there’s so many options and mods for so many of the games that are out there now. It’s really fun. They’re both very much now into PC gaming.
JEN: It is so fun, Pam. It’s such a cool world, I had no idea how cool it was and how interesting and just a really neat different world but a world, like a whole world.
PAM: Yes. Because even as they’re playing games they’re interacting with others. You mentioned the Discord Channel. So that’s one way. You know there are particular forums that they frequent. Whether they’re on Reddit or in different places, they find the community around it. Whatever the game is.
I know my eldest had been into Guild Wars 2 or for quite a while. And the whole community around that. And conversations about the next expansion that’s coming because that is a really interesting thing about these worlds with PCs and expansion packs. The games they end. When the game comes out there’s kind of an ending but the story doesn’t end, the story continues. It’s like the end of a book in a series that you know is already a series. So, there’s sometimes a next expansion that has a lot of backstory, history of that world. Sometimes it opens up a new area in the world, it does give so much more depth, maybe. Maybe that’s the word versus a console game where you’re paying for that disc at the time anyway or that download right for the console, everything is sort of self-contained and now it seems a little bit more fluid. Does that make sense?
JEN: Completely. It does and you know talk about creative writing, even if it’s not physical writing but when word gets out that an expansion pack is coming, listening to how the fans predict what it might be.
PAM: Yes. All those conversations around that. It’s like the conversations around book series or around TV shows wondering what’s going to happen. That’s the whole Game of Thrones thing. When you talk about people dissing video et cetera, etc. You know it is so much like all the other pieces of our world. It’s not something distinct. When they talk about video games or screens etc.
It’s story, it’s entertainment but not surface level entertainment. There’s a depth there, if you’re interested in that. Same if you were interested in books and you know deep into the Harry Potter series or the Game of Thrones book series. Books versus TV but you know there is just so much depth when you dive in there. So many communities where you can you learn how to communicate, whether that’s through typing, writing, spelling. All those things are innately in there because you’re excited to communicate about whatever it is that you’re excited about. Right?
JEN: Absolutely and that it’s been so eye opening and is an understatement, as we can both appreciate. But to watch that happen and when you can really for a moment trust that’s happening and see it. It’s just the wildest thing to see that all of those helpful skills do come along just from playing video games.
I don’t want to get it off track but can I say that I think of this so, so often now. Now that I’m sort of on the other side of this video game thing. We attended our first Pax conference, which is a big gaming conference. We got to meet a lot of the developers and the creators and the programmers and all these people. And I think so often now when I hear people diss video games, I think about how terribly unkind and unappreciative that is to the people who are creating these amazing worlds and amazing stories and incredible communities. And I’m a voice over talent, that’s what I do to earn money. So, I have a lot of friends who voice for video games. They work really hard to do that well and the lack of understanding by so many I think is really unfortunate.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good way to put it. And that’s the other thing when they’re interested, when this happens to be their interest, they enjoy exploring the world through games. And like you said, there are so many people working to create these games. You can go from the large companies like World of Warcraft to individual developers who just had this amazing story idea that they want to do and they’ve just worked on their own maybe with a couple of friends for two, three, five years to bring their idea out.
I’ve been talking to Joseph about that recently about how when in particular genres, that people are passionate about, that the people in the genre, in those forums, in those parts of the of the online world, discover that stuff right. There are games that I’ve heard about from my kids that I’ve never heard about anywhere else. But in their niche, in that world, they’re well-known, they’re appreciated. There’s just so much space there for people to share their creativity.
JEN: I thought it was so cool at PAX. The centre of the floor was all for indie games. I’m getting goosebumps as I think about it.
PAM: I know, me too!
JEN: We spent so much time in there, Pam, talking with the people who create and where the ideas came from and they were absolute heroes to the people who are getting to meet them because just like you said, books or movies or shows, these developers and creators and writers have transported these people in the same way. Using Imagination and story, it was the same as the book would do. Anyway, I didn’t mean to get off track but it just, it’s amazing.
PAM: Yeah. No, no, no. I think I might have done that to us. But I think that’s something that’s really interesting to me. That whole gaming world. And I’ve been looking at them recently looking licensing things just for my own interest and hearing someone talk about how it’s story. And then as I’m talking with Joseph, we’re talking about you having the story and do you put it out as books, as movies, as game. As we talk about it, the essence is the story, yet you can make it a unique and interesting experience in whatever format or channel you choose for the people who enjoy those channels.
You can be doing a book and a game at the same time or screenplays etc. Anyway, yes, I’ve really taken this off track but I find it fascinating and part of bringing video games just in as another channel, another format for sharing stories and entertainment and enjoyment. I don’t like the word entertainment because people take that as so fluffy.
JEN: But no, we don’t.
PAM: Books, movies, TV, story for human beings is just so innate. It’s how we transfer our knowledge. It’s how we explore things, “What would I do in that situation?” This is it, there’s a quote that I’m going to butcher but it’s something like, “Stories are to humans, like water is to fish.”
PAM: It’s just an innate thing that comes with us. So, that’s why I find it so interesting. OK. So, we should move on. (laughing)
What was something thing that you found challenging as your family moved to unschooling and how did you work through that, using your perspective from today?
JEN: This was so interesting to think about, Pam, because I go through in my mind, there were so many that that felt like challenges along the way and when I tried to kind of lump them all together and bring them all together—it all came back to (which won’t maybe be a surprise to you but was interesting to me), it all comes back to, I was the challenge. I really was the challenge. For me, understanding that academic and educational part of unschooling that came much, much easier and much more quickly for me. That I got really pretty early on. It didn’t mean it was easy because I still needed deschool, we still have all that stuff that we don’t even know is in there, that we have to work through but that part just came so much easier.
I don’t know if others can relate to this or not but the part about learning to unschool well that was so hard for me, was learning to really create peace and calm and get over my own stuff and my own fears. I have been very open that I battle and I’m trying to change that word but I have anxiety, an anxiety disorder. So, fear has always been a very big part of my life. So, getting past all of that has been what has been really hard for me about unschooling, learning to unschool.
It’s been the hardest part and I could give three million different examples of how that plays out in everyday life from video games to food to just silly little things that don’t seem to matter.
I’m trying to think of an example, wanting to say no to a particular food that my kids want in the moment and then that creates this battle between us, along with an internal battle that not only disturbs the peace and ruins the calm but also takes them completely off track from whatever thing they were learning and they just wanted a snack. Taking and making it this massive thing, that’s all about this dumb little thing, instead of letting them just learn whatever it was they were learning.
PAM: Yeah, I remember when I figured that out. That was such a huge piece, wasn’t it? That realization that I was stuck on that and that it built a wall. You know, this is a stopping pointing, double yellow line. However you want to describe it. This was something that we weren’t going to cross. All of a sudden when we ran into it, oh my gosh. All of a sudden everything became about that. And it became about me and whatever it was they were doing is totally derailed. And what’s super interesting is that they’re learning about that thing. So, we’ll use the food example. That food that I had double yellow lined or whether it was the food itself or whether it was the amount or anything like that. I was also stopping their learning about that thing.
What I discovered was that I was getting in my own way because what I was wanting was for them to learn about it. But I wanted them to learn what I already knew, what I thought I knew. Right? So, I was actually the block to what it was that I was wanting them to do.
JEN: It’s the ultimate irony.
PAM: But yeah, that realization of how much I was getting in the way. It felt like a weight coming off too, because now I don’t have to police things as much. I can just be there. I can be there for conversations, be there for help, to help them get something that they’re interested in. And from my perspective, I’m there as an observer, so I’m learning more about what they’re learning. And then I’m even more comfortable, because if not, I’m just standing there policing. I’m not really observing. I stopped everything that was in motion. So, they’re learning to stop. I’m not seeing, all I’m seeing is this frustration and I’ve just gotten in the way of everything.
JEN: I love that idea of policing. I never thought of it in that way before. Policing, nothing good comes from that. Like nothing really. Nothing good comes from policing. That’s interesting. Yeah.
PAM: Yeah. Because you’ve just stopped whatever learning and exploration was happening. Eventually, if it’s something that they want to explore, like the guinea pig you were talking about with your daughter. A year passed and she still wanted it. She still wanted it. So, maybe in a couple of years when you’re not there to police it, they have another opportunity and they’re going to explore it that way and then you’re not even part of the equation. Experience says they may well be making choices that they personally might not make or go as far with but because they’re kind of rebounding from the restriction. That can push them even further. What they’re learning in that moment is how far they can go in opposition to how you are trying to hold them back not, “Oh gee, I would like to have this or more of this and see.” Does that make sense?
JEN: It makes total sense, Pam, and as always when I listen to you or read your words it’s just sending things spiralling for an even deeper understanding. It makes total sense.
PAM: Well that’s cool, good!
JEN: Oh sorry. I think you asked how. Did you ask how I dealt with that?
PAM: Oh sure, sure.
JEN: I did want to share that and I feel like a lot of people miss the opportunities that are right there for us to be able to deal with that. I did it by reading and listening to and watching as much as I could on a daily basis. Your book, reading your words, the radical unschooling info group with Sandra, unschooling questions and answers with Sylvia Woodman and she’s got a wonderful group there. Joyce Fetteroll, really finding like five or six resources. But I didn’t spend my time searching for resources every day, I just knew exactly where I was going to go. And I just thought that it was transformational, reading all of your words and really finding the people who could guide me to where I wanted us to be.
It was it was transformational in a way I never ever could have imagined and I wanted to share that because so often I talk with people and they wonder either how to get started or how to get over this issue and I’m always referring them back to the same five or six people. And then I’ll check in a couple of months later and I’ll refer them to the same five or six people and they still aren’t familiar, which is totally fine. I get it, we’re ready when we’re ready. But I just want to share with people, that opportunity is massive if you really want to learn to unschool well. I mean it really just changed our entire family.
PAM: I love that point. And thanks for sharing my stuff. But I mean it was my experience as well. I found when you’re ready you know, that’s such a great point. You may share something with someone and three months later, six months later, whatever you share again and that’s fine because we don’t control anybody else’s journey.
But once you’ve decided to continue to keep looking and to keep reading because I think it’s really valuable not to just read for a month or two, get an idea of what’s going on and then pull back and just try to do because we know there’s so much more in there to work through.
It’s not something that you can just read about once or twice say, “Oh yeah. I got that. That makes sense,” and then then just go off. For me, at the time when I was starting, it was email groups, mailing lists, etc. And that was something that I choose, I would get up before the kids were awake and I would read a few emails every morning because it just got me in the right mindset. It’s like “Oh yes this is it.” And it would also give me things just kind of mull over in the back of my mind because it’s so useful to also read about situations that don’t exactly correlate to my own. Maybe their kids are older than mine were at the time or maybe their kids were interested in wanting to do something that my kids weren’t interested in etc. but they were worried about it. It really helped me figure out the roots of unschooling, the foundation of unschooling because when it came down to it the processing in how to look at all those different situations was really the same.
It’s this lens of unschooling that we were talking about. But it takes looking at many, many, many, many, many other situations and seeing how to process them and how to look at them to discover what that lens of unschooling looks like. And then the overlay of our lives. To see how, “So, if that came up in our lives…”
You know your own kids, you know yourself, you know the personalities, what our needs are, downtime needs, engagement needs all of that kind of stuff to be able to put that all together into our lens. It takes it takes a lot of time and a lot of work doesn’t it?
JEN: It takes a lot of time and a lot of work. And I, as always, love what you just said Pam because it does take reading through so many different situations until you finally sort of internalize, “Oh this is the lens.” The lens—how am I looking at my particular situation? And when people come in and ask about really specific situations. It is so helpful to help us clarify our lens but also once you get that you realize that the questions are no longer specific questions. It’s always this broader understanding of ‘I’ve got to look at it through this lens.’ I love that. You’re so awesome.
PAM: It’s so true. I love answering questions and I love brainstorming situations with people but that is what I’ve noticed over the years that I literally feel like it’s the same answer every time. It’s because it’s that same lens that we’re going to look through. It’s the same, “Are you talking to your kids? What do your kids think?” It’s that lens, because as parents we want to solve things. We want to help our kids feel better. We want to work things out. But we want to look at it, come up with an answer and then take it to our kids and tell them.
So, there’s just that certain foundational set of three four different things that is always at the root of looking into and figuring out any kind of situation but it takes a while to get there. OK. Next question my dear.
As we come to unschooling, one of the ideas we hear often is that learning is a by-product of living. You mentioned that a little bit earlier, that’s one of the first things we get to, the discovery that kids are actually learning all the time. Now for me, we can get to it pretty quickly because you just have to watch your kids. Just actually pay attention and you can see them learning just every moment that they’re engaging with something. But that’s one of the things that I also found that I came to understand more and more deeply over time. Like the breadth of it, the quietness when they’re not, when they’re literally lying on the couch watching something they’ve seen 20 times already. To actually see the learning that’s happening in there too. The moments when you ask them what they’re up to and they say nothing. And recognizing the learning that’s in there too. So, I just want to touch base with you about that now, with more years of unschooling under your belt.
What does that phrase “that kids are learning all the time” mean to you now?
JEN: Well now, it’s been neat to think about people learning all the time and it’s so odd to me now that at a certain age we think that needs to happen differently. I believed that totally before, I think what’s really neat about that phrase is being able to be an unschooling mom who stays home with her kids being able to watch that really play out.
And seeing, for example if… OK. So, of course, now I’m on the spot I can’t think of a real example. But you know if Sydney throws a rock into the lake and she watches it ripple right. No big deal, it happens but then I notice that YouTube has brought her to some video about something to do with water and I see all the connections happening. I get to see them play out, like you said even the moments when it seems like they’re doing nothing or they’re watching the video for the 20th time. We know I only get to watch a small amount in a sea of the connections that happen but getting to see those connections play out has been amazing and has really brought home for me this idea that we are all literally always learning. Just even over like the dumbest things like, looking out window when you’re driving and all that you see and then connecting that to something later on. Why the smoke is that colour coming out of that truck and all these different things. It’s just literally always.
PAM: I love that so much. It’s that thread over time, you’re right. I hadn’t even thought about that, the breadth. And even the depth, whichever direction you want to go.
But when you’re paying attention to all those moments even if they don’t look like learning when you’re first starting out. That is how you discover that they’re always learning is by seeing all those connections over time. You need to need to hold them in your mind to see them, you need to be engaging with your kids, enjoying them, paying attention, not just in one ear and out the other because you think you’re supposed to be having a conversation. Not just yes, no, whatever but truly engaging with them as people. People are learning all the time.
JEN: It so exciting. Like when you start to realize that they’re really learning all the time, it’s like this new, I get goose bumps again, it’s this new vision. This new set of eyes that you’re seeing things through and it’s one of the things that I realized along this line of kids are learning all the time.
If that’s true, which I now know it is, that kids are learning all the time, that changes my role as an unschooling mom. All of a sudden, the priority is, nothing’s more important than answering that question in the moment. Nothing’s more important than helping them find that resource. Nothing’s more important than if Owen is on Discord and doesn’t know how to spell a word, I’ve just got to spell that word as quickly as I can and not have any conversation around it, so I’m not interrupting that.
You know it really defines, at least it defined my role in a really new way, when I really started to understand that they’re learning all the time. If I had to turn the stove off to help them with something, that’s what’s most important at the moment.
PAM: That’s a great point. I think of that as starting to see the flow of their learning. You can start to visualize it, you can see the flow. When they’re needing a little something like spelling a word or whatever, that moment isn’t about the word. It’s the flow of what ever thought they’re trying to communicate that includes that word. And you don’t want to break that flow because that’s where their mind is engaged. That’s where they learn the most in that moment because that’s where they are. Oh, I love that!
PAM: Yeah, I know that flow is yet another piece, another depth to that learning all the time and learning all the time, you can see it in the moment. But that’s why so often we say if you’re going to try unschooling try it for a minimum of six months or for a year and really let go because you need that time to see those threads develop. Because then you trust, you know in your bones that they really are learning all the time and you get to that point where you realize that you see that flow and your role changes like you were saying. Your role is helping support them in that flow and helping them stay in that flow because that’s the most fun and it’s the most learning, right?
JEN: Absolutely. Not interrupting the flow, keeping the flow, that is it. Yes. I love that. Yes.
PAM: And as your kids get older too, you start to see them doing the same thing for you.
JEN: I might start crying if I talk about that. It’s the coolest.
PAM: I know. Yeah and now I’ve got goosebumps. Obviously, you alluded to this a little bit earlier and I think for many of us it’s one of the big surprises as we dive into unschooling, how valuable it turns out to be for us because that’s kind of the flip side of I’m the roadblock. You know, I’m the biggest challenge, I’m the one getting in the way, processing through that is so valuable for ourselves personally. Unschooling really isn’t life being just for kids. It is for us as well isn’t it.
JEN: Yes, yes it is. You know I had said of a couple of years ago, if you find the right resources and then again there are five or six that I consistently recommend. I have looked at so many of them. If you find the right resources and really use them. Let me change that. When I found the right resources and I really used them, it was the best. I’ve invested in a significant amount of personal change courses, books and some of them are great and some of them are helpful. But I invested a significant chunk of time and money into those things to help me feel better.
When I found the right unschooling resources and really used them and really started applying them to my life, it is these single best personal change course I have ever experienced in my whole life. It has more has had more impact on me as a person.
It’s really too bad that non parents can’t do this because to me it is the single best thing to make me a less fearful person, to make me a happier person. Just the idea of learning to think critically again because something happens even if you could think critically a little bit before having kids. I think for a lot of us, myself certainly, once we have kids, we love them so much and we worry so much. We’re just so vulnerable when we have kids. So much more fear comes in and I know for me that little tiny bit of critical thinking ability that I had, it went out the window. I was so susceptible to wanting to keep them safe.
I didn’t realize at the time that I was kind of doing the opposite. I was creating more fearful people. So, by addressing, by learning to critically think again, it took so much fear away. And you know, I can say here, learning to unschool significantly helped with my own personal anxiety. It really decreased it a lot. The change has all been with *me* because these two kids of mine, they knew they were going to learn. They were going to learn everything. They were good. They’re pretty laid back. They’re fun. They’re witty. They’re curious, they explore everything.
They’re always asking questions on their phones. It would be so fun if we could go through and print out some. Or, I don’t know collect what they’ve asked. Oh, I’m so old fashioned saying print. (laughing) Collect all the questions they’ve asked their phones over the years and what that’s taught all of us. They were going to do all of that. They knew they were good. You know it was it was me who needed to change and my husband who needed to change to make this work. So, anyway without talking for hours and hours about it, the impact that it’s had on me personally—it’s probably, I would say the most valuable gift I’ve ever been given. Personally.
PAM: No. No. Me too. I would completely, completely say that. And for me, it was such a big deal that I wrote a book about it. The Unschooling Journey book really was because I was just fascinated by how much I learned about being a person and grew into the person that I wanted to be by learning about how to unschool well. Really. So, to me that was the unschooling journey. It was a full-on personal journey to discover who I was in the end.
JEN: I couldn’t have done it if not for my kids. There could have been no other motivator big enough for me to work on the horrid stuff and the hard stuff that I needed to work. There couldn’t have been anything else in this world that could have motivated me to do that.
PAM: Yeah. Now this is apparently the goose bumps episodes!
JEN: I love it so much. I say that I’m in that honeymoon period of unschooling, it’s just the best, the best!
PAM: It is and I love that.
The Unschooling Journey is through the lens of the Hero’s Journey, unschooling through the lens of the hero’s journey. And one of the parts is meeting your guides. And so often, the mentor is the older person etc. But for me, the twist was that my guides were my children. Like you said. So, you know the older mentors, they’ve been through the journey and they have pulled off the glasses. But with our children they haven’t put those more conventional lenses on at all. They know what they want. They’re curious.
We’ve worked to not put a lot of that weight on them, right? So, seeing them and watching them was really my guiding light, not only my motivation but my starting of questioning. It’s like, ‘Look they changed their mind and the world didn’t end.’ This whole right/wrong, there’s one rule, one right way to do something, all that kind of stuff just by watching them in action we can see to let that go. We said pay attention to your kids, observe them, don’t just have a couple of interactions and run off to do your own things. If you’re choosing this lifestyle, you want to be engaging with them and helping them.
And you’re seeing them in action and you’re seeing them try something and it goes wrong. Oh my gosh. You know for me, doing something wrong was a big thing. I would feel so bad about it. I would feel judged. I’d feel horrible. I wouldn’t want anybody to know but they just learned from it and tried again or tried something else. They were also and continue to be such wonderful guides for me along on the journey as well.
JEN: I’ve talked about this before, one of the biggest things that came out of this, Pam, not even it’s still coming but has come out of this is to me learning to unschool well has this sense of not just unconditional love but unconditional living.
There’s an appreciation and a curiosity for even mistakes made and all of these different things and maybe it’s seeing the humanity. You work so hard to always see the humanity, not only in your kids but all the people in their world. So, we can find the things to bring to them. And when you’re doing that. When I was doing that, I couldn’t help but learn to find it in myself too. And I never ever felt that for myself before, ever. I’d never, and this sounds kind of more new agey than I am, but I never honoured my own humanity. I’ve never loved myself, I’ve never practiced self-compassion, all those things really came out of wanting to do that for my kids and the people in their world.
PAM: Exactly right. You realize it’s there. I know, it sounds weird but it’s true. You realize, ‘I’m a person too. I can be curious. I can play. I can ask questions. I can make a mistake.’ You’re rediscovering all those things. It’s OK. It’s for people you know. Back to people who are learning all the time. This is wonderful for people. And what a cool way to live. What a cool lifestyle. And it’s choosing and then all of a sudden, that’s another level of being together. For me, how I saw it come together, as people as a family. That was another layer of, “Oh look, you know we aren’t separate.” Even age wise, we’re all people. Getting to the same level as our children. That was another step for me on that journey.
JEN: I love that. Absolutely Pam. Yes.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, my goodness. This is a lot of fun, I’ve got to tell you.
JEN: I keep saying, “Jen, you’ve got to stop talking about this.” Because I could just talk to you for hours about this.
PAM: Yeah. No, it’s fascinating. I love the depth. You know when you find the resources that work, that can connect for you. And then don’t leave them. We can grow out of things, it’s fine.
But don’t just kind of step away cause thinking, ‘I’ve learned enough. I get the idea.’ Because for me, so often I’ve seen and experienced, that’s when chaos kind of comes up. Because at first, you’re learning kind of the rules of unschooling. You learn what, in general it’s about, but you don’t yet understand the why, the motivation, that root lens. And so, when you go to live that with your family, if you’re not continuing to explore and really figure out what that means, you’re really just kind of engaging on that surface level so often.
PAM: You’re thinking, I should say yes more. They should eat whatever they want. Learn whatever they want. That’s not it, that may be what it sounds like when you explain it but that’s not the reasoning behind it. Right?
JEN: Absolutely. You’re not changing your lens. You’re putting a cover on the lens that can crack and break and it’s not durable and it’s not going to stick. I love that Pam and I can remember when I was in that spot and it’s so important to keep taking it in. It’s what I love about your podcast and some of the other resources you talked about, guides being all different ages. You know just Talia’s episode last week! You listen to people. You learn from every single person no matter how long you’ve been doing it or how short. You learn from every single person who’s willing to share their journey in any way. You learn how to unschool better.
PAM: Yeah I know, that is such a great point because there are always little connection pieces and like we were saying before, reading about situations where kids are older or different interests or a different personality but that still informs your understanding of unschooling. So, hearing everybody else’s stories is so important. I have these podcasts, these episodes every week and I’m still making new connections all the time. I’ve had three here today already. It is, you’re continually growing your understanding of anything no matter how long you’ve been doing it. There’s no, “I’m all done learning.” Sometimes you may decide you don’t want to learn anymore and then you don’t engage. But there’s always more to learn in any interest or passion.
JEN: It’s one of my favourite things about unschoolers in general, whether they are parents or kids or whatever. Anybody who’s doing it well, you’ll never run into anybody who has that expert mentality about anything because everybody is always curious to learn more and I love that. I feel like it’s just such a gift to be around those people, you people. Yeah.
PAM: Exactly. That curiosity that knowing that that there’s always more. It’s just a wonderful bubbly mindset, isn’t it?
Since we last spoke you started a podcast that’s called Real Women’s Work. And I’ve heard little bits about the story but I’d love you to share the story behind how that came about.
JEN: OK. So, I’ve never gotten to share it through the unschooling lens before so it’s exciting to be able to talk about. I’ll keep it brief because I know I’ve talked a lot but the whole impetus, there were two things that were going on that started this. One, Sydney was 8 at the time and she kept asking me, “What do people mean when they say they’re going to work?” And I would answer with things like, they go to an office or things like that. But eventually we got to the point where she wanted to know what did they do when they’re sitting at their computer? What are they typing? What do they do in that office? So, I tried to give her some examples but I wanted her to have a nice broad answer to that question. So, I asked on my personal Facebook thread and Pam, the answers that came in were amazing and everybody who was on that thread knew that this was a cool thread to be reading because we had no idea how people did their work and we learned so much about each other just from answering that question.
I was reading the answers to Sydney and she would read some of them and it was this really neat exchange of being able to provide a breadth of information. And I have mostly women friends and only a couple of guys responded and I was just thinking, ‘Look at all these things women do!’ This is really neat. And at the same time, I was in the middle of a really bad mental breakdown, that’s what I call it because it’s what it was and nights were the worst. And I had stopped self-medicating with wine which was a good thing but I didn’t know how to fill that gap of making myself feel better at the time. So, I would just walk for a couple of hours at a time around the city of Denver listening to music. I realized that when I listened to female artists, I felt better and more empowered and stronger. And so, I was thinking how can I stream strong women into my head for a couple of hours every day and that’s really when I discovered podcasts. I didn’t even really know what they were.
So, I started walking around listening and I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh I wish I had known how many different things we could do.’ All these women are out there following their passion and doing things and I just wish I had known. And so, it was right at the time that I had asked this question and just kind of all came together. And I thought, ‘We need to create more space for this conversation.’ And that’s really how Real Women’s Work started.
I mean I could go on and you know the kids have been having so much fun. Sydney co-hosted an episode with me when we interviewed my mom. The kids love listening. Not so much anymore. The first 10 episodes they were all about listening. Now it’s kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, this is this thing mom does.’ Sydney creates a lot of my graphics. She’ll go on and use canva and she’ll create a lot of my graphics and Owen will spend a lot of time Googling something that he’s heard about in an episode. So, it’s really it’s been fun for the family but that’s how it started. For a million reasons, it’s been a gift for me personally.
PAM: That’s a beautiful story. I really love that. Back to the connections and just kind of being open to the flow and seeing how things might go together and trying it out. So you’re really enjoying it?
JEN: I love it. The unexpected part for me, like I said, I was just coming out of a mental breakdown when this whole thing started and hearing from women, talking with women every single week or right now I’m doing it monthly because we’re moving. Hearing from them has really helped to build up my strength again which has been a totally unexpected and awesome gift. I love it. I love doing it.
PAM: Oh, that’s wonderful. I love hearing about that. And yes, I’ve listened to a few episodes and I really enjoyed it. I love the idea. Just being able to share what women are up to because there is just such a wide variety of all the things and even how we define work.
JEN: Exactly. Exactly. And that was one of the goals when I started this show is that it would be a wide variety of work, some paid, some unpaid, stay at home moms, volunteers, etc. And what we think of as work, we address this in a couple of episodes. What we do, how we define work isn’t necessarily what work has to be. Work be a really lovely pleasant thing where we are growing and changing and sometimes producing an outcome. Yes. Redefining.
PAM: I think that is a great way to look at what we’ve been talking about today. This journey. That when you want to learn something, when you dive into an idea, there’s the surface level understanding, but there’s always so much more under the surface, whether it’s video games, whether it’s work, whether it’s school, whether it’s you know martial arts, whether it’s photography, story, whatever the interest when you dive into it and learn, there is a whole world underneath. You can take that journey of understanding and I bet you are learning about yourself through doing the podcast.
That’s what I love about it. It’s about being human, it’s about being a person, it’s about just pursuing and learning the things that you’re interested in. That helps understanding that the conventional view is rather surface level and realizing I am no longer going to judge anything else out there because I know if I wanted to I could dive in and I’d find more, there’d be more to that right.
JEN: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, that’s exactly it, Pam. I love, love, love that you just said that. Once you understand that there is depth to everything, you stop thinking that there’s depth to only a few things and you can be curious about everything. You can be curious about everything, which is a way more fun way to go through life.
I just interviewed a woman, her episode will air in September. She’s a young woman, she’s 17, and she sells fruit kabobs at the Rockies games. So, she walks up and down and I know her mom, both her and her mom were saying, you know Katie is worried that it’s not going to be interesting enough and I’m telling you, this is one of the most fascinating things we ever could have learned about. You really start to be curious about and appreciate all of those things.
PAM: Isn’t it so fun?! There are stories everywhere. You said that everybody has an amazing story.
JEN: I just love that. I agree with it completely and when you’re curious enough you get to hear more of it.
PAM: Yeah exactly. Exactly. So last question.
What is your favourite thing about your unschooling days right now? Let’s pretend you’re not packing up for a big move right now!
JEN: Exactly. But even this applies to that, Pam.
It’s how easy they are. How easy they are.
And I don’t mean that every moment of the day is easy. We still have issues with shoes sometimes and we still have issues. You know there are still logistical things that come up as part of everyday life. We are getting ready for a big move. But relative even to where I was when we talked last time and relative to my goodness where we were, where I was when my family and I started this journey however many years ago, things are so easy. Part of it is logistics. I don’t have to bring a diaper bag anymore. All we need is a water bottle. That’s it. We don’t pack snacks.
Part of the ease of that is not just age but I no longer have fear about swinging through a drive through or running into a convenience store. All that fear of thinking, I’ve got to pack organic fruit and that’s it or else we’re going to starve for the day, that makes life easier. We can go on an outing and be gone for eight hours and I don’t have to think about food out of fear.
But it’s also just all the work I’ve done. I’ve done so much work and it’s removed so much tension and it’s removed so much anxiety and it’s removed so much of the overthinking. You know I’m a chronic over thinker and learning how to stop overthinking just makes our days so much easier because we are in flow so much more often than we’re not.
PAM: Right. I love that.
JEN: And we’re also, as a family now so good. Unfortunately or unfortunately there’s really no fortunate part about this but I’ve been a really good model of apologizing and recognizing when I’m really screwing up in the moment. I’ve really modelled a lot saying like, “You guys I just lost it. I’m really sorry. What can I do so we can move past this? Can we move past this?” And of course, it warms your heart because kids are so quick and easy to just move past things. But now we’re also, all of us really good at saying, “I’m in a really terrible mood. I’ve got to take a minute.” or “I’m really sorry that I just lost it.” Even the kids. You know, “Mom I’m really sorry that I just lost it. Can we just hug and move forward?” and that makes the day so much easier because you’re not carrying that crap forward with you.
PAM: Right. Exactly.
It’s when you’ve gotten to the point where you can trust that you can figure something out in the moment. You’re not having to anticipate everything that can go wrong because you’ve now realized that you can’t anticipate everything that and that you don’t need to have an answer anymore. That’s it. When you get to the point where you realize I don’t need to have that answer at the ready for anything that may come up. We can deal with the moments.
Like you said whether it’s apologizing when something goes wrong or it’s changing things up because someone’s feeling something different. Or we stop in at a convenience store for a quick snack because somebody is hungry. You trust that you can deal with anything that comes up in the moment and there’ll be some sort of solution that’ll work right.
JEN: Yes. And Talia talked about this a little bit in your last episode and I loved it. The other thing I find easier about this age at 9 and 11, it’s so much easier for the kids to be part of the solution. And they come up with them. Sydney had this, we lost a pair of shoes that was really comfortable and any way to make a very long story short, she had a pair of shoes in the car that were comfortable but she wanted to go down together to get them but she didn’t have any shoes to wear down there and she didn’t want to walk barefoot. Her solution was, she rode Owen’s skateboard down to the garage. You know we’re just five floors down to be able to get the shoes. I never would have thought of that! But it kept the peace. We had fun, we were laughing whereas the old me would have been just completely stressed and gotten snappy. I wouldn’t have been able to think of a solution because she wanted to be with me but she didn’t want to walk. So, kids can really be part of the solution in ways that help your own mind to grow and realize there really is always a solution.
PAM: Right. Exactly. That’s the kids as guides again. It opens your mind it’s like ‘Man I never would have thought of that for me. It wouldn’t have worked but I can see how that works perfectly for you.’ And then we can have fun doing it together instead of, “Oh, just let me run down and get the darn shoes and I’ll bring it back to you.” But no, you don’t need to. You come up with offers like that. “Hey, I’m offering to do this for you.” And then you get stuck there. Early on in the journey, it’s like, “Come on I’m offering this and doing something nice for you. Can you just take that?”
PAM: And you might call your kids obstinate or fussy or all these words and labels that really don’t fit because you can really work together to figure out what will work for everybody. They will surprise the pants off you.
JEN: And it allows you start to see, there’s a point where you start to see, there’s a reason that she’s saying that she doesn’t want it to happen.
Maybe she had a nightmare the night before that it just hasn’t come up for her to tell me yet. It’s triggering something. There is a reason. And I now know I have to trust that, it’s not that she’s dissing my act of goodwill. There’s a real reason for saying no to that. And so, she should be part of the solution.
PAM: Such a great point! That’s perfect because that really is the piece. When you make the space to have those conversations with them, those little pieces eventually come up over time. Maybe not even in that discussion, we’re talking about giving it the time, right? Maybe you find out about that two weeks later and then this makes sense. But that’s what that trust is now. It’s knowing that for whatever reason, and at first you want to know the reasons, but then you get to the point where you trust, there is a reason I don’t need to know what it is. They may not even be able to articulate it in the moment. It’s that trust that for some reason this is where we are right now and let’s work together to figure out a way through it so that we’re all comfortable because again that’s where they are in that moment right.
JEN: It’s so true and having guides is so helpful. I have a friend Martha, Martha Dellmore and she is, I’ve never seen anybody so good at that in my whole life. Her kids are younger than mine and she’s about 10 years younger than me and she’s such a good friend and she models this. I swear Pam, every minute she is with her kids. She’d disagree but she models that so beautifully just being able to always, she always believes their words. She always believes their words and watching her and that relationship. I mean it’ll make me cry, watching her relationship with her kids and the people they are having had that from such a young age her kids are 4 and 6 and she’s been living this way I think their whole life. And it’s just the most beautiful example to watch. It is amazing.
PAM: That’s wonderful! And back to your point, how easy it is right now because having done so much of this work, you get to that place. I guess a place of trust really. It’s easy because you trust yourself, you trust that through experience that you guys will be able to figure out each moment as it comes. Right?
JEN: Yes, yes.
PAM: Well, thank you so much Jen for speaking with me today! I really appreciate it. I had so much fun.
JEN: I had so much fun too, Pam. I hope I didn’t go on too much. I really don’t get to talk about this enough I guess because it’s just so, your work so many times Pam when I talk with somebody who is maybe just thinking about getting into unschooling or somebody who has kind of been through that initial process they reference you and your work often and I’m always so glad to hear it. I’m really so grateful for what you do and what you put out there. I know personally how much it means to people and I’m so grateful. So, thank you this was so fun and I’m so honoured to have been on.
PAM: Oh, thank you so much. That’s very sweet. Yes. That’s wonderful. I don’t hear that very often.
JEN: We don’t tell each other often enough. We think everybody knows and we don’t know.
PAM: Oh that’s so sweet. But before we go, I want to make sure that you let people know where they can find you and find your podcast if they’d like to check it out.
JEN: Yes, yes, yes. That’s great. So, the podcast is Real Women’s Work at realwomenswork.com. We are Real Women’s Work on everything except Instagram, where we are Real Women’s Work Podcast. It would be so fun if everybody would join us. We have a really great Facebook group that you can join too and that delves in a little bit more to subjects and topics that the guests have brought up around personal change and that sort of thing. We talk a lot about that in there. And then I’ve just started a website ponderingjen.com because I had no place to write about unschooling and more personal stuff. So, I don’t really know what I will do with that. But anyway, I don’t have any social media around that but pondering Jen dot com has a couple of things up.
PAM: That’s awesome. I will put all doing everything in the show notes.
JEN: Thank you Pam!
PAM: Have a wonderful day.
JEN: You too.