PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Amy Martinez. Hi Amy.
AMY: Hi Pam.
PAM: So, Amy connected with me recently and I’m really excited to share with you guys some of the highlights of her family’s unschooling journey.
So, to get us started Amy, can you just share with us a bit about you and your family?
AMY: Absolutely. So, we are a base family of 7 that has now grown to 10. We have my husband who is the epitome of a lifelong learner. He says that. He has his regular corporate job. He also owns this business as a home inspector in our area. And aside from those two things he can do anything, whether it’s fixing iPhone screens or dishwashers or anything that comes up. If you can order the part, he can fix it. And he often says he has a degree in YouTube or a degree in Google because that’s just what he does. If there’s a problem he fixes it. So, I just feel like it’s good to start out with him because he is our family example of how learning doesn’t stop just because you get older.
So, after him is our 29 year old son Ricky and he’s married to Carissa. And they have a one-year old named Augustine and they are living in our home with us right now. They are transitioning from moving out of state to being here closer to family.
Josie who is 26 and her husband who is 32. Josie and Todd and they live two hours away. Todd was homeschooler all of his life. And Josie was homeschooled her high school years. She only homeschooled the high school years. They don’t have any children yet but they just adopted an adorable little cat. She went to college and she got a degree in music and she’s a guitar teacher and he is an I.T. technician.
Then there’s Isiah who is 19, so you notice a seven-year age gap there. We have two sets of kids because of that age gap. And they didn’t both have the same parents because we changed so much over time, maybe the same on the outside but parenting was different.
But let’s see, Isiah is 19 he leaves this weekend to go live with Josie and Todd because he’s going to go to the same university that Josie went to and he’s going to study video game design.
AMY: Then there’s Victoria who’s 17 and she is I guess in schooly terms is going to be starting a gap year this year. But she is an artist illustrator and she volunteers with children and just is an all around funny girl.
Then there’s Grace and she’s the baby. She’s 15 and she has decided this is going to be her senior year because she’s just ready for that. So, she’s got a couple of goals in mind that she wants to tick off. Other than that, she hasn’t really focused in on what she wants to do. But she has her hand in several things. She self-teaching Japanese, she’s very into home herbalism and writing and she’s also a bit of an artist herself. And she sings like an angel.
So, that’s the family and then there’s myself. I don’t want to forget myself. Other than just keeping the kids and cogs in motion around the household, I do have two outside of the home jobs. One of them is I’m a very part time office assistant for a local sales director with a direct sales company. And we’ve been working together for about five and a half years and have developed a great friendship as well as a great working relationship. And then I’m actually recording not in my home but in an Air B&B. I clean these two units of Air B&B for some friends who live out of state. And I took that on because Victoria needed an income and she was having a hard time finding a job. So, we partnered up together and then when she did find a job, Grace transitioned into it. And so now Grace and I do it together. I decided to come use the space because nobody was in it today and so that I wouldn’t have the dog barking in the background or anything.
That’s our big family in a nutshell.
PAM: That’s brilliant. And I love that last little titbit. I love that we’re just helping each other out, figuring things out together. And when something is challenging, we’re going to do this together. And then one moves on and somebody else is interested and you know I can pop over there and use it. It’s just a nebulous bubble of cool things that work for us together and helping each other out.
AMY: Exactly. Because a couple of weeks ago both of the younger girls were in drama camp and we had several cleanings fall into that timeframe and it just so happened my daughter in law was here and not working yet. So, she filled in for Grace and she made a little extra money and it just worked for all of us.
PAM: One thing I found really cool was you’ve done public school, you’ve done homeschooling and you guys have moved into unschooling.
I thought that would be a really cool experience to share with people. I was hoping you could talk a little bit now about what your families move to unschooling looked like. How you guys decided to go there and how the transition went for you?
AMY: Yeah absolutely. So, we started homeschooling 13 years ago and at that time the kids were a wide range of ages. My oldest son was starting the 11th grade when we pulled him out of public school. And at the end of that year he went ahead and got his GED. And so, was just kind of finished.
But what that opened up for us was it gave me an insight into what homeschooling was because up until that time we only knew two stereotypical people that had homeschooled. This wasn’t something I had ever even heard about until they were older. It gave me the confidence to do it. And so, at the end of that year, well actually halfway through that year, Isaiah who was in first grade at the time, just kept saying, “I want to do school at home like Ricky.” At first, I thought, ‘Maybe next year. We’ll start fresh at the beginning of the year.’ But he just kept insisting.
There were some things going on with the teacher at school who was, she was a great teacher but he really had an interest in our faith and he realized that there was another friend that also shared that faith. And so, at recess they would sit and talk to each other and they didn’t push that on anybody. There would just talk to each other. And she would tell them that they weren’t allowed to do that. And I would tell him that she’s not allowed to, but they he was allowed to talk to his friend if he’s comfortable talking about it.
But I realized really quickly how children at that age, they want to please and it didn’t matter what I said at home. He had to spend all day, every day with this person. And it made me understand how much of an influence we’re giving to other people and the impact that can have on our relationships with our children.
So, I said, “Alright, let’s give this a try!” And so halfway through first grade he came home. And then Josie finished up eighth grade in the public school and then she came home for high school. And then the other two girls just never went to any kind of school other than being at home.
We didn’t have anybody that influenced us because we really didn’t know anybody who was doing it. And so, we started out very traditional, school at home. We had our classroom. I had my laminated poster boards up on the wall and we just went lesson by lesson with a very traditional curriculum. As time went by, I became more confident and I learned more about the options that were out there. And so, we just slowly transitioned through different styles of home schooling like unit studies and Charlotte Mason and eclectic.
Then we just ended up kind of falling into this space and I didn’t know what it was called. I didn’t know the label for it and I had heard of unschooling but I had never looked into it. Because I didn’t know, there were a variety of reasons and experiences on the playground with the separation between homeschoolers and unschoolers that can sometimes play out. I guess just because you’re not talking about curriculum. So, I hadn’t really looked into it. I let go of the curriculum being what we were following and instead used it more as a tool for what the kids wanted to pursue. Everything just naturally evolved into that.
And then there was only thing that was kind of holding me back of really knowing whether I was unschooling or not. And it’s going to sound totally ridiculous now because I have never looked up, “Can Christians do blank” but I looked up, “Can Christians unschool?” Because I didn’t know any, all the unschoolers we knew were secular and you know we would hang out at the playground and things like that. But I never met anybody who had done both. At two o’clock in the morning when I was googling that and found these different websites and blogs that did have them married together. And as I read through it, I was like, “Oh that is what we’re doing. We are unschooling.”
And that was just like the academic part of it but along the way, like I said, we have the first two children and then a gap and then the rest of the children and along the way the same way that all the curriculum fell away in the academic side, a lot of the “this is just the way it’s done” in parenting, also fell away. I started to trust myself and what felt good in my relationship with my kids vs. what people think should be done with kids that just didn’t feel good and didn’t feel like it was nurturing to the relationship. So, they just came up hand-in-hand together and I just didn’t know that’s what was happening. So, we’re just we’re just flowing in it.
PAM: I love that description, Amy, because it was all about you being in the experience and in relationship with your kids. It was you seeing what was going on. Seeing them learning and I don’t know if trust is maybe the right word but it’s trusting that and through experience seeing that the things that they were interested in, the things they were learning those were all valuable and just as worthy as the stuff that you were learning through curriculum. Right?
PAM: That just slowly melting away as you gained more and more confidence and experience, seeing it in action and saying, “I’m now taking more agency in it.” Rather than feeling like you need a curriculum to control or a set of parenting rules to control but really feeling out what feels good for you guys. And through doing that you discovered eventually that they kind of call this unschooling.
PAM: I also love your Christian unschooling question and googling that because of course that’s a question. Because that’s a stereotype, misconception, whatever. It’s a valid question out there that lots of people have. And you know what, we’ll share links to a couple of unschooling and Christian blogs because there are so many aspects with any religion, with any strongly held belief, I know with any of those, they can mesh with unschooling in lovely ways. And depending your approach it works.
AMY: Yes, that was one of the things that was really interesting to me as I was preparing for this session and just looking back and it wasn’t really a question of, ‘Since I’m a Christian, am I allowed to unschool?” But just were there others doing it, and what can be learned from what they were doing?
PAM: It’s just like learning, it increases. They feed each other. Our passions, the things that we’re passionate about, the things that we’re interested in. They really can all feed each other when you’re open to it because I’m figuring the way you’re also approaching your Christian faith is not full of rules but it’s more about relationship right?
AMY: Yes, absolutely. And what I have discovered is the way that my parenting has grown and how that’s been informed by unschooling and parenting has been informed by my faith. I know that’s been with anybody because as you said whatever it is that you have a passion about, they’re going to inform each other.
PAM: Yeah, exactly because they’re all part of you. And I think they can all flow together really, really beautifully, when you’re open to that.
AMY: Yes. Yes. I laughed when you said trust because we’ve gone down this long winding road but it was worth this journey even though sometimes, I feel like I wish I would have found this sooner but it was worth the journey. Because it’s fun with the kids to look back at the things that we used to buy into, that now we can see were just kind of ridiculous.
And I’ve had an opportunity to apologize for not knowing better or trusting my instincts more. And then they just give me so much grace and still have their trust in me. In fact, through it all because as I grew and learned more I shared that with them, they could see it was my desire to do my best by them. And that kept them going along for the ride.
PAM: Oh, I love that. That’s such a great point too because we can’t just kind of plop from the beginning to the end. It truly is a journey. And we all start wherever we are with whatever experiences and knowledge and understanding we have at that moment and our choice to learn more, to take that journey, to commit to that journey. Because if you try to jump, if you try to think, “Oh, unschooling, we’ll do this this and let’s just jump to that.” You don’t really have that understanding. You don’t have all that experience that you gained. Those experiences helped you know and discover in your bones that this was what was going to work best for you guys. That’s invaluable. That’s the only way to get there—through that deep understanding of what’s happening because then you’re there in that moment not jumping to a moment saying, ‘OK well what am I supposed to do here?’ Then it’s so hard, you can’t really be there, you don’t really trust because you don’t really understand yet. I mean definitely, you can know that’s the direction you want to go but everybody still needs to take their own steps. That’s why we’re always talking about it being an individual journey right.
PAM: OK. So, as part of that, as parents who discovered unschooling when your kids were older, it’s pretty common to hear things like, “If I let my kids decide what to do or what to eat or when to sleep, they’ll play video games all night while eating only junk food.” When you’re at the beginning of that journey that is really what you see. So, I don’t mean to belittle anybody who has those questions because I remember having them because you don’t know what you’re replacing it with yet. That’s what you’re learning on the journey. You just jumped to no rules as your rule. That’s what you can imagine. Well, if I took that away from my kids all they’d want to do is play video games all night and eat junk food.
As you mentioned the three youngest of your kids were still older when you moved to unschooling. I was wondering what your experience was at the beginning when you started to explore those kinds of ideas.
AMY: So, it’s interesting since they were older some of those transitions happened naturally. You know as they get older, they stayed up later but we would still sometimes say, “OK it’s getting late you guys should probably go to bed.” Especially if I was tired and I would want to go to bed. I felt like everybody else should be too. But an interesting thing happened, my husband doesn’t get off from his corporate job until midnight and he’d had night time jobs throughout their childhood.
When they were younger they did go to sleep earlier but now they were missing him and so they kept staying up just a little bit later and a little bit later. And it got to the point that they would have kid and dad time after I was in bed and once he got home at quarter after 12:00. They would have a snack with him and they would have their daily conversation with him. And that allowed the meaningful traditions that they’d had over the years to continue.
But I worried a little bit about that, not that they weren’t getting enough sleep because they have plenty of flexibility in the morning. But just wondering how is that going to play out when they get a job or decide to take some class or take on some responsibilities that they have to be up in the morning. But instead of worrying about it, I just kind of sat back and said, “Let’s see. How’s it going to go?”
When they started getting jobs then they adjusted their time. They would stay up just until he walked in the door. Get that nightly prayer that he has prayed over them every night since they were babies and then go to bed. But if they didn’t have to be somewhere the next day early in the morning then they would stay up till 3:00 o’clock with him. It isn’t always just them focusing in on each other but connecting and then being in the same space with each other as he’s working on a record or they’re playing a video game, just connecting over the things that are meaningful to them in the same way we do during the daytime.
So, that was one thing to tackle as a bedtime. But all of the worries about, “Is this going to make them unable to adjust the schedule when they need to?” That never played out. There has not been a single time that one of my kids has not gotten up for work on their own without depending on me or each other to get up and get them up, since that change has taken place.
Same thing with mealtimes. We naturally started changing our meal times as people got jobs and were home at different times instead of always being home together. And so, it changed how I cooked. And so maybe I provide one full meal a day and then there’s plenty of options in the refrigerator and freezer for whatever they needed. And at first that was a struggle because I was used to providing all the meals and having control over what was being cooked. And it was always something they liked but that whole square meal thing. I asked them what is it that you want me to have on hand when you are up in the middle of the night or you do have to grab something before you run to work.
We all laugh about it because I spent so many years teaching them nutrition. And what did they ask for? Corn dogs and toaster waffles and frozen burritos and things like that. And things that were treats in the past became what they wanted to consume. And again I said, ‘We’re going to try this. I’m just going to get what they want. I’m going to respect their appetites.’
It was amazing the way little by little they started taking responsibility for their own nutrition. And that’s not to say that they don’t ask me to buy those things because it is easy for a teen to just pop something in the microwave rather than cook a meal. But they became so self-aware. I have a 15 year old. She knows her sugar limit because she’s experienced what it felt like to go over that. And now she’s very conscious of it and they know what time they can drink coffee up until, so that it won’t affect when they want to get sleep. They learned to respond to their body’s needs. Just asking for specific nutrients. My son was working at a local cafe and sometimes he’d bring home a lot of bread and a lot of cookies. And every once in a while he’d come home with a salad and say, “Yeah, I just really needed to feel like I was putting something healthier in.”
And so, how do they learn to hear what their bodies actually want and need and to understand the consequences of overindulging? The way I still do it my age, when I end up with heartburn in the middle of the night. Oh, go ahead.
PAM: Oh no. I was going to say that’s been my experience as well. It’s number one, sometimes we make choices in the moment for the those extra things and to deprive somebody else of that choice doesn’t seem realistic or fair. Also, the opportunity to be able to have a wide range of experiences so that they can feel what they are all like. Because then they’re truly making choices. Not making choices just because they’re supposed to one way or the other but because they really know that that’s what’s going to help them feel good in that moment.
AMY: Exactly. And then the last frontier that often gets talked about is the video games. They did stay up playing video games all night long and they still do sometime. When they get a new game, they go into what they refer to as a hole.
They’ll say, “I’m digging myself out of the hole as I progressed through the game.”
But we used to have restrictions on those things. One of the things that I noticed with those restriction is that as they became older and felt the arbitrariness of those restrictions, it puts them in a position of having to choose obedience versus what they were really interested in doing and how to spend their time. And so, there was a little bit of sneakiness starting to come out.
I just thought that’s not Ben, that’s me. Because I made this rule without really consulting them about why I was making that decision. I gave him my reasons but I didn’t really hear their side of it because they would just accept it.
But then there would be times where I just kind of knew that they were breaking the rules and I had to decide is this going to be a power struggle between us or am I going to be willing to change how I look at this? And so, I did. I made that change and I said, “I think that you guys are responsible enough to make those decisions to determine how much time is enough time. And that I understand that it doesn’t have to be the same every day.” I’m not asking them to make a new rule for themselves but to just have the freedom that we as adults have to sit and read for an hour or sit and read all night long.
Some of the things that came out of that though. I’m not a gamer and it stresses me out to play but sometimes I’ll play for their enjoyment. But it is a mutually enjoyable activity. There are four gamers out of my five children. And so, they like to play these games together and it helps to create that good relationship. The one who is not a gamer, she loves to watch. She’s the one who is the major artist. She likes to see the art and hear the music in the background. She also loves to just watch the decisions that her siblings are making in these games and just think it through. So, she’s still getting that critical thinking aspect from the video games even though she’s not playing them herself.
But from the video games and the way that it bonded them together it spurred artistic pursuits where it’s influenced their art and their writing and collaboration on things. My one daughter plays piano. For the past two years when it’s recital time, her brother has said, “Play this piece.” And it’s from a video game. He’s picked two video game songs for her. They challenge her because she may be not quite at that level. But because she wants to in a sense make him proud and please him, she stresses herself and they become beautiful pieces of music at her hand.
It’s one of those things that never would have come about if we just kept these rules about how long they could be on it or what kind of games they could play. And then my son is more of an introvert, when he connects with people it’s going to be over things that are meaningful. The online community around gaming has given him more access to people who have the same enthusiasm for the things he does. And so that’s been a positive thing. And then with the big age gap that I mentioned before it’s keeping connection between the siblings who are still at home and the ones who have moved off into their own family. They still have something to connect over. So, they are always texting about this game or that game or what level they’re at and introducing each other to new games. And it’s kept their bond intact.
PAM: Wow, that’s amazing Amy, thanks so much for sharing that level of detail as you guys transitioned into that. I loved your point about it wasn’t about getting them to make rules for themselves. It’s not about that. That freedom aspect, the critical thinking and weaving it into your days. That’s where the learning comes in, the learning about yourself, the critical thinking that you mentioned. When you need to get up and all that kind of stuff and the opportunity to notice when you really want to just dive right in and immerse yourself in a new game for a little while or maybe you met some new friends online or wherever. This is a fun way that you’re connecting so you want to spend more time with that. It’s so much learning about ourselves isn’t?
AMY: Yes. Absolutely. It just carries over to each of the kids and their interests. And I’m just amazed at how much they know about themselves as opposed to when I was their age.
PAM: Right?! Yeah.
AMY: And they’re able to really engage with other people but at a level where they’re very cognizant of their own self and their own needs and can express those.
PAM: Yeah, yeah. That’s so great. So, we were talking about this transition from the more conventional lifestyle with those rules and those expectations to an unschooling lifestyle where we’re more focused on trust and respect of each other. Having discussions with each other and that grace that you mention, it can definitely be a bumpy transition. Because as you’ve been describing, we’re learning a whole new way of engaging with them.
So, I think you’ve talked pretty well about what that transition has looked for you through video games and food. I was just wondering if there is anything else you wanted to add to that transition piece.
AMY: Yeah. So, I guess what we have transitioned to is rather than having a bunch of family rules or everybody knows this is the rule about this or that is. It’s more discussion and how do I want to say this… through our discussions each of us has been able to determine what our values are and what our own personal standards are.
And because we are a family and we do live with each other, we do kind of inform and influence each other. That influence doesn’t have to come strong armed onto them. It’s just more a matter of them witnessing how we live our lives and whether they see that is serving us well or not. Then making their own choices based on those things. And then when a choice is made that maybe doesn’t serve them well. There is not fear of being in trouble or getting grounded or anything like that. They can come back and discuss it and then through having somebody to listen to them about what they’ve experienced and what they would have liked the outcome to be versus what it was, then they can make choices on how to go about things differently the next time.
AMY: Also, because this was an evolutionary change as well as we were coming up through parenting. It wasn’t just like we had rules and then boom now we don’t, we saw and questioned or as they questioned us, “Why is this?” And we couldn’t come up with the right answer other than, “Well that’s the way it’s supposed to be done.” (laughing)
PAM: Yes, yes.
AMY: We then actually questioned it ourselves and realized just all the rules that are put on us in any realm, just how arbitrary they sometimes are. So, things like curfew, they just haven’t experienced curfews. First of all, my kids like to be at home. They enjoy being at home. They’re not trying to escape. So, when they do go out with friends, it’s more discussion of how long is that movie going to last. “What time do you need to be picked up?” Vs. “You have to be home by this time.”
And so curfews haven’t been a thing because when they’re done, they come home. And grounding hasn’t been a thing because I just have found the natural consequences of whatever choices we make are enough. And so, if they have a safe place to land during those natural consequences, they’re less likely to disconnect and take it all on themselves. And that doesn’t serve any of us well.
PAM: Yeah. That is a really good point. You know because it’s about the relationships and the connections right. That’s how we help each other through all these kinds of moments and through the choices that we’re making no matter which way they go. And I loved your point at the beginning when you’re having these discussions instead of laying out rules, even if we explain reasoning behind it.
When you come to have a discussion with someone, they naturally need to kind of understand their point of view to add and participate in the discussion. So, they’re naturally thinking it through and asking themselves, “Oh well, why do I want that? What is it that I’m getting out of it?” Because that’s the kind of information to bring to the discussion so that we can figure out a way to make it happen for everyone.
AMY: And it’s not like all of a sudden anarchy reigns or anything. Because we are living in the real world and there are places that we go that have their own set of rules and things that they participate in that will have their own set of rules. But they know that they have the option to say, “I’m not going to go with this activity because I’m not comfortable squeezing myself into that box.” Or “I think this rule is kind of dumb. But I do want to do this activity, so I’ll put up with it for the six weeks.”
PAM: Exactly, exactly! Because that’s the critical thinking piece. The figuring it out because by doing that they’ve taken that moment to understand why they’re choosing to do this anyway. So, they’re happy to go. They still may roll their eyes when they get to that X thing that they thought was silly but they know there’s a bigger reason why they’re doing it. So, it doesn’t so much get in the way. And then like you said maybe, maybe it does get in their way and then there’s more discussion and maybe they decide not to go back. You know what I mean? Because everything is choice and a conversation and trying to help them figure out what they want to do and helping them accomplish that. Then maybe you find a different way, maybe you talk through it some and maybe they say, “I can put up with that.” Maybe it gets mentioned to confirm that it needs to be done that way or whatever but that’s the opening. That’s the whole critical thinking, that’s living in the world. Right?
PAM: Now, I do regularly get questions from parents with larger families about the challenges of trying to meet the needs of everybody in the household. So, you know with five kids maybe that is five conversations, four or five different things and sometimes those can all seem like they show up in the same half hour of one day. Everybody seems to be having a challenge in this moment and then sometimes it spreads out.
I would like to ask you with five kids how would you answer that question? How to support everybody with mutual consideration and respect and having those conversations? What’s that look like for you?
AMY: Well before I answer what it looks like for us, I do want to give credit where credit is due and you have one of your talks or from one of your conferences where you talk about a Family of Individuals and how fairness doesn’t necessarily mean equality. So, just because I’m spending this much money or this much time on one child it doesn’t make it fair to do the exact same thing for another. What makes it fair is that the needs of each person are being met.
AMY: And so I just want to say that you really helped me out when I heard that talk when I was first going through and listening to back episodes. But the way that has played out for us is it just goes back to communication, discussions and communication. For some of the people in the family they’re really good at saying what they need but maybe not listening about what others need. And then some of the people in my family are really not comfortable expressing their own needs but are lovely at helping meet other people’s needs. So, I’ve had to encourage them to either be good listeners or good watchers or to be good advocates for themselves, for their own needs.
So, what that might look like is before when they were younger we’d all get up and get dressed and go to the park. And if somebody thought it was a great idea to pack a picnic lunch, that’s what we would do. But I started to figure out that not all my kids enjoy eating in the outdoors. So, instead now it’s more like, “I’m thinking about going to the park and taking a picnic. Does anybody want to go with us?” And they don’t want to go they say so or those who want to eat first so they can enjoy the park can do that. And so, everybody’s need around that one activity is being met.
If there are competing needs, like somebody wants to be at one place or somebody else maybe doesn’t enjoy that as much but they need that person to be there with them. For instance, very specifically I don’t like to shop at the mall. I don’t really like to shop at all but my two youngest daughters love to go to the mall and it’s not even that they necessarily want to buy stuff all the time but they like to get see what’s out there and neither of them drive. So, guess who has to take them to the mall? The person who doesn’t like the mall but because I have an interest in fulfilling their needs. I take them and I will walk around with them and just take joy in the pleasure I see them having as they find things that excite them. But when I get to the point where I’m feeling like I’m hitting my limit, then I’ll go find a quiet place to sit, like in a bookstore or sometimes they have chairs in the lobby type setting and I’ll put my earbuds in or I’ll read a book and wait for them and let them continue on. When they come back, I haven’t overtaxed myself but they’ve gotten the full extent of the pleasures they wanted out of the shopping experience. And because I didn’t stay with them the whole time, I also have the patience to now hear all the things I missed. So, it’s honouring each person’s needs in the best way for the group.
But that’s one of the things that I hear happens a lot, is that moms get so focused on meeting everybody else’s needs that they forget that they have their own or they set theirs aside to make that happen. But I think the biggest thing that we can do for our kids in this particular topic is to mentor that. To show them that I have a need to and I’m enjoying what I’m doing with you at the mall right now but in a little while I’m going to go sit down and you can continue on and we’ll come back together.
PAM: I love that. And there’s two aspects to it. I love what you mentioned earlier when you said one of the things I like to do is to help them meet their needs, do the things that they want to do. So, I can acknowledge that there’s a part of me, while I personally wouldn’t go to the mall, I want to help them have these experiences. Because that’s how they’re learning and exploring the world, the way they want to explore it. But then also when you’re having these conversations. Yes, bring yourself to it. Bringing your needs to the conversation as in, “Yeah sure. I’ll bring my book and when I’m tired I can go to the coffee shop. I can go sit in the lobby.” I bring my book all over the place, earbuds too. I listen to audio books you finding the things so that it’s OK for us too. Bringing our needs to the table so that at the end of the day we’re not completely and utterly drained. So, that we can’t function for the rest of the day.
It’s important to remember why we want to do these things. Because that helps motivate us to do all these other things that maybe we wouldn’t personally choose but then to also bring our needs realistically to the table and to realize there’s only so much. And if you guys will want to stay longer, then I can do this or I can do this so that you guys can also stay that extra hour or whatever.
AMY: Right. I think it just goes back to the basic principle that no person is more important than another person. And although there may be some priority for that day or for a particular tool like say a vehicle. It is a priority that Dad has a vehicle to get to work. But if we’re down one car and we only have one car and somebody else has a voice lesson and one wants to go hang out at the bookstore then how can we make that work? Can I dropped Dad off at work and then we can go do those things and then I’ll pick him up after work? Or is this more of a day that it would be easier to just let that go and say we can do that tomorrow? But it’s just discussion and respecting each other is as equal individuals.
PAM: Yeah. And I think the other thing that happens over time as they see us all working together and doing our best to accomplish what everybody wants to get done. When that pressure is off, when they don’t feel like they need to fight for their spot, then if it has to wait to tomorrow, maybe it’s a little bit of a disappointment but they know we’re going to follow through and do it tomorrow. So, it doesn’t become a huge fight anymore. Maybe at the beginning when they don’t trust through experience, they feel we’re just putting them off for tomorrow and then we’ll conveniently forget. Right? Then they feel they have to fight more in the moment. “No, no. I need to do it now.”
It may also be that they truly, truly feel like they need to do it now but you’ll get to know the difference. They’ll have that trust. They’ll trust you to understand, “Oh my gosh this is so important to them in this moment. I can wait till tomorrow.” That’s where the discussions come it. And that’s how the trust and the respect and everything develops because we’re hearing and listening to each other and really just doing our best I think it’s the key.
PAM: So, speaking of five kids and you’ve mentioned the relationships a bit through video games and how gaming has been a really cool connection that they share.
I just thought we’d touch on how sibling relationships in unschooling families can look really different.
AMY: So, in some ways they can look the same. There are days where there’s a power struggle between two kids over who’s going to pick up the dog food that the dog spilled when he was going to attack the door when the mailman came. So, that’s a normal thing. But what I have found is at the core of the relationship, there is this mutual desire to look out for one another and to be generous with one another.
Some examples from our family about that is, if one of my children isn’t with us. When there’s going to be ice cream. They are like, “How can we bring some home to that person?” Or how can we make sure and set some aside if they’re not home because they don’t want them to miss out on the good things in life that they’re experiencing. Even if they can’t experience at the same time.
They still have each other in their minds and want to share that and generosity. We have experienced so much of that where if somebody wants something that’s really pricey, say brand name artist markers or video game system that’s newly out, they will pool their money together to buy it as a gift or a birthday or Christmas or something like that because they want to experience witnessing the joy of that person getting what they really want. That’s happened quite a bit.
Just the other day with a little thing, as I mentioned both of the girls work, one of them works with me and so they budget their own money. I have no control over their money whatsoever. And we were at the store and Grace is very particular about children’s toys that are based on sea animals being anatomically correct. That is a big deal to her. And she gets so frustrated when she sees kids’ toys that are not anatomically correct because she’s like, “They’re teaching kids the wrong things. The tail is supposed to go this way, not that way.” She found one at the store with the dolphin and it was correct. And she’s said, “I’m never going to find another one like this, they actually made it correctly.” And she said, “I don’t have the money for that right now. It’s not in my budget because I’m saving for something else.” And Victoria was with us and we were getting ready to leave and she said, “Isn’t Grace going to buy that dolphin? And I said, “No, she put it back. She decided it was not in her budget.” And she said, “I cannot let her leave the store without having the perfect dolphin.” And so, she went back and bought it for her because she just knew how important that was to Grace.
Those are some things that I know can happen in other families that aren’t unschooling but I think just the amount of time that they’ve spent with each other and learned about each other, they have had more time to experience what it’s like to give and take with each other. It was just enhanced by unschooling.
And you know we laugh all the time because they’ll be in places where the majority of kids are public schooled and they’ll say something about how awesome their brother is and the people will be like, “But wait, you like your brother?” “Yes, we think he’s awesome.” Or when Isaiah was first started driving, he wasn’t comfortable driving them. He felt like it was this weight on him, that their lives were in his hands and he took that so seriously. So, it took him a while to get to the point where he was willing to drive them anywhere but I had said something in a group of parents who all had teens. I said, “Oh we need to go because Isaiah didn’t want to pick up his sisters. So, we have to leave a little bit early to pick them up.” And they were like, “Oh, he didn’t want to be seen with his younger sisters?” And I was like, “Actually, no that wasn’t it at all. They love to spend time together but he just didn’t want to bear the weight of their lives being in his hands.” And again, that quizzical look, like “Wait, your kids like each other?” But that is how it has played out for us. And like I said Isiah is going to live with Josie and Todd to go to school and they are so excited to have him coming up there. They’ve got a special surprise that I can’t say out loud right now, planned for his room. And you know Todd’s been texting him “One more week.” “Five more days.” So, yeah it’s just feels really good sending him up there. With less anxiety than maybe when Josie went to college in a roommate situation with someone we didn’t know. Now I know that he’s going to the next best thing to home.
PAM: Oh yeah, I love those stories and that’s been my experience as well too. Like I remember Girl Guides, we were dropping off Lissy and Mike and I are leaving and she comes running over to give him a hug, “I forgot to hug you before you left.” I mean they were just saying exactly the same thing, “You like your brother?” At first they think she’s trying to do it sarcastically or ironically or whatever but yeah, it is interesting to see it out. It just seems kind of normal because they’re just our relationships. And it’s only once you get out in some other situations where it seems a little less normal.
So, we when we connected earlier you mentioned that you had to learn some things from your kids about handling arbitrary societal norms and that whole pressure to conform to things. I think I get what you mean but I was hoping you could talk a little bit more about that.
AMY: Yes. They know themselves so well because they’ve had that space to just sit with themselves and explore for themselves and know what they’re comfortable with and what they’re not comfortable with. And I’ve always taught them to not worry about what other people think. If you want to try something new, try something new. If you want to hold on to something that seems childish to others because you’re 13 now or you’re 15 now do. And if people say, “You can’t like that.” But you do still like that, then just keep on loving it. Then the situation has played out and they have said that. And every now and then I’ll find myself as an adult in a situation where I then have to take my own advice and I can reflect back on how they did it and incorporate that into becoming more comfortable with myself.
So, it’s one thing to tell our kids that, to be themselves to like what they like or pursue if they want to pursue. But it’s another thing, when we weren’t raised that way, to then live it out. And I’m just so aware of how much attention they’re paying to my example that I start using them as my example in return. And you know become a better advocate for myself because they just so naturally are.
One little thing is college. My oldest tried college and decided it wasn’t for him. That fine. The second one went to college and had a great experience and now Victoria is in that stage where she’s trying to figure out. Do I want to go to college? Do I need to go to college? Because what she wants to be as a children’s illustrator can be done with or without. And so, she’s weighing whether or not the benefits will outweigh the debt.
But when she and Grace are at dance class, it’s a ballroom dance cotillion type thing. There are never enough boys. So, they have what they call dancing dads. And some of the dads come and volunteer to dance and they make conversation as they’re dancing. And the question that always comes up is, “When do you go to college? Do you know where you want to go?” And they always say, “Well, *if* we go to college, we do like this school or that school.” And the dad will always be like, “No you mean when you go to college.” And they don’t let it go there. They go one step further and they say, “No, *if* we go to college because we’re not sure that that’s what we want to do right now.”
And so rather than saying OK I’m just going to let them put that on me, even if I’m not going to follow through with their suggestions, they just go that one step further. That helped me to say, I can go that one step further too. I can advocate for myself the way that I taught them to do with my words and that they have played out with their actions.
PAM: That’s a wonderful story. College is always such a big question. But that’s something I found too, that I ended up learning so much from my kids about this kind of thing, about being myself, encouragement to be myself. Because you learn about this stuff and you want to do it for your kids right? But you learn it a step deeper when it’s like, “Oh! That should apply to me too.” Because I am not just trying to have this lifestyle for my kids. It’s for our family. It’s for all of us.
If I think that’s the way they should be—free and able to live in the world, I too should be able to be myself in the world. However I want to be. It’s all about exploring and figuring out who we want to be as ourselves. So, maybe you make the comment maybe you don’t but it’s knowing yourself and taking that extra step from what I should be doing to what I want to be doing. So often it was seeing my kids do it in action that encouraged me to go that extra bit and do it for myself.
AMY: And even just something is a little as saying, “No.” Our youngest daughter Grace is so good at saying no. I think it’s the very first Friends episode where the guys are going to go put some furniture together and they ask Phoebe does she want to go and help them and she says, “I wish I could but I don’t want to.” It’s so honest. Well that’s how Grace is. You can ask her to do something or ask her if she wants to join you in something. But if she doesn’t want to, she’s just going to let you know, very politely that “I don’t want to do that.”
Watching her do that like we laugh about the how related it is to that episode but watching how confident she is and just being able to say no. As a young woman society kind of tells us we have to be kind and we have to be nice and not hurt people’s feelings. No one can do all of those things. No can feel like they’re being unkind or feel like we’re not being nice or we might be afraid to say no and hurt their feelings. She’s just so comfortable with it and it’s helped me and Victoria to be able to ask, am I doing this because I want to or because I felt a pressure to be something? We’ve gotten better at honouring our own wants or needs.
PAM: Because like you’re saying, even saying “no”, I can still be kind. It doesn’t have to be mean or anything like that. It’s just being where you are in that moment.
So, what has surprised you the most about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives?
AMY: I think how little resistance we had when we finally fell completely in. When we finally stepped completely in, there was not as much resistance as sometimes people experience when they’re describing their deschooling process.
I would have thought that there would’ve been more resistance because most of us and my family really are rule followers. So, sometimes it looks from the outside like we’re just breaking all the rules. But what it really comes down to is we’re choosing what rules make sense to us. It’s not just a rule for the rules sake, but is there meaning in the rule that says something to me.
And so, I think that’s why it was easier. But it really surprised me that as rule followers, which we tend to be and how much it bugs us when there is a rule that we think is meaningful and we see it being broken, it bothers us, but it wasn’t that hard for us to start exercising our critical thinking skills a little bit more.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, that’s a great point. I love that distinction because yes, it’s not about just tossing rules because that does become chaos. I think. It’s the critical thinking piece. Why is the question, why is that a good idea? And then even playing with the parameters of it. If it’s a time base thing, what’s the difference if it’s done an hour earlier or an hour later? Or all these different things to just play with it because then you own it. Then you almost don’t think of it as a rule, it’s just something I do.
PAM: This is what I choose to do. You take that rule/arbitrariness out of it and actually think about it and make the choice. Yes. So, often we’re choosing these things.
AMY: It’s more of a choice than a rule.
PAM: Yeah exactly.
So, another topic that you mentioned that caught my eye was how we can help our kids really feel at home rather than like perpetual guests in our house.
And it really made me smile because I’ve not heard it put that way before but it’s definitely something that I’ve thought about especially as my kids have gotten older. And I really, well we all want it to feel like it’s really our home not our, the royal our, everybody’s home vs you’re a guest in our house. So, I was hoping you could share some more about that.
AMY: So, I noticed we started making that change, of focusing on what are the things that are important to me in my home. I like a certain level of cleanliness/tidiness and I was starting to get frustrated that maybe some of the kids didn’t have that same level of need for orderliness in the home. And so, I was starting to get a little martyr syndrome where maybe I would feel like, “I’m the only one that folds these blankets every morning when I get up.” Or “Why do they keep leaving their socks on the floor? Every day I tell them. “Take your socks upstairs before you get to bed.”
I was feeling so much frustration and I decided that rather than give in to the frustration and make more demands or shame them for what they weren’t fulfilling of my need for cleanliness. That I needed to take responsibility. And so if the socks bothers me, I needed to change my own attitude about picking them up. Or I could change my attitude about them being there in the first place.
So, that was a real thing. I have one child who takes off his socks when he comes home. And by the end of the week there’s a pile and it used to be spread around. I couldn’t get him to take them up to his room because when he would come down to do his laundry he felt like it was good enough that he scooped them all up on his way down to the basement. And so, we compromised. And I said, “Okay, can you just keep them in one spot by your seat in the living room?” And he said, “Yeah I can do that.” And he has. And I say one seat not because it’s assigned but because that is the spot that he picked that was most comfortable for gaming. So, he kind of dominated this one corner with all his computer periphery stuff and gaming things. And so that was his spot. And if a sock did stray out. I would just kick it back over to where we had agreed that it should stay until he scooped them up to wash them. And that settled me down inside.
And so, as I looked around at other things in the household that had to do with cleanliness, I just I had to decide how important is it to me. And if it’s not important to somebody else, then you need to get okay with it or you need to just take it on as I’m doing this for myself instead of feeling like I’m serving everybody else by doing it. When they don’t even care if it’s done or not.
PAM: Yeah exactly.
AMY: So, that is one basic thing but then on a more positive note, we were doing a few things all at the same time. I was painting the downstairs and Victoria was helping me and she was doing the trim and there was this one section of wall in the entryway that we hadn’t gotten to yet. And she took the white paint, we’re painting a different colour on the walls. But she took the white paint and she drew this mural with a paint brush. And she said, “Can we keep it up?” And first I’ve thought. ‘I don’t know. That’s kind of different.’
But then I said, “I’m okay with that but you have to make sure that your dad is ok with it too.” And so when he came home she had her whole argument set up for why should it stay up. And he just said “OK.”
She was like, “Wait I had things to say about this.” He said, “I’m fine with it.”
So, that was the first piece of it looking more like their home, like they were living in the whole space rather than just having their own room. They all had their own rooms and they could keep their rooms how they wanted, as messy or clean as they needed. But then the rest of the house was kind of my domain. And when we let the mural go up, it wasn’t too long after that Isiah, wanted to take a picture of all of this Pokémon and Nintendo paraphernalia. So, he laid it all out on the dining room table and arranged it just so and took pictures and shared it with his group. And then he said, “Can I keep it out for a while because I just did all of this work and I want to be able to look at it, all in one big chunk?” And we said that you can you can keep it out for a while. It was on the dining room table and we only have one. We don’t have an eat in kitchen.
So, we ate on TV trays for the next week or so and then people were going to be coming that had younger kids. So, I said “If you want it to be safe, you should probably start relocating it.” In that grouping he had a bunch of little figurines from Pokémon. And he said, “I want to be able to see them and feel like I’m a part of this space.” And I said, “OK, what do you want to do with them?” And he decided to put them in the china cabinet where all of our heirloom crystal is. All the fancy crystal. That’s where he wanted to see them. And it’s not a traditional place to put things like that, it doesn’t match. And it may even make it look a little cluttered. But I think if he ever takes them out of there, I’m going to miss them because he’s right, it shows anybody comes into my dining room. “Hey Isiah lives here too.” So, just little things like that. We still have our Christmas tree out because Victoria and I thought it would be fun to decorate it for every holiday throughout the year. So, we’ve done graduation theme, Easter theme and Fourth of July theme.
So, just saying it’s not as important how tidy or how nice and neat perfect the house looks. It’s more important that they’re comfortable and they see themselves represented in every room, not just their own little space. Their bedroom.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, I love that. I love thinking of it that way. And that’s something we played with more to as the kids have gotten older because they have things like that. It’s not just toys and we’re going to just play wherever we are or play this game and off we go. Now they have some collections. Now they have more of an eye and want to be involved. Lissy has redone all the shelves in our library. A couple of years ago we got a China hutch and we put it in. Well see our dining room has never really been a dining room in our current house. It’s been called library. And so, when Rocco’s mom passed away a couple years, we got her dining room set. Long story short, last time she was here, we discussed how we should redo this room. So, we were all together and thinking about ideas.
We decide to fill it with all of our game boxes, to displayed them. Our board game collection and it looks super cool and like you said you know it reminds me every time I see it, I smile. I think about how these are the games that we love to play together that we enjoy together.
I’ve been talking with Joseph the last couple of weeks about the kitchen and just where things are. You know plates cups and everything I, “You know that’s just there because it was convenient for me when we moved in and they’ve just kind of stayed that way. But you know what, I’m not married to it.” As in, I’m happy to take them out and if there is another way that makes more sense to you, we can do that. Because he’s enjoying more cooking and stuff and spending more time in the kitchen. He made dinner for us all last night.
So, I’m totally good with that. We’ll pull stuff out. We’ll clean it up and you put it back the way it makes sense to you and I will quickly learn where things are.
It’s not a big deal but you know it’s those pieces where we’re choosing to all be together in our home. So, rather than we all just have every kid just has a room and then we, the parents, have the rest of the house. No. For me, it’s fun and enjoyable to feel like we are all part of this home. When they’re like, “Hey can we put our stuff up here? Can we leave this mural here? Can we do this?” It’s really fun isn’t it to have those pieces of them throughout the house?
PAM: Yeah. All right. Last question, number 10.
Looking back what for you has been the most valuable outcome from choosing unschooling?
AMY: As I was reflecting on this question, the thing that bubbled up was trust.
A few years ago my daughter made an unpopular choice in the family and because I backed her up in that choice that was entirely about her. And it should have been about her and so the choice should have been her choice. But she didn’t meet some people’s expectations in making that choice. And when I backed her up that caused a rift.
It’s broken a couple of very significant relationships for me. But as painful as that was, I don’t regret backing her up because it was like the last solid, while she was still home moment, that she could still see that she can trust me and carry that into her future and because of that, all the kids witnessed it. They witnessed the outcome of it. They witness how I put my relationship with her above my relationship with anybody else or their expectations. I think it solidified the trust in them, that they could count on me and Dad.
And my oldest son he left home at 17 and as I mentioned before we didn’t parent this way with him and we can’t necessarily go back in time and change those things we wish he could change. But you can apologize and then you can move forward from that and part of moving forward from that for us was he was watching from a distance. He was watchging how things were going with this next set of kids and how we had changed and how we just respected them more. And it’s come back around full circle, now he’s back temporarily in our home while his family gets settled here. But again, what he watched, lead him to trust us again, to bring his family near us. To know that as he had grown over the years, that we also had grown and that there was something good there. So, trust, is my final answer on that one.
PAM: Finally answer, I love that! Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Amy I really, really appreciate it. Thank you.
AMY: Thank you Pam.
PAM: Have a wonderful day.
AMY: You too, thanks!