PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Sue Patterson. Hi again Sue.
SUE: Hello. Thanks for having me.
PAM: I love having Sue on the podcast and I really appreciate her willingness to return over and over. This time, we want to talk about unpacking unschooling memes. Because memes can be great inspirational pick me ups, especially when we’re feeling off kilter. They can help us recenter. Sue and I have both seen how the slightest bump on the unschooling road can quickly knock people off kilter again. Over and over and back and forth and back and forth. And it seems that the challenge is when memes become more about distracting ourselves rather than actually helping us dig deeper into the root of whatever the issue is. So, we’re feeling a little off about something and the meme, whatever that messages is can make us feel better. But if we don’t dig in and figure out why that thing is knocking us off kilter in the first place, we can get caught in that cycle of back and forth of worry/ok/worry/ok because we haven’t really absorbed it. It’s more about somebody else’s idea. Right?
SUE: Sorry! It makes total sense. You know when your kids keep calling. (laughing) And you’re like, “I’m on a recording, I can’t talk now.”
Real life right here. Yeah, you know me, I love memes. It helps us get connection and it helps us feel a little reassured. And sometimes it gives us a little snark. And sometimes we want that. Sometimes we’re in a little snarky mood. But I think that what happens sometimes is you’re moving along and you’re starting to feel nervous and you see these memes and you’re like, “OK that makes me feel better.”
But you didn’t do any internal work. You just kind of slapped a really good Band-Aid on top of it. So, no wonder the next time your neighbour says, “My kid is in the National Honour Society why isn’t yours? What do you guys have to show for it?” And you’re like, “AHHHH!” and you throw a workbook at them or something. I don’t know anything about that at all. (laughing)
Because the reality is a lot of times people listen to us and they see the end. They see all our competence and they see our kids are grown and happy and moving along and they think it was perfect all along. And that we never were scared or that we never had fear about some weird thing our kid was doing or into or we’re thinking, “Will they ever?” You know that kind of stuff, we had that! We all had that, every one of us and anyone who is telling you they didn’t, they were either very medicated or something. It was happening because it’s real people learning how to do stuff, learning how to live, learning how to cooperate and interact with each other and dive into their stuff and deal with all of the mainstream stuff that’s coming at them, that’s telling them you need to compare each other and you need to compete and you need to do something productive and stay at the front of the class kind of thing. Even when you’re not in a class you get that message right?
So, it’s not unusual that people would turn to memes or anything easy to make them feel a little better. Right? “Am I alone in this?” And I think that that’s often because in so many places, there are places like Southern California where there’s park day every day, but that’s not the norm. The norm is that, we have to work harder to have a little bit more connection with other kids.
PAM: And for yourselves too.
SUE: We can feel isolated. And so, I was just thinking before we got on the call I was thinking, ‘I wonder about that isolation feeling.’ And we’ll probably talk about it more with some of the memes. But I wonder, how much of that need for finding our people, how much of that is a human nature thing? Because maybe that’s how you cull the herd. You know the one that doesn’t stay with the group or gets left behind and eaten by the lions. Or how much of that is indoctrinated into us with school—stay with the group, don’t rock the boat, don’t get out of line, don’t miss the line or you’ll miss lunch. Even if it is hardwired into our evolutionary beings, it’s also really, really solidified with school that we want to look for our people, so we don’t feel isolated. Memes do that for us a lot of the time. It is that quick little connection. And that can be valuable. I think part of it is really understanding ourselves and what we’re looking for in that moment.
PAM: So, that’s what this is all about, taking that little step beyond just scrolling through memes as more of a distraction or a little hit and taking that next step and doing a little bit more work with it. Digging a little bit deeper, it’s not necessarily hard work. It’s such valuable work. It’s raising our own self-awareness, understanding ourselves a bit better.
And what we’re going to do today in this episode. So just to let you know, we’re going to dig into five…
SUE: What are they doing?! What are they doing this time?! (laughing).
PAM: We’ll be looking at five unschooling memes from Sue’s Unschooling Mom2Mom Instagram feed. And we’re going to take a peek at them because they all make sense. They definitely makes sense on the surface and they can feel soothing immediately and they can help us feel a connection, ‘Oh there are other people that think like that out there in the world.’
PAM: If we dig deeper we can learn more not only about unschooling but as I said, that self-awareness about ourselves.
The more we understand unschooling and the more we understand ourselves, the less we’re buffeted around by our fears by all the mainstream messages we get.
We also get a better understanding about that need for community and ways to address it. That’s not really the right word but you know, ways we can meet that need. So, let’s dive into our first one.
So, I’m going to…
SUE: You know something you just said I was going to make a note but I’m just going to interrupt you. You know that idea buffeted around because we haven’t done the internal work yet. Number one, I love that you said it doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t. You know that we think, ‘Well I’m not going to open Pandora’s box or something.’ It’s not Pandora’s box and that’s kind of a deschooling thing too because this is very individualized stuff.
You were never encouraged to do individualized stuff in school. You were always encouraged to just look for that one right answer. Even if you have to cheat and look in the back of a chapter, get that one right answer but don’t do anything thought provoking or dig a little deeper. And so, it’s not our habit to do that. So, it’s just creating a new habit that maybe you would look at stuff and think about it, ponder it. Where do you go with it? Don’t tell yourself I got to have the right answer. Just ask, “Where do I go with that?”
And then see how that works and that idea of swaying around reminds me of the visual (I’ll have to make a meme) reminds me of the visual of when you drop your root deeper. So, you drop your root deeper and when that storm comes the tree stands. But if you don’t drop your root and it’s shallow, it’s gone.
PAM: So true! When I talk about deschooling and understanding unschooling better, I visualize it in the sense of building a foundation. But it’s that sinking those roots in right.
SUE: Right. Right.
PAM: The idea of not getting buffeted around because you’re just taking some time to think. And I love your point, it’s the act that’s different. It doesn’t really mean that it has to be hard. Definitely some are going to be harder than others, some are more engrained, the things that we question but I think that’s the biggest point is that we’ve been taught to look for that one right answer and that if we don’t feel that way, we’re the ones that are wrong. And taught to look out there and find the right answer, not look at our lives and ourselves and see what works best for us. So, those are the kind of shifts that I think are going to come up as we go through all of them because that is kind of the new way.
SUE: And we’re so judgy on ourselves. We look, “OK, so she’s totally confident and I’m still back here. I need to be over there.” No, you really only need to be here and then here and then here and before you know it you will be confident to not have to do that giant leap. You don’t run a marathon when running around the block gets you winded, you know? Me and my metaphors!
PAM: No absolutely! It’s a journey, me and my journey metaphor. (laughing)
SUE: Absolutely. I love it. I love it. I love it!
PAM: It takes time to go from one place to another, there’s no teleportation. And the journey is so valuable because that is how you learn it. You can see how, like you were talking about before, those of us who have older kids now, whose kids are grown and everything and you can see what our lives look like and we can tell you what our lives look like but it incorporates all the learning that we did along the way. We didn’t just step there. Not that one big leap. It’s all learning and it’s all individual. It looks different for every family. It looks different for every person. OK. OK. So, First meme.
SUE: We’ll never get to our place! Sorry, Sorry! (laughing).
“You cannot raise your children as your parents raised you because your parents raised you for a world that no longer exists.”
SUE: That got a lot of attention.
PAM: Yes, yes it did. Now and I find it fascinating because the pace of change in our world really has increased dramatically. Up until the Industrial Revolution pretty much life did not change between generations, between one or two generations. So, much of the parents’ experiences and their advice et cetera was reasonably relevant, barring personality differences and goals and things like that. But the world, as they’re talking about here, really didn’t change much. So, I think this reminder can feel really soothing because maybe if we’re struggling with our parents making comments about our parenting choices, or we’re wishing sometimes that we had that parenting template to follow because we’re feeling overwhelmed with figuring it all out for ourselves. When we’re feeling off kilter about those kinds of things, this can be a great soothing reminder that things really are different.
SUE: Right. Yeah. And I think from the people that come and talk to me, the majority of people have parents that are not crazy about this idea. The majority of people have parents who say, “Well, it was good enough for you. It was good enough for me. Why do you think you got to do things differently?” Or they think your kid is not progressing because now they have this belief that reading happens at seven, times tables at eight and you know that there’s something that is like a pattern and that’s just because that’s when they teach it. It’s not because that’s when kids really integrate concepts like that. So, I think a lot of grandparents have a hard time with this thing.
The other thing that’s kind of interesting is a lot of the parents I talk to are younger. They are under 30. They have little kids. And I can remember that there is a shift that has to happen. You shift from being a daughter and a sister to being the parent and as a daughter and a sister you listen more you, I mean not all of us. Some of us were a little rebellious but you don’t have that confidence of, “This is my kid. These are my choices. You don’t have a vote.” We may say it but we don’t feel it yet because it’s a new role. It’s a brand-new role to step into and nobody taught us how to do it. Nobody showed us that there will be times that your parents may shame you or put you down or all the things that were maybe your parents’ style of how they got you in line. And you’re going to have to learn how to deal with that in a more mature way, in a way that really doesn’t impact you because you don’t live with them. You don’t need their approval. It is it is hard change, we’ve been so conditioned to want approval. We’ve been so conditioned to want approval from teachers or from parents. And I think that it’s a whole new role and we don’t really talk about that a lot.
That would be another good topic, how to move from, you’re a kid and then you’re a teen and then you’re a young adult with no kids and you’re just kind of checking out the world and then you start to have kids and you have this new role and nobody’s really prepped you for it. So, what do you do? Because of all that conditioning, you are looking for a formula, our brains do that anyway. You know they want to make sense of stuff and so I think that when we think, “Oh well you know dad showed me what to do when the toilet overflows. Maybe he can show me what to do when my kid is acting like this.” Only no, because those days are different, our parenting styles are different.
We have made some progress on the way we look at children and how we see them as people and certainly as unschoolers the way we look at children is a lot different from the way a lot of mainstream people look at children. And so, our parents are still in that kind of mainstream way right. Most of the time, most of us didn’t come from some Bohemian family. So, now our kids will have these, “Well my mom let me do that all the time.”.
It’s always going to be different and we’re always going to want to have some way to make sense of it but I think that because most of the time people do rely on their moms and their aunts. And then I’ve had a lot of people tell me, “I was devastated when they didn’t like what I was doing. I thought what I was doing was great.” So, to find a meme that says, “Hey you know what. You’re not alone.” People are like, “Whey, yeah. Thank goodness, thank goodness I’m not alone on that.” But times change. Those other memes that are like how people thought that if you let women read you know that it’s going to be down this horrible path of you know they’ll read and I can’t remember what it was. But it was the idea of moving from a no books to books, they thought books were going to be the end of the world. And so, then we had TV and everybody was terrified that too much TV was going to make the kids have little TV boxes for eyeballs. And now it’s just videogames too. Every generation has it’s something for parents to say, “Well we never let you…” Because it didn’t exist like this back then!
PAM: I mean with those things, TV and games and all that stuff is pretty new. But yeah, your point about our shifting role too. That’s a really good thing to dig in when you find a meme. That’s a great way to look at our different perspectives. Right?
PAM: And I think it helps to also take that and jump forward. We can realize that the world is going to be different again when our kids.
SUE: Oh, that’s a good point.
So, if we dig into it a second, it can help us start to release some of our expectations around what our kids’ adult life should look like and realize that we really don’t know no more than our parents knew what things were going to be like for us. So, that can help us release that worry for the future some and refocus back on this moment because that’s all we can predict. That’s all we’ve got. Really. Right?
SUE: Right. Right.
PAM: And we’re going to discover what the future is like with our kids.
SUE: And I think too, when we recognize that sometimes it’s ego in there, that our parents have some ego wrapped up. “Are you saying that I did a bad job? Are you criticizing my parenting?” So OK. So, we deal with that. And then our kids grow up and they decide not to unschool or they decide not to have kids or they decide whatever some story in our head that we thought, ‘But it’s going to look like this.’ We need to recognize to be on guard for that. Be aware that that’s a natural thing too, that our ego is going to want to have our story keep playing out the way we want it.
Only we’ve got to realize that we’re not the director of their life, their story. They get to direct it. Just like they directed it then, they’ll direct it on their own too. And so, again it’s a reason to do that little bit of a deep dive to figure out, “Why do I feel like this? Why this bothering me?” And then you can look at why.
PAM: The other piece that occurred to me that I thought was cool is when you think about raising kids. Raising our children. What’s at the root of that? We were talking, you were talking about roots, growing these roots it really is our love for them and our relationships with them, being with them. And that hasn’t changed. That’s what’s in the roots. That’s what’s at the foundation. What matters is being with our kids now and engaging in life alongside them and loving them unconditionally. And I think, when I got there that felt so empowering.
Which might be a bit of the glimpse we feel good and connect when we actually read the meme. Right.
PAM: I thought that was really cool that foundationally, you had a great point before, how we as a society view children has changed. But I mean that’s changed for us still outside the mainstream. There have always been parents outside the mainstream as well. There have always been parents who loved their children unconditionally and who didn’t try to control them or put their goals and stuff on top of them. So, there’s that connection.
SUE: And I think those numbers could be growing and maybe that’s just hopeful on my part. But I think that especially with the Internet, that people can learn about it. So, I might have had a mom that would have done that had somebody had a conversation with her about it but nobody was having a conversation with her. So, she still smacked her kids. We’re now having conversations like, “Oh yeah. That is not what I wanted to do.” That’s how those family traditions can stop with you. The good things can grow and the bad things, you can say, “Not past here.”
PAM: Exactly, that’s part of this generation. The Internet was how I discovered homeschooling even existed.
SUE: Right, right, right. So, I think that they could be growing. Yes, we’re still like two or three percent of the population but maybe not always. Or maybe even not that, I’m like an evangelist for homeschooling or unschooling, I don’t do that. But I think that sometimes people can take some of these principles that we have kind of fleshed out you know like we’re talking about a lot we’re diving in, we’re figuring it out. They can still apply some of those if their kids go to school. They can take school on their terms, they can apply some of the principles and that can be part of the cultural shift in how we deal with kids.
PAM: As there’s more and more of us out there just living our lives in the world, it’s just planting little seeds that it can be different. And at the moment when somebody else becomes curious enough. My kids’ friends now know that such a thing exists as not going to school. Maybe someday when they’re a parent they may go, ‘Hey I’m going to learn a little bit about that.”.
SUE: And even it can be a little like you’re in the grocery store and some mom is totally overwhelmed. And some older person is giving them a dirty look because they’re kids running wild in the store and you can help her instead of adding to it, or even if you just say they won’t always be toddlers, you know just a little kindness can go a long way. You’d be surprised.
PAM: Yeah exactly. Okay meme Number two let’s pop over here.
“Not every place you fit in is where you belong.”
PAM: Do you want to start with this one?
SUE: Sure. Sure, sure, sure. That’s the thing about being conditioned to fit in, right? That we are and that sometimes just because we’re good at something doesn’t mean we’re going to need to do it. Doesn’t mean that it brings us joy and yet, even within our unschooling community, we want to have a little bit of commonality with people.
But even within our community there are some people that I probably wouldn’t hang out with. And they can be unschoolers and that’s OK. And there are some people who have their kids in school. And I like them a lot.
And so, you have to be careful to not want that fit in stuff so badly that you just let your little, tangerine thing, maybe it’s more like a Mandarin orange.
It’s OK. You don’t need an identical peer group. How fun is that? Not very. You know that to me is just built out of fear. That means, I don’t want to be different. I don’t want to be shunned. I want everyone to accept me and approve of me. And so, I’ll just wedge myself into this little garlic. To be honest, sometimes we do that a little bit because our kids want to participate in something and so we’re like I can bite my tongue. I can deal with it. You know we had that but when you do a little bit of internal work again you know who you are, where you draw your lines, what you believe, how you’re going to deal with your kids, how you’re okay with being more orange than garlic. And you take life on your terms. You deal with it the way you need to and then you just continue with the self-awareness. And other people’s awareness and your kids’ awareness. And where do we need to go and how is all of this impacting us? What does it mean for you?
PAM: For me, and it ties in so nicely with what you said there, this meme reminds me that everything I do is a choice.
Maybe I fit in or maybe I feel like I should fit in you know like for school, there is a place waiting for them. But is that where they belong? That’s when I get my agency back. That’s when I realize it’s a choice because it’s not about whether I can or whether I should. It’s, do I want to? Is this something that I want to be part of? Then we can dig deeper and think of other places in our lives where we may be doing something out of obligation. Or out of meeting other people’s expectations. And that reminds us just, ‘Oh I can start asking myself, is this where we belong? Is this where I want to be?’
And I loved your point about sometimes going places where our kids want to go. Sometimes there may be a bigger picture reason for things that we want to do or places we want to be involved with, engaged in etc. But getting that self-awareness piece and encouraging ourselves to think about it for a minute, is this where we belong? Is this my choice? Why do I want to do this? Reminds us of those reasons. So, if there are things that don’t quite fit, that’s OK because we remember the bigger picture reason why we want to be there. And even if it is our kids and it’s chatting with them because sometimes there’s a few little things that don’t quite fit for them. But it’s so worth it. It doesn’t really bother them as much as maybe it bothers us. But that experience, if it’s something they’re wanting to do, that experience isn’t about us right. It is about them. So, that’s where we sort out this where you belong and places you fit in the bigger picture of the meme. It’s realizing who’s involved, who’s wanting to do this? Why are they?
SUE: And what you want out of it?
PAM: Yeah exactly. It just helps you just dig into all that juiciness.
SUE: Juicy Mandarin orange. And you do sometimes see it even online, you see people that say, “I only want to find other unschoolers.” Or something like that. Some of that internal stuff that, that’s not real life. In real life you’re not identical to your other people. And so, you might really feel lifted up by having people around you that share your parenting styles or share all kinds of other life commonalities but it doesn’t have to be identical. It doesn’t have to always be unschooling. It can be whatever you need it to be.
When we take it apart and we look at this is part of that old deschooling stuff that you know no, third graders stay with third graders don’t play with fourth graders or second graders. And so, it’s not that unschoolers only play with unschoolers not unit study, not school at home. But let’s not put that over it.
PAM: That’s a great point. And that’s the really fun thing. Back to choice, right? The communities you want to engage in and over the years those communities change. Often, they’re around our interests. And yes, you know we would travel to conferences with other unschoolers and enjoy the time that we got to hang out with them doing those and things like being with people who have those similar parenting choices. But like you said those aren’t the only choices that we make in our life. It can be through all sorts of different connections and what you get out of connecting around that interest is one thing but yeah. They don’t you’re not living together. You know what, even living together, not all of our interests mesh.
SUE: Exactly. I think it has to do with just taking that little bit of time of knowing who you are, where what you like, where you put your boundaries, what do you know about yourself? And that takes some looking. You really have think, “I like this but not this.” The more you understand, the stronger and the deeper the root is and the more you’re able to interact in communities that can be really different from you because you know who you are.
PAM: You’ve got that root, you don’t get buffeted around as much.
SUE: You don’t have to scream it at people, “I’M AN UNSCHOOLER!” (laughing). You don’t have to do that. You just walk through because your root is strong and you’ve taken the time to know who you are. And we have a lot of obstacles that we have to overcome or we have to talk through and maybe it helps to talk to people about, “How did you get past that?” So, what do you do? And so, that’s always a good thing to do.
But I think that the more we do it and it doesn’t mean you have to spend seven days a week, four hours a day, reading, learning it, no but you might just think about it over coffee every morning. And next thing you know you feel stronger. And that’s really especially if this back to school time people feel weak. You know it’s like that bubble that’s around us most of the time, we’re happy doing our thing. And this time of year is tough, every grocery store clerk is saying, “Are you ready for school?” And if you haven’t done a little bit of that, “Where am I in this world?” Then you can be buffeted around and you can feel like you’re second guessing your choices because sometimes what happens is we dive into unschooling it sounds great, we know a couple people and we just kind of get on that and we don’t have to do a lot of deep work because it’s clicking.
But that’s why you should do it whether it’s clicking or not. Because there will come a time it’s not clicking and you will want to be able to know where you are with it. Know how you want to approach the kids, how you want to approach education, all of it. It just takes a little bit of thinking about it instead of just going along for the ride which you can do if you just do meme after meme, after meme.
PAM: I mean that’s really the point, that you take the time to think about it. And in that being open to seeing how it’s working, you’re gaining that experience over time. When your thoughts start meshing with your experiences, that’s when your trust grows. That’s when your roots grow. That’s when you’re really understanding what’s going on and you don’t get knocked around. Sure, absolutely new things come up, new situations new people.
SUE: And they always will, no matter how old your kids are.
PAM: But you’ve got that foundation of the process right. So, you don’t get knocked so far off kilter.
SUE: Did you say PROcess?
PAM: I did. (laughing)
SUE: I love it. I love it. I love the Canadians.
PAM: OK, number three.
“I don’t have a 9 to 5 job I have a when I open my eyes to when I close my eyes job.”
PAM: I’m going to go first with this one.
SUE: Yeah. People like that one.
PAM: It gives us a quick giggle, right? And soothes us when we feel like our parenting work is never done. We can look at the picture and say, “Oh yeah, that looks very familiar.” I told Sue earlier it reminds me of an online account name that I created way back around when we started unschooling in the early 2000s. And my account name was “24 hour mom”. It was all about this idea and realizing I am a mom all the time because when you think about a little bit deeper who hasn’t had a child wake them up in the middle of the night? And we still respond. We’re still always parenting and over the years I had a few people comment on my name going, “Oh yeah.”.
I think it’s a really great place to start and it’s a really great acknowledgment and that sense of community again. But we can dig a bit deeper and contemplate that whole idea of parenting as a job. Is that a helpful comparison or perspective to have? I know for me, I eventually came to embrace parenting really more as part of who I am vs. not just what I do. It’s not a job I do. It’s not a role I play. It is part of my being. It’s part of who I am.
I did write a blog post about that epiphany and I’ll put the link to that in the show notes. But peeling back that layer really helped me to stop looking for those times when I wasn’t parenting. You know what I mean?
SUE: Yeah, yeah.
PAM: Not in that martyrlike sense of I’m giving myself up for my children. Not as in forgetting about myself so that I can be a parent. But it’s almost the opposite, for me anyway. It was more about I’m embracing my whole self and bringing all of me to each moment whether the kids are around or not. So, that delineation between parenting as a job and I have to do it for all these hours and everything, that was for me on my unschooling journey, a huge shift. Now, I totally understand and giggled and smiled at this meme because you get where they’re going but you can really dig deeper than that. And that’s that self-awareness piece. Who do I want to be? What kind of parent do I want to be? How do I see parenting?
SUE: And I think it goes towards that whole mommy wars stuff about whether you’re a stay at home mom or you go to work and a lot of times moms that stay at home feel defensive. And so, I think anytime we feel defensive it’s a little flag. “You should maybe look here.” Why do you feel defensive? Why do you need their approval?” I know I can remember when I first stayed home with my kids, I went to this little get together party thing and I was 28ish and somebody said, “You’re not going back to work?” And I was like, “No.” And they were like, “What are you going to do all day?” Me: “I don’t know. We’ll see.” And they’re like, “Man, your mind’s just going to turn the mush.” Me: “I think we need to stop talking about this.” (laughing)
We had a big wave, women fought to work. They fought to be able to enter the workplace. And I think that’s great. And my mom was certainly part of that wave and always wanted me to work because that had been denied, not that long ago. But I think what’s really great about feminism, when you really look at it is it allows you to make a choice. You don’t have to be defensive of one side or the other, you can do a little of both. You can be a mom for this period of time. You can work here and you can work after. You just have all kinds of choices and that’s all we want is for ourselves and for our kids is for them to have choices and to have choices that resonate with them.
One of the things that you were saying that I thought, “That’s it!” Kids are kids for 24 hours a day. They’re not just kids certain hours of the day. So why wouldn’t moms and dads be moms and dads 24 hours a day. Of course they are. And because it’s not a job. It’s who you are. It’s just all the way integrated in. And sometimes when you think, ‘When am I getting my me time?’ You know that’s often a leftover from that idea from I have my job life and I have my personal life.
And so, then you’re like. Well OK so I’m getting rid of this one, do I have to get rid of this one too? No, but you can integrate your personal life into your motherhood, into your fatherhood. You can integrate some work into your motherhood into your fatherhood too. It doesn’t have to be an either or. And it certainly doesn’t mean 9:00 to 5:00. The parenting part, if your kid is 24 hours then so are you. And that’s OK. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not like you have to stay… The point is that you just look at it. Think about what are these different memes? Where are they pinging in my brain? And why? And then examine just a little bit, why did I laugh? Why do I feel defensive? Maybe we just are kind of happy we don’t always have to wear pants. Yeah. You know that’s OK too. I mean whatever. But yet that same thing about you. We’re in this together. We got you. You’re not by yourself. You’re not just that lady at the cocktail party saying, “What are you going to do?” But you know that doesn’t bother me now. It bothered me then. Because I was like, “Oh my God. What are you going to do?” I hadn’t taken the time to do the thought work on it.
PAM: Exactly that. That was completely part of the journey. And that’s why for everybody because it depends completely on where you are, what your life experience have been to this point, what your choice have been to this point, who are you as a person, your goals, your everything. All that weaves together to create our outlook and as we’re questioning things, we’re just kind of reweaving that stuff together.
SUE: And that’s why it’s so unique. That’s why you can’t take this is this and this is that. And I want to copy. You can’t. There are just too many threads.
PAM: Yes. There we found a good metaphor. Our next one. Here we go, Number 4:
“The reason that kids need to learn to read so early in school is because in school kids read about doing stuff instead of doing stuff. When kids live life outside of school, they actually get to do stuff. So, it’s not as important to read about it in order to learn it.”
PAM: I think it’s a great reminder and it was a longer one that had a little bit more explanation in there but it’s also something we can dig into isn’t it?
SUE: Right. So, I think you know there is a big push about learning to read. There is a big push about it being the holy grail. And I think. Well, learning to read is important in a school setting because after first second and third grade they stop. And maybe it’s different now it’s probably earlier but they stop speaking the information to the children and they require the children to read it for themselves. So, if you didn’t get reading by 7 or 8, you could fall behind. And that’s because the system prioritizes itself. It’s trying to move kids along and this is how you can get more, evidently, conveyed.
In our world, you don’t have those kinds of limitations. So, you don’t stop speaking to your child and just hand them a memo in the morning of what their day will be. You’re still talking with them. You’re able to see how do they like to get information? Do they like it on video? Do they like conversations? Do they like to read about it? Do they like to meet people that do it? Can they do a little all of it? And then we just see how their brains like it and what they remember and what they don’t remember and that’s all fine too. And I think that you know we have so much more flexibility. This doesn’t even take in the idea of travel. That you instead of just reading about the mountains or the Smithsonian, you actually can go. You can see it. You can use all your senses and then you don’t have to only just read about it.
That’s one of the things that’s really different about it. When we think about what are our advantages? We hear all of the negative things people say about homeschooled kids or unschooled kids. So, it helps to think about what are some of the advantages that your kids are going to have because you chose this kind of unconventional way. And one of the advantages is they get to actually see things in real life instead of just read about them.
If you read about something after lunch in school and you might not remember, you’re in your little post perennial slump and you’re not paying attention at one o’clock and then you missed it. Whereas if you went somewhere and you saw all kinds of things whatever happens to be interesting to your kids. So then and not only do they have the firsthand experience and that will give them something to latch on to if they ever want to dive in more or learn more about it. But you’re going to take pictures and so that will help them with their memory of it. And it just gives them this opportunity to have real world experiences. That’s an enormous advantage with unschooling. It’s not like we’re just sitting home. And even for the kids that do like to sit home they can watch things on YouTube and see things on online that kids in school aren’t allowed to do. They’re not allowed to dive in. There are some really cool websites that are museums and NASA and all kinds of stuff that allows kids to see stuff and stay with it longer than just that little paragraph in the chapter on history.
PAM: Yeah. That is a great point and it is similar to what I dug into when I looked at it because at first when you read it it’s a quick soothing balm on our reading worries because that is a big piece. How are my kids going to learn to read? When are they going to learn to read? You see the meme and, “Oh, it’s OK if they’re a little bit later.” That’s true and you’re reading worries can abate for a little while.
When you think a little bit deeper about it, you start asking yourself questions like, “Well how do kids learn through doing stuff?” You shared some great examples about the way kids learn and then you think about how you even define learning versus memorizing things for the test. But when you have the experience, even when you’re just having fun, even when you’re watching something, that emotional connection helps solidify that learning piece. It connects it with something in your day. It’s not this random piece of information that you have to try and remember. It’s connected to whatever you were doing. It’s connected to what you were thinking so you’re building a stronger map of learning.
You can ask yourself what have I seen my kids learn without reading about it. We’re back to us being open and observing and actually processing our experiences with our kids and what it looks like. What does learning look like in our lives? Because right now you’re owning it. That’s the difference between somebody telling you stuff and really understanding it and owning it and seeing it in action in your life. That’s where that trust comes from. That’s how that root grows is through your own experiences. And I bet most people can come up with a super long list of things that their kids and themselves have learned through doing or through watching or through listening or through experiments.
SUE: Which is a great exercise. Just start listing it. List the things you learned that you didn’t have to read about it but you learned it. And I think that it’s really interesting because all of the educational research shows us that there are so many different learning styles and yet school continues to push towards this particular learning style.
PAM: And I think it’s because it’s what works best for the system. It’s the system. They need to share this information and try to teach this information to a large group of kids. So, this is the most efficient way.
SUE: So, they work on their bell curve.
PAM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. So, you know.
SUE: But you don’t have to do that.
PAM: Exactly. Yes.
SUE: I think that, and I didn’t have to do that meme, but I think that the really progressive schools look more like home. They have a living room atmosphere. There’s more movement and flexibility in the really progressive schools. So, let’s not duplicate the less progressive schools. Let’s recognize that our way is how people naturally learn. You know by being involved and using other senses and getting exposure to things and building that pile of knowledge like you’re talking about. That’s in context so that they will be able to access it later. You’ve got all these out of context facts in school. They don’t get used. They’re lost. That’s why they don’t remember anything after that Friday quiz. So, you have real life where one thing really does connect to another and connect to another and you don’t have to orchestrate all of that. You might toss something in or expose them to something like the best tour guide on the planet but you don’t have to run it. You don’t have to have a lesson plan. We can have real life. One thing really leads to another. Because then that thread is thicker.
It connects better.
And that’s the great thing about it because we are individuals. So, that’s the whole point. With the curriculum, you’ve got this pre strung thread. You know what path you want it to go. But in reality, it’s very individual for each child. I could take all three of my kids to the science centre or to the zoo or to the park or to the store. And all three of them will make different connections. They will all learn different pieces, something different will stand out for each of them because of where they are. But all of them are learning. It’s just different. It’s just really individual for them. I say it’s the most personalized curriculum ever.
PAM: Without having a curriculum. (laughing)
SUE: Well, when you look at when schools talk about individualized learning plans, that’s lip service compared to what we do. This is individualized on steroids. This is the most individualized, experiential, progressive learning plan you could ever want. Use those words if your mom’s bothering you.
PAM: There we are. We started with a meme that helps us feel better about later readers. And we can take that and dive deeper and helps us understand better how unschooling works. Boom. There we go.
SUE: There we go. There we go. You’re watching our unschooling minds unravel before your yes.
PAM: And you know what? Each person taking that meme and digging deeper it could look different for them. Because of where they are, what their questions are, what their fears are around and at the moment. All we’re saying is it’s so worth taking that extra moment to dig deeper. OK. So, I last one.
“In the end, I am the only one who can give my kids a happy mother who loves life.”
SUE: I think that a lot of times when we’re parenting it cannot feel glorious. It can feel tedious. It can feel frustrating. But again, like absolutely everything, we’ve got all kinds of choices. I’m not saying people don’t have bad things that happen but how you react to it, is how you live your life. You’ve only got one. And so, what your kids are seeing is how you react to adversity. How you react to boredom. Sometimes another round of Candyland… (laughing) And that’s OK. So, you just ponder how cute they are or how the used to throw the game, whenever they started to fall behind and look how much further they’ve come. So you start to work with and what kind of mom do you want to be? What kind of dad do you want to be? Who do you want to be in this world?
You’re only going to have so many years with these kids and the words that come out of your mouth, the raised eyebrows, the all that stuff is going to stick in their heads. What do you want to stick in their head?
And so, I think that when we get a meme like that, we think somebody gets me. And it also reassures you. And you know like anything you’ve got laundry and you’ve got groceries and the kid has the flu and you’ve got all these things going on and some meme reminds you that you have some choices in here. What do you want to do? And it pulls it back to the front of your mind to just give yourself a couple little thoughts about what kind of mom do I want to be today? How can I right now up my game a little bit? I don’t mean be super mom I just mean don’t be mean Mom. You can just inch it. You know you were you were really crabby this morning, so be more pleasant at noon or if you’re just kind of waiting it out and just trying to get just a tiny bit better you don’t have to solve world hunger. You can just ask, “How can you sparkle a little?” That’s Toni Morrison quote. How can you sparkle when they walk in the room because they’re noticing and that takes nothing from you to do that. It can be a new habit.
PAM: Yeah. And for me that’s it, all these things remind me and boil down to reminding me that I have a choice. And with this one, how integral we are in our kid’s life. And then that choice piece in their life that you were talking about. The sparkling, them noticing all the little pieces. We don’t choose to be mean or crabby or whatever, those things happen. They’re just part of our experience. And if the little meme goes by and it reminds us. “Oh, I have a choice, I can flip in this moment. I can get back to this moment. I don’t have to stay stuck where I was feeling crappy about whatever it was in that moment. I can choose my next moment. I can choose who I want to be, the kind of parent I want to be, the kind of person I want to be.” It just happens that they’re my kids that I’m with, maybe it’s my spouse, maybe it’s my friends. I’m still choosing who I want to be in that moment.
For me, then digging deeper into that I get to ask myself, ‘What does happy mean to me?’ Looking at the words that are in there. Well, how do I define happiness? As you said, life is full of ups and downs. What does the idea of being happy look like during a time when things are off kilter? This is our self-awareness. This is all part of understanding ourselves better and understanding who we want to be.
Do I want to be someone who holds onto that grumpiness longer because I can? Then I can ask myself, ‘Are there some ways to release it. Are there some ways where I don’t need to put it out on the people around me? Do I need something? Can I do something with the people around me to help me pull myself up?’ I remember there were times when there were certain activities and things I would invite the kids to do or ask the kids if we could do. If I needed a little bit more downtime or a little bit more quiet time in this moment, I knew those things would help. Because it’s not a separate. It’s us living together.
Then we can think about the phrase “love life”. What does it mean to us to be somebody who loves life? What does that look like? Does that inspire us to engage more with our kids, to engage more with the world around us to just be a little bit more active? Actually, as I was thinking about it, I was thinking about something Anne Ohman says, “Get out of your head and into the moment.” There we are back in the moment. Because that’s where the fears live, circling around in our heads. And then we look like the aloof mom to our kids maybe, or the disengaged mom or the busy mom or the crabby Mom. You know all those other things that we looked like from the outside and maybe that’s not the choice we want to bring into that moment. Because there’s how we feel but there’s also the perception of how we seem to those who we care about in our lives. Is this the message that we’re sending through our actions? Is that the message that I really want to be sending or can I maybe explain more? Can I shift? All that kind of stuff. Just digging a little bit deeper into that meme, that phrase, that sentence helps us better understand ourselves and each moment and how we want to live our days.
SUE: Yeah, I think sometimes we wonder, ‘Why didn’t I let that go? Why did I stay in that grumpy place?’ And oftentimes it’s because we don’t feel heard. We don’t feel like we’re getting what we need.
And don’t ask your kids to fix your anxiety or to fix your grump place, that’s your work. It’s not even your spouse’s work, it’s not your mom’s work, it’s not kids work. It’s just your work.
What do I need? Do I need a couple minutes in the morning? Do I need to get up earlier? Do I need to go for a walk every day? What do I really need? What makes me feel better. Do I need to light a candle that smells good in the room? I mean does that like help shift you a little bit? Think about yourself so that it doesn’t…and it doesn’t mean you have to go away for four days. It just means that you have the little things that make you feel happy with this life or this is tough phase and I can still have little things that give me some joy.
And then you think ‘Why am I clinging to that? Well, I’ve got a tougher life than everybody else.’ Well, maybe you do but you only got one. So, how do you want to live it every day? You have a choice.
Even if you do, even if we all stood together and you win, you have the toughest life. How do you want live it? How do you want to be? How do you want to feel? And so that’s up to you. That part is all on you. On how am I going to cope with everything that I’ve got going on. And what can come off my plate? Could I get a mother’s helper in to play that Candyland again? What can I do? So, you have a lot of choices in your life that aren’t big. They’re little and they can make a big impact. But if we don’t bother to look, if we don’t bother to list them out, what are some things that make me happy to come down my stairs and see that painting right there. Huh. Then do it. Just make some little choices for how you want your days to go.
PAM: Right. And so, by digging in, that’s how we figure that stuff out. Sometimes it’s even figuring out exactly why I’m feeling off kilter. Sometimes you don’t even know exactly what your fear is.
SUE: You have to take the time and look and not be afraid to look.
PAM: To figure that out and then the next steps. ‘OK, how can I move through that?’ And your ideas, great ideas for how can I bring a spot of joy? How can I enjoy this moment more? How can I set things up to be more enjoyable for myself? I know I used to do that when I made dinner, I used to light a little candle. Maybe have some music, maybe listen to an audio book or maybe the kids were playing in the kitchen at the table and I was cooking at the same time. So often there are ways for both things to happen but yeah you have to have taken the time to think through it to realize, what are those little pieces that would make me smile? That would remind me that I’m here and we’re all together and just bring me back to that moment really essentially.
SUE: We always come back to the moment, don’t we?
PAM: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I appreciate it.
SUE: I loved it! Now you know Pam, I can I just sit here and talk with you for hours and people are like, there those two go again!
PAM: Yes, I love digging into this kind of stuff because as we said at the outset, we do get a nice bump, often we feel a connection with an idea and it gives us a sense of community too. But it is so helpful for ourselves as human beings to dig in and take that next little step to understand ourselves better, the lifestyle that we’re choosing, unschooling, all that stuff is going to help us grow. Grow that root so that we don’t feel so buffeted around by life. So, where can people find you and all your work online?
Sometimes I don’t hit that little button. I don’t know. Sometimes it happens sometimes it doesn’t. But I was thinking what might be really helpful for people that like this topic is I do have that membership group that is only $20 a month and we talk every week on Wednesdays at noon Central time and it’s a nice little community it’s small. And when you have something going on it’s nice to have other people help you come up with that list of other things or help you just see it from a different perspective. It really helps to be able to go in there and say I feel so stuck. Why am I stuck? And it’s not really something you want to write about in a 28,000 member group but you would like to talk about it with some people that are on the same path as you. Maybe a little before maybe a little after and we’re all in there together. And so, I do want to invite people to join us in that because that’s really, really helpful it’s a nice little small community.
PAM: That’s awesome. Sue, have a lovely day. I’ll talk to you soon.
SUE: Thanks so much Pam. Bye bye.