PAM: Welcome to this compilation episode exploring the idea of stretching our comfort zones, which can come up in various ways along our unschooling journey.
Often, we first encounter it when we’re actively deschooling and questioning so much of the conventional wisdom around learning and parenting that we’ve absorbed growing up. We can also find ourselves playing at the edges of our comfort zones if our child becomes interested in something that we’re not fond of, or we’re unfamiliar with. Or maybe our child’s learning journey wanders further off the beaten path than we were first expecting.
So, in this episode, I’ve brought together snippets from eight different podcast conversations that I hope you might find helpful and inspiring the next time you bump up against the edges of your comfort zones.
To get us started, in episode 16, Jenny Cyphers and I talked about stretching our comfort zones during the teen years.
PAM: I know in my experience and many others, you just don’t use the phrase “teen rebellion” in your conversations because when unschooling parents are helping our teens meet their goals, instead of trying to control them to meet our goals for them, the conflict and the rebellion piece fades away and what you’re left with is experiences and learning and processing.
It’s not that things are easy breezy, because it’s really life. It’s their life, and our comfort zones may well need stretching, but it’s their life to live and we want to be around to help them do that, right?
JENNY: Absolutely. I think so many kids have their lives micromanaged and I think any person even myself I don’t like to be micromanaged even as an adult. Just the thought of it! Nobody likes that. Nobody likes being micromanaged and for whatever reason parents want to micromanage their kids. Kids react to it in the same way that adults react to it. They don’t like it—nobody likes it.
Kids in school get it double because they get micromanaged at school and then at home. If you’re lucky, you have parents that don’t micromanage and if you’re in school you still have to deal with micro-managing at school.
When you take the school component out, you’re not micromanaging that element of their life or what they’re learning or how they’re learning it. You facilitate learning for sure. We did that a lot. We’re talking about pushing comfort ,that was a time when my oldest was a little bit younger maybe 13 she was obsessed with blood. Obsessed! It freaked me out. She would make fake blood, buy fake blade blood, and do bloody bath scenes and photograph them and I’m thinking there’s something wrong with her. This doesn’t seem normal to me.
I just had to breathe and push through it and I just watched very carefully instead of reacting because I know a lot of people would have reacted, “Oh my gosh, my child, there’s something wrong with them, they’re obsessed with blood.” And I thought those thoughts initially and then I just really paid attention and watched and looked and she was making art that’s what it was, and it was very much anime inspired. Weird but true, it was anime inspired and she was definitely inspired by horror movies—something that I also had to press through, my own comfort zone.
She wanted to do more and more of that, so I looked around we got involved with haunted houses. That was a huge eye opener for me because I was suddenly surrounded by all these people who talk about horror movies as beautiful. “Did you see the way that blood spurted out? It was beautiful!” I thought, I’ve entered the Twilight Zone, literally! But it was a big deal and suddenly I realize what my daughter is going through, other people are doing this and love it so I found ways to support the things that she really enjoyed doing. Kind of went off on a tailspin there.
PAM: That’s okay. Lissy too, there was a time when there was a lot of blood in her pictures and I remember looking up recipes for fake blood and going to stock up at Halloween time because you can go and get all those kinds of stock for her to keep for set building. I know and it first was kind of a shock and you’re worried at first, are they upset or stressed, why are they focusing on this but then, as you said, you just think through it and you see that this is an art form to them and you look closely and, no, they’re not depressed, they’re not angry, they’re still themselves and this is just really fascinating, so interesting.
JENNY: Right, and a lot of my daughter’s friend’s parents freaked out about it and weren’t into it. They tried to micromanage all of that too, this weird thing that my kid is into. “No, I’m not going to support that, that’s weird. Do what you’re supposed to do, kid.”
We saw that a lot all around us. Even some of the unschooling parents we knew. We didn’t know a whole lot with the kids my kids got along with, but there were a couple and it really makes a difference. And I’ve seen the differences in that, but it really makes a difference when you go out of your way to not only not control and micromanage what your kid does, but to go way beyond that and push past your own discomfort and really look at things from your child’s perspective and then explore those things with them. It makes a mountain of difference.
PAM: Oh my gosh yes! It’s so huge, it’s a huge piece of it all. They are their own person!
JENNY: Right. You have to have both because we’ve met some people who kind of dabbled in unschooling, who tried to support all the interests, but then micromanaged. That didn’t go over so well. And I’ve seen people who don’t like to manage at all, that aren’t really supportive of what their kids are into, and that doesn’t go over so well either.
Either way, you really have to have both of those in play, You really have to not be micromanaging not be controlling, and really delve into the things that they’re into and push past your own comfort to do it. That’s what I had to do and it worked out really well. I can see the benefits of it.
It starts when your kid wants to go for a walk by themselves for the first time and that is scary! Depending on where you live. I live in the suburban area, on the outsides of it with a fairly big city. There’s mass transit and walking to the store by yourself, I remember that feeling, remember she did it she did have a cell phone on her, and I was scared someone’s going to kidnap her but no, of course not. I had to push all those fears aside because that’s not really what happens in life. Aside from the weird freak accidents, that’s just not reality.
PAM: I know and every single time I pushed my comfort zone I was always better off for it in the end. I always learned so much and it was a great experience. Now I can draw on that. Every time, I’m the one who has to grow.
PAM: I loved hearing how Jenny stretched her comfort zones around her daughter’s interest in all things horror, and her observation that supporting our kids isn’t just about not micromanaging how they engage with their interest, but also doing the work to move through our discomfort so we can actively support them and bring new ideas to the table!
Next, we hear from Robert Gottlieb, from episode 93, and we dive into comfort zones, beliefs, and boundaries.
PAM: Speaking of our kids, have there been times when your kids interests or choices have challenged your thinking or stretched your comfort zones, and if so, how did you work through those moments?
ROBERT: Oh yeah. (laughter)
Everything I’ve talked to up to this point, I might have painted this perfect rosy picture of perfect balance in the household, and we have this tidy house that—no. It’s not anything like that at all. But it’s not total chaos either. I mean I don’t want to paint a horrible picture. The reality is somewhere in between. It’s life, right? It’s messy at times, and you have to kind of roll with it.
And we as parents—how we handle these things, going outside of our comfort zone, is something our kids are observing us do. They’re learning from us as we’re doing this. So, it’s important that we do handle it well. Or at least clean up after ourselves if we don’t. Which is another point, of being able to say, “I’m sorry, I screwed up, I didn’t want to behave that way towards you,” or whatever.
But definitely the triad of sex, drugs and religion, right? The big key there for us was being able to have honest conversations with them. And for them to understand that we’re not just making this stuff up, that we truly believe what we’re saying. And things like sex—that wasn’t actually that hard for us. We’ve always been about naming the body parts correctly, not giving them nicknames and all that. But the hard balance is, okay, yes there’s certain philosophies that we believe in that may not jive with the law. So, we have to be careful about that, and not break the law. So how do we do that? Well it’s a tough balance, and we discuss that with them.
Religion: we’re Jewish, but our kids decided, “Eh, religion doesn’t matter that much to us.” And that actually wasn’t a big deal for us. For someone else it could be a big deal. You could be devout Christian, devout Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, whatever, and you got a kid that could care less and wants nothing to do with it.
The key there is, if you ever want a kid to join whatever you’re doing, the best way to do that is leave them alone. Because if you try to make them do it, they’re not going to want to. Later on, they’re going to rebel. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to join anyway. It could be that that’s just their opinion, that’s who they are, and it’s all about accepting them where they are.
So, I mention religion—it’s not really outside my comfort zone at all. I really had no problem with them saying, “Look, I’m not really into this, I don’t believe in God, or I do.” And that changes over time too. Maybe they do one time, later on they’re, “Well, I’m agnostic,” or, “I do believe in God.” None of that really matters. It’s their personal choice.
The big thing is having the relationship that we do allows for us to have these conversations when they hit boundaries for us. And we can flat out say no. It’s just as I would with my wife. “Can I come sit on your lap?” “No, I need my space right now.” That’s a reasonable thing to say. And the same with our kids.
It’s not about letting them cross all of your boundaries and go all over your comfort zones and you not saying anything. You talk about it. And there’s compromise maybe, or maybe there’s not. Maybe there’s just something you can’t compromise on, and that’s that. And they understand that. Because you have the good relationship with them, because they trust you, that’s not such a big deal. They can handle those no’s. They key is saying yes as often as you can, so that when you do say no, number one—it means something, and number two—it’s accepted pretty easily actually.
PAM: Yeah, because from that relationship, when you’ve got that trust you can have that conversation, you can explain your thinking. And it’s a conversation that you’re having, it’s not an edict that you’re passing down.
PAM: Yeah, so again, I love that point. It all comes back to the relationship. That is one of the big things I think, because no matter what, we can have strong beliefs in certain things. Like you were talking about, religion and sex, and for some people it’s food. Maybe you’re a staunch vegetarian for your lifestyle, right?
The challenge comes when you put that expectation on your child to follow. And what gets damaged is the relationship. So again, going back to that relationship to see, to understand, that depending on your response, that’s what’s at stake, right? And it may be worth it to you. Like you said, you may have a no, or this is my line and this is where I feel I need to draw my line for my children.
If that’s something that you need to do, you need to understand what that effect’s going to be on your relationship. So, trust is going to be diminished, certainly for a while. If that’s something that they still feel they need to explore then they’re going to need to do that behind your back, basically. Because they don’t want to get in trouble, and they know that you’re not going to be happy about it. So, they’re going to explore it on their own. That still may be something that’s acceptable to you. And it’s just knowing what your choice—you really can’t have an expectation that you can literally control another person, right?
ROBERT: Exactly. Yup.
PAM: Certainly not as they get older, right? (laughs)
ROBERT: Oh, definitely not. Yeah. (laughs)
PAM: So yeah, I think that’s fascinating. And I love that piece. Because it is—it’s the dance of our relationships.
One thing that really helped me when I was stretching comfort zones was talking to them, right? Because so often our comfort zones are on rather conventional lines, just because we can’t visit everything when we first come to unschooling. Our comfort zones and our paradigms and the way we see things, they just are. And it’s when they come up that we’re like, “Oh, hold it. I’m getting uncomfortable here.”
And yeah, you’re right. You don’t want to ignore that uncomfortableness, because you’re losing depth in the relationship and damaging the relationship then as well, right? I think for me the really important thing, though, was to do a lot of that work at first internally, to really understand myself and why that line was there, and to understand where they were coming from. Because so often my stereotype and where they were coming up against that, they were coming from such a different perspective. And I’d be like, “Oh. Yeah. I can see why you want to do that.” And then things were great. Half the time they addressed my concerns already that I don’t even really have to say much, right?
ROBERT: And the thing with when you’re looking at your own boundaries and you’re respecting yourself, that’s something that you’re teaching the kids at the same time. They’re watching you do that. You’re their model for what life is like as an adult. So, if you’re saying, “Oh, this doesn’t work for me,” that allows them to say the same thing as an adult.
PAM: Mm-hmm, that’s a great point. Because they’re seeing you think it through, they’re seeing you process it, they’re seeing you sharing your insight, your understanding, et cetera, and working through it with them. And absolutely, those are skills that—every time you do that with them, they’re gaining experience with doing it. And that’s a skill that they take with them forever. That’s why focusing on the relationship just brings—it’s lifelong skills, right? Not facts that they’re learning.
ROBERT: Right, you’re not filling their heads with information. You’re showing them life as it unfolds, live.
PAM: Exactly! Oh, I know. It’s beautiful. Okay. Oh! And I’m just going to go back and say it again, life is messy? I love that.
PAM: Yes, life is messy. Taking the time to understand ourselves, stretch our comfort zones, explore our boundaries, have conversations with our children, and help them as they’re doing the same! It’s life.
Next, in episode 97 I spoke with Erika Davis-Pitre about diversity and asked if she could share some ways we can be more welcoming to families from the wide variety of backgrounds that exist in the unschooling community. Here’s her reply.
ERIKA: Number one, if you do not live in a diverse community, if you do not have diverse, rich experiences, please do not make your only diverse experience charitable. Do not go to the food kitchen on Thanksgiving, do not help out at the homeless shelter, do not deal with diversity in a charitable way. The “Good Helper Syndrome” is really difficult to get beyond once you reach a level of maturity and that “less-than” attitude from well-meaning people is, in my opinion, just as bad as the person that says, “You are brown, I do not want you around. You are trouble because of your culture.”
I really would hope that, especially in the unschooling community, diversity is achieved by moving out of your comfort zone, your area, your neighborhood, and moving into someone else’s culture, comfort zone, neighborhood, for all kinds of art classes, library things, swimming things, opportunities for all kinds of cultural and community experiences.
You can just leave your neighborhood and experience a writing class on the other side of town, a book club on the other side of town. If your actual town is not very diverse, there are plenty of ways to be welcoming, and that is by extending yourself and your discomfort level into another community and meeting friends that way. I think it is one of the best ways we as unschoolers have to widen our pallette, and it can ensure that we have diverse experiences.
PAM: Yeah, I loved that point, about the impression that you are leaving with your children without saying anything, if your only focus is on charity. I thought that was such a great point, I had never thought of it that way and that was very cool when you shared that.
The idea is to extend your community—go different places. That reminds me of when people talk about trying an activity, right whether it is karate or girl guides, or whatever, they always pick the closest one, just for convenience. Think bigger. I know with my kids, I have driven distances for many reasons; Girl Guides an hour away, because that group was a better fit. This is yet another reason why we do not need to keep our mindset so close geographically. There are so many great reasons to open ourselves up to all of the possibilities that may be an hour or two away. We have gone two hours away to things on a regular basis; it is a great reason for that.
You have to look at it as a friendship. If you look at it as a friendship rather than an obligation, it is pretty easy to widen your pallet. If you look at it as an obligation to have your children have diverse experiences, you are going to resent it after awhile. If you look at it as a friendship, as giving your children more, as equipping them with more rather than less, the richness of the experience will win out.
We are creatures of convenience and we like being around each other. When I say that, I mean that we like being around people that we know, people that make us feel comfortable, people that we can be unconscious around. It is a powerful myth that it is easy to be in a diverse community. It is not. It is constantly questioning what you know to be true. It is work to be in a diverse community. It is easier to be in a homogenous community where you think everyone feels the way that you do. You have social norms that you can conform to. That is easier. It is more difficult to think of someone that you have seemingly nothing in common with. How are they going to react to this? How are they going to feel about that? It takes a lot of emotional work to put yourself out there; it is not easier. It gets easier, but it is not easy.
We self-segregate because it is easy; for economic reasons, racial and culture reasons, and gender reasons. We self-segregate quite nicely and not doing that is difficult at first. It gets easier, but it still butts up against what we feel is “normal.”
Just like unschooling, it gets easier.
The first few years I was unschooling I did not know what it was called, and the need to have that workbook on the calendar and have it available on the bookshelf, have it available in the book bin, have it available in the trunk, have it available in the box, have it available in the garage. You see how it is moving, but it is all available because that is the way—I want availability, to me that is the representative of how we handle anything that is against our norm. We leave the option for normalcy as we move towards something else, we leave that option available.
I wish and hope that we can do that same thing with diversity. We try on new things, we reject what does not feed our soul, and we take on what does, and we are constantly encouraging ourselves, saying, “Well, if that was not the right way to do it, there are other ways,” and continuing to do the work. The hardest part is doing the work.
It is easy to leave that workbook on the table because it reassures you. It is harder for your kids, but it is easier for you. It gets easier again when you move it to the bookshelf, because that is easier for your partner or your child, and it shows that it does not have to be front and centre. Then it is far easier when it moves to the trunk, to the book bin. And it is far easier once it is moved to the box in the garage. I will tell you that it is far easier when it ends up at the Goodwill as a donation for someone else that needs that, because you do not need it anymore.
But those phases might take years, they might take months, they may take weeks, they may take days, depending on the process and where you are in it. We have got to encourage diversity and diverse thoughts in the exact same way. Let people lead people to walking that walk themselves, helping them see that the walk is valuable, helping to see that we all benefit when we see diversity as a plus not as a chore.
PAM: I love that image of moving the book further out, because that is something that I find myself talking about quite a bit in unschooling conversations: our comfort zones and the work to stretch our comfort zones.
Often, we talk about our children and their interests. I’ve said that every single time I have done the work to stretch my comfort zone, I have benefited from it. To me, this is just another area of comfort zones that yes, as you said, it is a lot of work and it can take time, but the richness and the benefits for everyone at the end of it…
Well, you know, there is not an end to it, there is always more.
ERIKA: Sure. And the hard part about increasing diversity is there is the expectation that there will be an end.
PAM: Erika shared some great insights! Moving the workbook further and further away is a great metaphor for stretching our comfort zones. Step by step. And how humans are creatures of convenience—that’s part of what keeps us in our comfort zones. And looking at it all through the lens of diversity is eye opening.
Next, Alan Marshall joined me in episode 110 and he talked about stretching his comfort zone around engaging with his kids. Here’s what he said when I asked him what piece of advice he’d like to share with other dads who are considering unschooling.
ALAN: For me, the thing that I’ve had to try to be conscious of the most, and I think this is related to my gender, as far as I can tell—to the extent that I am self-aware, I think this might be gender related—I have to really think about being involved day-to-day, moment-to-moment, with my kids.
This may not be something that all men share, but, in my example growing up, the male parent was maybe a little bit at a distance. Kinda maybe didn’t do the day-to-day, nitty-gritty work of parenting, always. That’s not necessarily because of traditional gender roles only. Sometimes it can be more subtle than that.
I’m kind of the stay-at-home parent, my wife and I switch off—we both work, but she works more than I do. So, I would be considered the stay-at-home parent if you had to name one of us as the stay-at-home parent. But even though I’m the one at home often—kind of reversing that traditional gender role—still there’s more subtle male gender role thing of, “You kids play, and I’ll go do my adult stuff over here.”
I don’t know, for me, I’ve found that I really need to be aware of that. And to make a conscious decision to, ‘I’m going to do this a little differently than what was shown to me when I was younger, or what the cultural expectations might still be.’ Even though I’m not a traditional dad, in the moment, when I’m actually interacting with my children, I need to decide that I’m not going to be the traditional male—I’m going to be playful, I’m going to joke around, I’m going to do guy-stuff with my son, even if that’s not my immediate natural inclination.
So that’s what occurs to me that it might be helpful to talk about with other men, to maybe be aware of that tendency. Whether you’re a traditional sort of bread winner and you come home in the evening and see your kids in the evening, or even if you are a stay-at-home dad and you’re the primary caregiver, that might be going on. That dynamic might be there.
I just think that’s something that might be worth considering.
PAM: Yeah, that’s a great point. And the tendency, especially if our kids our occupied and doing things, the tendency is to pull back and do our own things. There’s just so much that we get out of that connection when we do engage with them, right? So, you’re finding that to be a positive experience, yeah?
ALAN: Yes, absolutely, yes!
I wouldn’t want to force myself to do it in an, ‘I’ve gotta go play with the kids now so that I can be a good unschooler,’ way. That’s not an attitude that would be helpful at all, I don’t think. More just, when the opportunity arises, you know, go out of your comfort zone a little.
And also use your partner as an example. My wife is sort of always just been great with kids, so she is just silly with small children just to make interacting with them fun—if I can just be silly, I can make a joke or make things into a game I can get things going so that I can have some interaction and get something out of that. Observing moms, and particularly my wife, and learning a different way of doing things—it might be a little different than what I’m used to, but to avoid doing it in a resentful way. Not like it’s a job, like “I’m required to do this much interaction with the kids in order to be a good modern dad.”
PAM: Back to ticking off those boxes.
ALAN: I don’t think that would be helpful. But, the time you do spend with them, just kind of expand your idea of what that means a little bit.
PAM: I loved Alan’s perspective on dads stretching their comfort zones around parenting roles with an eye to engaging with their kids more often. It might be helpful to take a moment and see if that’s something you might try out—dad or mom.
In episode 122 about unschooling passions, I asked Robin Bentley if she had any tips for parents looking to support their child’s interests. It’s not surprising that stretching our comfort zones was top of mind for her. In a random connection, I wasn’t aware at the time that Robin and Jenny were friends. It was fun to hear a bit about the story from a different perspective.
ROBIN: You gotta find a way to support your kids even if you don’t like something, even if you can’t initially find something to like about what they’re doing. My friend Jenny, her daughter Luna was very much into horror stuff, and Jenny was not. It took her a long time. She gave Luna a lot of tools, like makeup, and taking her places where she could explore that, like Halloween fun houses and that kind of thing. And she watched TV shows and movies with her. And she said, “I needed kinda to get over some of that to be able to connect with my kid.”
So, sometimes you have to get over your own bad self to really support your kids. Because you have to see what they see in it, not what you see, because you come with your own baggage about stuff, and they don’t!
PAM: It’s that being curious piece, to me. I’m curious to know what they find interesting.
Like, way back when we first started unschooling, and Joseph really enjoyed video games. The choice was, ‘Ok, do I try to control this, or be curious about what he loves?’ And I spent a few months and oh my gosh, it opened my eyes, and there we were. I found ways to support it—only because I was curious to stretch my own comfort zones and learn more.
Same with Mike with karate and Lissy with the bands. All that kind of stuff.
ROBIN: It’s pretty freeing to be able to do it.
And there’s another piece that I think gets missed: healing your own childhood. Because a lot of us, the baggage we come with is being told that what we loved wasn’t important. What our parents wanted us to do was more important. They couldn’t find a way to support or like what we were doing, and so we come into parenthood with those overlays like, “You’re not good enough,” “that isn’t good enough,” blah blah blah. So, one way to become supportive of your kid is thinking of how you would feel in that situation and what you would have liked your parents to do. You become the parent that you wish you had by supporting your kids.
PAM: Yeah, that’s a great way to think about it.
So often that really helped me too, just putting myself in their shoes. I mean, that helps from one perspective, right? If I was me, if I was that child in that position, right, how would that feel for me?
And then there’s the other side. Because when I’m trying to help them explore different paths, trying to help them even brainstorm different paths, at that point, I don’t want to put “me” in their shoes, I want to try to see it through their eyes. Because they would have different goals.
Like, if I put myself in those shoes, I would have certain goals and certain things I would be wanting to do. Like you said, when she showed up, when you went to that conference, and she wanted to do this this and this, whereas you thought she would want to do x, y and z, because that’s us seeing through our filters, right?
ROBIN: Exactly. I wanted to go to the panels. Well, of course, sometimes I did!
It’s tricky, those expectations. If you look back to your own childhood, what the expectations your parents had for you, and how that turned out, you can take a different path.
There’s one thing that has been on my fridge for a long time since it was made into a magnet, but it’s always been in the back of my head, and it was something that Sandra said, “If your child is more important than your vision of your child, life becomes easier.” And so, instead of laying those expectations on them and what you think they should be or should have been or will be in the future, if you get rid of that and see them for who they are right now, then it is easier.
PAM: It really, really is. And for me, it’s that curiosity piece. To be curious about who they really are.
ROBIN: I’m glad you brought that curiosity piece up, because that’s exactly what it is, and I haven’t articulated the curiosity piece. If I ever do a presentation again, that’s going in there.
PAM: It just keeps popping up for me. Because that is the thing that always helps me move forward in any situation. Especially when I need to, or I’m looking to stretch my comfort zones, and I’m not quite ready yet. ‘Why aren’t they uncomfortable?’ And that’s where the curiosity is. ‘Why are you not uncomfortable?’
‘Why do you want to go in that mosh pit with all those people five years older than you that are going to be banging around?’ ‘And why do you want to crowd surf?’ And you know, all that. And then, on my gosh, it has been an amazing experience for her, it’s become a part of her.
When our children are curious about something, their interest, their passion, and maybe we don’t understand why, and maybe they can’t articulate why, but if it’s something they’re drawn to, there is just this little thread reaching out that just wants to make a connection, even if nobody knows quite what it is yet. And it’s just so fun to help them explore that, isn’t it?
ROBIN: It is.
PAM: I loved how Robin brought up the idea of healing our own childhood. How stretching our comfort zones and respecting our children’s interests can bring up memories of our interests as children being downplayed, and maybe even scoffed at. How do you wish your parents had behaved toward the things you loved? Maybe that’s part of our healing process. We can also recognize that we can respect and engage in our interests now. It’s never too late.
In this next clip from episode 131, Maria Rudolph and I hit on the value of asking our kids, or partner, “Can you give me a minute?” when it comes to shifting and stretching our comfort zones. She joined me to talk about deschooling and the topic came up when I asked her what she found most challenging as she was deschooling.
MARIA: I would say the most challenging for me—and for my daughter because we have been able to talk about this you know, since—was definitely my need for control. I am kind of a control freak. I can be easy going but I need a little bit more structure—which can actually be just a super wonderful quality, like, organized and structured.
I don’t know, have you ever seen the show Parks and Recreation?
PAM: I have seen some of that, yes.
MARIA: I am Leslie Knope. If you ask me which restaurant you should go to, I will have a folder for you, describing every restaurant in the area—I mean that is kind of how my brain works. Which can be a beautiful thing.
But, when it comes to raising a child, who your deepest wish is that they know themselves, that is pretty hard to allow them to know themselves when you are trying to control them. So, I think that would have always been an issue for us, but particularly trying to come into unschooling. I was now looking in the mirror a lot and having to realize, ‘Oh, that is doing damage. I cannot be that person.’ Which, thank goodness for unschooling, I probably would have figured that out when she was thirty, which is unfortunate. I think unschooling helped remove those layers faster.
That was my biggest challenge, honestly, just letting go of the ideal. I think a lot of people deal with that too. This “ideal” picture of how you are going to raise a child. Unschooling appealed to me on so many levels, but I had to face myself. I think that truly the biggest part of the challenge was ME. That need for the “ideal” and for control, so I still work on that, you know personality-wise.
PAM: That is so interesting. I can totally relate to that personality style where, if something comes up, I want to know and organize all around it, right? I mean, I am known as the planner.
If you are going on vacation, you want to know the route and the different places you might stop along the way, and all the different things you might want to do. I have a folder—even now—when we go on vacation, I have a folder where we’ve got the tickets for everything, I’ve got the addresses, the phone numbers—like, everything is very organized.
But yes, that is the huge piece. That folder becoming our resource, not our director, you know what I mean?
PAM: That is the piece: not insisting we still follow this. So, I can get my organizational needs met but then, once I am comfortable, that shift to, “Okay, now we are just going to do what comes up with the flow.” And I’ve got three different things that we might flow into, and being open to that fourth thing that somebody sees when they cross the street.
MARIA: You have nailed that. That was exactly it.
I still struggle with this sometimes, letting go of inflexibility. And that it’s okay, like you said, to have that binder and to have everything, but to allow for flexibility. You know it makes me super uncomfortable. I think maybe for me and just my personality maybe that is a safety measure, staying in my comfort zone. And going outside of that takes some adjustment.
Even now both David and Davie will, if they come up with an idea, they will just give me some space and some time, and they know that within ten minutes to a day—depending on what it is—eventually I will come back and be like, “Oh, okay, that sounds like fun.”
PAM: My family knows the exact same thing! At least my kids do. They are like, “Mom, do you need a minute?” “Hey, this thing just came up and I would love to do this,” and I’m like, “Do you need an answer right away? Because if you need an answer right away, it might be no, but can I think about it for ten minutes?” And they often give it to me.
MARIA: That little phrase, “Can you give me a minute?” was such an epiphany for me. When I did not have to come up with the answer right away, or we did not have to discuss it all right away. That I could just step back a little bit and that my family would accept it if I said, “I need a minute to just kind of process that a little bit—I’m not sure I like that, I’m not sure I’m comfortable, give me a minute.” And to sit with it a little bit and know that they would be okay and we could discuss it.
I don’t know. My personality—sometimes I get kind of all or nothing. I cannot come up with the answer now and I have to be totally comfortable with it on every level and everybody has to be happy. So back at different points at different levels in unschooling with Davie where I can see, ‘Oh yes, that was a real turning point.’ Where I kept my mouth shut more often after that.
Or, I could see that I was taking away some joy. Or, she is a very easy-going personality, so it would be easy for me to unknowingly walk over that to a degree. There were moments where I could see what I was doing, and I was like, “Oh, I cannot do that. That really made me feel icky and I could see it reflected in her face.” That is when I see these different turning points where I was like “oh I cannot do that any more, this is what it is doing.”
So, I think that Davie too, had she been a different personality where she was like “Oh, no way mum!” that might have been different too. It is interesting always to see the dynamic—interesting to talk about and compare notes with one another and kind of say, “Okay, that was what was happing there. I get it.”
PAM: Those conversations are so helpful when you have that openness and that trust level where people can say what they see. It’s when you get to that level where you are not taking things personally. You are not taking them on as an “attack” but as information—as just better understanding each other, right?
MARIA: Absolutely. I love that, that it is shared information. We talk a lot about that within unschooling, how we share information with our kids to give them the information so they can make decisions based on information they might not have had or they might not have known, so that they can have that available to use in a certain way.
And of course, that works with us too and when I am given information and just like at those pinnacle points where I could see what she was thinking or the look on her face and I thought oh, this is not a good direction I am going in. This was not a direction she agreed on going in or, “Hey, this does not feel good FYI.” It is just kind of been a beautiful thing to see all that happen.
PAM: Yes, it’s when you are paying attention in a conversation. When you stop trying to direct it, trying to say over and over what you want; when you’re plowing ahead, and you are not noticing all those clues. Those looks that pass by their face, the shuffle, the twist of the body, all those little pieces of information that don’t necessarily need to be verbal, do they?
MARIA: That is a really, really good point.
Just how you said that stopping—when you quit being the director and you stop to notice and be present. Being a planner, organizer, I am always thinking ahead, I feel like unschooling kind of helped me stand back and observe a little bit more; and to observe and think about my part in that. Instead of observing and directing, I am thinking about, “Well, where does that put me in connection with this person and what can I do differently to ease their path or to get out of their path?” Very often.
PAM: Yes, I loved your point about being more quiet and listening more. I remember times when they would be having this idea, and this idea, and this idea and my planning brain would be trying shift and trying to think of the implications of that choice and that choice and then I would be tempted to jump in with pros, cons, comments, etcetera.
When I could be quiet and just watch—because they were not done, they were verbally processing what they were thinking. When I just watched them and sat back and let them go through the work that they were doing, they got somewhere completely different. And then I could see how they got there.
Now you better understand why they got there, right because you could see all the different pieces that came together. Then you better understood why you were doing X in the end. Then we got to that place, like you said, without us putting our hands all over it, you know what I mean? Does that make sense?
MARIA: I do. It makes a lot of sense.
I was thinking about how you were saying how when they would come up with ideas and you were already thinking about something saying this is what you could do… I still, I struggle with that a little bit.
My husband just pointed something out to me the other day, that somebody might come up with an idea—whether it was him, or it is Davie, or even a friend—and might say, “Let’s do X, Y, Z” and my immediate out of my mouth is “Oh, well we could but we couldn’t go that way because there is a detour there and so then it is going to be late so we really can’t, you want to go the other way.”
I am thinking of all the “cant’s” instead of just stepping back and sharing the joy. I think I am doing everybody a favor, of course, because I am organizing it. Letting them know what is in their way; it is a gift. But it is taking away their joy. He said, “You know, they just want to talk about what they love, they are not ready to organize it yet and you already organized it for them and it takes their joy and takes the steam right out of them.”
I knew that is my personality a little bit, and I struggle, but, in this instance, I really did not see it. So, when he said that I was so appreciative because it was like, “Oh, oh right, okay. I do do that. I have got to think more, speak less, and let it go.” I think, like I said earlier, unschooling helped me do that in a way I am not sure I would have sooner.
PAM: It’s so helpful to keep coming back to the present moment and opening up my focus to my surroundings. Actually, it’s kinda hard to do one without the other, isn’t it? I really enjoyed that tangent with Maria.
Next up is a clip from episode 135. One of the ten questions I asked Anna Brown about her unschooling journey was directly about stretching her comfort zones. Here’s what she shared.
PAM: I was wondering if there was ever an interest or activity that when your kids wanted to pursue that stretched a comfort zone and how you moved through that?
ANNA: So, with my oldest—we have a lot in common. We look a lot alike, we process information the same, but they’re definitely areas where were very different. There was a time, kind of in her early teens, where she went through a stage of a lot of horror, death, darkness, really heavy stuff and I could see she was working through some things, but I also saw she was just enjoying it.
But, for me, personally I did not like the energy of that. I’m sensitive and I take that kind of stuff in and it hurts my heart to see people hurting or harming other people. That is really hard for me and I had to really work hard to be present with her exploration of it and not take it on as my own and to not tell stories about it, how it was for her, too so I had to keep my focus on our connection like where we connected and how I could facilitate her even if I wasn’t participating.
I think that’s one of the keys is realizing we all have different interests and we’re exploring things for different reasons. None is more or less valid, but we can always be there to support and facilitate someone, whether we understand what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.
Interestingly, this particular thing, years later when we talked about that time in her life, I learned how critical it was for her as she was moving through some very big fears that she had. These were fears she was not verbalizing to me at the time. These were things she was taking in, trying to make sense of. Had I tried to come and curtail the interest because I thought that was negative or, ‘You don’t want to have all this energy,’ or whatever because that’s how it affected me, I think it would have really impacted her ability to move through something that was very important and kind of pivotal in her development so that she could become comfortable with these things.
Like, that was her process of understanding some kind of horrific deaths that she was exposed to and some other things that happened. We each are going to do that differently so I’m grateful that I was—even though it was hard for me—able to step back and let her do that and still support her because as we talked about it later she never felt judgement from me. She knew it was something I didn’t enjoy so she would come and say, “Oh Mom, you’re not going to like this one,” but she still knew I was totally fine and supporting her and so I was grateful she had gotten that message because I wasn’t sure that had come through all the time because it was so hard for me.
We can’t always see what’s going on inside their heads and actually no, I’m going to say we never can see what’s going on inside their heads, so I think stop trying to write someone else’s story and why they’re doing it and what they’re getting out of it; that they should be doing it differently. Kind of stop that piece and learn to trust in their journeys and to keep that connection and again that’s just what has seen us through so many difficult pieces whether I’m stretching or they’re stretching or whatever. I think it’s just that connection that we keep talking about.
PAM: Yeah. As you were telling that story what popped in my mind was trust, then you threw that in there in the end.
That’s why it’s so important to really dig into deschooling at the beginning when you’re getting there and really understand what’s going on and understand why that connection and trust is so important to develop because you’re going to need those later to be able to trust when you don’t understand why somebody’s making these choices, or doing these things, or has this interest, or why they’re asking to try this, or do this. If it’s not something that you guys are talking about, you still need to trust that it’s something they want to pursue or need to, or whatever. Trust their choices because you’re there, you’re in connection. What they want to talk to you about at the time, if anything they will, but, like you said, to be able to as much as you can just not exude that judgement.
You said that later she didn’t feel that judgment from you. She felt that trust. It’s okay that they know that this isn’t your favorite thing in the world because they know you!
ANNA: And I can be honest about who I am but I don’t have to put that on her—’you need to be like this’—because she doesn’t and she didn’t. She needed to go through that time now that we look back how important was for her. But I think you can be honest and that may be another place where people get tripped up: “Well, I don’t want to pretend to like that.” You don’t have to do that. Just watch that judgment. Make sure you’re okay with your boundaries but that you’re not putting that on them: “That’s bad for you,” or “It’s going to affect you the same way.”
I think we do that a lot, too, so those moments are really hard for me in films or whatever but it doesn’t affect other people the same way. I just learned this! I learned that about clowns. I don’t like clowns at all. Everybody loved the new Stephen King movie “It.” They all loved it. I’m like, “OK, I’m going to watch it. It’s clowns. I’m being silly. I can watch clowns.”
Oh my gosh! I didn’t give a flying flip about the clowns! The clown could come sit in the room with me but what I didn’t like was that bullying. How hateful the children and the adults were to each other. I walked out. I said, “I’m not watching this. I don’t care about the clown! This is what I can’t do.” So, they know that about me. I’m not going to change that piece, but they loved it. Then they could tell me about the movie and what they loved about it later, but I just couldn’t watch it. I could be excited for them, “Oh, that was interesting,” or whatever, but I think to be honest about yourself but realize that other people aren’t taking it in the same way you are necessarily and that’s an important distinction.
PAM: I love the message that flowed through Anna’s story: stop trying to write our child’s story, trust in their journey, and continue to connect with them.
And our last snippet comes from my conversation with Alex Peace in episode 162. I love how she took my question, ‘Was there a time when one of your kids’ interests really stretched your comfort zone?’ and changed it up a bit.
ALEX: Well, I don’t know. This is what came up for me. It’s not exactly an interest but a couple of my kids read very late, and so it was something that really stretched me as an unschooling parent. For a while I sort of did a lot of reading about reading difficulties, particularly online reading other parents’ anecdotes.
And then at some point, two things happened. One was that I was flipping through a book about dyslexia or something, and it was an academic book; it was studies of various things. And I sort of went straight to the – What’s the Biggest Problem? And it said, the biggest problem is how people feel about their reading issues. It can become an emotional problem. And I was like, right, so okay, we don’t have to go there. That’s easy, that’s under control.
And the second thing that happened was, at one point I said to one of my kids something like, “Doesn’t look like you’re learning to read like I learned to read but I’m sure there are lots of other people who are learning to read like you do. Do you want me to ask some of the folk online to give you some hints?” And she said, “No, it’ll be fine. I’ll figure it out when I need to.” And I went, “Right. Okay then.”
So, I then pretty purposefully did not look any further into reading difficulties, I worked really hard at creating an atmosphere of, “Well, this is the way it is and you need me to read to you so that’s the way it is. We’re going to read to you, we’re going to read for you.” And maintaining that this is just normal. So, it was kind of cute. If we were out with a big group of homeschooling kids and everybody just read out loud. Any of the things. It just wasn’t a big deal in our group.
But there were some issues with some family members, and so I just really set up some boundaries. And what I felt like was, I kept the world at bay until they learned to read on their own. That was one of the things that I felt good about.
PAM: You kept that … buffer is probably the best word for it, right? You kept them in situations where it wasn’t a big deal, and where it would have been a big deal like back to that researching the emotional piece. You took that and focussed on that and just didn’t go into those situations.
ALEX: Yes, and the other part of it, the by-product of it was that I got to read to my kids for years. Which is fabulous! We read a lot of books, out loud. So that was fun.
PAM: That’s awesome.
PAM: I love the work Alex did to stretch her comfort zones and get to a place that make sense to her. And then that’s where she set her boundaries. And recognized the fabulous upside to it all. Wonderful stuff.
I hope you’ve found this compilation interesting, with lots of food for thought when it comes to moving through opportunities to stretch your comfort zones. It’s such a great way to both support our kids AND get to know ourselves even better. Be curious and have a wonderful week!