PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Sue Patterson. Hi, Sue.
SUE: Hi. Thanks for having me.
PAM: I love having Sue on the podcast! And I appreciate how willing she is to return. And as a bit of an intro, if you haven’t come across her yet. She’s a long-time unschooling parent of three now grown children. Two of her kids have actually been on the podcast talking about growing up unschooling. (EU196 and EU177) And I will put links to those in the show notes. She’s also the founder of Unschooling Mom2Mom, the website and the Facebook group. She is a great resource on your unschooling journey. And I’ll put links to those in the show notes as well.
So today, Sue and I want to dive into some mindset stuff around the concept of “perfect.” You know, that pull to be right, to do things perfectly. It can definitely get in our way as we embrace unschooling. And that’s what we want to talk about.
So, where I wanted to start Sue, is talking about that genuine excitement that bubbles up when we first discover and start exploring unschooling. It’s so new and the idea of having no school schedules to follow or homework battles to go through each night, the connected and respectful relationships with our kids that you hear about when you start reading about unschooling, having fun with them, etc. It all that sounds amazing. And I remember it can seem almost utopian at first, can’t it?
SUE: I remember when I first thought of it. I thought of it like The Wizard of Oz, they’re there in the black and white and then she opens the door to technicolor! And that’s kind of how I thought of it. And it’s interesting, I think we have a drive in us to be creative and to be adventurous and have fun and love our kids full tilt. And then we have all these other pressures that tamp it down. And so, when we discover that you don’t have to listen to those pressures, they’re not even real. And then we’re like “WHAT?” And that feels super exciting.
Sometimes, though, you’ve got to be careful because sometimes that giddiness has to do with you might need little more deschooling because it could be like, “I’m getting away with something.” They’re thinking that they’re doing something that they shouldn’t be doing. And that isn’t it. It’s not like you’re getting away with anything.
We’re just living in real life and full on instead of moderated down to a nice, mediocre, that we’ve all been conditioned for, don’t be too loud. I had to learn that. And don’t, all those don’ts. And now we’re like, “I don’t have to do that. And my kids they don’t have to do that.” And that’s super exciting. And it is. Sometimes the other side of that as you get a little scared, you’re excited, kind of like a roller coaster, you’re scared. But you’re safe, you’ve got a good bond.
I think it is exciting at first. A lot of times throughout, that initial wake up is cool. You know, when you’re thinking this could be awesome. And then I think that there are some people who don’t really get to that part and they still have a lot of fear. And so, their fear keeps them from having that super happy feeling. If you’re thinking, I don’t know what she’s talking about. I don’t have any super happy feelings about this. I’m nervous as all get out.
PAM: I wonder why if you didn’t have any happy feelings or drive towards that, why they are doing it? Well, maybe they are not even unschooling yet. Maybe they’re still just looking into it, right?
I think that drive though, that excitement is good because that’s what keeps you learning, keeps you asking questions, keeps you trying new things. I think that energy at first is actually really helpful.
SUE: And maybe, as you’re saying that I’m thinking maybe they’re nervous to trust that. That they’ve been so conditioned to believe, don’t.
PAM: It’s too good to be true.
SUE: Exactly. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. All those other phrases that we’re conditioned to think if it’s going good… Which is why this whole topic is really good. We got a lot of mindsets, it’s tough to get past. I do run into a lot of people that are just considering it. They’re still exploring, maybe their school experience is horrible. And so, they’re thinking, “How can I do something better? But I’m afraid I’m going to mess them up and ruin all their things.” And so, they start to have excitement and then they have the pressures that bring that excitement down a little bit. It can sound too good to be true. It can sound like some pie in the sky thing. We’ve got a lot of little phrases don’t we? We can just list them out. In the comments, how many phrases!? Pie in the sky. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. What are all of our too good to be true phrases?
PAM: It’s true. Because that’s a lot of the more conventional mindset of things, right? Is to find the things that are wrong. All the excuses or the reasons why something isn’t going to work.
SUE: And excuses for why not to try. It’s just excuses for why to stay safe. It’s excuses for why to not risk. School is all about it. Not to be a big school basher. They’re all about staying in line.
PAM: So, when you do make the choice and jump in the unschooling and you’re seeing all those things, you’re reading about what unschooling looks in a lot of more experienced unschooling families who have been doing it for a while. So, now you’re starting to try to do it yourself.
As we learn more and more about unschooling, how it works and we’re starting to shift our relationship dynamics with our own kids, I think there is a shift at that point, too, as we start to see what unschooling really looks like and that kind of utopian lens or things will be perfect. Because we’re choosing something different because something’s not working for us. We have some reason why we went out looking for a different way of parenting or a different way of education or school.
Once you’ve been living it for a while. It’s not all a bed of roses—let’s go for all those phrases again, right? You realize we’re real people. Our kids are real people. We all have different personalities, different needs, different interests. Life happens over the first few months. There’s ups and downs and challenges.
I think there’s kind of a lens or maybe a layer that’s peeled back. So, when we’re first listening to experienced unschooling parents talking about their lives and talking about the great relationships that they have with their kids and the fun that they’re having during the day. At first, we think that’s what it should be like. But as we gain some experience ourselves, we start to recognize, we don’t just hear the perfect stuff in what they are describing. Because I think we gloss over the work that they’ve done to get there. Not on purpose, but I think because of where we are in our own journey.
At first, we’re looking for, ‘What’s the destination?’ We’re looking for the answer. We’re hearing all that good stuff. And it’s like, ‘Okay, that’s our goal. That’s where we want to get to.’ But then when we see, ‘Oh, it’s not just about implementing the “rules” of unschooling—the unschooling formula and then everything should be perfect, just like them.’ That’s where we start to lose that lens. We start to realize that life isn’t perfect, that this isn’t about a formula that we should follow. And we realize that’s not something that’s useful for us to use as an ideal or goal. That whole realization that our lives aren’t “perfect” is a really important part of the journey, isn’t it?
SUE: Right. And I think that the uniqueness. When we really talk about how unique this is. That when you step away from one size fits all, you move to these uncharted waters and your waters are different than my waters and my boats are different than your boats.
So, they can only kind of be similar. There can only be philosophical similarities.
PAM: Yes, foundational!
SUE: We’re, again, so conditioned to believe that it should be duplicatable. In school, ‘I need to do it like she does because she got an A.’ I need to be an unschooler like Pam Laricchia because she got an A. Pam’s A doesn’t transfer to your A. And the questions on Pam’s quiz aren’t your questions. All those things that, when you think about in school, it’s all copy-able. It’s not copy-able. That’s a little unnerving when we’ve always thought, ‘The right answers are in the back of the book, we just have to find the back of the book.‘
Maybe if we, as experienced unschoolers, can really emphasize the point that this is a unique thing, that you’re choosing a unique path. What do you choose to do? I can’t really even answer you. All I can do is ask you questions to help you see what answers your kids are giving you. Because what my kids give me isn’t going to help if I have a kid that’s totally interested in theatre and your kid is totally interested in bike ramps. The only similarity is that we’re going to both be parents who support our kids doing the things they enjoy.
PAM: I think that’s why so many of our unschooling conversations end up talking about the roots of unschooling, the foundation, the relationships. Because those are fundamentally what is the same. That lens through which we view our parenting or we view how natural learning works. But so often when new people come in, they’re wanting the details.
SUE: Show me an example. Show me a typical day.
PAM: You can totally understand why. Because they’re looking for ‘the answer.’ And it makes sense because that’s how we grew up. And we’re still looking for that.
SUE: And when you haven’t thought it all the way through, then you think, all right, there are probably about six tracks that kids would go on. The actor, the artist, the math person, the explorer. etc. So, I just have to find the right family and match my track to their track and it doesn’t work like that!
I don’t know that people are really articulating that in their heads. But I think that’s what they think, that if they just look hard enough, they’ll find somebody that has kids like theirs or has a family relationship like theirs. But there’s too many variables. Even the kids that are primarily on a particular track, they have on days, and off days. We have on days and off days. There are so many paths. Life is messy. Instead of trying to quickly hide the mess, the mess is where it’s at. The mess is where we’re going to find our answers.
PAM: Exactly, that’s where we’re going to learn so much about each other.
That’s why we talk about the relationships and the connections being so important, because it’s in that tangle of things that we learn more about each other and we learn more about how we can support and help each other.
And we learn skills on how to do that. Because those aren’t skills that many of us grew up learning. We’re figuring this out as we go along. That big piece is that whole piece of deschooling. That’s the other piece. People are often asking, “OK, I hear I need deschooling, how long is this going to be?” And they want to do it quickly because that’s another thing that we’ve learned. We want to get an A and we want to do it efficiently.
SUE: We don’t want to be the last person at the test.
PAM: That’s the whole part of the journey. What I love about the journey is I think, one of the clues that maybe you’re getting closer to the end—not that it literally ever ends, because there’s always new pieces that come up—but the bulk of it is when you’re not asking about that anymore. You’re not asking, “Am I done deschooling?” If that is a question that’s still on your mind, that’s probably a good clue that you’re not.
SUE: That’s really the truth, if you’re asking that, whether you’re asking it out loud or whether you’re asking it to yourself. If you’re asking that you’re done, you probably aren’t.
PAM: But that’s part of the learning, too. For somebody to say, “Well, then you’re probably not done.” That is not meant in a negative way at all. It’s just an observation.
SUE: And the other thing to think about, even as I was saying that I’m like, except that you can get done with pieces of it. And then another piece will show up.
PAM: That’s why I talked about the “bulk of deschooling,” because there’s that bulk, that foundation, how natural learning works, relationships, connections, shifting away from power in relationships, all that kind stuff.
SUE: And even the more basic stuff of seeing that subjects intertwine in life. A lot of people are still very much there. They’re like, “How are they going to get what they need to know about history?” I think of that as your first deschooling step is to deal with the academic part. So, then you get over that part and then you move into a new part that you’ve got to deal with. What is the ogre that talks about the onion and the layers?
PAM: That it is. It’s a donkey. Yes. Exactly. And then you’ll find, maybe then as your kids get older, you’ll find you’ll come across a pocket, say, maybe when your oldest becomes a teenager or when they become young adults. You just haven’t thought about certain things—you haven’t needed to because they haven’t been part of your life.
SUE: Or your own triggers. You didn’t know that was going to bother you, that the thing about puberty. Or you didn’t know that thing was going to bother you about hearing that thing. I can hear the football stadium at the high school from my house, if the weather is right. And, you didn’t know that was going to kind of make you feel a wistful feeling. I’m from Texas after all. But, you know, they actually filmed the Friday Night Lights film at the high school here.
The real junky looking stadium, that’s ours. (laughing) You don’t know what’s going to, I mean, you may know, but often you get kind of blindsided. And so, I know this isn’t really all about deschooling, but the idea to just embrace yourself. It’s going to happen. It’s OK. It’s OK.
One of the things is that you didn’t know it because you hadn’t peeled back the layers to get to that. You’ve been doing the work and now you got a new raw spot. And that’s OK, because we all wade through that. I think it is sometimes hard to remember, when we have kids in their late 20s and we did this when they were seven. But the growth and development part, that’s everywhere, no matter what. And it’s just part of parenting, nobody gave us a handbook and the people that did it before us, our parents, were pretty mainstream. And then we’re going to do something different, which can be tricky.
But back to our messy conversation and our theme for this podcast.
I think that we don’t always, there’s so much of a push, a society push against this unschooling idea or against even homeschooling, that we do want to talk about how it works. We do want to talk about how they’re successful and they’re happy and they’re this and they’re that. And then when you’re stepping that way and you think all I ever hear her talk about is how great it is. Well, because there’s a giant push that says it’s not great. You’re can screw up your kid. They’re going to be ruined. They’re going to live in the basement, all the things.
So, you’re talking to two different audiences, really. You’re talking to the people that say this can never work. And you’re also talking to the people that are saying, does your day ever look like mine because, “Oh, my gosh, this is awful.” or “Oh, my gosh, I’m so wrapped up in fear or.” “Oh, my gosh, my spouse now thinks I’ve lost my mind.” They’re both happening at the same time and our answers, so maybe that’s why we have closed groups so we can talk a little more openly. It’s not like airing your dirty laundry, but it can look like that to people that have already thought that this is all going to be a mess and think your kids are going to be cussing banshees.
PAM: Good point, that it can look like that. It can feel like that. And I think we’ve already said so much. The phrase, it struck me. “That’s OK.” You said that a bunch of times just a few minutes ago. “And that’s OK. And that’s OK.” That ties in so nicely with the idea of not aiming for perfect. Another big piece of the deschooling is that we’re feeling like we’re airing dirty laundry or things aren’t going well because we’re holding this ideal. Or this image of some perfect family that we should be aiming for. And it’s peeling through that layer to get to know we’re living with us, with who we are and understanding each other, that that’s where the value of the time and the effort that we put in.
But it is hard. Peeling at that layer of expectations. Expectations that we feel are put on us or that we’ve absorbed, the expectations that we’re now sending out and putting on. Not only we can put them on ourselves, but also putting them on our kids. All that stuff, it’s so important and valuable to get through that piece where you’re feeling like you’re aiming for something, that you’ve got some vision of perfect.
SUE: Don’t feel like you need to rush through it. Even though it’s uncomfortable, we want to get through the discomfort part so quickly. And when we go so fast through it, you don’t really learn anything from it. Then you’ve got to revisit it because it will show up again!
PAM: I was talking about that earlier today with the group, how we need to give it space, even when we’ve had an aha moment, when we’ve had a revelation, when we’ve had some insight and we’ve learned something and we’re excited about that. That can still use some space before you start peeling back the next layer, if that’s possible, because so many of those insights are so much more far-reaching. There are more connections to make with that. So, that’s the whole piece of trying to race through this deschooling.
SUE: There’s no rush.
PAM: Check boxes to tick off. Right, to work through this and get this done and then bam, I’m finished. It’s perfect now. I know how to do it right. That is something that we’ve learned, we’ve absorbed through school, that we need to get this done, the faster the better. The grade with it, etc. So, that’s all super interesting stuff to dive into. Now, this leads really nicely into our next question. So, I want to get that out before you jump back in. (laughing)
This is hard work. And that’s something else. You’ll hear a lot of guests, a lot of people talking about that this deschooling journey, this coming to unschooling and understand it, so much of it is our ends up being our personal work to do.
Often we don’t realize how many of these layers we have to peel back and to process when we first start. We just think we’re doing something different for school. So, I think that’s something that we don’t know often when we get started, how much of the personal work and self-awareness that deschooling asks of us. And for some people, delving into those depths can bring up a lot of challenges and even trauma from our own experiences growing up. Because when we’re trying to figure out what our goals are and what kind of parent we want to be and how we want to support our kids. Those are big picture foundational questions. And of course, we’re going to be thinking about how that was for us. And I think that can be a real surprise.
Often, I think, people can start to worry—because, again, you’re looking at efficiency and trying to do this quickly—it seems like ‘Everybody else is able to deschool faster than me.’ And, ‘This is just taking forever,’ or ‘This is a really painful time for me.’ And that can be discouraging and surprising to people, can’t it?
SUE: Absolutely. I’ve talked to so many people that they’re like, “I love this idea of unschooling and all the creativity and following your curiosity and helping them and fueling them and giving them and then all the sudden. What do you mean I gotta deal in my own baggage? Because I didn’t really sign up for that part.”
Well, the truth is that if you’re going to be in relationship with people, if you’re going to really connect, then you have to show who you really are. And so, if you need to work on that, as most of us do, then that’s what needs to happen.
Sometimes people say unschooling doesn’t work for some people. And I think, well, unschooling will work for every child. But unschooling may not work for every parent. And a lot of that has to do with are you willing to look at your own baggage because sometimes you’re not. We all have to look at where that line is, that’s why we all kind of stop at different points.
I think of where you’ve got a river to cross and we’re on the other side. We made it. We made it. You can come over. It will be fine, you can take a few steps. But they may stop in the middle. It might be a nice little island for them that they can hang out at and feel safe. And kids can grow and flourish. People stop at different points and that’s OK.
But I think that when we want to keep going with it, we have to be willing to look at our own stuff. So, we have to look at how do we feel about them getting to have this fabulous life? Is there a tiny bit of jealousy? Is there a tiny bit of how dare you not be grateful? Don’t you know how much better you have it than I had it? Those are just things that we all have to look at because we all have the good stuff and bad stuff that happened in the pile of knowledge from which we draw our parenting.
And so, if we have to sift through some of that and look at things that we have neatly closed up and pushed away, we may have to look at it now to be able to figure out why am I getting so triggered? Why is this driving me nuts? All right. Let’s look at why is that? What voice are you hearing? What internal conversation is happening? What story are you clinging to that is keeping you from having an authentic connection with your kid and parenting at your highest level?
Because as unschoolers, that’s kind of our goal. We’re going to fuel their academic learning and then we’re going to notice that that’s the same as all learning and that it moves into life. And that means our parenting and it all gets all mixed in there. And that’s another reason why there’s no formula. Because my upbringing, you know, gosh, how many different upbringings did we all have. And so, what triggers me doesn’t trigger my husband or vice versa. And that’s in one family. So, imagine somebody that’s in a whole nother place and time.
I think that’s why, instead of seeing the messiness as an indication of your failure, see it as it’s an indication of your opening and being willing to look at it and being willing to wade in and to know that the people that have been really successful with unschooling, we have done that, too.
And it isn’t always the most comfortable thing to share on big open forums, “Let me tell you how my mother was…” We don’t always go there other than to just generally say that everybody has issues.
PAM: The specifics are so specific that it’s not going to be directly applicable because you don’t even want someone to say, “Oh, well, how did you solve that?” And then try to do that, because it’s not, like you were saying, this is not duplicatable. But I loved the way you talked about that, because it’s all about our individuality, our triggers. It’s all going to be different. And that’s OK. Things will be hard. There will be things that for some people digging into will be painful and difficult.
That’s why I wanted to bring this up, because it can seem, certainly when you get in there, like ‘I have this deschooling process to do, new things I have to learn and some things that I have to unlearn and I just want to work it.’ So it can be so surprising that it can be hard personal stuff to work through. And being open to it, I love that life is messy metaphor, too. And that is it doesn’t need to be quick. That space and time to sit with that discomfort and see what you see.
SUE: I said it jokingly earlier, but I really, really mean it, the problem about working through it too quickly is you don’t really internalize it and then you force yourself to have to do it again because it’s like not paying attention to the map. And then you get lost again.
So, let’s really look at that. So, let’s figure it out. Why does that bother me that their shoes are left wherever? Well, because was that the thing that set your parents off? I mean, there’s just so many possibilities.
A long time ago, in the 60s, because you know, I’m old, in the 60s, there was a show called Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. And the reason they had that title was these parents, I think it was a Doris Day TV series. They would leave and the kids would do some unthought of thing. And she’s like, “What do I have to say? Please don’t eat the daisies?!” Because who would have thought they would have eaten the daisies?
But you can’t predict what’s going to be ‘the things.’ And so, it’s the same with all of this, you can’t see what factors are going to influence down the way. That’s why it’s really important to stay in the present and see what’s triggering you. When you can do that instead of, “But I’m afraid of that down there.” You don’t even know what that’s going to look like. So, don’t go there. You’ve got enough. Sometimes we go there as a procrastination, right? We go there because we don’t want to do the work. So, we’re like, “I’m going to worry about that.”
PAM: I don’t have to actually take any action right now as a result.
SUE: Yeah. Yeah. Notice, do you get caught up in stuff to procrastinate from doing the looking at your own baggage that you need to do that will make you the best parent you can be? Make you the best human you can be. That you can actually show up in life the way you want to as opposed to being just reactionary and reactive to the things that come at you. Instead, you’re like, “Hmm, there I go again.”
I think it’s okay to do that. You know, sometimes doing that third person pulling up a little bit and looking at it and seeing it. You might not be able to do it in the moment, but afterwards if something completely fell apart, you can pull back and you can look at it and you can say, ‘Every time we’re running late to get out the door, I start screaming at the kids.’
PAM: The patterns.
SUE: So, do we need to factor in a little more time? Do we need to do a little more prep? Do they need more transition? Do I need more transition? Because oftentimes I’m like, it’s these kids. (laughing) And in reality, it was me. I was trying to do one more thing before I got out the door. And then I’m like, “What do you mean you can’t find your shoes?!” They’re just kids. They don’t need to do it all, you need to be helping them. And yes, you need to be helping them even when they get older because they’re distractible children. We always think, ‘Well, they should know how to do this by now.’ Maybe—if only it was linear.
PAM: When we say that to ourselves, we again have this perfect picture of a child, this idealized vision of a child in our head that we’re comparing to. That doesn’t help. That doesn’t add value. Know the kid that we’ve got, know ourselves. Like you were saying, recognizing the patterns in ourselves that also get in the way of things.
I’m definitely distractible. I set up things certain ways for my own success. So, of course, I would want to help my kids figure out the ways to help them set things up to accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish. So, it’s not even about the skills themselves, and the knowledge and the understanding. It’s also all those other little pieces of setting ourselves up for success; ‘success’ as in to accomplish what we each are wanting to accomplish, our own aspirations. Not somebody’s picture or idealized idea of what we should be.
That’s a big piece for us, separating the two. And I think so much of that part of deschooling is we have so many have tos. ‘I have to do this. I have to this. I have to do this.’ And it’s peeling back to understand. Is that something I really want to do? Where did that message that I have to do this come from? There’s just so many beautiful pieces to pull apart, isn’t there?
SUE: Sometimes, I’ve heard people say, this is just too exhausting to look at it all. And I would say, look at a little bit at a time. Where are you wanting to be more present? Where are you wanting to not lose your temper? Where are you wanting to connect better with your kids? And just take it piece by piece.
SUE: Where do you think ‘glad nobody saw me say that’? If you’re thinking that, you should work on that.
PAM: Maybe that’s it. That’s a great point. It’s not about trying to do it all at once. Oh, my gosh. That would be overwhelming.
SUE: And I think that’s what happens when people see us with our kids that are grown. ‘I’ve got to find a hobby they really love. I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to do this and I’ve got be present and I’ve got to be loving and I’ve got to stay cheerful and I’ve got to get the laundry done and I’m going to get dinner done.’
And we didn’t do all that at the same time. We did pieces of it and we built this new pile of skills and ways to connect and all of that had to do with individuals. If I had said things to one child the way I said it to another child, it wouldn’t have been a good result. And so, that’s within my own family. How can I copy what you do? It’s going to be different. So, the less you spend time doing that comparison, then the more time you have to look at, ‘How can I set this stage for success? This is the only stage I have any control over.’
PAM: My dear, you led so beautifully into the next question because that comparison piece is something I want to dive into. So, let’s talk about social media, because there are a lot of conversations regularly, about how cool and perfect people’s lives can look online. And on one hand, there is real value in sharing that, in recording that, in remembering those good times. And on the other hand, comparing ourselves to other families isn’t helpful as we’ve been talking about this whole episode. There is a whole wide spectrum of fun and learning and stuff that happens just in between those two extremes.
I would love to hear your thoughts a little bit more about this whole comparison thing. I think we’ve talked about it some that it’s part of that “perfect.” We see something in another family and we latch on to it. We think that’s perfect. We think we should aim for that. And that’s what can get us into a spiral of fear, right? That worry that we’re not taking steps towards that.
SUE: Right. I think that it’s important with social media to notice who do you gravitate towards comparing yourself to? What are you initially seeing as a lovely challenge, but on a bad day, you see it as a booming oppressive, you’ll never measure up?
If you’re still kind of new at this, I would say limit yourself on how much you look at that, because you have to kind of guard this vulnerability as you are peeling back those layers and there’s pieces that are raw. So, you notice this is really making me move into that comparison thing. So, I need to set it aside for a little bit. And instead, stick with stuff that simply inspires you or maybe step away for a few minutes and do a little journaling to really look at what’s the story that’s sticking in your head. And when you can look at that story, then you can see what part’s real, what part’s rational, what part’s not rational, what part does not fit with my kids, does not fit with me, does not fit with my family?
When you can look at it like that, then you can let it go because, why beat your head against the wall? And it may be that you have to do some journaling about what are your strengths, what are your kids’ strengths? What is the benefit of you swimming upstream and doing this hard work? You may need to list those benefits out so that you can look at it when you start to think that you’re not measuring up, you need to remind yourself you’re measuring fine.
You’re measuring at the pace you need to do and you keep challenging yourself to do better, but not in a comparison kind of way, in a ‘How am I more connected to them? How am I becoming the parent I want to be?’
And I think that social media is good in that it gives us connection, but it can really make us feel like we’re inadequate. They talk all the time about “it’s the highlight reel.” It is, you know, somebody that has a fabulous thing. Look and see how long it’s been since they posted.
You’re probably looking from one person’s highlight reel to another. You haven’t heard from that person in three months. And now they’re telling you something great. It’s very possible they were not having spectacular moments every single day of those three months. They’re sharing something that was good and that’s fine.
PAM: I think that’s important, though. I wanted to touch on sharing good things. It’s valuable also even for ourselves. I know I talked about in my first I think in Free to Learn in my first book. Remember those moments when things are going well. Because when you’re down, when you’re struggling, when you’re meeting a challenge, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And after you can remind yourself, journal about it, post about it on social media, whatever way you like to document things. So, that you remember there were times when this was working really well.
That helps you remember and you can get back to those moments. It helps you, over time, come to recognize the ups and downs of life, which was a really nice and helpful revelation for me. I started to understand that we were learning things in the up times and the down times. And I started to be less worried about the down times. It’s not like they’re fun…
SUE: No, not at all.
PAM: … but I could see the pattern. I knew there would be up times coming too. Even if I had no clue how we were going to get through this, that we would eventually come out the other side.
And so, noticing those up moments, because if you just toss them away, you’re not noticing the learning that’s happening in those fun times. You’re not reminding yourself that, ‘Oh, geez, every three months we’re doing really well. Yes, we have challenging times in between. But look, the pattern, we’re going to be up again. We are going to make it through.’
SUE: I think it’s hard when you’re a new parent. When you’re a new parent, you don’t have that big arc yet.
SUE: So, that’s something really that’s beneficial to look at the experienced unschoolers. To know that they’ve got a big arc. Don’t try to make your little slice of it match a miniature version of their arc. What do you call it when you have like a slice of it? It is what it is, where it is. You have a benefit of time. Then you can see. But when you’re a new parent, you don’t know that. Everything you feel is reflective on whether you’re parenting well or not. And so that’s part of our society that we tend to do that to parents, that we see your kids badly. So, you must be a crappy parent. And it could just be he’s hungry or it could be we stayed up too late. Or it could be, he’s not that interested in that. Or it could be that I haven’t spent enough time connecting. Or it could be just their personality or there’s so many factors. And so that’s why it’s helpful, helpful to not be judgy when people are having a hard time. Because I can tell you, you will, too.
Which is interesting because I’ll get people in our some of our social media things. And they want me to post things anonymously because they have been interactive in their support groups. And they envision themselves as having some image that they’ve got it altogether and they’re having a hard time and they want some answers to some questions, but they don’t want to reveal who they are. And I think that’s unfortunate because, I think that is a fabulous opportunity for people to see that when I am also in the thick of it with you. I have rough days and you have rough days. I’m past it. So, I have that in the thick of it stuff. Although we do have young adult thick of it stuff, you know, we have things that don’t go great. But as far as comparing them to their 8, 9 and 12 and 15 year old days, when don’t have to say everything wrong that would embarrass our kids at all. Not saying that, but I am saying that sometimes to say I’m having a rough time about something is an OK thing. Because then it’s like we’re all being real or being authentic with where we are in our experience.
I know it’s a hard thing to do because we carry the story of ‘don’t be a failure.’ We carry this story of you’ve got to be successful. If you’re going to help people understand unschooling, you darn well better do it perfectly. You don’t have to. You’re just doing the best you can. And everybody else’s journey is their journey.
They should look at you and your kids and think, “Well, this part is similar. This part is not similar. Interesting they went through that. I may some day or I may not or I may know somebody that does.” I don’t know where I’m going with that. In some ways I get it, especially on big public forums.
PAM: Yeah, I mean, I’m sure in some cases there may be a privacy concern to it as well. But that’s another layer. They would just ask themselves, in deciding whether or not that was something that they could do.
SUE: And the other thing to remember as the others in the social media world is to know that people aren’t sharing or aren’t avoiding sharing to be dishonest but maybe they are trying to respect the privacy. You’ve got a kid that has something going on that’s really, really personal to them. You aren’t going to say that on the big open group where you know a lot of other group members are there. So, now I’m arguing the other way. But I think if we recognize, we hear a lot of people. “Why don’t you just tell some of the horror stories?” Why would we do that?
PAM: You know what I think? For me personally, there are challenging times. But I’m an internal kind of processor. For me to write when I’m in the throes of it, I can’t even really express it yet because I haven’t processed it enough to understand it, to share it. So, for me, I have blog posts all over the place on my website talking about how I move through different challenges. But I’m not posting in the middle. I’m posting it after I’ve processed it. And I understand it. And I can put it in context. That’s just me.
SUE: Far more useful, otherwise we’re still all wallowing in it.
PAM: That’s the other piece. I find that the complaining and the wallowing attracts more of that and then just brings everybody’s energy down. And then all of a sudden, you’re seeing everything through this negative lens. And I’ve learned that if I get stuck in that negative lens, that’s not helping anybody. It’s not helping me move through it. It’s not helping me feel better. It’s not helping me relate to my kids. It gets in the way of our connection. It gets in the way of our day. There is no value in me piling on to a negative kind of mindset or view.
SUE: I think it’s kind of a maladaptive coping mechanism that we develop in school because there’s no choice. And so how do you amuse yourself? You talk about the bad stuff. And I think there’s also kind of a bonding that happens sometimes in parenting of like, “These kids. Oh, my gosh.” You can see that on Facebook all the time. You get stuck in this kid bashing, teen bashing. Oh, Lord. There’s a lot of teen bashing. And I think that that’s all about trying to gain sympathy. That they want people to relate to that.
Misery loves company and misery does love company. But if you would like to leave misery, perhaps you should change your company.
PAM: That’s been my experience. Definitely, misery loves company. When we first began unschooling, it’s part of the reason why my friends circle drifted in that first year. Because I came to see that when you got together, it was all about complaining about the kids and complaining about school. It’s like, ‘OK, I’m not going to complain.’
SUE: They’re like, “You’re not any fun anymore.”
PAM: The mindset throws me off and it makes my days and my life and my moments worse. I make worse choices when I’m coming through that, from that perspective of seeing everything negatively, anyway.
That’s a great thing. I wanted to emphasize, that other thing that you mentioned at the beginning when we were talking about social media, I think because when I look back, there wasn’t social media per say, like Facebook, it was email groups. It’s still the same thing you can read about all these different families, so that still the same mindset shifts the same deschooling stuff to do. But noticing, when it’s inspirational, that’s what I liked. I would see what other families were doing. Would that be something my kids might be interested in? That was a way that I could bring new things into our world.
But that’s the piece, ‘Is it inspiring or does it become an expectation?’ I think my kids should be interested in that. That’s when you want to take a moment. I know these are my kids. That’s their kids. And they’re having a lot of fun with that. And I’m so happy for them. Think about whether or not that’s something my kids might be interested in. So, it was a great way and continues to be a great way. I still scroll through Facebook and see what people are up to because it’s interesting. I’m glad they’re happy and enjoying it and maybe it might bring something new and interesting into our lives or not. When it skips over from being inspirational to becoming more of a weight, that weight of expectation. ‘We “should” be doing that. We “should” be doing that.’ And there’s nothing wrong! It’s okay to step away from it.
SUE: Yeah. And again, to remember about that big arc. Right now, your kid may be only playing Fortnight for a long time—until they’re not. And that’s OK. Would you care if they were going to one musical theatre after another? Would you care if they were just reading one fabulous literature book after another? It’s just an interest that they’re diving into and so that comparison thing again doesn’t work.
I think that the misery loves company part. I think that’s a procrastination to change your actions. That it makes it “Ain’t it awful? Nothing I can do about it. It’s just those kids.” No, you got a lot you could do about it. You can make some changes in your parenting and how you connect and how you look at it. It doesn’t mean they’re going to become the story you’ve created in your mind.
PAM: They’re going to change. Anna talks about this a lot, when we are feeling challenged or frustrated or just uncomfortable about what our kids are choosing to do, that’s the time to connect more. Because I found time and again, I was the one that was missing something. I was missing a piece of the puzzle when I felt like that.
SUE: Because they were moving towards something and you were moving away from connection, you were leaning away. Why don’t you work on how to get OK with letting them even make mistakes? Because even those mistakes are part of their journey. It’s their journey. You’re just a supporting role here. You’re just someone that can share some experience.
But if you haven’t focused on the connection, they are not even going to want to listen to your experience. So, perhaps even if you do it all for selfish motives, ‘I’m trying to be influential,’ connect more. And what you might discover is while you connect more, you don’t have to be as influential as you thought. You can learn to trust them and you can learn to see that they’re not just a bag of bad decisions. Neither are you. They are a lot of things.
We all are good decisions, bad decisions. Here’s how this changed. And now I did this and now I did that. And that’s how all of us live. And we all learn a little more. And so, I think social media helps in that. It’s nice to see that there’s such a variety and see that there’s such a variety of ways to approach something. You might think, not that but if I do this, then it could maybe help you figure some things out.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. That inspiration is almost like brainstorming on the fly, stuff you didn’t even know.
SUE: Right. Right. Yeah. It’s hard. I mean, all of it’s hard. I think that’s why people don’t do it. Would it be easier to send them back to school? In some ways, yeah. But you’re not going to connect in the same way. Do you want to stay at this really shallow connection? Maybe. Or maybe you want a deeper connection with your kids. Maybe you want to have it change the trajectory of where your life went. To change it a little bit so that they don’t have to wait to learn something, so that they don’t have to learn that life starts after you’ve recovered from school.
I think that it’s hard. I think if people need to hear that, then let’s tell them. Yeah, it’s hard. I mean, there are some days that are beautiful and they flow and it’s perfect. And there are some days that you’re like “ARGHH” and that’s just real life. It’s alright.
PAM: Don’t aim for perfect, right? I mean, it’s OK. That’s going to happen.
I think it’s great. What has always helped me is reminding myself and remembering this is a choice. I’m choosing this.
SUE: And maybe to have written down while you were in a good place. Write down all the things you’re choosing. Because some days it may be hard to remember why. So, make your list. Make your list. That’s your homework from this episode.
PAM: Hey, look, you led into our last question here. We’re going to talk a little bit about that homework, because we have spent a lot of this episode talking about how life isn’t perfect and how striving for that ideal that we have in our minds about what it should look like can get in our way.
There are definitely advantages to the unschooling lifestyle when it comes to moving through these challenging times, these moments that are hard. So, I did want to wrap up our conversation talking about some of the advantages of this lifestyle.
SUE: Let’s end on the positive!
PAM: Let’s just not leave them hanging. And these are the things, like you said, that you’ll write down in good moments when you’re seeing these things. These are great things to come back to, to remind ourselves in those challenging times. Why I’ve made this choice. Because, back to, it is the choice. Right?
SUE: Right. Right. Right, right. I think, to me, some of the advantages are, well, obviously the connection that happens with you. I’m not saying that people that send their kids to school don’t have good connections with their kids, they might.
We just have the opportunity, we just have more time to be able to connect. So, we are going to have more shared experiences. We’re going to have more opportunities to dive in deep and solve the problem or to really identify a strength that we didn’t even know they had, because we’re right there living with that. And so that’s a huge advantage because then we can connect with them in that kind of a way.
I think that unschooled kids learn to be problem solvers. When I talk to my kids who are 25, 28 and 30 and they talk about being able to solve problems that other people don’t know what to do. They haven’t practiced solving their own problems. They have always had someone else solve it for them.
PAM: And looked for the right answer.
SUE: Right. Have the perfect story. And they’re so afraid to make a mistake. Oh, they talk about that. Especially now, that they’re so afraid they’re going to be seen as a failure. They’re so afraid it’s going to be humiliating that they aren’t willing to, well, let’s just try it and see. And then at some point it works. We’ll go in that direction. If it doesn’t work, we’ll stop there and adjust.
PAM: That problem solving.
SUE: When we live like that raising them, then that’s how they do it in their adulthood. And it is really helpful because the kids who’ve sat in school haven’t had that opportunity. And so, I think that is a really big plus. I think that idea of not waiting for your life to start. That you are living it, that you’re exploring it. You’re seeing it. I thought I was going to like that and I didn’t. As opposed to you stuck with that story for all of your school years. Am I going to be this? And then you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, I should have been thinking of other things.’
Unschooled kids get to play with ideas and test the waters and see what they think and what they would like to maybe do. I think they have this opportunity to really know themselves. That they can, how many of us went to school, I remember thinking, I didn’t even enjoy reading for pleasure until after I was 30 because I had to recover from being forced to read so much that I didn’t want to read. And I think that the kids that have been unschooled have this opportunity to not have that for their starting place.
When we think about the messiness aspect, our kids get the benefit of us working on our mess. If we can work on it, they can see that life can be messy and still good. Life can be hard and still good. Life can go poorly for a period of time and we come out of it. And then when we learn to talk about that kind of stuff with them, that gives them an opportunity, because that is what their life’s going to look like. That’s what everybody’s life looks like.
So, we can help them with real stuff that’s really more important than, say, long division or do they know how to do something by the time they’re seven? No one cares as a young adult. So, I think that our kids have this opportunity that they don’t have to have all these artificial hoops that school and society has told us that are necessary. No, they’re not.
Nobody’s asking me to do a complicated math problem without a calculator. Nobody asks me to do that. And so, I think that our guys get the benefit of that. They get the benefit of us being real and looking at what our real adult life looks like and going from there. So, it’s like the kids stand on our shoulders. Our parents did the best they could with whatever was going on with them. And now we’re here and our kids will stand here. And that’s the advantage, is that they have a better vantage point. They’ll have their own issues to deal with, but they’ll be able to deal with them. They won’t have to have similar baggage. We can get our baggage dealt with. They don’t have to have that baggage. So, there’s an advantage.
PAM: Yeah. I mean, that’s it. They’re living real life now, not training and waiting till they get their chance to live it.
SUE: Also, I was just thinking that this idea that happens with unschooling, that we learn to trust them, to trust their hard wiring for learning, and that we learn to trust that good does come and that we will get through this because we’re working on this stuff together.
We have an enormous opportunity to have a really happier life. And so, do our kids. When we can demonstrate, when we can take the time to do the internal work, when we can find the support that we need, real support, when we can get the information so that we don’t just live in fear and panic. When we do those things, our kids are seeing that’s what you do to get to a place to be happier instead of ‘Nah, you’ve just got live with it. You just gotta survive it.’ That’s not our approach to life. So, that’s another advantage.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. That’s almost like the problem-solving piece that you were talking about earlier. That your kids notice. That we don’t need to just put up with things the way they are. We don’t need to stay stuck in something that’s uncomfortable or unhappy for us. We can problem solve and work through it.
The other piece you mentioned that I thought was really important to us was the time aspect. And the idea of having to learn certain things or do certain things by certain ages, because if a challenge or something comes up in our lives, we can all focus our time and energy on that, on moving through that. And nobody’s getting “behind” on anything. We’re living in that moment. And when something’s big, we have the time to put towards that and to work through that and to focus on that until we can move through it. Nothing else needs to take priority. We get to set our priorities and we don’t fall behind on them. That makes sense, right?
SUE: It totally makes sense. And it’s part of that learning to trust yourself. You know how we’ve had these school experiences and we second guess ourselves constantly. And our kids will be able to look at what it is and decide, as opposed to running through all of the potential issues. They still have regular human characteristics where they worry about things, so, don’t think that. But they don’t have the irrational baggage that has been conditioned into us from 12 years of waiting for people to tell us what to do and figuring our permanent record and all those things. They don’t have any of that.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Sue. As always, it was so much fun. Love it.
SUE: I love it. Thanks for having me. And I hope everybody has a fabulous time unschooling their kids, and that they can figure out where to stop that fits them. And maybe it’s just for a breather and then they’ll try something else or maybe something will come up and you’ll think, I should work on that. And that’s OK, because when you get to choose what you want to work on instead of somebody else telling you these are the things you need to work on, it’s just so much better. You get to chart your own course.
PAM: Yes, it really is a choice. It really is a choice. I love that because you can choose to stay for a while. And in that space, we mentioned on the podcast before, how valuable that space is. Just that space to sit and be with things. The whole, ‘I got to be productive, I got to be productive.’ No. Stuff’s happening even when you’re sitting still.
SUE: You are being productive.
PAM: You are. Connections are happening. Learning is happening. Even if you feel like you’re still for a while, you will start to feel when it’s time to take another step. Another step. But don’t feel like you’re wasting time. There isn’t wasted time unless you’re willfully ignoring things. And that’s just another question to ask yourself, right?
SUE: That’s right.
PAM: Okay. Okay. So, before we go, where can people find you and your work online?
SUE: They can find me at Sue Patterson.com or at unschoolingmom2mom.com. And there’s a couple of different ways to get support based on how much time we get to spend together. I have a new unschooling course that you could take. You can get all the information that you need and support at the level that you want. So, we have a bunch of things at both of those websites. So, come on over.
PAM: Thanks again, Sue, and have a great day.
SUE: Thanks Pam. All right. Bye bye.