PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from Livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Michelle Conaway. Hi, Michelle.
MICHELLE: Hi Pam!
PAM: I am so happy that you agreed to come on the podcast and chat about unschooling with me.
So, to get us started, can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody’s up to right now?
MICHELLE: Sure and thank you for having me here. This is very exciting. I love talking about unschooling. We’re a family of five, with three kids, almost all adults now. Our oldest one is 32, married and has a baby. The middle one is Cameron. And they let me know that it’s OK to share things about their lives and their names. So, I’m not disrespecting their wishes here. Cameron is 19, just turned 19. And Caleb is 17.
How did you discover unschooling and what did your family’s move to unschooling look like?
We started on this journey through public school. In fact, my daughter went all the way through public school. She was in private school first and then we went to public school and we kind of maneuvered our way through that system.
She’s a lot older than the boys. She graduated high school and here came Cameron starting kindergarten. So, Cameron started kindergarten. It didn’t feel right. It just didn’t feel right from the beginning. It was kind of exciting, at first. You know, we get the backpacks, we’re walking with the group to school. But then I start seeing some changes in him and his happiness and just his flow and his creativity. So, we stayed in kindergarten and went to first grade. During this time, I was doing a lot of internal work on myself. So, I was learning to listen to my intuition a lot closer. I kind of removed myself from what the world was telling me to do and trying to listen more intuitively to what was right for me. So, Cameron started first grade and I felt it. ‘You need to homeschool.’ I just heard this voice and I was like, ‘What?! I can’t do that. That’s crazy.’
But it just kept being there. The voice, my internal voice, it was a knowing that I needed to take this boy out of school. So, I talked to my husband and he was like, “What?!” But we talked through it and he said, “Let’s do it.” And so, I said, “Now.” And he’s like, “Yeah. Now. We’ll figure it out.”
So, it was Christmas break that this was happening. And I took him out. I went right after Christmas break. It was his birthday. And I took him out and we went to Chuckie Cheese and we just had a blast that day. And he was like, “YES! I’m going to homeschool.” And then the fear started coming in. I ordered all this curriculum. I set our upstairs room as this amazing, amazing room with things all over the walls and the ABCs and books and just all kinds of things. And so, we got started with school at home and it was a nightmare. It was not fun. He was crying. I was crying. His little brother was crying. We were all crying. And I thought ‘What?! I was listening to my voice, what happened?’ This was supposed to be the best thing ever.
And then, I had other thoughts just come to me and say, ‘Can you relax? Can you just bring the Legos upstairs?’ Instead of crying today and butting heads today, can we just play? And so, we did that and it would feel better. And then I would get scared again. And I would pull the books back out. So, this went on for a while. And then I tried unit studies. I tried all these different things.
And I just remember a point of going. ‘What are you doing? Why? Why do you need to teach them?’ And it was just again, I was working on myself. I was working on my belief system. And, I don’t know, we just started falling into doing less school less and less and less school. And I noticed my kids thriving and noticed them learning. And of course, then I was like, ‘OK, everything, stop. You guys play. I’m going to go over here and start reading everything I can about how people learn, what methods are there besides making them.” The world opened up. I mean, I started coming to all of these ideas, John Holt and all of these different authors that just resonated very, very deeply with me.
And so, I made a decision. OK. And it was very fearful because I thought I’m taken a chance on my kids’ lives. That’s what it felt like. I am gambling with their lives and I thought, ‘Well, what is the worst thing that can happen? The worst thing that happens is they get to 15 and they can’t read. And then we scramble around to learn it.’ So that was basically our journey, just bit by bit and kind of allowing it to unfold.
So, now my daughter, she’s kind of fallen into this unschooling lifestyle with us, even though she went to school. The boys are just into so many things. I mean, Cameron is building his reputation and business as an artist. Caleb is into learning to fly airplanes and into coding and gaming. And so, I’m sure through our talk today, we’ll talk more about how it’s woven together to get us where we are right now. But that’s kind of our story and where we’re at and how we came to unschooling.
PAM: Thank you so much for sharing that. And I love all the little details. A few episodes ago, Anna and I did a Q& A and someone was asking about following our intuition. And you made that point so beautifully because she was saying, well, if we follow our intuition for homeschooling and that’s a good thing. What about if our intuition says no screens, so that that’s the perspective that it was coming from. And we were talking about intuition. And I talked about for me how I felt like intuition was the first step, not the answer.
You just shared such a beautiful example because your intuition was telling you, homeschooling, homeschooling, bring him home from school. Because you could see the changes in him. And then you did what that looked like to you. What homeschooling looked like to you in that moment. And that was it. You followed that intuition and then you gained some experience with it. And then it tweaks and tweaks as now you’re learning more. So, school wasn’t the thing. So, homeschooling, we’re going to take this step. To me, intuition is giving us that next step that we want to take. So, then we take it and try it. And then you learn more and there you are and your intuition lead you to the next step.
MICHELLE: Right. And you’re listening all along the way and you’re being curious and you’re questioning and all of those things. You know, it all comes in, it doesn’t mean, ‘Oh, my intuition said this and it’s the absolute way we are going for the rest of our lives.’ No, it’s a very in the moment thing, and our intuition can come up and maybe it’s not our intuition. Maybe it’s a fear that we feel is our intuition. And that’s where we get the opportunity to question that and do some work on ourselves.
That’s what I meant by saying I had already been doing some of that work of listening to what feels right in the moment. Let me put my toes in the water.
PAM: I’m going to say, you’re paying attention to what’s happening. And you could see, Cameron was not enjoying it, you were not enjoying it. And then you noticed. And, you know, sometimes you just didn’t push it. And then you noticed that you guys were having fun and he was still learning, like you said you could see this learning happened. So that’s more experience and more experience.
And I love, love, love the point about fear, because that’s a big thing, especially when we’re doing something that’s new to us, something that’s very different to us. Fear is so often a great pointer to where we might want to look in that personal work that you’re talking about.
I love, there’s a book by Ryan Holiday. Oh, and it’s called “The Obstacle is the Way.” The fear the, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t want to be there.’ Really it is the way for us to go if we want to learn more and grow as a person. That fear is like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t want to touch that. I don’t want to touch that. Let me stay here and comfy.’ Yet there is so much growth and learning when we sit with that discomfort for a while and actually feel it out. Like you said, and learn this little more about ourselves. Right?
MICHELLE: Absolutely. I think fear is the greatest teacher, at least for me, because I can feel it in my body. And when I feel it come on. I know, ‘OK, it’s time to relax and let’s just look at it.’ Maybe it is a valid fear. Maybe it is something I need to watch. Or maybe it’s something from my past or something I picked up growing up or from society that isn’t really the truth. And can I let that go? So, yeah, it’s fun.
PAM: That’s great. That’s another great point about fear when you’re stepping toward it. It doesn’t mean accepting or the end point is the opposite of the fear, right?
MICHELLE: Right. Exactly.
PAM: I’m scared about this. Doesn’t mean the answer is for me to get through is to do the opposite, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to do what I ever I’m scared of. That’s not the point. Like you said, sometimes these fears are valid, as in they’re going to point me in the direction of something that I need to maybe put more effort into. I need to put more scaffolding around. You know what I mean? I need to have more backup plans for it. I need to think more about ways it can go sideways. What it’s telling us is it can be a great place to go look.
MICHELLE: Exactly. Yes, exactly right. I love this!
PAM: I know! It’s fun to talk about unschooling. OK, so one of the things we want to talk about, because I think there is a big misconception when people first hear about unschooling. And that’s the idea that unschooling is about letting your kids do whatever they want. You often see that. Literally this morning, I saw a question, pretty much word for word that passed by on Facebook. And you can understand where they’re coming from because on one hand, it’s true in that as unschooling parents, we work really hard to help our kids do the things that they’re interested in doing. You know, flying planes or art or whatever those things are.
But, yet, when you dig in a little bit more. It’s so, so much more than just letting them do whatever they want. Because they aren’t doing these things in isolation. It’s not just about the thing. Their actions are woven into the world, aren’t they? It’s not about the thing. And just letting them do whatever the thing is, they’re doing it within the context of their life, aren’t they?
MICHELLE: Oh, yeah. Well, one thing I hear a lot is, “Well if I let them do whatever they want, they’re going to be on videogames all day long.” And when you’re first coming to this, it might look like they are on video games all day long and that’s all they’re doing. And maybe it is all they’re doing. I know my boys went through years of being on that computer, playing Minecraft and all types of different games. They were just fully immersed in it. And I had to question, too, during that time. I mean, you hear the screens are bad for them and hurt their eyes and all these sayings. And there is the fear. I feel like we can use that.
Again, we’re coming back to the fear. Of a question, fear is a springboard for questions. So, are they really on the computer 24/7? Are they getting sleep? Probably. Their bodies are going to make them sleep. Are they doing research on their games? Are they watching some YouTube about it, are they finding the answers to the questions that they have about their games? There’s a lot more going on there than they’re just on video games all day. Some say, they’re getting grumpy because they’re on videogames all day. Well, are they really getting grumpy because they’re on video games or are they having some frustration there? And how can I be there for them in that frustration? Am I going, “Well, you need to get off the game. That’s causing it.”? It’s a knee jerk reaction in my mind and I did it. So, I’m not knocking it. I understand it. I did the same thing. I would be like, “Oh, my gosh, you know, they’re being so loud and they’re in there.”
I think coming to know we’re not letting them do whatever they want, but we’re trusting that what they want and what they’re doing, is leading them in a direction. And how can I fit myself in? And maybe I don’t even fit myself into it. You know, I think that’s another thing that we feel this huge responsibility to guide our kids.
I hope this is right on our topic. But I there was a point in time when I was younger, hearing people and me thinking too, I wish they came with an instruction manual. I wish kids came with an instruction manual so we knew what to do. And through this journey, it popped into my head.
One day I was like, ‘We don’t have the instruction manual because they have the instruction manual for themselves.’ They have the map. And if we’re trying to give them our map, they’re getting way off the path. If I can help them follow their map, I can say, ‘Oh, this says left. Oh, this says right.’ Then that’s unschooling. We’re not programmed on what to do because they are. They know what they want. They know where they want to go. They may need help with that. They may need some guidance. They may need for you to listen. But it’s not our responsibility to let them know what they’re interested in and what they should and shouldn’t be doing.
Our job, in my mind, is that we’re there to help them navigate that. So, even an angry outburst or even all of that, it matters. It matters. And that’s where they’re at. So, if we can meet them there, then life is just so good. Because it takes the pressure off as a parent. I remember thinking about this and going, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy, am I crazy to be thinking that their responsibility is their life and my responsibility is to help them with their life?’ But yes, so, wherever they want to go, that’s where I need to help them go, not where I think they should go. Like video games. So, we’re back to that. They loved video games. They still love video games. And so how can I help them navigate through that if they have a bad day and they’re really grumpy at everybody? How can I help them navigate that instead of blaming it on the game? You know?
PAM: Yeah. Wow. I love that metaphor. I mean, I we’ve talked about that so often on the podcast, but not really describing it as their map. I love that. And us helping them navigate the map of their life. Underneath that is their learning map. Because even though they may not know why in particular they’re drawn in a particular direction. So often you can’t just go, what are you getting out of this? You can’t just point blank ask. That’s something you see if you are supporting them as they’re following their map. When you look back, you can really see the path unfolding, can’t you? But in the moment, it’s hard to see in the moment because you don’t know. They’re just there, right there. But you know, because like you said earlier, that’s something they want to do. So, there’s value in it for them.
MICHELLE: Right. And we get the chance to find out what is that value about. It’s about being curious as a parent. Being curious. ‘Huh? Why do they want to play this game where they’re shooting each other and killing people? I mean, what are they getting from that?’ And I think we tend to go straight to our fear and believe our fear and then react from that fear instead of responding to what is really going on. ‘OK. They’re playing the shoot up game. And it’s scary to me but is it really scary?’ Or is that just some preconceived things that I have going on inside?
So, talking with them and watching the game. There were times when they wanted to show me things on the game and I tell them, I’m just honest with them. “You know, this really doesn’t feel good to me to watch. I’m super happy that you’re having fun with it.” And then they know I’m honest. And then they come in and they’ll talk to me about it later. “Well, this is why I like it,” or whatever. It strikes conversation about what’s going on. I think we just have to be real. And that takes a lot work on ourselves.
I remember thinking, ‘OK, I need to just forget what they’re doing and just work right here on me.’ And of course, I was there for them and right there in the room and my biggest thing was working here on me so that I could get out of their way. Especially in the beginning, it was like, ‘I feel like anything I say is going to be reactive. So, I need to just remove myself a little bit until I understand how we want to live before I act and cause something that didn’t need to be caused.’
PAM: Yeah, there’s so much amazingness in there, Michelle. Your great point about right back to letting kids do whatever they want behind that question right up there is fear. And like we were talking about earlier. I’m so glad fear came up, because that is again the place where when we’re feeling it, that if we can sit with that discomfort for a while and actually ask ourselves questions like when I started, I’m sure when you started, so many guests have mentioned that when we started down this path, we did not realize how much of the work was going to was ours to do. Because we were adults already. We’re parents already. We’re good. We’re set. I know things. (laughing)
But oh, my gosh, when we start to because the maybe the first thing that we’re questioning. I mean, it depends on everybody’s journey. But certainly, for me, the first thing I questioned was education. Just because it wasn’t going well for my oldest. And then that kind of opens up the whole world, ‘Oh, all these other things I can question.’ Like you said when you were uncomfortable, you didn’t want to just be reactive because you knew that wasn’t going to take you guys to a good place, that was going to be judgment. So that’s closing down conversations. That’s not going to be helpful moving forward.
So, it was you sitting with your fear for a while, sitting with that discomfort, asking yourself questions about why you feel that way. Observing your kids more, what they’re getting out of it? Having more conversations with your kids. I love the idea of turning fear into curiosity. It’s curiosity about ourselves, asking ourselves questions. It’s curiosity about what our kids might be getting out of it. It’s having those conversations and learning more and just slowly working through it. These things don’t need immediate answers. Do they?
PAM: We’re going to know more a month from now than we do now. And things are going to weave.
MICHELLE: I love that point because I think it’s something that we are conditioned to think that there’s somewhere to get. And with unschooling, it’s really an unfolding. There’s nowhere to get. We can always change it tomorrow. We can do something different. And by me sitting with this today doesn’t mean that forever more I have to let them play video games every single day, all day long. It just means that for right now, yes, I’m going to allow them to do that while I ask myself some questions.
PAM: I just have to pop up and say because that’s exactly it for me, in so many things. From video games to, you know, my daughter wanting to go to concerts at age twelve at bars and that kind of stuff. Just so many things in life that I was uncomfortable with. But the coolest thing was when I gave that trust and turned to curiosity, every single time, and I’m not saying this, maybe, maybe something will come up six months from now where it won’t happen, but every single time so far, it’s worked out. I’ve been the one that was missing information. Missing an insight. Missing something when they are following their map. It’s been OK.
MICHELLE: Yes, it has been okay. It has been okay. And that’s not to say, that our kids aren’t going to get hurt or they’re not going to have problems.
PAM: They’re going to make left turns and right turns and they’re going to say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t ever want to do that again.’ Yeah. Doesn’t mean that their map is perfect. Don’t aim for perfect. Life is not perfect. Things go wrong for all of us, but with them following their map and seeing what obstacles they run into and how they work through them. It’s all been okay.
MICHELLE: Yeah, it’s all learning. Learning about ourselves. Learning about the world. Learning about how other people view things. It’s all learning. It’s just there’s no way that learning can separate them from life. It’s the same thing. It is the exact same thing. Life and learning are synonymous. They’re the same thing. So, when we can get that, we can truly live a life that’s not on that agenda. “By here, you’re going to get to here. We’ve got to rush, rush, rush, rush.” You can just go, ‘OK. This is how it is right now. It’s definitely not going to stay that way,’ at least from what I’ve seen in my life. It’s always changing, developing and evolving. So, I don’t even worry about it when something’s going on. ‘OK. Well. Where do we go next? Or do we stay here?’ It’s in the moment we’re dealing with the moment.
PAM: And I think where we’ve ended up here ties in so nicely to the next question, so I’ll get it out there so we can continue this conversation.
MICHELLE: I could talk for hours.
PAM: I know, I know, me too.
One of the more valuable paradigm shifts as we’re deschooling and it really supports what we’re talking about here, comes when we become able to distinguish between who we think our child should be and who they actually are.
PAM: That’s a lot of our personal work to do, because truly seeing our kids, understanding their map, seeing the gifts that they bring to the world really is life changing for us and for them. For them, when we get to that point, we can truly, actively and enthusiastically support them as they’re following their maps, because we’ve gone past the little voice telling us that maybe their map is wrong. Maybe we need to impose our map for a little while. Just to use your beautiful metaphor. But that does take a lot of personal work to get there.
That deschooling chunk is a lot of really diving into our belief system. What do we believe our role is as parents, looking at how we grew up and how we made choices and how they worked out? And it’s just so much of our stuff to work through to get to truly seeing our child for who they are. Right?
MICHELLE: Yes, absolutely.
PAM: Let’s go back to the video game thing. I mean, so often that it’s not so often whatever they’re choosing to do isn’t, for me, I’ve noticed it isn’t a literal thing. Playing a shoot ‘em up game. It’s not literally that they’re enjoying shooting people. You know, I choose the fear because so often we see an interest and we take it on the surface. And that’s where our fear comes from. But when we know who our child is, when we get deeper, there is more of a thread underneath. Maybe it’s the puzzle aspect that they enjoy. So, truly seeing our kids for who they are makes all the things they’re choosing so much more meaningful in the end, right?
MICHELLE: Yes. I think a lot of times we make these assumptions about our kids and so video games, like you said, you know, oh, it’s video games that they like. Maybe it’s dancing or it’s anything. I know from us like a school mindset for how I was when I was first coming to this. It’s like, ‘OK. I’m the parent. I need to do this, this this this is this.’ And I did do this in the beginning and it was very annoying to my kids because, they mention things and I run with it. One my son like swords and playing with swords. And I was like, “Let’s get into fencing. Let’s get in a fencing class. Let’s go do this. We can get with other people that do it.” And he’s like, “Whoa, I’m having fun with this foam sword right here”.
I think we tend to kind of jump. We take on the responsibility of parent and parenthood so strongly. And it’s a great thing because it can be such a magical relationship that we have with our kids. But we do need to see them for who they are and maybe ask some more questions and maybe really get to the bottom of what is it that they’re really wanting? Who are they really? What are they trying to communicate to me through this or by telling me this? Do they need me to fix it? Are they asking me to fix that for them?
And I still struggle with this sometimes because my sons will get into stuff and I’m like, “Oh, I found this and I’ve found this article.” And I can still see sometimes, they’re like, “Oh no, here she goes, giving me all this information about this thing. And I’m just perfectly fine meandering on my own. And I just wanted to tell you I’m doing thing this.” It can be hard. And I still, like I said, struggle with it. But it’s just kind of stepping back a little bit and going, “Oh, that’s cool. Tell me what you’re doing with that. What have you already done with that? Do you need my help? Do I need to add a bunch of things onto that for you?” Then we begin to see what they really want.
Maybe they’re going to do that for 10 minutes and then they’re going to move on. And here I am gathering stuff together.
PAM: That’s such a great point, because that is part of getting to know them and getting to know how your relationship evolves and changes over time. Because sometimes they want more involvement sometimes less. That’s why we kind of talk about a dance metaphor in that relationship, because sometimes they want a little bit more help. They want you to lead a little bit more. And sometimes not. But so often they can sense our agenda a mile away. So, that piece of working through this as we’re deschooling is practicing coming to the conversations without our agenda and learning how you think through it, observing, thinking, maybe past interactions, et cetera, where our agenda has kind of gotten in the way. My kids know to say, “Mom, I don’t want you to give me any suggestions. I’m just telling you this. Please, I don’t want to have a big conversation about it.” Because we all know each other as people. We know our tendencies and have such an open relationship where we won’t take that personally or as a slight against us. We take that as, “Oh, cool, they know me so well.”
MICHELLE: Oh, that’s so it’s so true. On this path with our kids, we really do get to know each other very well. And they do know that about me, that I am a go getter. I get things done. I find things. I’m all about lists and all of this. And they’re, they’re not. But they do know that about me. And they don’t put me down for that. But they’re like, “Mom, it’s time to tap the brakes a little bit. I’m good.” And being able as a parent to go, “Oh, OK. I get it. Yeah.” Instead of feeling attack or anything like that.
If I could give an example, when Cameron was young. He was very young. And we were just getting into these principles and we were going to a Christmas dinner at his grandparents. And it was kind of more formal. You know what it’s like to go see grandparents sometimes, they can be more formal, you don’t wear shorts and all of this. So, my older boy, Cameron, and I’ve told this story many times. He had his old raggedy shorts on and a tank top and it’s freezing cold outside. And I said, “Time to go change clothes. We’re going to go to your grandparents.” He’s like, “I don’t want to change clothes.” And I said, “Well, it’s a nice dinner. We need to dress up, so I laid your clothes out. Could you please go put them on?” And he said, “I want to know why.” And I said, “Because it’s a dinner where everybody is dressing up.” And he said, “Yeah, but why do I have to dress up?”
I was in this place of questioning myself, so I’m like, ‘Wow. Why does he have to dress up ?’ I said, “Well, because you don’t want to feel left out.” And he said, “No, mom. This is about you wanting to look good. This is not about me wanting to look good. This is about you wanting to look good in front of everybody.” And it was like a punch to my gut.
It really helped me to move out of seeing my kid as a reflection of me. Because he was his own person and he wasn’t embarrassed to go in to what was really an informal family gathering. It’s family. I was. It was me. It was me that was going to feel embarrassed that he wasn’t wearing a jacket, that he was in shorts and it was cold. That he didn’t look the part. And so, that was when he was young, he knew.
And it really helped me to begin to question. ‘OK. This kid really doesn’t need to make an impression on anyone else. He’s just who he is. And can I just allow him to be who he is? Can I get out of the way of my own needing to look good and allow him to just be who he is?’ So, I let him wear the shorts and nobody said anything. And he was happy. And it did so many things because it gave him permission to call me out on my own stuff, and it gave me pause to look at myself and really look at what the situation really was instead of my preconceived notions of what it should be. And I think that was kind of a turning point for me with them, to really listen to them. To listen to my kids, because they were going to help me. They were going to help me get beyond my own stuff.
And so that really helped me to see them. It got me on a journey to seeing them for who they are and not letting my ego get involved with, ‘Well, how dare they? They shouldn’t talk back. A kid shouldn’t talk back to their parent and they should do what their parents says.’ So, that got me on a whole thing of questioning. Yeah, maybe they have the right to say what they feel about their body and the way they’re showing up in the world. Maybe they do have a right to that and maybe I’m the one that needs to look at myself. Because he’s showing me himself right there, who he is.
PAM: We learn so much. I’ve talked a lot about how I feel like I learned so much from my kids. In little interactions just like that. And then you just start questioning so much in the end. It’s like it almost gives you permission to show up more as yourself again. It’s like my kids are doing this. How much of these things am I choosing to do? Or are they expectations that I’m just doing because I think other people are expecting them from me?
That’s the whole move from expectation to choice. That’s another huge paradigm shift with deschooling. And I loved your story because you know what? Like you said, nobody said anything when he showed up that way. But even if he wanted to go there and you’d had the conversation, he knew that the expectation that you thought that you saw was that people were expecting people to show up, dressed up, etc. And he was making this choice for himself. So even if grandma made a comment or something like it might be yet another conversation between him and her, him asking her why. Having a real conversation with her, getting real feedback from her. So, that next time he may choose or not. He would be getting it from the horse’s mouth, as it were. That why? The actual answer to the why, if it truly was an expectation. So, it would still be OK.
MICHELLE: Yeah, we’ve had these times because he is a very informal. He’s not about impressing anybody. And so, if we were going to a play or we were going to go somewhere where there really is a dress code. I mean, they won’t let you in, then it opens up the discussion. ‘OK. These are the dress codes. Do you still want to go or would you rather stay home and not join us? This is the expectation for this place.’ Same thing with other people’s homes. “This is the expectation in this home.” We went through this a lot when they were young because we lived in a neighbourhood where a lot of the things we were doing were just like way off the charts. Letting your kids play video games and stuff so they would want to go to their friends and they’re wanting to play Call of Duty or whatever and the parents don’t let it or the parents limit video games. And so, it was always their choice. You know, you can go there. These are their rules. There are rules around the world. I mean, we do sometimes have to comply with those rules. But you can choose not to go to that house.
PAM: See how that gets us back to that idea from before that we let our kids do whatever they want to do? Well, no, but they’re still living in a world. You don’t sit there and get mad and dis and try to convince the other parent that their rules in their own home are wrong. No, it’s just explaining these are our choices. This is the expectation. This is how this place works. Do you want to go? It’s back to these are our choices. And it’s just understanding the context of all the different places we want to go. The people that are involved, maybe a brother and sister or siblings are going somewhere. And one sibling will probably want to leave after a shorter amount. It’s just having all these discussions and working these things out between the people who are involved.
Yes, we are helping them as much as possible to do the things that they want to do. But you’re having the discussions on how we can make that happen within all the possibilities and all the different people involved and the places and all the different parameters.
MICHELLE: And it empowers them to live from that place. To learn to start asking themselves those questions, and I’ve seen that as my boys have grown up as they weigh the things on their own. Now they’re like, “Well, no, maybe I don’t want to go hang out over there because I don’t feel respected over there.” But they’re thinking about that on their own. But they can’t get from being told every single thing they can and cannot do or what they have to do. They can’t get from there to over here where they are now without a lot of practice in between. They have to have the ability to make those choices and then go, ‘Oh, I didn’t like that choice. I want to make a different choice next time.’ If we’re making those choices for them…
PAM: How are they going to gain that experience?
MICHELLE: I’m sorry, Pam. Go ahead.
PAM: No, exactly.
They they’re not going to gain that experience because if we do it all in our heads, so we’re bringing in all the possibilities, all the things that we think might happen, all the expectations that we think are there. And then we’re coming up with what we think is the best solution then telling them. How are they going to learn from that? How are they going to practice that skill? Because that is a skill. That’s a skill. We’re still fine tuning for ourselves. It’s a skill that you’re fine tuning forever as you learn more pieces and you explore more pieces of the world and you meet more people. That’s a skill that we are fine tuning all the time.
So, you know, they will be, too. And the sooner they get to start. Like you said, they feel so much more agency. They feel so empowered to be making these choices. And the great thing is having those open conversations where they can challenge what we think the expectations are of a particular place or situation or even of people being open to being wrong. Like you said, “I think, you know that this is what the expectation of the dress code is going to be at this dinner.” And him pointing that out and you’re like, “OK, I don’t have a good answer for that. So, OK, let’s try it. Wear your shorts.” What an experience. You learned so much. He learned so much. He learned that his choice worked out for him in that moment. And you learned to question all that baggage, expectation, things that we have absorbed growing up, that we are almost automatically doing and living and we’re learning to question ourselves.
I love the question why. Which is what curiosity leads us to. ‘Well, why is that?’ So, that gaining experience through that and I think that’s the other thing, people are so worried to let kids do that because they think kids are going to make wild choices and are going to bring silly things into the conversation. But you know what? Nunmber one, silly things are fun in those kinds of conversations, especially in brainstorming. It breaks the ice, breaks the tension, makes you laugh, that’s awesome, too. It opens our eyes so much. Takes us back to so much of this is our work to do it.
MICHELLE: It’s absolutely is. I think it’s absolutely our work to do.
PAM: I wanted to touch on because I know you run the Texas Unschoolers conference, right? And it’s happening in April this year.
MICHELLE: Yes. April. Oh, gosh.
PAM: I’ll put it in the show notes with the date.
I know from a few years of hosting the Toronto Unschooling Conference that there’s a lot of work that goes into that. So, I was very curious to know what’s your favourite thing about the conference?
MICHELLE: I think my favourite thing is just what we’re doing right here, talking with other parents. We do it in a very natural setting. So, the kids have tons of stuff to do. They’re running around outside. A lot of the kids in Texas live in cities, so they don’t get the trees and just so much nature and all of that. So, they just have a blast. I love just connecting with people on all walks of the journey. They may be even in the very beginning stages. And they’re like, “Oh, but I’m so scared about this and I’m so scared about that.” That’s my very favourite part. And seeing kids just free range and making connections that lasts a lifetime. They grow up together.
They Skype together or whatever they’re doing now. I think it’s Discord now. (laughing) They stay connected and it creates an environment for them to be able to find people that are living this lifestyle, because we do come across a lot of people that are in public school that are going, “What the heck are you doing?” My kids have been told when they were younger, “You’re going to live under a bridge because you don’t go to school,” or all these crazy things. So, for them to go and be with other kids that are living this way, that are very intelligent and wise and smart and just all of those things. It’s just a wonderful place. It’s a wonderful place to be at a conference, any conference, probably, any unschooling conference.
PAM: That atmosphere is just it. It’s like a weight that you didn’t know you were carrying around, often gets released when you know that the other families that you’re interacting with for a few days are coming from the same kind of space, the same kind of environment. That they are loving on kids the same the same kind of way and supporting their kids. And yes, it’s just a very relaxed breath of fresh air, isn’t it? And then literally having, I ended up the same thing. I started at a hotel with mine and ended up in the country in cabins. There is something special about that atmosphere, right?
MICHELLE: It really is. I really like it. And the kids can just run all over and not worry about really bother anybody. I mean, they can just go jump in the pool and climb a tree.
PAM: That’s awesome. OK, so last question.
I would love to know what has surprised you most about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives?
MICHELLE: One of the things probably is that:
I started out to find a different education mode for my kids and ended up finding myself.
I was able to like you were talking about earlier, I started giving myself the permission that I was giving to my children. The freedom, I guess, is not permission, but just the freedom to explore something without it having to be something. I love writing. And I put so much pressure on myself to write a book, but I let go of that. Just write. If I decide if I really want to write a book, it’s going to be strong in my heart and I’m going to go for it and I’m going to do it.
Trust. Trust in myself, I think has been one of the biggest side benefits that I wasn’t going for when I first started down this journey. I’m really living the life I want to live. You know, and in different areas than just my kids. Just in my own life. And I’m doing things that empower me and make me feel alive. Whereas before, I didn’t feel that I had permission to do those things. So, the more that I’ve seen even myself moves in that direction, the more I’ve been able to give it to my kids because I’m like, ‘This is amazing!’ Amazing to be able to just play with something and just have fun with it without it having to go somewhere, without it having to be a waste. Yes.
That is one thing you all talked about the other day. I was listening on a podcast that you were talking about, words that kind of go away from your vocabulary. And I was thinking waste because waste, is it ever a waste? That’s a question. It’s a question we can ask ourselves. And we don’t have to go deep into it. But really ask yourself, was it a waste? Was it a waste of time? Was a waste of money really? Or is that just a fear? And for me, that’s been great because it’s given me permission to do things without having it have to go anywhere. So that’s one of the biggest things.
My relationship with my kids, I never knew that we could talk about some of the things we talk about together, that it was even possible for parents and kids to be able to do. And we have conversations about everything, everything and anything that comes up. And they feel comfortable that they can talk to both me or their dad, about just about anything, and we’re not going to have a judgment and it’s just going to be a conversation.
PAM: Oh, I love that so much. Michelle, and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I had so much fun.
MICHELLE: Literally. Me, too. Pam.
PAM: And before we go, can you share a place how people can get in touch with you or connect with you online?
PAM: Yes. And you can go to our Website at Texasunschoolers.com. There’s a contact form there. You can reach me on Facebook. We have a Facebook page, which is Texas Unschoolers. We have a private Facebook group, which is also Texas Unschoolers. Any three of those. Yes. Perfect.
PAM: Oh, that’s great. And I will put links to all those places in the show nodes. And thanks again. Have a great day, Michelle.
MICHELLE: You too Pam, thank you.