PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Tara McGovern Dutcher. Hi Tara!
TARA: Hi Pam!
PAM: Now we have been connected online for quite a few years now, so I’m excited to hear more about your unschooling journey.
To get us started, can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody’s into right now?
TARA: Yes. This is one of my favorite questions to hear the answers to in your podcast. I love hearing about what other families are up to. So, our family is myself and my partner Joe and our two sons, Liam, who’s 14 and Atticus who is 12. Just in case I forgot who we are and what we’re interested in, I did make some notes for myself. (laughing)
I’m going to look at those a little bit. I also wanted to make sure to get permission from my family members. There are things that they used to be interested in that, they might not appreciate me saying that they’re still interested in him.
So. starting with the oldest of us, Joe, he is super into woodworking. He just got a new table saw that he’s super excited about and really won’t stop talking about it. And he loves board gaming. That’s something he and his brother share, an interest that they share. And although his brother is not local, he does visit, he just came for a conference recently, and he took Liam to that as well. So, they love that. Joe and I are both musicians and one of the bands that I play in, he’s also in, so we’ve got that in common.
For myself, music is my job and also my pastime. Which I think perhaps you can relate to, when things are so interconnected. My primary instrument is fiddle. I play in an Irish band and I play in a folk duo and a jazz ensemble and a couple other things. But I also really love to read and I love to knit. I’m a huge pop culture consumer. I love movies and TV.
Liam is 14. These are the approved topics. He loves Star Wars. He loves Dungeons and Dragons. And actually, we play a family Dungeons and Dragon game. They’re very patient with me and he’s really into pen and paper, RPG (Role Playing Games), more so than board games. He wanted me to make that distinction. He likes board games, but he’s more of a, pen and paper RPG guy. He also loves pop culture. He loves comedies. Favorites that he mentioned were; It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Community, which I loved when it came out. He has watched all of, and loves the American Office. Then his other big interest is that he has a pet bearded dragon. And is very invested in caring for him. Actually, we’ve recently found out he is a her, so that’s really been an interesting learning curve, having only been mammal pet people previous to that.
And then Atticus is our 12 year old. He loves Doctor Who, especially the new version, especially the 9th doctor. But we’re now really into the 14th doctor as well. He loves Pokemon and really likes to make videos and playing around with video editing software, so he thought perhaps this would be a good plug for me to mention that he has a little YouTube channel called The Ninth Ranger where he makes his little videos and has fun with that.
PAM: I will put the link in the show notes.
TARA: Thank you so much. I’m sure he will appreciate that!
PAM: That is amazing. I love the range. And you know what I love about, like you said, these snapshots, this question for everybody, because I love asking everybody, it’s all the little tidbits. You can just feel so much about, when the distinction is between board games and pen and paper, you can feel, I can feel the joy that’s just right there. I can just hear him sharing that distinction and what he sees as a difference between the two and why he appreciates this one a little bit more, even though, I’ll still play them and everything. So, for me, I just love getting that feel, for unschooling kids. And I love that people started sharing as the adults, what the parents are into too, because we’re an unschooling family. That’s the point. Everybody’s got their things and we all weave them together.
TARA: And actually, I have to thank you for the question because it was really fun to ask them about that. When he rattled off pen and paper RPG, I was like, hold on. What is that? I mean, and when he told me, I have seen him doing that, I was just, I didn’t know that word. So, it was a good thing to discover.
PAM: Yeah. And I love so many people have mentioned, that I’ve run this by my kids to make sure it’s okay and I’ve done that over the years too. It’s like, it’s okay that we’re mentioning things, talking about things. Where is the line? What might make you feel uncomfortable? What wouldn’t you like me to share? Those are great conversations to have with our kids. Even if we’re not doing it publicly, as in on a podcast, speaking about them. Even a great question to ask them for talking with your friends, for other adults talking.
To be respectful of our kids anytime we’re talking about them in any situation. To feel that it would be okay if they were standing right next to us at any time, and sometimes they are, and sometimes they run into the room. You know what I mean?
PAM: As a parent, that what we’re saying would be totally okay if our kid was standing right beside us.
TARA: Yeah, that is really important. And I definitely feel like in the unschooling community that level of respect and autonomy for each other is much more understood and accepted. I really appreciate that. And I think it was at a conference that I first heard somebody introducing their family, say, I’m so-and-so, I’m 41 years old. This is my, because we just rattle that stuff off about our kids and we don’t think about how strange it is that we would use that as a describing factor. And the only describing factors sometimes.
PAM: Right, right. At least you get beyond grades and you get to age, which a fact kind of thing. And yet that’s another kind of ageism thing. You know that we’d share our kids’ ages and not our own ages, and granted, I’d have to calculate it.
But yeah, just so many interesting things to think about how we describe ourselves and our kids. So, I love that.
I would love to hear how you and Joe discovered unschooling and what your family’s move to unschooling looked like.
TARA: Yeah. Another fun question to think about. Our kids have always been homeschooled. That was something that grew out of a couple of connected factors, one of which is that, Joe and I have always had unusual work schedules. Being a musician, I tend to work in the evening. And also, I’ve always taught music lessons and that tends to happen when children aren’t in school, so the afternoon and evening. Joe is a corporate trainer and he sort of works whenever they need him. So, his schedule moves around a little bit.
So, when we were having children, we were looking at our schedules and thinking that if we went a traditional route, we weren’t really sure when we would actually ever see them because our work schedules were not really conducive to sending children to school. And then combined with that, before Joe went more in the corporate direction with his career, he was actually studying a master’s in teaching and got really jaded about the school system in general and unhappy with what we were seeing around us. And so, I think those two factors together moved us to homeschooling. As far as unschooling, this is something I thought a lot about and I realized I can probably trace it to one of your former guests.
My friend Heather Clark, who you’ve talked to about world schooling (episode 172, Unschooling Travels with Heather Clark), she is local to us. Not super local, but close. And we were taking a homeschool fencing class with Heather and her and her child. Heather has always been just a really kind and approachable person when it comes to talking about all of her interests.
And so, at one point I asked, knowing that they were unschoolers asked her, “What is that?” And she told me a little bit and then also let me know about this conference that was coming up.
From the description, I realized that was kind of our approach already to take a more unstructured, interest led approach. But I assumed I was just homeschooling incorrectly rather than actually doing something intentionally.
So, I think it was a combination of that, learning a little bit about that and then attending the conference. Which might’ve been the conference that I met you at if it wasn’t that year, it was the next year that I met you for Unschoolers Platform, that was in the Chicago area. It’s since moved, but I think the first year, actually, it was, Pam Sorooshian that was there the first year. And then the second year, I believe I met you and Erica Davis-Pitre I believe. Anyway, so it was a kind of a combination of learning more about unschooling and recognizing ourselves in it, more than an actual move to unschooling.
But once we began to identify as unschoolers, I started to do more personal work on that. And that’s what I’ve loved your book for and the View from the Summit, that you do with Anna Brown and Anne Ohmen, that’s where I started to recognize myself as an unschooler as more of an identity.
PAM: Oh, that’s really fascinating. I love, I love how you said kind of falling into that because at first you thought you were doing homeschooling wrong. Because you were drawn to the way it felt better in relationship with your kids. The curricular homeschooling, more authoritarian style just wasn’t feeling comfortable to you, right?
TARA: Yeah. And that was never really the way we parented. We came from an attachment parenting background, and so, it was more of like recognizing ourselves in these other people that we really admired and seeing that feels like a home for where we are headed as opposed to, going from something very structured into something less structured.
PAM: Oh yeah. That’s really interesting. I like the way you described that. Thanks Tara.
Now, I would like to dive into our topic and hear more about your journey around neurodiversity. I’m really curious how you define it and what does it mean to you, just so we can have like a foundation for discussion.
TARA: Yeah. So, I am a real word person. I love words. I’m always really interested in words. And when I was diving into this a little bit, trying to think about what does it mean to me, what’s the actual definition? I discovered that it actually hasn’t even been a word for all that long. In fact, when I type it into Word documents, it comes up with the red squiggly line, thanks to auto correct.
And I found out that it was a word that actually was coined really in the 90s, so not all that long ago. And it’s attributed to two different people, so people can look into that and learn more about that. I’ll send you the links, but it’s essentially an Australian sociologist and an American journalist are both attributed to this word neurodiversity, which is really just, kind of an understanding that no one sort of neurological wiring is the best neurological wiring and more, I’m looking down at my notes a little bit. It’s more accounting for individual differences. So, in our family, it’s looking at all of us and seeing how we all have different strengths and we all have different challenges.
And as it happens, we also have some labels attached to our various situations. But we prefer to be strengths based in how we approach our individual variations.
PAM: That makes a lot of sense. And for me, I mean, we’re going to get into that with how well that relates to unschooling, but I mean, and I’ve navigated that area as well over the years.
And for me, I learned so much just by looking at my kids. They’re not broken. They’re not wrong. They’re not trying to frustrate me. They’re being themselves in the world and this is who they are. And I love who they are. So, that idea of neurodiversity, when it came to the forefront, really connected for me because it just made so much sense.
And I’ll put it in the show notes a link, there was a book chat that I did with Emma Marie Ford about redefining autism. Anyway, it was a really interesting book as well that also looked at neurodiversity. I just find it a great lens to bring when we’re looking at things. So much, because with unschooling, we’re already looking at alternative ways. We’re not so stuck on a single answer or a single way, a single way to learn, a single way to act, to react, all that kind of stuff. And understanding and bringing the whole environment and the whole child into the picture is really important.
So, one of the questions I wanted to get your answer to, it’s something that we hear quite often, and I’ve answered it a number of times. When people are starting to look at unschooling and wondering if it’ll work, often we’ll hear, will unschooling work for my autistic child?
So I would be curious and how you would typically answer the question, “Will unschooling work for my autistic child?” And what are some of the benefits that you see of unschooling for autistic or neurodiverse children?
TARA: Yeah, that’s an awesome question. And I think all unschoolers or people interested in unschooling would be able to relate to, that of course all of our children are individuals and it’s really hard to say what would work for one person versus another person.
But at the same time, there are things that autistic people can sometimes share, in terms of having sometimes challenges in the classroom setting that are not necessarily encouraged by the classroom setting. And so, in that sense, I feel like I can safely say that I feel every child would be well served by unschooling, whether or not it would work for every family can sometimes be a challenge to consider.
It’s my youngest son, my 12-year-old, who’s autistic. And in his particular case, there are some ways that he engages with his learning that would be really distracting in a classroom setting. For example, there is a lot of walking around that happens when we’re processing an idea.
I can see how that would be discouraged in a group setting. I have seen how that is discouraged in a group setting. I have participated sometimes, in ways that I regret in trying to redirect him when he was really little. I thought I was very clever by asking him to point his toes at me when he was talking to me, because I wanted, I guess I was trying to adhere to some sort of social appropriate cues of, and he was happy to try to do that because of course our children love us and want to make us happy, but it never actually helped him in any sort of way.
And it didn’t cure him or redirect him into any other way of engaging with information. So, all it did was just made me realize as I reflect on it, it was just a waste of an interaction when I could have just been listening instead of asking
PAM: Just a little barrier. That got in the way of the connection.
TARA: Yeah. And I’m just lucky that he put up with that from me and didn’t get frustrated. He wanted to talk to me so much and he’d be like, okay, mom, I’ll just point my toes you. So, I’m glad that I came to an understanding of how trying to place those restrictions on him was not serving him at all, or our relationship.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s one of the things I love about, even answering that question because so often they’re coming from a school experience that isn’t working out well for their child. Because as you said, they often, that kind of personality or wiring, however you want to talk about it doesn’t mesh well with that particular learning setup. So, to be able to talk to them about how does your child shine, how does he learn the stuff that he enjoys when he’s home on the weekend or home during the summer?
That was a big clue for me while my kids were still in school, was that our evenings and weekends and summers were great. The only time challenges came in was when we were trying to fit them into school, right into that schedule, into those school requirements.
So, that’s what kept me looking for different options. We tried different alternatives within the school system until I finally discovered homeschooling. And that, because you can see these children shine. Like you said, they want to talk. It’s okay if they’re walking at the same time. Whatever behaviors that you learn about your child, and that’s a really nice focus with unschooling. Actually, that leads so nicely into the next question so let’s just go there.
We can continue because unschooling really is about creating a supportive environment for our child and celebrating them as a unique individual. And what that does is it helps them explore who they really are, what their wiring is, what they’re comfortable with, what they’re interested in, how they like to engage with people.
And, and over time when you’re unschooling, how that changes over time. Because I think that’s another big piece. Because we grow and change as human beings. So, it’s okay to know yourself. And it’s okay to know that you change and to see how you change and be curious about that. We often talk about that on the podcast and unschooling in general as being a student of our child. That’s just a lens that helps us realize it’s great to pay attention to them and learn lots about them. The thing that’s hard for people coming to unschooling, first off, is that that means when we look at it that way, it means that our unschooling days can look really different from other families, right? Because we’re working with our child and the unique person that they are.
TARA: It’s so interesting that question, I love, did I allow you to get to the question? (laughing)
PAM: I just kept talking after the question because you can see I’m getting excited and my arms are going! I’m really passionate, I love this piece of it that—neurodiversity, disabilities, chronic health concerns. I’ve got all those things in the mix. And it’s okay. Unschooling is great because you are focused on the individual and how they like to interact with the world and how they like to interact with the people in their lives and wanting to bring more of those good interactions to the surface. Is that a way to describe it?
TARA: Absolutely. Yeah, and I actually think that this intersects too with the idea of an unschooling lifestyle and how so many things are connected in that way. For example, I already mentioned our schedules, our work schedules. So, it’s been my observation that unschooling families have a lot of different ways that they approach work. In our family, I’ve always worked pretty much every afternoon for a certain number of hours. And then also had some weekend work that I do. And my partner, Joe, he works until around when I get done, which is later really than most people, probably sevenish or so. And so, we already had that restriction placed on our life.
It’s lovely that that’s really the only restriction on our family life. Because when I’m wrapping up work and Joe’s getting home and Liam and Atticus are sort of coming to closure with whatever they’re working on, we have this whole evening that doesn’t require us trying to get into bed at a particular time to wake up at a particular time in the morning.
We just have sort of an open amount of time to be able to use the time that we have. And kind of similar to that, the way meals work here too are very much, eating when we are feeling like we need to. Approaching family meals in a way that doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into the family, kind of the structure that you might expect for somebody trying to fit into a different set of hours.
Now, as they got a little bit older and their sleep schedule started to shift later, I just feel like all the pressure of that was off because we hadn’t really lost any time with them by their choice to be sleeping a little bit later and waking up a little bit later because of the constraints on the time not being the sort of restraints that are on a school day.
PAM: So, did things go reasonably smoothly? Your kids have been home always, right? They haven’t been to school. And you guys have been working those hours when they were younger. So, there is a few hours in the afternoon where you and Joe were both busy. How did that work out with the kids?
TARA: Yes, good question. So right now, of course they’re 12 and 14, so this is a little bit different, but for a bunch of years, we had either a caregiver coming to our house during that time period for those four hours and afternoon. There was a brief period of time that the kids went to an afterschool program during that period of time. That was actually run by the city and it ended up not being a great fit for them because all of the kids there were from one particular school. So, it wasn’t like a group of people that didn’t interact otherwise. It was kids who had been with each other all day long, and then these two children they’d never seen before.
So, we did try that. Not overly successful. It’s really just been the last couple of years that, they’ve been more on their own during that period of time. It was probably around when Liam was turning 12. The way that our house is set up, there’s a downstairs, I’m speaking to you right now, is where I teach music, which might be obvious from the instruments in background. And then there’s kind of a separate area downstairs where they have their computers and they have their VR and all their fun things that they like to spend their time. And actually, it is actually connected to the neurodiversity conversation because, as it is, I mean, I think this is true of all parents, but we just don’t really know how long our children are going to be in our homes with us.
I would love for them to be here as long as they would like to be. And I would love for them to come back as much as I wanted to and then when you’re looking at this other piece of independence, not knowing really what kind of independence you can expect. It was clear that I would always want to structure my life so that I could be physically around, even if they don’t necessarily need me in the room during that period of time.
That’s why when they were at the actual program, it was partially a little challenging because if there was something that came up and it did, always, regularly, what ended up happening was that the onus was sort of on my older child to advocate for his brother, which is a beautiful skill that he’s developed, but I don’t want it to feel like a responsibility that’s on him in the world. I love that he cares for him, but I didn’t think it was fair in that setting for him to have to be the one that knows the best way to negotiate and navigate a difficult situation.
So, I like being in the area, but they don’t necessarily need me in the room.
PAM: Yeah, I love that distinction too. I can see that’s a great point about your older son and how, so often they, they like to, and they’ll happily step up for a sibling but to put them in a situation where they kind of have to do that, it kind of takes the choice away from them. If it happens regularly, like you were saying, yes. Every day to this same program. I love the way you described just being accessible. And that’s something that we navigate through for our unique children, isn’t it? To be there in whatever way they need us. That is okay. Knowing that you’re nearby and if you need help with anything, navigating something that comes up, he knows that he can come grab you right.
PAM: So there’s a comfort level in that situation, if he needs you, that’s okay. Like you said, if as long as they want to stay and live here, that’s great. That’s fine.
That’s another thing that I love about unschooling families because it’s about the relationships and it’s about the people and it’s about the needs of the people and it’s not dependent on the age.
PAM: The age thing is like the point your toes at me when you’re speaking. You know? It’s just that one little bit, it doesn’t stop conversation. It doesn’t break connections, but it’s that little extra barrier, that little extra hum that’s in the way, even if it’s in your mind, even if you’re thinking he’s seven years old and he should be able to tie his shoes.
When you’re thinking about things based on age, you’re not thinking about the actual person in front of you. When you think about expectations on what they should and shouldn’t be able to do, you’re not looking at the person in front of you. Instead we can be reminded to go back to the child and understand them and their needs, and that’s what it is. That’s what’s important. No matter, no matter what else.
TARA: That interaction that you described, that barrier. It wasn’t my greatest parenting moment but I definitely always talk about it because I learned from it.
I feel like that is an example of something that a lot of us do as parents, and it’s worth considering how it’s damaging the relationship because it’s essentially me telling this individual, this person, this autonomous person in front of me that I know how to be him better than he knows how to be him.
TARA: I feel like that is such a disrespectful thing for me to be communicating, not only as a parent, but just as one person who loves another person.
PAM: I love that. And let’s go the next step because I think something that’s hard. I mean, I know it was hard for me and, and number one, I love that you shared that story because I don’t even like to call them mistakes. They’re not mistakes. We’re learning from them and through our interactions, that’s how we learn what works. Because we’re thinking, we’re doing it. So, the next step, this is an autonomous being, we don’t want to be telling them how to be themselves, that we know better how to be them. That doesn’t mean stepping back. I think a first reaction often when people are first thinking about these ideas of, ‘Oh, well, I shouldn’t be telling them.’ And, and I think that makes them step back a little bit versus engaging with them, being with them. That’s the piece.
You have conversations with them, about how they’re comfortable talking to people. If he’s walking around, if you’re comfortable with it, other people might not understand it. So, you’re having conversations about that when it’s appropriate, when it’s useful for them, or maybe they’re curious, “Why aren’t they listening to me?”
These things come up and you have these conversations. You’re looking at it through their lens, not through our own. It’s not us telling them how to better be them. It’s us talking with them and helping them be the them that they want to be.
Does that distinction make sense?
TARA: Absolutely. I love that you took it to that next step, because I feel like that’s really important to consider that, entering into a relationship, not just me saying, okay, it’s enough that I recognize that I shouldn’t be telling you how to be yourself, but another, but to enter into it and see, ‘Who are you, show me who you are.’ How can I bask in this?
PAM: And how can I help you?
As you’re learning more about who you are and want to be and what you want to do today. There are so many other ways to engage and connect with a person other than just seeing who we think they should be. No matter how politely you are trying to help them along, you’re not helping them become more self-aware or understand themselves better when you think you know a better way that they should be.
And it sounds more negative when you put it into words. Word people. We do it with the best of intentions until we start to realize, that is my view of who I think, even my view of who I think you want to be is different from your view of who you want to be. That’s another one of those little barriers that’s in our way that we kind of want to peel away and bring fresh eyes.
TARA: That makes me think of, I had a little bit of a realization, I think it was working through the View from the Summit. There was so much challenging and interesting stuff through that, those videos and learning from that. And I remember having a realization one day about how important reading was to me as a child, not just because I love to read, but also because it was an opportunity for me to escape into this activity that was really immersive for me. And I sometimes had a need to escape and then when my own children came to reading, and this is actually ebbed and flowed and changed through the years. But at the moment when the realization was happening, both of them were able to read, but neither of them were really excited about it. It wasn’t something that they went to as absorbing and with happiness and interest. And I had all this sadness I was carrying around because I was sad that they didn’t have that escape, or that feeling that I had from reading. And then I think somehow one of you geniuses helped me realize that they absolutely have that. It just wasn’t reading, for them it was something else.
PAM: I completely remember.
TARA: I was so hung up on that from reading, thinking it was the only way you could get there.
PAM: That was me growing up. I was in the books all the time, laying down and my friends saying, “Go outside.” But I just love to escape into a book. And I remember that same realization, when you’re like, ‘Oh, the kids are reading and they’re not scarfing down books the way I was,’ and I thought they were missing out.
When things are feeling challenging and I’m not sure, I go to the kids and look at them, back to being a student of them and I came to realize how they were still engaging with story. They still had things they pursued with as much passion as I loved reading. It doesn’t have to be the exact same interests that I have.
That is such a such a great point because that is a really huge piece on deschooling. That realization of what is interesting for us versus what is interesting for them. And it doesn’t devalue either one, but realizing that they’re truly separate and those things are just as exciting for both of us.
TARA: Yeah. And actually, returning to that word, that word neurodiversity that we started with, I feel like that is a word that absolutely includes literally every person contained who has a brain. That is all of us there. Neurodiversity is talking not about a specific way of a specific brain working, but rather looks at all this amazing diversity in all of the different ways that we approach life. It’s all of us.
PAM: Exactly. I love that. I love that because matter how much, the bell curve and everything wants the normal slice, even in school, there’s no normal, no perfect. People are all unique. We all have our own strengths and challenges and interests and all that stuff makes up who we are. And when you’re talking about diversity, you’re just talking about the fact that the whole world’s brain, everybody’s brains are diverse, right? How we’re wired is so unique. That’s why we don’t find clones of ourselves.
You can find other people who share your interests and share your passions and stuff and we connect through a shared interest and love of unschooling, et cetera. But it doesn’t mean we share the same kind of actions, the same kind of reactions, the same way that we like to learn things, the way we choose to live our lives. It’s just amazing and beautiful how unique and diverse people are!
We don’t value one thing. We don’t value one way of being over another way of being and none of that. I mean, at the root of it, none of that feels intuitively correct to any of us. I feel like most people would be able to agree that we shouldn’t, that we don’t value one kind of person over another kind of person. And so, we should not value one kind of learning over another kind of learning or one kind of being in the world.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s something as we’re deschooling we really dive into, don’t we? Because we’re starting to look at our kids. And that’s where I figured it out.
It was, ‘Oh, we don’t have to go to school.’ So, we came home, but then you start peeling back the layers. You start looking at your children. You start actually seeing how they learn. Then you start to see their reaction in a certain situation is consistent, they’re consistent as themselves.
And you learn that this is totally okay, this is who they are. This is how they’re wired and we want to help them be themselves and figure out how to be themselves in the world versus trying change them. They aren’t broken. We don’t need to change you to try and fit you into this because we know how hard that is and, and how damaging that can be personally.
TARA: Absolutely. And as far as the damaging piece, my partner, Joe and I are both products of public schooling and I had a really different experience than he did. And part of what was really enlightening to him as he was learning more about public school and reflecting on his own experience, was realizing the ways in which his own neurodiversity, affected him in school. We talked about this this morning. He wanted me to share about how, he was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, didn’t have access to that information about himself as a child. So, some of the anxiety and shame and depression that came from not fitting as a student, really stayed with him as an adult and helped him to really reflect on why he didn’t ever want that for our kids. He was doing that work before we had children.
When we were deciding to keep them home and we didn’t know that Atticus was autistic. We were having those conversations before Atticus. So, that just comes back to the whole neurodiversity piece about how it really encompasses all of us.
PAM: Yeah. And there’s the piece too, where it can be helpful to know, in general, like you said, the, there are some characteristics that are often consistent, not 100% across the board but they can be there. Even when you’re talking ADHD or you’re talking autism but there are some general characteristics that it’s helpful to understand. Like you said, Joe felt much better knowing, ‘Oh, it wasn’t me personally, being bad. It was me, as this is how I work, this is how my brain works. And it was the challenge with that and the environment that I was expected to be in and function in. And how I was being judged. The environment in which I was being judged as basically as a person.’ When you come down to it, right, that’s what you feel. You’re good or bad. Because it’s so black and white based on your grades.
TARA: Even when you’re coming out of that experience, having felt like you had won, having been reinforced by being a quiet little girl, in my case. Even then you lose because you have this idea about yourself that isn’t actually you. It’s somebody else’s idea of you. And then you carry around this interesting entitlement and expectations for your life. That again, it’s nothing about you. It’s just what somebody told you that you were. So unfortunately, if we don’t take the time to get to know each other and ourselves as individuals, we’re just carrying around all this extra stuff that’s not connected to us.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. And the other piece I wanted to mention about when we work with who we are and with our kids who they are as unique individuals, we’re working with them and figuring out the tools and things that help and work for them. I know for my husband, ADHD probably at play too, trying to remember, he probably got the diagnosis. But you know, little things like alarms, reminders, you work with yourself to figure out how can I accomplish the things that I want to do.
When you start with things that you’re interested in, things you want to do, the person you want to be, that is the important stuff to have conversations around and to figure out ways to support them accomplishing what they’re trying to do. That’s how you get to the things, not somebody from the outside saying, “Oh gee, we should get you on a schedule because you have a hard time adhering to a schedule, so we better nail that down and you better stick with it every day so that you learn how to do it.”
No. Instead of imposing, there will be a time when they want to do something that has a time component to it, and we’ll help you figure it out when it comes up.
TARA: Yeah, absolutely.
PAM: That’s so beautiful. Yeah. I could talk about this forever, but
TARA: I know, thank you.
PAM: Treat them as the wonderful beings and people that they are and help them be and do who they want to be. It completely respects the neurodiversity of the individual.
TARA: Definitely. Definitely.
I would love to hear what your favorite thing is about your unschooling lives right now.
TARA: Yes. Thank you. And this again was another question that I brought to my team and I was really interested in the results.
To answer for my own self, it’s always been about having a lot of margins in our lives, that we can do with as we need to. And I don’t even really reflect on my own neurodiversity, but anxiety is something that I’ve lived with in my life and it’s something that I’ve learned to navigate.
And for me, margins are a huge part of how I navigate my life happily, when I’m not trying to impose a lot of extra structure on myself. I’m just a lot more peaceful and more attuned. That’s a big word for me as a musician and also as a parent, the attunement. I’m more attuned to myself with those margins.
And so, my Liam and Atticus had sort of sort of similar things that they answered. I said, what is your favorite thing about unschooling? I heard a lot about freedom in their time, but also being encouraged to explore what they’re interested in.
And then when I asked Joe, his response was really interesting and it was about, he feels because we worked really hard to cultivate honesty in our relationships with each other, that our relationships with our children are more mentor relationships then parental relationships. We’ve talked about how some of the mentors that we’ve had in our lives, how you learn from their experience, but they’re not necessarily telling you who you are or who you are expected to be.
I thought it was really interesting that for him it was about our relationships with our children, having that flavor to them, less authoritative and more just sharing our experience and helping our kids to move through their own experiences using us as resources, but not necessarily using us as advice givers with an expectation that things go a particular way.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, I love that. And I love that you asked everybody.
TARA: Yeah. It was so fun to find out.
PAM: Yeah. It’s so cool to see the different perspectives, because those are all great answers, right? And they’re just, they’re so individual and unique to each of you. I mean, I loved yours, the idea of having that space, what was the word you use?
PAM: Margins! That’s a beautiful word for it, word people! A beautiful way to think about just having that space around you so that you’re not crunched. You’re not feeling a lot of pressure from, all sorts of constraints. Finding a life that works for us as individuals through neurodiversity is just perfect and it all starts with understanding yourself, right. Doesn’t it? To know what triggers you and what gets in our way and how we can set ourselves up for more positive moments in our day.
TARA: It takes some time to work through that in a way that you’re looking at your own strengths and challenges, without judgment and without shame essentially. And owning them, learning to own them the way that we learned to own our own specific interests and what inspires us.
PAM: Yeah. And I think I learned to be much more comfortable with that for myself through watching my kids. Because at first, I was very comfortable for my kids, to be interested in what they’re interested in, to be themselves. Seeing them make mistakes.
You were talking about, even if we did quote “well” in the school system, the impact is so interesting to think about. So, for people to do well and people who don’t do well, there are still lots of ways that it weaves into your life growing up. For the longest time, making a mistake just horrified me. And so I would not speak up, but watching my kids make mistakes, learn and go, Oh, that didn’t work. And moving on. That’s who I want to be! I don’t think less of them. I think it’s really cool, just watching them that way is how I learned to be gentle and less judgmental of myself.
TARA: Yeah. It’s a gift really, that we get to as parents that we get to learn, the way that who we are is to be celebrated.
PAM: That it’s okay to be who we are and that helps us, like we were talking about before, separating ourselves from them and not to realize how often in just ongoing conversation, we can accidentally slip little expectations and little judgment pieces in. Once your eyes kind of open to that, it’s interesting to see and it’s so fun, so fun to take that next step. And just completely just connect with them where they are.
To me, when that would get in my way, I’d just get in the moment with them and play with them at what they’re doing, trying to release any of the rest of those voices, judgments, whatever, whatever was running through my head and just be in the moment. So joyful, when I managed to do that. And then I realized that, Oh geez. Everything went so much better. When I was able to do that, to discard all those voices and things and just focus on the joy of the moment, then our relationship got better. Our connections got better. We learned more because we were just enjoying the moment. Everything’s sprung from there. Wow. You got me talking a lot.
TARA: I love it. Yeah. I mean, the joy is something that everybody, that is at the forefront of both people in a relationship. I think that, if you’re having difficulty finding some common ground, that’s a beautiful place to begin.
PAM: Yep. And no matter who you are. No matter how you’re wired, what you like, it’s all beautiful. Thank you so much for taking the time.
TARA: You’ve given me so much over the years with your work. You’ve given me so much opportunity to examine and learn and, so I really appreciate everything that you’ve given to us.
PAM: Oh, thanks so much and thanks so much for sharing your insights from your journey because I think it will connect with a lot of people. I really had so much fun chatting with you. Thank you!
TARA: Me too!
PAM: Now before we go, where can people connect with you online?
TARA: Yeah, I am all the places. I’ll give you all my links.
My website is Taramcgovern.com. That’s a lot of, it’s my music, but everything gets folded in there. So, you’ll see all kinds of things on that. And then I’m on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, I’m all the places and so happy to make new friends
PAM: and I will put all those links in the show notes as well. Thank you so much, Tara. Have a wonderful day. Bye.
TARA: Thank you, Pam. You too. Thank you.