PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Anna Brown. Hi!
PAM: So, we are back with another Unschooling in Context episode. And the idea with these episodes is to deepen our understanding of unschooling by exploring it in the context of other related things. This week I wanted to dive into unschooling in the context of parenting.
Looking at some of the paradigm shifts around parenting and parent/child relationships that are integral to helping unschooling thrive in our families. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. And I know, Anna’s too. So, this is going to be a lot of fun to dive in.
The first shift that I wanted to dive into is the idea that parenting doesn’t need to be adults versus children.
And we also touched on this in the last episode, which I thought was really fun. It’s that shift from control to connection, in the way that we approach parenting. And I really enjoyed an episode I did a long time ago now, a book chat around, Alison Gopnik’s book, The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children.
What excited me about that was how she got to so many of the same ideas we do with unschooling and supporting our kids without ever mentioning unschooling. I don’t even think she mentioned homeschooling, maybe once. This is her research into supporting our children and into developing a great relationship with our kids.
I’m just going to quickly go through the two parenting models that she talks about there. So, the carpenter is the parent that has a blueprint for the adult they want their child to become, and diligently works over the years to ensure that their child turns out according to plan. This style is popular. It’s risen in prominence over the last few decades and has led to lots of conventional wisdom about parent child relationships that is steeped in power and control, in adults versus children, and has given, she says, rise to a lot of anxiety, guilt, and frustration and made the lives of both children and parents worse in general. That is what she seen through her research.
In contrast, the gardener parenting metaphor that she talks about cultivates a rich and nurturing environment while giving their children space to grow into the individual that they’re meant to be. When you think of it that way, no two flowers are exactly alike. No two plants are exactly alike.
She writes that a secure, stable childhood allows children to explore, to try entirely new ways of living and being and to take risks. And then I love her point, she emphasized that risks aren’t risks, unless they can come out badly. That really wasn’t a risk if there is no range of outcomes! And it truly is that gardener style of parenting that allows unschooling to thrive.
ANNA: Oh my gosh, I love this metaphor and you really introduced it to me. I hadn’t read the book. I’ve thought a lot about it because it hits so many points for me and I think for so many different reasons. I think that first is being able to show the appreciation that each child is an individual here on their own journey. I think that is probably one of the critical things that maybe we don’t talk about enough in unschooling. If we can go there first, then so many of these other ideas that we talk about flow from that, from this understanding that they are unique and individual. And we do talk about it a lot, but I just think this is a core piece, a place to start.
And it’s a reminder that we don’t know best for our children and for anyone else. And that can be hard to hear because we want to help, we love them so, and we mean well. But what we can do is use this information to provide this nurturing environment.
And what’s so great is that then they can grow in the direction of what makes sense for them and what aligns with who they are. And so, it’s not that we don’t have a role, it’s not that we have to step back and not be involved. It’s that questioning, are we taking over the project? Or are we just offering this beautiful environment for that to grow and thrive?
So, there’s just so much richness in her metaphor here. And I think it 100% applies to unschooling and what’s beautiful is we just see it really play out so clearly in unschooling because we allow for this range of behavior and this range of relationships and this range of outcomes. And so, we get to see how this can be so rich.
PAM: You brought up so many great points there. Number one is the nurturing piece. I think so often we find, and let’s just say to, the Carpenter parents are doing it from a place of love. This isn’t, I’m going to ruin my kids or anything like that. But it’s that dance like you were saying, overstep and get into control. And it’s easy or easier for parents to realize the impact of that control. And to, want, ‘Oh, I would love my child to be able to make their own choices and do their own things.’
That is such a great thing to dive into, because like you said, our child, our children are individuals, and then we get that whole piece that, well we’re happy to let them make choices as long as their choices are somewhere within this range of comfort for us. Right? And I know we’ll dig into that later, but I think it’s so important to just sit here for a while. Like you said, and understand how unique each of our children is.
So, when we let go of that control, it’s what do we replace it with? We replace it with that connection. And for me, that’s the nurturing environment inside the garden. So, you need to know what the child is looking for, what they’re interested in. Those connections are how you can nurture and engage with them and be involved in their life. So often I think we see people stepping away from the control piece, but they’re not sure what to do instead. So, they’re like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to control them. And I’m just going to kind of sit back here and watch and hope all the things they do, fall within what I’m comfortable with.’
But the next step of that paradigm shift is to really get to know my child, see through their eyes, see what it is that they’re curious about. And live with them, in connection with them, that’s another layer to peel away of the adults versus children. Okay. I’m not going to direct them per se, but another layer is being with them. So, it’s adults AND children. It’s family. All of us, not adults are over here and the children over there.
ANNA: Right. And I think you’re right, that first step sometimes when people are starting on this journey is thinking ‘I’m just going to step way back here because I don’t want to mess it up or I don’t want to control or overstep.’ Because the ideas resonate with them. But again, how do you put something into practice and what does that look like? And so, what we want to say is no, no, you don’t need to step back. I mean maybe there’s a little bit of stepping back, inside your head a little bit to say, ‘Let me pause.’ Maybe it’s just a pause before I respond or jump in and let things unfold, but it’s not a step away, you’re right there. You’re involved. You’re learning, you’re dealing with this individual in front of you.
I think you’ll see, as you recognize that individuality in your child, and as you celebrate that, you’ll see that’s a much deeper connection than this protector. Much more than this person that’s going to pave the way or control. You’ll see how much richer that connection is. And so, it’s not at all about stepping away and not being connected. It’s really about digging in deeper because you’re seeing, you’re truly seeing the child in front of you, you’re listening, you’re hearing, who they are and realizing that it is different than who you are and how you see the world.
And I think we’re going to get into that, so I’ll stop, but yeah.
PAM: Yeah. Well, that’s why when people first come to unschooling. I like to talk about thinking of it as, as taking an extended vacation. With your family, because on vacation, you don’t typically disengage from each other. But you also don’t have this fixed schedule that you need to adhere to. So, all of a sudden, you’ve removed a big layer of the control piece, which is, “We need to be here at a certain time and we need to be there at this certain time.” So, on vacation, you take away that piece and usually you’re more focused on doing fun stuff together because it’s a vacation.
So, it just helps with that transition away from control, it just gives you a way to look at it for a while, when you’re starting to get to know each other again. To see what is really interesting. And the things that are likes and dislikes and where we like to go or if we want to stay in and all that kind of stuff. So, I really liked that.
And yes, it does transition very nicely to the next point I want us to talk about.
The idea that connected and trusting relationships really are key.
So, we talked about how we’re going to move from that paradigm shift from control to connection, we don’t have to be adults versus children. Now we’re really getting into developing that connected and trusting relationship.
There’s a quote I wanted to share. It’s from David Howe’s book, Attachment across the Lifecourse, and I love this one. He wrote:
Intimate attachments to other human beings are the hub around which a person’s life revolves, not only when he is an infant or toddler or a child, but throughout his adolescence and his years of maturity as well and into old age. From these intimate attachments, a person draws his strength and enjoyment in life and through what he contributes. He gives strength and enjoyment to others. These are matters about which current science and traditional wisdom are one.David Howe, Attachment across the Lifecourse: A Brief introduction
And I just loved that observation about intimate attachments. That’s what we’re talking about. Relationships are the hub around which our lives revolve at every age, there’s another unschooling idea that we will be peeling back when it comes to parenting. That this is a relationship between two human beings. We’re not focusing on just childhood.
Not only is lifelong learning something that’s important to us, but developing relationships that we don’t need to recover from when they become adults. It’s that understanding that this is a lifelong relationship that we’re developing with them. And that’s an integral part of cultivating that environment, where we feel safe and secure enough to explore and learn, to follow our curiosity, embrace our creativity, contribute to our family. It really is just about embracing being human no matter our age. So, how we choose to parent, the relationships that we choose to create with our children, are exactly how we build that strong and trusting foundation in which learning actually thrives, learning actually bubbles up when you focus on most connected and trusting relationships.
And it’s funny, I’m sure I’ve said this lots of times on the podcast, but it’s such a fun idea. I remember the time, the aha moment when I realized, because when I was first unschooling, I was looking for the learning and making sure they were learning things along the way, not controlling it, but observing it. And that’s a useful step, right? To understand what they are learning without a curriculum or without me directing their attention to various places. But once you start to really develop that connected and trusting relationship, you realize, that’s the important place for you to put your focus and the learning’s going to happen.
You just get so comfortable with it that you stop looking for the learning.
ANNA: Oh, I know, 100%. I’ve found, over and over again, if we keep the relationship as the priority, the other things just work themselves out.
It’s really kind of a litmus test for me: Is what I’m about to say, what I’m about to do, going to enhance or damage my relationship? Because when you frame it that way, it’s pretty hard to make a choice, knowing that it could cause damage. And I think sometimes we act causing damage without really forethought about that. And so, keeping that question, that relationship front and center guides me and ensures that I’m being the person that I want to be and keeps me building strong relationships that are built on trust and connection with the people around me. And what’s so great about that is when the challenges arise and they will, and they do, we have that relationship that helps us work together to figure out next steps.
We’re not working against each other. We’re partners and I think these principles we talk about apply to all relationships. And so, I can ask that same question related to my husband: Is what am I about to say or do going to enhance or damage that relationship?
I just keep it that simple for myself. And so, like you said, when we’re cultivating that space, and then we’re cultivating those relationships that learning just sparks.
I think it happens in a way that’s so beautiful to watch because when we are having struggles or if we don’t put the relationship first and it can tend to take our focus away from growth and learning because we’re butting heads, you know?
So, we have somebody jumping back because they’re angry about this and you’re feeling ‘No, I’ve got to control this.’ And so really it all becomes about the relationship anyway. So, for me, it’s more about, what do you want that energy to be?
I want to spend my energy cultivating trust and connection because then I see that’s a place we can explore from. When we’re feeling disconnected, I feel it’s really hard to actually explore and learn and grow because we’re focused on this dis-ease of the problems that we’re having in our relationships. So, I think it’s actually critical to the learning and to the unschooling process and even separate from unschooling at all, just to grow as a person and as a human.
PAM: I love that. That was kind of a new aha moment for me. Just the way you phrased that, that when you don’t put the focus on the relationship and thinking about how our next comment or step is going to impact the relationship that when you do something that goes to disconnect, it actually brings them back out of the learning state and makes it about the relationship again. So, you’re back there anyway because if they’re angry about something you said or something you did or they feel judged about it, that’s what’s going to be rolling through their minds.
That’s what they are going to be feeling so you’ve lost the learning piece anyway. I wrote a talk and I think it’s episode 148 in podcast about the value of relationships in learning. And I talk about, we’ve got Maslow’s hierarchy of needs there and everything, and there’s the basic physiological and safety needs, and then there’s the emotional needs.
And then when that’s all met, then you can spend your time in the learning mindset. That open, curious, creative mindset. But yes, when you create a disconnect or a disconnect happens, things move back down to that emotional level. To that level where they need to work that out first before.
And we see it all the time, right? When something goes wrong in life, that’s the focus, something happens. That’s where our focus is. That’s what we want to spend our time on, figuring that out, that’s where our mind always goes. It’s very hard while something’s going on, while you’re in the thick of it to just randomly go off and learn something else that you’re interested in.
ANNA: And we don’t want to be a roadblock to that. And so, I think when you frame it that way, when you’re able to look at that and step back and see, this relationship building is critical to the learning. Maybe that helps you realize that the work that you’re doing to create this relationship and this trusting place is critical to this learning that you’re feeling is so important right now. And what I think you’ll find, like we’ve said, is that the learning is the easy part, that just takes care of itself, once you’ve done this work on the relationship.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah.
I want to step to the next piece because it flows so nicely here because now, we’re not directing what they’re doing, we’re focusing on the relationship, but now here’s the other piece. As we’re learning about unschooling and how parenting is related to it.
The idea that children are capable of making choices.
It’s another layer where we worry about leaving our kids to do this kind of stuff because conventional wisdom, Carpenter kind of parenting has a blueprint already for the things that they should be doing by age, whatever. It is so hard to imagine, I think for many people outside unschooling circles, that children really are so capable of making choices. And not only for themselves but contributing great ideas to family discussions. They are way more capable than we ever give them credit for. So, I remember this was another really huge and at that point, surprising paradigm shift for me as we moved to unschooling.
What it does too, when we’re talking about parent child relationships is ask us to look through our children’s eyes. And discover, we’re going to discover what’s right for them. I loved the realization that their choice in the moment may well be different from what my choice would be, even if I put myself into my seven-year-old shoes. I can look at the situation and I know what I probably would have done, but it may be very different for our child.
So, it is brilliant to realize the difference between putting myself in someone else’s shoes, and actually seeing it through their eyes. Now that we’re building these trusting relationships and connected relationships with them, we are really getting to know them, understand what they like and what they don’t like, what their strengths are, how they like to approach things. So, seeing how capable they are of making decisions, that and choices that really work for them and make sense when we see it through their eyes. It opens up a whole new world
ANNA: And it’s such a next logical step. Because we were just talking about how you’re going to listen and get to know them. I just think it’s critical to just be a support to them, finding what works for them and understanding that they are going to absolutely have different desires, different preferences from us. And I think that does begin with understanding they are capable whole human beings. And we need to sit with that for a minute—*capable whole human beings*.
Because if you look at them, you can see that they are human beings with desires and preferences and likes and dislikes and their own personalities and quirks, and all these things wrapped up in this beautiful package that we love so much. And when we start from a place of knowing that they’re capable, then were able to step back and watch as they learn for themselves. And as they try out things and find what feels best for them as we live with them and connect with them, we’re going to share our process of what works for us and how our understanding of the world is but it’s with the understanding that that’s just what works for us and that it may not work for them.
I think sometimes that’s a place that people get tripped up, “But I have this knowledge and I have this experience.” And you do, *about yourself* and about how *you* interact with the world. Share that, absolutely share what sparks interest in you. Share how you solved a problem, share how something made sense to you, but always leaving space for them to take that in as information, along with other information they’re taking in to find out what works for *them*, never with a weight of “this is how it should be done”, because you’ll find and goodness, as we all look back at our lives, there were times where we felt this was the way for us and we ended up changing it a few years later.
So, I think it’s just stepping back and not just seeing the situation from our lens. That’s what you’re talking about because we all come with baggage and our lens and our eyes, but seeing it through their eyes, and if we struggle with that, because I think sometimes maybe people are like, ‘But I don’t get it. How do I see it through their eyes?’
I think the key is what we were just talking about. It’s asking questions sometimes and it’s listening, it’s observing, it’s really just being there with them because you’ll start seeing how they process information. You’ll start seeing how they’re making sense of the things in front of them. And then that’ll help you see through their eyes. I just think those pieces are important.
PAM: Because the really important thing, I think when you’re trying to do that is patience. Because yeah, we may well be able to get places faster in our mind, but we see how they’re thinking and processing their likes and dislikes when we give them that patience and that space to unfold on their timetable. I think that is a huge piece when it comes to creating that open space for things to unfold at their pace. And I think that is such a huge piece in getting to know them so that you can understand how they see things. And then that also gives them the space to gather in the information that you’re talking about.
It’s not about ignoring everything we know that’s, that’s another part of the hands off. Right. It’s like, ‘Well, I’m not going to direct them. I’ll just step back.’ When you get into the space where power isn’t part of it, where when you share your experience and your information and your knowledge, that they’re not taking that in as, ‘Oh, that’s what they want me to do.’ Then they are free to take your information but still make their own decision.
So, that’s part of the relationship piece too, that you’re working through getting rid of that power. That’s what the connection does. You’re excited to share and it’s just sharing something that’s connected or related that you’re excited about. Sharing that without expectation and then giving them the space to put it all together.
That’s a huge piece, if you give them that space, you will see them making super capable choices, but you have to give them the time and space to put that together for themselves. And then you’re learning more about them.
Sometimes they’ll make really fast choices because that’s right on the tip of their tongue and sometimes they’ll be contemplating for ages and you’ll be wondering, ‘Are we ever going to get an answer or what they want to do?’ And as much as you can, give them the space to come to it because they are just learning so much in that processing time.
And we’ve talked before about how some people, kids adults are external processors and internal processors. So, you may be having this conversation with them. They may be saying, “Hey, but what about this? Oh, what if we did this?” And you’re wondering how are they going to ever make a choice? They’re thinking about a million things, but that’s because they’re processing all those things.
Whereas others are internal processers. They’re thinking all those things and they’re quietly over there and you’re wondering, ‘What are they even thinking about?’ And eventually, they just come and say, “Okay, I want to do this.” It’s just so fascinating when you give them that space and you’re patient, allowing them to go at their pace. That’s where the meat of it all is, isn’t it?
ANNA: Yes. And it’s so funny because I was going to exactly there, exactly to the internal, external processing. It fits so great here because when you are observing and really listening to them, you’ll learn that about them. You’ll learn that, they’re an external processor. So, they’re coming out with a million ideas. I don’t need to latch on to any of these. I can just be this kind of sounding board. I can, pipe in with different things and that’s comfortable for them.
Then if you have that internal processer, you realize, they’re needing to step back and take this information and kind of run over here with it and have that time to let it marinate, and then when they come back to me, I don’t need to be questioning it. I need to know that they’ve really thought about it. And so. I can trust them, if they’re asking me questions. Sure. I can engage in that. But an internal processor has usually given a lot of thought to what they’re bringing to you, so they don’t need you to then start questioning it. But you’re not going to know that if you don’t take this time to see and observe and figure out how you both process. Are you an internal, external processer?
So, that’s another piece that I think is critical, but it’s all part of this observation and learning about one another.
PAM: Right. And imagine too, if you haven’t really started looking at that and you have an external processor, you hear a million different things and you’re going ‘WHAT?! They are going to do that and that?!?’ That’s such an, important piece, realizing that they’re just thinking about all the things and celebrate that they’re thinking about all the things. And asking questions and, well, what about this? And what about this?
Because we can get scared. You can give them all the information they’re asking for, bounce it around with them. If that’s the way that they like to process things, realize that’s what’s happening and then see where it goes.
But being curious about, I wonder where this is going to end up? It’s not only a more enjoyable, but much more of a learning mindset. You are learning about your child when you approach it that way, versus even just with your body language, reacting with a bit of judgment, to the crazy ideas that they first come up with. Because you’re subtly trying to direct where they’re going. So, control doesn’t even have to just look like words and telling them what to do. You can really, with a lot of body language, exude that control over top of them. So that’s another thing to pay attention to.
Okay. Let’s move on. And again, this comes nicely. So, we’re talking more about these discussions with them and the things that they’re looking to do as they’re making choices, the next piece I wanted to talk about, and a lot of digging and paradigm shifting happened for me around this idea.
The idea of boundaries and comfort zones.
So, pulling it back to that gardening metaphor that we started with the idea of cultivating that rich and nurturing environment with space to grow into the individual that they’re meant to be. It is really interesting or interesting to me anyway, to consider the role that we as parents have in creating that garden space for our family.
So, of course, we naturally include some things in our garden and not others because we can’t include all the things. And that really brings to mind for me, another quote that I loved, I’m sharing quotes today, but this one is John Holt’s, walled garden metaphor. I hadn’t read this book until just a couple of years ago. It’s called Escape from Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children. And he talked about this garden and it’s just so cool to see, she’s writing about parenting, he’s writing about unschooling. It’s really cool to see how these ideas from very different fields come together. That’s why I love that.
Anyway, John Holt wrote, “I do not want to destroy their garden or kick them out of it. If they like it, by all means let them stay in it. But I believe most young people, at earlier and earlier ages, begin to experience childhood not as a garden but as a prison. What I want to do is put a gate, or gates, in the wall of the garden, so that those who find it no longer protective or helpful, but instead confining and humiliating, can move out of it and for a while try living in a larger space. If that proves too much for them, they can always come back into the garden. Indeed, perhaps we all ought to have walled gardens and take refuge in when we feel we must.”
So, I love that idea. I wanted to dive into that our family’s garden is first built and filled by us as parents. And this isn’t a big deal when our kids are younger. There’s lots to explore in there, right?
This is the way our family does things. But the crux of it comes at any age when our children see something outside of the garden that they’re interested in because then their life in the garden starts to feel restrictive. As Holt said, it starts to feel confining and may start to feel humiliating because you’re not allowed to go out there.
So, what now? This is another point for parenting. Will we put a gate in the wall of our garden? Will we walk outside with them as they explore? Those are great questions to ask ourselves. And these are the kinds of questions we’re going to ask ourselves when we come to unschooling because we’ve chosen to be the ones helping our children explore the world. How they learn about the world is through exploration. That’s how we’ve chosen their learning to happen. So, this is a great question for us.
And for me, those garden walls have come to represent my comfort zone. So, sometimes exploring our kids’ interests, takes them to places, whether they’re exploring particular topics or exploring things about themselves, take them places that are outside of the garden that I built for our family, outside of my comfort zones. And for me to be open and curious about those possibilities of adding a gate or expanding our garden, making our garden bigger, welcoming things into our garden. That is where I just found the most, not only learning for them, but learning for me.
This is lifelong learning. That’s something we’re trying to cultivate. And to realize that sometimes my comfort zones were confining for me as well. Like Holt wrote, sometimes, indeed, maybe we all want gardens where we can go out and explore and then come back inside. To me that just screams comfort zones.
ANNA: I love the imagery that he puts forth here, because I think it’s a visual that can really help people understand what we’re talking about. And like you said, with very young children, we create this beautiful garden and fill it with all the things that we love and the things that we think will spark interest and that feels safe and wonderful because that’s what you want for this very young child who is just starting to toddle out and figure out the world. But then, again, as you said, those walls can really be about our comfort zones because they’re all coming from our lens, they’re coming from, what we value, how we see the world.
And even maybe a construction of how we want this beautiful world to be for our child. So, I think there may be some things to peel back there, this idea of creating a “safe” environment. And there’s nothing wrong with that, until there is…
PAM: Exaclty, until there is.
ANNA: Until the child wants to push against those. And then that’s where we have the opportunity to grow. The thing is, where we learn and grow is honestly going to be beyond those comfort zones. It just is. And so, I think creating the gate and not only creating the gate, but like you said, helping them open it and celebrating their exploration outside the wall. So, no fear about that because that’s weight, they’re going to feel that as weight.
We can be excited about that exploration, even if it makes us nervous because we’re doing it together. Because again, remember what we talked about earlier, we have this solid relationship, we have this solid trust and connection. And so that exploration is still happening together.
I think it’s in that moment that we become the trusted advisor. So, it goes beyond this relationship and that we’ve connected. And now I’m going to explore out beyond you mom. And are you going to be there with me or am I going to have to do it alone? Because we’re human beings. We’re going to do it, period. It’s going to happen. So, do we want to do it together, do we want it in a supportive role or do we want them to do it alone.
I think what it creates when you become the trusted advisor and when we can keep the relationship first is there’s no sneaking required. So, I think we can take this into some other realms because there’s no deception needed because they know if they ask and they want to explore, that we’re okay with that, that we want to be there to support it.
And we know that if something happens, out there, outside the garden, that doesn’t feel great or feels scary to them, they know they we’re right there. They haven’t had to sneak away to test it because we’re still feeling worried and not letting them go.
I think if you think about that and I’m sure all of us can think about that in our own lives. If we go out away from our parents, because they’re not hearing that we need to do this and then something scary happens, if we feel there’s been a disconnect, we’ll just kind of sit there in the scary place, like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to figure this out by myself.’ or ‘I can’t go back or they’re going to say, I told you so, or there’s going to be a judgment or even a punishment associated with it.’ And so, then I think that can push us beyond our own comfort zones. And in a way that’s not healthy. I don’t know if I’m making sense, but I just want to be that trusted advisor. I just want them to know that when something is scary, they don’t have to push through that to prove anything to me, that I’m going to be just really neutral about it.
“Okay, that didn’t feel good then. Yeah. Let’s talk about it. What didn’t you like about it? But what are the things you liked about it?” Because even in a situation where someone’s stepping outside of their comfort zones, there’s going to be things they love and things they don’t love. And so, if they can feel comfortable exploring that with you, then they can just be moving more towards the things they love and move away from those other things.
I don’t know, I feel like I’m muddling, but do you know what I’m saying? It’s this dance again.
PAM: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s a great example. The way you were talking about it for maybe people, when we’re talking about relationships again, thinking about the teen years. How culturally ingrained it is that the teen years are going to be full of rebellion, and arguing over what you can and can’t do and all that kind of stuff that is a classic time when kids are at an age where they want to explore more, where they want to explore, not only further field, but really dive into what they find interesting. And it can be hard for parents, especially as our world is changing and moving ahead, faster and faster. So, our teen’s world can look very different from what our world looked like when we were teens. So, that can be a scary piece for us, and we’re trying to keep them in the garden.
But when you think about it, that way, that exploration, when you’re doing it together, when you’re helping them, when you want to be part of it, you become that trusted advisor role. And there isn’t a space where they need to rebel, so people will hear from experienced unschooling parents that we loved the teen years and yes, we love the teens. And that’s very surprising to them, but not when you develop these kinds of relationships with them, not when you choose to really see things through their eyes and put gates in the garden, expand our comfort zones, do things with them.
I do remember when, I guess Lissy was 12 or so when she wanted to first start going to concerts or shows. And she wanted to go to the, they were all ages shows, but they were with the alternative music groups. So, they were in bars in the city, like right downtown. That wasn’t even something I enjoyed doing as a teen. For me, this was super uncomfortable. But through our conversations, I could see how she got there. Just seeing her interests, seeing how those interests came about, listening to the music and sharing the music with her and enjoying the music together. I could see how now she wanted to see it live. So, that was a lot of work. And I remember how fearful I was those first few times.
And then sometimes when the bar was in a sketchy part of town, I remember that one in the basement! So, those were really times when I went into those moments with fear, but I am so happy that I chose to do that, but we were doing it together. So being there, I was able to say to her, “If you’re ever uncomfortable, I’m right there.”
I am not in the middle of the mosh pit, I’m where I’m comfortable. So, this is us working together. I don’t have to be her. I don’t have to do exactly everything that she’s doing.
If I, as a teen, I grew up loving mosh pits, maybe I would have been in the mosh pit, but it wasn’t the thing for me, but I was super enjoying the show. I came to really enjoy those times by watching the musicians, because they were people who were in their element. This was their passion. This is what they love.
And they were just doing like small bar shows, but they were right into it. So, it was so much fun. I found the things that I can enjoy from the experience. I would be able to share the experience with her because I was there so we can talk about it. And I knew, and she knew that if some uncomfortable things came up. I was right there. It was just so worth doing that work to be able to do that together.
ANNA: And isn’t it a part of trusting that they’re capable? Let’s go back to that for a minute, because I think you trusted her as this capable person. She researched the shows. She knew where they were. There were things she didn’t know, but there’s also so much that she contributed to that whole dynamic.
So, you could bring your parts and she could bring her parts. And so, I think that’s the piece that they’re so capable. And when we go back to that, and we trust that, then that’s where we have these really interesting conversations. That’s where we move into these areas together because we’re both bringing things to the table.
I think sometimes parents can get stuck thinking they have to have all the solutions. They have to have all the knowledge. They have to have all the answers. You don’t, because you have this capable human being in front of you who’s going to be contributing. And together you’re contributing and helping this move forward in a much easier way and a much more comfortable way for both of you.
So, I think it’s back to that again. Look at this capable teen because Holy yes, I loved the teen years and love these young adult years too, but I mean the teen years were wonderful. And, yet we did see with people that we interacted with that didn’t have the same connections and unschooling life that we did, how hard it was for them and how they longed for that connection.
And they would look for it from me and from other connected adults. They want adult connections as teens. They just want to be heard and seen. And it’s so simple because they’re so interesting. And so amazing! Oh my gosh, yes, if you have younger kids, don’t be fearful about that because it is a wonderful, wonderful time.
PAM: It really is. And you’re right. They are so capable. After hundreds of shows, however many we went, we never did ever have an issue. And she just dove into the whole scene. You’re right. She found the shows. She knew where we were going. She knew when the tickets were on sale. I just did my part And I found out where’s parking nearby. That that was kind of my piece. And then I got to enjoy the show and we would have amazing conversations about it, but she had her part totally, totally in control. She knew all about the etiquette of mosh pits and figured that all out and had so much fun with that.
And you know, there was another piece about stereotypes that I was dealing with. Thinking the people that would be in those mosh pit and worried about that. But she found an amazing group of interesting people. It was just so worth it for me as a human being, learning about this space that she was curious about.
It did nothing, but make me a better person. So often expanding my comfort zones makes me a better person. Gets me closer, helps me be more of the person that I want to be. I don’t want to be a judgmental person and to understand more pieces of the world, that that’s something that we learn.
I think when we talk about comfort zones, is that so many things that we thought we knew were so much about just that surface level information that stereotypes come from and, you know, not all stereotypes are negative. There’s that piece, but so much is learning that wow, these people are amazing human beings. Like no matter what their interest is, there are amazing human beings diving in to this interest. And they’re nice people, right? So, being able to expand and see more of the world that way has been nothing but a pleasure in the end, even as I walked through my fear at the beginning.
ANNA: And I love that and look at all the learning and growth that you got out of the opportunity of supporting her. And I think that’s what you’ll see over and over again, that they lead us in these amazing directions. And they do it when they’re 6 and they do it when they’re 16 and they do it when they’re 26.
Because these are beautiful human beings that we’re sharing this life with. I really just love that so much. And I think that, as we talk about cultivating relationships and just how important it is, I think that you’ll see as you are really listening, really seeing the child in front of you just how much it will heal and help you to become the person that you want to be and that will spill over into other relationships.
And that it’ll just, I mean, it’s such a beautiful path. And it’s so worth the time to me, to invest in that. And again, we talk so much about how unschooling gives us this time, this time to explore and be, and listen and not feel rushed and pressured and all of these things. I love that so much about this life.
PAM: Yeah. And that’s the other big piece too. I love what you talked about there. That expansion, it becomes not about, like we talked about earlier, it’s not just about childhood, right? It’s about our relationships with them. And when you start with that focus, how eventually it becomes about us too. We realize ‘Wow. This lifestyle is also so much for me. I’m learning so much and I am growing so much as a person.’ And this is just a way for us to live, so often the realization becomes, unschooling isn’t an education method so much as it is a choice for life.
When our kids hit their twenties or, you know, hit 18, whatever age you. That’s another question you’re going to deal with when you look at parenting. What does that age really, really mean? Our lives didn’t change at all. Did they? The things we did will have changed over time. But the person we are and the way we approach our days doesn’t change at all. Never once did it feel like we stopped unschooling, because it just became a way of living a way of engaging with each other, being in relationship with each other, even, even when they move and live in different places. It’s still the way they live, the way we live, the way we still connect. It just becomes such a beautiful life.
ANNA: And, again, I just want to stress this. So those with younger kids, as you’re building these relationships and trusting in their capability, and you’re experiencing this with all of these pieces, when you get to these teen and young adult ages, where honestly the stakes are bigger. It’s moves to other countries, it’s making big relationship decisions. It’s big decisions, all kinds of things, it’s so much easier because of that foundation, because they’ve dabbled in that, they’ve dabbled in stretching their comfort zones with knowing they have your support. They’ve dabbled in really looking inside. And how do I feel about this? And is this something I want to do? And they’re listening to those pieces. So, they’ve had all these years and practice of listening to who they are. And so those big stake decisions, it’s just another decision to make with support and taking in information. It’s just so valuable.
PAM: And in those big decisions too, is also the number one, knowing they have our support, but also what they’ve learned over the years is there is no right or wrong choice or decision. I’m going to try this. I’m going to do this. I think this is the best next step for me right now is what this feels like. They’re not going to feel judged if, three months, six months, three years down the road, this isn’t feeling so good anymore. I’m going to step sideways or I’m going to step back, whatever direction they do take from that moment. They are free to not feel judged about changing things after
ANNA: Even celebrated for that. Even celebrated for recognizing that’s not working for you. Look at what you’ve learned from that. Look at how much you’ve grown. And because I think even in our children who have had that freedom, when they make a big decision, maybe backing down from something, they can feel a little bit inside.
And so, when you meet them with that celebratory energy of, “Oh my gosh, this was such an amazing experience that you had. And yeah, that piece didn’t feel great. And you feel differently now but that’s ok.” That gives them, you just feel the release. Yeah, that didn’t feel great. And I don’t want to do that anymore or whatever it is.
And so, in those little moments where you see that, that human connection that you have with them and that it just, I mean, it makes me a little teary, because it’s just really beautiful. I feel like if we could support all humans and all relationships that way, things would be so different because we have so much fear and shame and things bottled up in us about decisions and fear of failure, all of these different things. And I just feel like this gives a template to live a different way.
PAM: Yeah, it really, really does. And I love too when they’re going through a hard time that they are so comfortable coming and asking and we are able to offer what help we can, even from a different country, “How can I help out with that?” And then just knowing they have you in their corner. Like you said, it just, it just feels very. I’m not going to say relaxing for them, but it gives them, it’s like you’re all working together. They feel more powerful. They feel more able when they’ve got more brains working together, when a challenging moment comes up.
And like you said, that’s the most important piece. These big things really work out the way we worked it out on all the little things. All those little things are all building that trust and that connection that you rely on, and that helps you through those bigger moments. So, it is so valuable to approach each day, thoughtfully, really with intention.
Not just like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll try again tomorrow or whatever.’ You’re not to put pressure on yourself, but just to bring yourself into the moment, to really focus on each moment as it is. Fear can often pull you back away from that. You can often get stuck in your head. Like we were talking about earlier. But if you can come back to each moment and see each moment for what it is without the judgment, without the expectation, that’s where you start to see them clearly. That’s where you develop so much more trust. Not only in them, but in unschooling, in the lifestyle and in yourself, because when you’re in that moment, you’re so much freer to make choices, I think.
When you don’t have the weight of everything else on you, and then you can work together. Maybe it didn’t work out perfectly, but this bit went great. And then you take that information with you to the next time and the next time. This is all building that trust and connection.
And there’s nothing wrong when things go a little sideways. Because that’s just more information.
In fact, I think it was from the Across the Life Course where he talks about even, conscientious and engaged parents, 50% of the time, a connection attempt or just some sort of interaction, doesn’t go exactly the way you expect it.
But the important piece is that reconnection, that next one, that moving forward piece. Because that’s where the trust comes. It’s like when something goes a little bit sideways, if everybody pulls back forever, that keeps the disconnect there. But if it’s like, ‘Oh geez, that didn’t work out quite well, how about we try this.’ Or just going back without a direction. To just sit with them for that moment. Those are the reconnecting pieces where you’re building that trust with them. That you’ll be there for them when, whenever they need it. Right.
ANNA: And I think keeping the relationship on the forefront, that’s something we can control, who we are in a relationship. We can’t control the relationship, but control who we are in a relationship. I think so often we want to control all these outside pieces. We don’t want anything bad to happen, or we want them to be happy all the time or we want to protect them from this or that. Honestly, we can’t do that. Things are going to happen and they’re going to be difficult times for us and difficult times for them. But we really can keep that relationship strong.
I think you’ll find when you think back through your own life, you’ll find that even when hard things happen, when you have that connection with someone, a friend, your spouse, your child, whoever, that those relationships helped you move through that challenging time.
And so it’s the beautiful gift we can give by prioritizing the relationship. We will get through those tough times that may come.
PAM: Yeah, that’s beautiful. Thank you so much for chatting with me, Anna. Parenting and unschooling are woven so tightly together. So, it was really fun to take a look at parenting in the context of unschooling and see how these choices in parenting really support that lifelong learning, engaged, just excited to live life kind of approach to our family days.
ANNA: Oh, I absolutely love it. And enjoy talking about it, so yes, thanks so much.
PAM: Have a great day!
ANNA: You too. Take care.