PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Anna Brown. Hi, Anna!
PAM: So, this week, Anna and I are back with another Unschooling in Context episode. The idea with these episodes is to deepen our understanding of unschooling by exploring it in the context of other related ideas. And, this week, we’re diving into unschooling in the context of consent, which also happens to be the theme this month in the Living Joyfully Network.
With unschooling, we prioritize giving our children choices, but what truly lies at the heart of that is consent. In fact, consent lives at the forefront of every interaction we have, doesn’t it? So, I’m really excited to dive into this topic with you, Anna.
First, I want to get everyone situated, so let’s talk about what we mean by consent and why is it so important?
ANNA: So, I actually went to the dictionary, and I loved it. What it said was consent is permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. And that kind of sums it up. We all have things that we’re willing or able to do, and some things that we’re not.
And, for me, it’s always been important to make sure that the people in my life are making their own choices and I’m never moving forward without consent. I think it’s important, because I really wanted my children to grow up with a template for consent, which I think we’ll talk a little bit more about, too.
As adults, we talk about consent in a sexual context, but we also talk about it in other realms and we are stressing its importance. But I think it’s really challenging for people to grow up in an environment where consent has no meaning and then suddenly start caring about someone else’s consent, when basically what they’ve been taught, that if someone is bigger or in a position of control or power over you, that they can push through your consent and it’s socially acceptable.
And so, as a culture, I think we make it pretty clear that children’s consent is not important, from things like, “Hug your uncle,” or, “You have to go here,” or, “You have to do this.” And we go so far as to punish children if they don’t comply or obey and reward them if they do. That’s how ingrained this idea is that it’s not necessary to get their consent.
And I just find those mixed messages to be really problematic, because I think it can take decades to overcome and then understand this broader context of consent. And what I’ve seen is, when you live with consent as the foundation, the muscles that you’re flexing are empathy, communication, conflict resolution. And I just want to say, imagine if everyone had those skills, how amazing that would be!
PAM: Right? And I think it’s really worth taking a moment to think about that. Because, culturally, we truly believe that we don’t need our children’s consent for pretty much anything. The idea is that we know better and our children are ours. There’s more of that ownership, power kind of thing. And that we should tell them.
It’s almost that empty vessel idea, that they don’t have the skills to figure out what they think and we should be telling them what to do. Or, it’s like they’re part of our family and our family needs to do this, so they have to do this. It’s one of those things that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Because you will notice it bubbling up all over the place, just culturally, conventionally.
It is the way that parenting is set up that so much of it is control. And we talked about the shift, with unschooling, from control-based parenting into connection-based parenting. So that is going to come up for us so much throughout this whole thing. And the other thing you mentioned I wanted to emphasize is that it’s such a fascinating juxtaposition.
We want to control our kids, and then, when they hit adulthood, they should be living more with consent, right? As teens, it comes up. All of the sudden, consent starts to become part of the conversation around sex and sexual encounters and stuff, and, “Make sure you have the other person’s consent,” which totally makes sense. And then, even within family relationships, adult to adult relationships, there’s much more expectation that there’s consent, once you’re an adult. But absolutely, how do you get there if you don’t have any experience with that?
ANNA: Yeah. And one of the members of the Network shared a story that she’s been mulling over because of our topic of consent. So, when she was a teen, a boy took things too far, and it was further than she wanted. And this person was a close friend. And it was hurtful, and it was confusing. And she talked about how she spent well over a decade really trying to make sense of her actions and why it happened, and all of those pieces. But she was saying, as we talked of consent, she realized that she didn’t have a template for consent.
And so, she just played the role that she had been taught, which was basically when someone you care about wants you to do something, even if it doesn’t feel good or right, you do it anyway, because you care about that person. And wow! I mean, let’s just let that sink in a minute. Because these little micro-events of pushing through consent, “Hug your uncle, he loves you.” “We have to go to the birthday party or it will upset them.” We’re teaching our kids that you push through what feels right inside in order to please someone else. And that can just be so damaging.
And I think when you pull it out and look at it that way, no one wants that for their children. And so, it’s just understanding that those micro pushing through consent is what builds this foundation and template of how we move through the world.
PAM: Right? And let’s just be clear when we’re talking about unschooling and this is unschooling in the context of consent, what we’re doing when we move to this more connection-based parenting and we really put a focus on giving our children the freedom to make choices and see what happens. Of course, it’s in the context of life. We talk about that in so many episodes. That’s what we’re actually having these conversations about, right?
But over the years, we’ve seen that unschooling children consistently develop a deeper level of self-awareness. They gain experience with expressing their needs. They have the space to express their needs and have those conversations. And they learn ways to navigate other people’s needs. Because we’re a family, we figure this out together. We find a path forward that works for everyone.
So, in other words, they’re learning those tools that help them live consensually with the people in their lives, no matter what their age. That’s the other piece of unschooling. This is about learning and living as a human being with the other people in your lives. So, it’s really awesome to see that difference, isn’t it?
ANNA: Yeah. And being in relationship. I mean, that’s what we talk about over and over and over again in the podcast. And when you’re practicing being in relationship with this give and take and listening to one another’s needs and solving problems and whatever, you have built those muscles so that when you’re in a situation outside your family or whatever, these are the skills that you use.
And several people had that a-ha moment in the Network, too. And you and I both have seen that play out just so beautifully with our children, that’s what they know. So, that’s what we’re saying. That’s the difference of this template of conventional parenting versus this template of connection and relationship. And it’s just one of the things that makes unschooling so beautiful, just one of the things.
PAM: Just one of the many, many things. All right. So, as we say, it does come naturally to children. And it’s something that, conventionally, we train out of them. “No. You need to do what your parents tell you.”
So, looking at it from our perspective, as a parent coming to unschooling, coming to these new ways of looking at things, one of the valuable paradigm shifts, as we take that step deeper into unschooling, is that shift from talking about something into living it. We don’t need to talk about the theory of consent or the theory of unschooling and how it works with our kids. Instead, we live it. That’s where the skills are. It’s not in the conversation about. We’re actions, not words.
An unschooling example I thought would be interesting to share is the idea of dropping rules. That’s one of the first things that a lot of parents come across when they’re learning about unschooling is the idea of how rules can get in the way. We know that we’re working towards replacing rules with principles and conversations with our kids, working through that.
But there is little value in actually announcing to our kids up front, “Okay, guys! No more rules!” Or, “No more bedtime!” Or, no more whatever is the thing in your family that’s causing the most contention. Because, in fact, when you make that announcement, that can actually throw things off even more and bring up more chaos, because it’s a big leap from what we know with the rules to no rules.
Instead, what we want is that transition. We want us, as parents, to be able to develop the skills of what we’re replacing that with. It’s not about no rules, free for all, everybody for themselves forever and ever. That’s not the idea. It is the principles, the outlook of our family, and so much about the conversations and connections around it and the context of our family, our individuals, what our life looks like. And then, figuring out how to navigate it.
We want to be super fluent in those skills, and that’s how we’re going to get there is by moving to the skills, rather than just announcing no rules. And, this totally applies to consent. So much of the conversation, you don’t need to have an actual consent conversation. But, yet, we completely respect and give them the space to be able to say yes and no and to express their needs in a situation, right?
ANNA: Yeah. And I think it is kind of a natural process. Because I feel like sometimes, we do need to wrap our head around an idea conceptually. And that makes sense. We’re reading about it, we’re taking it in. But the true learning and understanding really does come in doing.
And I think we can all pretty quickly agree that it sounds kind of yucky to say, “I don’t care about your consent. We will do what I want to do.” So, conceptually, we can get there. We can see that there’s a problem in that. But in practice, it’s happening every day to children in mainstream families, but even in unschooling families, as we peel back our layers.
So, putting that understanding into practice and developing the skills of what to replace it with, learning to listen, have conversations, discuss needs, problem solve, that becomes the work and the joy of living consensually. And I’ve found in decades of living this way that there are always solutions. And the more you work together in this way and build this repertoire and this ability to have the conversations, the easier it becomes to find them.
And so, there have been some amazing posts this month in the Network as people started to look through this lens of consent and put that into action and see things that were causing a disconnect and now, making space for these beautiful connections and these deeper relationships. And you know, I was brought to tears several times, because it’s so beautiful to see people get that. Because, oh my gosh, we love our kids. All of us love our kids so much and we want to connect with them. But we have all these competing messages. And so, when we can really just see the person in front of us and they can feel seen and heard, it deepens and makes this amazing connection that we’re all looking for. So, it’s just really beautiful.
PAM: No, absolutely. It really is. And when you’re talking about relationships, because through this connection, through these conversations, that’s where we’re developing that trust and that respect for each other. Truly, as adults, respecting our kids isn’t just a phrase. We literally get to the place where we see what amazing human beings they are and truly respect and love them for who they are.
And we develop that trust in the relationship that helps us have these conversations. Because they trust that what we say is what we’re going to do. And again, that’s another thing. You can’t just get there. You can’t just say, “Oh, I trust you now. You can trust me. I’m not going to make you do it.” You have to live it. They have to see that in action to truly trust that. You have to build that trust through all of these conversations and different engagements. So, that’s another great example of, we don’t just talk about it. We actually do it.
ANNA: We do it. And that’s where the change happens. That’s where that trust is built, like you said. And what we’ve seen is that, sometimes it can take a while. But often, what you see is pretty quickly, they’re excited about being heard and seen. Pretty quickly, they move to helping us through those times. Because I feel like those skills are maybe closer to them, in some ways. And so, when we just start using that together, it just so quickly evolves and it’s just very beautiful.
PAM: I like thinking about consent as the environment that we’re creating in our home, or within our family, wherever that is, where everyone just knows that they can speak up, that they can say yes or no. And the other piece is that their personal boundaries will be respected. I think they’re all different aspects of consent and that so much of the communication around consent doesn’t need to be verbal.
We all know the body language of a child who really doesn’t want to do that thing, but if we’re feeling we would like to do that thing, which leads so nicely into the next bit of conversation I wanted to touch on with you, which is the idea of pushing through another person’s consent, so, in that moment where you’re starting to see a little bit of resistance. But it’s another thing that when you see it, you can’t unsee it. You start to see where sometimes, even without thinking, we may be pushing through their consent.
ANNA: Yeah. But I think you’ll find that most humans, and especially children, are pretty clear about what they want to do and not do. And so, for me, it’s just making a commitment to hear that and to watch for those clues, and to act on it. If I feel or see or hear resistance to an idea, I just stop right away. Okay, what’s going on? I thought we were cool to do this, but I’m sensing this and I don’t want to push through that. But that’s work that I’ve had to do to cultivate that. Stop my go, go, go, and be open to those little signs of resistance.
And that’s when we can take the time, then, to listen to the concerns, share our own, and then move to that finding solutions that work for both of us phase. Pushing through that would be me not caring about a no or an, “I don’t really want to do that,” or, “I’d rather not go,” and pushing my agenda. “We’re going anyway. It’s important. We have to go,” but not ever having that conversation. That’s that pushing through, even if you acknowledge it, but keep going without digging a little bit deeper when you feel that resistance.
What’s interesting to me is if you take those statements and pretend they’re coming from an adult in a situation, the advice would be to the other person to stop immediately. But to some children, somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s okay to push through their no. And yet, we want them to understand not to do that when they become a teen or an adult. And so, I really just hope people can take some of that in and just think, okay. Wow. That is strange that we do that. And how is that supposed to work?
Because I think it bleeds into any kind of manipulation of behavior, as well. For us, we didn’t have punishments or rewards in our family. We just dealt with each other as human beings with needs. And all the needs and desires are valid. And we just work together to find the solutions. And for me, it was just so much more of a peaceful existence.
But beyond that, we’re learning these valuable skills: how to state our needs clearly, how to listen to another do the same. Then, how to use critical thinking and find creative solutions. These are skills that have served me over my lifetime, and I see them serving my children as they’ve moved out into the world.
And so, exactly like you just said, the environment that I wanted to cultivate was that of using these skills of communication and being in relationship, because that is so much more important to me than any kind of factoid you would learn at school. Because how we move through the world and our relationships really sets the stage for our happiness and the lives that we’re creating and all of those pieces. And so, I just think it’s so critical.
And I do think consent is at that foundation. If you check back in with that, it will help you. It can be that little red flag or litmus test of, are we hearing each other? Am I treating my children as their own human beings? And what you’ll see is, then they will do the same to you, because that’s the template that you’re providing for your family. That’s the environment that you’re cultivating.
PAM: Yeah. Exactly. And something bubbled up. Just to go back a touch, when you were talking about their “no’s” and how we can push through those and don’t listen to them and that’s what they’re used to, yet, we expect them to listen to our “no” immediately. I mean, right there, it’s just so obvious the power imbalance, the disrespect for them as a person. What you think or feel doesn’t matter because I know better.
So, that is some really fun stuff to peel back on and see what’s there. I mean, that is just culturally so much the message, that our kids aren’t capable of understanding themselves and understanding context. But unschooling parents, especially experienced ones, will tell you that very soon, once you give them the space, your kids will show you how capable they are of understanding themselves.
I mean, we have stories of young kids, five, six, seven, deeply stating their needs and understanding us when we’re feeling off. So, it’s that little leap of faith at the beginning, but very soon, you’re going to see that in action and see how capable our kids are of expressing this stuff, right?
ANNA: For sure. And I think here, I want to dig in really quickly to the whys, because I think it will help us peel back our own layers.
I think we push through people’s consent because we want to control the situation. And we do that, often, when we feel out of control in other areas of our lives. So, when I find myself pushing through consent of those around me, it’s a message for me to look at my broader environment. Is there another area where I’m feeling out of control? Am I feeling time pressure? Some of these outside pieces can be the driver of what’s pushing through consent.
So, I think when we can realize, okay. Yeah. I am feeling time pressure and here’s why. And even just expressing that, that helps you start that conversation. “I’m feeling very stressed. We said we were going to be over there at 4:00. We haven’t gotten out of our PJs. What are we going to do?” is so different than, “We have to go. Get in the car right now.” Because I can talk through my process and what I’m feeling, and so I can take ownership for those feelings, and then I think that can really help us as we’re looking at, why am I pushing through consent?
Because, again, I think we all have wonderful intentions. We say we know what’s best, whatever. But I think there is a saying that’s “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” So, good intentions are not enough. We have to peel back a little bit deeper to say, what else is behind that? Because, we really don’t know what’s best for another person, and you touched on that briefly, but even for our children.
We can know best for ourselves, but we are all unique. We process information differently. We see the world differently. We move through the world differently. And it really never helps someone on their journey to coerce them to do what we think they should do.
And when you just said it, it was so funny, because it reminded me of our Kids Are Capable month in the podcast from a couple months ago. If we force our kids to do something that we think is best, we’re showing them that we don’t think they’re capable and that there’s a good chance that they’re internalizing that. Like, “Oh, I don’t know what I should be doing here. This feeling I have inside, I’m being told is wrong or it isn’t in alignment.”
And instead, if we can trust what they’re saying and work to find ways to meet everybody’s needs, we’re showing them that we trust them, we hear them, we know that they’re capable. And not only of knowing what’s best for themselves, but also with working together with others to find solutions.
And so, that’s the thing. We’re building that up in them, this belief that you’re capable. You can find solutions. You know what you need, but you can also read the room. You can also talk to everybody else in the family and figure out these pieces. And that just builds confidence that they can then move out into the world with.
PAM: Yeah. I love that. And what bubbled up for me there is the value in us doing a lot of our processing out loud. Because it emphasizes for them that it is a choice and it gives them so many examples, each time we do it, of the various things that can be in context of any situation. This timeline that we’ve got, even just from how people are feeling. “We’re going to go here and I know you really want to go, but your brother is not feeling well.” And just all the pieces that come into it and that’s how they gain experience, seeing it in action.
If we just walk in and it’s like, “Okay. We’ve got to go, this, this, and this,” and tell them what to do, they don’t get that deeper level of understanding of all the different pieces. And again, kids are capable of understanding what those pieces are. And I think that was episode 240, if people want to go back and listen to our conversation about Kids Are Capable, which was super fun, too.
So, for me, this pushing through another person’s consent, what’s really helpful there is me paying attention to the resistance that our kids may be expressing, or our partner, spouse, whatever. Because they may be little things, like just a little pulling back, or a shaking of the head, or you can see a little bit of tenseness come in. And it’s also not about being perfect in every single moment. Maybe we do have a timeline. Maybe we’ve got the doctor. But it’s still valuable to notice it and notice when we maybe push through it. Because we’re talking about the straw that broke the camel’s back. There’s only so many times and their resistance will build up.
Actually, you were talking about this great metaphor of the pebbles, boulders, and brick wall when we’re looking at the different levels of resistance that we may encounter. And if you want to talk about that a bit more. But what I love is knowing that we can come back from any of those, even the biggest blow ups of resistance.
But when we notice the little pebble, the little pebble, and we push through, and we push through, because we really feel like we need to, but then the resistance becomes bigger and maybe it becomes a “no”. And then eventually, maybe it becomes a brick wall. It becomes an explosive, tantrum-y kind of thing because they’re not feeling heard. They’re not feeling seen. And it takes a lot more time when you let it build up and let it build up. There’s finally the one thing that maybe they’ve done lots of times before, but at this point, they have hit that wall. And they are just not going to put up with it any more.
ANNA: And like you said, number one, we’ve all been there. We’ve all done it. We have all been there. But what it has taught me over the years is that I really do want to listen for those pebbles. And that’s maybe why it’s so important to me, because the brick wall is so hard and everybody’s hurt. Everybody’s upset. Everything stands still because we’ve gotten to this brick wall.
And when I’m able to see the pebbles along the way, you’re right. Sometimes we’ll push through those. But even if you push through that and take a mental note and come back to it before it gets bigger, that’s okay, too. That is a tool we can use. Because, again, I mean ideally, I want to not push through at all. But again, we’ve all been there.
But if I can acknowledge it and say, “You know what? I was under time pressure yesterday and I saw that you weren’t quite ready and I really pushed and I wish that I hadn’t done that. How can we do this differently when I’m feeling this time pressure?” Whatever the conversation looks like and depending on age and the desire of the person to want to talk. But, it’s just that acknowledgement and saying it out loud.
Because I know so many times when any of us have been hurt by someone else, or there’s even been some kind of larger trauma, just the acknowledgement is so important from that other person to just say, “Yeah. I know. I wish I hadn’t done that.” Or, “I’m sorry that I did that,” or whatever, can mean so much to our healing and for rebuilding that trust. Because those pebbles are indications that we’re getting little micro-tears in the trust and then the boulder comes and it’s bigger. And then the brick wall, we have to really start rebuilding. And so, it’s so much easier to look for the pebbles. So much easier.
PAM: And you know me, I love how everything connects together. Like way back when we were talking about attachment parenting and how the important part is the reconnection piece, because we’re not always going to get it right. And it’s why I love the dance metaphor for relationships. Because, sometimes a little bit of encouragement is just what they need in the moment, and sometimes not. And we make our best choice in the moment.
But, like you said, taking note of what you saw or what you felt and talking about it later. Even just the acknowledgement. It’s like, oh, okay. They knew they were doing that to me. It wasn’t me who was wrong in that moment for feeling whatever little pebble of resistance that I felt. It’s like, okay. So, they knew they were pushing. I wasn’t wrong for feeling what I felt.
So, that reconnecting piece helps with that, and you get to build a path forward. “Okay. So, next time, I’ll try not to get myself into that time crunch when I haven’t talked to you and I just expect you to go along with it. So, maybe next time we broach the conversation earlier, so that we have the time and space to make other plans if there’s a problem.” Or just whatever might help them go through that moment next time.
And then, the next time it happens, it’s like, oh! We’re finding ourselves in this spot, is yet another acknowledgement that you’re not wrong for feeling this. I think that’s such an important piece of that reconnection is that understanding that whatever their inner voice is telling them and they’re feeling in the moment isn’t wrong, even if, at the moment, it’s not something we can deal with. And then we try not to put ourselves in that situation moving forward. That’s what we learn from those moments as well.
Another aspect that you brought up that I want to dive into is the consensual conversations, right? You tossed that in there, like, if they’re ready to have a conversation, right? That is another super important piece. Think about that for a moment, consent to a conversation. You need two people to be in the headspace and wanting to engage with each other for that conversation to have any real connection or meaning.
You don’t want the other person having half a mind to it. Because then, a half an hour later, they barely even remember it. They’ll just say whatever they think you want them to say so that they can end it already. Consent to even having a conversation with someone is so important. Isn’t it?
ANNA: Yeah. And I think we can get in a position where we’re forcing conversations on people, children, our spouses, all of these, but check in. Are they willing? Are they able to listen? Because we can push through. Sometimes it’s just an intensity of our emotions, be it anger that we really want to explain what’s happening, or it can be excitement that, oh my gosh! We’re going to love this thing. Or this thing is going to happen.
But just being aware if someone’s in the middle of something, or if they’re thinking about something else, checking in like, “Hey. I’ve got something to tell you. Do you have a minute?” Or, “Let me know when you have a minute, I want to talk to you about these pieces,” and just recognizing these areas where we push through and instead choosing to approach with respect and kindness.
I shared the example earlier, too, on the Network about, if I’m typing a response, or an email or something, and then my husband comes in talking about whatever his thing is, it’s really hard. Because I’m in this mind focus of what I’m doing here, and I want to understand and acknowledge him and whatever, and if I could just have that minute to finish my thought, then our conversation is going to go so much more smoothly, because I could stop right away. But if I’m not doing that from a great place, then that impacts our conversation. And so just being aware of that with our children, too.
If they’re in the middle of a game and they’re about to beat a boss and you’re coming in expecting you’re going to have a conversation with them, if they stop, they’re probably going to be upset because they’ve worked hard to get there. Or if they don’t stop, you feel like you’re being ignored and not heard.
And so, do you see how it just sets us up for disconnect? It sets us up for getting our feelings hurt or for not feeling connected. But just that little shift of going, yeah. I just want to make sure that other person’s ready and able to have the conversation that I want to have. Oh my gosh. It just makes all the difference in the world.
And along with that, which kind of moves into our next area too, it’s when we come into a conversation with an agenda. So, I want to talk a little bit more about that, too, because that short-circuits any kind of conversation. Because if we come in with an agenda and the outcome, but we’ll get to that a little bit later. But do you know what I’m saying about that piece, too, with that agenda piece?
PAM: Yeah, no. Yeah, we’ll get there. There was just a couple of things I wanted to mention first. Because it’s so interesting to just play with all this stuff in your head. Think about it.
Because the conventional belief really is that we can just talk at children all the time. Tell them what do they should do and just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, and they should be listening and they should be reacting immediately and doing what they’re told and all that kind of stuff. It’s amazing when you think about it. And the other piece is just to ask yourself, do I need to have this conversation now?
ANNA: At all. Yeah.
PAM: Well, “at all” is a great one for next level, I think. But for at first, because so often we think, okay, I thought of this. I want to have this conversation. So, now’s the time. But when you think about it, there really are many fewer conversations that you literally need to have in this moment.
It can wait 15 minutes. You can even go to somebody and you say, “Next time you’re going to the washroom or taking a break, I’d like to chat with you.” And not with the guilt voice that you need them to come quickly or it’s something they should be worrying about the whole time they’re finishing what they’re doing.
I believe in doing that with my husband, too. I’ll go up and say, “I’d like to chat with you just about a little something. It’ll take about five minutes. Do you have five minutes now?” Or he may say, “I’m in the middle of reading this thing or watching this thing. And I’ll be done in 20 minutes and we can have it then.” But yet, there really are so few conversations that we literally need to have right in this moment when you start thinking about that.
ANNA: Yeah. And our excitement and that intensity of whatever that emotion is can be driving that. But you’re right.
If you can just take that quick pause to say, does this need to happen right this second? And to realize it behooves you, because that conversation is going to go better, more smoothly, whatever, when both parties are ready. So, I’d rather have that more consensual conversation and that calmer conversation than to really push, push, push, and it ends up maybe not going the way that we wanted it to, or neither one of us feeling heard or whatever that might be.
PAM: Yeah. I was going to say, because imagine when you approach someone like that, like just asking them if it’s a good time for a conversation. Because they feel seen and heard and respected right in that moment, it’s like, oh. They are seeing me. They’re seeing that I might be busy. They’re respecting whatever I’m doing enough to say, maybe I need to finish it up.
Like you’re typing, you’ve got that thought in your head, and you want to finish this up. Just give me three minutes to finish this up. And then I can bring my attention to you. Consent is just so wrapped up completely in there.
ANNA: And there’s so many layers to that, though, because we’re showing that what they’re doing is valuable. And I feel really so much better when he just acknowledges that, I know you’re working on something, this other thing is coming up that we need to sign something or whatever. “Just tell me when you’re ready.”
But having what we’re doing respected, whatever that is, be it a game, or a phone call, or a conversation, or an article on the Kindle, or whatever, it is a warm feeling to know that somebody sees you and it makes connecting so much easier and it makes the conversations go so much more smoothly.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah, because nobody’s feeling resistance to the conversation. They’re there and you can engage on a much deeper level, and it goes more quickly, and all the things. So, let’s go back to your unspoken agenda, because I think that is another really important aspect of it.
Coming to conversations with our kids with an unspoken agenda really does get in the way of consent. It’s so valuable to take that moment to check in with ourselves before we come to a conversation. And something that I’ve often used as a little check in for myself, is to just ask myself quickly, what would happen if they say no? Or the opposite of what I’m thinking.
Because then I realize, if I’m resistant to it going a different way than I’m expecting or hoping, that’s a clue for me take a minute, because it means I’ve got something going on. I’ve got an underlying need. And understanding that means I could bring that into the conversation.
Remember, you were talking earlier about saying, I’m feeling this time crunch. If we take that moment to understand why we’re feeling an unspoken agenda, then all of a sudden it doesn’t become agenda. It becomes something that we can actually talk about. It’s more information that we can bring to the conversation. But first off, we’ve got to notice that.
ANNA: I love that. That’s such a great tool because just walking through, okay, what would happen if it goes differently than I think? How am I going to feel about that? Because then you’re owning your feelings about it and then you can put it out in front and say, “Yeah, I’m feeling like it’s time for everybody to go to bed. Here’s what’s happening with me. I’m really tired. I got up early,” is so different than coming in with, “It’s time to go to bed right now. Right now!” And everybody’s like a deer in headlights. What’s happening? Why is this happening? But when you can use those “I” messages, when you can pull out that agenda and say, “I’m just tired. I don’t have it in me. I can’t make any more snacks,” whatever. That’s such a different conversation. That’s such different energy.
And what I’ve found is that when we come into conversations with an agenda or a set outcome, it basically just short-circuits the creativity, and it hampers that ability for us to find the creative solutions, because I’m taking myself out of it, because I’m still attached to this one way. And they’re feeling my resistance about any other possibility, and so it really just spirals very quickly into nobody getting their needs met.
It helps when I can really set that aside. And there’s work to this. There’s work, sometimes, depending on how deep-seated the agenda is, or the need inside of us, or whatever is happening with us, to really set that aside. And sometimes it can be scary because we’re thinking, no, I really need this sleep. Or, I really need this thing to go this way. I can’t live without that. I can’t do it in a different way.
But what we found, time and time again with people, is that when they can really let it go, you’re not really letting go of your need. You’re letting go of the agenda to drive this whole discussion. And that’s very different. We’re not saying push your need aside. We’re just saying, don’t bring all that weight to the conversation. Because then it allows this open feeling that they can hear you and see you and you can hear them and see them.
And, I mean, you and I both know that time and time again, we find these creative solutions that really weren’t even on my radar, one, because I was locked into one idea, but two, just because kids are so amazing at finding solutions and figuring all of these things out. So, it’s just such a worthwhile exercise, even though I totally understand that it’s hard. I know that it takes a lot of internal work, but I really think you’ll see how it opens up for new opportunities that you just didn’t think existed.
PAM: It’s not about dropping our needs. It’s not about becoming a martyr and just doing whatever anybody else wants. Because that unspoken agenda is so often really what we think the path forward needs to be. So, we’re presupposing that conversation. We want to push it in this particular direction to solve our need. But, like we were talking about before, about how capable kids are of coming up with these creative solutions.
So, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re almost excited to go into those conversations because I have no clue how we’re going to move through this other than this like one little path I see that’s going to have this negative effect, and this one, and this one. I don’t know how to solve it, and I’m at the point where I love bringing it to my kids and just asking for their input because so often, they will see so much more from their perspective.
But absolutely, the first while, it takes a little bit of extra trust and work for ourselves to get to the point where we can be open and curious about where things may go. But after some experience, I think you’re really going to find it’s going to become a lot easier to come, because you’re going to be more curious and excited about seeing the creative ways that can go. And often we talk about when we have that unspoken agenda, that path we think we need to go down, and our kids come up with other creative ideas, sometimes they don’t feel fair to us or feel right to us.
So, it is so cool to have that experience and to see, okay, it’s not about what looks fair from my perspective. Because it’s not just me who is in this situation. If they come up with something that works for everybody, let’s try it. And then later on, they’ll learn from the experience and say, “In the end, I feel like I did a lot more,” or whatever, but wow. You’ve now had that experience. And they’ve now learned something that they can bring into the next conversations.
It’s not about this one conversation. This is about the experience, about figuring out a path, trying it and seeing, and you’ve got this experience to bring forward with you.
ANNA: And something you were saying reminded me, and maybe this would just help people in peeling back the layers, I’m wondering if we don’t get attached to our agenda and pushing it because of this very thing we’re talking about, that, as children, we weren’t given the template of being heard and seen. And so now we feel like we’re going to use every power we have to be heard and seen.
But what you’ll see is that when you create this new environment in your current family, with your children and spouse and whoever you live with, that you will see everybody can be heard. It’s not a fighting. There’s not a scarcity. Everybody can be heard and everybody can be seen, but we don’t have a template for that.
And so, we’re creating this new template for our families and there are some things we have to shed about how it’s happened to us in the past. But, oh my gosh. It’s so rewarding when you do that work, because then you start to trust in the whole process of being seen and heard, everyone being seen and heard.
PAM: There’s one other thing I wanted to bring up here, because it’s something I know I did when the kids were younger. And I just think it’s a situation that might be a clue for people. And that is, when you come into a situation, especially with younger kids, and for me, it was something when the kids were younger, that big, positive flow energy. We are going to get out the door! So happy! And we’re going to do this and this and this! And then out we go!
And I found that was often where I purposely ignored those little pebbles of resistance along the way and that my positive energy would sweep them up almost and they would get pulled into it. And then we’d all be off happily. And it worked for my goal, sometimes. But again, like we talked about before, those pebbles will build up and build up over time. So, I think it just might be a clue to look at these situations again, when we find ourselves trying to be over the top with our energy to sweep everybody into it. Because it’s just something I wanted to mention.
ANNA: Yeah. But exactly that, because I’m thinking, so let’s say we have somebody that comes to the Network or to somewhere and says, “We went to the park. Everybody wanted to go to the park. And then everybody just melted down and it was this terrible thing. And what happened?”
And I’m always saying, look for the clues. What was happening before? But that’s such a great one, because it’s like, how was that exiting? Was it your big energy pulling everyone out and you saw some pebbles there? Because then that gives you a clue. It helps you go, okay. Yeah. And then check back in. Maybe they really didn’t want to go to this park. Or maybe this time didn’t work for them or whatever the thing might be. And because you are in your head, you’re like, oh, but we all happily got out the door. But when you look back at that, were those little pebbles of resistance? Were you having to use extra big energy to get everybody out the door?
And so, I love that. I think that’s a great thing to check about ourselves. And that doesn’t mean there’s not a place for big energy and fun and to get everybody excited to go. But it’s just, are we pushing through other things? And if we have some problem on the other side, just that little check-in. What was happening there as we were leaving. So that just reminded me of that.
PAM: Yeah. It’s it really is looking for those clues when you want to respect other people’s consent and what they want to do. So just all those little pieces are so fun to think about.
So, the next thing I thought we could talk about, for me, this is the fun part. This is the unschooling in action piece, as well. Because every day, unschooling is really us connecting with our kids, through engaging and supporting them through their interests and passions, the things that they want to do, what they choose to do. And you’ve alluded to this before, so I want to dive into it a little bit more. This is a brilliant way to help our kids better understand consent, by supporting them through the choices that they’re making. It is so valuable.
We talk about it when people come to unschooling. We talk about how valuable it is to follow their interests and passions, because that’s what you’re doing instead of following a curriculum, when you look at it through the lens of learning. But when you look at this through the lens of consent, so much of it is about helping them develop and hear and trust their inner voice and us showing them that respecting that inner voice is super valuable and that leads us right into consent, doesn’t it?
ANNA: So much so. And I think one of the things I just want to pause and acknowledge about this lifestyle is that we have the time. We have the time to be together, to move through these conflicts, to flex those muscles I mentioned before: empathy, communication, conflict resolution, and creative thinking. But, like you said, and listening to our inner voice. Because as we listen to that and express it, and as it’s heard and validated and part of the conversation, it strengthens that inner voice. We don’t dismiss it.
Because if we have something bubbling up from inside of us and it’s pushed through or it’s ignored, we start to question it. Well, is it wrong? Is that inner voice inside of me wrong? Am I getting the wrong message? Because they’re telling me that it’s not important or it’s whatever. And what I want to do is always build the connection to that inner voice, because I’m not always going to be there to tell them what’s best or what they should do. And so, I really want them in tune with how things are feeling, what messages they’re getting from inside, and that is the environment that we can create in our families.
We spend our days together. And we can choose a different path and that’s what I love. We can choose to listen and understand and work together and prioritize.
One of the Network members has a mantra that says, “People over plans.” And oh my gosh, I love that. Because I’m a planner, as are you. And so, I get excited about a plan. But my real priority is the people that I’m in relationship with, my children, my friends, my spouse, all of that. And so, I loved that reminder, because we can get caught up in a commitment we’ve made or in something else.
But when you look at a child who’s not wanting to go somewhere or even a spouse who really doesn’t want to go somewhere, it’s people over plans. It just makes so much sense, because it’s the people who are going to remember how that exchange went. Whatever happened with the plans, it’s not going to matter. Five years from now, whatever that was, it’s not going to matter. The trip to the zoo or the whatever thing that was even a birthday party or whatever, those relationships are what is my priority.
And again, that tuning into our inner voice and making sure that I’m validating someone else’s inner voice, even when I don’t understand it.
And I want to do that to everybody, to you and to people on the Network and to friends and to whatever, because just trusting in what they’re seeing and their inner voice, and just finding ways to lift that up and amplify it when I can.
PAM: That time and space is so important, because that inner voice, when they’re asking themselves questions, “What do I like to do? What do I want to do now? How do I feel about this? What lights me up?” All those questions that they ask themselves as they’re navigating what they want to do next, it seems so simple, but literally those are the things that they’re thinking when they’re choosing. And you want that inner voice for them when they’re adults, when they’re navigating life, when they’re making choices in relationship with other people.
Because so often, what happens is those outer voices, those more conventional outer voices, are what can start knocking you off the path, like in that story that you shared at the beginning. The outer voices can overpower our inner voices and we can end up making choices that don’t really work for us, but we feel an expectation on ourselves to do it.
So, cultivating that inner voice is just so valuable, like you talked about before, that template of consent. Because now they know how to navigate. Now they know how to think through what they feel will work for them. And then through all those conversations that you were talking about, that’s how you navigate other people’s needs inside a situation. So, it is just so valuable for them, as a person, moving forward and into the world.
ANNA: So valuable. Yes! So, we’re strengthening that connection to their inner voice. But at the same time, it’s in a context of a family with other relationships. So, it’s not a selfish or a self-serving thing. But I always want to listen to my inner voice first. And then I want to look at the context of what’s around me and how is that impacting the people around me? And that’s what we can practice and do in our families.
And I think it’s so important because, I don’t know why this popped in my mind as you were talking, but just the idea of the 40 or 50 year old in a job they hate that they’ve kind of just stumbled along doing what they’re supposed to do, and then they look up one day and like, what the heck happened here? How did I end up here?
But that’s how you end up there because people have consistently dissociated you from your inner voice and told you that it wasn’t okay and you need to take these other people into account. You need to do this. You need to do what I think is best for you. And this is the path. And I really want, and again, like we tried to touch on before, these little opportunities that we have now are what build that strength in that connection with your inner voice. It’s what builds your template of consent. It builds. So, while they seem like small things or little things, or maybe they don’t matter, they truly are the foundation for all of this going forward.
PAM: Yes. Because that’s where they’re building these skills. Exactly. Even though they seem like simple, everyday choices, everyday moments about what do I want to do next? Oh. Somebody else wants this. That is where you build all the skills of hearing yourself and then moving through it in context, in the moment. Context may even just be, maybe I don’t have the thing yet that I really want to do. And then there’s a whole path, figuring out the path forward to getting that.
And when we’re supporting them, we are sending that message that their inner voice is important. That it has value. That it’s not wrong. Because even if, again, back to unspoken agendas, even if we just bring a judgmental kind of energy into the room about their choices, what they can often take from that is, I love my appearance so much that I can’t imagine they’re wrong. I can feel that they don’t like that I’m choosing to do this thing, so they will overpower their inner voice with what we want. So, that’s just another situation. We don’t want that to happen often enough that they feel like they can’t trust their own inner voice and then going out into the world that way.
ANNA: Yeah. And I think we’ve all known adults, I’ve been friends with several that, when I would ask them, “Well, how are you feeling about that?” Or, “What are you feeling inside about that decision?” And they’re kind of like, “What?”
PAM: Like, “No one’s ever asked me that before!”
ANNA: Like, “That was never part of the equation! I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m taking all this outside information.”
And the outside information has value. I’m not saying, dismiss the outside information. But we really need to be in touch with our inner voice, because we’re the one that has to live with the decision. We’re the one that has to keep walking forward through that. So, all of these outside noises, be it parents or spouses or whatever talking at us, ultimately, it’s us that has to live with it.
And so, I love that unschooling provides us with the ability to create an environment where we’re all just learning how to live our best lives, where we’re all learning how to be in touch with who we are and how we want to move through the world. And we’re all honoring that. And it’s just really a beautiful space to be in.
PAM: Yeah, it really is. It really is. And, just to touch on it again, it’s not about judging ourselves, as doing this right or wrong. It’s all about lifting ourselves up, lifting our children up, and just choosing the culture that we want to create for our family, because we’re just all on this journey together. And our lives really are just the collection of those little, everyday moments, and the choices we make in there.
And again, the reconnecting pieces. The reconnecting pieces are the most valuable thing because, you know what? Life isn’t going to go smoothly. Things are going to happen all the time. It’s the reconnecting when things get knocked off. That’s where you build the strong connections. That’s where you build the trusting relationships that you bring with you alongside that template of consent. That’s just a given, pretty much, that we are just going to, in our environment and in our lives, we’re going to respect people’s boundaries. We can say yes or no to situations. We are going to be open to conversations if we feel somebody is resistant to something. That is just the culture that we’re trying to create. It’s not about doing it right.
Like we said, we’ve all hit the brick wall and I know I will continue to hit that brick wall, because sometimes I just don’t want to see the pebbles. And sometimes, you’re so tunnel focused, you literally don’t see the pebbles until all of a sudden, it’s like a boulder. And then it’s like, oh, I missed those. And again, the reconnecting piece is like, “Oh, jeez. I just realized that. Blah, blah, blah, blah.” Opening up.
ANNA: And again, you’re providing a template. You’re providing a template to them when it happens to them, because it’s going to happen to them, too. They’re going to push through somebody’s consent, or they’re going to not be thinking of whatever, and they’re going to hit their own brick wall in whatever way that looks like. And now they know, I can come back from that. That doesn’t mean the end of the world.
Because I think that can be really scary when we have this environment of perfection or other things that the culture puts on to us and you have to do it this one right way. When you hit that brick wall, it can lead to depression and to other things thinking, oh my gosh, I made this horrible mistake. And we talk about mistakes a lot. That’s not the environment we’re creating.
We’re creating an, “Okay. Wow! Well, we learned something there. Let’s figure out how to do that differently next time.” What a different energy than being fearful of mistakes and being fearful of doing something that even hurts somebody else. Because again, we’ve all done it and we will continue to do it, but if we can see it, catch it faster, apologize for it, reconnect. Oh my gosh, it makes all the difference in the world.
PAM: Yeah. And those are the skills. For me, that’s the piece that has come with experience is so often, I catch it faster. I notice the body language clues, because I’ve learned enough about the individual to see the way they express it. So, it is not about getting to that perfect life or to that perfect unschooling or anything like that. It is just gaining the skills to navigate our lives. And that’s why we talked so much about how unschooling is just life, right? It is. And it doesn’t matter our ages. It’s a way of living. It becomes a lifestyle for us.
PAM: Yes. Well, thank you so much, Anna. It was so much fun to talk about consent, because to me, it’s just at the foundation of unschooling, but it’s something that we don’t talk about that often. So, I was really, really happy to look at unschooling through this lens. It was so valuable. Thank you so much.
ANNA: Yes. Me, too. So happy to look at unschooling through this lens and also then just think of the ways that ripples out to everything. So, yeah, I loved it.
PAM: That’s beautiful. Thank you. Have a wonderful day, Anna. Bye.
ANNA: Take care.