PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today, I’m here with Betsey Tufano. Hi, Betsey.
BETSEY: Hey, Pam.
PAM: Now, we have gotten to know each other over the last few months in the Network. And after all these little tidbits I’ve had, I’m really excited to learn more about your unschooling journey. To get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody’s interested in right now?
BETSEY: Sure. Well, we’re a family of four and we live right outside of Barcelona, Spain. And it’s myself, I’m 44. My husband’s 46 and we have two little girls, Alex, who’s 10, and Lia, who’s eight.
So, I’ll give you a little snapshot, because, right now, because of COVID, we’ve been doing so many cool things at home.
BETSEY: I’m going to start with the girls, because they’re super interesting. So, Alex is my animator. She loves drawing, animating, she’s got her own YouTube channel where she does speed draws. She does animation maps, and she puts out her own animations, and she’s been working on animation, I want to say, over the past year and a half, two years. And it’s been fascinating to see her evolution of where she started and where she is now.
And she has recently shown an interest in doing 3D animation, well 3D drawing, and now 3D animation. Because she really wants to do a Minecraft mod pack. So, she and her dad are working on something in Unity, but she’s really starting to get into Blockbench and trying to figure out how to do a Minecraft mod.
The other day, I think she spent about two days working on a turkey. And you know the Minecraft mods, the legs go up and down. And it was fascinating to watch her create the model and then figure out how it needed to move. And I was just in awe. It was so cool. She’s my gamer. So, she loves gaming. She does a lot of gaming on Steam, Minecraft, Roblox, DS, Switch. Loves Pokémon, pretty much anything with animals. So, that’s Alex.
And then Lia, she’s so funny. She’s creative too. The two of them are so creative, but in such different ways. Lia’s also an artist, but she is so talented with her hands. The 3D models that she does in clay and things like that, they look exactly like what she says they are. Even when she was a tiny kid. And so, right now she’s very into Littlest Pet Shop, Warrior Cats, and she loves following the fan fiction of Warrior Cats.
We mutilate the LPS so that she can graft on clay to do her own OCs and also models of the Warrior Cats. And then she does YouTube videos. And it’s fascinating to watch her create these characters, because she can be outside, because we have a table outside where it’s all of the messy crafts, for six or eight hours straight creating the characters.
BETSEY: And if she doesn’t like it, she takes it off. She does it again. And so, when people tell me, “Oh yeah, kids, if you don’t force them to do things, they’re never really going to sit down,” and I’m like, no, no, that’s not my experience.
I was on the call yesterday, actually. She comes in, she’s like, “Mom, I need cardboard.” I’m like, okay. She made this set of cardboard claws that she was trying to put on her feet, but it didn’t really work. So, she did them on her hands. And just things like that. And I love seeing what she’s going to create next.
She’s recently got into gaming, so she also likes Pokémon, Animal Crossing. She’s our big Animal Crossing person in the house. And she’s my collector. So, right now it’s Pokémon cards. It’s been LPS, but she knows everything about whatever it is she’s interested in collecting. So, this card is from this year and it’s rare because of this. And if it was in this language, it would be worth more.
But I was like, oh my god. How do you know all this? So, it’s fascinating to watch them. And I feel really privileged to be able to help them if they need like, “Mom, how do I do this?” Or, “I want to figure out how we need to make this work,” or, “How does the turkey move?” And looking up, helping them look up that stuff.
PAM: My goodness. Yeah. I just want to jump in there, because your observations are brilliant. The fact that when kids, anybody, is interested in something, they can dive in for hours and hours. Like you said, when you try to get kids to focus or anybody, think of ourselves, something that we’re not interested in, of course it’s hard to focus on it. So, the expectation that kids should be able to focus for ages on whatever you tell them to focus on, that’s the difference is what they’re interested in.
And you want them in their lives to be engaged with things that they’re interested in. Right?
PAM: Because then, look at the focus they have. Then people think, oh, kids have to learn how to memorize things. But look at all the information your daughter has stored about, like you were saying, the Pokémon cards, the characters, all of that. All of those skills, kids really do own and the only difference is that they’re interested in the thing that they’re learning. And that is almost a no-brainer.
As adults, we want to be interested in our work and the things that we do and all of those things. So, it almost feels like it’s so negative to say, okay. “Yeah, sure. But you’re interested in that thing. So, of course you’re going to focus on it and you’re going to learn every little detail about it, but what about this thing over here?” It’s really fascinating to me, how, conventionally, we don’t give credit for all the skills and knowledge and concentration and determination just because they like it.
So, thanks for sharing those details. Because that is what it looks like in unschooling families, isn’t it?
BETSEY: Absolutely. And I remember a conversation that I had with someone once and they said, “Well, how is she going to learn how to do the unpleasant things in life?” And I was thinking, why would I want her to do the unpleasant things in life? It’s like, why? We should stop and think, if it’s unpleasant, why am I doing this?
PAM: And I think that’s part of our unschooling journey, too. Isn’t it? As adults, all of a sudden we ask ourselves, what is it that we’re doing that is unpleasant and why are we doing it?
PAM: If we’re going to keep doing it, we’ll find a “why”.
BETSEY: Yeah, exactly.
PAM: And our kids will find the “why” for the getting up early for the job, all the reasons, there is a “why” underneath there. So, that level of understanding ourselves and our goals, that is the richness that they get to with unschooling through exploring the things they like. And you see that determination.
BETSEY: Exactly. Yeah, that’s been fantastic for me to see in action.
Because we’ve been doing this now long enough, four and a half years, this is like the school year, fifth year. Sometimes it’s hard to remember about when I started and the doubts that maybe would creep in, but now it’s beautiful to watch. It is absolutely beautiful to see them in the flow, to see their interest, and to respect that.
So, if I’m going to ask them to do something, I’m always like, “Hey, I need some help. So, do you have five minutes?” And they’ll say, “Okay, I need 10 minutes, because I’m in the middle of whatever.” And I can respect that, because I know that they’re interested in it. I don’t know. I’m not explaining it well.
PAM: Oh, no. That’s exactly it. Because it’s not a power struggle anymore. It’s just human beings living together and needing help. Like you said, when they come to you and say, “How exactly does a turkey look when it’s moving?” And you’re helping them out. And so when you’re coming and are like, “Yeah, I need five minutes of your time to help me with this.” Like if they came and asked for the turkey and you were deep in the middle of something, and you said five minutes, that would be okay with them.
BETSEY: Yeah, it is. It really is. It really is.
PAM: Exactly. So, it’s that give and take and give and take. And you know what? It’s still okay if they’re like, “No, mom, I really, really need you right this instant.” Then we try to do it that instant, because you get to that place in the relationship where it’s not about power, it’s just about expressing our needs. And, like you said, respect, right? You talked about that respect level. It’s a respect for and understanding that the needs that any of us are expressing are valid. We’re not blowing things out of proportion. We’re not martyrly and hiding things, either.
BETSEY: And that understanding has just made everything so smooth. I’m not gonna say it’s easy all the time, but there are so few points of friction now for the most part. Because we’ve reached that point of respect.
It’s always a good point to mention that it’s not easy. These are life things that come up over time. But that foundation and those relationships, where we can express our needs and then, if it’s not a quick path forward, it’s more conversation, more expression, more brainstorming all those tools. You’ve got those tools now, more tools that you can bring into the situation when there are times that we can’t see exactly what that path forward is going to look like through things.
BETSEY: Exactly. Exactly.
PAM: Sorry to interrupt your introduction!
BETSEY: No worries. It was a good interruption.
PAM: I wanted to dive into that a little bit.
BETSEY: It was a good interruption. All right. So, let’s see. We did the girls. So Francesc, is Catalan. He’s from here. And he is a huge sportsman. So, he loves tennis. He’s just taken it back up again and then COVID hit, but he’s been able to continue to play on and off. Mountain biking, which is something that he and I love, but we haven’t been able to do together for a while.
He’s a computer developer, so we have an in-house IT guy, and especially the coding side of things. So, that’s been fabulous. And he’s such a researcher. He loves to dive in and really get to dive deep. So, he got into tennis and then all these YouTube tennis videos on the serve, on the racket, the way the racket, the strings, are they tense? Or are they not tense? And tennis, I know that there are balls that bounce and you hit them with the thing and that’s my understanding of tennis.
But he loves it. So, I want to be able to support him in doing the thing that he loves. But it’s great to see him. I just love it when he goes down the rabbit hole, because we all end up learning something, because he does such a thorough job of researching. And like, if we need to buy an appliance, he does the research. Then like, top three! Like these are the top three, and I’m like, okay, that one.
PAM: That sounds very familiar over here.
BETSEY: So, we make a great team on that.
And me, recently, I have been getting into Feral, which is Animal Jam’s newer incarnation without the Flash. Because the girls play, and my youngest daughter was like, “Mom, can you help me with this game?”
And then when I realized what the game was about, I’m like, “Well, do you want me to play through these levels?” Because there’s challenges and things like that. She’s like, “Yeah, that’d be awesome.” So now, I grind through. I get the levels and I get the extra money or whatever of the game, and then I’m like, “Look what I got you!” And they’re like, “Oh, that’s awesome.” And then they go off and they do the fun part.
So, I love doing that. And we have a garden and fruit trees and things like that. And so, I love figuring out how to grow more food with less work and then how to preserve that. So right now, I basically ferment everything. So, I’ve got some hot pepper ferments going. I’ve got olives. I’ve got kombucha. Yeah, So, I’m really learning more about ferments and things like that, which I’m very much enjoying.
PAM: It’s so fun. Our kids inspire us to explore new things. Don’t they?
Traditionally, when we grow up, we can feel like, now we’re supposed to know all the things, right? So, to put yourself in a situation where we’re that novice can sometimes be uncomfortable. But as you come to unschooling, it’s actually a helpful thing, I think. Because then you get to learn firsthand that mistakes aren’t as big a deal as we worried about. We learn from each of those and we notice all the different ways we bring in information and learn about things. It’s really cool.
Because then we basically see unschooling in action with ourselves, right?
BETSEY: Yeah. And it seems like such a small thing, but I love how we’re connecting with this game with doing the different things. And I’ve always been able to listen when they’ve talked about Animal Crossing or their Pokemon Sword and Shield and looking up walkthroughs and things like that. But I haven’t really played, played. Sometimes I’ll do a battle for them or whatever. And I’m really enjoying the connection that we’re making with this. So, I’m like, ooh! What else can I do? What other games can I play?
PAM: Oh my gosh. Yeah.
And I have to say that COVID really has given us the time to do this because we’ve had to slow down a lot. And even though we didn’t have much planned, now we have nothing planned. It’s all in the house. And it has been wonderful to just stop and be and focus on connection. Even though I think we were probably better equipped to confront this because we were already at home.
We were at home with the girls. We knew how to live together, all of us, which a lot of people didn’t at the beginning of COVID when everybody was home and the kids were home. But yeah, even in this hard time, it’s been a great time of connection, I’ve found.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah, no, I love that. That’s a great point. Even the piece that you already knew how to live together. So, now you take that moment to deepen it.
I think that’s something that surprised me when we came to unschooling, too, was how much downtime at home we were choosing. At first, I thought, oh unschooling, we’ll be able to do all the things all the time. We can go here and go there and do the things. And we did some things, but it was just surprising to me how much time to just be, space to just deep dive. Like you were describing the girls, that space and time to deep dive into what is interesting to them right now.
BETSEY: Absolutely. And what I’m finding now with COVID is a lot of the girls’ interactions with friends are online and they love it, because they can dive in, they play the game, they do the chats, and sometimes they’re on for hours and they’re watching movies together over Discord.
But then sometimes, they’re just like, oh, I’m going to go. And the other people on the call, they’re like, “Oh, why?” She’s like, “Well, I’ve just had enough for now. I’ll be back later.” And then, they got off the call, they go do whatever they do, then they join back in. And it’s very difficult to do that when you’re at a park day or somebody is at your house. And I’m finding that that type of interaction for both of the girls right now works really, really well because they can control how much together time that they have with their friends.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. No, that is a great point. Yeah. And they learn so much about themselves, too, as they’re exploring that.
PAM: Having time to themselves. Yeah. I love that. So, you said it’s been about four and a half years.
How did you discover unschooling and what did your family’s move to unschooling look like, as much as you can remember?
BETSEY: I remember it. I remember. So, Francesc found Free to Learn. And he was like, “Bets, I think you’re really going to like this book. You should read it.” It’s like, okay. So, I did. Here in Spain, children start “school”, I’m gonna put that in quotes, at three.
So, obligatory schooling starts at six, but if you don’t get your kid in the school by three, there’s no spot at six. And we were still conventionally parenting at that point in time. And so, everybody did it. At two and a half, you’re researching schools because there’s some choice. So, you have public schools, you have joint public/private concertadas, and then you have fully private schools. And so, you can choose one of the three options.
And I’m American. At two and a half, we’re not thinking of what school our kid is going to be going into. They’re doing a two-hour pre-K at two and a half.
And so, I asked Francesc to do the research, because I knew that he would really do a good job in taking a look at the schools, vetting the schools, seeing the different methodologies. And as he’s doing this deep dive, he came across your book. And I read it and I was like, this is what I want. This type of relationship is what I would dream about having with my girls.
And I started to think, well, how can we do this? And at that point in time, I was working in Barcelona. Francesc works for himself, so he worked half out of the home, half at different clients. And so, Alex went to school and in the back of my mind, I had, okay, but really, this is where I want to go. And we really started doing it very gradually. I channeled Francesc and I went down the rabbit hole of unschooling and I read more of your books. I read Joyce Fetteroll, Sandra Dodd, anything I could get my hand on.
And then I thought, okay, well, how can I apply this to our lives even though Alex is in school? And we actually found a school that was Emilio Reggio, which is kind of like Montessori, very open. The kids can be inside, outside, there are different zones. So, it was a very gentle entry, or so we thought, into schooling. Alex hated it. She hated it. But that’s where we were.
But as we started applying unschooling principles, things started to change. And then, after a while, my work moved into the home. So, I was working in Barcelona and then my position, I was able to do it from my house. And at that point in time, it was just like, okay, let’s do this. And so, Alex was about to turn six. So, we pulled her out of school. Lia had just started, we pulled her out of school, as well. And we jumped in with two feet. We moved away from where we were. We bought a house with a big yard. We just went all in.
And because we had spent those last couple of years really learning more about unschooling without actually doing it, I think we had an internalized a lot about freer food choices, freer technology choices, use of their own time, which we couldn’t necessarily go whole hog on when they were in school.
But then, once they stepped out of school, it was a lot easier for us, I think, to accept that and move towards that. But there were still bumps along the way, but that’s our story of kind of like how we got into unschooling.
PAM: That is so cool.
It’s interesting that you were exploring it, finding it and thinking about it and taking in much of the pieces, like the relationship pieces, even though right now you had school in the mix. Because it’s so much fundamentally about our relationships and how we treat each other, like how we treat our children and how we speak with them, engage with them, have fun with them.
PAM: I mean, especially with kids, that is a beautiful focus, and then it helps forever. But yeah, I think that that is really cool to hear.
And then you just slowly, piece by piece, navigated your life so that that’s where you ended up.
And I remember the very first thing that I did was the say “yes” more piece. And I remember I was about to do the knee jerk “no” for something, playing ball in the house. And then I thought, wait. Let’s say “yes”. How could I say “yes” to this? And the girls were really teeny tiny. But, again, that just kind of opened up that questioning of no, I’m not going to say “no”. Let’s figure out how we can do this. That’s how I approach everything now. Stop saying “no”.
PAM: Love that. That’s such a great point, because that’s a perfect question to ask ourselves. How can I say “yes”? Because it’s not about an unthinking “yes”, because that doesn’t really help us figure it out either. I mean, unless it’s an easy “yes”. But yeah. How can I say “yes”? How can I create an environment where we can do the thing? The ball example, we can find a room, find a spot where there’s not breakable stuff around. Maybe we can move around a little bit. But anyway, we can cultivate that “yes” so much easier than we think.
BETSEY: Yeah, exactly. And it took a little while to get to that spot where it’s not just like a blanket “yes” for everything. Because I remember there were some points where I said, “yes”, and I’m like, I’m uncomfortable with this “yes”. But I think I had to be uncomfortable to be like, okay, well, this doesn’t work for me, so where can we go so that this does work for me and it works for them?
PAM: I love that, because it’s our experience. If we never start saying “yes”, then we don’t get experience. There was nothing wrong with that “yes” that made you feel a bit uncomfortable, because now you were learning more about the whole thing, about that process, right?
PAM: That’s really cool. Okay.
So, what has been one of the more challenging aspects of your unschooling journey so far?
You alluded to something. So, I was hoping you could share a bit about how you moved through that.
BETSEY: Well, okay. So, for me, there’s two things. The first one is that we’re in Spain and the legal situation of unschooling is very gray. So, it’s just a little bit difficult to navigate that. But because it’s not normalized here, it’s lonely. And then the state where I am, in Catalonia, we have about 250 families that are doing some sort of homeschooling. But the children are usually very, very young and it’s rarer to have older school-aged children.
So, there are many fewer school-aged children, like nine, 12, 15, that you find. So, the one challenge is finding connection, which I’m so glad I joined the Network because that’s really where I found my connection. Even though it’s not physically here with me, I’m still connected to people who are radically unschooling, which I like. In the weirdos of people who do homeschooling in Spain, we’re the really weird weirdos.
We get to go to these park days and they’re like, “Oh, curriculum, what are you doing? What does your day look like?” And it was like, well. “How do you do math?” Well, we go to the store and they get money to spend. So, for me, that’s one of the challenges. I don’t want to say isolation, but just the loneliness, of being in a space where there aren’t too many people that are doing homeschooling, let alone unschooling.
And the other thing for me that it’s a challenge, but it’s not really a challenge, I don’t think that’s the right word. The personal growth that I have had to do in order for me to really radically unschool and to live unschooling, not just use it as like an educational methodology, has meant that I have really had to take some deep looks inside. Because what I’ve learned is that when I don’t like something, it’s not the kids and it’s not what the kids are doing. It usually comes from some baggage that I have.
And to stop, take the time, figure out, what is it about this situation that I don’t like? Why don’t I like it? Where is it coming from? I have to sit in some uncomfortable feelings sometimes. And for a person that has never given myself the time to do that, because it was uncomfortable and I don’t like being uncomfortable, that’s a challenge. That’s a challenge. But it’s a good challenge, because I’ve grown so much from the start of my journey to now.
PAM: Wow. Yeah, that discomfort piece, it really is a big piece, because unschooling works really well when you do embrace it as a lifestyle and use it as a vehicle for that personal journey. It really is a journey about becoming more human. I think it’s part of our human journey when we want to be engaged in our life and really understand ourselves.
So, like you said, it really is choosing to give ourselves that time that often when you’re just going into the flow of more mainstream life, you don’t have time for this. And, like you said, who wants to sit in the uncomfortableness? But then, when you gain experience of sitting through it a little bit, like you guys chose to dive in.
And you know what? That does sound like a way we would like to go, a direction we’d like to go. And even while you were working outside the home and in your eldest was in school and everything. So, that was kind of your call to this journey.
And the discomfort piece, like you said, that really is so valuable. And we learn over and over that we just gain so much by going through it. But each time it’s not easy, is it?
BETSEY: No. And there’s always something different, because the kids are different ages, they’re hitting different things. But a good example was the house being tidy. So, I call it the cleanliness continuum. Mine is up here and pretty much everyone else I live with is like here. And I used to get so annoyed when there would be stuff on the floor. Like, really annoyed. It made my brain feel cluttered when I saw clutter.
But then I did a lot of reading around chores and cleaning and all that stuff. And I realized that it’s my need to have the house at X level of cleanliness. And nobody else was really interested in having it at X level of cleanliness. So, what did I need to do to help manage that need for myself?
And so, part of it was just letting go, because I started to see a clean floor as a blank canvas and accepting that that clean floor was going to be cluttered again soon with projects, art projects, and different setups of toys. And that was okay. And that was good, because that meant things were working and the kids were playing and having fun.
And so, that was kind of a mental shift for me. And when I really need a clean spot, I’ll clean a spot on the countertop or I’ll go upstairs and I’ll clean my desk off. I have an office, so I’m in my office right now. And so, if I need to come into an organized spot, to kind of clean my brain, then I come up here and I do some organizing and then I can move forward into clean and tidy. But it hasn’t been all me making the concessions.
I was also able to talk to my partner and be like, okay, look, I would like to not make my feet bloody by stepping on little, teeny, tiny toy pieces. So, what can we do? And it’s been a back and forth of, well, I can do this and I can do that. And for example, what’s working for us now is we have a calendar that I’ve done of, these are the cleaning stuff that needs to get done.
And we have a little tiny cleaning thing each day, like kitchen surfaces. That’s today. These two windows needs to get cleaned. That’s tomorrow. And it’s there. And if we don’t do it, it’s no big deal. But we know that it’s something that we’d like to get done, and that seems to be working fine now. That works well for him and I, and sometimes the girls will help us and sometimes they won’t.
But it’s always in motion. It’s always in motion, because we’re not the same people today that we were yesterday.
PAM: That is such a big point, I think, because often we can feel like when something’s bothering us, we want to solve it. And we want an answer. And then we want that answer to work moving forward, because we want to take it off our plate. But exactly what you said, our circumstances are always changing, we as people are always changing.
So, I think that’s a big acceptance point is that things are going to move and flow with us. Our solutions are going to look different for anything, really. Even down to how we learn, that can morph over time. But also, all those pieces, like our sleep morphs over time, our food morphs over time, whether it’s the kinds of food, but that’s the more intuitive piece. That is more deeply understanding ourselves and really deeply respecting that to come up with these plans and ideas.
I love the calendar. It’s like, here’s the things. I’ve thought it through, this organization. But the nice thing is putting it out in the world without expectation. It’s still a choice.
BETSEY: It’s still a choice. And the calendar thing, if it’s not working, so for example, if one or the other of us ever starts to feel more burdened, it’s gotten to the point where we just discuss it. Like, hey, this isn’t working for me. What do you think we could change? It’s not this huge fight.
PAM: There’s not a lot of guilt, as in, “You didn’t do that.” None of that comes in. It’s a tool. It’s a tool that we’re trying to use together. And if the tool stops working or pieces of it, like it’s starting to feel a little heavy or whatever, those are clues for us to revisit again and keep the flow, rather than trying to pull and control everybody to this answer.
And I think, because we’ve been unschooling, and because I want to make sure that I afford my children the space to try, and if it doesn’t work, try again, and if they need support, get the support that they need to do that. And so, I want to make sure that I afford the same gentle acceptance to what I need and what Francesc needs.
And that’s been really, really hard to do, because it’s like, oh, well, we didn’t clean the bathroom today. Oh my God. But at the end of the day, is anybody going to die because I didn’t clean the bathroom? No, it’s perfectly fine. If it gets done tomorrow, great. And if it doesn’t get done tomorrow, and it gets done next week, not a problem at all. It’ll be fine. It’ll be fine. That’s okay.
PAM: Yeah. For me, everybody knows here, I’m the list queen, whatever you want to call it. But for me, the value in that is not as in trying to hold myself to some sort of schedule, but it’s out of my brain. So, the bathroom is there on the list and like you said, oh, it’s here today. Oh, it’s here again today. And it’s here again until next week or till whenever, but it’s not in my head taking up space. And then I can just see it and choose in the moment where it goes.
BETSEY: Well, and it also becomes a communication tool, right? Right now, I’ve thought, these are the minimum things that I would like to get done so that our home works well for us. And if something doesn’t get done and it’s really bothering me, I am allowed to say, we haven’t done this and it’s making me a little antsy.
Or, I think I’m upset that I didn’t do this or that we didn’t get to do this. And whether it be to Francesc or to the girls, we already have that line of communication open and it’s not an attack. It’s just, this is how I’m feeling. What can we do? What do you think I should do? Is there something that we can do together?
It’s that transition away from the power and control relationship with a spouse or partner or with your kids. Shifting away from that into that connection where we’re all a team together. So, like you said, you can express these things and they don’t take it as a slight on them or a judgment of them. But I’m feeling antsy. Can you help me figure out a way through this?
Maybe it is, “You know what mom? You don’t have to find out about the turkey movement and help me with that right now. I can wait while you clean the bathroom.” It may be giving you space to do these things that are feeling out of alignment.
BETSEY: Right. And what I loved is that, it’s helped me determine what my priorities are and it’s almost always prioritizing the relationship. So, stopping in the moment where I’m putting the dishes in the dishwasher or about to clean the surfaces, because the calendar says I need to clean the kitchen surfaces. And one of the girls comes over and needs help with something.
Well, the kitchen surfaces will be there for me to clean in 30 minutes or the next day, but this moment right now may not be. And so, I always try and remind myself, because I am very goal-oriented and sometimes it’s very hard for me to shift, but I always try and remind myself that there’s more value in me stopping what I’m doing for this low value activity to really focus on the relationship, and the people who are really important to me, which are Alex, Lia, and Francesc.
PAM: Exactly. It does come right down to the priorities and what our choices are. I’m choosing to put our relationship as a high priority, our connection. When I’m being invited to connect with somebody, that is almost always going to be a higher priority. Make sure to turn the water off in the sink or whatever.
BETSEY: Right. Exactly.
PAM: Exactly. No, I love that. I love that.
And sometimes that’s been hard, because a lot of times, in the back of my head, there’s always this little voice saying, well, you should, those “shoulds”, right? You should want, you should be doing. And I’m constantly trying to make sure that I’m not listening to my perceptions of other people’s possible expectations of me. I’m creating these big ideas of what somebody else might think of me. I don’t know what they think of me. They’re probably not even thinking of me.
But I have this voice in the back of my head. And so, trying to undo that has also been a large portion of my journey of, my house doesn’t have to look like it’s ready to be photographed by Better Homes and Gardens. At all. Ever. Ever.
PAM: That is the fun piece of diving into “shoulds” is we realize how much it’s what we’re thinking about what other people think.
PAM: It’s so fascinating.
BETSEY: Exactly. And sometimes, I have to remind myself, I’m like, do you really care? This person that you don’t know, do you care what they think? And the answer is pretty much always, no, I don’t care what they think. I don’t care what they think.
PAM: Exactly. Because that’s pulling us away from a choice and that’s how it becomes a “should”. We lose our choice. That’s why I use the “should” word, when I hear myself saying that, that’s just my little clue. It’s like, oh! It’s just a little clue that your mind has shifted to where you’re looking at how other people might judge you. And, you know what? We have learned to judge ourselves very harshly.
BETSEY: Yes. Yes.
PAM: Exactly. That’s good.
So, you mentioned a little bit earlier about technology. And when we were prepping for the call, you talked about how you love how technology weaves through your days.
I know technology is something that a lot of people find challenging. So, I would love to hear a bit more about your experience.
BETSEY: Okay. So yes, technology and screens, even though I do not like using “screens” to talk about all the different types of technology that we use, are a huge part of how we connect with and experience the world. All four of us. Francesc is a programmer. Like he’s an it guy and he has worked with computers for the last 20 years. That’s what he does. That’s how he makes his living.
I’m a first adopter. I like new gadgets. I love that stuff. I love figuring out how it works, poking buttons to see what they do. So, I really like that.
And early on, both he and I felt it would be disingenuous of us to be constantly on our devices, for me, it’s my phone, and for him, it’s his computer. and not allow our children the same freedom. Because, for example, my phone is my library, the way that I contact my friends. It’s my encyclopedia. It’s how I figure out how to ferment foods, what seeds to buy, how to plant something. It’s this fantastic tool. And so, I couldn’t really say, “Well, I’m going to be using it, but you can’t.” That didn’t seem reasonable to me.
But there’s a lot of fear mongering around child development and screens and watching TV and games. And my experience has been the following. Our girls have had pretty free access to technology, to be able to watch what they want to watch, from the time that they were probably three years old and one and a half or two. And we watched a lot of Octonauts a lot of times.
Lia, my youngest, loves to watch a series over and over and over again. So, for example, this last couple of days we’ve been watching Adventure Time. It’s probably the tenth time that we’ve watched all six seasons all the way through. And I watch it with them. I might be in the kitchen, but the house is this big open space, so I can see the TV. And we’ll be laughing about some character, what they said, and we always find some new little joke.
But what I’ve realized is that a lot of their play, it piggybacks off of each other. They love stuff with animals. So, they try to find more shows and games with animals and they play the game. But then, they’ll go outside with their animal figurines or their Littlest Pet Shop. And they’ll do an imagination play with the animals, maybe pulling from the storyline that they’ve just been watching. And then they come back inside and they’ll do something different.
And so, them having access to technology hasn’t necessarily been 24/7 just attached to the screen. And I can understand how people who parent conventionally, or whose children go to school, it is very, very scary. Because our kids get home from school and they’re, well, the only thing they want to do is watch TV.
And I’m thinking, okay, well, what do you want to do when you come home from eight hours of working, right? Your kid has been at school, listening to somebody else talk, doing things that they don’t necessarily want to do for eight hours. What do you do when you get home? Do you sit down and start doing more work? No, but that’s what we expect children to do.
And it’s the whole economics thing. When there’s something that is scarce, being able to use it has a very, very high value. And you’re going to want to keep using it, because somebody is going to come and take it away. And we really see the difference between the way that our daughters approach technology, because they have access to technology all day, every day, and different technologies.
So, the computer with the Steam games and the Blender and the iPad and the DS and the Switch, versus our nephews, for example, who are pretty much the same age, but they go to school. And so, going onto YouTube and watching their favorite YouTubers or playing a game, it’s really kind of a way to blow off steam, and they don’t have very much time to do that.
And so, sometimes I think for the girls, especially when they were a little bit younger, bringing their iPad or their Switch or something to their grandma’s house when the cousins were over was really difficult, because the girls were like, “Yeah! We’re going to go see our cousins!” And the boys would really want to want to be on the iPads and the Switches, because they didn’t necessarily have access to that. And the girls were like, “Well, we wanted to play outside in the pool!”
So, what I’ve seen through use of technology, my oldest learned how to read through Pokemon games, basically. So, Pokemon games have a lot of words. And I think she was five and a half and six. And so, first it was, “Mom, what does this say? Mom, what does this say?” So, I had to be right next to her as we read through. And then it was, “What does this word say?” And she was calling me less and less frequently. And then there was a couple of weeks that she didn’t call me at all.
I’m like, “Are you still playing Pokemon?” And she was like, “Yeah.” And she’s pacing through all of these screens. I’m like, “Do you understand what that says?” She’s like, “Yeah. More or less.” And we sit down. She’s like, “I’ll read the book to you.” And she would read. And what was fascinating was she could sight read. So, she knew all the big words, like “neighbor” and “thought” and “weather”, but she didn’t know the little tiny words like the “the” and the “or” and the “his”, because contextually, she didn’t need to know that when she was learning how to read in the game.
And for her, her process has taken probably about a year and a half. But now, she reads everything. She reads everything. And because we live in Spain, sometimes the games are in Spanish. And so, she’s starting to be able to read in Spanish, because she already has the toolkit of how she learned how to read in English.
The process for my eight-year-old has been a little bit different. But still, technology is helping her learn how to read, because one of the things that we’ve done is we put the subtitles on the TV. So, whenever we watch TV, like Netflix or anything, we turned the subtitles on, because we couldn’t hear it because the TV was on, two iPads were on, and something else was going.
So, Francesc and I put the captions on so we can hear the TV. And Lia was telling me, “Well, yeah, I see the words when I’m watching TV. And so, I know kind of what the words are saying.”
So, what she’s telling me is I recognize that there are words on the screen, and this is one way that I’m capturing this information, along with her gameplay, and along with a whole host of other things. But it’s been fascinating how those two journeys, even though they were aided by technology, have been so different to get to the same place.
But for me, at the end of the day, technology is just a tool. It’s a tool. And it’s how Alex is able to find how to do a 3D character on Blender. It’s how she figured out how to use Blockbench to create this Minecraft turkey that moves.
It’s how Lia is able to find all the information on all of these different Pokemon cards and the values and what year they were made in and how many there are. It’s how they’re able to connect with people that have the same interests. So, whether they’re playing Roblox or Alex is trying to find other artists who do the same type of art that she does. Or how they figure out how to do things, so DIY, making their OC, the original characters for the Warrior Cats.
And for me, not giving them access to those tools would be handicapping them. I can’t imagine how I would be able to provide them with the same amount of information as these different technological devices have been able to provide them.
PAM: Yeah, no, I love the way you described that, because there is so much. And what I love about YouTube and all the forums, all of those places where they’re finding and connecting with people with the same kind of interests, so many people are open to sharing what they know. As human beings, we love to share what we’re interested in, what we know about it. We’re excited to connect with somebody and help them out so often. And as you said, it is a tool that facilitates that connection, that learning.
And the other piece I love was because we can see technology as static and you were explaining how each of your daughters have used it differently for their learning process. Learning to read. Because it’s a tool, we’re each going to use it as works for us individually, right?
PAM: Not only the places, but how we use it, because it’s just a tool for us to play with and use how best fits. I love the closed captioning. Lissy came home probably over a year now. And she turned on the closed captioning on all our TVs, because it’s the way she likes to watch. She looks up, because she’ll have it on while she’s doing all sorts of art things, as well. And we haven’t turned it off.
BETSEY: I know. Sometimes I look at the TV. I’m like, why can’t I hear the TV? I’m like, oh, the captions aren’t on. And it’s so strange how those two are connected. I’m like, oh, now I can hear because the words are on the TV.
What I also like about technology, though, Pam, is in my experience in other families who do radical unschooling, technology also gives us, I don’t want to say a platform for conversations, but because we are using those tools with our children, we are watching together in parallel, could be some of the YouTube we’re watching in parallel the different TV shows. We’re having conversations about what they’re watching.
When something comes up that is a little icky, because I think there’s a lot of fear about, well, what if they see X, Y, and Z? Or, what if they’re approached by X, Y, and Z? And so, we’ve been having conversations with them from a very young age of, okay, well, we don’t give out our information on the internet. And that is showing our face on YouTube videos and putting out our address and phone number and email and things like that. Because, while most people are good, there are some people that are not. Having this type of conversation.
And they internalize that. And so, as they’re using the tools, they’re beginning to understand, okay, well, there was this YouTube video about this happening. Okay. Now I understand why mom was talking to me about, let’s not put out our information.
Lia was watching a video maybe about Minecraft, and there was some guy and he was talking and he was saying some pretty mean things about some other YouTubers. And I turned to her, I’m like, I don’t like this guy. He seems really mean. What do you think? And she’s like, yeah. She’s like, it’s not so good. I’m like, do you want me to help you find something different? She’s like, yeah.
But because I’m around, because we’re around, we can have those types of conversations and I hope that as they get older and as they come up against other content that might be upsetting to them, because they might, that we’ve been able to create a relationship that’s open enough so that they’re comfortable coming to us.
Because one time Alex hid something. I said, “Baby, there is nothing that you can be watching that I am ever going to be mad that you were watching. I might be a little bit upset, because I think it’s kind of yucky. But I’m not going to be mad at you.”
So, for me, it gives us the opportunity to have these conversations, because whether or not we like it, technology is a part of our world now. And anyone will come up against content that they may not like. And knowing how to deal with that or knowing that you have somebody that you can go to, to make sense of what you’ve seen, if it’s upset you, or to discuss it in an open and honest way, versus having to figure it out yourself with your friends, I think there’s a lot of value to that.
PAM: Yeah. And I think it’s such a great point that to use it as a tool for connection, for us to connect with our kids, because we want to connect with the things that they’re interested in, because we learn more about them. And because that’s where we can have those open conversations. I think from sometimes how questions and stuff are phrased, and like you mentioned right up at the top, the word “screens”. When people are saying, “They’re on their screens all the time,” that is a trigger for us or a clue for us that, hmm. Do they really know what they’re doing there?
Because if you don’t know that level of detail about your children’s interests, like are they watching YouTube? What kind? YouTube isn’t even the interest. YouTube is a tool. Are they watching videos that are showing them how to do this? What is it that they’re watching also? What channels are they liking? What are they enjoying about it? Because those are the conversations you want to have. Or just as if your kid is super interested in soccer or hockey, you want to learn about that and have conversations about that.
So, seeing it as a tool and going down to the level of interest, realizing that the screen isn’t the interest, and having conversations around the interests and the skills they’re going to be developing. You truly can compare that to a sport or any other interest that they have in the world.
BETSEY: Yeah. Their ability to find information that they’re interested in and looking for is phenomenal. And neither of my kids know how to type. So, they’re using the voice to text a lot. In fact, Alex uses voice to text to write stuff out. She was like, “Yeah, I just say it in YouTube and then I copy it. It types it out for me.” So, yeah, I really enjoy the way that we’ve been able to weave technology into our lives. And I wish I had those tools when I was a child, because for me, my only gateway was books. But I had to wait until the library had the book, which could be weeks. And only the books that I could carry.
And now, on my phone, I have thousands of books. Millions. At any point in time. And I can figure out. So, when Alex says, “Okay, well this Pokémon, what animal is it from?” We can go in. We can look, we can see where the connection is, where that animal is from. Is it endangered? Why is it endangered?
We can pull that thread, that string, and we can find the answers almost immediately, which was not the case for me.
PAM: It is just so valuable. And then for finding communities of other people who are interested in the same things, then you can get deeper discussions, and feel more connection with the things that you’re passionate about. And with other people living the same lives. Yeah.
It’s a tool. And it’s such a helpful tool. And your point, too, about their cousins and the time constraint. The freedom to choose is what really helps us see it in action for its benefits and talking with them. Sometimes we do, even as adults, sometimes we push past. We want to watch one more episode. It’s like, Oh, your eyes are tired. But we’re gaining experience through that.
I find we often judge things so much for our kids. We want them to be better than us.
BETSEY: Yeah. And sometimes I think the expectations that I sometimes have for my children, sometimes I have to take a step back. I’m like, oh my God, she’s eight. I’m 44. And I’m still like, if I’m hungry, I’m not a nice person. It’s like, let’s give her a little bit of a break. The kid is frustrated. She’s been trying to do this for three hours. It’s not working. She’s allowed to let off a little bit of steam.
I may not like the way that she’s doing it, but she’s entitled to that, because she’s frustrated. Afterwards, we could talk about how she did it, but right now I’m going to let her be frustrated because if it was me, I would be frustrated.
PAM: No, exactly, exactly. That’s such a useful shift to realize there are so many expectations that we put on our kids and even thinking about ourselves. Well, I’m not very good at this thing. I want my kids to be better at it. So then, we put our view of what better looks like and expect that from them. Anyway. I wanted to move on to the next question, because I’m interested to hear about this.
As we’ve been talking about, as we’re moving deeper and deeper into unschooling, our relationships with our kids become steeped in that connection and trust, that foundational, strong relationship that helps us move through those more frustrated moments, et cetera. But sometimes, it can be challenging for us to extend that same kind of grace with our partners.
So, I was wondering if you could share how unschooling has deepened or changed your relationship with Francesc, and what that journey has looked like for you.
BETSEY: Sure. Okay. So, I have to say that I think and I think he thinks as well, because I did ask him this, that our relationship is stronger because we have been practicing radical unschooling. And the reason I say that is, what drew me to radical unschooling was the ability and the opportunity to create these relationships with my children that would be able to grow as they grew. Well, if I am practicing that, looking for connection, living consensually with my children, why wouldn’t I be doing that with my partner?
And so, for me, a lot of it has come from that self-reflection of like, this is my thing. This is my thing. This doesn’t need to be anybody else’s thing. This is my thing, and I don’t need to force this thing onto anybody else. I’ll try to think of an example of that. I’ve got plenty, but not one that comes to my head right now.
And just like I see my children or I try to see my children for who they are, like Lia loves her LPS and right now she’s really into Pokémon and she’s starting to experiment with having a space of her own, and Alex loves her drawing and her animation and Pokémon, Francesc also has passions that he likes, the way that he likes to structure his days. When things flow and they’re great, how he is, and when they don’t, what that might look like.
And being able to understand that and support that and have him do the same thing for me. And what’s been fantastic is whenever any one of us has a bobble, like, “Oh man, they’re never going to learn how to speak Spanish,” the other one is like, “No, it’s fine. Don’t worry. And then it happens, “Oh my God, whatever this is.” “No, it’s fine. Don’t worry.”
So, we’ve been lucky that the two of us have been walking this path together. I think I jumped down the rabbit hole first, but I think he also read your book and we both agree that this is where we want to go. And so, as we walk the path, sometimes one of us will run the head. Then the other one catches up.
But at the end of the day, it’s treating him as a person that I live with who has needs and wants and me caring enough about him, just like I care enough about the girls, to want to be able to not make everybody happy, because you can’t make everybody happy all the time, but to make sure that when we do something or we make a choice, that everybody’s voice is heard. And that we come to some consensus that works for all of us.
PAM: Yeah. I love that happy piece, too, because we can’t control when other people are happy. But it’s cultivating that environment as they’re exploring what makes them happy. And to be able to support them. I remember the feeling of realizing when I could shift from what his interests were, because at first, I was thinking, “Oh, you want to do those things and you’re taking time away from the family.” Because that’s the more conventional focus.
And then that shift, when I realized, look at how wonderful and connected and strong our relationships are when I’m helping my kids enjoy and pursue the things that they love to do, and how happy they were. And how much fun they were having. And that shift to think, oh, a happy spouse, partner, would be pretty awesome.
So, instead of contentious conversations, if I switched just because we’re the only ones that are under our control. And as you’ve been saying the whole call, so much of it is our internal work to move through. And when I need that perspective shift for myself and thought, I am enjoying this relationship with my kids, this relationship with my partner is a lot harder and contentious. What if I use the same approach? Because I’m loving what I’m seeing here.
And that was like a light bulb moment that shifted so much to realize, I can support him because I love him. He’s part of my family. This is how I would like to be in relationship with him, because I don’t like the contentiousness. It is not enjoyable at all. And wow. What a huge shift, even if just for myself.
But it does change the relationship, because all of a sudden, you’re having great conversations because you’re not arguing or resisting. It’s like, oh, you want time to do this thing? Whether it’s something they want to do around the house or whether it’s someplace they wanted to go or do or whatever. When you’re trying to help them make it happen, there’s nothing to fight about really.
BETSEY: Yeah. And it makes our days so much more joyful, because, for example, he loves to mountain bike and he’s great at it. And so, every other weekend, he goes for a long ride with his brother and they’re gone for three to five hours. And when he started doing it, I remember thinking, okay, well, you could be resentful that you are not going and you are home with the kids. And just that he’s out doing fun things. When is it your turn to do fun things?
Or you could just be happy for him that he’s able to find this time to connect with his brother, do something that he absolutely loves doing. He comes back. He’s super happy. And for me, it was really that I just needed to communicate to him, “Oh hey, if your parents are coming for lunch today, I’m gonna order a chicken, stop by and pick it up on your way back.” Or, “I’m really tired today. Can you make sure that you’re able to set the table?”
So, before he goes, if I need some help or something, we’ll just talk about it. And he’s like, “Okay, well this is going to be really a tough ride. Could we do this, this, and this?” I’m like, “All right, well that would work.” But at the end of the day, what it comes down to is, it’s a conversation between the two of us for everything. It’s like, “Okay, well, I’d really love to do this.” “All right. But I’ve got this other thing.” “Okay. Well, how can we do that?” And just throwing ideas back and forth.
And the girls are old enough now that we throw ideas back and forth with them, as well. One wants to go to their grandparents’, the other one doesn’t. One of the parents is home, we’re like, “Well, you could stay. Do you want to stay?” “Yeah, I’ll stay.” “Okay.”
PAM: Yeah, exactly. It comes down to conversations. And something you said there bubbled up for me. “You get to go out and do the thing.” And I remember thinking about that and peeling back those layers for myself and I’m like, huh? Well, if he can do the thing, then I can certainly do the thing and I’m sure he would help me organize, have that conversation, as in, “Okay. Yeah. I’m around for these few hours. You can go do your thing.”
And I realized, you know what? Actually, I’m really happy with my choice to be here. There’s not a lot of things, at the time anyway, or even now, that I want to go out. A lot of the things that I wanted to do were in this general area.
So, you can get past that layer of resentfulness. “So, you get to go out,” and realize, oh, I could choose to do that, too. We could work that out, but there is actually nothing that I want to choose out there. And get back to realizing, oh, this is my choice.
BETSEY: Choice. Yes. Yes, absolutely.
And it starts at the choice to either be resentful or happy. Am I going to be really happy that he’s going out and doing something that he loves? Or am I going to be resentful about it? For me, making the choice at that point completely changes my mindset on things like this.
PAM: Yeah, it completely changes the whole energy. How you see it, approach it, and how you approach those conversations. Bringing a resentful energy to the, “Well, you pick up that chicken on the way home,” versus, “Oh, hey, could you pick up that chicken on the way home?” Just a world of difference in the relationship and how you talk together. Yeah. Yeah. I love that.
So, I’m curious, what is something fun that you guys have done recently that you don’t think you would have done before finding unschooling?
BETSEY: Okay, well, hold on a second, because the girls gave me some answers that I wanted to make sure to read. So, Alex says that origami, if she hadn’t been doing unschooling, she would never know that folding paper could be so much fun. And she’s actually gotten to be very, very proficient at origami, even making shapes herself. So, that’s one thing.
And Lia says wrestling with dad and playing on her Minecraft server. So, those are her things that she’s really having a lot of fun with right now.
And Francesc, I’m filling this in for him, but right now he is learning how to code games in Unity, which is a coding language, to help Alex create her own game. And he’s just having so much fun. He’s like, “I love this. This is awesome.” And the other day, he’s watching these YouTube videos and he just keeps peeking into the bedroom to see if Alex is awake, because the girls go to bed later than we do. And he’s like, “Is she awake yet?”
And I’m like, “Honey, she’s going to wake up, but she’s going to have to go through her morning routine, chocolate and YouTube.” But it was so wonderful to see him so excited about that.
And he and I were talking about it. He was like, “Well, she seems to be really bored when we watched the videos. How can we do it so that, you know, we keep her interest up, but I’m able to come in and help her with it.” So, we were brainstorming on ways that we could help her do that.
So, number one, I don’t think we would have the time, that he would have the time to do that with her, and number two, I don’t think we would have approached it that way of, well, how does she like to learn? And how can we fit that in?
And for me, playing games for the girls. If you had asked me four years ago if I would be playing computer games not for myself, and Francesc will be like, “Liar, liar, pants on fire. You like doing this.” So, playing games for the girls, building a server for Minecraft. Both girls have Minecraft servers and we can’t have a vanilla Minecraft server. We have to have a modded Minecraft server with like 42 million mods on it that don’t play well with each other.
So, I feel very proud that I’ve figured out how to do that and then actually helped some other moms of the girls that they play with online figure out how to put mods on the Minecraft and all that stuff. I’m walking them through on Discord. I’m like, okay, first do this, then do that. So, that was a lot of fun, as well.
And then, connecting with other unschooling families online, especially through the Network. So, I wanted to say, Pam, that the work that you and Anna have done on the Network is phenomenal, because, like I said, it’s kind of lonely being the weirdo in the weirdos as a radical unschooler here in Spain. And just being able to connect with other families who are doing this, but especially other women who are doing this, has been invaluable. And just seeing other people’s little peeks into their lives, and how everybody approaches different situations.
I have learned so much of how I could apply that to our life here at home. Because I think each unschooling family is different, but it’s been so valuable for me. So, for me, I would not have done it before finding unschooling.
PAM: Oh my goodness. Thank you so much. That’s lovely to know that you’re finding it helpful and connecting. Because I remember that that was a huge thing for me when I was first diving into unschooling, that connection.
And also, you’re reading about different families with kids of different ages, because it’s how you really get to play with the principles. And, exactly like you said, how it can look and unfold in our own family. So, thank you so much.
And I might be checking in with Francesc about those Unity learning channels, because I think I am going to soon be diving into that, too. I’m excited about that.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Betsey. It was so much fun. Thank you.
BETSEY: Oh, thank you. This was awesome. I had so much fun!
PAM: Right? It is! It’s so much fun to chat about unschooling. Now, before we go, where can people connect with you online if they’d like to touch base?
BETSEY: Oh man. I’m not online at all. This is horrible. So maybe we can include my email in the show notes. And other than that, on the Network. For somebody that’s so plugged into technology.
PAM: What I love, like you said, it’s just another tool. Some people are using it to share those aspects of their lives and that’s cool. That’s awesome.
BETSEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. I like looking at other people’s Instagram feeds, but I’m a stalker on Instagram.
PAM: I love that so much. Thank you so much again and have a wonderful day. What time is it there? Have a wonderful day!
BETSEY: It’s 4:30.
PAM: There you go.
BETSEY: Not too late.
PAM: Thanks so much, Betsey.
BETSEY: Bye. It was great talking to you.