PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from living joyfully.ca and today I’m here with Karen Matthews. Hi, Karen.
PAM: Hello! Now, we were recently introduced through a mutual friend and I’m really excited to learn more about your unschooling journey. So, to get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody’s interested in right now?
KAREN: Sure. Well, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. I always have felt like I had a lot to say about this subject. Anytime someone asks a question on the internet, like what could you talk to anybody about at any time? And I’m like, this is it. I don’t know how many people want to listen to me, but I’ve got plenty to say.
So, my family is the three of us, my husband, Tim, myself, and Tyler. We live in North Carolina. We moved around a little bit for the past five years, six years. This is my second marriage, so Tyler’s step-dad, and we moved around. We moved to California. We lived in Northern California for a couple years. It was a job promotion for me. And then, I got homesick for the South and my family. And so, we came back and we’ve lived in North Carolina again for four years.
And so, what we’re all kind of into, we’re all crafty people. We’re all sort of artsy people. We watch movies and we paint things and we build things. And my husband works at a company that’s that same thing, like a general manager of a place that’s full of craftsmen, that sort of thing. And then, my son and I own a business where we build repurposed pallet furniture and other seasonal decor, things for your home, farmhouse-style stuff.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. I love how all those little bits, even though they’re all very different, they all thread together into that crafty artsy ethos.
KAREN: I don’t know if we’re just slow learners, but we always have been like that and that’s our happiest times, but sometimes we force ourselves to go do other things, like jobs that are more job jobs. And we do it and we’re okay with it, but it’s not our bliss. It’s not our happy place. And so, we have a huge garden. We all work in the yard together. We all, like I said, paint and build and do that kind of thing.
And so, when we’re doing that, we’re the happiest. So, we’re super happy right now, because we’re doing it and we’re making money, so two in one.
PAM: Right? Yeah. That’s the bonus. Like you said, sometimes we’re doing jobs and what we’re getting out of it is the paycheck, too. Right?
KAREN: That’s right. I did it for four years since we moved back from California. And so, my scheduled self, my goal-oriented self, my check-it-off-the-list self, I try to let go of as often as possible. I feel like I’m trying to play catch up, because I’ve been sequestered in my mind, like in jail for four years, paying the bills. And it just came out, really, I would say about four weeks ago, is when I left there.
So, this is new for me to be able to be at home. And it was really a blessing, because Tyler and I were doing this already together. My son is the number one carpenter for our business. I was having to communicate with him via text and drawing pictures. And the very first day, I’m nervous. I’m like, oh gosh, did I do the right thing? I don’t know. It feels right. I don’t know.
And then, he came back in and asked me a question and he turned around and he looked at me and he goes, “Mom, that was a lot easier than texting and drawing pictures and waiting for three hours to get a response.” Because I’m busy, that sort of thing. So, it’s been good, but I still feel pressured to do. So, I’m trying to relax about it, which “relax” is like the theme of my life. Like, relax, Karen! Relax about everything. Relax.
That is something that we have really absorbed in our society, really, that need to be productive. And it is so fun to tease out with ourselves. I think really, it boils down to asking myself how much of it is my choice. I find myself super busy doing things, doing the podcast, writing, the community. But when I peel back a bit, it’s like, these are all things I’m choosing to do.
So, sometimes when I’m feeling busy and it starts to feel overwhelming, what really it is is just that little mental shift to remind myself, I’m choosing this. And that you get to choose the things. But each time, we’re just trying to take a little step forward to choosing things that bring us joy.
KAREN: I agree. I agree a hundred percent. It is very interesting. Our journey, with Tyler being 23 now, I just feel that there’s probably people to compare our journey with, who did things a little similarly, but I don’t even know how I would find that, because I am not kidding when I tell you that that child grew up organically. And I don’t mean food. I mean, as a baby, I see people doing bedtime, naptime, mealtime, bath time. We had none of that. I mean, not one thing.
But guess what? He ate when he was hungry. He slept when he was tired. I made him take a bath if he was dirty. He was self-regulated that whole time. There was just no need for me to impose. And that was from a baby. He just did what he wanted. He fell asleep at a reasonable time, so there was no need for me to put him in bed and, “Go to sleep now, child.” He just did.
Now, sometimes he fell asleep on the floor and I had to pick him up and put him somewhere, usually in the bed with me. I think he slept with me till he was 11. He might not want me to tell you that, but he did. And that’s just how we lived our life. And so, there wasn’t a lot of rules about things.
I knew about the rules. I was interested in them. I would think, should I be doing this? Should I be doing that? And I would try in some way, I guess, to maybe make it be a little bit of a guide for me, but I just couldn’t ever really fully commit to it, because it was not comfortable for us. We did what felt good and that’s how we lived. We still do.
And so, even today, when I walked out to check on him outside, he has a shop outside in our backyard, and it’s so beautiful outside today. And spring is like right there on the little cusp. You feel that warmth, and we live in an area with lots of trees and things and you can see the buds.
And I really did give pause for a moment and look up at the tree and think, how wonderful is it that he gets to stand out here and work and do what he wants to do and not have to go rush off to a job or be in a class somewhere where he’s white knuckling it through it? Because he wasn’t a great school kid.
We decided to homeschool after the fourth grade. And we had some great influence. We have some great friends that taught us and helped us and encouraged us and supported us. And I think that was really important. In fact, to this day, I think they’re my favorite humans on earth. These people, these women, that when I was like, can I do it? I’m not a teacher. And they were like, are you kidding? You’re his first teacher. How did he learn to eat, Karen? How did he learn to talk? How did he learn to walk? Who taught him to do that? And I was like, oh, I guess you’re right.
That’s how it started. I joined a homeschool group at a park. And then that park day was our fiercely-protected day every week. No matter what, we went. And he had all the things that people that are very unfamiliar with homeschooling or unschooling think that they don’t get. At any given time, he was around 20 kids, all different ages, all different walks of life.
Some people that were extremely book learned, like they were going to college. They were classically-trained, Well Trained Mind. They were doing all their quizzes and tests and all that kind of stuff. And then I had others that were like Tyler that were pretending and playing and forming relationships that, to this day, they still have.
So, it’s the interesting thing when people just don’t know what a freeing experience it is to be able to live your life that way.
I’d be curious to hear a little bit more of how you actually discovered unschooling, how you came across that first wonderful park day, and what your journey for your family looked like as you embraced unschooling and started walking that path.
KAREN: Well, I wish that I could say that I made my mind up and that’s what we did. But it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. At first, you think school at home, because you don’t know any better. You think, I need workbooks. I need curriculum. I need blocks or something for math. I mean, I didn’t know what to do. And I researched a lot. I was on the computer a lot. But I was drawn to those people that were more about what was interesting to their child. That, to me, was more interesting to me.
Having gone to school and having done that whole thing my own self, I knew what school had to offer. And this was different. I’ll tell you the journey and the story, but a lot of times people ask me, well, so what do you do when you homeschool or unschool? And this is how I describe it.
You know when you get through all of middle school and high school and you take all those classes that you have to take and you have to pass, then you go to college, and then you go for two years, two whole years more, and you take all those classes that you have to take? Then, you decide to declare your major. Like, this is the thing, at 20 years old, that you’re going to live your whole life doing. This is what you want to do. Well, we do that now. That’s what I tell people.
I’m like, I skipped all that. I skipped all that and we do the things that we want to do now. So, it’s kind of like, we just cut out all that “have to” stuff and went straight for the, this is what I’m good at. This is what I love to do. This is what makes me happy and smile. And fortunately for Tyler, we’ve learned how to transform it into a business where he’s actually able to do that and earn money doing it. And so, that’s wonderful.
But I started off, like I said, we had a local homeschool group. I loved all those women. They were all so different, but just accepting, just absolutely wherever you were coming from in life was good. It was a very diverse group of people. I mean, we had the cosmetic lady like me, we had the bio-engineer person, we had the chemist, we had the home farm, we had everything.
And so, being able to talk to that diverse of a group of people and get everyone’s take on stuff, I mean, we did talk about kids. And there’s an abundance of information out there for anybody who’s looking for it. You can find all kinds of stuff, whether it be a co-op, whether it’s just the curriculum itself or “tell me what you used” kind of thing. And people will give their advice.
And so, we really did just drift to the unschooling. It was not because I didn’t like the other stuff. It was just not for us. And I could tell, with Tyler, he needed the unconditional positive regard about what was important to him and that brought him out. That made him shine.
One of the things that really, I guess, completely flipped my mind around was when I went to a homeschool conference that was not even in town. It was hours away from me. But I had found this woman that had homeschooled and I think unschooled. She had seven children and they were all different and she named them different things and I’m probably going to get it all wrong, but not names like their names, but I mean like the kind of learner that they were. Were they a creative learner? Were they a builder? Did they do blocks and Legos? Were they artistic? Did they play act? Did they pretend a lot?
She had all these little descriptions for her kids and she had written it out into different like age groups, like when they’re this age, this is what we were doing. And it just rang a bell in my head for me. I thought, oh my gosh, this lady. It’s like she’s talking to me. I felt like she is talking to me. [NOTE: Turns out it was Cindy Gaddis, who was on the podcast in episode 40, Paradigm Shifts with Cindy Gaddis.]
And so, I went and all day, you have your classes, you sign up for sessions and people are selling their stuff and it’s a wonderful day. I loved it.
And so, I went to her class, I was listening to her presentation and the thing that she said, I’ll never forget it, because she had a child that was 20-ish, maybe. Tyler was 11 at this point, but he was 20 years old, and he was on the spectrum. And she said that following her guide through all the different things, the thing that she emphasized was they need to trust you. You can’t be just telling them what to do all the time.
There has to be a trust that what they’re saying to you is being heard and it’s valid and you listen to them. Because she said—and this is wise—”Because, later in life, you’re not going to be the person telling them what to do. They’re going to have to make their own decisions. And they’re going to have to have that confidence that somebody has heard them and listened to them and trusted them. Because, at some point, you go from being that person to being the collaborator. You’re somebody that’s going to maybe have a conversation about something and you want your child to listen to you and trust you. And that’s built when they’re younger, by deeply valuing what they’re interested in and listening to them and being in tune with that.”
And so, that’s what happened. She’s telling the story, this is during her presentation, and she said, “Let’s just jump to the chase. He’s overcome many things. He’s overcome many obstacles. He’s gone through this. He’s gone through that. And now, he’s 20 years old. He’s decided he’s going to go to community college.” He goes to the college on his own. He gets the course book, back in the day when they made books for that. Now you do it all online, but he went and got it. He came. She’s said one of my favorite terms was marinate or percolate—marinating times. Tyler needs a lot of that.
And she said, after a day or so, he came to me and he said, “Mom, I need to ask you some questions about the courses.” And she said, “Okay, sure. What do you got? What do you want to talk about?”
And he said, “Well, I just don’t know what to do.” And she’s like, “Oh, I don’t know. What’s concerning you?” And he said, “Well, mom, I’ve read the whole book. And there’s just so many things that I’m good at, I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know what to choose, because I’m good at so many things.” And I was like, oh my gosh.
So, that is the reason that I homeschooled and unschooled my child right there. It wasn’t for academics. It was because I want the tape that plays in his head, the rest of his life, to say that to him. “I’m good at so many things. I can’t even decide what to do.”
I wanted his confidence and his opinion of himself to remain intact and not be tested out of him by tests that are a literal black and white picture in this Dolby surround sound, IMAX, color version of life.
It’s ridiculous. I don’t do tests. I don’t like tests. We did test, because we were required to take tests. It was a joke to me. I never even opened the results. I threw them in the trash.
I literally never have looked at them. And it’s because I could tell he was learning. We could have conversations about whatever it was and I would know that he knew this information. We would go see things and do things together and I would be able to tell.
But that lady, after her session, I stopped her, I went and found her like a good little Type A personality that wanted to go shake the speaker’s hand and appreciate them so much, and, “Thank you for your time. And I learned so much,” and all that, but it was more than that. I was fan-girling over her. I wanted to talk to her.
So, she literally, after that whole day, she stayed in the parking lot with me for an hour and talked to me and just kept telling me, “You are going to be so good at this. You’ve got this. You are going to be surprised what you let go of, and you’re going to be surprised of what you learn during this process.” And I have. I mean, I really have. She changed my whole mind about it.
As he got older, a lot of his friends did go on to regular brick and mortar school, like for high school and a lot of them went to college. They’re at the graduation age now, either last year or this year, so there’s a lot of them graduating. There’s two of them that have gotten married. I don’t even know what to think about it. I’m like, wait a minute. That’s not supposed to be happening, is it? But he just has lived a good life.
I wanted to talk to you and I wanted to share these things with you, because I do feel he’s very successful at his age now. I feel like he can do things that grown men don’t know how to do, and he is very happy doing what he’s doing. And so, that’s what every parent wants for their child. They want them to be happy and successful. So, that’s really where we’re at.
I just wanted to share that with you, because when you have a child that marches to the beat of their own drum, and they’re eight years old and the school is telling you, they need this, they need that. Take them out for this. They need extra that. And all this stuff where they’re forcing it on you and you think they know, because they’re the experts. They’re not the experts. You’re the expert of your own child.
And you can certainly consult with people and you can learn and I’m not bashing teachers or any of that. Everybody’s got that value that they can add to your life. Just take what you need from it. You don’t have to listen to every single thing. And this is what I’m telling whoever watches this, is that your child is going to turn out just fine. Your child’s going to be just fine.
They’re going to be happy. They’re going to be informed. They’re going to be a functional member of society and they’re going to be happy. They’re not going to be stressed out. They’re not going to be somebody that they’ve been trained to be. They’re just going to be themselves. And that’s, to me, the biggest benefit from unschooling. It’s the biggest benefit is that he really has grown up completely free from that.
PAM: The expectations and the judgment.
KAREN: Yes. Judgment, expectations, peer pressure. He just doesn’t have it. I don’t even know what to add to that. He just doesn’t have it. He just never had it. I mean, he’s my child, so of course I think he’s great, but a lot of the people that have met him, former coworkers, they’re just like, “He’s so polite and he’s so well spoken.” He doesn’t act like a child that grew up in high school, where they don’t talk to adults or they’re a little aloof. He walks up to everyone.
In fact, even from a young age, he walked up to someone and said, “Hi, my name’s Tyler Gasquez. I don’t believe we’ve met. Karen’s my mother.” And I was like, who’s this kid? What’s happening here? He saw it somewhere, but that’s where he learned it from.
PAM: Right? When you’re living and engaged with life, you see these things and you try them.
KAREN: And that’s how his whole life is. That’s how his whole life is. I mean, all those youngster things, like learning to read and write and he still hates to write, so whatever. He types. He hates to write, I said, sign your name like a rock star. Just sign it the same way every time. It doesn’t matter. And type everything. Now he can talk to his phone and text and type and do whatever. And so, he just never really liked that.
I think he had dysgraphia, although he was really never diagnosed with that. He never liked it. He never liked to color. He didn’t like that kind of stuff. And it was weird, because that just reminded me of a story from preschool. Because he didn’t go to preschool or anything.
Right before kindergarten, I was like, I guess he needs to go to preschool. He doesn’t go to school at all. He doesn’t know anything, like how to do anything with other kids. And that’s when they first brought me in, after they tested him by making him color something and cut something out. And the lady, she was showing me, this is an example of average, and this is an example of Tyler’s and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it felt like someone was driving a nail in my head the whole time she was talking to me.
And she was like, “Well, you know, we can get more tests.” I said, “Do you know what this tells me?” And she’s like, “What does it tell you?” I said, “It tells me that he is not going to get a job coloring or cutting things out when he grows up.” He’s not going to do that for a living. And that was the beginning of it. And then the full force was that woman at the homeschool conference.
And then I had a good friend of mine that still, to this day, she said, “Karen, but kids don’t have to know everything. They just need to know where to find answers. They need to be able to look things up and be curious and know that there is an answer out there for them.” All the learning to read and all of that.
Now, that’s what he does. He reads for pleasure. He likes a lot of the fan fiction stuff from different movies that he grew up with, Star Wars, and that sort of thing. I’ll go in there and I think, what is all that writing all over his computer? It’s like the whole screen is nothing but words. And I’m like, what’s he doing? He’s reading. And I have to be honest, I didn’t teach him how to read. I mean, I taught him a little bit. I mean, I taught him his alphabet and the sounds, and of course, first grade, read every night, sign the book, that whole thing. We did that.
But after that, he just took it on and there’s not a word that you can put in front of him that he can’t read now. But I didn’t do it. I didn’t make him fill out sheets of paper or anything. And he just learned to do it.
When he was in high school, that was a little bit of a toughie for me, because again, I do have those touch points of the other kids that he went to school with or homeschooled with that were going to college or did go to regular school. And I kept second guessing myself. I’m like, oh, should I be doing this? Should I be doing this? And we didn’t do it. And we didn’t do a lot of formal anything other than what he wanted to do.
When he wanted to learn something, we learned it. When he was curious about something, we learned it. And that’s kind of his high school. He remained curious. And his curiosity is what made him learn. And because it wasn’t trained out of him, he’s still curious.
PAM: It wasn’t put off such that he just learned not to ask questions, because nobody helped him figure out this how to learn the things that you’re curious about. We help them. We answer the questions, but soon enough, we don’t have a lot of the answers. So then, you’re exploring together.
There were so many beautiful pieces in all those stories there, Karen. Thank you so much. Keeping the curiosity alive, which when you’re not telling them what to do and telling them what they’re curious about is wrong or meaningless, “What you really should be curious about is what I’m telling you that you need to learn next.” No. You’re keeping their curiosity fresh.
KAREN: I feel like an accidental unschooler, but it worked. It worked out.
PAM: And the other piece that you talked about that homeschooling mom who you spoke to really helped you nail in on right upfront is the value of the relationship.
KAREN: That was her whole thing. It was the whole thing. And she gave me an example. She did. I said, “Well, how do I find out what he’s interested in? I mean, he’s not at home. Now he’s at school.” And she was like, “Well, if you left him alone, what would he do?” And I was like, “Hmm, well, he’d probably play video games.”
And she said, “And so, how does he think that you feel about that?” And I said, “Well, he probably thinks that I want him to turn it off and read a book instead. And that he plays too many video games and he’s on it all day long,” and on and on and on. And she was like, “Okay. So, what if the next time he’s playing video games, you go and pull up a chair next to him and ask him, does he mind if you watch?”
And then ask him how he got so far in this game. And did he start off being this good or did he have to practice at it? And how many times did he do it before he got all the way through the game? And all of these probing questions to where he was able to play his highlight reel of this video game and how proficient he was at it.
And the reason she gave me for that was because later in life, when he has a problem, you’re going to go back to the video game days. And you’re going to say, were you great at this right when you started it or did you have to practice? Did you have to give it a lot of effort? Did you have to do it for hours and hours and hours to be good at it? And it just, again, was like an aha moment in my head. Because that was who he was. He loved it. He still plays video games. He’s great at it.
Obviously, it’s a huge phenomenon in the whole entire world. It’s way bigger than I ever would have imagined. But that was just her tiny little lesson to me about how to value what he’s good at and get him to understand that it’s not less than, that it is just as good as him being good at math or him being a fabulous speller or that he went to school every single day or anything.
PAM: It is back to the interest, right? Because when you help them dive into whatever the interest is, whether it’s video games or numbers or crafts or trains, it’s the process. It’s the learning process that you’re supporting and you’re engaging with. And I love how she would just give you some ideas on it.
KAREN: Was she not brilliant? I mean, she like voodooed me or something. I was mesmerized. It was the most sensible thing I had ever heard in my life. I was just like, wow, this woman needs sage and stuff all around. To me, it was brilliant. It was just brilliant. And it was a hundred percent the right thing to do.
And I feel now slightly rewarded by it, even though, again, I guess all good parents questioned themselves the whole entire time that their child is growing up. They’re like, is this right? Is this wrong? Am I doing it right? Am I doing it enough? Should I change? We did what we did and here we are. And it turned out okay. It turned out okay.
And he still is able to get down on himself a little bit, but guess what? He has taught himself how to do all of this, every tool. He learned how to play the guitar by himself, learned it on his own, because he was interested in it. He goes, “Mom, you can just go to the internet. There’s a site called PlayAnySong.com.” I was like, okay. And so, he just learned how to do the things he wanted to do in his life. And he’s happy about it, but he has perseverance for it. And I think it’s because he does feel like he can figure things out.
PAM: That is how we can help them, because you know what? As adults, we’re not all going to have happy times. There are going to be hard times. There are going to be challenging and frustrating times and things are going to go sideways on us, but we didn’t protect them from it, like put an artificial framework on their childhood. And the things that go wrong for a child, typically, they aren’t big, horrible things. They are at the level that they can handle. They are at the level of the lives that they’re having.
So, they get lots of practice, not because we’re making things hard. The idea that, oh, we shouldn’t make their life too easy, because they’ve got to know that life’s hard. Life has enough real, hard moments. You don’t need to make them up for them. But it’s a muscle that they exercise. It’s practice that they get.
And that is what comes of it, that I’ve seen too, is that they get a sense as they get older and they’ve been through it more and more times, that you know what? I’ll get through it. I don’t even know how, yet, or what it’s going to look like. And they even can have some overwhelming times for a moment and know that they can just sit with that. And something will come out. Something will come. It’s that trust in themselves, that self-confidence, from having all these experiences and growing up figuring these things out with support.
And we’re parents, we’re always going to be there for support, as well.
You mentioned earlier how Tyler likes to marinate, needs to marinate in things, play with things.
That was something that was really valuable when I began unschooling, that shift, because I didn’t really understand how important downtime was.
That Type A, gotta choose, gotta be productive, gotta keep going.
KAREN: It is so part of our lives now. And I am very relaxed compared to Karen ago. You can have all the plans in the world that you want to have, but if your child is not ready to do those plans, then it’s like, you’re beating your head against a wall. I mean, it’s not today. Not today. And we have those days, even still now, where it’s just, for whatever reason, but he identifies them. I used to have to, when your baby starts cranky, whatever, are they sleepy? Are they hungry? What do they need? And when they’re in elementary or whatever, they can give you some input. They’re tired. They don’t feel good. They’re hungry, whatever.
But as they get older, the thing that I have noticed is that he vocalizes to me. He’s like, “I just can’t get my head straight. I can’t think of what I’m supposed to be doing. I keep doing something and starting something.” And I said, “Well, you know what it sounds like to me? It sounds like we just need a break. We just need to start over tomorrow, like take the day.” And he does. But he knows that it’s kind of like, he needs to sort things out. But he spent a lot of time in his room. A lot of time. When he was little, he loved to play act, like role play. I feel like that’s where he got a lot of his social interactions, how to have conversations with people and stuff.
The other day, I said, “What were you out in the shop doing?” He said, “I was doing a tool review.” I was like, “You’re doing a tool review?” He said, “Yes.”
So, he’s so knowledgeable about the tools that he has saved the money for, researched, figured out what he wants, that now he is such an expert about it, that he literally has his camera set up in the shop and he’s doing a tool review. And it’s because that’s what he felt like doing that day instead of sawing and hammering and doing whatever he does out there. It’s just a completely different feeling to him on those days.
He knows what he needs on the days that he needs it, but it used to be, it just needed to be like a day off, like a day off from school. And it was a real thing. It’s not just a, oh, we’re not going to work today because it’s harder.
We would literally pick up what it was that we wanted to do the next day. And it would fly by like nothing, just effortless. Whereas, the day before, we both would almost end up in tears where it was like, ah, why is this so hard? This isn’t hard. It was because of whatever. I don’t know what it was.
PAM: Yes! Sometimes, it’s so hard if you have to actually try to put to words, but something’s just not settled.
KAREN: Exactly. That’s the word. It’s not settled. He needs time to think about what he’s doing.
I am the same way, to be honest, now I feel the same way. I get a little cranky if I don’t get to come into the office and turn on just the lamp. I don’t want the overhead, just the lamp. Get my notebook out. Look at what needs to be done. I need my time to think about what I want to say or do or focus on. Reassess what’s been done, what needs to be done, but in a quiet way, in a way that’s soft and not hard. And I feel he’s the same way. I feel he really does need that and it’s okay to have those different days. Every day doesn’t need to be the same. You don’t have to have every day the same.
Now his stepdad, my husband Tim, was in the Army, not as a career, but he is a lot more get up, make the bed, do this, do that. And I’m just like, oh, that’s not me. He calls me Karen Came. He’s like, “Karen has been in this room,” but it’s because we lived a relaxed life and I wish it for everyone.
PAM: Even for Tim, he understands what gives him comfort.
KAREN: Well, you know, he’s relaxed quite a bit in these last six years, I’ll tell you. Because when I first met him, it was like dinner was at a certain time. And I looked at him and I was like, you realize that I’m not even home from work then, right? We don’t do that here. So, he’s learned to relax. It’s a good thing. You can be a little too lax.
I think one of the challenging things is that we grow up, in our society, with that whole productivity message. And we are taught implicitly almost to beat ourselves up if we can’t push through and get the thing done. I know I did a lot of work processing that and a lot of experience of my own, like if I feel that I am not quite ready, no matter how much I try to push myself to do that. And through enough experiences, I came to see that pushing myself, so often, it took 10 times longer.
I gave myself the grace to take the space and maybe do something completely different. Like you were saying, do a tool review instead of actually doing the production work, but to trust myself to follow that. Because then I got that thing done. And then the thing that finally fell into place the next day, or two days later, or a week later, it happened so quickly and I can just get through it so quickly, because it has sorted itself out.
Also, I think my days are better and if we’re going to measure productivity, I’m getting more things that I wanted to get done done in the bigger picture, rather than having a predefined schedule and beating myself over the head to get this done this day.
KAREN: I need to learn it. I do. I need to learn it, because what happens is I am that go, go, go, do, do, do, finish it, get more done. Do one more. That sort of thing. And what happens is, I’m worn out the next day. Like I’m good for nothing.
PAM: Yeah. Exactly!
KAREN: I can do it. I can do it, but then I pay for it. And so, instead, give yourself the gift of that pace where it’s okay if you don’t get one more done, or all of it done, or start another project, and have five things in the fire at the same time. You do your best work when you’re able to focus on just a couple of things instead of everything and all of it’s now.
And you would think I would have learned this by now, but I still do it to myself. And we did it to ourselves earlier this week. We both did. And then over the weekend, even though it was a beautiful weekend, and we’re so sick of rain, we’re so sick of rain, and it was sunshiny and beautiful, and we were both so worn out, we couldn’t do anything. But you know what? We also forgave ourselves for being worn out and just said, well, whatever. I guess we’re going to lay around and relax.
PAM: That’s how we learn, through those experiences. I always like to think of it as playing, because that takes the judgment and expectation off. And also, it doesn’t tell me, you can never do this. Because sometimes you want to put all that on your plate. Sometimes, it feels right. I’m going to knock that out and I’m going to knock that out and I’m going to knock that out. And yes, I’m going to be completely relaxed for the weekend or whatever.
Remembering back to the beginning, remember those are all our choices. And we see how they play out and we see what today brings and we make more choices. Because then, if I try to say, oh, don’t do that. That gets in my way just as much as telling myself you should do that.
KAREN: Oh, for sure.
PAM: “I should not do that.” All those “shoulds” are just a layer of goop that actually gets in the way of the flow of my life.
KAREN: I agree. A couple years ago, I ran across another mentor lady from a podcast that I really enjoyed, and it was about goal setting and how she doesn’t do goals anymore [NOTE: Danielle LaPorte]. And the reason why, it was started through a New Year’s Eve ritual that she and her husband had. Every New Year’s Eve, you’d have the resolution. You’re going to do this. You’re going to do that. She was like, well, that never works out. So, it’s just another list of things that you can feel bad about yourself because you didn’t check off.
And so, now she has people ask themselves, what will I do to feel the way I want to feel? Not, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that. I’m going to do that. And she gives very basic examples, like, “We’re going to get new dining room furniture, a new kitchen table.” And so, instead of writing, “kitchen table” and then check it off or not check it off as a goal, she’s like, ask yourself why. Why do you want it?
Well, because then we would all sit down and have dinner together more often. And we would be able to share our lives better around a meal. So, how would that make you feel? It would make me feel more connected to my family, my kids, and my husband, and not rushed. And we’ll all take that moment to sit down and actually eat a meal for 30 minutes together. So, the goal is really not the kitchen table. The goal is, how do you want to feel? You want to feel connected and you’re going to do the things that it takes in order to feel that way.
And so, if you practice that with a lot of different things, that’s a way to put the goal thing aside and start talking about what you will actually do to feel the way you want to feel.
PAM: I love, love, love that. And what is so cool about that, because yeah, I stopped with goals and resolutions.
KAREN: Goals are hard. You want to do those things, but you’ve got to dig a little deeper.
PAM: And when you focus on the feelings and what you’re trying to cultivate with it, so often I found that that one path wasn’t necessarily the only way to create that. Even if it was that time together, we might find that meals wasn’t it. But if it’s that time together that’s on my mind, not get a new kitchen table, then I can start seeing possibilities to do that all over the place.
And yeah, it’s just so much more effective in taking that next level, to dig a bit deeper as to what am I really trying to accomplish with that thing? And then, the creative possibilities open up.
And just living that way with our kids, too. So often, I’ve learned these things from watching my kids.
KAREN: It’s such a gift to give a young person to teach them how to think about things like this, instead of just bracing for the impact of just sticking your chin out and ready for your face to get demolished. Just give them that guidance about how to ride the waves of life and not get so caught up about the way that things are supposed to be.
You get it from everywhere. My child did not get a lot of that from me. But he lives in this world.
KAREN: He got it. He has it. It’s in him. He has it. And thank goodness he probably doesn’t have as much, maybe, as others. But he has it. And you can’t take it away from them, because that would mean you have to have like no ears and no eyes. It’s all over the place.
PAM: But it’s processing with them. It’s the working through those things. It’s having those conversations about, how does that apply? How does that make me feel? Does that make sense to me? Are there other ways to look at it? And even understanding where those views are coming from. Empathy for more people in the world, in their life, understanding where they’re coming from, and finding our place, that it’s okay.
So, it’s not about, like you were saying, back to school and teachers, it’s not about judging any of it or negatively talking about it. Because what if our kids decide they do want to try out school? But that’s the point is that these things exist and exist as part of their life, so better to understand them rather than just vilify them.
KAREN: I think also, too, just as you were speaking, it makes me think of how many parents right now were thrust into becoming homeschoolers this past year. And some of them embraced it and figured it out. Probably like I did. Like, okay, well we’re home now. What are we going to do? And they made the best of it, whether it was getting to spend more time with their kids, being more in tune to them, know what their needs are, have a new routine, make the best of it, that sort of thing.
But then there are those, probably now, that are thinking that they’ve missed out on something, that they’re behind, that some terrible thing has happened. And I just feel like that that’s not true, that I think that their being at home, if learning was happening in any regard, if they’ve learned anything, if they have been curious, if they’ve discovered a new thing that they like, because they had the time to think about it and not being rushed from this, to this, to this, to this, and then off to their extracurriculars, off to their music lessons.
Maybe they loved music and they only got music once a week. Now they get music every day. And so, I just think that a lot of people probably have a different outlook now about the whole staying at home and learning situation, whatever it may be, because I feel like time is something that you can’t get back. There’s never enough of it. So, being able to let them choose some of what they’re doing, which, I know that they have virtual and online and all that. I know that they did, but there was no changing classes. There was time for that. There was no waiting to get to school and back to school.
I mean, they had a lot more time on their hands, these kids that normally are go, go, go from one thing to the next. And so, I have to think with what I know to be true from our experience of life, that that was a good experience for them, even though they probably miss their friends and that normal way of life that they were used to. There had to be something good come out of it, just the slower pace of them being able to choose the things that were interesting to them, you know?
PAM: I love that. Okay.
So, looking back, what for you has been the most valuable outcome, do you think, of choosing unschooling?
KAREN: Well, I mean, I feel like the most valuable part for me is that Tyler’s happy and that he chose a profession that he can do his entire life, that he feels confident in himself. That is probably my most valuable thing. And it really, almost to this year, even though he’s 23 now, it probably has taken me all the way to this year to really start to a little bit maybe pat myself on the back just a little bit, like I did it. He’s grown up and he’s doing this, because of course, like I said before, you want your child to be happy and you want them to be successful. And I think he’s both of those things. And so, yay me.
PAM: Oh, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Karen. I really appreciate it. It was so much fun.
KAREN: It was. Thank you so much.
PAM: Oh, that’s wonderful. And before we go, where can people connect with you online?
KAREN: Well, our shop is called Sawdust and Sage. We have an Etsy shop. If you’re in North Carolina, in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, we have benches and outdoor furniture people put around their fire pits or on their front porches, benches, that sort of thing. They’re pretty heavy to ship, but if you live around here, we can bring them to your house. But our Etsy shop, or also on Facebook, we have a huge page there as well. Sawdust and Sage.
Sawdust is Tyler. And I’m the sage, which is debatable.
PAM: That’s awesome. We’ll definitely put links to those in the show notes.
KAREN: Thank you so much.
PAM: Thank you, Karen. Have a great day. Bye!
KAREN: Bye, Pam.