PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Blathnaid Cantwell. Hi, Blathnaid! I said that, right, right?
BLATHNAID: You did. I usually have to do some coaching around that, but well done.
PAM: Yeah, I got coaching a little while ago, because I’ve gotten to know you over the last few months on the Living Joyfully Network. So, I’m really excited that you agreed to come on the podcast so we can dive even deeper into 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?
BLATHNAID: First off, I just want to say how chuffed I am having this opportunity, because this network and your podcasts have been such a huge part of my life. It’s such an honor to be here. So, thank you so much for that.
PAM: Thank you.
BLATHNAID: We’re in a really good spot at the moment. There are five of us. Vincent and myself, Blathnaid, and then Ronan, Naoise, and Ruah. And we’re in a really good spot, because Vincent is on holidays or between jobs at the moment, and so he’s getting a chance to just be and decompress. So, I feel like he’s almost been unschooled for these few weeks. He’s getting a chance to deep dive into his interests. His major interest is biking, mountain biking, road biking, all the biking.
And his other interest is watches, because we’ve just finished a stint of three years in Switzerland. And it’s the home of watchmaking, so he was all into watches. And so, now he’s married his interest in watches with his interest in sport, and it’s opened up a whole network of things. So, at the moment, he’s all into measuring his fitness and all the things that support that and dietary and sleep. He’s tracking his sleep at nighttime. And first thing in the morning he’s like, “How did I sleep? Look at my watch.”
But it’s so cool, because I love all those things, too. And so, it’s easy for me to connect into what he’s into. Now, if it was something like golf, I’d need to make a bit more of an effort, but yeah, that’s him. He’s doing loads of biking. He’s resting. He’s just having such a gorgeous time.
And I think it’s really valuable for him to see how it is to spend time on yourself and how good it feels to be supported in your things. And I think he’s starting to see that now with the kids. So, that’s so cool.
I mean, it’s such a great time to be on this call, because at other times we’re in this lovely flow and it’s all relaxed and there’s no pressure. We were in the middle of a move. We’re now in Ireland for a couple of months, and we’re hoping to get back to New Zealand. So, it’s just a really still and quiet time.
So, me, I am into all the running and biking, swimming, rock running, camping is a big one for me, nature and food. So, we have quite similar interests.
And Ronan, he is a huge gamer. He adores everything, all different range of games. He’s on a big thing at the moment with Rec Room, which you can play in VR, where you connect with your friends and you build a little place to hang out and then there’s games involved. He’s always been big into building. What started as an interest in Lego has developed into a space theme, space craft. He was huge into the mechanical builds on Trailmakers. I don’t know if anyone’s heard of those. Scrap Mechanic. And it’s a really interactive game where you can build a ship and then you can innovate it based on what you see. So, it’s very tactile in that sense and just reacting to a change in your design.
And it’s led them down a path of interest in space and Mars and how people get there. VR is a big one for him as well. And flight, he downloaded a Microsoft flight simulation that real pilots, like my brother who is a pilot, have actually used. It’s like a flight simulator where they use the actual layout of all the airports and the runways all across the world. And so, he had to set that all up. It was huge detail in it. So, he can now fly in on all different types of aircraft into all different airports. It ties in really nicely with his interest in aerospace. So, who knows where that will lead, but he’s full into that at the moment.
And Naoise is my second and she is 12. She’s huge into so many things, into gaming, into Roblox, like real life games where you’re earning money. And she’s huge into building and resourcing for that, in the games where you have to gather money to build. And she had set out for budget and she will talk about, “I have a budget to build of 50,000, but then I have 10,000 to decorate.” And she’s trying to balance. She has brilliant ideas on design. She was huge into gymnastics for a long time, not in a formal way, but just herself. And she gained great flexibility and she just has a great passion for moving her body. She loves to mountain bike, as well.
And then Ruah, who is nine, is into all the things, as well. There’s a farming simulator game at the moment they’re all into and she and Naoise are both learning Trailmakers from Ronan. So, the aspect of building, he’s helping them with the harder parts of that, which is really cool. Ruah is very empathetic. She has lots of different babies all around the place. She will see a character and a personality in everything. We have rock babies and stick babies and all sorts of things which is really cool.
As a group, we do an awful lot of trampolining. And everywhere we go, we’ve lived in different parts of the world, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, and Ireland, and the four of us, we’ll always hang out during the day when everyone else is in school, in the trampoline centers, so there’s nobody there. So, we have so much fun with that. Sadly, it’s been pared back during COVID here in Ireland, but hopefully that will come back again.
So, we kind of look at life, Vincent and I, it’s like a training camp. And we love to just get out there and do loads of sport and then come home and eat really well and have a really cozy nest. And the kids will join in when they’re interested or they don’t when they’re not interested, so there’s lots of different types of things. And it kind of goes in cycles. When we go somewhere new, there’s a whole avenue of things that open up and then over time, it quietens down. And then something else pops up. So, yeah, it’s pretty cool.
PAM: Oh, I loved the way you described it, because it really describes just the flow of things, right?
PAM: Yeah. And I love how you described how you and Vincent have your interests. Your kids know what you guys like to do, what you guys enjoy doing. And they’re welcome to join you, but there’s no pressure there. So, I think that’s something that can really stop us when we first come to unschooling.
BLATHNAID: That was massive for me.
I think I had this ingrained notion of the lovely unschooled family who do all the things together. And because my thing was sport, I thought, well, everybody likes sport, don’t they? And I put such pressure on them in the early days, when they were small, before even we unschooled. I was always having them out and always doing things, trying to instill this sense of joy in sport. And somebody once said to me, “What would you do if your kids weren’t into sport? And I was like, “That’ll never happen!” For me, that was one of the hugest things I had to unpack, because I didn’t listen to the signals when they didn’t want to do it.
I’ll tell you a very quick thing. When I was in Switzerland, a friend of mine was down in France, which was like a three-hour drive away, and she invited us down to visit. And I was like, this is awesome, because we had looked at living in that area, the ski, the mountain bike, all the things. And nobody wanted to go. And it came down to the wire. I was trying to use all of the things, like, “Please just do this and you could do this,” and convincing everyone from my agenda. And I failed and, in the end, I said, “Right. Okay, I’ll go my own and stay overnight and drive back.” So, it was a three-hour drive.
And do you remember the podcast with Ronnie Maier on dismantling shame? I listened to that three times in a row, back-to-back, on that journey down, and three times in a row on the way back, because I suddenly twigged that this was all my thing and I was trying to get them to always do my thing, using those tools of manipulation. And I was horrified at myself and it was one of those really key markers I remember where it was the first time I really let go of them doing all the things with us or the things we wanted to do and could just see it that bit more clearly. But thank you to Ronnie, if she ever sees this. Her voice was in my head for months afterwards, which was so amazing.
PAM: That’s brilliant. That’s brilliant. I love that, because so often we can point out just that one moment where something clicks. And it’s like, oh yeah. It’s valuable as much as we can not to shame ourselves for our previous actions, choices, whatever, because we’re always growing and learning and changing. And so, this is a new piece that I can bring with me as I move forward.
BLATHNAID: Yeah, in the end I did a Venn diagram of all the interests and there were really key ones that we all like to do, and then we divided up the people. But it took that work to just move away from that old thinking. It took a long time, but I’m so relieved now to look back and think.
Because the joy I get out of doing my things, I suddenly twigged, I don’t know how I didn’t know it, but that’s the same joy they get out of their things. And they’re just not the same things.
And then what you can share is that joy, that excitement. You can be excited so much for them about the thing, even if the thing isn’t particularly interesting to you, because you can relate to that feeling of just being so excited about something.
BLATHNAID: And Vinnie tracks me when I go ride the bike. When I come home, and as I drive down the driveway, they’re invariably out on the doorstep, because you can see on the dot, here I’m coming. And they’re chatting me in and it’s so gorgeous, because if I was hoofing them out and making them do my thing, I just wouldn’t get that kind of energy and support that you would get otherwise, you know?
PAM: Wow. Wow. I love that. And I had a little giggle, because Rocco, my husband’s big thing is golf.
BLATHNAID: I know, I know. I remember you saying that, because I grew up in a family of golfers and Vinnie was a golfer.
PAM: There you go.
BLATHNAID: Thank goodness he moved over. Golf is wonderful, but it’s just long.
PAM: I love that. I love that. It was so cool listening as you talked about your kids, too, how fun it sounded that their interests, while they were their own, there were also these overlaps. And so, you said now with that game, that they’re working together now.
PAM: Trailmakers. Yeah, that was it. But there were also different pieces of them that were similar. Like you mentioned mechanical, you mentioned building, but then you talked about furniture and building spaces versus building planes and that kind of activity, the more mechanical kind of activity, but it is so interesting how they connect and flow in their own directions at the same time and leaving it open for that.
BLATHNAID: And not just even on a game point of view, but into their lives, as they exist in the world, and in the things they do around the house, there’s so much crossover.
And that’s one of the beauty of things that I see in gaming is how it gives some more juicy things to play with in their real lives. And they take from that and put it back in and there’s this constant connection of all the things and they’re open to so many things and they join in on the joy. If one of them is big into something and so, I might think, oh, Ronan’s way beyond that. And then he joins back in for the nostalgia of it, and then they all go for three days and have a big old play. It’s just amazing. And it sometimes blows my mind. It really does.
PAM: I love that you mentioned that, because there is that nostalgic piece, too. When the fun is in the connection, you can find all different ways. It doesn’t have to be like, this is something new and I want to learn it, so I want to participate. You can come with so many different lenses to it.
BLATHNAID: Even Vincent finds that, because Ronan is suddenly into 80s music and it pops up in different things. And then, Vinnie’s laughing, because it’s a song by Boney M. or something that he used to listen to as a family going in the car and he might pull up the video and try and show to them and they’re like, “Oh, that’s so weird that all these things existed in those days.” It connects to us, as well, which is quite funny.
I would love to know how you actually discovered unschooling and what your family’s move to unschooling looked like.
BLATHNAID: When Ronan was one, we had already moved to New Zealand. And we had actually had then moved on to Brisbane for a job for Vincent. And I was in this really cool park and I bumped into a load of homeschoolers.
I didn’t know what homeschooling was. Never heard of it. It didn’t exist in Ireland where I came from. And so, I got chatting to the dad. I’d always chat to the people in the park, just because, and I really noticed that he was so into his kids. He wasn’t off, trying to distract himself. You know, like, “The kids are sorted.” He was really in there with them and it struck me. And so, I started chatting to him and asked him, why are you here during the day? And then he wasn’t just a homeschooler. He was actually an unschooler and he started off and of course, I was like, oh, it’s really interesting, but how does that work?
And he did the whole chat. He obviously had his spiel ready and it was like, “We would buy some seeds and sow the seeds and then gather the stuff and sell it at the market,” and tying in all the things. And I was like, oh, that’s amazing. But the most struck I was was by his relationship to his kids.
But I do remember going home that night with Ronan at age one, saying to Vincent, That’s all amazing, but what if that child wants to do medicine? Is that a bit unfair?” I didn’t come across anything else on it.
And the town we live in in New Zealand is called Motueka and there’s tons of homeschoolers in that area. So, the story went on in the sense that I always had a sense with my kids that I wanted to be with them. I wanted them to be the focus of the day. And so, I was kind of good at putting aside all the jobs a little bit. It’s like there was big dust bunnies rolling around. There was a lot of that.
And when I was really strung out, I would struggle. It’s so messy. But my biggest instinct was to hang out with them and enjoy, because I knew this time was really short. And on the periphery of that, there were people saying to me, “Oh, socialization! And it’d be good for you to get some time.” This was after Naoise was born and so, she’s the second.
And so, we decided on a Montessori-type route and it always felt just off. And there was always that sense of we were always crying at the gate and we were doing trips to Ireland. So, we weren’t there at any stage long enough for them to settle in and I’d be crying and they’d be crying.
And I remember saying to one of the teachers one day, I said, “Do we have to do this?” And she was like, “Well, only if you want to.” And I was like, okay, but I was never thinking that we would homeschool. And so, we did a few trips to Ireland again. Primary school, Ronan had started and then Naoise started and Ronan just kind of rolled in with it.
He used to have a lot of tummy pains and his energy went down. And then when holidays would come, it was huge angst in the house that they had to reconnect and redefine their relationship. So, yeah, I had come from a family of educators and always thought school is great. School is so brilliant for people. But when it came to the reality of being at the gate and seeing them going in and coming out, I really struggled. It just felt really off.
And when Naoise started, within the first six months, I spent a huge amount of time in the classroom. I set myself up as a teacher’s aide to help with the reading in the morning, because I felt I needed to be in there to support her, because she sat at the table with her thumb in her mouth. And I could just sense that deep, deep unhappiness. And even still, I never really thought, well, there’s an alternative until an alternative popped its head up.
Vincent had been traveling a lot to Australia all the time over and back for two, three weeks at a time. And the kids weren’t seeing a lot of him. We had moved for this beautiful lifestyle, and I began to think, this isn’t what we moved for. We’re doing this grind of school and he’s going to work for weeks on end. We didn’t move to the other side of the world to do that.
So, a job came up for him in Singapore, where we would all have to go. And, at that stage, I think we had gone to Ireland and the teachers wanted us to keep up the level of work that we were doing for maybe six weeks. I had a flavor of homeschooling, let’s do that. And it kind of worked okay. They weren’t learning a huge amount, but the idea of it was lovely.
So then, the Singapore thing came up and at that stage, I had met some homeschoolers and met some unschoolers in our own community. And the idea was starting to kind of percolate a little bit. So, the initial plan was that we started homeschool. It was, I can do a better job with these children.
I said, I’m going to do it in the most amazing way. I’m going to use all the technological tools that I could use and augmented reality. I was building seascapes with seagulls and then there was a thing that would pop up because you could use augmented reality. I said, they’d surely be interested in this. And the solar system. And they’d do it, because they kind of had to, but there was still that very low energy.
But anyway, we went to Singapore and the opportunity to unschool was there. It was just this place where you could be anonymous. And so, I jumped on the chance. So, it started really from that time.
PAM: Wow. I love that opportunity just finally came together for you. It feels like you were just getting pieces of the puzzle along the way. So, how long were you guys in Singapore?
BLATHNAID: We were there for 18 months. Yeah. So, I think, at that stage, I’d probably would have been homeschooling for about a year leading into that. And it was not working.
No matter what I did, the most jazzy things I felt that I could and go at them the way they liked, I thought they would like, that was not working. So, it was like all the ducks lined up, because it was an ideal opportunity and I was ready for it at that stage. I was ready to give it a go, because I think it would be hard if you weren’t there. It would be hard to make that huge shift.
PAM: So, how did it go when you landed in Singapore there?
BLATHNAID: I like the thing of a whole new place and we did all the things. I mean, it’s an absolutely incredible place to be. It’s daunting. I had worked there 20 years ago for maybe four months. So, I had a sense of, it’s safe, it’s clean, all the things. There wasn’t that level of, I’m so worried that we’re going into this unknown. I knew it. And I had a very good sense of it. But from a transition into unschooling, I met a really fantastic French family who, when I was just on the cusp of entering into it, she opened up my eyes through just the way she talked and inspired me to go further.
So, the next step I took was, of course, releasing all the things and it was all a bit sudden. And yes, it was still following the kids, but it was the realization that you hand over the choice, but they’re not always going to choose the thing you want. And it didn’t pan out like that.
And because Vincent was under huge pressure with work, the sleep thing was an issue. They were gaming more and I realized what was a cycle. At the time of when you go somewhere new, there’s all these things do. Everyone’s out and doing the things and there’s so much energy, but as time goes on, their interest in doing all those same things over and over was waning.
We had a brilliant, what we called a park hoppers group. And there were homeschoolers and unschoolers from all over the world. And we would meet in different parks all over Singapore. And they were the best days where we would be out there for like six hours. There was never anyone in the parks, because it was too humid.
So, we were all there, sweating and then there would be a big, torrential downpour. And they would be in the muck having such a brilliant time for like six hours straight. And then we’d send our coordinates to Vincent and he would come and pick us up in the car and put plastic out and put these mucky kids in. And so, the experience of it was brilliant, but as time went on and I gave them more choice, they’d had enough of it.
And so, that’s when I have this image of myself standing at the bus stop in Singapore, trying to get them out to go to one of these things, which they had loved, but now, they weren’t really still loving it. And the stress and the emotional upheaval. I stood at the bus stop, just tears rolling down my cheeks. And that is my deschooling moment where it all just came to a head and it was brutal. It was absolutely brutal. And I began to question all the things. It was huge. And now, I can smell it and I can feel it, because Singapore is really humid and there’s a very distinct smell to it. So, that whole experience is like surround sound in my head. It was hard. That was hard.
PAM: Oh, my goodness.
Well, that does lead us very nicely to the next question, which was, what was one of the more challenging aspects of deschooling?
Share a bit of your journey through that if you can.
BLATHNAID: Because I was in science all my life, I always tend to find comfort in certainty and research. So, I decided, I have to find an answer to this if there is an answer. And, at the time, Ruah was turning five and we knew we were going back to New Zealand. And in New Zealand, you have to apply for a homeschooling exemption from the school system. So, you have to write a big application and prove and show what you want to do. And that’s all you have to do. You do it once. If you get your exemption, then you’re done. They don’t come and test. This is a fantastic system. And in those years, they had embraced the philosophy of unschooling as part of it. So, it’s just brilliant.
So, I decided I was going to have to put my money where my mouth was. We’d have to write it for her before we got back. So, I had to put my money where my mouth was and say, “Right. I truly believe in this thing.” And now I have to write it and prove it and get an exemption for it. And so, I dived into all things education. I said, I’m not going to have a curriculum, but I’m going to understand what the end goal of this whole thing is.
And so, there’s a huge amount of research being done in America, actually, by a guy called Dominic Randolph. And he’s the principal of one of the top schools in New York, and he was big into character traits and trying to move away from academia. So, I had followed him. I emailed him to tell him how brilliant he was. And it was just a great thing to see, because it was in the cold face of what is happening in education of this move to try and change towards more emotional stability.
And the other person I hit upon was Dan Siegel. He’s an interpersonal neurobiologist. So, he talks about how the brain changes in response to interpersonal relationships. So, academics, for me, was where it was. I had to write it all into this application for Ruah. As a matter of interest, I don’t want to bombard anyone with the science, I have them written here so I don’t forget them, but I looked up the definition of well-being. And there’s like nine of them.
There’s how to regulate your body, having like an attuned communication, emotional balance, how to control your fears, how to have flexibility in how you can respond to people without being reactive, insight, and the morality and intuition. I was like, this is it. This is the Holy grail. I was like, this is amazing.
And so, it turns out that the first eight of those are proven outcomes from attachment parenting. And I didn’t even know what attachment parenting was. And my friend was a big attachment parent. And she said to me once, “Oh, we have similar parenting styles,” and I was like, “There are parenting styles?” She was like, “It’s attachment!”
And so, I remember that day, standing at the bus stop, thinking of all my academia, these nine things that I want for my kids. And I was failing on all of them myself.
And I realized, I’m the one that’s the project. I’m the one that needs to learn these skills. And the funny part was, at this stage, I was inhaling your podcast. It was like, I’d wake up in the night for two hours and I’d be listening to you and I went on to buy the Childhood Redefined Summit.
It was huge in changing how I thought, because on one hand, I had all this scientific knowledge, but what you gave in your podcasts was the experience of it, the real-life experience, and people’s stories. It was all connecting back into the structure that I had learned to give myself comfort. And it was like, ding, ding, ding, ding. All of these things! But you couldn’t just go at it from the scientific point of view, because it didn’t make any sense in applying it. But by having the podcast and the Summit, you’re suddenly able to see that there was a way for it to be, and how it didn’t happen as quickly as that.
And I had some moments of Ronnie’s shame. And another one, a huge one for me, was when you said about the gardener and the carpenter, that we can keep pulling out our veggie gardens, because I had done that in real life, like you. You can keep pulling out your veggie gardens and starting again. You can’t really keep doing that with your kids. And I remember hearing that, and again, with tears, I was like, I have to sort this out. I have to sort this out or I have to really consider not doing this anymore. So, that was a real eye-opener.
But it still didn’t happen very quickly.
PAM: It doesn’t.
When you peel back a layer, there is always another layer under there. That is why, when we talk about when people first come to unschooling to give yourself minimum six months, preferably at least a year to get started. Because, yes, I’m still peeling back layers now. Because you just discover more and more connections, but I love your description of, you had your academic stuff here. So, that’s the intellectual understanding of what we want to do. But then, seeing what that looks like in real life is different.
Also, the fact that you can’t just write one book that says, this is what it looks like in real life, because we’re all different people. In families, we have all different relationships. So, we are the ones who need to figure out for us what it looks like in our family.
BLATHNAID: And you really do need that slap in the face to really move you onto the next level, because you could stay in that spin for such a long time. I could have stayed in that spin. I could still be in it. And it’s a really horrible place to be. It’s a horrible place to be.
PAM: Yeah. And we talk about that, too, that you can get stuck in that chaos, unless you keep peeling back. The revelation that, oh, this is me to figure out for me. Because it’s our head that’s spinning. So, it’s fascinating.
For me, that is the heart of the unschooling journey. Because it doesn’t take too long if you’re doing the research enough to get an idea of the principles that feel good for you, whether it’s through the lens of well-being or whatever lens it is that has brought you here in the first place. But then to get from there to what that looks like day to day, that’s the juicy part, but it’s the hard part, isn’t it?
BLATHNAID: And yes, it is going to be a forever thing. But when you get the confidence to see the benefit of it and to understand that it is forever. And that everyone else is in it, too.
Vinnie and I were talking this morning about, it’s not unschooling. We don’t want to call it that anymore. Let’s just call it life. But everyone is in it in their own way, doing their own thing. And it’s that acceptance of, they are where they are. They are where they need to be, and to allow them to be there on whatever journey it is. But this is just another journey, big journey.
I think the self-care is so important. You did a great month on self-care in the Network. And that part is so important to be enabling yourself to do all this looking and digging, because when you fall out of that mode, you actually shut down your own ability to do all those lovely things, those nine things that you wanted your child to do, because that’s the reality. This ability to process things and be yourself is gone completely. And I think of it as a dip. At the start, you’re just falling into those dips really badly, and it’s so hard to get out of them. And as time goes on, you get better at anticipating or seeing yourself at the top of them where you can see the whites of everyone’s eyes, like I was talking about on the Network.
I could see my own eyes and it’s like, you get to anticipate it. So, you don’t have this huge suck of energy to get back up and you catch it really early. And the dip is shallower. And over time, you get better and better at going back and seeing what you did. How did I react and how do I not do that for the next time? Or what are the things that are causing me to go into that fear-based situation?
And so, it’s constantly looking at your internal mind and just calming yourself down, because when you have all of those nine elements engaged, life is just wonderful.
PAM: Yes. Oh, what bubbled up for me when you were describing that there, it’s like the two big pieces are our awareness, our awareness of our needs and of how we’re feeling. And then the compassion piece, too. So, when we realize that it’s not just for our kids, but how valuable that is for ourselves, because then the energy that we can bring to our day, it’s just amazing the difference, when we’ve supported ourselves.
Even if it’s mantras and just sorting through our thoughts, trying to work through that swirl, settling that swirl, that just helps our energy. And then, when we bring that energy into the day, so often you get that energy back. And, like you said, then you get this beauty.
BLATHNAID: I’ve really noticed it recently, because I went from the small toddler phase, and lots of toddlers in the same spot, and that was energy sapping. And then, moving and all the things. So, I was always attributing my tiredness to that. Now I find that, because I’m listening to those internal voices in my head, and using Anna’s question from the Summit where she’s like, is it really?
And I use that a lot if I hear something going on. I’m like, really? And as a result, my energy stays more stable. So now, in the evening time when I put dinner down on the table, before I used to be just so depleted and I had no energy to chat and to have a laugh. And now, I can sit down at the table and everyone’s yakking and I’m yakking.
And the other day, I just felt cranky. What had changed? And what I now know has changed is I haven’t let those fear-based inner voices or voices from the past or worrying about the future, I haven’t let them in on me and that has become my normal. Whereas before, I had this big internal dialogue going on and it was so energy-sapping. And now, I really see it. Even since we’ve come to Ireland in the last five months, there’s so much energy going around the house, because I’m not so depleted.
PAM: Yes! I love that.
I love it, because it’s amazing how much of that is in our own heads, how much of our work is processing through baggage from the past, other voices that we’ve heard in our lives, judgment that we either feel from others or that we’re putting on ourselves. There is just so much for us to sort through. But it’s such valuable work, isn’t it?
So, you’ve shared with us a lot about how you’ve been processing, how you moved to unschooling.
It’s pretty common for one parent to take the lead for learning about unschooling, focusing on embracing it with the kids, and doing all this work. But then the other parent can get left behind, especially when they’re working outside the home and they’re very busy and stressed with that. So, I would love to hear your experience on working through that piece when you pop up and realize that there’s this other family member here.
BLATHNAID: It is like that. It’s so funny, because the parts of my deschooling are so joined to locations. So, the first part was that in Singapore, I desperately wanted Vincent to know all the things, to learn all the things. And, of course, he was in the throes of a massive project. He was working 60 hours a week. And there was no way on heaven’s earth he had space in his life, but I still had an expectation that he would adore his kids so much that he would spend every waking moment doing what I was doing.
It reminded me of a bit like, when you have your babies first and your mothering instinct and you have your flood of hormones and you would kill anyone that came for your baby, but it was all about doing the right thing for the baby. And, because you’re breastfeeding and you have all this natural connection, your husband or partner gets pushed to the side. And I definitely did that with him. And he never did anything right. He never changed a nappy right. He must’ve probably felt he needed to back away to kind of protect himself, but what I saw as his reluctance to do the thing and to learn the thing and to take it on, was not that.
We actually had really good discussion this morning. He just trusted that I would know what I was doing and do the right thing. And he gave a really good scenario that opened my eyes a bit. So, he always did the finances and those horrible tax things. And the idea of it now for me is horrific. Horrific! And he just took that role and he never had an expectation that I would learn about tax. Now, I know it’s a different thing, because there’s an emotional element attached to your child that’s not attached to taxes.
But he said it’s like in an industry situation. You have experts in different areas and you can’t expect everyone to have the same level of knowledge and interest or ability in all the things, because you’d never get anywhere. So, you trust the particular expert in that thing to take you forward. And then you offer your expertise in this area.
So, today, he said that in his head, he just trusted me. Now what fell down in all of that is we never communicated that to each other. And I’m saying this here today in the hope that it’ll help somebody else in that there are ways you could talk about that even in that exact way, that someone is out carrying the responsibility of bringing in money and the responsibility of all of that. So, they definitely don’t have the time and energy. But for me, what was in my head was, he doesn’t care enough. And he was probably thinking, this is an indoctrination of some sort. But he trusted me.
He said the deep-seated thing today was that he trusted that I knew where it was going. And sometimes, because we never really communicated that, and say, for example, in a situation where I feel he’s not being so respectful of the situation or the kids or whatever. And I get a little mama bear, it’s hard in those moments. But I’ve learned that we can find a way to communicate that.
So, we’ve created words that, when we can see we’re in that situation, that we don’t just go to that emotional blow out, that we can take a break and say, right. Okay. There’s an issue here, not the unschooling or the life. There’s just one thing that’s popped up and maybe it’s somebody who’s really tired over here or stressed over here.
But if we could have managed that from the start, it would have helped, but it’s really hard to know that, because I was so in the thick of the emotion of, I can’t believe he just doesn’t want to learn all this huge amount of stuff about neurobiology and about curriculum. And how would he? He hasn’t had hardly time to go to the toilet for the last five years.
And we came to the conclusion that it’s just learning to respect that everyone will come to it. It’s a bit like the food and the cycling. People will come to the thing when they’re ready to come to the thing, when they have to come to the thing, when that sliver of interest or that need opens up, they will come to the thing and we can only guide and model. I think that’s where he has moved the most is just seeing that relationship between the kids and I, and he’s starting to move in that direction.
And the other part was, I realized I had to stop just doing this connected love for the kids and I really needed to make an effort to include him. And the biggest take home from that, for me, was that I was so independent, like driven, independent. I never need anyone. To get married or do all those things, for me, it was such an upheaval because I thought I would lose my independence. But when I took the time to connect with him and what he loves and nurture him and support him, that it was actually, I was getting so much benefit from it that I had to divorce myself from this “I” and move to this lovely “we”. And I was suddenly filled up with this feeling of, “Oh my goodness. This is just so amazing.”
So, he just went along as he did, not noticing any different, and it was, again, me. It was like, I don’t have to be so independent. I can be this part. I’m not losing myself if I connect with him really deeply and connect with my kids really deeply. I’m not losing myself. I’m actually filling myself up. And that’s only in the last six months! You probably saw it play out in the Network. It’s all about me!
PAM: I mean, it is so hard to grasp before you try it out, that it seems so counterintuitive. For me to give this energy to my relationship with my kids and with my partner and to think that it will actually be energizing versus draining.
BLATHNAID: Totally, yeah. It was a jaw-dropper. And so, now it’s just like, everybody just gets snuggled up and I am less “I” and more “we”. And ultimately, when you think about it, there’s this huge strive for independence in kids. When you take a step back, it’s not what we want at all, because it’s that separation of people from the planet, people from each other, and that’s the root of an awful lot of problems.
And, for me, it’s such a fantastic connection to make that we’re teaching them that we can rely on each other, that we can ask for help, that we’re there for each other, how good it feels when you’re seen and safe and secure. And you’re being soothed by these people in community and the wider community. When you learn that from that core age, I think it’s incredible. So, at what age? I’m 47. A revelation. I don’t have to be independent.
PAM: Right? And I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to always be right.
BLATHNAID: I can cry!
PAM: It’s amazing. That is a huge aha moment. I remember that shift for myself, too. But that is where we’re supposedly less independent, but we’re more ourselves.
BLATHNAID: It feels so good.
PAM: Yeah. That’s amazing. Now we’ve been talking about energy here and there. And so, I wanted to focus on that for a little bit.
When we set up the call, you mentioned how sensitivity to energy can be a super power. And I love the way you phrased that. So, I’d love to hear more about that.
BLATHNAID: I’m very sensitive to energy, which I used to think was not a super power at all, but I’m also very pictorial. I find it very much easier to hold onto a concept if I have an image in my head. So, I’m going to give you all an image.
So, when I was probably in my twenties, I was training for a triathlon, my first one. And I was terrified I wasn’t going to finish it. So, I went headlong into the training. And so, when I used to swim in the pool, first thing in the morning, there was nobody else in the pool. It was a 50-meter pool, like glass. And there was a feeling when you first get into the water and there’s a ripple and it’s just you and your energy in the pool. And for me, as an introvert, where I was working in a lab all day and there was so much external stuff for me, it was just that relief.
And it was the thing that motivated me to get up that early every day, because it was that feeling of absolute peace. In that kind of non-energetic environment, you can just dedicate your attention to yourself. I learned so much. Because I wasn’t a really a swimmer. And sometimes, because the water was so still, you would get this glide in between your strokes. And as people who swim, they know that that’s what you’re looking for. But I learned so much about myself and then I went down to the swim in the triathlon and it was actually an open water swim.
So, what I think of this process in the relationship with our families is, how cool is it, if we can just give them that still water to find themselves, to develop themselves in the long term, to be able to react when they go into that open water of the sea, because you’re so much more in tune with how you feel?
And so, I know I talked before about that energy dial when somebody is having an emotional ripple, that it’s important for them to be in it and not have your energy attached into it. And over time, they get better at dealing with it. And eventually, in the long-term, understanding themselves so much more deeply if I’m not putting my energy in there. It’s important for me to be there, but that skill of learning to dial down my energy, to allow them to have their own energy just unpolluted is incredible. So, I often go around my day popping my head in to see, is their water calm and still, and do I need to be there with them or am I adding my stuff onto them?
Because the greatest gift I feel that I can give them is to remove my internal from their experience of life. And it’s been a hard place to get to, to understand that I just had to not do that.
So, I call that image up and I can actually feel that water as I go about my day and just know how good that felt and that’s the gift that I can actually give to the people around me. I think that’s pretty cool.
PAM: Yeah. I love that image. I can sense that now, too. I used to swim. I’m carrying that one with me.
But I love, too, how you talked about not bringing our energy on top of our kids, because for me, that’s connected to judgment, like feelings of expectations or judgments. And when we bring that with us, we notice that our kids can feel it. Even if we’re not literally saying it, they can feel that we’re bringing that. So, talking about that as energy works really, really well, I think, to help people have a sense for what can happen when we’re holding expectations and we don’t do the work to work through them, to find out where they’re coming from, to work it out for ourselves so we don’t hold them anymore.
We just think, at the beginning, that, oh yeah, we’re not supposed to have expectations, so I’m not going to say it. Yet when we get into the situations with our kids, they can feel that energy. Maybe it comes out through the tone of our voice. Like, “Are you almost finished with your game?” or, “Are you ready to come outside yet?” Our energy still comes through.
So, to think of it that way, that you’re looking for their stillness, because for them, that’s where they’re really in the flow and engaged in what they’re doing. And so, holding onto our energy, to be aware of it and to help it settle before we go into that situation with them, before we step into the room.
BLATHNAID: I talk about the energy dial and the fire alert signs, and you can dial up if the fire risk is high or low. I do see myself doing the dial before I go in.
Dan Siegel, who I’ve mentioned before, has this great stuff on how, with an attuned relationship, really attuned to your child, when you regulate your energy inside, the kids have mirror neurons in their own brains that are reflecting what you are creating.
So, you’re not just standing at the side of the pool, still in the water, but you’re actually modeling all the times that you show that ability to regulate yourself. They’re learning that through you. And it’s not like you’re saying it with words. It’s actually a physical thing that happens in your brain that then happens in their brain.
And as a result, they’re growing a whole new set of neurons that gives them the ability in the future to swim in that open water, to be regulated with all of those lovely nine things that we mentioned earlier on, with reflecting on themselves, reading how they feel in their mind, and seeing in other people what they’re saying and what they’re doing might be something that happened in the past that’s coming out to me and it’s not me. It’s them. All those kinds of internal workings are what we are trying to enable them to do. And we’re doing that just by being there and modeling it. We’re not talking about the science of it. We’re just setting our energy and showing them how to move through the world.
PAM: I love that. I have not dived into Dan’s research that much, but I’ve seen that in action, too. Because especially when you’re going into a moment where our kids are feeling challenged or frustrated and they’re high energy, when we can go in without bringing more on top of it and we can go in, like you said, with that calmness where actually, we can absorb their energy, because it’s not about us. We can absorb, let it flow over us. And yes, they do. It is so appreciated, even when we’re frustrated, to be with someone who’s calm and they’re not getting frustrated back at us.
BLATHNAID: We can find the answers later.
PAM: Right. Yeah, because you know what? Your brain’s not working when you’re in that state, that is not the place to make choices or decisions or anything like that.
BLATHNAID: What a gift is that, that this process of learning about unschooling or life, it has given us the gift to learn all these tools at 47! I can see in my kids who are 13, 12, and nine, that they have skills that I’ve only just developed over the last two years. I hate to say that. How do we get to that age?
Which is why it’s so interesting to see that the educators are now taking this on board and trying to implement it on a broad spectrum in schools, is that emotional regulation is such a major part of life in who you are in the world and how you interact. And I’m so relieved to see that that is happening, but it’s not happening quick enough. And, to me, it’s just mindblowing. How did I get to this age? But it’s a gift getting here now.
And this is why it’s so lovely to do this call with you today, because I wouldn’t have sat down and pulled out all these thoughts and reflected on them and looked back at the journey that we’ve had so far without this today. It’s like writing that report when Ruah was five. When you have to do these things, that initially feels difficult, but they’re actually so valuable, because you just take stock and go, wow. I can’t believe I am here. I am so fortunate. It’s incredible.
I said to Vincent today, “I am so happy that this came into our lives so randomly.” But it was coming at me from different directions. “I’m so relieved that we are where we are today. Whatever happens, I’m so relieved.”
PAM: Oh, that is so beautiful. So beautiful, Blathnaid.
What is your favorite thing about the flow of your unschooling days right now?
BLATHNAID: It’s a funny thing that happens.
I know Talia talked about it the other day in the Network about your aura. Everyone goes around dipping into each person’s aura and they’re all wanting to be. So, I go around during the day, checking in on everyone and having a chat. Invariably, if I’m gone out of the area for a while, they’ll follow me. And at nighttime, everyone comes into my room and suddenly they’re all in the bed and it’s like we’re soaking each other up and soaking up all that loveliness, which we didn’t do before.
And thanks to Ali for the Very Important Sitting idea, because if she hadn’t talked so much about that from the primate point of view, I would have never really taken that on board. But that’s the way it is now. We’re all happy to spend the time, the beauty of this time that most people don’t get, they don’t even know the value of it. And we get it, full on, all the time.
Now, sometimes it gets interrupted and that in itself is very difficult when we’re not expecting me to be taken away from that function of Very Important Sitting with just nothing else, just being there. That is the top priority for me now. And I sank into it. And the benefits of that for everyone has been incredible. And it’s just allowing us to see everyone on their journey and to accept where they are and to be really joyful about where they are. They are where they are, where they need to be, where they want to be. And everyone will get to the things in their own time.
So, yeah, just sinking into that. It’s just all coming at this time when everyone’s just chilled out. It’s just a perfect time to do this call.
PAM: Oh, my goodness. I love that so much, Blathnaid. And thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. It was so fun. I really loved the focus on the energy, not only the stuff you shared about your journey, but so much about how, when we’re with our kids, just being, how we even just seek out just being in each other’s aura or just in each other’s presence for a little while. Because even without words, even without conversations, it’s refreshing, refilling.
BLATHNAID: Yeah. Yeah. It’s amazing. It is amazing. Absolutely.
PAM: Oh, thank you so much. And before we go, where can people connect with you online?
BLATHNAID: Probably through the Network is the best place. I’m not really a Facebooker or any of that. But certainly, you could pop my email into the links in the show notes.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well, thank you very much and have a great rest of the day.
BLATHNAID: I will, indeed. Thank you.