This is part two of my Q&A conversation with Sue Patterson. Check out the transcript of part one here.
“My daughter would be starting kindergarten this fall, but we have officially decided to keep her home with me. I’m feeling a bit of pressure to initiate ways to find more playmates with my kids because they won’t have school peers. They have cousins they love and some neighborhood friends, but I haven’t jumped in on meeting other unschoolers yet.
COVID, obviously, has taken away the chance for classes and activities, but we’d be comfortable meeting folks at the park with masks. I’m more reserved and I see people on Facebook unschooling pages looking for playmates for their kids. This feels like a big “should” in my mind and is making me feel like I’m not doing something right for not being more outgoing in meeting more unschooling peers. It makes me feel kind of intimidated.
Our kids are happy, creative, imaginative, and we’ve really worked on being much more peaceful, patient parents this past year. Things feel good in our home and family. I’m not unwilling to reach out, but I guess I could use some encouragement and tips on ways a more introverted parent can create opportunities for friendship.”
PAM: I just wanted to start with how I really looked to my kids in this kind of situation as to whether they were looking for more interactions with other kids. And the person put “should.” “This feels like a big ‘should’ in my mind.” She put it in quotes, because she probably knows that “shoulds” are something to look at, because that can be a story that we’re telling ourselves of something, not our reality. Our kids in front of us are a much better clue as to what would be more helpful. So, I don’t think our kids need to interact with other unschooling kids, because unschooling really isn’t a common interest.
SUE: You can live in a little town and be the only unschooling family there.
PAM: If they’re meeting at a park and your kids want to go to the park, whatever, that’s great. They will be there during the day. But often I’ve found that it’s more the parents who are wanting to meet up, especially with the younger kids. And that’s great, but it doesn’t mean that for them to connect, the kids have to get together. It doesn’t have to involve the kids.
So really, just look at that expectation that we might be playing with or feeling that we have to get together with other unschooling families and look at our kids. If they are happy with their cousins and their neighborhood friends and that’s enough engagement with kids for them, that’s great. That’s totally fine. I know my kids, they had each other, they had us, they had their cousins. It wasn’t until they were eight, nine-ish that they were really looking for more engagement outside. And that also definitely depends on personalities, introvert or extrovert. They may want more kids to run around with at a younger age, but again, it’s the individual, right? It’s looking to the child.
SUE: It’s interesting. Over on Instagram, now that we’ve had a whole pandemic year, it’s like, I guess it was more than a year ago. I did a thing to find out whether people were introverts or extroverts, what their personality type was, and 70% of the unschooling moms that were on Instagram were introverted. I was shocked. I’m not an introvert. Surprise, surprise. But I have discovered during this pandemic that I kind of like being at home by myself more.
So, not as far extroverted as I thought, but we really are convinced from schooling, from society, that extrovert is the thing to be and introvert is not, and that’s just not true. None of that is true. It’s your personality, whatever you bring to the table, that’s who you are and you have worth. And it’s not that one is less worth and one is more worth. That’s just not true. So, be careful that you’re not beating yourself up. “I’m introverted.” Well, it’s fine to be introverted. A lot of great things come from introverted people.
The other part to realize is that we’re also conditioned to believe that desk proximity in a classroom is going to equal friendship. It’s not true. And so, I think that we hear a lot about, “You need more! You need more! You need more kids to be around! You need more kids to be around!” Well, that was part of the selling point to get a kid to go to school. Not because it was necessary. Lots of kids had bad experiences with the kids in their classroom. They had bullying or they had comparisons and competition. Gosh, the competition. And your guys don’t have to have that.
So, the fact that they are happy, creative, and imaginative, and it’s a peaceful, patient year is fantastic! Remind yourself that those are great and that when your kids demonstrate that they want more, that’s when you have to look at it. “Okay. I’m going to see if I can go for a little while for that park day, when park days come back, I can go for a little while, but then I’m too introverted, I gotta go. But my really extroverted kid can stay with my friend a little longer at the park. They don’t have to leave just because I left after the first hour. They can stay to their heart’s content.”
But again, you’re not doing that because they are a seven-year-old or a five-year-old. You’re doing that because they’re expressing interest in something that you, as the tour guide extraordinaire, are going to find other resources that can help them get the needs met, that they’ve indicated that they need.
I don’t think your kindergartner or future kindergartner or whatever, five-year-old, is sounding like they’re missing out. Don’t tell yourself a story that, “They’re missing out. They’re missing out.”
Well, then maybe find the gymnastics class and see, “Oh, she hates going. All right. I guess we’re not gonna do that.” Or, “Maybe this was a story in my head. Maybe she is perfectly content with cousins and neighborhood people.” They need a lot less than you think, because you’ve been conditioned to believe that they need bazillions.
Although, I did have one child who, the moment she woke up, she said, “Who are we seeing today?” And so, you move in that direction and you get a whiteboard. And you’re like, no. She was like, “We didn’t see anybody.” I’m like, “No, two days ago you had a sleepover and you can see it on the big whiteboard.”
And so, they don’t have to get all caught up in, “I’m not getting what I want,” because they can see that every couple of days, we make sure everybody’s getting what they need when you have more than one kid. When you have just your kindergartner, which I keep calling them kindergartners. They’re not really kindergartners. We’re so indoctrinated into that. Your five-year-old, your daughter.
PAM: I think that’s a great point in that story with your daughter.
It’s about the individual. It’s really looking to them to see, rather than thinking there’s expectations that there will be more friendships.
And two things I’ve found, one, yes, my kids needed a lot more processing time than I expected. I thought we would be out doing a lot more. So, being open to that being okay is important. And number two, as an introvert, a hardcore introvert, I also found that when I was helping my kids meet their needs, it was a little bit easier. I could push a little bit more against something that I probably wouldn’t bother doing for myself.
But as tour guide extraordinaire, as you mentioned it, there were reasons for me to skirt at the edge of my comfort zone and stay there for a while. And that felt good to me. Now, if it doesn’t, like you said, there are resources. There are ways they can go hang out with another family for a while to get more of their things while I’m helping myself or my other kids who aren’t interested in that. There are so many possibilities. It’s about being creative, I think, and having fun with it.
SUE: And life keeps coming up with all these. Not getting dictated by the story in your head of what it’s supposed to look like, because what it’s supposed to look like, you’re going to gather your data from that kid right in front of you. You’re not going to gather your data from your history, from what somebody else says, or what somebody else lives. That kid in front of you is going to tell you, “I need more. I need less.”
PAM: Yeah, their story. When you’re giving them the space to live it and connecting with them, you will know these things. You will have a feel for these things. So, that’s lovely. All right. Question five.
“I am seeking some advice for how to get a passionate 12-year-old on board with trying unschooling. My daughter is digging in her heels, clinging to compulsory school, though it has made her miserable for the past two and a half years. The COVID-forced hybrid model doesn’t help, though it’s not the only problem.
My daughter doesn’t see the shortcomings of the institution, though she cries and complains at home about truly bad behavior moments from teachers, counselors, parents, and other kids. She is constantly anxious and stressed about school, obsessed with getting the best grades. For example, she freaked out when her 100% average in PE dropped to 99 after her PE teacher docked her 20% for her legitimate yet unexpected interpretation of the Zoom assignment.
She had two terrible teachers for 4th grade and 5th grade under a horrible new principal. 6th grade is better. Its teachers have some knowledge of how kids actually learn, however, her middle school still has a strict schedule, dress code, standardized tests, bells, bullies, sexism, and racism, and it still lacks choice and individualization.
My daughter had glowing expectations for middle school, hanging out with friends, decorating a locker, and they have not come true. She thinks homeschooling will mean losing friends, losing a designated place to go away from home, losing structure, losing validation by teachers whose opinion she trusts, falling behind, missing out, and having gaps in her knowledge.
She used to love to read and to write long, lyrical stories in 3rd grade. Her 4th-grade teacher said she was “too slow” at reading, so now she “hates reading.” She heard some adult opine that “you can’t make a living doing graphic design”, so now she spends less time drawing. She still likes math, science, sewing, and singing. I don’t want her to lose those, too.
I want her to try unschooling full-time. She does it already, when she’s not compulsively doing extra homework or crying from stress and lack of sleep. I don’t want to compel, coerce or intimidate her. I would like her to see for herself how unschooling might actually be a better way for her to get an education and be willing to try it for a year.
Every time I try to show her a documentary or a book or an article about unschoolers, she starts shouting and crying about how I want to take her away from real school. I’m looking into getting her a therapist, which she asked for. I think she’s in an unhealthy situation. How best to support her and how best to deschool?”
You’re the only one actually involved in the situation, the parent, the person who wrote this question. So, how unhealthy it is, is your call. But there would be a lot of complications if you forced her to leave. But, of course, obviously, as always, there’s no unschooling police, nothing like that. These are your choices.
But what I would say is, I think it would be really helpful right now to step back from trying to convince her. From what was written, a lot of it was trying to convince her that this is better. And step back not because it’s wrong, but because of her reaction. She’s getting very defensive. So, if you keep trying to suggest it, she’s just going to dig in deeper and it’s not going to be better.
SUE: That’s in her second sentence, that her kid is digging in her heels.
PAM: Yeah. Then her choice doesn’t become about unschooling anymore. It becomes about, ‘my mom’s trying to make me do something.’
SUE: Power struggle.
PAM: Yeah. It becomes a power struggle. Exactly.
So, you want to avoid the power struggle piece, because when you’re not in a power struggle, that’s when you can actually think and learn a little bit more and pick up things. So, I think for the mom, learning more about unschooling and how it works would be really helpful for her and doing her own deschooling. Because you can bring so much of the unschooling ethos into your lives, even when school is a part of it.
And I will put a link in the show notes to a podcast episode with Alex Polikowsky about how her daughter chose to go to school for a while. I don’t know, maybe she’s still there, but it is really interesting how many of the unschooling principles really can apply. You can bring them into your lives even when school is a part of it.
And the really interesting piece, too, that she can do now, is just letting your daughter know that it’s a choice. I think her daughter knows that now, but letting her know that, “You know what? If you want to leave, just let me know. That is totally cool.”
And then, instead of trying to convince her daughter to leave, support her daughter’s choice to stay as in, “I’m your partner, I will help you.” Validate the hard stuff, but not saying, “See, it’s hard. You should leave,” but just letting her process through that, so she’ll discover what her point is that she wants to leave. Not that we’ve said, “This looks so horrible. I want you to go.”
But when you’re there with her and you’re a partner, that’s when she can start to see that this is a real valid choice. “My mom’s going to support me no matter what my choice is. She’s going to come to the teachers if I want her to talk to the teachers. She’s not going to harp on me about homework, because homework’s not a big deal.”
If she wants some help figuring out ways to do homework or do projects, well, support that, bring food, bring drinks, make a nice, big open space for her to work on her project. Show that you’re supporting her as a person, irrespective of school or not school. Does that make sense?
SUE: Totally, totally. I think Alyssa talked about it on her podcast with you, talked about going to high school for a year and a half, and that she too wanted that, decorate the locker, all the things that her Lizzie Maguire story told her school was going to be like, only to discover it’s not.
And so, she was my youngest, the most radically unschooled of all of them. So, in fact, she hadn’t had any academic prep for it, but she did fine. And the point is, I totally did it as an experiment. I didn’t say, “This is a terrible idea.” I did say, “I’m not a fan, but I want you to have the experience you want to have.” And that meant I did school in our way. I picked her up early. I went to the back door and brought her some lunch. I continued my partnership with her in spite of what the school said you have to do.
And because at that stage of the game, I was past that worry about getting called into the principal’s office. I was instead calling the principal into his office. And so, I think that it’s not the end of the world if she chooses school. And I think that, just working through here, one of the things to remember is that we’ve been in a pandemic for a year. And so, that gives people an opportunity to romanticize what it would have been like if we were all together in our decorated lockers, happiness place. It might take a little wake up call to see that that’s not gonna really happen like that. You don’t have to tell her that.
And this is what I would do. I would say, “I’m done with fighting you about school. You want to go. I want to make it work. So, let’s see what we can do. And how can I make this happen for you?” And all of the sudden, there’s no struggle. You walked away from the power struggle. Power struggle only happens if you keep struggling. So, quit.
And so, I think that she doesn’t see the shortcomings of the institution. Why would she? She’s been going to school all this time. They’ve totally filled her head with, “Make an A, make an A.” You don’t even know what they’ve said. There could have been little comments of, “Don’t drop out. Don’t do this.” And so, she has internalized all of that.
What you could do, and you don’t have to do this as, “See?!”, but more of a, “Wow. Look at that. There’s so much math in everyday life.” Or, “Look at you! Fractions. Piece of cake.” And it’s the back of the cake box. And so, you start to identify where learning happens in life. And so, if you spend this year, she goes back to the school, you spend it really deschooling and learning about unschooling, then you can help her see it, because inevitably she’ll be back to having the crummy teacher. Or she’ll be back to having a situation. And by being on her side, you make it easier for her to make a different choice.
If you’re constantly saying, “My way, my way,” and she’s saying, “My way, my way,” then even when it’s bad, she won’t want to do your choice. And so, don’t go there. Instead, just say, “We’re going to just play it by ear. If you like it, we stay. If you don’t, we don’t. And we’re going to do a variety of other fun connective, valuing type of activities together.”
PAM: Yeah. When you release that power struggle piece, too, it also opens up so that when things go bad or things are hard at school, she will still feel comfortable coming to you to talk to you and process it, rather than her having to deal with it herself.
SUE: Privately. She’d be scared that you’ll jerk her out of there the minute something bad happens.
PAM: Yeah. If she tells you, she’s just going to get a lecture on how she doesn’t need to go. And why does she put up with that? And all that kind of stuff.
So, it’s just so valuable in so many ways to stop that power struggle. And then that’s where learning about unschooling is going to be so helpful for the mom, because pieces like the knowledge gaps, when you start looking at that and understanding how everybody has knowledge gaps, and when you start embracing that, you can put little observations, like, “Oh, I just learned this. I never knew it.” Whatever age we are, they know we’re not in school anymore, show that we’re always learning. There are always little pieces that we don’t know.
And you don’t even need to make that obvious to them, but just sharing if you’re doing the math bit with the cake, it could just be, “Oh, I cut it into quarters,” whatever it is. And the little pieces of, “Oh, I just learned this,” letting little observations and conversations about learning that happens outside of school naturally bubble up, not to point them out, but she’s going to see them. She’s going to notice them. And when she’s not feeling that pressure of school or not school, it just helps her see how learning can happen outside of there.
So, those little pieces are just going to help her see, like you said, she’s going to be hearing lots. She has heard lots of stories about how important school is and how we just learn at school and she’ll get behind. We can start planting seeds of a different story right, of unschooling.
SUE: Yeah. And she had talked about long lyrical stories in third grade that she doesn’t do anymore, or that she thinks she hates reading because she’s slow. Remember, too, that those things can come back. If they’re in her, they’re in her. If she likes that kind of stuff, then maybe go, when things get different with the pandemic, do a poetry slam, or watch it on YouTube.
There are some cool things where people are oratory. They’re explaining it from a dramatic perspective. And so, that might be interesting to her. And it’s not about, “So see, you can do it too.” It’s just more of a, “Oh, I saw this cool thing. And these actors,” like the Hamilton cast where they bantered some of the scenes in a Zoom call. And you can say, “Oh, look at this.” And you just start to show her cool things that you think might be close to something she likes.
Now, if she rolls her eyes, if she slams her door, those are all clues that you went in the wrong direction. So, don’t go that way anymore. Go a different way. What is different? And remember, it’s trial and error. We’re going to try not to push her because, “All 12-year-olds need to be this,” or, “All kids who like to write do this. Kids who like to read do this.”
What does she like? She wants to decorate lockers? Maybe it’s time to decorate her room. Maybe it’s time to get some cool wallpaper or paint on the walls. We had a bathroom upstairs that they could write quotes and stuff with Sharpies on the walls, because who cares? There’s nothing that a paint can can’t take care of later.
And if she’s missing doing that kind of thing, get her some of those press on stickers of flowers or whatever it is that she wants to decorate her locker with. Let’s do the whole room in it. And that helps her own her little safe spot, because inevitably she’ll go. It’ll fall apart, because inevitably it does to some degree. Even if she continues to choose to stay, she’ll still have her little safe spot that she has made with you, full of love and nurturing, so that she can manage.
And so, I would not even ask her about her grades. Don’t talk to her about, “Oh, that’s so great that you got an A! Oh, that’s so great that you got a 100! Wow! I’m so proud of you,” because that feeds that. Instead, skip all that talk, because something is making her really care a lot about the grades. That could be just that she felt she had good grades. She liked the pat on the back. And so, she wants to move back in that direction.
Maybe you should point out to her how you got a C in biology. That doesn’t mean we don’t move forward. It just means that year, it wasn’t our year. You just minimize the pressure, so that she’s not freaking out about her grades.
Another thing to remember is that sometimes kids freak out about something, because we’re their safe spot to freak out. And then as soon as they walk away, they are not freaked out anymore. And we’re sitting there like, “Oh no! She’s miserable!” They are long gone. They unloaded and they were done.
So, don’t get too caught up in the story of, “She hates it. She hates it.” Obviously, there’s some piece of it she doesn’t hate, because she wants to go. So, it could be that you’re just her safe spot to tell all her woes to. And I still have one of my kids that does that, and I still get all angsty about it only to then look on Facebook and she’s gone out to dinner with someone and she seemed perfectly happy. And you’re like, I guess I’ll stop worrying about it.
So, know that that’s just part of parenting. We take it on and we deal with it. I’m kind of a fixer type of a parent, which has its own pitfalls, but you can get too much into solving the problem when that’s not really what they’re asking you for. They really just want a safe spot to say it all.
PAM: Someone to listen. Exactly. No, I love that piece, too, about the things that she wants to do. What was she going to get out of the decorating the locker? And bringing all those pieces into your life now, because that is what helps her see what other possibilities are. Again, it’s not unschooling or school, per se. I mean, it is.
SUE: You can go on Amazon and buy some lockers and let her decorate and paint it purple, whatever she wants. And then, “I can’t decide!” Well, “Let’s get two!”
PAM: I love that.
SUE: “Or let’s change it every month.”
PAM: Play with it. I mean, for me, I like to think of play, because that keeps us figuring out the middle, rather than being stuck at one end or the other.
PAM: Okay. Last question, Sue.
“I have a nine-year-old, a five-year-old, and a two-year-old. I’m at home with them, but we have zero help. Zero. No babysitters or family or cleaning companies or anything right now. Now, a lot of my current experience could be heavily influenced by the pandemic and lockdowns, but I really, really struggle with managing their varied needs.
A lot of unschoolers I meet or read about or hear about on podcasts have one child, maybe two, but I find it more rare to hear stories from unschoolers with multiple kids. Plus, the ages of my kids have an impact. They are three and a half years apart from one another, so all interested in different things, though of course there is some crossover. But I’m near tears by the end of the day, trying to be present to play kitchen and dolls with my two-year-old, while also playing a lot of imaginative fighting games with my five-year-old, while supporting my nine-year-old, who loves gaming and searching things online and needs some help.
On top of this, I really struggle with being on top of just the basics, dishes, shopping, cooking, laundry. Believe me, I do not try to be perfect. Most of the time, my house looks ransacked and super cluttered, which I’m not really happy with, but I’m trying to accept. My husband works from home and helps as much as he can, but his time is super limited.
Most days, I feel like I’m failing my oldest, because he is the most self sufficient, and so, the needs of the littlest ones seem to take over and I yearn to get to my eldest. And he has expressed feeling left out, feeling like the bottom of the list. We get about a one-hour toddler-free window when she naps and when lately both boys and I play on the trampoline. How do I meet all their very different needs and get dinner ready?
Some days, I worry I just can’t manage it all. My boys are very sensitive and have a strong need to have my attention and presence. Plus, I worry I’m not there enough to see and support their interests in a meaningful way. On top of that, I do want to get back to my own body of work somewhat, my own career. I was in the creative arts when we got pregnant with my first and that’s all been on hold.
The kids are up until 10:00, I’m too tired to get up to work then, so it feels like I will never have the time and space to return to what I feel is a calling. Especially when, as I said, just handling the basics with all three seems so challenging.
So, that’s my very long-winded question. How to support three kids and myself and the house and our new rescue puppy?”
All right. Absolutely, I want to say I feel that overwhelm. It’s true. I remember that feeling. You and I both had three kids. And I will say, we’ve got a number of podcast episodes with families with four or more kids. So, I’ll put a link to a few of those episodes just in case. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear from their perspective.
But some seasons really do feel overwhelming and it can be just helpful to remember that our kids will get older. They really are getting older every day and it’s not going to be like this forever. We can really get stuck in that tunnel vision, where this just feels like, “I can’t do anything else. I can’t do what I want to be able to do. And I don’t feel like I’m supporting everybody as much as I want to.” So, we can get really stuck in that story.
I also feel the diverse interests. My kids never really had a lot of the same interests. We came together for a few things like jumping on the trampoline or playing games and stuff. I think what bubbled up for me, at first anyway, is really the idea of self-care when we are starting to feel overwhelmed. And what’s super interesting is, it feels like one more thing that we have to do. “Oh, I can’t do what I want to do and you’re talking about self-care!” But truly, we’re not talking about, “You need an hour all by yourself.”
SUE: Or even a weekend away!
PAM: Or the spa, anything like that.
I have an episode all about self-care and we talked a lot about how it really is possible to weave just reenergizing moments, refocusing, recentering moments throughout our day. And I think it just sounds like that might be a super helpful thing to look at, because when you feel a little bit recharged, it is easier to go from one kid to the next.
And it’s also how we look at it. Maybe that trampoline time is re-energizing for us, if we take the moment to observe and say, “Oh, this is refreshing. I like doing this. I can do it with intention and I can soak it in and refill my cup with that activity.”
Sometimes the stuff we do with our kids can be that for us. So, instead of just telling ourselves a story that it’s draining all the time, drain, drain, drain, drain, we can tell a different story for some things. It’s not about lying to ourselves. It’s about noticing. It’s like, “Oh, you know what? I do enjoy this. I do like bouncing around. I do like laughing when they’re bouncing around,” and just soaking it in rather than feeling like it’s draining us out.
And I think sometimes even just going into the bathroom and doing a couple of deep breaths and reminding yourself, this is a choice. This is a choice. I’m not a victim. And so, I think that when we can have whatever mantra works for us, that helps us do a quick shift. “All right. I’m spiraling out of control. I need a quick shift.” Think about what would work for you. That could be helpful.
The thing that jumped out to me, you have a two-year-old. And that is, in and of itself, exhausting. And that’s if you had no other kids. A two-year-old can be exhausting. So, you have two other kids and a two-year-old and a husband who can’t really help much.
And so, number one, I would ask, what could your husband do? What are some things? Because I was in that same situation. We were military. We moved all over the place. We didn’t have family. We didn’t have help. It was just like that. And I had three. And they were all in different directions, all with different needs. And so, I get it.
I did a podcast with Gina Riley last spring. She’s a researcher and an unschooling mom and a single mom. And she said this great thing that I just love telling people. In the mornings, she would get up early do her thing, which I don’t know if you have a two-year-old if you can do that, because sometimes you can only rise and fall when the two-year-old rises and falls. But if you can, then that’s a good time to get your stuff a little bit done. And then you can focus on the kids when they get up.
We can be singularly focused, instead of, I’m trying to do this while I do this, while I do this, where nobody feels they got what they needed. So, if you’ve got some work done for an hour or whatever, your thing that you’re wishing you could get to, you might be able to do a piece of it. Maybe not all of it, but maybe a piece of it that makes you feel like, “Oh yeah, I am moving in the direction I want. And I’m still raising three kids in a loving, connected way.”
Then when they get up, I can make sure that I get their cup full, because when their cup is full, they’re more likely to not need you as badly as they do when you haven’t really filled their cup. Then it’s like constant need, need, need. But if you’re like, “All right, Candy Land before breakfast, because that’s what they chose,” then so be it. Be into it, because it could be really fast. And then next thing you know, you just bought yourself another hour.
And so, the thing, too, about the older kid that you’re worried that they’re getting neglected, figure out where you’re going to put some time with them. Maybe not trampoline with both of them, because that doesn’t really answer the question of how you connect with that one older one? Maybe you need to carve out a little piece of time. Maybe you could make an appointment with your husband, “Can you handle them for an hour while he and I go get ice cream or while he and I walk the dog or do this hike? It’s one hour. Can I have an hour?”
And if it has to be after he gets done with work, then that’s a good place to put it, so that you’re hearing what’s going on with your kid. He gets to tell you all of the stuff that’s happening. And it doesn’t have to happen every single day, but just make sure that a week hasn’t gone by that you didn’t have that little block of time. The two-year-old is going to carve their block. You don’t have to carve that for them. The five-year-old may or may not and you want to make sure they’re getting some one-on-one mommy time. And then the nine-year-old is the one in this question that I feel like you’re most concerned about isn’t getting their time. So, that’s the one you’re carving the time out for.
And so, maybe it means that they stay up later and the others have gone to bed. Or maybe it means you just think about some of the interests that they have and that, while you’re fixing dinner, they’re doing a science kit at the dining room table or at the counter, because it’s high enough that the two-year-old can’t grab it, you know?
So, you have to just be realistic about what your life is. And then again, kind of like with some of the other questions and what you had said, too, Pam, don’t assume it’s always going to be this. The difference between a two-year-old and a three-year-old is huge, between a three-year-old and a four-year-old is huge. And your oldest would still only be 10 or 11. And so, don’t think, the destiny is my oldest child will be neglected forever and my baby will be demanding forever. It doesn’t happen like that.
PAM: And I’ll never be able to do the things that fill me.
SUE: I mean, you may have to do your thing on a laptop in bed at 10:00, because that’s an okay way for you to do it. Or maybe two days a week, instead of doing stuff with the boys while the two-year-old is napping, maybe that’s when you do something. You just deliberately carve out the spot, because the baby’s occupied, sleeping. And the big kids are happy doing their thing, probably. Especially if Monday, Wednesday, Friday, you’re doing something with them, but Tuesday and Thursday you’re doing your thing. Or whatever.
I say those days, but all of a sudden, it’s a gorgeous day and you’ve had rain for a week and you’re like, “Sorry, it’s my day.” No. Don’t do that. You have all the flexibility in the world. So, don’t confine yourself in ways that are arbitrary.
PAM: And also, for me, when the kids were that young, I really didn’t have time to do my things. I was choosing to be with them and put my effort there. And as they got older, I found more and more pockets of time where I could start writing a book. And, my first short little book took two years, because there were just tiny little pockets of time.
So, it’s just realizing that it’s not never.
SUE: I came from a real mainstream background. And so, I was very much into, “What about me? What about me? Where’s my time?” And so, I did carve out time for myself and when I look back, those are some of the things that I wish I hadn’t done.
So, if you’re thinking, I’m not getting to my thing, I want to invite you to skip your thing for a little bit, take that off your plate. Because I know that, when I was trying to get to my thing, I was impatient and frustrated that I couldn’t have my space, I couldn’t have my time. Or, “Why are you guys spilling the milk? And, oh my god, all of that kind of stuff.
And for what? For what? I could have waited a couple of years and it would have been fine. But in the moment, I was like, “Oh no, I must! I must!” And it’s just a process that we learn. And so, maybe sometimes you learn from the great things that I say, sometimes you gotta learn from my mistakes.
And so, I would just say, and I know a lot of people disagree with me, but I would just say it is okay to set aside those things. “I’m raising a toddler right now. I don’t have the bandwidth to do something else without getting really angry with my big kids or being really frustrated and being spread too thin.”
And I will say that rescue puppy you got? I don’t know. Puppies are hard and they can be stressful. So, allow that that’s what your hobby is right now, that you are getting to have this puppy, because you wanted it and it’s great. But maybe you have to re-frame it as, this is my me time right now is dealing with this puppy and helping my nine-year-old figure out how to do pet care and all of these things that you’re just waving these shared experiences with.
And I always think of like, if you have this life and you live to be 80-something, and the first 20 years, you’re just a kid and somebody else is taking care of you. The next 20 years is your parenting time and you really are focusing a lot on them. The next 20 years, you’re not really parenting in the same way. You have all the time in the world to get a bunch of stuff done.
And we’re an immediate society. We want it all done now, because you never know. And truly, you never know, but you’ve got a couple of giant blocks of twenty years to get a bunch of things done. I didn’t start this business until my late fifties. Because I can do it without running somebody to do this, or running somebody to that.
So, I think that you can recognize that you have a whole life. And right now, this window includes raising a toddler and having a rescue puppy. And those two are very demanding. And so, the fact that your house is a mess, I haven’t been to Pam’s house, but every unschooling family I know, even without multiple children, if they were diving into unschooling, their house looked ransacked and it just did because that’s the lived-in look. And so, don’t worry about that. That’s just a story. “I’m not a good mom. I’m not a good housekeeper.”
There was a cool article somebody wrote about separating your mom-ness from your housekeeper-ness. We tend to lump it all together. And don’t, because that cleaning lady side of your life isn’t the mom-ing side of your life. So, it’s just interesting how some people really mix it all together. It becomes problematic.
PAM: Such a great point. And really, what you were saying there, it really boils down to remembering that these are choices we’re making, to remember why we’re choosing unschooling for our family.
And the realization, I think that was such a great point, Sue, that the things that we want to do are also part of our self-care, that me-time piece, but to realize that that’s what you were really trying to get out of it. And there are other ways to meet that for now.
Like you were talking about the different stages, these are my choices and these choices take up my time. And I think that’s something we struggle with no matter what, because I could fill my days with a million things that I would love to do. Even now that my kids are all older as well, so it’s not something that’s just particular to when you have kids.
But it’s just so useful to remember what my priorities are, why I’m making these choices, what I want to dive into. And like you’re saying, be fully in the moment with them, instead of having half your mind thinking about all the other things you wish you were doing, because then you’re not filling that moment. You’re not present with everybody.
SUE: And that’s kind of a society thing, that you’re not doing enough, being enough, having enough. So, just say no. Right now, my cup is full. Thank you, society.
Something else, a couple of times she mentioned in here about, “and get dinner done,” so make sure dinner is easy. And for me, it meant I had about four things that happened every week and then three that changed out and they rotated around. So, they came back around next month or they happened however that worked. So, you don’t have to be the gourmet chef every night and you may be listening and saying, “Oh my gosh. No,” but maybe you need Crock-Pot stuff. Maybe you need stuff that’s going to cook on its own that you don’t have to stand there chopping.
I remember they used to have these groups that were batch-cooking people. And so, they would chop up a ton of onions and put them in Ziploc bags so that, throughout the week, you already have it and you can scoop out half a cup, throw it on and you didn’t have to get out the cutting board, wash a knife. Oh gosh. Oh, now they’ve just spilled Cheerios! You don’t have all of that, because you just had to grab your Ziploc bag and throw that onto the skillet. And so, look around for easy ways.
And then also things like paper plates and ways to not have a ton of dishes, just to give you less work. And something, too, that the two-year-old and the five-year-old and maybe not the nine-year-old, you can always have, “Let’s everybody take a wet paper towel and wipe the floor and get the dog hair up,” just some easy task that feels like, “All right. Gosh, that looks a little bit better. It feels a little bit better under my bare feet.” Somebody has their own little kid mop, run through the room, and get that done. And so, really, we’re just doing floors and toilets for a long time.
PAM: I love that.
Because the piece that was so helpful for me, that made it feel lighter, was just trying to bring some creativity to it. Some play, some fun, to see these not as, “Oh my gosh, I need to vacuum. I need to cook dinner.” We just keep piling all this weight. That’s the story we tell ourselves.
SUE: I love that little hand vac. You could buy a couple of hand vacs and have them charging.
PAM: Kids would enjoy that!
SUE: They could put stickers on it and this is their hand vac. “Go get that stuff under the table.” “I’m on it!”
PAM: Because we see so much of it as work and chores. But it can really be fun when we play with it more.
SUE: And if we push that idea of work and no fun, then we can’t be surprised when the kids say, “I don’t want to help. That’s no fun.” We conditioned them. So, if instead, it’s superheroes to the rescue with our hand vacs!” There we go.
PAM: Thank you so much, Sue. It was so much fun to chat with you today.
SUE: Always. Always. I love it.
PAM: And it’s been a little while now. So, where can people connect with you online?
SUE: You can go to SuePatterson.com and that has all kinds of coaching resources, because I have groups and I have a strewing calendar. I have a lot of different things and unschooling guides on a variety of topics that freak people out. And so, there’s that. And then there’s also UnschoolingMom2Mom.com, which is a big curated site that has lots of different unschoolers from around the world who have written fabulous things and I want to make sure you see it. So, those are the two websites.
And then, of course, if you just write in Unschooling Mom2Mom on Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest or Clubhouse or wherever, you can find me. Oh, and I have a new podcast! I have a little five-to-ten-minute unschooling pep talk that comes out on Mondays. So, you’ll see that in some of those places or it’s on iTunes and Spotify and all those things. So, there are lots of ways to connect. I’m happy to connect with anybody who’s trying to figure out, how can I do this?
PAM: Oh, that is awesome. Thank you so much, Sue. I will make sure we get all the links to that stuff in the show notes, as well.
SUE: Thanks so much, Pam. I loved it! Bye!
PAM: So fun.