PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Anna Brown. Hi, Anna.
ANNA: Hey, Pam.
PAM: So, this month in the Living Joyfully Network, our theme has been Embracing Cocoons and Bubbles. Now, cocoons and bubbles are metaphors for different aspects or windows on unschooling and are pretty common experiences. We wanted to talk about them, because this imagery can often be helpful as we navigate these sometimes challenging seasons. So, I’m really looking forward to talking about this and we’re going to dive right in.
So, let’s start with cocoons. A cocoon, for me anyway, is a season in which a child is choosing to pull inward. They aren’t so much interested in being out and about in the world. And there’s often a subtle energy shift that comes with it, maybe some more introspection, maybe some more comfort activities.
And sometimes it takes a little bit before we recognize what’s up, because it’s not something that’s usually announced upfront, but it’s something that unfolds as they’re making their choices in their days and they just seem to be choosing quieter activities. So, we start to notice it. They start to notice it.
Now, there are also shorter times of cocooning. So, maybe it’s been a super busy few weeks or even few months and the cocooning is more about decompressing and processing from that busyness. But there are also bigger seasons of cocooning and these can throw people off, because it may seem like a big change. All of a sudden, over a few days or a week or two, they aren’t choosing to do their typical things, the activities that they normally enjoyed and the things that they did. And then when we notice it, we can start to worry that maybe something’s wrong.
The important thing is though, even if we can’t see it, there is just so much going on internally as they’re processing, integrating, exploring who they want to be moving forward. It’s like they’re cocooning just to try and figure out and get a sense of, “Something’s feeling different for me now. And I need to explore what that is.”
ANNA: I think it’s so true that it can take some time before we notice it. There will be little hints here or there and it takes a little bit. And so, that’s why I think it’s really helpful to have this imagery in mind, so when you stumble across some of these signs, it doesn’t feel so confusing. Because I think it can be especially confusing if it’s a dramatic change.
So, you may have this very outgoing child who’s chatty and loves to go and do and whatever. And suddenly or maybe not even suddenly, maybe subtly, they will be turning down opportunities and maybe want to leave a little bit earlier, or not go at all, or they stop initiating going out, or being involved in things they previously enjoyed. I think that can be really hard for people. They stop karate, they stop the piano lessons, whatever the things that might’ve been bringing them joy, suddenly they’re wanting to pull back. And it can make us jump to this place of fear.
So, I’m really glad that we handled fear last month! Because now we know we can breathe. We can observe, remain open and curious and connected. We have those tools so that we don’t have to spiral into that place of fear.
What I’ve seen over and over again is that there’s so much going on during this time. They’re taking all of that input from those living outwardly times and all the things that they were doing and they’re trying to make sense of it, like you were saying, integrating it into who they are, who they want to be moving forward. And there’s so much going on internally. And what we can do is stay connected, not push them into activities, but listen and support where they are right then.
We can let them know that we see the value in it. I think that’s really the next step. Sometimes we have to wrap our head around it, but then it’s letting them know we see the value in it, because that really helps them to settle into the important work that they’re doing and to not get derailed by our judgment or us pushing an agenda for them.
And one of the things that I think can help with that is seeing how we at times can cocoon. I found it really interesting on the Network when the Network members were sharing their own cocooning experiences and those journeys and what that looked like for them. And I think when we recognize this as a human experience, which is what it is, it helps us to respect and give space for our children during these times for them.
PAM: Yeah, that’s such a great point. It really is part of the experience of being human. And one thing I love is to think about it as giving them that space and support to listen to their inner voice. And not making our judgment be a part of that is so important. They might be feeling a little uncomfortable. For them, it can definitely be like, what the heck’s going on here? Why am I not enjoying these things? And for us to be able to support them and to say, yes, it’s okay. I understand.
And we can share our own experiences with it, so that we’re not putting our expectations or fear or something on them because that clouds their journey through this time. And it makes it harder for them to hear their own intuition, their own inner voice, because they’ve got other voices coming in at them.
We can help them settle into this very important work. I think of it as very important work, even though it’s uncomfortable. Fears and discomfort, I mean, it ties in beautifully, but it is just so valuable. It’s so valuable completely just because they’ve chosen it. We don’t need to know why before we can lean in and support them and help them through it.
ANNA: For sure. And they’re having their own process about it.
And so, again, adding our weight or adding any kind of weight to it from outside expectations or from expectations from us, I think it slows down the process of them figuring out and integrating, and it just clouds their judgment, because, like you said, we’re trying to help them find that inner voice. And I think it’s so important.
PAM: Yeah. That leads very nicely into talking about ways to approach it. So, first I wanted to just mention a few common, relatively common cocooning seasons, and then we’re going to dive into how we might be able to help them and support them through this time.
So, we already mentioned the shorter cocooning seasons, maybe after busy seasons, busier times. Another common time is after kids leave school and we start unschooling. At first, I remember for myself, I was all excited that the kids were going to come home. We were going to be able to finally do all the things, because we don’t have school in our way. But so often, the kids need time to decompress and just play to their heart’s content. That was my experience. They were just sinking into their flow and making up for the time lost when they were at school.
So, it’s a helpful quiet season for us, too, as we dive into understanding unschooling and it helps us just not be surrounded so often with all the avid questions when we’re just cocooning in, we’re sinking into the things that we’re loving to do. We are learning lots about unschooling. We’re not quite confident to answer other people’s questions about it yet. So, we just naturally stayed in.
I didn’t call it a cocooning season at the time. Often these are the things you see looking back, or you’re just recognizing once you’re familiar with it. That’s why we wanted to talk about these in the first place. Because the image really helps us understand a little bit more or more quickly anyway, what’s going on.
Another pretty common cocooning season is the transition into the early teen years we found. So, maybe somewhere around the ages of 8 to 11. And here there can be a number of things at play.
So, maybe it’s hormones, maybe it’s the transition of interests, because their childhood interests are no longer so interesting, but they haven’t yet found new ones. And so, that can have them feeling out of sorts. Maybe they’re recognizing the bigger world now and they’re noticing more of the societal messages and expectations and they’re processing how they might want to fit in with that.
But no matter the reason behind it, there is lots of commonality to how we can approach these times and support them.
And I think we mentioned this a little bit, but I think one of the first things we can do is help to just normalize that need for space and for taking downtime, get past those productivity messages, “I always need to be doing something,” et cetera, so that they can dive into the work of moving through their feelings. And again, not articulating it so much that way, but they just know that their choices are more quiet right now. So, just helping them dive into that is just so much more helpful than trying to coax them to do the things that they used to love.
ANNA: And that’s been our experience, too. I think there is definitely this adolescent one that can come up and that also that 8 to 10, 11, that transition. And I do think that’s about moving into the bigger world, recognizing that home is so great and wonderful. And then it’s like, oh, there’s these other things and who do I want to be in that space?
I think it can also be influenced by what’s going on in the family. So, a move, a new sibling, other big transitions like that. Sometimes, we, as the parents, are so caught up in just getting through that, integrating a new sibling or figuring out how to move the family, that we’re not really understanding the impact on everyone. And maybe that cocooning worries us. We’re like, “Oh, we’ve just moved. We’ve got to get out there and meet people,” and that’s a lot to process and integrate. And so, realizing that it’s okay for us to take this time and settle into these new routines. It’s so important.
And things you can look for, it might look like a lot of computer time or reading or just wanting to be in their room or maybe not playing with their siblings as much as they did or even some issues there that maybe weren’t there. I think there can be some grumpiness. So, I think that’s important, because sometimes that grumpiness can set us on edge when we’re trying to do things.
I think part of that is hormones and part of it is just them trying to make sense of what’s happening to them. Because, like you said, this is growth. But growth is not always comfortable. They’re trying to make sense and are feeling out of sorts themselves. And so, that helped me just be softer about it, realizing those pieces.
I think it’s extra hard for them if they’re feeling the weight of our disappointment or that we want them to be doing something differently. So, like you, I tried to really normalize needing space and downtime. I could talk about the ways that it makes me personally feel better, because that is something that I’ve definitely noticed in myself. And I think that normalizing helps them settle into what they’re feeling. And, in my experience, they’re feeling a lot.
Again, it may not be articulated and it may not even look like a lot, but there’s a lot going on. And so often, at the end of the seasons, there are these massive amounts of growth, some big changes, just different feelings about things. So, it was just so important for me to provide space for that, both in a holding the space kind of way, but also in a physical way.
Our approaches were also making nests and bringing in favorite foods or games or shows or music. Really tuning in even more so than we normally do to what things might help them in this stage. What might pique their interest? Not to get them out, but to help them kind of feel settled and nesty. We would also create spaces outside, because we like to sit in nature. And so, it might be hammocks or trampolines or those kinds of pieces.
I think it’s such a special time to just be, and it’s something that we don’t often give ourselves permission to do as adults. And I think we should probably rethink that, but this is a rich and amazing growth opportunity and just understanding how we can lean into this is so important. Because, as we lean in and let go and make sure that we’re not wishing the time away, we’re not projecting that this is just a phase that’s going to be over soon, and focus in instead on what amazing things are happening and find ways to embrace that time for ourselves and for our child.
PAM: Yes. I think that was one of the most important aha moments for me. The biggest shifts that I can make are when I could release that timetable of thinking, okay. Yeah. We’re here. It’s good. I understand why. And I’m looking for when it’s going to be over, too. I’m looking forward to that. Releasing that expectation doesn’t mean, oh, I want to stay here forever. It’s not black, white, that kind of thing. But to realize I could just embrace the choice right now to be here, because I wanted to be here to support them and to help them through it. And then we could lean in. We could really find those nests. We could bring favorite food. We could come up with fun things.
There are so many fun things that we can do at home that we can bring into the home, that we can set up at home, like you were talking about. Trampolines, hammocks. Once we bring just our full focus there, oh my gosh. We can have so much fun. And it was so valuable for me, too, like you said, not to feel like I’m putting my life on hold right now for this time.
ANNA: Right. That’s one of the things I want to talk about.
PAM: I can lean into it and I can embrace it, too.
And I think that’s an important piece to figure out: how this time can work for us, too. And so, during those seasons at home for me, I would dive into house projects. I’d find things that I could do and enjoy myself that were near and engaged, but giving them the space they wanted. So, it might be gardening or art projects or physical activities I can do at home.
I actually trained for a triathlon running circles in our woods and swimming in our backyard pool. We can find those creative ways. But then, I was there. I was available. I didn’t need to leave, but I was getting the outlets that I needed. And so, that helped me be grounded and present for them. And, like you said, once you turn your creative eye to that, so many opportunities open up.
So, basically, I stopped looking at the things I couldn’t do. I stopped looking at the things we used to do. And I focused on all the things we could do now, enjoying our life as it was in that moment. Because, when I would center back on my choice, like you mentioned, I knew I wanted to be there for them. I didn’t want to add weight to everything they were already processing and learning about themselves. And just that shift in focus allowed us to make this a time for all of us, as comfortable as possible, as fun as possible.
So, as we’re going through these stretching growth pieces that can be hard, when you have that comfortable environment, it just makes it so much easier.
PAM: Yes. Because they can feel the energy when part of our mind is just looking for when it might end. It is just spectacularly amazing, just the shift in energy, when we can release that completely. I really feel so many times that once I was able to release that focus on the timetable and just lean into the moment, we actually moved through it faster.
ANNA: It’s true.
PAM: It is, because it releases the weight that they feel, the responsibility they feel, for having everybody at home. They notice that. They’re very capable of understanding all these nuances to the situation, while still needing to make this choice for themselves.
ANNA: Right. So, they’re not having to untangle all of that. We’re taking care of ourselves and if we have a sibling who’s not in that phase, as the parent, I’m finding creative solutions with that child to help them be out in the world without adding weight to the other child. And yes, there can be times where that’s tricky.
But again, if we’re bringing that confident, creative, loving energy to it, we solved those problems. We just did. Even when they seemed like, wow, this is going to be a tricky one. When we just came with that energy of just, “We can do this. We’ll figure this out. We can meet these needs,” it flowed and it allowed that child who was needing that space to not carry the burden of their sibling or of me needing to do other things and they could just focus on their work.
And, like you said, that absolutely moves through the process faster, because they’re able to focus on their work.
PAM: I know. There’s so much of the other stuff gone that they don’t have control over.
PAM: So, now they can completely focus. And it’s not even that they literally think, okay, now I can focus on this. But by observing and watching and seeing what’s going on, without all that extra stuff interfering, we see that they can just concentrate on making their own connections, subconsciously even, as they’re maybe doing their comfort activities or whatever it is that they’re drawn to in the moment.
It gives that space for more things to bubble up, more connections to bubble up, more little aha moments for them. And it is always amazing to me how, when you can just surrender to this and just be in the moment without expectations or judgments, so much beautifulness blossoms up in there.
ANNA: That you can’t even imagine, that you could not have predicted, for those times. So, I think it’s so beautiful.
PAM: Yeah. And I just want to go back to it, because we were talking so much about all the things we can do and stuff, is also to stay connected with them. You had mentioned that. I just wanted to bring it up again.
So, while we’re doing all these things, we’re chatting, we’re playing with things, trying this thing out, trying that thing out, so that we’re having fun, because we want to celebrate this time and not make it seem like it’s something wrong that we need to hurry up and get through.
ANNA: No. Right. Or that we had this pushy energy. Whereas, for one of mine, especially, she needed a lot of parallel sitting, be it in a car, if we were going to run an errand or if we’re just sitting at home and watching a show, so that those things could bubble up. So, it was allowing some time and space for that, so that when they’re ready to externally process a little bit, you’re there. So, you’re noticing those things. And that’s how staying connected can look during that cocooning time. And again, sometimes it’s providing the things for the nest and whatever, and sometimes it’s just being parallel, next to them, so they can pop in.
And I think we’ve talked about this before, but maybe I’m deep in doing some work, because we’re doing our own things while they’re having that time. But when they come by or come in, just stop. Stop. Because it can be hard for them to reach out during those times. And so, I wanted to really pay attention. And it was work I had to do, because I can get involved in what I’m doing, but just take that moment to connect. Eye contact. Hear what they’re having to say. It may not be a big, long conversation, but even if it’s just telling you about what they were watching, those are the connection moments that I wanted to take advantage of, especially during a cocooning season.
PAM: Exactly. I love that you brought that up, because that’s so true. Just extra prioritizing those opportunities in these seasons, just so that they can feel that connection, even if it’s just a 30 second conversation about what they were watching or where they’re going or whatever. They know we’re there and supportive and helpful. That was really valuable to me. And giving that space, that parallel space, just passing by them, too, and just hanging out for a while, just to see if anything was bubbling up near the surface, et cetera. So, making those priorities in that season, making the connection a priority.
ANNA: And when you come with that spirit that we’re talking about and that attitude of just being calm and “this is where we’re supposed to be,” there’s a flow to that. So, it doesn’t feel hard. I don’t want it to feel like a prescription.
PAM: Like, “I need to go do this.”
ANNA: No. Really, you’ll just see, as you relax into it, the flow will pick up. I think where we get disconnected is when we get in our head about the fears. Or, “Oh, is this okay?” or, “They shouldn’t be doing this,” or, “It’s too long,” or whatever. Stop that noise and just flow into your day and you’ll see that, okay. Yeah. We’re still connected. Okay. It will just have this ease to it that I think can get blocked when we start the fear spiral.
When we get into our heads, that can definitely get in our way and make the connection feel harder, because then it becomes prescriptive. Like, I need to make sure I connect three times a day or whatever. Because we’re trying to solve it. Nothing against ourselves, but we’re trying to make a plan that we can work to move through this. And sometimes, it would be very nice if plans worked.
ANNA: If we could control the world.
PAM: Yeah. And they’re great to have back pocket, because they remind us, “Have I connected today? Do I want to pass by?” It’s not like leaving it up to whatever.
ANNA: But realizing it’s more about that prioritizing, like, “I’m going to leave some space for this and when they come by, I’m going to make eye contact and say hey,” as opposed to sometimes they might just walk by while I’m doing something, that type of thing. And so, there are things you can do, but don’t carry that as a weight, either, it’s a flow of that process and that season.
PAM: Yeah. No, that’s beautiful. Flow works really well with cocoons.
ANNA: It really does.
PAM: It does. Okay. So, now I want to move on to bubbles.
So, for me, a bubble is kind of like a protective aura that we bring with us out into the world. I found this imagery can be especially helpful while we’re actively deschooling, both in cultivating our bubble and in engaging with others. Our unschooling bubble is really that safe space of our family dynamic. That’s what it feels like to me. It’s that loving and protective energy of connection, of trust, of openness, where our kids feel seen and heard and not just accepted but celebrated.
So, for me, a bubble is more of a mindset or an energy and we can bring this bubble with us out into the community, cultivating opportunities to pursue interests in ways that feel meaningful to us without all these prescriptions given by other people of how we should do things. Our bubble, I’ve found, really protects us from the weight of other people’s expectations on not only on how we should do things, but how we should be relating to each other.
So, it was really valuable for me just to know that we could be who we are out and about in the world. It wasn’t about, when we’re in our home, we can be this way, yet when we go out in the world, we have to fit in with those expectations. Now, of course there are general dynamics and needs. You go to the library, you’re quiet. It’s not about ignoring the context of situations and the constraints of situations, but it’s about not needing to bring into our space the cultural expectations on us. Like, how parents and adults talk to each other, et cetera.
It really does take time to build our bubble. I see it as a metaphor for our confidence in unschooling. It’s this safe space that we’ve built, where we know we have the tools to move through things that come up for us in the moment. It’s our relationships with our kids, so that we know we can engage with them and we can work together to move through things. And that we can do that wherever we are, not just in our home.
So, for me, that’s the beauty of the bubble metaphor. It’s like, oh, we can still be our comfortable, fun selves, wherever we are. So, that has been really helpful for me to take it out and about into the world.
Does that make sense?
ANNA: Yeah. I think, building a bubble, for me, was a really important step in allowing me to be the parent that I wanted to be and that process involved shutting out that outside noise and looking inward to develop my voice, to find the tools that we needed and to cultivate the relationships that I wanted to have.
And that can take some focus and it definitely required me to shut out the noise, because I was making choices that many didn’t understand: home birth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, unschooling. And I really needed to build a bubble that allowed me to develop my voice and be the person and parent that I wanted to be and understanding that it’s okay to do that, that it can actually be really helpful is huge.
We can give ourselves permission to look inward, to develop our intuition, to cultivate the family life and relationships that we want and one that works for all the members. And so, I think that piece, like you’re talking about, it’s this mindset and it is this beautiful piece that we take with us, because it really is cultivating who we are and who we want to be. And that is what we take out into the world.
PAM: Yeah, I think that’s a great point, too, that our experiences that we’re gaining as we’re making choices strengthens our confidence, strengthens our bubbles. It helps us feel more confident just being who we are out in the world.
And when we first get started, people can keep wanting to kind of pull us out of the bubble. “No, no, no. This is the way it’s supposed to be. This is the way you’re supposed to act. These are the expectations. These are the things you need to do.” But as our bubble gets stronger, it’s really interesting, the energy of our confidence comes through and the comments start to lessen, because we don’t look like we’re looking for input. You know what I mean?
And also, with that, the comments that people are making bounce off the bubble, if we’re going to stay with this metaphor. We find it much easier to let them roll off our back and to understand that these comments are more about them and how they’re seeing the situation, the moment, and who they want to be. They’re being who they want to be. Whether or not it’s a conscious choice, we know that this is a choice. And they’re choosing to be however they’re being.
So, we can see much more clearly that this is more about them, less about us. So, we’re not feeling so defensive. We don’t feel attacked so much. So, the bubble can be a really helpful thing when we’re out and about, not only for us engaging inside the bubble, but for how we engage with people outside the bubble, as well.
ANNA: Yes, because we’re developing these strong, connected relationships. So, when those things come at us, they really do just roll over and bounce off, because it’s like, we know. We’re being very intentional about what’s happening here and that just allows those things to pass right over.
PAM: Yeah. And that’s the other piece, too. We move through the need for other people to understand. Like you said, we’re intentional. We know why we’re doing these things. The process and the way we work through things with our kids may look different to how other people do it. But they don’t see all the stuff that is going on for us, all of the conversations that have led to this moment, to this relationship, how we’ve developed the trust.
ANNA: They don’t see the work that’s gone into that. It’s growth on the parts of everyone involved.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. So, that is part of our confidence, understanding that we’ve got these tools, that they’re working well for us, we know why we’re choosing them, and we are much more comfortable being out in the world and noticing that’s not how everybody does it, but it’s how we do it. This is how we’re choosing to do it.
And, moving to our last point, over time, as our bubble strengthens and shines, because that is the word that comes to mind, we also start attracting like-minded families. Because there are people who are going, “Wow, that’s really weird. I don’t want my kids to see that.” And they’re moving to other places on the playground. But there’s others who are like, “Yes.” They see that relationship and maybe they have that kind of relationship with their own kids. So, they’re like, “Oh, that’s somebody I’d like to connect with or for our kids to play together.” Or maybe it’s just something that’s very curious to them. They hadn’t thought of doing it differently. And it’s like, wow, that is super interesting.
So, it is fascinating, when we are being ourselves in the world, not only are we planting seeds in some people that it can be different, it doesn’t have to be the one way, we can also be finding other people who are attracted to it and the way that we relate to one another when we’re out and about.
ANNA: Oh my gosh. Yes. I mean, in building my bubble, I felt like I did become stronger, more clear about my intentions and who I wanted to be. And that allowed me to attract the people that helped me along my journey as well.
We found friends and mentors through that clarity. And I could see my children also for the amazing teachers that they were as we developed these relationships. And we found people that could help us grow really leaving behind or lessening the influence of those who didn’t want to understand our path or get to know us.
We had people in our lives that were just trying to push us back into that conventional box, like you said, but that box didn’t work for us. Our beautiful, flexible bubble with a 360-degree view did. And like you said, it just shines out from there.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, I love that. The juxtaposition of the box and the bubble. I hadn’t actually come to that yet and it really works, doesn’t it? I see the box. I see the box. It’s kind of a cardboard box.
ANNA: Yeah. Me too.
PAM: And the bubble is clear. And flexible.
ANNA: It’s flexible. We can make it big and invite you in. We can cut it back if we need to cocoon. It has flexibility, but it’s all based on this mindset of connection and relationships and intention. And that’s what’s so different. That’s the paradigm shift for people when they’re not familiar with it, but that’s okay. Because we feel really confident in the relationships that we’re building.
PAM: Yeah. And I love it, too, when maybe we want to explore more of the world outside the bubble at points, we can. And yet, the bubble is there as protective space. So, you can go out and you can explore and you can come back in for a little while. I find it as re-energizing, recharging. It’s like a safe space for us. So, it’s a place that we can get to whenever we need to.
We were talking about how it doesn’t need to be home literally. Even when we would go places, we might find safe spaces. If we’re going to a large family gathering, we can go find a corner for ourselves for a while when we need to recharge, when things have gotten a little bit too much, for whatever combination of people need to be in the bubble for a little while. It’s okay.
ANNA: This is just imagery around what we talk about so often, which is when you’re feeling some fear or some discomfort or some things coming at you from outside, just turn into the relationships. Just turn back to your child and look at your child. And that’s what we’re talking about with this bubble. That is it.
It’s just turning back in to find your own inner voice. It’s connecting with those relationships that are important to you and your family. And then that outside noise really does just start flying by, because you realize they don’t understand what’s happening in your family. They don’t even have words for the type of relationships that we have and the ways that we can solve problems and the way that we are together. And that’s okay, because they may be attracted to it and ask some questions or it may not be the right time for them, but you can stand confident in just how intentional you’re being about creating these relationships.
PAM: I love that. I love that. That’s perfect. So, yes, I think just going back to it, we can be playing with cocoons and bubbles, with staying home, with going out, with how we bring ourselves out into the world, how we connect. It’s so beautiful. It’s so fun to play with.
And I think especially when you’re newer to it, and you’re in the thick of deschooling, these images can help you. It really helps your understanding of how everything is a choice, because that’s something that you’re discovering when you first come to unschooling and you’re deeply deschooling. It’s like, oh, I can choose. It’s okay if we choose to stay home for a while. It’s okay to go out and have the safe space and make a space for ourselves to process things, no matter where we are, to take that time. There’s value in that, to move through things the way they work for us.
So, it really just gets me excited how we can choose who we are and how we are and who we want to be, no matter where we are.
ANNA: Yes, I love it.
PAM: That’s wonderful. Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Anna. It was such a pleasure.
ANNA: Yeah. So great to be here.