PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from living joyfully.ca and today I’m here with Cecilie Conrad. Hi, Cecilie!
PAM: We recently connected online and I really enjoyed checking out your Instagram and your blog and I’m excited to learn more about your unschooling experience. And what’s extra fun is I’m also chatting with your partner and his episode is going to be coming out next week on the podcast. So, we’ll get to hear stories from both perspectives. To get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and the kids and what everybody’s interested in right now?
CECILIE: It would probably be hard for me to share a bit, because I tend to talk a lot.
I have four children. One is an adult and she’s living in Copenhagen. She’s a writer. She’s coming out with her second book in August. So, literature and art, especially painting and drawing is what has caught her attention and passion in life. And she’s quite successful with it and happy with it.
It’s not an easy path to be an artist. Sometimes I wish for her that she would be a dentist or maybe that’s not easy either. I don’t know. But it will take a lot of inner work to be an artist and to be a very young artist and to decide that that’s what you want to do.
She worked in a coffee shop and she is a very good barista, but she’s like, “I’ve made a lot of coffee and said good morning a lot of times now. I actually want to write books.” So, she’s focusing on that. And sometimes, it’s very hard because she’s self-employed and it takes a lot of discipline and it takes of courage. And I’m happy for her, of course, that she’s following her dream and she’s amazingly good at what she’s doing. So, of course, she should do it. She owes it to the world to give what she has inside. But on the other hand, sometimes I think it’s hard work to be an artist and only 22 years old.
So, I have her. And then I have a 15-year-old son. He’s called Storm, like the wind. And he is very different from my first child.
The question is a little educationese. I should say, he’s into mythology and languages and he’s very good at math.
PAM: I know. Right?
CECILIE: I know you know. I’m almost answering the question in order to please the people who don’t unschool and I don’t want to do that. And, on the other hand, I want the message across that unschooling is a cool lifestyle.
Of course, I came from education. I was educated myself for 23 years straight and my parents were high school teachers. So, I know how confronting the idea of not schooling kids is. It’s very confronting. It was very confronting to me when I met the idea. So, I’m going to try to answer the question not too educationese and not too provocatively.
Storm is 15. He is a very peaceful and simplistic kind of person. He’s the kind who would be able to go through his whole life with only 47 objects, I think. He’s a minimalist, natural-born minimalist, completely opposite of the rest of us, basically. He’s very smart on several levels. He’s very systematic. And, of course, anything mathematical will stimulate his brain and he really likes it.
And he’s a Rubik’s cube kind of kid. Actually, all of the three young ones, they cube, but it comes from him. And he likes the whole literature scene. He’s reading and reading and reading all the time. He likes to play games. That’s the structured brain. He likes to understand the mechanics of the game and the rules and how to get through. It could be any kind of game. Not so much computer games, most board games, card games, Dungeons and Dragons games, this kind of imaginative thing.
What else would he be into? Good food. We are vegan and we are gluten-free and he likes to cook and he likes to think about food and understand, where does the produce come from and why is it good? And how can we handle it so that we can have good nutrients?
He’s very responsible. I think sometimes he thinks that his parents are a little crazy and he has to straighten things up a little bit. He makes sure that we get home in time. Yeah. It’s funny. So, that’s him.
Then I have Silke. She is 12. Silke means silk in Danish. It’s a girl. She’s totally into dogs. She’s the crazy dog lady. She knows everything there is to know and more than you can imagine about any detail about anything in the history of dogs and the many varieties, how to treat them, and how to train them, and how different cultures feel about dogs. And that’s her life. We have one dog that we travel with. It’s probably 48 too few for her, but she’s going to have to live with it.
She’s into reading as well. They all read books all the time, my kids, mostly on their Kindle as we are traveling. She’s drawing. She loves to express herself. She wouldn’t call it that. She just loves to draw and she’s really good at it and she’s enjoying it. And then, she likes to work with animals in general. I’d mentioned the dogs, but basically she likes to work with animals and she does work with animals a lot.
She’s very good at it. She’s very brave. She’s very strong. She’ll go right up to a horse that’s trapped in something and get the legs out and pet it a little bit and say, “Hey, chill.” And I’m like hiding behind a tree. But she knows how to work with animals. She has no fear. She’s very powerful.
She’s very much an in-between child, when you have the order of the kids, you have three. And the one in between gets really strong, because she has the pressure of the older one and there’s a younger one getting the attention. Maybe it has nothing to do with her being number three, but she’s really strong. She’s a very powerful one. And she’s a joker. She jokes around. She has funny bones. She’s really funny in a stupid kind of way, in a masculine way. She makes jokes with her father. And they are really funny and stupid in a very funny way.
She takes no bullshit and she will not be suppressed by anything. You cannot tell her what to do. You can try and she’s polite, so she will smile and say, “No,” which means “fuck off”. And she’s just so much in herself. She has a lot of confidence. It doesn’t mean “fuck off”. It just means, “It’s not for me, so I’m not going to do it.” I like that. I think it’s in her genes. I think my mother had that gene and I basically have it and she very much has it, too, but she will do her own thing. And if you tell her what to do, it’s all hell and something inside of her will break if you force her. You just can’t do it.
So, the very few situations, medically or whatever, where we just had to force her to do something, it’s been bad.
And then I have the youngest one, he’s nine. He’s called Fjord. He’s my miracle child, as I had him after the doctors told me I couldn’t have any more children. Then I had one more child. Because I had cancer. He has a lot of music inside of him and he has another kind of rebellion in his personality.
He cannot be taught. It really provokes him if someone is trying to teach him something. It’s not that he doesn’t respect that other people know things that he doesn’t know. It’s just, “Don’t teach me.” I don’t know. It’s from my husband. He’s the same. And he just can’t have it.
So, I have a really hungry brain and I will love any course, any guided tour. I will read all the signs and all the little notes and a book about it, and I will hear podcasts and watch documentary. And I just love it. The more knowledge you can pour into me, I love it. And I don’t care. If the teacher is annoying, of course I’ll get up and leave. But very often, teachers are very passionate and will tell you things they really love to share.
But my youngest son and my husband, they have this in common that if you try to teach them something, they get really annoyed. They don’t like it. So, he’s like that, which makes the thing with the music a little hard, because he has so much wonderful music inside and you actually have to learn some techniques to play. You cannot just have the music inside and then play. You don’t have to learn, but it will help a lot to learn some techniques on how to move around on the instrument. So, we’re working on that.
What else? Of course, the books, again. At the moment, he’s very passionate about Dungeons and Dragons. He’s the game master, which is a little backwards that he’s the youngest and the game master. So, we all play, all five of us.
He likes to cook, just like his brother. He’s still forming, he’s still young. He’s just being in his life, observing. He’s into anything with wheels, anything you can learn with your body, like to jump or run or do a backwards flip, whatever they call it, and roller skates and skateboard.
So, as you can hear, my children are very different. One will want to stay in the skater park and another one would want to go to the art museum to draw and the other one would want to just study Islamic art, because it’s so geometry-based, and it can be hard to plan a day trip where everyone’s happy.
PAM: That’s something I find so fascinating having come to unschooling.
The expectation is that kids are just kids. They go to school. They do the same things. They do what their grade has to do. They do their homework. We tend to, I think culturally, just think of kids as a group. And yet, once you move to unschooling and they start to have that space and time to follow their curiosity, to follow the things that draw them, to play around with the thing things they’re interested in, my goodness! They really are so different. Even personality-wise, when you give them the space to understand themselves and to say like, “Nope, I’m not into that,” you can see their personalities. You can see their interests. They are so very different, aren’t they?
CECILIE: But the funny thing is, why do we even expect them to be equal?
All of the adults, they get to be individuals and the children, they have to be the same. It makes no sense. It makes no sense. All adults are children who grew up and we expect them to express their unique personality, but the kids, they are the same. It makes no sense.
PAM: It doesn’t.
CECILIE: Period. I have no more to say about that.
PAM So, Cecilie, let’s hear a bit about you. What are you interested in right now?
CECILIE: I am always interested in whatever is around me. I am maybe a little flimsy in my focus, because we travel. So, if I walk down a street, I would like to know what kind of dogs they have in this city and why are the buildings so different and how do they do the trash? And, please teach me the language and and the history of the country, thank you very much.
And, of course, the art history, and if I could read the eight most important books of this culture, I would like to do that, as well. And so, my challenge is to take a break and meditate for at least like two seconds a day. Because I have a very hungry brain. I am into languages.
I’m not into everything. I don’t care for one second about cars, for example. I don’t care at all. And many things, of course, I don’t care about. I care about how people organize their lives in different cultures, because so many things are the same. And so many things are so different. And when you move around different cultures, your cultural expectations, they clash with what is actually there and so, culture is very, very deep in our bodies.
And I can, with my brain, know that something is different here, but my actual experience of existence cannot have it. They call it a cultural shock if it’s a lot of it. Sometimes it’s just a bit of it. And there’s some way that you can hardly adapt to having your physical presence in this context and I find that intellectually very interesting. So, I think about that.
And I think that any language can be learned. I want to be able to speak at least double the amount of languages I speak right now, like fluently, like have a real conversation. And I think that, at least when you come to a country, at least learn a hundred words just out of pure respect, so that you can say thank you and hello and goodbye and basic stuff like water, bread, milk. I don’t eat bread and milk, but food. Carrots. So, I try to do that.
Then I’m an unschool mother, so basically, for these years of my life, my strategy is to be interested in whatever my kids are interested in, because that’s how I build the relation. That’s how we share life. And I think that the relationship I have with my children and my husband and maybe a few of my best friends will be the most important relationships I have in my life. So, I think about, what can I do to support the relationship? And of course, if you give people real, full attention and take real interest in their life, then you can build a strong and good relation.
So, I draw and I do the Rubik’s cube and I play Dungeons and Dragons. And I watch TV shows on food and I cook and I do the things that they want to do, because it’s good for us. What I want to do is to spend my time with the people who are the most important to me. So, therefore, I do what they want to do, except I took them out on this nomadic lifestyle and tell them, “Your education will be traveling the world.” So, that’s what I want to do. And it’s a lot. So, at least I can play some Dungeons and Dragons.
PAM: I love your perspective. Because, so often it isn’t about the thing that you’re doing. It’s the connection.
CECILIE: Exactly. I don’t care what we’re doing, as long as we do it together. And then there are a few things. I cannot commit to computer games. I just can’t. I can’t focus. I find it really boring. A few more logic kind of games, I can do for maybe half an hour, but it’s not to be rude. It’s just, I find it really boring. I cannot twist my brain around doing it. Some of them make me seasick. It’s a physical thing. It’s just my eyesight. I just can’t do it. So, this I cannot participate in, but they can do that together.
So, of course it’s not anything, but I think the relation is also about finding what can we do together that we both of us enjoy doing? And then go do that.
PAM: And I think that works so well when we’re not judging the things that they’re choosing. So, maybe we’re not participating together in a few things, say computer games, we can still have conversations about it. We can still share their excitement. We don’t need to judge it, just because we can’t do it. When we’re not judging them negatively as a person and their interests and choices, they too will enjoy connecting with us and are happy to find the things that we can do together. You know what I mean?
CECILIE: I have a point on judging, but I want to hear what you’re saying first. What were you saying?
PAM: Because if we’re judging the things that they’re interested in, that’s like judging them as a person. It’s like saying this particular thing that you’re interested in, I don’t value or, because I don’t like it, or because it makes me sick to participate, then I value it less. And it’s okay if the things that we like to do are ours and they’re completely valid, yet it’s not putting that on another person. We’re not judging them for the thing. They have their own list of things that they like to do, that they’re interested in pursuing. And when they feel supported for who they are and the choices they make, they are very happy, in my experience, to be in the relationship. The relationship, too, is something that they’re interested in and that they enjoy.
And so, they’re happy to play Dungeons and Dragons, because that’s the game that you prefer for connecting and for doing together versus computer games. You know what I mean then?
CECILIE: Yeah. I know what you mean. So, the judgmental issue is very interesting and I cannot say anything conclusive about it, because it’s complicated. I see also in the unschool community this idea that you cannot judge what your kids are doing. And if you go all the way with that idea, I think you reach a point of unparenting, and that’s bad. I think that, actually, I want to stay present. And if I think something’s bullshit, I will tell them, “I believe this is bullshit. You shouldn’t do it. I think it’s junk.” And then they can convince me that it’s not junk, because I’m open-minded at the same time.
PAM: That’s the difference.
CECILIE: But I think that if I believe something is bullshit, I will totally tell my kids about it. “This is just junk. Don’t do it. It’s a waste of time and it will consume you,” or whatever I think. And then they will say, “No, no, no, come see here.” And maybe I get smarter or maybe I was right.
PAM: But that’s the point is you let them show you. It’s the open-minded piece. I love the way you took it to unparenting. For me, I wasn’t talking about like leaving them off to do whatever the thing is.
CECILIE: I know that you’re not, but you have listeners and some of them might be beginners.
PAM: Exactly. That’s why we’re having this conversation.
CECILIE: We have to make sure that we’re not putting out bad advice, because I think a lot of my job as a parent, and I’m an unschooled parent, but I’m still a parent, a lot of it is judging. Because judging is also being present in the relation with my personality and my perspective. And if I believe something is bad for you, let’s say white sugar. We don’t do white sugar. If I believe it’s bad, I do believe it’s bad, I will tell my children, “I believe this is bad.” And I think that is totally okay.
And I think it’s my job as a parent to share with my kids what I know about the world and what I believe is good and bad and, of course, to teach them or support them in learning to make choices of their own.
PAM: Exactly. Because I think what the difference is here is in how we’re defining the word judgment, really, the wider piece. So, the things that you’re talking about, for me, I don’t see as judgment and it could be just because I’m further along. I’ve been doing this for many, many years. I see that as sharing my experience. I see that as sharing information. I see that as having conversations and sharing my perspective.
When you take the idea of not judging as, “Don’t say anything,” yes. That’s absolutely when you can get into unparenting. “Oh geez. I’m not supposed to tell them XYZ. I’m not supposed to share my views.” And then you get into that unparenting space where you’re really not engaging with them. You’re just leaving them on their own to figure things out.
CECILIE: And you become vague as a person. You’re not there yet. You’re almost afraid of being there. If I’m not allowed to think what I think, because that’s probably bad and I need more deschooling, no. No. It’s okay.
PAM: Yeah, but the piece that really stood out for me is that you’re open-minded. So often, judgment comes across as, “This is the answer. This is the only thing and I’m right. And you’re wrong.” Whereas, as you said, you’re open-minded about it. It’s like, “That seems strange to me. I don’t like that. I’m uncomfortable with that,” yet you’re open to the next step. Like, “Convince me otherwise,” or, “Share your perspective,” and you’re open-minded and willing to change.
For me, the idea of judgment implies no willingness to change, not to bring in new information. Yet that is not what either one of us is talking about.
CECILIE: Well, we have to be very clear on this point, because I think it’s that it’s a common mistake. It’s a common misunderstanding about the lifestyle. And I think it’s doing a lot of bad for a lot of unschooled kids if they have parents who believe that they are not allowed to have an opinion.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. And I think they move from that judgment, “I’m right. You’re wrong. Just listen to me,” to that open-mindedness as part of their deschooling process. That is part of their opening up.
CECILIE: But then you still have the first 3, 4, 5 years, you have to think, that you’re deschooling. So, you’re probably not perfect unschool parent. And who’s the perfect unschool parent?
PAM: I was going to say, you’re never the perfect unschooling parent.
CECILIE: The perfect choice to unschool is to respect the personal freedom of your children. That’s basically it. And if you’re honest with your kids, which you should always be with your kids and everyone else, then you just tell them, “I think this is bullshit. Probably I think so because of the life I’ve been living in. And probably I could learn more, but until I feel comfortable about this behavior or habit or interest, could we tune it down or could we talk about it?” If you’re honest about why you have this emotion or this idea or this judgment, then I think you’re good. Chill.
PAM: And I think what you’re talking about there is that deschooling isn’t internal, quiet work that we do only by ourselves. Like you say, that process can be transparent with the people around us, absolutely.
CECILIE: Of course. The thing is, if you, as a parent, get to live your life until they are 58, all of your kids, and you have grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren, and then you go back and then you do it. Then it would be perfect.
PAM: I’m waiting for that day.
CECILIE: We have to invent all of this as we live. My kids are not small anymore. The youngest is nine and I still I’m still fumbling my way through, how do I live this life? How do I do this job of being a mother? Let’s not talk about unschooling, just being a mother. How do you do it? I’ve been doing it for 22 years and I still don’t really know how to do it. I’m just trying my best.
PAM: Well, my youngest is 24 and it’s the same. Because every situation is new and we all grow and change and learn as people over time, so we’re all new people. And new situations come up and old situations come up again. And it is forever, always learning, always growing, and changing.
And the open-minded piece, I think, is one of the most important pieces to not think, “I’m done. I’m finished. I know this is just me now, and I’m not going to change anymore and y’all are just going to have to deal with it.”
CECILIE: No. I think that will not happen anytime soon.
CECILIE: We learn all the time.
PAM: Thank you very much for that conversation. That was great, and another perspective for people, because we do talk about that a lot on the podcast.
CECILIE: I’m sorry. I haven’t heard it.
PAM: No, that’s okay. That’s okay.
CECILIE: I should do that.
PAM: It’s always good to bring it up. So, thank you very much for that.
I would love to hear about how you found unschooling and what your journey to unschooling looked like at the beginning. I know it’s an ongoing journey. We just finished talking about how we’re always learning and growing, but how did you find unschooling initially? And how did that come about?
CECILIE: So, when I had my second child, long story short, we met a neighbor down the street who had a child the same age, and she had a friend who was unschooling. So, my second child was a newborn and so was this friend of mine’s child, which was their first child. She became my very good friend. And she told me about this idea.
She had a friend who was unschooling her kids and those kids were older. And I thought the idea was completely crazy. Even homeschooling, I was like, what? Are they sick in their minds? It did not resonate with me and I thought it was the most weird thing ever, but only for a short while.
So, this friend of mine on the same street, our sons became friends and we talked a lot. To me, it was relevant, because my first child had just started in school. And I realized through all of these conversations about unschooling that this alternative school that she attended made a lot of sense for her. And I also realized that she was doing it voluntarily, because I asked her, “Do you want to be there? Would you rather be home?” Could I go back and live it all over, I would have just not schooled her, but she had a great life.
It was an extremely alternative, very, very free democratic school. And I have seven years obviously between the first and second child, so maybe being at home was not the most interesting thing for her at that time, as I had a baby to take care of and she was much older.
And then what? Then I knew about it and I met some of these homeschooling and unschooling people. It’s not a lot in Copenhagen. It was even fewer 15 years ago. And I realized they were not crazy. They were just living their life in a different way. But still, especially my husband, he was not open to it. And he thought it was totally “loco”, as they say in Spanish.
So, it was not a thing for us as such until our son reached the mandatory education age in Denmark, which is six years old. And he was supposed to start in school and he told us, “I think that school thing is not for me.” And I was like, okay. But my husband, no.
And so, we tried to ignore it for a while to see if he could start. And in this alternative school where our daughter was already, he would be in the same classroom as her, because it was an age-integrated school. And he would only be in her class if he started that year. So, it made sense to push him a little bit so that he could maybe have this one a year in the same classroom as his sister.
At least, it made sense to my husband. And it made sense to me in the way that I really wanted to homeschool or unschool this child, but I didn’t want to do it if my husband didn’t agree, because I see all these families where it’s only the wife and the husband really disagrees and it makes a lot of conflict. I didn’t want that conflict. I wanted us to agree and I thought, okay, let’s try and see what happens if we put him in school.
But I made the veto that I wouldn’t leave him there alone without me if he didn’t want me to. So, I went every morning. I had the agreement with the school that I would go Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. And I would come in the morning with him and I would leave when he was exhausted, which would be two hours later, every day.
This is so funny. I’m a trained psychologist. I think maybe I know something about how people feel. And maybe I know a few things about how my own kids feel. Anyway, this teacher, he took me aside. He wanted to have a conversation with me and I came to have a conversation with him and he said, “Your child has been in the paradise life until now, because he’s been a home child and now, he needs to get out of this paradise. And it is actually normal for kids to walk along the walls and be a little scared and out of their selves for the first year or two of school. And you should get over it and he should get over it. And you have an attachment that’s too strong and maybe you should let the father come with the child and let’s see if it will go any better.”
And I kind of vomited, but also, if you know attachment theory, there are three kinds of attachment and none of them is a too-strong attachment. You can have a healthy one, but I’m not going to do an education thing on that. But too-strong attachment for your parent just doesn’t exist.
Anyway, I thought, it’s not my project to have the kid in school, because it was my husband’s project. So, there was actually something wrong with the whole scene of me being there in the morning. I would agree with that. And so, I went home. This was a Thursday afternoon. So, we had a four-day break and I went home. I talked to my husband about it. I said, “If he’s going again, you are going with him and you’re not leaving him until he says it’s okay.”
And then, the universe sometimes just saves you and something very sad happened. So, on the Saturday, a friend of mine died and she had the same disease that I had just survived. So, I had survivor’s guilt and we all had a shock, of course. And we went to the funeral on the Monday. It was a very confronting funeral as I survived the same disease. And when we came home from that funeral, I think actually just driving back, it was like the curtain lifted. My husband said, “What the fuck are we doing? The kid clearly tells us that he doesn’t want to go to school. It is very clear. You’ve been trying for three or four weeks now. And he is clearly not adapting. He doesn’t like it.”
He had the reaction, the very sweet and peaceful reaction of just falling asleep. His mind would just be done. Not in an aggressive or sad kind of way. He was just closing down the whole system whenever we were there. And my husband woke up like, “What are we doing? This is crazy. The kid clearly doesn’t like being there and we have only one life.”
And so, we decided to homeschool and my husband said, “Let’s give it six months and try again, put him in school. And for those six months, we should teach him to read and write and do math, like everyone else.”
So, in the beginning, we homeschooled in a very bad way. I mean, a very inconsistent way, in a way where we thought we would homeschool, but we would probably not. And then we would feel a little guilty about it, especially me. And then we would try again. And it was a mess.
And then I had a good conversation with an unschooling mom about the whole situation, because I was so frustrated with it. I really liked having the kids at home. I knew it was the right thing. I had three kids at home at the time, the newborn fourth child, and the three-year-old daughter, and the six-year-old son. And so, sitting down, teaching someone in a systematic way to read and write was actually not really an option, but I was trying.
And then I had this conversation with this unschooling mom about it, and she did ask me really relevant and good questions. And I realized that I was actually only doing this behavior of homeschooling because I was afraid of what would happen if they come and they check. In Denmark we have a system where they come and check. And maybe they never come, but if they check, they say, “Okay, your homeschooling is good enough.” And then you can continue. We don’t have tests or anything. It’s actually quite peaceful. But I was afraid of that. And because I was afraid of that, I would try to spend two or three hours every day doing something all of us hated to do.
And my friend on the phone helped me to realize that. And I just thought, okay, this is crazy. I mean, how bad can it be? I have to get over this fear. It makes no sense to spend two or three hours every day, ruining my good mornings with my kids, because I’m afraid of something that might never happen. And if it happens, maybe I should just handle it when it happens. So, we let go.
And then, from there on, you can call it unschooling.
PAM: Wow. Yeah. That’s very much the journey. Wow. That’s very interesting to think about and the different pieces, too. And it’s so cool that we’re also getting your husband’s perspective on that time as well, that transition.
CECILIE: I think his story is probably completely different. What did he say?
PAM: Yeah. No, it’s so true. It is something that’s very different. It’s very unconventional. So, it can be hard for a while to just even imagine doing the thing. And you found a family and some people you could talk to.
CECILIE: That did help a lot.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I mean, community really does help. For me, when I started back in 2002, I didn’t know anybody who was homeschooling, let alone unschooling. So, finding community online was so valuable for me at that time.
CECILIE: Yeah, and in 2002, online was not a big thing.
PAM: Yeah. There wasn’t much. There were one or two places to go.
CECILIE: I remember. I’d had my first child then. Now, everything is out there. You can find it, but back then, man, you were all alone.
You have an essay on your blog that I just wanted to talk about the ideas, because I think it’s part of this journey absolutely. And it’s titled, “I used to be a feminist”. So, I was just hoping that you could share a little bit about that journey, because I feel it’s all woven in there. Isn’t it?
CECILIE: Yeah. So, I wrote this thing and I actually just wanted to be a little provocative when I sat down to write it, but then I realized maybe we should respect the feminist movement a little more than just being provocative, because what our mothers did for us in the name of personal freedom for women is, of course, amazing and we have to respect that. And the life of my great-grandmother was very much informed by her being female and my life is, too, but not in a suppressive way and I respect that.
My take or my twist on this thing is that, we have a saying in Denmark, it’s a word that some of the feminists were using to offend the mothers that would stay at home with their kids. And it was actually just used to attack the mothers who would stay at home with younger kids. So, it’s not about unschooling. It’s about staying at home with your baby until it’s maybe 2, 3, 4 years old and you will make handmade food and you will carry the child in a sling and you will do yoga. And you know the type. I know the type. And they would call them spelt mothers, spelt being the kind of wheat that is a little more healthy than the other wheat.
And there would be articles written in the newspaper about how these spelt mothers were and how they were undermining the freedom of women. And the core argument was that women who would stay at home with their kids, the spelt mothers, they would make the career mothers feel bad, leaving their kids in kindergarten, and that would make it harder for the career mothers to be career mothers, therefore working against the freedom of women.
So, I sat down on my yoga mat with my kids around me and I thought, wait a minute. My personal freedom is lost in the idea of the other women’s personal freedom. If I truly want to stay home with my kids, I am ruining it for the feminists. So, the freedom of women is not for me. It’s not my freedom. I don’t have the freedom to choose what I want, because if I do so, I ruined it for them. It makes no sense. I cannot even explain it. It was so weird.
So, actually, it was so weird that it made me start my first blog. I called it Spelt Mother in Danish. And I wrote about my lifestyle and my choices and how we would live our life, also because we lived in a very beautiful, very high-end neighborhood in Copenhagen. I had just had my fourth child and these women around me who also just had a child, we make these groups of local women who just have a child. You get you get the offer to join a local group of women with newborn kids. And I took the offer. I hated it. But I took it, because I thought, if I get to know some local mothers, then I also get to know some local kids. And then as we’re a home-based family, we need to know some of the people around us.
So, I did it and they were, of course, very wonderful women, but I just don’t really feel comfortable with the idea. But the funny thing was, they were all asking me the same questions. And some of the questions they asked made me think so much about what was normal for me. Like co-sleeping, for example, I didn’t even know the word co-sleeping. We just sleep in the bed at night, because we’re tired. It’s not a project. It’s not a system. It’s not a strategy. It’s just, I’m exhausted. I’m going to lie down now with a blanket. But it’s co-sleeping. It has a word. And I was surprised by that. I didn’t know it had a word.
And some of the women in this group, they were doctors. There were two doctors. And they asked me the weight of my child and I told them, I don’t know. And they were like, what? I said, “I never weighed him. I don’t know. He looks healthy to me.” And these are doctors hired by the state to take care of everyone. We have this great healthcare system, supposedly. It is great. It’s for free and for everyone and they are hired by the state to take care of everyone. And they were both general physicians. So, they would be the doctor you meet, if you just need to go to the doctor.
And they asked me, “Is that even legal?” It should be the other way around. They should know that I have the right to not weigh my newborn child. And they didn’t know that. And I thought, okay, there’s something wrong here. And we can even quote Mr. Shakespeare. “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.”
And I started writing about it, because my perspective and my reality, it was just my reality, my world, was so far away from the world of my neighbors. It was so different. And, to me, it’s not different. I don’t co-sleep. I sleep. But, for them, it was mind-blowing. And I don’t think I’m mind-blowing. I mean, I eat from a plate and I sleep in a bed and I read in a book and I brush my teeth twice a day like everyone. I floss, you know? I’m not a freak, but in this context, a lot of the things that we were doing and a lot of the things that were real and normal for us were just totally out there for these neighbors. And we were not even unschooling yet.
So, I started writing this blog and I called it Spelt Mother, because I found this idea of personal freedom. You have a lot of restrictions on what freedom is, what choices a free, modern, Scandinavian, equal-rights-gifted woman can make. So, the amount of choices is actually quite restricted. A lot of things you can’t do. And I thought, what kind of freedom is that? It doesn’t include the things I want to do.
And actually, it was the same problem with the idea of how to live your life with your kids. The mainstream idea about what it means to be a parent was so restricted. And it had such a narrow space of options that I just felt we need, maybe not my voice, but a voice like mine to say something about how you can also live your life. I don’t think this is for everyone and I’m not trying to make everyone live like me. That would be completely awkward. But, at least, I wanted the voice out there that you can, you can do other things and they are just as awesome and normal and valuable as the next person.
So, there was not a lot of talk about feminism. I see it, but it’s kind of the same for me. The narrow-mindedness of the feminists and the narrow-mindedness of how to be a parent was the same kind of narrow-mindedness. I like personal freedom. I think that the most important thing is that we make our own choices. We think about how we want to live our life and we go live it that way. And if we experience that it sucks, then we change our mind and then we go live our life that way.
We don’t look at the neighbor, because they have a different set up and many people live in a very, very similar way. And they think it’s the only right way to do things. Just like the doctors, the two doctors that thought it was illegal to not know exactly whatever kilos my kid was.
PAM: Yep. That’s what I was going to say. For me, as you were talking, everything really boils down to that choice and that’s why I still continue to enjoy talking about unschooling, just putting it out there that it’s a choice. Back to, it’s so individual. It depends on the people involved. It depends on the circumstances, the context, all the pieces. Unschooling isn’t for all families, just the way the different parenting styles, they’re not right or wrong. It’s what works better for the individual family.
But, yes, just letting people know that they have the choice, that there are different options. As you were talking, I was thinking how there’s whole industries and systems now built, not just around education, but also around parenting, around birth, around all these different systems.
CECILIE: That’s very true.
And you just said the key word, “system”. It’s a system. It’s a system and a strategy. And, to me, I have 13 years between my first and my last child. So, I will be a parent of children living in my house, being children, they are welcome to live in my house if they’re not children, but let’s say I have maybe 30 years of my life where I have children. I’ll cook for them and I’ll wash their clothes. And I’ll be the center-ish of the family. I don’t want 30 years of my life being a strategy. It’s my life. I will go live it.
And being a parent is living your life with your kids around you. So, all of this strategy and all of this control and all of this, “I do this, because then they will that,” when do you ever relax into your presence?
It’s all about controlling that my child has to wash its hands when it comes back home and on Tuesday, it’s the one child doing the dishwasher and on Wednesday, it’s the other child. And there’s a structure and there’s another structure. And then I go to the gym. It’s too much structure for me.
PAM: Cecilie, you know what? It reminds me so much of a blog post I wrote many years ago called, Are You Playing the Role of Mother?
PAM: Exactly. It’s, are you playing that role? Are you following that system versus actually thinking and being yourself?
CECILIE: The mother system. Oh shit. Just do it for 30 years and hope that you still have a little spark of your personality left in there somewhere.
PAM: Left by the end, yeah.
CECILIE: If you dig deep enough, then you can meditate for five years, catching up on all the years that you didn’t do it. Oh shit. Yeah.
PAM: All right.
So, you mentioned that you guys are traveling now and I would love to hear a bit more about what you’re enjoying about combining unschooling and this more nomadic travel lifestyle.
CECILIE: You prepared me for this question. Let us admit that. She did. We talked before.
PAM: I don’t like to pull surprises on people. Because, you know what? This is a thing in the podcast world, in the interviewing world. Some people say, we don’t let people know what we’re going to talk about, because we want their off-the-cuff, but I like to have conversations where people, if they’re interested, there’s no expectation, can make connections and share a little bit deeper thoughts about it.
CECILIE: Everyone has their strategy and it’s totally okay. The thing is, I’ve been thinking about it as you wrote me this question and combining unschooling and traveling, we call Worldschooling Nomads. So, that would be worldschooling, but it’s just a fancy word. No, it’s not a fancy word. It’s a very expressive, very precise word that gets the message over for people who live in more mainstream life. So, in that respect, it’s a perfect word, worldschooling. And I love it.
So, I’m not taking it down. I’m just saying that I’m not unschooling. It’s not a thing. It’s not like I get up in the morning and while I brush my teeth, I think, I have to remember to unschool today.
PAM: The answer was going to be, it’s just living!
CECILIE: Yeah! So, when I go traveling, I’m not thinking, oh, I’ll travel and I’ll unschool. Unschool is basically a thing you don’t do. I mean, in that way, you can’t answer that question. On traveling, I can tell you about that. On traveling with children, I can tell you about that. My children are unschooled, traveling children. And, of course, I could say something about it, but then we’re back to my problem with your first question that I will start talking educationese.
Then I will tell you that my children know about a lot of different countries and cultures and they speak different languages. And we use a lot of different sources to understand where we are and why it has an historical impact or whatever. And here, they invented this kind of math or that kind of paint or whatever. And yeah. That’s what happens when we travel. Of course, we learn some things because we get inspired by whatever’s going on around us.
We could meet some person. So, I just spent the afternoon with a guy from Brazil and his girlfriend from Ukraine. And, of course, it has nothing to do with being in Istanbul, but we learned some things about their cultures and backgrounds and languages because of that. But then, hear me, I’m talking educationese. I’m telling you what we learned.
PAM: Like valuing that over all the other things.
CECILIE: We have hungry brains. But doesn’t everyone, basically, want to understand the world around them?
We travel, because we like to travel. I think it’s more fun than not traveling. And we have something we call a home base where we go back to and spend a lot of time and have some work we like doing and doctors we like to visit. And we have that in two countries. And, of course, we have friends many places and we go back to them. And we have family in the north and we go back to the north for that reason.
So, we are nomadic, but in the more original way, the original nomads, they would travel from place to place and come back to the same places. And we do that. And then we go new places to explore. And then we go back and we don’t go to the hairdresser. We never go to the movies. We hardly ever watch TV. But we go to new places because we like it.
And how is that combined with unschooling? So, it’s very practical that the kids are not in school. It makes us free to travel. So, that’s one thing I can really say about combining unschooling and traveling, but the rest would be educationese. I don’t really like speaking educationese.
PAM: One of the things I love about talking to so many different families on the podcast is just hearing all the different lifestyles that resonate for that particular family. You guys enjoy traveling. There will be families where the idea of traveling is like horror and neither is right or wrong, but it’s what fits you guys really well, even fits you guys really well right now.
CECILIE: At the moment. Yes. But I’m not putting all of my identity into it either. I’m actually dreaming about buying a castle. It would be really cool. I don’t want a house, but a castle. Yeah. We could make some great events and a restaurant. That would be fun. And I think maybe I’m going to do that at some point.
At the moment, we travel, because it’s fun. There was a problem last year, so we feel a little behind on the traveling. So, we’re gonna travel a few years more, I think. And then, let’s see. It’s not my core identity. I just do it because I like it.
PAM: I love the way you wrapped it up with identity.
CECILIE: Of course, I also do it because I believe it’s a good thing for my family.
I wouldn’t travel if I thought it would ruin the life of my kids. And if we can get around the education question and talk about life, then I think that what I want for my children, what I think I’m offering them with a traveling lifestyle, is that they grow up to know that the planet is available, that they can go wherever they want, that there will be nice, welcoming people, that there will be beautiful places, that there will be opportunities, that any language can be learned, any culture can be learned, that maybe you shouldn’t respect everyone and everything, but you should be respectful about the fact that there’s something you don’t understand and you could learn it and then maybe it would make more sense.
As an education for them, I hope that this lifestyle makes them feel really confident in who they are and who we are, that they feel that they have a powerful core family that they can really rely on, that we have each other’s back, and that things can go terribly wrong, but you can fix it.
And sometimes something sucks, like you go somewhere and you were just going to see the most beautiful cathedral ever, and then the car breaks on the highway and you have to sleep on the sidewalk and there’s no mechanic, because there’s a fucking lockdown and you have a headache and there’s no food, because of course you’ve vegan and gluten-free, so you cannot just go eat the first pizza you see, and you hate it. And then, the next day, you fix it and then the next day, you feel better. And then two weeks later, you’re telling a very funny story at a cafe somewhere about when the car broke down and you learn that, even if it becomes really hard, you can handle it and you can get over it and you can move on.
So, I think it makes all of us very powerful personally and courageous as to just throw yourself into life. And if you get an idea, just go do it. And it makes us very close to each other, because basically we have each other all the time. And we move around, so we make new friends everywhere, but we cannot unfortunately bring all of them with us.
And then, I hope they learn a lot of languages, because I think languages are so cool. It’s so great to be able to speak a lot of languages. I speak five languages and I’m trying to learn two more at the moment. I will learn. I’m working on two more at the moment. And the more languages you learn, the easier it becomes. So, it sounds really crazy to want to speak a lot of languages, but it’s not. It’s like running downhill. It just goes faster and faster. So, that is one thing education-wise or whatever I hope that this traveling gives. Not teaches, but gives.
That they absorb the idea that, you go somewhere, you start with a hundred words and then you move on from there. Because it’s such a key, man. It’s like mathematics. If you have it, then the whole new world opens. Speaking only one language is really narrow. I think it really is, in a nonjudgmental way. It really opens worlds to speak at least two, but preferably five.
PAM: Preferably five. That’s awesome, Cecilie. I loved where you took that. That was brilliant. Now, I would love to know what has surprised you most about how this lifestyle …
CECILIE: It’s not an education style. Nope.
PAM: Nope. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a way of living.
And what has surprised you most about how it’s unfolding in your lives or has unfolded so far? Anything surprised you along the way?
CECILIE: Yeah. Lots. But now you’re asking me to rank it, so I have to make a list of things that surprised me, and then I have to figure out what was the most surprising. And surprises are different. They’re not like on one scale. So, that was a little hard. Maybe I didn’t read all of the memo.
Did you write that question for me?
PAM: I did. You can take it wherever it goes.
CECILIE: I can tell you the first thing that comes to mind.
PAM: Yeah. The first thing that comes to mind.
CECILIE: The first thing that comes into mind for me is, it surprised me a lot things that my kids know. Things my kids know, and I have no clue how they learned them, especially 10 years ago. I mean, now, it’s more obvious that they are big and they read things on Wikipedia and they talk to people and I’m not present, so I don’t know.
But, when they were younger, I think when my oldest son, now 15, he must’ve been seven years old, maybe nine, I had him at the Louvre in Paris and of course we were there. So, I have this tradition when I go to Paris, I have to see the Eiffel Tower and the lady. We call her the lady, the Mona Lisa.
And it’s stupid, because I’ve seen it many times, so I don’t have to see it, but I’m compulsive about that. I have to see them the Mona Lisa and I have to see the Eiffel Tower. I’m not going up. I just have to see it, which is easy, because you can see it from anywhere. But I go there, so I’m next to the Eiffel Tower.
So, we were at the Louvre and we were to see the lady. And I think maybe it was the first time I took my kids to Paris and it was in the middle of the summer. It was really stupid to go to the Louvre with four kids in the middle of the summer, because everything is glass there. So, it’s 150,000 degrees inside and you cannot take off your clothes, because you’re in France. So, you cannot hardly open the first button, not even children. And it was very hot, but we saw the lady.
And then we were like, okay, we’re in here now. It’s one of the most amazing museums in the whole wide world. So, we’re not leaving, but we’re cooking, so we will go to the basement.
And there, they have the artifacts from Egypt. And it was a French guy and they stole everything, basically. So, they have all of Egypt there, more or less. And we went to see all of it and I knew that my son had taken an interest in Egypt mythology. He was young. I think he was eight or nine. So, we were like, okay, let’s go see some hieroglyphs and some mummies. We will do that. It’s in the basement. The temperature will be okay.
And then, he just started talking and I still had the idea that I was the one to teach them or tell them what we were seeing. And after 42 seconds, I just shut up for an hour. And he would keep telling me, “You know, mom? That little hieroglyph, can you see how they changed the corner of that thing? That’s because in that dynasty,” age, year, whatever, Pharaoh, whatever, “He had another idea about the birds and then they changed all of the hieroglyphs. You see, it’s not original.” And I was just blown away and I had no idea how he knew. I had no idea, but of course it was right. It was not something he made up. So, that happened a few times that I was really surprised.
Another really surprising story was, so the whole idea about how to learn how to read. So, you think you have to teach the kids the alphabet and then you have to teach them the sounds and then you teach them the easy words and then you teach them a little harder words and then they read the easy books, and that whole idea.
Two of my kids, they just taught themselves to read. One was four years old and she just started reading. And basically, she was three when her brother did his start in school and I was trying to teach him to read and he didn’t want to. And it was all chaos, because I also had a baby.
But one day, she was just reading a book. And I’d never tried to teach her how to read, but at least you could explain this by the fact that I was trying to teach her brother how to read and she was in the same house.
And then my fourth child, he didn’t really pick up reading. At this point, I’d let go, because I learned now about unschooling, like more for real. So, I never really taught him anything, basically. He’s also the kid who does not like to be taught, so no reason to start a fight. But it took some time and I wasn’t really worried, but he was six and he didn’t read and he was seven and he didn’t read. And I was like, maybe you should start reading soon. Because I learned to read really early and so did my first child.
And so did my brothers and sisters. And, to me, it’s normal that you can read when you’re four or five years old. So, when I had a seven-year-old not reading, I was like, hmm.
And then he was eight and then he started reading and then I realized that he was reading in three languages.
PAM: Wow. That can take a bit longer.
CECILIE: And that’s not the same technique, because the alphabet, even though it’s more or less the same, he was reading Danish, English, and Spanish and it’s more or less the same alphabet. But it’s not the same sounds. So, the translation from the alphabet, from the letters, to the sound, to the word is not the same in the three languages. So, that’s what stalled him.
And it just took me by surprise. And in my head, he should read Danish because that’s his first language. So, it never occurred to me that he would read the other languages, which is just me being stupid, because in his mind, of course, it’s all language and it’s all text and it’s all reading.
He didn’t think, “First I do it in Danish. And then I’ll think about the other languages later on.” When you absorb reading, you absorb reading in whatever language you speak, read, hear, listen to, have around you. So, yeah, that was a great surprise.
CECILIE: I don’t know if it was the biggest one.
PAM: Well, in two days, when you finally remember what the biggest one, when you figure out what the most surprising thing was …
CECILIE: I’ll send you a list.
PAM: Yeah, you’ll send it to me.
CECILIE: Prioritized, with little stars.
PAM: Oh, my goodness. Well, thank you so much for speaking with me, Cecilie. It was so much fun. Thank you.
CECILIE: It was. Likewise. It was fun. It was fun. And now, I turned off the air con, so now I’m not cold anymore.
PAM: You’re feeling so good now.
CECILIE: I feel perfect. Yeah.
PAM: Well, before we go, where can people connect with you online?
CECILIE: So, anyone can write me an email if they want to. I like it. I have this blog WorldschoolingNomads.com. I have this other blog, which is my name, CecilieConrad.com. I think you have to spell it somewhere, because I am Cecilie with an E, not an A. And we’re on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube and all of that.
PAM: So, any of them is fine and I’ll put links to all of them in the show notes, so that people don’t have to worry about spelling/typing it in. So, the links will all be there as well. Thank you so much again, Cecilie. Have a wonderful day.
CECILIE: The sun is setting in Istanbul, so soon we can go out without cooking.
PAM: Without cooking. Exactly.