PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from living joyfully.ca and today I’m here with Megan Valnes. Hi, Megan!
MEGAN: Hi, Pam!
PAM: I am so, so happy to have you back on the podcast to learn more about how your unschooling journey has continued to unfold.
MEGAN: Thank you.
PAM: To get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody’s interested in right now?
MEGAN: Yes. So, I’m Megan and my husband and I have been married for 17 years now. We own a real estate agency here in Los Angeles and I’ve been writing. I actually have published writing now, even if it’s on my own website. So, I can say I’m a writer. I’m reading as much as I can. I love watching cooking competitions. I do yoga.
We have a little farm on our property. We have three acres. We’re lucky to live in the last remaining wilderness of Los Angeles. So, we have chickens and little guinea pigs and lots of animals. Love being with the kids. As a family, we really enjoy being outside together and having adventures together and just being together. We’re together a lot and we enjoy it.
Our oldest son is 17 now, which is wild. Like, what happened? So, he’s 17 and he’s 6’1″. So, he’s just this big person now. He’s super into music at the moment. He’s learning a program called Logic, which is a computer program for making music, for producing. So, that’s really cool. He’s working on getting his driver’s license, which will be amazing once that happens. And he works for our company, our family company, and then he recently got a job as a busboy in a restaurant for a little summer gig, which is cool.
Our 15-year-old daughter is Lila. So, we now have two teenagers, which is really fun, really fun. I really like it. I really like it. They’re so fun to be with. She’s into Kung Fu at the moment. She just started Kung Fu and she’s loving it. Her obsession, passion is K-pop, which is Korean pop music, for people that don’t know. And this has been a whole learning journey for everyone. So, it has led her to start learning Korean. I mean, we’ve learned so much about Korean culture because of it.
And we are lucky to live in such a big city because we have a Koreatown. So, we can go to Koreatown and get all these foods that she’s learning about and go to Korean markets and go buy her albums, because she’s just obsessed with K-pop. So, now we all know about K-pop, which is pretty cool. We’re all learning a lot.
And let’s see. I wrote this down, so I wouldn’t forget anyone. There’s a lot of them. Zack is 12. He’s still super into dinosaurs. This has been a long-lasting interest. He didn’t grow out of it like a lot of kids, once they’re six or whatever. He still wants to be a paleontologist. So, he’s actually approached me last night about going to school, because he is concerned. He really wants to be a paleontologist and wants to get into college.
So, we were just talking about that last night, which is very interesting. He loves gaming online. He’s with his friends, gaming it up a lot. All the kids love gaming, but he’s super into it right now. A big portion of his day is spent gaming online with his friends. He likes to watch his science videos. He’s really into science and math. He’s just that kid. He loves exploring. He’s wild. He’s always been a little wild man. And he’s still wild. We take him on hikes. He’s jumping off the highest cliffs. So, he’s super fun.
And Sara is 10. She also loves K-pop. She and her big sister share a room. So, they decorated it all with their K-pop posters and it’s really cute. She’s really cute. And she loves cooking and Sara’s just probably one of the sweetest, kindest people I’ve ever known. She’s just a gentle soul. She loves to cook and I can’t even remember the last time that she’s asked me to make her anything. I’ll make dinner and she eats dinner, but she makes herself everything, her snacks and these intricate things with bell peppers and cream cheese and seasonings.
And she gets a lot of ideas from TikTok, because she’ll watch a lot of food pages on TikTok and she gets all these ideas, which is really cool to see. And she’s just sweet. She loves being out in nature, too. We all do. I mean, maybe not the teenagers as much, but the four younger kids, they really love it.
And then there’s Clementine. She’s six. She is one of a kind. She is a total extrovert. She is hilarious. She’s one of the funniest people I know. She’s got a sense for comedy. She knows how to make people laugh. And she loves drama. She’s the one who’s doing the camp this morning. So, my husband is picking her up from her little drama camp. She does a Shakespeare camp. So, she’s this little performer and she’s just really funny. My mom calls her a card. That old saying.
And the three girls together, they all love K-pop. And one of the big things that they’re into right now is they watch the K-pop girl bands dancing. They do these intricate dances to their songs. And they put their dance practices online on YouTube. So, the kids watch them and learn the dances and then do the dances for us. So, that’s pretty cool.
MEGAN: Yes. So, that’s really fun. Clementine just has no fear. In California, in surf culture, we call her a charger. She’s a charger, because she just charges everything. No fear, just wants to do everything. “I want to do this camp. I want to do that camp. I want to go here. Let’s go to the lagoon. I want to surf.” She loves riding her bike and she’ll just ride it for miles. She’s amazing. She inspires me.
And then the youngest is Ocean and he’s two and he’s a typical two-year-old. Busy. He doesn’t stop. He’s super busy. And he wants to be like one of the big kids. So, he’s just trying to keep up. That’s everybody.
PAM: There’s a lot going on to keep up with, isn’t there?
MEGAN: Yes! There is a lot. There is a lot going on.
PAM: That’s amazing. Thank you. Thank you so much, Megan. It’s so fun just to hear little snippets of everybody and the different things they’re interested in and seeing how the interests of somebody can be interesting to their siblings, too. And sometimes they’ll do things together and then they have their own things. It’s really interesting to hear how that goes.
So, calling back to our earlier conversation, which was March of 2018. I had to look it up.
MEGAN: Really? So, I didn’t even have Ocean. I had five kids.
PAM: I know. I know. I remember seeing, oh, here comes the new one.
MEGAN: Number six.
PAM: Number six. So, we spoke then about how you found unschooling and we focused on deschooling. So, I’ll leave a link in the show notes to that episode for people, if they want to go back and listen to that.
Looking back now, how important was that more focused deschooling phase as part of your journey? When you look back, what do you think?
MEGAN: To me, it’s paramount. And to me, honestly, when I think about it, it never ends. I remember reading something that Pam Sorooshian wrote. Deschooling never ends if you went to school. She had this thought that maybe it just never ends, because it’s so ingrained for so long. And I think even to expound upon that is, it keeps going because we’re surrounded by mainstream society.
I don’t have a lot of unschooling friends near to me. I have some people online and I’m still in some groups, like email groups, or I get little messages in my inbox or I listen to your podcasts, but for the most part, even just watching TV, even just watching the Olympics, seeing these kids were obviously very structured. They went for something. I’m sure a lot of it that was their interest. You can’t force someone to that level, I don’t think. They have to love it. But there’s still something behind, even driving that to get to that level.
And so, I think deschooling never ends for parents, because, first of all, for those of us that went through school, we went through it. And then we’re surrounded by it all the time, just subconscious ideas of what we should be doing, what life looks like. My kids go to camp. There might be a lot of homeschoolers, but then they’re, “Oh, we’re doing this curriculum or we’re doing that,” you know? And there’s not always a lot of people to talk about it with.
And it is so easy to get influenced and to think, oh my god, should I be doing her curriculum? Should I be sitting down more? Should we be focusing? And then it’s kind of, like, remember who I am. What are we doing here? We have to remember what we’re doing here. So, for me, deschooling is a little bit constant.
I feel like, for the most part, I’ve gotten out of those big, mainstream ideas and I now really embrace the principles of unschooling, which was also hard in the beginning, because it’s just hard to comprehend principles since we’re never really taught that. We’re taught rules. It’s easy to follow rules. Just tell me what to do. Make it easy for me. And then principles are a little more ambiguous and what does it even mean? And so, learning that has been huge for me. And now, I get it. I get the principle part. Nice. I know what that really means now. I knew what the words meant before, but I didn’t really know what it meant.
PAM: Yeah. That was a big step for me, too. Understanding it intellectually, it’s like, yeah. Okay. Okay. I can see what you mean. Yeah. That makes sense. But that transition into what it looks like every day, to what it means, what I do every day, how I wake up and approach each moment. That is stuff I have to actively figure out. I have to take that theory and actually apply it and see what it looks like in our lives.
And that is the beauty and the challenge of unschooling in that it looks different in everyone. It looks different for someone with six kids. It looks different to somebody with different personalities, right?
MEGAN: Totally. Yes. And it’s not like a theory that you can go, “Oh, this is how it’s applied and this is how it plays out,” because of that exact reason. It’s going to play out differently for every family based on their dynamics. So, it really has to be your own journey.
PAM: It really does. It really does. And, like you said, we are surrounded by a culture and society that just has different goals. Different principles. The productivity, that shining, external goal. Not that there’s anything wrong, but again, you revisit it personally, who am I as an individual.
Sometimes we can get knocked off and I find it so useful in those moments, as you were saying, to revisit our why, to remember why we chose this and to remember those principles. It’s like, oh yeah. It’s like touching base with ourselves, because sometimes we can just get pulled out and it’s so easy just to fall back into those routines, those things that, as parents, we probably grew up with them, but they’re just around us. It’s easy to get pulled into that.
MEGAN: Yes. Absolutely. That’s constant.
I would love to hear your experience with navigating those different needs and personalities that come with six kids.
PAM: I’m just curious. I love to ask people how their unschooling days flow, because this is a thing I think when people come to unschooling, it’s easy to understand the principle that we’re not trying to direct or control other people, yet it’s, what do you replace that with? It’s not just standing back and doing nothing.
MEGAN: Right. The fine line of neglect. You don’t want to neglect them. So, yes.
So, our life is really busy. I mean, it’s busy. And I’m back to working a little bit again. So, I have help sometimes, a few days a week, for the younger kids that are awake earlier, mainly my two- and six-year-old, because the other four will sleep in, depending on what we’re doing.
We were in Yosemite all last week, so everybody was up early and it was the family. And we were doing Yosemite things, hiking and rafting and rivers and all those things. But now we’re back at home and the first couple of days, they were waking up early still. And I was like, this is cool. We’re all awake early! This is nice. And then slowly, they’re going back to sleeping in late.
So, the two little ones in the morning when I try to get some work done or whatever, I have someone who actually has been with our family for 10 years and is incredible and is like a part of our family. So, she gets what we’re doing and they love her. And so, they play with her.
On the days that she’s not here, we just wake up. We hang around. We go out to the chickens. We feed the dogs. The little ones help me with the chores. We just do our little work around the property.
My two-year-old loves picking up dog poop. If he sees it, he forces me to clean it immediately. So, we do that and we just enjoy it. We’re slow. We take it slow and easy on our days together and on the weekends in the morning.
My six-year-old she loves TikTok, so sometimes she’s doing that thing or we’re just hanging out, doing whatever. And then, the day just builds up a little slower, because the older kids wake up later and then once they wake up, then things kind of start buzzing. Every day looks different. Sometimes we’re out running around.
Having the two-year-old has been a bit of a challenge, because he’s so active that it was really hard to take him on any kinds of errands. So, that has been kind of challenging, because there’s a big age difference. I mean, it’s not a big age difference, but it is a lot in maturity. So, Clementine is our fifth child. She’s six. And then Ocean is two. And then, all the kids are, 10, 12, 15, 17.
So, it has been challenging to just work out the two-year-old at this point. Every day is getting a little easier, but still, taking him into a store if we want to go shopping, we have to coordinate who’s going to stay at home with Ocean. Who’s going to go? Because he’s not going to sit in a stroller. He doesn’t sit in a shopping cart. He’s not that kid. I have had that kid, the great kid who sits and will look at a book and be totally content. That’s not Ocean. He wants to go, go, go.
So, we’re tailoring more around what he wants, but it kind of does take a village at this point right now. I think in two years it’s going to look a lot different. He’ll be four. It’ll be more like we can just get up and go. But at the moment, we’re here a lot, unless we’re doing a lot of outdoor things. We do the beach. He can run around on the beach. We do parks. He can run around at a park. We do hikes. He can run around on a hike.
And with the older kids, I really have to plan that time. So, we have to be scheduled somewhat, because I need help with Ocean, if my daughter and I want to go shopping or they have a Kung Fu class or they’re going to start taking music classes or if they want to do those kinds of things. It’s just a little trickier right now, but it’s a passing phase. It’s not forever.
PAM: Well, I love the piece, though, that you’re just completely understanding Ocean’s personality and where he is at the moment and just working with that. So, it gives more pieces to the puzzle, but I feel like you’re just flowing with that and not trying to put expectations around it.
MEGAN: No. Right. I just expect him to be a toddler, which is what he is. And he’s a busy guy. He’s just that busy toddler. My middle son was just like him. I mean, we couldn’t really do anything until he was over three, because he was just wild. You take him to a restaurant, wanting to climb up to the ceiling fan and swing from it. And that’s not enjoyable for anybody. It’s stressful for the parents. It’s not fun for the kids.
So, we go to restaurants where kids can run around at. We do things that are easy for everyone or we have him watch the phone, but even that, it’s only 10 minutes. But we’re lucky we have some restaurants around here that have little outdoor spaces and the kids can run. And I think it’s good for the older kids to see how to flow, how to just go with what they need and that this is a point in his life. And it’s a good perspective. Things don’t last forever.
PAM: Yeah. The “don’t last forever” piece and the piece that they’re part of the family and that everybody has value, no matter their age.
MEGAN: Right. Yes. Yes.
PAM: And the whole piece of not having expectations, but just on their ages.
Why put them in places where, like you said, it’s not going to be enjoyable for them because they’re going to keep being stopped from what they want to do? It’s not enjoyable for us to have to keep stepping in and stopping them. It’s not enjoyable for the other people in the environment to see all this going on. You’re just setting everybody up to fail when you do that.
MEGAN: Yes, exactly.
PAM: So, finding places that work for everybody, that’s wonderful.
MEGAN: Yes. That’s what we try to do. Even with our TV situation, it’s interesting, because we have these two rooms that are next to each other, and we decided to put TVs in both rooms, because there’s a little bit of a separation. But we do it so that we can be watching our show.
Say we want to watch the Olympics. My daughter, she was an equestrian. And so, she loves watching the equestrian and she’s recording it. She wants to watch it. Or we can watch movies that we want to watch. And then right in the next room where we can still see everybody, “Hi!” Wave! There’s another TV. The kids can watch, if it’s Ocean and Clementine who want to go in there and watch their little shows, they can do it. And we’re still all together.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, that’s brilliant.
MEGAN: It’s kind of like figuring things out.
PAM: That was one of the things I loved and continue to love, because we still do it. Just changing up the house, the rooms, how we’re using the rooms, just moving beyond kind of the more conventional uses for rooms. This is our place. We can use the rooms however it works well for us.
MEGAN: Exactly. Now you’re going to use them. Our dining room table is an art table. That’s where we do art. We never eat dinner there. We do art there. There’s not even furniture in the little room connected to it. It’s just a big open place space. And it can be.
PAM: Yeah, I know. It’s so fun. It’s like, oh, what could we do with this?
MEGAN: Which I think is a helpful thing.
An outcome or benefit of unschooling is having a more open mind like that, where you can see, okay, this is supposed to be a dining room and there’s a table here, but we can move beyond that. We can make this work for us.
PAM: Yeah, absolutely. Another thing I love about unschooling is how it grows. It rolls and picks up speed. At first, and it depends on where you’re coming from, but for me, certainly first I questioned school. It’s like, oh, does school really need to be part of it?
And then, once you start questioning one thing, you’re just more open to questioning more ideas that are in your life. And it doesn’t become such a big thing. It’s like, oh, I can question this. Does this really work for us? How do we feel about that? What might we do instead? How would that feel? The questions are just always bubbling up. Aren’t they?
MEGAN: Yes. I love it. I was listening to your podcast about joy: open and curious.
PAM: That’s my favorite.
MEGAN: I mean, that’s it. That’s kind of it in a nutshell.
PAM: Yup. Yup. That’s beautiful.
Now, I was thinking back. We connected before the call and you mentioned something you wanted to chat about. And I remember reading in a book about attachment parenting, the author mentioned that even sensitive caregivers get it right only about 50% of the time. And what stands out for securely attached parent-child relationships is that the parent actively acknowledges and repairs the disconnecting moments.
I know I felt it was validating for me, because you go in with an expectation that you’re going to get it right all the time. We laugh now, but that’s part of what we grow up with, because we learn through school and just through society in general that getting things wrong is bad. You’ve got to hide that. Don’t let people know that. But 50% of the time, it happens. It’s normal, because we’re just real people doing things.
I wanted to chat with you about what that piece, that repairing relationships, has looked like for you.
MEGAN: That part has been one of the most amazing benefits of unschooling. My relationship with my oldest son, which I’ve talked about a lot in unschooling circles, because it was just so profound for me, was so damaged. If we had continued on the path we were on, he’d probably be like, I don’t know, not here. Who knows? But I don’t think he could have even been able to stay in the same house with me until he was 17, because we were bickering.
So, that was a long time ago. He was eight. This is almost 10 years ago that we started making the changes. And now our relationship is so close. We’ve really mended it. There are moments, of course, where I still get like pangs of guilt, especially because I’ve had younger children. And the way that I am with them, I’ll just be like, oh, I wish I could have done this with Julian. Why didn’t I know? But I didn’t. And that’s okay. And it’s okay now and we have repaired so much and we’re so close.
He even said he feels like he can talk to me about anything. We love each other. My mom will say, “Oh, when teenagers get a certain age and they pull away from you, they don’t want to be seen with you out in public,” we don’t have any of that. He’ll hold my hand in public. He gets the doors for me. He wants to take care of me. He helps me. He’s amazing. He sees me holding something heavy, he comes and grabs it from me. He’s just this amazing young man and we’re very close.
We have deep talks. He goes through things. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, even when you’re unschooling. He has hard times. He’s a 17-year-old. It’s not easy all the time and he can come to me and we have repaired our relationship. That I feel confident of.
PAM: Yeah. So, how did that look?
MEGAN: Well, it looked like me really just backing off and really taking the unschooling principles seriously in the beginning. It looked like me doing the work on myself, because it was all my hangups. He was a kid. Now, was he the easiest? No. He challenged me in a lot of ways. I guess that’s why he came. That was my growth. Really! I feel like that was a part of his purpose, because he challenges everyone around him. He just has that personality where he’s not going to back down.
But he’s so kind and loving. And now that we’ve just allowed him to be who he is, he’s this easygoing, different person. He doesn’t have to challenge in the same way he used to when he was just fighting to be who he was. Now, he is who he is and he’s allowed to be that. And so, it’s just a much different version of that. He’s just very thoughtful and it just looked like me doing a lot of work on myself and my husband. I mean, that’s what it really came down to, was us changing to see he’s the child, we’re the adults. We’ve gotta get our stuff together and just allow him.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think that’s one of the big steps is, like you were saying before, being open to asking ourselves questions. Because, so often, we can think, “We’re the adults. We know better. We need to control them so that they learn.” So, it’s fascinating when you can start just asking yourself questions about it. What is the value, the impact of this control? What am I really trying to accomplish here? The value of the relationship.
I think of it as a shift from control to connection. It moves from trying to control them, to just connecting with them and learning who they are. They’re fascinating people when you connect with them.
MEGAN: They are. Absolutely. And I feel like it was a blessing, in a way. There are some kids where you can eventually break them, which is a horrible thing to say. But there are. And there are parents who will do that. The very authoritative type, and the kid will finally break, so you think, until they get out and maybe they have a chance. Or maybe it’s forever. Who knows?
Julian didn’t have that personality. It just wasn’t going to happen with him. And then once I realized what I was doing, I was so dismayed. And it hurt me, like, I can’t do this. I don’t want to break anything, especially the relationship with my son. I want to build that up. I want to make it beautiful.
I want us to be friends forever. And so, it was good that he just didn’t. And he was little. He was seven or eight, but he would just be like, “No, I’m not doing it.” And I realized, what am I going to do? I’m not going to start hitting him or abusing him into doing what I want him to do. So, something here has to change and it’s going to be me.
PAM: Yeah. And what is really interesting, this was my experience, so I’m very curious to hear if it was yours, too, because my eldest was similar. He was very solid in who he was and what he was and wasn’t interested in doing. But what was so fascinating to me was, as I opened up and released that need for control and started trying to connect more and I learned more about him and who he was as an individual and as a person and why these were the things that he was standing up to or not wanting to do, all those pieces started to make so much sense about who they are as a person.
It was like, oh, now I get why that was just not something they were going to do. So, it wasn’t that they were just willy nilly …
MEGAN: Trying to be obstinate.
PAM: Yes, exactly, exactly.
MEGAN: Just being obstinate for obstinate’s sake. No, they really had reasons. And I think what I have found is, once we backed off and just really allowed him and said, “We’re here to support you and guide you and help you and connect with you,” then now, he’s much more open-minded.
PAM: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
Because they feel respected and trusted. And they trust us that when they say something, we’re going to put it in the mix of everything. We’re not going to just discount it or expect them to keep giving in. I know it seems so paradoxical, but the more you can give and accommodate, really show that you care and will help, they don’t need to grab for that.
MEGAN: That’s right.
PAM: So, they can give that to other people too. They really pay attention to, how important is this to me? And if I say it’s really important, I know that they will respect that. But I’m going to check in with myself first, before I now put that out there, because I don’t have to push for it anymore.
MEGAN: It’s like the desperation to be heard is gone. And to be acknowledged. That trust component is so huge. And that has been the biggest thing that we repaired was trust. And now, I mean, he’s just so interesting. I just learn so much from him.
My mom went on the camping trip in Yosemite with us and because when we grew up, my mom was very stubborn in her ways and my dad, too. And so, me and all my siblings, we would just argue, everybody fighting so hard, digging into their own beliefs. No one ever really being like, “Okay, let me hear your side of that.” We would just dig our heels in harder into what we were saying.
And so, when we went to Yosemite, my mom said to me, “I just love how Julian,” because he stayed in the tent with her and so they would talk at night. And she said, “I just love the way that he has an idea and he has an opinion and we talk about it. And then if you present him another opinion, he’ll really take time to think about it and listen and maybe change his mind,” because in my family that was unheard of. You didn’t change your mind only because it showed some sort of weakness. And so, we don’t have that. And I thought, oh my god. That’s amazing. That’s so good to hear.
PAM: That is so interesting that stood out for her.
MEGAN: And that’s another paradox, right? He feels so strong that he’s not afraid of looking weak or seeming weak, because he knows who he is.
PAM: Yeah. Well, and that’s all because he’s not feeling judged for his views. They are his. And that’s the other piece, like you were talking about, you and your siblings, all digging in. Because, when we feel like we’re being judged, no matter what our opinion is, if somebody doesn’t agree with us and we’re feeling judged, we just feel so defensive and it’s so hard to hear other people. And it’s so hard to reconsider or to hear something new and try to put it into the web of your understanding of whatever it is in the first place and try to grow. It’s so hard when you’re feeling defensive, because then you’re just waiting for your moment to jump in there and give your opinion.
MEGAN: Exactly. And that was my big thing. I mean, that was something I really had to overcome was being defensive and he and I would work on it with each other and he’d be like, you’re being defensive right now. I’d be like, okay. I am? Okay.
PAM: I know. And that’s fascinating. It’s fun to have that relationship, too, because they can point out things to us that, in the moment, we don’t realize.
MEGAN: Yes. “Mom, you’re being passive aggressive right now.” I am? “You’re being defensive.” I’m like, what? I would never.
PAM: What is so interesting, again, is that they are right. They are so often right. We can take the moment to think and that’s what’s really interesting, because it is all about relationships. Even if, in the end, we decide that we don’t feel like we were feeling defensive or passive aggressive or whatever, we can understand how they saw it that way. Nobody’s wrong. If it felt that way to them, it felt that way to them. That’s that.
So, that also helps us learn a little bit more about being in conversation with them. How things feel to them, because that is real, too. Isn’t it?
MEGAN: Totally. It kind of stings sometimes. And so, that’s part of the learning process when you’re repairing relationships is kind of being able to take the sting and to reflect on it. What part of me is this hurting and why? And what’s the deeper reason?
PAM: Yup. And, for me, that ties back to what you mentioned before, that open and curious piece.
MEGAN: Right. Being open and curious.
PAM: Not being judgmental, but to be curious.
MEGAN: Yes. Exactly. Not being judgmental and allowing them to say those things, even if they hurt a little, reflecting on it, and using it for next time and talking about it with them, too.
PAM: Yeah. That’s the great thing, because when you have that trust there and you have that connection there, you can have those conversations. It’s like, oh really? That didn’t feel like it to me. How did it feel to you? Or, oh, maybe I was thinking about this. That is the interesting thing, too, is just processing with them. Processing in front of them.
MEGAN: Right. And, to me, it’s created such an emotional intelligence that I never had. I’ve learned this stuff as an adult and they have it as teenagers.
PAM: Yeah, I know. And they can take it with them out into the world, too.
MEGAN: Right. I mean, this will reflect across their whole lives.
PAM: Yeah. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.
What has surprised you most about how unschooling has unfolded so far for you guys?
MEGAN: I know. I’ve been thinking about this one. Well, the relationship with my kids has really surprised me. I mean, I love my parents so much. But these years, like for my older kids, the teenage years, were not so lovely. They were very difficult and we repaired them when I became a mother and I became an adult and at some point you’re like, I can carry this forever or I can let it go and we can move on and we can love each other. Because I know that we were really all doing the best that we could do.
And this whole idea of emotional intelligence is something a little bit newer for a lot of people, for me anyway, and for my family. And so, I guess the relationship I have with them surprises me. We like each other. It’s beyond we love you because you’re my parent, you’re my child and all of that. It’s like, we genuinely like each other. We like hanging out. My kids want to do stuff with us. I remember my older siblings, as they would get older, they would not come on trips with us anymore. Once they were 14 or 15, they’d stay home. They wouldn’t do the family vacations anymore. They would prefer to be with their friends or whoever.
My kids, we’re still all doing it together. I feel like we’re always going to. They’ll get significant others, hopefully they’ll have some kids, because I do really want grandkids, just putting that out there, and maybe it’ll be all of us. I can see that, that the family vacations just kind of expand and then we just have a lot of people and it would be amazing. And so, I see that as a real possibility because of how close we are and we’re friends. We have fun, even the little ones. We laugh, we just all have fun.
They’re so smart. That part, sometimes it still surprises me how much they learn, because I don’t even always know how much they’re learning or they’re getting into certain things until they show me.
My daughter is showing me how she’s writing characters in Korean and this all stemmed from loving K-pop, which some people could be very dismissive, like, oh, K-pop, whatever. It’s just pop music, boy bands, manufactured, put together. But here it is something so deep and enriching and has enriched her life so much. And then I see her writing in Korean characters, which is amazing. And they really want to travel. They’re just these open-minded kids. These kids don’t have to learn to be open-minded and curious. They just are.
PAM: Yes. They just are. In my intense deschooling phase, which is what I’m going to call it …
MEGAN: Yes, the intense deschooling phase.
PAM: It’s always there in the background. Deschooling flows up and down and up and down. But anyway, what I was trying to get to was, I found it so helpful to watch them in action just to see. It’s like, oh, I don’t need to feel so bad when I make a mistake. I don’t need to go and hide for an hour till everybody forgets what happened. Just the little things, just seeing them like, oh, that went wrong. And they try something different. Making mistakes isn’t this horrible thing. I just learned so many things from watching them and watching their open and curious approach to things and trying things out and being so open about the world in general. And judgment, I feel, so much of it is learned.
MEGAN: Oh yes. Oh my god. They’re so much less judgmental.
PAM: Yes. Incredibly. Even when I felt I was not judgmental of people, but I found myself frustrated, I would share the story with them and they’d be like, “Oh, but what about this and this?” Or if we went to the park or they went to an activity and I saw another person being mean and I felt bad for my child. And then I talked to them about it later and they were like, “Yeah, whatever. I think they were hungry,” or, “I know they had a bad day the other day.” They had so many positive, good thoughts about it that did not need to go to judgment.
MEGAN: Right. They’re more compassionate.
PAM: So much compassion. I learned so much and I still learn so much just from watching them.
MEGAN: I know.
And you realize the mistakes are so necessary. I mean, that’s such a huge part of the learning process and I think we’re born that way. We’re born open and curious. And at some point, it gets shut off, like, no, you need to be this way and mistakes are not okay and you’ve gotta be right. And this whole other paradigm is set up.
And then, when you see them, I’ve had some kids that were in school and then the other ones not, and even the difference of them, I do see even differences between them, because on some level, I think even my 17-year-old still deschools a little bit. A lot of his friends go to high school. It affects him, too. He was in school until I think the beginning of fourth grade. I think he came out in the beginning of fourth grade. And so, those are formative years, where a lot of hard wiring is going on. And so, even he’s had his own process, but seeing him come out of it. They’re less judgmental of themselves.
PAM: Yes. Yes. Because they don’t feel that need to judge themselves and think, oh, that was wrong. I shouldn’t have done that or whatever. They just take it in as more information and use it the next time. Maybe they’ll never make that choice again, but they don’t so much berate themselves. That can be a personality piece, too, but they don’t see it happening all around them.
And again, it’s a learned thing. Right?
MEGAN: I think so.
PAM: That’s so cool.
What is your favorite thing about your unschooling days right now?
MEGAN: Oh, the freedom.
I love the freedom. I love that we can just flow. And I love that we are all learning so much. We’re all into our things and learning from each other and from each other’s interests. And I love who we all are and who we’re becoming. It just feels good. It feels good. We feel connected. I feel connected to my children and to my family.
PAM: I love that. Yeah. As you were talking about that, what bubbled up for me is this feeling that, when we’re in the flow and we’re just sharing our interests, even if we aren’t literally fascinated by the thing, we can so much connect over the joy and fun that they’re having. And it’s all about the moment. We no longer are really looking to the future like, it needs to take us here and needs to take us there. Where are they going to be five years from now? The freedom of the moment and being in the moment, this is where all the good things are.
MEGAN: Exactly. And all those little moments add up and all of a sudden it is five years later and it’s a great place that you’re in. And it has been all along and it just keeps building.
PAM: And don’t you find that, if you think back to yourself five years ago and what you might have thought where you’d have been, I find that where we flow and end up is just so much more interesting and fun then where I thought we’d be. And that helps me build trust in the process, too, that this just takes us fascinating places that fit us as people, as individuals, so much better than where I thought maybe I should be guiding us.
MEGAN: It lets off some of that pressure, too, of this is what I think should happen. You are, again, more open to the experience and where it guides you. If you get to flow on the river, where might you end up? But it’s usually a lot better and you’re going to be a lot happier once you get there than if you were fighting this current, trying to go the other direction and end up exhausted and frustrated at the end of it.
PAM: Yes. That’s perfect! Yeah, yes.
Because when they have that freedom, and us too, when we have that freedom to follow our intuition, to take that next little step that we think will work well for us and then see what happens and then adjust, we have the freedom to just tweak and play and tweak and play. So, that’s the flow. It’s that flow, rather than fighting the current, rather than our brain taking something just really far down the road and already mapping our path and then spending the time trying to stay on the same damn path.
MEGAN: Exactly. When maybe that is not your path, maybe. And another thing that I find is, I have learned to be so much less judgmental of myself, where I used to be one of those people that I was like, I gotta do this. I gotta do that. I gotta be working all the time, producing, producing, because we’re in a culture where you must be productive in order to be valuable.
And so, I have learned from them, the downtime is just as productive. There might be a day where I just want to sit on the couch and watch 10 of my shows in a row. I mean, that doesn’t happen very often because I have a two-year-old, but even two. Right. And maybe I’m not going to read and I am just going to watch TV and it’s going to be kind of bad TV and that’s okay.
There is something productive in that. There’s so much value in the rest and the recovery. And I have learned that from my kids and not feeling guilty about it, feeling really good about it.
PAM: Yes, exactly. Because it’s part of accepting that we just don’t know. And again, learned it from my kids, watching them. It’s like, okay, they’re doing these things or they’re like out on the swing for hours and hours and hours. It’s like, what are they doing? Why? Yet, when you give them that space, when you look back, sometimes you can’t see it in the moment and you can’t even expect them to explain. “I was just listening to music.”
But later on, as things bubble up and they’re talking about things, it’s like, wow, you’ve thought about that. They were giving space for their subconscious, for their brain to just bubble away and make interesting connections. You don’t have to know in the moment. It doesn’t have to look valuable or productive.
MEGAN: And that’s the thing. We can’t always see learning happening. I remember reading that, reading how we don’t always know. They could be lying on the sofa for seven hours watching a show. You can’t see what’s happening in their brain, what connections they’re making. That’s where the trust aspect comes in, because there is a lot of trust and faith inherent in unschooling, not just between each other, but just in the process. Like, okay, everything’s going to turn out okay.
Because there are moments where I’m like, oh my gosh. Am I doing the right thing? What am I doing? Am I going to like cripple my children or something in society? And no.
That’s again like, oh, okay. Wash those thoughts out. Focus on the child. See what they’re doing. You can’t always see it, but it reveals itself eventually. All those connections and the learning, it comes out. And so, it’s a big trust in the process.
And I think with these kids, it’s like, we hear a lot a whole big thing today in our culture, what’s our purpose? Everybody’s searching for their purpose. What am I doing? Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing? Everybody’s, I feel, kind of waiting for this answer, myself included. I get caught up in this stuff, too. It’s like you want this big answer to come down on the tablet from the skies or something like Moses. “Your purpose is” whatever. It doesn’t really work that way.
And I feel like the kids don’t really have that issue of trying to search for something, because they’re just living it every day. They realize their purpose is their joy and following that path and staying on the river.
PAM: I was just about to say, joy is the compass. And that’s the piece, too, with that bigger picture purpose if you hold onto that too tightly. They’re okay with mistakes. They’re okay with tweaking things, just because they’ve been doing it. That’s why they’re okay with it, because they’ve been doing it for so many years. And it’s working.
MEGAN: Exactly. They don’t know any different.
They’ve lived their whole life in flow. Of course, you’re always gonna come up against obstacles and challenges and that’s life. But it’s the way you deal with them and how you see them as, as they’re all positives. It doesn’t really have to be a negative thing. There’s always something, some golden nugget in there we can find.
PAM: Yeah. Even if that’s something is, oh, now I understand why I thought I would like that and now I know I don’t think I am going to ever do something like that again. Even that is a nugget of good information. That’s learning more about themselves.
MEGAN: Yes. Refining. That’s a big process, refining ourselves and what we like and who we are. That’s what I’ve just learned so much with unschooling, as well. Everything is a process. It’s never just instantaneous, like, okay, this is what you need to do. And here’s where I need to go. And this is who you’re going to be. That’s what we want, because we’re kind of shown this artificial version of life. But the real version is that everything takes time.
Picasso didn’t wake up and have his paintings in the Louvre. He worked. He did it every day. He followed his own joy in creation. And eventually, now we know him as Picasso. But along the way, he was just this guy doing his thing and that’s a lot of people. And so, it’s always a process. And I think, for me, growing up, I always had this idea that Shakespeare was just born, like that’s who he was always going to be. He worked at it too. He had to sit down and write every day.
Some people are fortunate enough to just have this thing that they follow and it’s joy and it’s very clear to them and that’s what they do. But a lot of us, we have to look around, because we’re not taught that. So, I think one of the biggest things we are teaching our kids is, hey, look, just do what you love and keep doing that. And it can change and it’ll morph and it’ll evolve and it’ll grow. But just keep on that trail, following the breadcrumbs of your joy and I think it will yield a beautiful life.
PAM: I think so. I think so. We see it. And the other piece that bubbles up for me when we talk about that, I think what can get in the way for people is, as their kids get older, they’re looking at careers, they’re looking at money, they’re looking at income. And that makes sense, yet it also doesn’t have to be that their joy has to be a career. And it doesn’t have to stay a career. This whole thing, you commit to a career and then you stay with that.
MEGAN: For 40 years. That sounds rough.
PAM: Exactly. Our joy can be waiting tables for the summer, because this is fitting well, and we want some cash. And there’s nothing that gets in the way of that. It doesn’t have to be, find your passion, find your joy. That’s not what I mean when I talk about using joy as a compass. Joy is a compass today, in this moment. It can lead all sorts of places. It’s not about have-to’s.
MEGAN: It might bring in your income. You never know. It’s just being open. And I think in this world we live in, when people worry about, what are my kids going to do when they get older? There are infinite possibilities, especially to make money now. There are just so many more opportunities.
I was just talking about it with a friend today how there are so many careers and jobs and things that existed that I never knew about as a kid. I had no idea that these things were around. And I think now there is such a broader perspective on all that. And the kids know. And if you don’t make it a worry, it won’t be a worry. They’ll find their way.
My 17-year-old is busing tables. He loves it. I picked him up from work one day. He’s like cleaning the windows, putting so much effort into it. I was like, who is this child? Because at home, it’s a different story, but I could tell he loved it. He loved that he was cleaning it. He wanted to be of service to the restaurant.
And that’s what we told him when he went into work. We just said, “Hey, just be of service. You’re there to serve the customers, to serve the restaurant, to just be helpful and do that.” And he felt so good about himself when he came home. I mean, he was brimming with joy.
PAM: And that is it. Literally, that’s it, because when things just bubble into their lives, it’s not sitting back either, it’s being open and curious again, and it’s like, I want to try that. I want to try that. And just showing up to the experience. Because they’re choosing the experience, they’re putting all that they want to into it. And then they see what they get and they make choices and tweak from there.
But I feel like they learn the most when they’re trying out the things that they’re choosing, because that’s where they want to be in that moment. So, that’s where they’re going to gain the most from the experience.
MEGAN: Agreed. Agreed on all of it. And, like I said, I have a 12-year-old who wants to be a paleontologist and he’s talking about school. That could change once he goes. Who knows? Nothing is set in stone, no pun intended with the paleontology. But we’ll see. We’ll see if that’s his joy.
It’s interesting, because my daughter was even talking about going to high school and she’s like, “I would just be there to learn. I would really just be interested in the learning, not the social,” learning new things or seeing new things. Not that she’s not learning here at home, but that’s how she thought of it. Not like, “Oh, I want to go and make a ton of friends,” or whatever. I don’t know. It was just interesting the way she said it. And she’s thinking. I don’t know if she will or not, but she might. And she might stop and it’s beautiful to see.
PAM: You’ve gotten to the point where it’s just another choice.
MEGAN: Exactly. It’s just another choice.
PAM: And it’s not a choice that has any long-term commitment.
And that’s what I love is like, you can make a choice and you can see, this isn’t the right choice for me and I’m going to quit. And that’s not this terrible thing that you should be punished for. Because you see things like that, like, you’re going to finish this, you’ve chosen it. You’re going to see it through to the end. Well, that doesn’t help anyone really. And it certainly doesn’t help you learn how to live a joyful life, I don’t think. That’s a forced life. That’s paddling upstream.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. And I see quitting as a step forward, but you just learned more about yourself. You learned, this isn’t a good fit for me. I’m going to try something else now. It’s all good.
Okay. Oh my gosh. Megan, I could talk to you forever and ever.
MEGAN: I know. It’s really good.
PAM: Yes. It’s been wonderful. It’s been so much fun. And thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
MEGAN: Thank you for having me. This was really fun.
PAM: And before we go, where can people connect with you online?
MEGAN: I am kind of off of everything right now. People can email me.
MEGAN: So, I’ll give you my email and you can put it in the notes. You can email me. I do write a blog regularly on my real estate website, which is sometimes about real estate, but not often. I actually just write about anything I’m thinking about.
PAM: Oh sweet!
MEGAN: There’s a lot of unschooling little things thrown in there. But otherwise, people can email me.
PAM: That’s awesome.
MEGAN: I’m kind of taking a break. It was supposed to be a one-month break. It’s turned into like a year and a half now. And I’m liking it.
PAM: It’s working well. Yeah, that’s perfect. Exactly. What works for us in the moment and there’s no expectations.
MEGAN: Also, they could follow my husband on Instagram. He’s a big poster and he loves it. And they’ll see pictures of me every once in a while.
PAM: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Megan, and have a wonderful day.
MEGAN: Thank you, Pam.