PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and this week, Anna Brown and Erika Ellis join me to answer listener questions. Hi, Anna! Hi, Erika!
Now, before we dive in, I just wanted to remind everyone that our Q&A conversations aren’t really focused on giving anyone the right answer. Because truly there is no universal right answer for any situation that works for everyone. Right? So instead, our focus is on considering the situation from different perspectives of the different people involved, the information we get through the question, playing with the kinds of questions that we might ask ourselves to better understand all the different nuances of the challenge, because so often we can get stuck in tunnel vision when an issue is coming up and we’re worried about it. So, it can help to just look at it from different sides. And maybe we’ll be brainstorming some possibilities for moving forward, just some questions that you can ask yourself. Basically, we are sharing some food for thought through the lens of unschooling.
So, Anna, do you want to get us started?
ANNA: Sure thing. So, okay. The first question is from Ella.
[starts at 03:51]
“My question is a variation on many that have come before. I have a six-year-old, a two-year-old, and a one-year-old. We have recently taken our six-year-old out of school. I’m going through some big bumps personally while deschooling.
My partner is supportive, but not yet on his personal journey of deschooling. I hear many people in unschooling community speak to children having free time to follow interests and curiosities and how valuable. My daughter is incredibly creative and with carved-out free time generally will fall into play.
But I have been trying to be quite generous with the yeses and this includes watching TV, which means there’s not much free time to be playing or following up curiosities because she’s choosing TV for many hours a day. My partner does not feel comfortable with this. And I have been doing a lot of internal work to be all right with it, but still have fears that pop up. It’s hard to find a balance that works for everyone. When people in the unschooling community refer to free time for children, it makes me wonder, how does that come about if children are free to choose TV whenever they want to? Or does it include the time that they are watching TV?
We also noticed that since TV has been on more, our two-year-old is now wanting to watch it more. Do people say no or put boundaries around how much TV is watched? What do we do about different parent feelings? How do we develop a culture in our family where children feel free to do what they want, but that time for other things that are important to them is also happening? Many questions wrapped up in here. It’s hard to articulate in the written word.”
So, definitely a well-talked-about subject. And I also want to acknowledge that the author is very early on in her journey and the saying “yes” more and unschooling in general is still super new, so definitely in that deschooling phase for everyone. It’s important to keep that in mind.
But I was really interested about the free time aspect of the question. I found that really interesting, because to me, free time is time spent doing whatever I want to do. In our unschooling home, we each decided how we wanted to spend our time. Sometimes that might be TV, video games. Other times it was board games, reading, outside, swimming, hanging with friends, whatever we might be faced with that day.
I don’t really think we can call it free time if there’s expectations about how the time is used. And, for me, what I know is that I don’t want to stand in judgment about how somebody is using their time. And we have talked at length about all of the learning and growth and sparks and opportunities that can happen with technology. We can put some of those resources in the show notes.
I find that kids want to be with parents. They want to play. They want to be involved with us. So, if I saw that maybe there was more TV watching going on the normal, I would look at myself. What am I doing? What’s going on in our lives, in our home? Is there a new baby? Are there things happening? How am I spending my time? Am I engaging with them? Am I using the time that they’re watching to kind of disconnect and go do other things?
Am I offering fun stuff that we can do together, not offering other options for them, but offering options for us? Because when we’re offering suggestions to them, like, “Why don’t you go play outside?” What we’re really telling them is that what they’re doing isn’t a good choice in our eyes and that they should be doing this thing that we think is better and do it away from us, even, when we say things like that. Like, “Hey, go outside.”
When we offer suggestions for us with them or better yet even just saying, “Hey, I want to be with you,” what they hear is that they’re important and that we want to spend time with them. And so, if the response to a question like that is, “Hey, watch this show with me,” then I want to watch the show, because it’s the connection that’s important to me.
And in that connection, I can see through their eyes. What are they getting out of the show? What do they love about it? What interests are being sparked? And it gives me information about things I can bring in to expand our world and to make it bigger. Because, again, my experience is that kids wanted to play with me. My kids wanted to play with me. They didn’t want me to direct them. They wanted me to be a part of their world.
And so, I was just over at a friend’s house last week and she has a four- and six-year-old. And we played hard for several hours, because having adults that are truly interested in what they’re doing is so fun for kids. And I’m so glad for all the times that I choose to do that because, wow, those days can seem long, but they are over in a blink of an eye. So, it was super fun to get to have that little kid time last week.
And then just quickly about the partner piece, I think it’s still about conversations and connections. Instead of standing back in judgment about how the kids are spending their time, be with them, connect with them, see what they like, delight in their delight. That’s the easiest way to move through fear about something we don’t understand and we can help our partners do that. We can set the stage for that.
Deschooling is so often about, I think, letting go of our vision of the family or children we think we’re supposed to have, which is most often based on incomplete ideas from books, movies, outside parties, and instead, settle into and love the family and children that we have. Because when we truly love and accept each other, that’s where we can grow and expand together. And it’s just such a beautiful process, but we have to get out of our heads into those moments of connection for that to happen.
ANNA: Erika, did something bubble up?
ERIKA: Okay. Yeah. Hi, Ella. And thanks for your question.
What bubbled up for me first was the same thing, the free time idea definitely stood out to me first. And I was just thinking, it’s such a big paradigm shift to make, but in this life where we’re seeing everything as a choice, all of our time is really free. All of my children’s time is free. And so, any one of us could choose to watch TV during our time. And we can choose among an infinite number of other activities, too, but definitely watching TV counts as a choice that we can make with our time.
And I think it just gets tricky when we’re wanting for our children to have space to choose what they want to do, but secretly or not-so-secretly needing or hoping or begging for them to choose to do what we want them to do. And they feel that energy of judgment and they’re aware of our opinions and it can totally influence their ability to make a real choice of what to do with their time.
And then you asked the question, do people say “no” or put boundaries around how much TV is watched? Yeah. I think most people do that. And I think most people do it probably arbitrarily and without really thinking about the effects it can have on their relationships. And so, I think that’s why you hear unschooling families generally trying to avoid the arbitrary limits and boundaries like that, because it doesn’t feel good to the relationships and their choices start to feel more weighted and making the choices becomes less free. It’s more of the right and wrong, the good and bad where we’re not really free to follow our interests.
And so, with really young children like you have, I found it much more fun and connecting, like Anna was saying, to focus on the things to do together, to engage and play and bring fun into our lives, because little kids just love to have an engaged adult play with them, or just listen to them. And at that age, they’re really relying on you to provide access to fun things like the places they would like to go and the toys to play with, the books to read, and the foods and everything. And, for me, the TV shows just were so inspiring as far as what they might like to play with or things they might like to see in the real world. Or if I asked about the storylines or the characters, that showed them that I was interested in what they were interested in and gave them a chance to tell me stories.
I found that providing them with toys that went along with the TV shows that they were interested in was such an easy way to support their interests and give them more options to engage with what they really love. And really, my kids still do a lot of this type of play now. And they’re 10 and 12. I’m still buying the toys from the shows. They’re still doing this pretend play, still telling me all the things.
And then I think it’s really important to acknowledge to yourself and to your partner what a huge shift this is mentally. It really can’t be overstated how personally challenging it is to confront and question the paradigms and really what feels like everything you’ve ever known to be true. And so, I just think being really patient with yourself and with him as you’re thinking and questioning and shifting is so important.
I wrote a bit about the “partner in a different place on the journey” situation. I know that can feel so frustrating. But it’s kind of the same as with the kids, if you focus on keeping the relationship strong, then that brings you to validating his concerns first and foremost, hearing the fears, showing that I understand the fears and that I’m taking it seriously, acknowledging that these are big changes and that it’s a lot, and it feels like this wild ride if one day, you feel like you’re on the same page. Now it feels like things are changing. You’re not quite understanding why.
So, sharing an unschooling feeling with him rather than trying to explain it intellectually worked a lot better. Making life more fun for him. What are the things he likes to do with the kids? What are the things they do where they’re all laughing together? Or what lights him up? How can he share the things that he loves? Or even just have time to do the things he loves for himself? Because the more we as adults feel like we’re getting to make our own choices and seeing how fun it is to follow our own interests, the easier it can feel to give our kids that same opportunity. And I think, the more connected everyone starts to feel in the family, the easier it is to give each other space.
Can I just say, also, I love that you said, “so many questions wrapped up in here”? I was just like, yes, there are! There always are! It’s such a truth about unschooling and deschooling and digging into the layers. We see how everything’s connected. And once we start questioning one thing, we question all the things and it’s overwhelming, but it’s fun and an adventure. So, I’m excited for you.
PAM: I love that point, Erika, because yeah, we could take just about any question and just give the whole gamut. You could go everywhere with the question, because everything is threaded and woven together. So, even just recognizing that, that’s a big step on the unschooling journey. So, I think that’s awesome, Ella.
I also loved your point, Erika, about how with unschooling, all our time is free time. That’s another great perspective shift or a layer to peel back. Even going to work is a choice. Even things that we’ve scheduled, even things that are on our calendar, they’re on our calendar by choice. And that is how we have chosen to use our free time, our time.
And you did put that in there, Ella. Yes, choosing TV is totally using their free time. And I think the piece that is really interesting to think about is to realize that choosing TV is her following her curiosity, because that is something that we talked about. It’s her choice of play in the moment. It’s not mindless. It’s her curiosity.
And as you both talked about, engaging with her and asking her questions, understanding what she’s watching and what she’s getting out of it, that is the fun way to connect and to discover what it is that she’s curious about.
What brought her to that show? To that character? What is it that she’s enjoying about it? What’s lighting her eyes up? Because that helps us better understand just what’s going on, because it’s not about ignoring our feelings or our partner’s feelings. It’s about learning more to help us process our feelings.
So, if we’re just going to stand back and say, “She’s watching a lot of TV,” that really doesn’t give us a lot of information to process and to really understand what’s going on. Because that is us standing with a concern or a judgment of someone else’s actions. We really need to get to know the motivations and the reasons behind their actions before we can do any processing into that judgment.
And alongside that, we can live our belief that we can make a range of choices around what we do with our time and do that alongside them. So, we can enjoy the TV-watching with them. We can enjoy other activities, as well. We can invite them to join us, as you mentioned. And with younger kids, especially, as you guys said, they want to spend time with their parents. So, the idea is of inviting them to do things with us. That’s awesome.
But there’s one other tweak. We want to invite them to do things that we think they’ll enjoy, that we know that they like. It’s not inviting them to do what that picture in our mind was that we wish our kids like to do. It’s about, what would my child love? Like you were saying, Erika, what does my partner enjoy doing with the kids that they’re laughing all the time that they are enjoying together.
Those are the kinds of things to invite them to do, because just through that invitation, you’re showing them that you understand them, that you celebrate who they are, the things that they like, celebrate the shows. “Yes! Let’s watch the show together.” And also noticing the age of your kids, as well, you have two very young kids. So, when your six-year-old is making choices, too, maybe this is a season when you don’t have a lot of free time to go hang out with her and watch shows with her, et cetera.
Context and the seasons of our lives are also part of our choices. It doesn’t make those choices wrong. And there’s no value in judging ourselves. We can lean into those. We can be busy with the two young ones while our older one is watching TV nearby. And we can notice what she laughs at. We can ask a few questions. We can follow along and use those as springboards off to the kind of play that we might suggest, the kinds of questions that we might ask.
One last thing I wanted to do was just to mention Roya Dedeaux’ book. I’ll put the link in the show notes. It’s called Connect with Courage, Practical Ways to Release Fear and Find Joy in the Places Your Children Take You. And she talks about technology a lot in there, too. So, that could give you lots of fun. She helps you work through that and lots of processing. And I talked to her about it on the podcast. So, we’ll put a link to that episode as well, so you can get a feel for that, too. But yes, Ella, thank you so much for that question. That was really fun. I love that free time really got all three of us.
ANNA: And now after hearing the two of you, I just think maybe it’s eliminating the word free time, because it is just time. I think free time is a construct of, you’re at school, then you have free time before dinner. And it’s like, no, it’s just time and choices. And so, maybe that’s just a little paradigm shift that way.
PAM: Yeah! I love that. Okay, Erika, you wanna take us to question number two?
ERIKA: Okay. So, I was laughing because I’m recommending Roya’s book for this next one, as well.
[starts at 20:20]
Tara writes, “What do you do to re-inspire your kids when we have been stuck in a rut. My kids are/were adventurous and outdoorsy, but now they are device addicts. I watch and pay attention to what they’re telling me about what they’re doing. It’s all gaming, which is fine, but they are not wanting to try new things, etc., while they’re hooked into their device. I’m out gardening and playing with the dogs, doing chores. etc. I put my foot down sometimes and make them come with me to do stuff down at the river and they love it once they are there, but the process to make it happen makes me sad. How do we go about changing flow? It is tricky, as one of my kids is neurodiverse and has hyper-focus and passions and friendships on his device.”
So, hi, Tara, and thank you for your question. And I just thought it was so cool how connected your question was to the first one that we just talked about.
It’s so interesting to me how similar concerns pop up for so many people. And I think that really shows where societal messaging is influencing us and causing us to have these particular fears. I really do think the most common fear we talk about at this moment in unschooling is time spent with technology and then the dichotomy that really doesn’t have to be a dichotomy of time spent with technology versus time spent in nature.
So, as I was reading your question, so much came up for me. I think the first thing is the piece about judgment and the energy about the technology and their activities on their devices. Like with Ella’s question about the children making choices, the energy you have when you’re thinking about “device addicts” and how they’re “hooked into their device,” the energy is palpable, really even if you’re not saying anything, the kids feel it.
And so, most kids will hold on even tighter to these things that are bringing them so much joy. And many kids, mine included, will resist activities that they’re being pressured to do or that someone is telling them is good for them or better than what they have chosen to do. It just doesn’t feel good. So, I’m guessing that that’s what you’re describing when you say that the process to make going to the river happen makes you sad. It feels bad to fight with these people we love so much.
But thankfully, there really are all kinds of alternatives to the power struggle and the forcing. And the fun part and the challenging part that has proven to be so valuable through the years for me, is to really dive in and wholeheartedly embrace the activities that they’re choosing for themselves. I want to feel so much more excited than, it’s fine. Maybe it’s playing the games with them, or it could just be learning about the stories and the characters and what they love so much about it.
And I think if you’ve never had the experience of being completely absorbed in a video game and getting lost in the flow of it and just immersed in the fun and the challenge of it, I think it would be hard to imagine that that’s even possible, because it just looks like it’s just something on a screen. But I love how you described your child’s focus and passion and friendships all coming from this amazing piece of technology. It’s so cool. It’s a window to the world. It’s entertainment. It’s learning and expanding their view. I mean, I use my iPhone for so much of the day. It’s my connection to my friends. It’s the place where I research my interests. I laugh at all the funny videos and entertainment I find. I play games. I use all kinds of apps that help me in all different areas of my life. There’s just so much value in it.
So, I feel like starting there, starting with really steeping yourself in the value of that time for them and what it means to them and starting to see it as better than fine, I think that’s a great place to focus first, because the connection and the relationship just blossoms when they’re feeling validated and understood and when their interests are being valued by you. And this is where I said, it’s reminding me a lot of Roya Dedeaux’s book, Connect with Courage, which you might enjoy. She talks a lot about just the incredible, lifelong value of having had your interests respected and valued as a child.
And then from there, from that more connected place, I have found a lot of possibilities open up for actually getting outside and choosing fun things to do together. So, here, our conversations might sound like, “The weather supposed to be super nice tomorrow. Do you think it would be fun to go to the beach or to the playground?” I might be super specific, reminding them of the things that they love about being outside. Like I could say, “We can get in the ocean and feel the waves crash into us like last time.” Or, “We could bring Pokemon go so that maybe you can finish gathering eevees, because you were wanting to evolve your eevee.” Or, “I found a playground that has a climbing structure a lot like the one that you loved at this other park, do you want to go check it out?”
So, I find that planning slightly in advance and being really specific about why they might enjoy the outing helps so much. And then if they’re excited to go, I’ll reference that we’re going to go throughout the day so that it’s not a shock when the time comes, because no one likes to be dragged away from being in the middle of something that they’re really enjoying. And I want to respect what they’re doing, respect that time.
I am also open to just little tiny moments of possibility. Like, “Oh, there’s a full moon out right now. Do you want to just run outside and check it out?” They know I’m not asking them to go spend their day outside. It’s just for this moment, to be amazed about something together, and then they can come back in. And I think that helps them have more and more of those positive moments of going outside together and having fun. And I can share my excitement, their world’s a little bit bigger. And they’re free to say “no”, too. I’ll still go out and look at the moon by myself. I could show them a picture or describe what it’s like. I can meet my need for outside time without shaming them.
And nowhere in my conversations with them is any judgment about what they were choosing to do at the time that I asked. They’re watching videos or playing games or anything else, all of it could be something that they’re interested in. They don’t have to choose between, I like the outdoors or, I’m a gamer. They can be both.
I really feel like I could go on forever about this. There was one other thing I wanted to say, though. So, we were just talking about this very topic on the Network a couple of weeks ago. And one member was mentioning how she was just feeling like her child should be going outside more. She said should. And that it was kind of her job as a mom to figure out how to get this child to go outside more, whether dragging is necessary or not.
And so, we dove into where the “should” is coming from. And someone else mentioned how it’s so strange that in today’s parenting culture, being outside has become a moral issue. And it’s so true and just so interesting. I think it totally sheds a light on why it feels so scary to stop pushing the outside activities, because we can be made to feel like we are actually bad and our kids are bad if they don’t want to participate and we aren’t getting them out into nature.
And I really was thinking like, where does this come from? And maybe it’s just our tendency to romanticize the past, like, “Back in the day, kids spent all of their time outside. Kids today! They don’t know how to do childhood correctly. It was so much more beautiful then,” or whatever. The past was just another time. It wasn’t better. Kids had whatever options they had back then. They did whatever they were allowed to do. And so, I’m just really glad that my kids are growing up in this world where there’s just so much at their fingertips. It’s amazing. And the natural world is still out there for them to enjoy in the way they want to enjoy it.
So, I just think pitting their fun and their passion and their joy against time in nature is just a way to discourage them from actually wanting to get out there and choosing those activities. But so many parents are grappling with this same situation. So, you are not alone. Pam?
PAM: I love oh so much in there. But the pitting of technology versus nature, that is a key one, I think, to work through. Like you said, it doesn’t need to be either/or. It is an “and”. And it can be an “and” over seasons. If their choices are technology-heavy right now, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way forever. We can be projecting into the future. “They’ll never know what a tree looks like.” You know? It’s really not like that.
And the other piece that really stood out for me, Erika, was when you’re talking about other activities is being really specific, because they are playing or doing their things. They know what they can do in that activity. Yet, we say, “Let’s go to the beach,” or, “Let’s go to the park,” it’s like, that is a big transition for them to make by themselves. So, for us to be able to just plant a couple of rocks, something that they could connect to. “We can go out in the water and body surf the waves,” or, “We can go searching in the tide pool over there and look for crabs,” or whatever it is that we know they enjoy. It’s going back to the first question, not stuff we wish they liked to do. “Let’s go hug trees,” none of that being negative at all, but we can do the stuff that we love about it. And also, we can notice what they love and support and help them. So, it doesn’t need to be an either/or at all. So, I love that. I love that.
I took a little bit of a different tack. Because I really wanted to dig into that “stuck in a rut” thing. That’s what I found really interesting, Tara. And I wonder if you’ve chatted a bit with the kids about how they’re feeling. You can be chatting with them about, what do they think about the times when they are feeling resistant to doing something and, in the end, they do enjoy it? That is a cool conversation to have with them. Just being curious, not judgmental at all about it. Not in an, “I told you so,” way.
That could be part of not having told them the things that they could do when they’re there and they don’t discover them until they’re there, because you made them go. But if maybe you had been able to say, “Oh, and in the river, we can do this, or we can do this,” then they could be excited even before to get there. So, that might be interesting. But they’re learning so much more about themselves when they think about that for a moment.
And they may have some ideas of what they’d like you to do next time, like, “Oh, next time, mom, can you remind me about what I liked to do,” just see, because that helps them learn more about themselves and how they would like to move through their days.
I would just love to know, do they feel like they’re stuck in a rut? That would be a very cool conversation to have, because it can definitely be helpful to discover whether this is more about you feeling stuck right now or if everyone’s feeling stuck, because neither one of those is right or wrong. But they each have different paths forward. So, maybe they really are enjoying what they’re up to right now so much that they just aren’t interested in trying new things. Their cup is full. They’re excited. They’ve got those friendships and passions and focus and they are just loving this season.
It doesn’t mean they’ll feel like that forever. But maybe for now, they’re good. They are happy. So, if it’s mostly you feeling stuck, you can dig into that. Would you like to bring in a new interest or two for yourself to explore? Do you maybe want to change up your typical routine a little bit? Then you can say, they’re good and I’ll stay connected with them and dive in and learn lots about what they’re doing.
And yes, Roya’s book would be awesome for that, to help you dig into that. But now you can focus on yourself a little bit, what is it that I would like to do? It looks like I have a little bit more time. Do I want to lean more into the gardening? Do I want to make more trips to the river? Do I want to bring in something completely new? Do I want to start playing a game?
I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve started playing more video games. I played when the kids were younger, but things like Animal Crossing and stuff where I could dip in and out and in and out without much of a time constraint, but now I’m playing through full RPG games and, oh my gosh. I’m excited to get back to it. It’s like, okay. When do I have a little bit more free time to go do my next battle? Joseph was helping me last night for like 20 minutes doing some stuff. Anyway, it’s fun. Maybe that’s something that you’d like to explore.
And also, you can share what you’re up to with them in passing. You can say, “I’m feeling a little stuck in a rut. I’m feeling like I want to change things up.” And they will just see you noticing that you’re feeling uncomfortable and that you’re trying some things to move through it. And that’s just a great example for them, to notice like when they’re feeling uncomfortable, “Oh, that’s an interesting question to ask myself, maybe not right now, but maybe three months from now, a year from now, whatever.” They see another human being who notices when they’re uncomfortable about something for themselves and they do something about it. It doesn’t mean that the next thing that you choose is going to satisfy you and off you go, but it’s just trying little things.
“I’m going to try this out and see what happens, try this out.”
And, as we talked about in the last question, if you’re feeling uncomfortable about the tech use itself, just lean into that, learn more about what they’re doing, why they’re loving it so much, because, for me, when I’m uncomfortable, and it doesn’t have to be tech, when I’m uncomfortable with something that my kids chose, leaning into it was so helpful, because so often we’re the one that’s missing a piece of the puzzle, not them. Like we think, they’re missing the piece of the puzzle that nature is really fun. That other things are really fun. And if I latch into, they’re the ones that are missing this piece and I need to show it to them, we can get into a lot of battles.
But so often, when I’m like, what the heck? Why are they so interested in whatever it is? And I lean in to learn more, I learn something. I discover why they’re so interested in it, how it meshes so well with their personality or what they’re curious about learning right now. I was the one who was missing that piece. It’s so, so fun. And then, I grow and I learn more and then I can be even more supportive.
So, anyway, that’s the part that bubbled up for me. How about you, Anna?
ANNA: So, interesting, what came to mind first was language. And Erika mentioned this a bit, but I try to be really intentional with my language.
If I’m struggling with something, like you said, Pam, like, if I’m feeling that resistance, I really want to tune into how I’m describing it, because that gives me a lot of clues about what’s happening. And is that coming from me versus coming from the person involved? Because I really don’t want to judge others. And I talked about this in the other question, especially my loved ones, as what they’re doing is good or bad. I want to connect and understand what they love about it, like you guys have been talking about. And so, I would want to avoid words like “addict” and “hooked” and things that create an energy in me, that create this reaction in me. And maybe it’s my connection with words, but I know that about myself. And so, how I’m describing something really affects my energy about it.
And we were talking recently on the Network about this and when we show our disdain for what our children enjoy, it doesn’t change the fact that they like it. It just leaves them with the idea that what they like is wrong or that something’s wrong with them for liking it. When, in reality, there are all kinds of people who like all kinds of things in the world and it’s all valid.
And, oh my gosh. I loved Erika’s point about the moral and cultural piece, because I do think our culture passes down this moral judgment about how we spend our time, but I’m going to argue that it doesn’t reflect the average person. You know? So, these outdoors and book pursuits that are held as the ideal while we have a multi-billion-dollar TV and movie industry, and somebody is watching it. And it isn’t just the kids. We have these two things happening at the same time.
And regardless of any of that, it’s just so distancing to apply those judgments to someone else. I can decide for me what my values are, how I want to spend my time. And I can understand that everyone wants to do that for themselves and that it’s going to look different for everyone.
There are plenty of things that David does that I don’t enjoy or even understand, but they light him up. And it was the same for the kids. And I found that me being delighted with them not only kept us connected, but it kept all of us open to try new things, just like Pam was saying with maybe trying what they’re interested in. Or then I found it kept them open to seeing what was lighting me up at the time.
And if I’m standing in judgment, a couple things could happen. They could internalize that and then that becomes a problem down the road. Or they could dig in and defend and they could defend something, I think, even past its point of usefulness to them. If we’re coming at them, we’re making it about us. So, either way, when I’m passing judgment about it, I’m making it about me and not about them learning about themselves. And so, that’s where I think the issue lies for me.
PAM: Yes. So often, when we are feeling judgmental, it is us taking whatever it is and making it about what we think about it. So then, they aren’t learning as much about themselves. What they’re learning is about us and about what we don’t like or wherever our line is, wherever our comfort zone is. And it doesn’t make our comfort zone wrong, but it’s about us. We want to help them find theirs. We want to support them as they’re exploring their comfort zone.
And even if we’re letting them play. Even that language, “letting them.” You talked about language right there, but sometimes we have to use words. If we are letting them play as long as they want, you talked about that energy, Erika, that if we’re using that language in our head, they can feel that. And I’ve seen it, they can choose or will choose to play longer. Not only because they’re worried that we’ll take it away. If they’re not worried about that, getting off is still almost like an “I told you so.” It’s like, “They’re finally off. I told you you would like it when you stopped playing.” There is just so much that can be wrapped up, so many messages that we’re sending it just with our energy and choices.
ANNA: We want them to learn about themselves. Each of us are on our journey. We want them to learn about themselves, but either of those scenarios, it’s a reaction to me. So, if I’m making it about me, it’s either the reaction is they want to please me, so they get off and they do the thing that I’m sanctioning. That’s not learning about themselves. Or they buck and sit on that thing until the end of time, because they’re not going to give me that win. It’s all a reaction to me.
And so, we lose all of that learning of, how does it feel for me to sit in this chair for this long? How does it feel for me to be outside all day in the sun? We lose that because it’s a reaction to me. And so, that’s where I wanted to just keep it focused on, I could share my journey of why I was choosing things and they were free to choose theirs. And we interacted together, but it’s so different than that being a reaction to me.
PAM: And I think that’s the whole, young adults having to find themselves, because they grew up within their parents’ boundaries and lines. And so, they weren’t able to disentangle from that to actually discover who they were, what they liked, how long they actually liked these things, what food they like.
So, yeah, we can tangle things up. And when somebody else is, even our partner, our parents, think back to your own, because we’re making choices in reaction to the constraints that we’re living with. Those are the first things that we consider when we’re making our choices. We had so little time to disentangle ourselves and be free to make our own choices and discover ourselves underneath all that.
With unschooling, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to disentangle ourselves, which does not mean not engaging with them at all. Everything we’ve talked about here is about engaging with them but without our overlay of constraints, putting them on them. We can have our own and understanding ourselves and even talking about those and sharing those pieces, but not putting them on them, helping them discover who they are. Because what’s really fun for them is being able to process things.
Even for ourselves, so often, we can think that things and we can wonder that things and we can experience the things, but the processing of the things, saying it out loud or writing it down, however we like to process, oh my gosh, that is where so much of the learning lies. Right? So, being a trusted person to process with is invaluable.
ANNA: And having space to do that, because as we see on the Network and you see it in other places too, all of these men and women, thirties, forties, fifties, unpacking all of this stuff because they didn’t have the space to really do that before. It was so much about other outside influences. And so, yeah, I mean we’re providing the space to figure out who you are and to go into the world with a more grounded sense of who you and our children and it’s just really beautiful.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah, it is. Yeah, we could keep going on that forever, but let’s go on to our last question and this one’s from Nadia.
[starts at 43:21]
Nadia wrote, “Hi, I would unschool my kids today, but my ex-husband believes in learning in a school setting. My kids know how I feel about learning and they would love to be unschooled. The problem is he talks negatively about me to them and tells them to go to school. If not, they won’t do anything in their life. I keep my kids home a lot, especially in these times when school is not as fun and kids have to wear masks, but they still go so they don’t get reprimanded by their dad. This is my solution for now. What to do?”
Hi, Nadia. And thank you so much for your question. It really can be so hard when one parent wants to unschool their kids and the other is adamantly against it. And I am sorry that you find yourself there. Yet, I think there really is still so much that you can do to bring the energy of unschooling into your lives even with school in the picture.
So much of the energy of unschooling is around the kind of parent we choose to be. There really was no school context in the last two questions that we’ve talked about. The kind of parent that we want to be really has nothing to do with school. So, even if school is in the picture, we don’t need to relinquish control over our family’s lives to the education system, as if it’s the only way to learn, or give it the final say on what our kids are learning. The world really is bigger than school.
We don’t need to value tests, marks, or grades at all, because we get to see the bigger picture of our kids, including their interests and the learning that they’re doing outside of school. And alongside that, we also don’t need to belittle the classroom environment in which our children find themselves. We can just use school as a tool, taking the good parts that our children enjoy and letting the parts that don’t work for our children flow on by. We don’t need to mold our children to fit in at school at all. We can continue to follow and support our children’s intrinsic motivation.
So, even if school is in the picture, we can spend the many hours outside of the classroom, focused on helping our kids explore themselves and their world through making choices and following their interests, rather than insisting, “You’ve got to study for this test. You’ve got to choose these activities that are chosen strategically for future school success.” You don’t need to bring that whole ethos home, but you also don’t need to dis it. There may well be things that your kids enjoy there. You can celebrate those things and the things they don’t enjoy, you can maybe commiserate with them. You don’t need to focus on test marks at all, because you live with them. You know how they’re doing. You can see all the different things that they’re doing at home, which they may not even take with them to school.
I remember when my kids were in school, there were conversations where, when I was talking with the teachers and saying what they did at school, the teachers were just shocked about what they did at home. And they’re like, oh! Because they don’t see that part of the kid, either. You can see the whole child and you can support that and you can still even follow their interests, value that highly. There are just so many ways that you can bring what I like to call the energy of unschooling into your home without literally unschooling. School can still be in the picture, but it doesn’t need to take over.
And I did talk a lot about this in episode 305. So, I will link to that in the show notes, as well. Anna?
ANNA: I mean, yeah. So, relationships are tricky and co-parenting with an ex, for sure, can be even more challenging. But I think having the conversations with your kids, just like she’s doing, about learning, showing them all the different paths, is so helpful, because right now they may be choosing school, but they know there’s other options. So, one day, they may be able to articulate to you or their dad that they want to try a different path and it’ll be coming from them.
I do think that assuming positive intent comes into play here, too, and can really open some doors. Because in this case, the dad is most likely acting out of love. He wants what he feels is best for his kids. So, if we’re coming at somebody, they’re going to defend, but if we listen and keep an open mind, then sometimes they can hear, oh, okay. There’s a different way.
And I’ve actually been on the periphery of a few situations like this. And what I saw was that any kind of major shifts that came, came from the kids. It was just too fraught with baggage for the parents, either one, to be pushing a direction. But when the focus was the kids and creating the best environment for them, that was something that the parents had in common. It opened up to all these different possibilities. So, it took away that struggling dyad and it’s like, hey, let’s focus on the kids and let things bubble up from the kids.
But just like Pam said, I was just going to say, you don’t have to unschool to be connected and to facilitate your children. When kids are in school, we do not have to buy in to their sense of urgency and to their worldview. We can absolutely use it as a tool, help your kids get what they want out of it. We can lessen any potential damage by having open conversations and really hearing about their experiences and commiserating and even pushing back against the school when necessary, serving in that role to help them have the best experience possible.
And it is a lot of work and I didn’t have to deal with schools in that way, but I just truly believe that focusing on the connection, we can navigate any situation. And so, I think that’s where my mind went with this question. Erika?
ERIKA: I feel like I’m going to say the same things again, but I’ll say them in my voice. Hi, Nadia, and I’m feeling for you, because it sounds like such a hard situation and I’m sensing how stuck you’re feeling. And I think parenting and unschooling are challenging even with two parents being on the same page. And when that’s not the case, it’s just more layers to work through.
And although I haven’t faced the same situation, I have found it so helpful in challenging times to consider what it is I actually have control over and what actions I can actually take given the conditions. So, while you might not have full control over the choice to have them in school or not, you do have control over the energy that you’re bringing to them, the relationships that you’re having with them, the environment that you have at home for them. And those are not small things. Being understood and validated by you and having that strong connection with you will be so valuable regardless of what type of schooling they end up attending.
And I also think that in hard times and times of lots of disagreement or when things just feel so hard, validation, again, is such a useful tool for everyone in the whole situation. So, validating yourself that this is hard and that it is reasonable to feel overwhelmed and sad and all the feelings, validating the kids if they’re frustrated about having to go to school. And if you have lines of communication open, which I’m not sure you do with your ex-husband, validating his concerns and fears is a step towards understanding each other. People are more able to lower the defenses if they feel seen and heard.
And so, if you are able to talk, things like “I can see,” or, “I know that it’s really important to you that the kids attend school because you want them to be able to be successful. And that it feels like if they’re not in school, that that won’t happen.” That is a conversation that lowers the intensity, it lowers the heat. He can feel like, yes, she’s understanding what I’m thinking. And over time, it creates just a little space for potentially considering other ideas.
The thing that you have in common, like Anna was saying, is that you both want your kids to have a good life. And so, if you meet at that level and you’re able to have a discussion, it’s nice to start there at that common ground of, we are looking for what’s best for the kids. And I can imagine all kinds of situations that could happen down the road with the kids that could help him make the shift to start considering unschooling, those light bulb moments that happen, where you can just see so clearly that school is not working out. But depending on his personality and everything else, it could just never change. So, then it’s a matter of making choices that feel right given those constraints.
And in most cases, school attendance is seen as very important for children in custody battles and things like that. So, I think, those situations are just about carefully considering what issues to push for as far as children’s welfare and where to go gently to keep things peaceful.
And I do believe, like both Pam and Anna said, that you can really do so much to minimize a lot of the potential negative effects that could happen going to school just by being a validating presence in their lives and focusing on your relationships and the connection and the fun that you can all have together. But, yeah, I’m wishing you strength and grace in navigating it, because it really i just a super challenging situation.
And it also made me think, what seems to tie all of the questions together is kind of a fundamental belief that children are not capable of making their own decisions. And so, that’s probably where the dad’s fear is coming from. It’s where a lot of parent fears come from. And just, what a paradigm shift it is to be like, these are actual full humans who are capable of making decisions and that paradigm shift is not an easy thing to shift in our minds, because when we were children, we were not trusted to make our own decisions. And so, I don’t know. It takes a lot of work.
ANNA: Yeah. I love that. The Kids are Capable month. We can post that on the show notes.
PAM: Yeah. I think that was a beautiful thread that you found there, Erika, because that is one of the big fundamental shifts, isn’t it? And I think maybe when you’re newer to unschooling, you take a little bit of that trust from the experienced unschoolers around who are talking and encouraging you that kids are capable and to stay connected and to learn more about them. Because that’s where you see all those little decisions and choices that they make that make so much sense. If you’re standing back a little bit away and you don’t really know, it feels like they’re making a choice just to frustrate me. Like, they know I don’t like that. Why are they doing that? They just want me to get frustrated or upset or whatever. It can feel like that.
And it can logically feel like that, yet when you’re hanging out with them or when you’re engaging with them more, the choices they make are about them. They’re not about you. They’re not trying to piss you off or anything like that. They are so capable of making good choices in the moment that work for them. And that’s what we’re trying to support. It’s to help them discover and explore who they are and the things that they like and what works for them and what doesn’t work so well for them and to support them and help them process and just have the ability to make those kinds of choices.
And that’s where you see how truly capable they are, aren’t they?
ANNA: Yes. And they learn it from doing it, again, not as a reaction to us, but how it bubbles up in them. And even when it takes them a way that they don’t like it and they want to backtrack, when that’s coming from them, that’s where the learning happens. And when we haven’t injected ourselves into that, we can be this partner with them to bounce the ideas off of, or hear what happened or why they do it. And Pam, you and I have talked a lot about how we learn from our children about making mistakes or how there’s no energy to it with our kids, because they’re really just figuring these things out and then pivoting along the way. And that’s the environment that we’re talking about creating.
PAM: That’s so beautiful. And that’s regardless of school, right?
ERIKA: Yep. Right. I feel like part of what we’re going for, our goal as parents in an unschooling environment, is to create an environment in which we aren’t adding a judgment or a pressure layer, like you were saying earlier, where they would be playing video games way past the point of comfort because they feel like they have to in order to prove that they’re going to do it, or it feels like as soon as they quit, it’s a defeat. If we can avoid creating that energy, then they actually can make real decisions. And I think that’s challenging work coming from a mainstream paradigm, but it’s so valuable and so cool to see when they actually have the free choice.
ANNA: Have that agency.
PAM: That’s beautiful. Well, thank you so much to you both for taking the time to go through these questions with me. It was so much fun. Have a wonderful day and send those questions in, too. We’ll put the link to that in the show notes as well, so that we have some questions for next month. Have a great day. Bye.