PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from living joyfully.ca and today I’m here with Teresa Hess. Hi, Teresa!
TERESA: Hi, Pam!
PAM: So, you were first on the podcast back in 2019 and I thought it would be a lot of fun to check in with you and catch up and see how things are going. So, I will link to that episode in the show notes so that people can go back and learn more about your initial move to unschooling, because we’re going to pick up from there. To get us started …
Can you just share with us a bit about you and your family and what is everybody interested in right now?
TERESA: Sure. I would be happy to. I love to talk about that. And thank you so much for having me back, because I enjoyed our first conversation so much. So, definitely excited to be here again and connect with you.
So, let’s see, we are a family of five and we still are living on Whidbey Island in our co-housing. That’s where we were during our last episode. And we’ve been poking around the idea of moving somewhere else lately, maybe somewhere with more going on. It would be awesome to be somewhere with more unschoolers, but we’re also happy where we are and making the best of it. It’s a beautiful place.
So, my oldest daughter is Rose. She’s 15. And she’s just super creative. She just knows her own mind and opinion about things so well, and I’ve always really looked up to her about that. So, it’s fun to see. That’s just who she is and she’s sticking with that. It’s awesome. Right now, she’s really interested in filmmaking. So, she’s getting started with that. Of course, we watch a lot of movies. She watches a lot of film theory videos, and things like that on YouTube. She’s working on a script.
We haven’t gone the last couple of years because of COVID, but if it happens this year, which hopefully it will, our local unschooling conference that happens in Portland each year, she’s hoping to make a script to bring to that and to gather with other teens there and do some filming during their days together there. So, that’s something that’s at the forefront for her right now.
She also loves music. She loves fashion. She’s great at makeup. I was in a play recently and she helped me get all my makeup ready or gave me tutorials, because she knows way more about that than I do. And yeah, she’s into writing, fandoms. She loves different fan fiction and being in different fandoms online. That’s been a passion of hers for a long time, too. So, she’s just a ton of fun, a very deep thinker. And yeah, I just love being with her.
And then Fiona is 10 and she’s very physical person. She’s just moving and dancing and wrestling and skateboarding. She’s into all of that. When we get the chance to go roller skating or ice skating, she’s just around and around and around. And she’s also just very humorous, like 70% of the things out of her mouth are just joking and fun and laughter and she always like brings us back to that as a family, which is awesome.
She’s also interested in acting and she had been in a play and then COVID hit, but we’re looking into trying to start some kind of drama club together, because that’s something I have a background in and it would be fun. All my kids are wanting to meet more people. In this closed-down time, it’s especially hard and homeschooling on an island is especially hard, so this would be a way that we could facilitate that, making some more friendships and having hang out times. So, I’m looking for a venue somewhere in our town to do that with her.
And she games a lot online. She plays Roblox. She has a really elaborate, beautiful Discord server that she’s got all her themes on and facilitates hangouts on there with her friends and things like that. She’s pretty sociable.
And then there’s Momo, who is six. And she’s just spunky and awesome. Loves to play dolls and LOL. She loves to make TikToks. I think they’re all in a private setting or she just has like two followers, but she’s just loves to make her TikToks. She shows them to me all day, “Look what I made,” or like, “Get out of the room, Mom. I’m making a TikTok.” So, that’s very fun for her. I mean, I would have loved that as a kid. And she does Roblox as well and lots of playing there, lots of playing with neighborhood kids and friends in the neighborhood and things like that.
And then my husband, Corey, I think last time we talked, he does the therapeutic body work still, the in-person, but when the pandemic hit, he moved part of his business online and he teaches Qi Gong and meditation online, and he’s got this amazing group of people from all over the world that tune in and do his classes and they have whole a group together that they’re always in a group chat and meditating together any time of day. It’s an amazing, supportive group that he’s created. That’s been really a blessing of the pandemic for him. He’s able to explore and express more this aspect of himself and find a venue for it and people are responding really well. So, that’s been beautiful.
And then me, you know, of course, I’m super passionate about parenting and unschooling. I did get back into some acting lately. I was in a play for the first time a few months ago. I hadn’t done that in so long. When Rose was little, I did a small play, but before that, it was just college or high school. It’s been basically 20 years since I did this, but I feel totally at home in it. I love it so much. It’s an art form that I’m just completely passionate about. And I’m starting up in another small show soon, too. We’ll start rehearsals for that in a few weeks. So, that’s exciting. And I’m also a real estate agent. I’m not super busy with that, which I like. It’s just, if I can help people one or two times a year sell or buy a property, that’s great. It keeps me stimulated.
And then a new project that I’m excited about that I’ve just started, it’s newly blossoming for me, but it’s been on my mind for a long time is to be sort of a coach, or I don’t know if I completely identify with that word, but just helping people with parenting and with everything we’re going to talk about today is totally my deepest passion, what I love to spend my time doing is talking about and immersing myself in. So, I’d love to, if possible, be a mentor for people on that path. So, I’m just working on shifting around my blog, revamping it a little bit to try to reflect that, that I offer myself also as a human to talk to about these very beautiful, deep, and powerful topics that I find to be completely life changing and just the best. So, that’s all of us in a nutshell.
PAM: Yeah. That update is beautiful. I love that you’re getting more active or opening up to chatting with people about this journey. It is so different. It really is a different kind of parenting paradigm. So, I’m glad we’re going to be diving into that a lot today.
TERESA: Yes. Me, too.
PAM: But yeah, it’s just so fun to hear snapshots of kids who are just doing what they enjoy doing. And their personalities shine through having the space to do that, rather than trying to mold them, even gently direct, because they absorb that. They absorb the message that, the things I’m thinking are a little bit better than things you’re thinking, et cetera. I just love imagining your youngest saying, “I’m making a TikTok, Mom.”
TERESA: I know. That almost brings tears to my eyes to hear you say that, because it is. It’s so beautiful. It’s so rich. It’s so wonderful to watch and support that.
PAM: I love that you brought up that you guys are contemplating whether or not you might want to move, just based on the things that they’re looking for now, because that’s the other piece, too, that’s really wonderful. That’s not a conversation for the parents to have and to tell their kids, “You know what? We’re moving now,” or, “We’re going to go look here and there,” but it’s about considering everybody’s needs, everybody in the family, and what they’re looking for and how we might meet that.
Whether that’s, as you mentioned, creating a drama club or something where you are or maybe it’s creating it somewhere where you’re going to, it’s just putting all those things on the plate to bubble away and just see how it unfolds.
TERESA: Completely, because one of the reasons we’re strongly considering it is my oldest as a teen is feeling like Whidbey Island is really small. We live in a small town. There’s not a lot here for her interests, for everything that she wants to explore more and connect. And I just absolutely want to give her that and give her the environment where she can really come into herself more and bounce who she is off other people that are interested in the same things.
And so, the reason we’re talking about it is because of our kids. We’re definitely including them in the conversation. And I took a little road trip, checked out a few places. Now letting all that marinate, looking around online. Where are people? Where are things that we would like? And exactly, we may end up staying where we are and creating more of what we want here. But we’re just looking at the possibilities and we’re definitely doing it together.
PAM: Yeah. I love that. I find in those moments where things are just feeling a little, maybe stretched for your eldest, for Rose, more information, more possibilities always seem to be a more helpful direction to go than to, oh my gosh, I need to solve this right now. Let’s find one answer. And then doggedly pursuing this one answer. Instead for a while, giving it some space and going to see places. Just contemplating. You’re having conversations together of what that might mean, what that might look like. It’s so fun, isn’t it?
TERESA: Yes. And how much learning is just in that, is in the process.
Whether we end up moving or not, just the conversation of how to make these big life decisions and how do we go about that and collaborate and consider everyone’s needs. That’s huge in and of itself. It doesn’t have to have a product or an outcome.
PAM: Exactly. Oh, I love that. That brilliant.
So, when we were setting up this call, you mentioned to me the idea of self-parenting and how that has been a part of your journey. I’m trying to think if I’ve really come across that phrase before. I don’t think I have, so I would love to hear about that.
TERESA: Okay. Yes. Self-parenting or re-parenting. The way that I understand it or describe it is just like we all were children once. And we see now, having our own children, just how huge a child’s needs are. And it’s virtually impossible to get all their needs met, even in a super healthy, awesome, connected household. There’s probably always going to be gaps where the child is feeling a little bit left out or left behind just the way our culture is set up, I think, with nuclear families. And the mother or whoever the primary caregiver is is trying to do so much and then there’s making money. Obviously there’s just so many components and we’re doing the best by our children, always.
I just want to say it’s not to blame our parents or anything like that, but to just take note like, oh, all of my needs weren’t met as a child and that’s just part of the human condition. You could probably never have all your needs met. But not having those needs met can sometimes create wounds in us or create patterns or ways of being that don’t really serve us anymore.
Maybe as a child, you learned that when you spoke up to ask for what you wanted, you weren’t really listened to. So, you made that little track in your brain that said, “Oh, I’m not really listened to. So, I won’t even try to speak up anymore.” And maybe for a while, that works for you, or in in childhood, it works for you, because then you’re praised for being quiet and easy to take care of because you don’t have needs. But eventually, you hit a point in your life and you’re bouncing off your partner and your relationship or something with your kids, it brings it up.
You realize what aspect of yourself is still stuck in that child mode or stuck in that wound and it lives within your emotional body, I would say your energetic body, and your physical body. I can often feel that tension or that holding or that pain or resistance shows up in our bodies.
So, for me, re-parenting is just the act of becoming aware of that. And then self-parenting to yourself, becoming aware of what that pattern is or what that gap or wound is and going into that and reflecting on it, maybe asking yourself questions about it, getting clear through journaling, or just becoming a nurturing force in your own life.
For me, at times, it’ll show up emotionally. Like, I’ll feel something emotionally. I won’t necessarily even know why I have that strong emotion. But if I stop and I breathe and I tune into my body, I can find it and then I allow myself to feel it fully. For example, for me in my childhood, no fault of my parents, but if I was upset, I was often sent to process by myself in my room. And I didn’t know how to process those emotions or I felt shut off from being able to process them in a healthy way with an adult.
So now, if I was feeling really emotional about something, I can even conjure up within myself this feeling of this loving presence or this parental presence, whether it’s energetic or sometimes there’s a visualization that comes with it. And I can be both in that childlike self emoting something and also be in that space of holding myself in that parental way and soothing myself or just listening to myself and validating myself, like we try to do for our kids so often.
So, that’s just been a huge part of my journey. In essence, I feel like the self-parenting or re-parenting is about taking responsibility for your own life. Like completely taking responsibility for who you are, where you’re at, all those intricate aspects of yourself and not blaming your childhood and your parents, but also having an honest view of where you’ve come from and culturally and socially, how we’ve all been conditioned to be or not be, and trying more to root into that core self of who we are and nurture ourselves from that place. And nurture ourselves back to that place also, and be able to express more authentically and more regularly as that loving energy that’s present in everyone, I believe.
PAM: I love that explanation. I’m just envisioning that energy, the two different aspects of ourselves when we’re feeling emotional or whatever it is that’s maybe triggering us or something, where we can hold both. I find that it’s challenging, yet it’s also so healing to be able to recognize and hold two different aspects. To be upset or emotional or just feeling challenged about something and to also hold the loving aspect of that. To hold that comfort, that validation for ourselves, because often when we’re upset about something, we want to lash out. We want the blame or we’re reaching outward to express it, yet when we can also be that comforting outside, that’s taking it in as well and holding it for us and validating for us and helping us move through it. Yeah. Self-parenting then, as a phrase, makes a lot of sense to describe that in the two minutes I just spent.
TERESA: No. I love what you’re saying.
It’s so profound, I think, because it gives you this faith, too, like you are there for yourself. And yet, for me, it also feels like it’s something greater than myself that’s also there. And it just takes practice, I guess, and awareness, like a willingness to be aware and honest. And then sometimes just taking the time to tune in and ask, “What am I feeling? What do I need?” And let yourself sort of speak back to your larger self. It sounds like a split personality thing or something like that. I don’t think it’s that. It’s really a profound and healing process.
PAM: Yeah. And once you can get in that space, and I feel like that validation piece is very useful to come first, because then, at least for me, I feel more relaxed to start asking myself those questions, to start peeling a little bit of layers around it. Like, ooh, what do I think triggered that? Where do I think that’s coming from?
And, like you were saying, where you feel it in your body can also sometimes help, just to better understand it. It’s all really about learning more about ourselves. And then we bring that new self into our interactions with other people. And as we understand ourselves better, I think that really helps us in relationships with other people, because we can not only bring those tools that we’re using. We can also maybe better empathize with someone. Maybe we can better describe our feelings and our perspective on things when we’re having conversations. There’s just so much more depth and richness to it.
TERESA: Yes. I totally agree. I sort of describe it as this self-contained thing. Like, well, you just have everything you need within you and you can be that person for yourself. But no, absolutely bring it into relationship, too. And not just think, well, I should be self-sufficient and not need anything from anybody and then I’ll just give it all to myself. But then it also comes back to being able to articulate your needs to another person, or for sure better understand where they’re coming from and have more compassion and all of that.
PAM: It becomes something that’s also helpful, more connecting with other people, as well as self-contained. I love that.
Now, for many parents, me included, embracing unschooling can unearth almost a spiritual aspect, which I’ve seen you describe I think it was in your blog or in our conversation. But anyway, I loved your description of honoring the light and essence of the individual child. That, to me, is really spiritual when you come to think of it. It’s really the essence, the wholeness of the individual child, which becomes also a wholeness for ourselves. I would love to hear you talk a bit about how that spiritual aspect unfolded for you.
TERESA: Yeah. As we talked last time, my husband and I met in this Zen monastery in Japan. So, I don’t know. I think I’ve always been a person with like a deep spiritual curiosity or it’s always been a priority in my life and my way of understanding the world and understanding myself. Some people might come to the world more intellectually or from a science perspective or something, but this has always been my light-up kind of category is the spiritual angle on things.
So, lo and behold, that brought me to a Zen monastery in Japan when I was 21. And my husband and I met there. We stayed there for about five years. Then we got pregnant and left. So, it was like, boom. Intensive training environment right into parenthood. So, for me, from the very beginning, I felt like parenthood was this extension and evolution on my spiritual path.
So, that element was always there. And I think that’s, when we found out about unschooling, why we chose that was because we felt like everything that we had been practicing at the monastery and in our meditation in our daily lives was about shedding our own layers and returning to that center place in ourselves, that source, that light, that essence of who we are and finding that life just flows so much more beautifully when you have a relationship with that aspect of yourself and you’re feeling connected.
So, when a baby comes in, it blows your mind. They are purely that. They have no self-conscious awareness. They’re just like glowing, beautiful life energy, just utterly themselves. We would say when our first daughter was born and I mean, with all of our kids, it’s like, you kind of understand the Christian perspective of this Christ child being born. Every child has that. Every child should be celebrated like they are God-like energy just coming into the world or a mini-Buddha. I really believe we all are that we all have that.
And so, we just wanted to honor that in her and we wanted her to just unfold as that as unfettered as possible, which, of course things come in, whether it’s from us or culturally or socially, again, the human condition does occur. We’re not constantly in that baby enlightened state.
But yeah, that was definitely a part of how it just transitioned for us. And so, unschooling just seems like such a perfect extension of that. And it’s funny. I was thinking, my husband, he often says to the girls since they were tiny and he still says it to them, “Who’s so perfect, beautiful and wonderful?” And then he says their name. He asks it as a question and it’s their name. It’s this funny thing we do all the time. He’s always seeing that in them and reminding them of that.
And then the other day, my six-year-old said, well, what do you mean? I said it to her. “Who’s so perfect, beautiful, wonderful? Momo.” She was just like, “What do you mean perfect? I don’t have to be perfect.” I said, “Oh my gosh, that’s brilliant. No, I don’t mean it like perfect. Like you have to be these things in order to be perfect, to be the perfect child. Just you as you are and all your fullness and everything you emote and everything you’re interested in, this is just perfection as you just being you.” So, unschooling just made sense to us for that.
PAM: I want to dive into Momo’s reaction, because that was perfect.
TERESA: It was perfect.
PAM: To question that. Because as you were saying, the human condition, that’s another piece. Because I think when people first come to unschooling, it can sound like it’s almost perfection. It’s heavenly. We’ll all have wonderful relationships and nothing will go wrong because we’re helping each other out. We’re supporting each other, etc. But yeah, we’re also all living in this world and we’re not sequestered by ourselves in one place, in the house. We are engaging with the world and engaging with other people. And so, that she even noticed that question, you can tell, she has thought, consciously or not, about what that word perfect means. And maybe she’s seen it in shows or seen it in other places used in a context where you’re striving for something more perfect versus perfect as you are in this moment.
TERESA: With all your imperfections. Your imperfections are your perfections. There’s no getting away from it.
PAM: That was amazing. And what a lovely little conversation to have with her. I can just imagine you guys are probably laughing, smiling. “You’re perfect in this moment who you are, all the pieces of you that make up you.” It’s validating for her. It’s another seed on, oh geez, there can be different perspectives on an idea. Like the idea of perfect, there can be so many different perspectives and that she gets to choose which one works for her. There’s just so much richness that’s in that maybe two-minute conversation.
And the lovely thing about unschooling is that we can have those little conversations, those beautiful moments when they bubble up. We’re around to have them then rather than thinking for ourselves, “You know, I’d really like to talk about the different ways people define perfect. And I’m going to look for a moment when I can bring up this conversation.” The conversations flow so differently when you can meet them where they are in the moment.
TERESA: Yes. And you have so much expansive time together. It’s not like, “Well, you’re asking that, but it’s time to brush your teeth and go to bed. We’ll talk about that later.”
PAM: Exactly. I think that has been one of the big differences from life before and after unschooling. I didn’t even think we were super busy or whatever before, but the value of that open time to have those little conversations and the openness for them to feel comfortable making a comment like that. To say, “Hey mom!”
TERESA: “Wait, I heard that word you used. Don’t put me in a box.”
PAM: “What do you mean?” Exactly. So much flows out of that environment that we’re trying to cultivate of openness, of curiosity, of sharing our perspectives, of leaning into a conversation when it bubbles up. Sometimes things are happening and it doesn’t happen, but more often than not, when we think of it, dinner did not need to come at that moment. If you were on your way to make dinner and you made that passing comment in the conversation and you said, “Yeah, okay. I’m going to go make dinner,” it’s prioritizing that over so many other things that at first we could think, oh, I have to do this. I have to do this. I have to do this, but we have so much more choice in our day-to-day lives than we often realize at first.
TERESA: Yes. Unschooling makes you realize that for sure.
PAM: Yeah. Once you start opening up that can of choice worms. Oh my gosh. So many things that I was just doing, I realized, I really get to choose that. I can actually think about that. Is that something I really want to do. So, that leads us so nicely into our next question, I think.
For me, seeing my children’s inherent wholeness that we’ve been talking about, seeing that blossom when we started really leaning into unschooling, awoke in me that seed of understanding that I, too, am whole. I, too, have all sorts of choices. I, too, am worthy just the way I am. I don’t need to strive for perfect parent, for perfect this. It doesn’t mean I’m not growing and changing as a person, like we were talking about before, the self-parenting piece, the learning more about myself. But I am also worthy and good as I am in this moment, which then in turn allowed me to nurture and hold more of that space for my kids.
It was just this round and round positive spiral or more layers to peel back. Seeing their wholeness became so much more valuable than just like, what did you learn today? What are you doing? Not that those questions and conversations don’t have value, but there is so much more richness and depth that we can have in our relationships with it, in our understanding of our children and in our understanding of ourselves. So, I would love to hear your experience around that one.
TERESA: I love that. I love how you described that, because that’s completely how I think of it. Even down to the spiral, this spiraling, never ending, where you are learning how to be there for them and see them in their wholeness. And that gives you this a-ha moment to accept that aspect of yourself that you weren’t prepared to accept or really face up to before. And then as you do that for yourself, maybe through the self-parenting idea, then it’s like, oh, I have more space to myself. Now I can go back to my children when they bring me this or that. I don’t bristle or get triggered or whatever, as I saw myself do before. I can go, oh, okay. Keep it light and keep on expanding. And it’s absolutely never ending. That could go on your entire life.
And that’s what I love about it is that it’s like this bottomless, beautiful, extremely deep unfolding of who we are into this radical innate wholeness that we each have. And unschooling is just, as a path, I can’t really see another path.
I mean, I’m biased, but it’s the best path for that, especially, I guess I would say radical unschooling. Like if I was still in the mindset where I was saying, “Well, no, you can only be on your tablet on the weekends,” or, “Sorry, in this house, we don’t play video games,” if I wasn’t willing to meet them where they were, I would miss out on all this growth. And I think it’s easy to come into parenting and have our set ideas about things and how we always imagined our family would look like or what we would allow for our children or not allow and want to stick to that and feel that in doing that, we’re protecting them maybe.
But in essence, I feel like we’re often actually just protecting ourselves more unconsciously. You don’t want to face the trigger that that thing brings up for you. So instead of looking at it and working at it and doing that round on the spiral of unfolding into that, you shut it down. And it’s just unfortunate, because there’s a whole opportunity there for, I would say healing, growth, and expansion. That if you stay in the more controlled place, you’re missing out on that.
And it’s just so surprising what discoveries can be made, too, once you open up to that thing or that trigger. It could be something like if your kid yells at you, you want to say, “Well, you’re not allowed to speak to me that way.” I understand the impulse to do that. Like, I’m going to draw a boundary and I’m going to shut that down. And it feels healthy maybe in a way, because no, of course we shouldn’t allow people to yell at us. But instead, if you meet that with empathy and validation where they are, then you’re going to end up having a beautiful conversation or a beautiful connection once the tempers have died down. You learn so much more about yourself.
Something that’s been funny in our household lately, I mentioned Fiona loves funny stuff, and something we’ve gotten into right now is really hilarious swearing. She’ll swear in this way that’s just so funny and affectionate. And she twists the words a little and makes fun of them. But she’s still sort of swearing at me as her mother. And if I were to just be like, “Whoa. We don’t speak that way in this household. You’re not allowed to use that language,” we would just have missed out on this totally joyful, playful way of being together that happens to use these words that have acquired this certain significance in our culture. But actually, we don’t have to give them that much weight and it’s fun for me, too. It started with Rose, when Rose started swearing, but it kind of opened me up to, honestly, a broader vocabulary. I have more options now of how to express myself.
And of course, we talk about, okay, we’ll do this at home, but not everybody likes this when we use this kind of language. So, we talk about all that, too, but I just think it’s so important to go into those places where at first you might wince, tighten up, feel that trigger response, and not just push that away, but go into it and let that be part of the wholeness. Nothing is left out of the wholeness.
PAM: Yeah. Oh my gosh. There are so many places I wanted to take that, Teresa. The first was, I loved when you were talking about our resistance to diving in and taking that spiral around something and how instead, we might pull out a rule to stop it, often because it’s less confronting for us.
And often in our minds, we can frame it that we’re teaching them, that we’re protecting them, that we’re keeping them safe from something or other. But there is also the piece that eventually, they’re going to encounter this thing. And they’re going to be able to encounter it on their own. So, there’s that aspect where I would like to work through it with them so that they have someone to talk with about it, which ties us into the swearing. Because when you bring out a rule of no swearing, like you said, you lose that richness. You lose all of those conversations, all the fun, all the joy that comes from that. But also, the conversations about context.
That’s one of the challenges with rules is you pull that out and there is just no context to it. It’s like, yes/no, but life is not often that black and white. There is context. There are times when some things are okay and other places or other times when it is more challenging for other people. You could still choose to swear in those places, but the understanding that in that particular context, you will get different reactions from people than you will at home or than you will with these people. That is something to play with and develops understanding which helps your child have a richer and bigger understanding of the world and how it works. Whereas, “Swearing’s bad. Don’t do it,” full stop. You know what I mean? So, that piece is so much richer for us.
And the other thing that bubbled up for me as you were talking, because when we do self-parenting work, when we dig in and take the spiral, rather than pulling out the rule, as you said, we learn so much more about ourselves. And for me, that unfolded in a way that when I was having conversations with my kids, whether they came up yelling or something, versus, “Don’t talk to me like that,” I actually didn’t take it personally. I learned more about myself so that I no longer took personally other people’s reactions, because that is so much about them and where they are in this moment.
So, as I didn’t react to those things and I learned more about myself, I was actually better able to connect. So, it became even more personal, more connected. It’s just this cool dichotomy between, “No, I’m not going to react,” where you can think maybe I’m ignoring or I’m just like, “I don’t care whether you swear,” that’s not it at all. Unschooling isn’t about saying, “I’m just going to ignore those things, because they say I shouldn’t say no or I shouldn’t make rules.” That’s not the point. The point is the learning more. And the more I learned about myself, the more I could lean into conversations and relationships and connecting with my kids, because I better understood that it was about them and where they are and what they were trying to express. It wasn’t really about me in that moment.
TERESA: Yes. That makes complete sense. Totally. This whole process that we’re talking about to me is the root of unschooling, but it’s so hard to summarize that. It is so much more than, “Well, what did you learn today?” Or even, if I try to explain it briefly, “Oh, well, we follow their interests.” It’s like, “Well, what are they interested in?” And then they want to hear this really clear response, like, “Math and reading,” which maybe some kids are, but it’s just so much deeper and fuller than that.
PAM: Because you can see in those questions, you can see that what they’re fishing for is an answer for the future. I remember when my daughter was very interested in photography as a young teen and people would ask me and I would say, “Oh, she’s really loving photography right now.” “Oh, she’s going to be a photographer.” It’s all about, who are you going to be? It’s all about productivity. It’s all about that future. I’ve just got to know that they’ve got a solid direction, because then I can place you in that box. You’re in that photographer box and now I’m good and we can move on. So, it’s very interesting to see.
But then again, you get to a point where you understand their questions are all about them and where they are and that they see that as value in whether or not they’ve done all sorts of work and really, truly value it, or whether that’s just a message they’ve absorbed from the culture around them, that this is what we need to be worried about, we need to be focused on. But either way, it’s their journey. So, you can just answer the question and move on to something else.
TERESA: Yes. Or see where you’re still hooked into that mindset, because when they ask that or have that reaction, you go, “Why did they have to ask that? Don’t they understand that we’re just in the moment?” That’s that part of me that still is doubting a little bit or questioning. I have to learn to have that confidence, too, so when people ask it can roll off, it doesn’t have to become an insecure moment on my part to convince them.
PAM: Exactly. That goes back to, am I reacting because I’m thinking it’s about me or whether it’s about them. About me, I start to feel defensive. I feel like maybe I need to convince them. I need their validation or their acceptance. Back to the, I’m whole myself. It’s so beautiful how this all ties together. Let’s just do swirl, swirl, swirl.
So, another really related one, I was visiting your blog again and you have a great post called True Boundaries that I think really demonstrates the value of understanding and nurturing ourselves alongside our children.
So much of this work, as we’ve been talking about, helps us move beyond parenting in an unconscious reaction to our own childhood wounds. And you had mentioned boundaries a little bit earlier as well. And we’re getting to talk about that in the Network soon, too, but for me, the challenge with the idea of boundaries is that we can think, “You don’t swear at your parents,” or, “You don’t yell.” They feel like good boundaries to have. I shouldn’t let people do this to me. Yet true boundaries, I think, are very different. We can be holding those pieces up and they’re actually getting in our way. Or also adding the layer of context. Maybe right now, I am super tired and I don’t have the energy for that conversation or whatever. Maybe I’m not feeling resourced. There can be all sorts of reasons. This boundary, as it is, is so malleable. It can move around depending on the context of the moment, depending on the people who are involved.
So, for me, the idea of boundary, when we just talk about that, it seems so fixed and it seems so arbitrary, as in, “This is my limit and no matter what’s going on, you don’t cross that or I will let you know.” So, true boundaries to me felt so much more like understanding myself, knowing myself, learning more about myself, because that’s not a project that’s ever done.
TERESA: Yeah. I think that is so true with boundaries. I’m definitely a firm believer in flexibility. Rigidity often can indicate an avoidance of an aspect of yourself that you don’t want to look at, because it’s scary or disruptive or uncomfortable or whatever it may be.
And I think also, I think in a way, I feel like it’s different with our kids. You could say, “Well, I don’t allow people to yell at me.” You could say that to your child. And you’re saying, “I’m demonstrating for them like a healthy boundary. They shouldn’t let people yell at them either.” But I think it’s so different when it’s coming from like a child who’s developing, who is still, like we talked about at the beginning of the call, so much in this like pure life energy place where they don’t have all the human tools for navigating. They just feel something and they say it and actually, that’s so beautiful. I love that kids are able to do that.
And so, that’s different than if say an adult you were in a relationship with was always yelling at you. Maybe you should draw that boundary and say, “I don’t want to spend time with you because this conversation always gets where you’re yelling at me and I can’t handle that.” But I think it’s different with our children.
And I think in that blog post, I was also reflecting on just the differences between unparenting and unschooling, too, that maybe people could look at unschooling and be like, “They have no boundaries,” but that true boundary that I was trying to talk about in that post was really this love that is so boundless and extending into that. And how do you hold space for someone? There is some kind of boundary when you’re doing that, I feel, but it’s this safety boundary and it’s this love boundary. It’s this embracing and being in that place with your children, as they explore and experiment and make different decisions that maybe at first or a few years ago, you wouldn’t consider, you would never let them do.
But as you extend your container and your boundary, then it’s this really embracing boundary. It’s a loving space that they feel held. Because I feel like a lot of times, you hear maybe in conventional parenting, “Kids need boundaries to feel safe. So, you should have this schedule. They should go to bed at this time. They should eat at this time. They should be allowed to do this and not that. And that’s how they feel safe.” I don’t know. Do you hear that? I feel like I hear that. I just wanted to question that, because then people come in thinking, “Well, I have to do this to make my child feel safe. I have to say, ‘No, you can’t eat that. We’re having dinner at this time. And you’re going to wait and be hungry for dinner,'” or something. Even though your kid is mad about that, somehow, it’s creating this feeling of safety for them, which never really made sense to me.
And I think that that post came up because I had been in conversation with several different friends, none of them unschoolers, but I can’t remember if I was talking about our lifestyle or how it came up, but they all had negative memories from childhood of being placed in front of a TV to be babysat while their parents did something else. So, they didn’t want to introduce TV to their kids or have that be a part of their family life together, because they had such a strong association with, “A kid watching TV equals neglect.” Or, “I remember my mom would just hand me a bag of candy and I’d just eat the whole thing because she wasn’t giving me lunch, so, okay. No, I’m going to make my kid eat a healthy lunch, because I wish I had had that as a kid.” And you associate a kid eating candy with being neglected yourself.
So, just to examine that and not just equate these common boundaries of structure, cutting your kid off from being able to make their own decisions, to partner with them while they make decisions. Of course, offer options. Offer them a delicious, nutritious meal and their favorite candy. Snuggle with them while you watch TV. There are so many choices on the spectrum between no TV and being neglected in front of the TV. So, I was playing with that idea of limits and boundaries and this big holding space being this true boundary of a loving, present, attuned parent, and making your choices from there with your kid. It’s different from like, “I let them do whatever they want, because I don’t want to deal with them or something.”
PAM: Exactly. No, the idea of that loving space really came through in that and again, as we are spiraling in and learning more about ourselves, it’s part of understanding, “I feel really strongly about this boundary or having this boundary for my kids. Why am I feeling so strongly about that?” And then, digging in to recognize, “Oh, because I felt that way.” And then, is that the only way? It doesn’t negate our experiences growing up. But it can also be other things for other people in other environments. It’s so rich. And understanding that our kids aren’t ourselves and that there are just so many other choices and possibilities. That whole spectrum idea versus yes/no, right/wrong, neglect or love.
And I really loved the image of that boundary, space of love to explore. We make these choices and learn more about ourselves. Our kids are learning more about themselves. Just because, oh, I’m not going to dictate their food choices. They may end up not feeling well after candy or after some veggie or fruit or just eating too much of whatever. But those aren’t wrong. That doesn’t mean there’s a failure. Those are all learning pieces.
TERESA: Beautiful learning experiences. They have that their whole life. They’ve listened to their body. They felt something. It’s amazing.
PAM: It really is. When that judgment’s not there, because our judgment, I feel, often interferes with their learning, because of course, they’re often going to give credence to what their parents say and tell them, but what that does is quiet and dampen their own inner voice, their own inner understanding of themselves. They are not me. They are not a clone. My kids aren’t clones of me. The way I feel about things personally and in my body is not going to be exactly the same for them.
And how important it is for them to be connected to that inner compass. And then again, it’s like, oh, seeing them do that reminds me to do that for myself, too. But no, that post, I feel like the word boundaries is such a buzzword right now. It’s just so popular. And like I say, in many situations, absolutely draw boundaries, have your boundaries, but don’t use that buzzword as an excuse to set up a power dynamic with your kids that’s not beneficial to either of you.
PAM: Exactly. And like we were talking about before, we have conversations around context as well. So, if they are someone who expresses their feelings loudly, you’re going to have conversations about when you go to the library or you’re when you go over here. “Grandma really finds that challenging.” It’s not a vacuum that they’re living in. They’re going to understand all these pieces over the years. That’s the beauty of it. We are living together for so many years and we can have these conversations.
Again, it’s not yes/no, black/white. Often, I find behaviors that sometimes were triggering for me that I did some work to move through, when I was able to accept them in that true, loving space boundary, as we talked more and as I learned more, they just kind of faded away. Because maybe they didn’t need to be so loud to be heard, because now I was actually paying more attention. All those pieces. Thinking, “Oh my gosh, they’re yelling at age seven. They’re going to be yelling at everybody forever. And I need to stop this right now.” Let’s not predict that into the future.
TERESA: Yes. That is so true. I love that.
PAM: Alright. Our last question, Teresa.
I would love to know, what is your favorite thing about your unschooling days right now?
TERESA: Other than everything we’ve already talked about, actually we did touch on this a little in the beginning of the call, too, but what came to mind for that question was possibilities. I mean, sometimes our days can feel like we’re home a lot. It’s COVID. We’re on an island. It can feel kind of, here we are. And I love that, actually, just our cozy little nest where everyone’s doing their thing and it flows really easily. But then, there’s times you just remember, because we’re unschooling, we have so much freedom with our time and our schedule and there’s so many possibilities.
And the other morning, Fiona woke up and for some reason, I think it was something she saw on TikTok, or somehow, she had this idea. She said, I want to become an eyeball. And she got out the cardboard and the paint and we cut out this big cardboard eyeball. And we measured her head and put it on her head. And then she wanted to dress up and she wanted to go downtown in our little town here and walk around in her new outfit, which is her OC, original character she was creating with this eyeball and a wig.
And so, we went down and we went to the library and we tried to go to the ice cream place, but it was closed. It wasn’t a huge outing. We wandered around a little bit. A lot of people looked at her and she enjoyed it and I just had this moment once we got home and settled in like, who knows what’s going to happen? You just can’t predict. You just wake up and someone wants to be an eyeball and walk around town as an eyeball. And so, that’s what you’re doing that day. It’s so beautiful.
Or the other night, we just decided as a family to go over, we took the ferry over and went to a rock-climbing gym, which is something we’ve never done before. We’ve talked about it for years. My husband used to rock climb a lot in college. We went to a rock-climbing gym, ran an errand at Target, and it went out to sushi. And all the kids loved the food so much.
I love these possibilities, that we know each other well enough that we know what’s going to spark something really wonderful for everybody. And we can just follow those little trails of interest and possibilities. And like we were talking about earlier and looking at our move or potential move or not moving, but just looking at the possibilities. So, it’s such a great perspective to have in life, that it’s not rigid, that it’s not, “No, we can’t. We have to just do this.” We can really bring in our own creativity and imagination into each day, what we decide to do together. I love that.
PAM: I love that so, so much. It’s so fun just to discover what they come up with each day and just go with them with that flow. It’s like, wow. This is curious. And just leaning into it. And then just wondering, gee, I wonder what they picked up, what the experience was like for them, etc. It’s not like we need to dig into it and they need to justify anything like that. Just being in the experience with them is just so joyful. All right. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Teresa. It was so much fun. I really appreciate it.
TERESA: I had a blast. Thank you. All the topics are so near and dear to my heart. And I was saying to my husband, before I came over here, I don’t usually get to just talk to somebody about this. So, it’s super enriching for me to just to try to express and communicate with you. It’s been brilliant. Thank you.
PAM: Yes. It’s been so much fun. And before we go, where can people connect with you online?
PAM: I will be sure to share that. And then you’ll be updating that with some more information. So, that’s very cool. And it will all be in the show notes. Thanks so much, Teresa. Have a great day!
TERESA: Thank you, Pam. You, too. Bye.