PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and this week, Anna Brown and Erika Ellis join me to answer listener questions. Hi!
Now, before we get started, I just want to remind everyone that our Q&A conversations aren’t focused on giving anyone the “right answer”, because there is not a universal right answer for any situation or that works for everyone. Instead, our focus is on considering the situation from different perspectives, maybe of those involved, and playing with the kinds of questions we might ask ourselves to just better understand the nuances of a challenge and maybe brainstorming some possibilities for moving forward, if that’s applicable to the question. Basically, we’re sharing food for thought through the lens of unschooling. So, Anna, would you like to get us started?
ANNA: Sure. Okay. This question was posted in the comments of the last Q&A episode on YouTube. So, it’s a good chance to mention that if you ever want to see the videos, Living Joyfully has a wonderful YouTube channel, as well. So, on to the question.
“We’ve been unschooling for two years. My four- and six-year-olds have never been to school. I’m very pleased and amazed at how they have learned to read, write, and learn the basics of math. My ten-year-old has been focusing on her interests of art and horseback riding. She likes reading and will pick up a workbook and do pages for fun.
My concern is my 13-year-old. He’s a gamer and I’m fine with that. But if I let him, he will never leave his room and we’ll stay on his VR all day. He loves watching YouTube as well and has taught himself how to cook. And he’s heavily involved in BMX, which gets him out of his room. I just can’t help but worry that, although he may be learning, he spends too much time in gaming.
I feel sometimes he’s not part of the family. I’ve read that many teens will stay in their rooms and it makes me sad. I love watching your channel as it helps me with these feelings. So, thank you for all that you do.”
Okay. So, a couple things bubbled up for me. One just quickly around language. She mentions that he will “never leave his room” and be on the VR “all day”. That “all” and “never”. And while the next sentence talks about cooking and heavily into BMX, so we get a different picture. It’s this subtle change, but removing words like “all” and “never” can really help ground us in the now and in the truth of the story. “He spends a lot of time gaming and he loves it.” The energy of that statement is so different.
Setting that aside, I have found that 13 is often a time of cocooning. There’s a lot to process at that age with puberty, understanding the larger world and where they fit in. Video games provide a really rich world for exploring all sorts of topics in a way that isn’t quite as intense as the real world. Especially if he’s playing online with friends, but even if not, there’s so much to learn and process and there are tons of wonderful resources from Pam about the benefits of gaming. So, I’m not going to repeat all of that, but we can put some of that in the show notes.
I think the piece about missing him is so important. And when those times came around for me, I used that as opportunities to lean in. Often, when we want to connect with our children, we invite them to join in something we want to do. And that’s lovely, sometimes, but what really feels wonderful to our children and really anyone is to join them and what they love.
So, I wasn’t a huge gamer, but I could listen and support. Most kids love to talk about what’s going on in their game if we’re really listening. And in listening, I could learn the language and speak intelligently about the game, the levels, how the game plays, what tasks are coming up next, celebrating when something exciting was happening. And I could also add fun things into their life, posters, plushies, etc. And all of that showed that I saw them and I saw what they loved and that connection helped me so much, because I learned about them and it helped so much with that missing.
And when that foundation is strong, what I found is that they wanted to join in with me in the walk in the yard, or watch a show, or even fold laundry. But especially with teens, they need to know that we love them for exactly who they are.
So, there’s this natural separation that does happen in the teen years. You aren’t as involved in the minute-to-minute bits that you were with little ones. It’s not that hands-on all the time, but the mainstream idea that teens are distant or angry, even, is so much more about not being heard and seen for who they are. And I found that was all about me. Leaning into them and who they are changed that.
No one likes to be controlled and teens, all kids, can sense an agenda a mile away. So, I wanted to watch my energy and make sure I was being honest. If I was missing them, then I communicated that that was about me, not about what they were doing, because if it’s not about missing them, it’s really about me trying to control how they’re spending their time. And that’s that underlying agenda that they can smell a mile away.
But if I was missing them, then I knew I could lean in and find ways that felt good for them so that we could remain connected through those years and beyond because that connection was always the priority for me. So, Erika, what did it bring up for you?
ERIKA: Yeah. Well, first of all, I thought his interests really sound so fun and so cool. He’s doing a range of things that really sound engaging, cooking, BMX, gaming.
So really, I think this is probably less about what he’s doing and more about the transition from being a kid to being a teen and how there can be some grief in that transition for a parent. It’s a big shift. He’s growing up. He’s needing space. He’s figuring out what he wants to do with his time and figuring himself out. There’s so much that’s happening inside a young teen’s mind and we really can’t know what that’s feeling like for them from the outside. All we know is things look different and that can make us uncomfortable.
Maybe we miss hearing all the details of what they’re learning about or are interested in. Maybe they seem less cheerful and that feels hard, like maybe something’s wrong. But young teens are starting to have a bigger view of the world and their place in it, which can feel pretty heavy at times. And in your case with younger kids to compare him to, it might make these changes even more jarring.
And so, I think just acknowledging that it feels hard and it feels different for you and that that makes sense is a great place to start. And then just realizing that he is also going through a lot, too.
My kids are kind of moving into this phase now, wanting more privacy, wanting more space, spending more time alone, and really just seeming much more grown up. And it’s definitely shifting our relationship, because I’m needing to find new ways to feel connected and new ways to check in with them that are respectful of who they are now.
But what I really want to be careful about is to avoid judging them for their choices and to really keep my focus on loving them exactly the way they are now, keeping in mind that this is a big time of growth for them and it’s not easy. If they feel most supported by me making sure they get plenty of time and space to be alone, then I can do that. I can focus on making sure they have the food they need and whatever they need to follow their interests, whether it’s the technological equipment or the downloadable content, the toys, whatever it is. I can help them schedule time with their friends. I’m just basically looking for ways to support them in what they want to do and being there when they need me.
Knowing that he’s going through a lot of changes and probably has a lot to process might help you to just focus more on loving and supporting him exactly where he is and in the things he’s drawn to do at this stage. If he’s feeling judged, it just becomes harder to connect and harder for him to trust that you’ll be there for him. So, it’s a great time to help create a safe, comfortable place for him to be and show him that he’ll be accepted just the way he is.
I think, like Anna was saying, that cocooning time is so common for young teens, maybe even nearly universal. So, thinking of it that way makes it feel maybe less scary and more like an opportunity to find new ways to support him. Pam?
PAM: I love that. I love what you both shared. So, I don’t have too much to add, but I just wanted to acknowledge just how challenging this time is. I can just feel your mind spinning, right? When you have thoughts like, he’ll stay in his room all day. He’ll be on his VR all day. And he cooks, which I assume he does in the kitchen. And he loves watching YouTube. And he’s heavily involved in BMX, which I’m pretty sure a lot of that is not done in his bedroom. But you can feel that spinning. So, just big hugs around that. Totally familiar when that happens.
And for me, that reminder, when I’m noticing that I’m spinning, that I’m feeling out of sorts, it was just to take some breaths, to give myself some space, to remind myself, this isn’t an emergency. This isn’t a big rush. I have some time to think a little bit more about this. And I also found that what has helped me the most is reconnecting, is seeing them again, because I’ve got images of them in my head that are spinning. It’s like, oh, okay. This is what I’m thinking I’m seeing. What am I actually seeing? Getting back to what you were talking about there, Anna, connecting with them, reconnecting with them.
And the cocooning that you both mentioned, that’s an important piece. And finding the new ways to support and engage with them and connect with them. I found it interesting that you just used the word gaming to describe the interest. So, maybe that’s something that you can learn more about, so that you can engage with him. But also, as you’re engaging with him and having conversations, learning more about what it is that he’s enjoying about gaming, what games he’s playing, those conversations can now become part of the family’s language.
He’s feeling separate from the family. But we can easily just start chatting about those things over a meal or when they come out to grab a snack, so that that language also becomes part of the family’s language, that also helps them feel seen, helps them feel heard, and helps it feel less like he’s living this separate life away from the rest of us. So, I think that could be super helpful.
And it really is just about knowing that they are where they are and respecting that and just wanting to help them be where they are. Erika described that so beautifully. This is a new time for them, too. They’re looking for different things and we can be missing what we used to know about them and how we used to engage with them. And certainly grieving that, but also being excited about, ooh, what are they doing now? What are they enjoying now? How can I support them now? So, it looks different, but the foundation, the root of it, is the same. I want to know them. I want to see them. I want to acknowledge them. And I want to support them in whatever ways they want. So, that’s the fun part.
I like to get like curious about, oh, so things are changing. So, what might it look like now? How can this be fun and interesting now? And how can I see and love them for who they are now? That’s the fun piece.
All right, Erika. You want to go to the next question?
ERIKA: Sure. So, this question is from Maya in Washington, DC, and she writes,
“Hello. I’d love to dive deeper on the topic of productiveness. I find I struggle with deschooling this concept for myself. Whenever I try to really understand not striving to be productive as a value, I hit a wall within me. The word “lazy” surfaces and doesn’t let anything else in. I just can’t see it the way I do with other philosophical pillars of unschooling. So, I would appreciate some more clarity on this in order to be able to be more comfortable and less judgmental towards myself and others. Thanks so much.”
And then, Maya added a bit more to her question the next day.
“In regards to productiveness, I understand the importance of intrinsic motivation and can totally see how productiveness can be judged through viewing products and how all this plays to external judgment and external motivation. So, if I clean this from the equation and I’m true to myself, looking in the mirror, am I ready to be completely unproductive? That’s really my question. And I’d be happy to peel the layers off this one. Thanks again.”
Okay. So, oh my gosh. This is such an interesting question, because we were just talking about this topic in the Network. And I swear, the idea of productivity has been coming up left and right in my social media, my emails, everywhere. It’s like, okay! I’m getting the message. We need to talk about this.
So, you summed up by asking the question, am I ready to be completely unproductive? And so, the answer I have to that question is, I don’t know. Are you ready? In our culture which connects productivity to morality it’s a hard thing to do. It’s counterculture. But, like you were saying, that there are a lot of things about unschooling that feel like this. We’re questioning all kinds of mainstream paradigms. So, we know we can do that questioning and figure out new ways that feel better to us.
So, it makes me curious, what makes productivity harder to release than some of these other things for you? I can imagine that could be personality-driven. If you tend to connect your own value to what you produce, that will make questioning it much harder. If you take pride in doing good work and making efficient use of your time, releasing productivity as a value might feel risky, like who am I if I’m not producing? Am I worthy? Am I lovable? Do I still have value? But even though it’s hard, there’s much to be discovered by peeling back these layers and seeing where these ideas even come from.
So, you mentioned that the word “lazy” comes up for you. Now, for me, I reject that word completely. I don’t believe in it. I think lazy is a word that’s used only to shame people and that it doesn’t serve any higher purpose than that. It’s a way to misunderstand the nature of being human. It’s ableist. It’s just used to judge people, ourselves included.
I think productivity as a moral good and laziness as a moral failing are ideas that help the machinery of society at the expense of the people. It’s a lens that pushes people to work harder and longer and for less compensation because we want to be good.
It’s really helped me so much on my journey of questioning productivity paradigms to read and follow along with writers and thinkers who are much further along this same path. I’m thinking right now about Trisha Hersey, the Nap Bishop, who I follow on Instagram. On her account, the Nap Ministry, she shares really profound observations about productivity and worth. She writes about her experience as a black woman in America and the connections between capitalism and slavery, white supremacy and productivity. And her words ring so true to me and remind me to resist those beliefs that don’t serve us as humans.
One of her recent posts said, “From the time you were born, every system in this culture has been telling you that you are not worthy as a human being, unless you labor and produce and do. You had no choice in this matter. This deserves your grief and your rest. You’ve been lied to.”
It’s really deep and powerful stuff. I think when you realize that those words in your mind, calling yourself lazy or telling yourself that you have no worth when you’re not productive, are actually not your words, that someone else put them there, it becomes easier to release them. Is that focus on productivity serving you? And would you be better served shifting away from that lens?
I’ve gone through this same process with other mainstream ideas, like body image and the moral value placed on becoming thinner. I ask, who came up with this idea? What’s in it for them? Is it serving me? And in so many cases, the who is business and what’s in it for them is money. And if I continue to feel bad about myself and keep trying to change my body, I’m going to be ready to buy all kinds of helpful products.
So, if we feel like it’s our moral obligation to be productive, who’s benefiting from that? Where did the idea come from? Knowing it’s not my own idea helps me question it and shift to something that feels better.
One other layer I was thinking about as I pondered this question is the real complexity of the issue. Like, it doesn’t feel great to me to be completely unproductive, either. I want to do things that will make my life better. I want to do work that makes me feel good. It’s the same with diet culture. I don’t want to shame myself about food, but I still have to eat. I don’t want to shame myself about productivity, but productive activity is still going to be part of my life. And I don’t have to place a moral value on rest either, just like I don’t have to put a moral value on eating indulgently or being sedentary.
I think the place I can get to that feels good is a place where I’m being true to myself and what I need to thrive and not shaming myself one way or the other. Really tuning into my body and my heart and my mind and responding when I need rest, when I need movement, when I need food, when I feel like getting something done. And if I’m feeling ashamed for having a slow day, I can remind myself I could choose differently the next day if I want to, but that it’s okay to just be and there’s no such thing as lazy.
I have more. This one really got me going. Yesterday, I received a newsletter in my email from the author Luvvie Ajayi Jones and the subject line was, Break the Chains of Productivity Rhetoric. And I just couldn’t believe the timing. She said, “No matter what you hear online, your value is not tied to your productivity and how much you work.” She said, “You are enough. You are worthy.” And she also suggested unfollowing social media accounts that make you feel like you’re not. The social media environment we cultivate for ourselves can be so influential. So that could be something else to consider, to see if you’re surrounded by messaging about productivity that makes you feel bad.
And then as I was writing this, I was listening to this video on Instagram where Lenae Venee was responding to something Kim Kardashian had said. Someone had asked Kim what advice you would give to women in business. And she said something like, just do the work. No one wants to work these days. And Lenae’s response was so powerful, explaining how much harm a statement like that does to people who are not in that same place of privilege. And how this belief that if we just work harder, we will attain success and fortune puts blame on individuals for systemic issues that are so much bigger than that. So, internalizing beliefs like that makes people feel ashamed and feel like they need to push through their life, never resting.
I feel like this topic has followed a similar path to a lot of other paradigm shifts I made during deschooling. It went from, this is just how it is. This is true. It’s normal. And then I learn more and think more and I go, hold on, wait a second. And then, okay! Now I’m fired up about this. I’m feeling angry that I didn’t realize all of this earlier. And finally, just coming to have this whole new understanding that feels so much more true.
Maybe just digging into why this particular topic feels harder for you might be interesting. Is it that you’re surrounding yourself with this type of messaging? Is it related to what feels good to you about yourself? So, that might be a place to get curious. I really enjoyed thinking about this topic. So, thanks for writing in, Maya.
PAM: I love fired-up Erika. That was beautiful. And actually, it’ll be really fun. Mine is not as long, but there are some really fun connections.
So, this is a completely different layer, but when it comes to the question of being unproductive, and I was thinking back to my journey on this, one angle that I found really interesting to play with was my definition of productive. So, as I was deschooling and I began to look at the bigger picture of our lives and I better understood how learning works and how people tick and the value of rest and relaxation and giving my mind space to contemplate both consciously and subconsciously, I found my definition of “productive” growing so much more expansive.
So, what I used to define as “unproductive” now truly looks productive through this new lens. Like you were saying, Erika, I’m choosing in this moment what makes sense to me. And it may be different tomorrow and it may be different in two hours. So, I think it could be really interesting to look at the things that you deem unproductive and contemplate what you’re actually getting out of them. Why do you want to do them? You’re wanting to do this thing, but you’re saying, “Oh, it’s feeling unproductive. Should I be doing it?” Why do you want to do it? What’s the value to you? Whether it’s an immediate value or a someday value, any value. Just be totally open and dig into that.
Because for me, once I began to recognize that there’s value for me, even in those unproductive times, that’s helping me realize that’s somebody else’s lens of what value is and this is how I discover what’s valuable to me, what’s actually valuable to me. And then eventually, I got to a place where I stopped needing to look for the value. I trusted my choices. The productive/unproductive lens just wasn’t adding anything to my choices throughout the day.
And like you said, Erika, it was like so many other things on my deschooling journey. It’s kind of like with learning. When we first come to unschooling, we’re often looking for the learning, because it can be hard to recognize when it doesn’t look like that school-based conventional learning that we’re used to. So, it’s like, oh, they’re not learning. So, we have to bring this new lens, this more expansive lens of what learning looks like. And then we start to see it and then we start to see it all the time. And eventually we stop needing to look for it at all.
So, yeah, as I was peeling back those layers, it was like, oh man. It’s a very similar journey to so many of the other ones. It’s just about digging in and asking those questions, asking how it feels to me. Yes. I can take in other pieces of information, but does it make sense to me? Does it make sense in this world that I have with my family, with my goals, with my aspirations, with the way I’m choosing to live my life? And then, that’s when we can embrace it so much more, because that’s where it makes sense to us.
When we find that we’re judging ourselves about something, whether it’s productivity or learning or whatever it is, when we find we’re judging ourselves, that’s just a clue that we’re still working with an external framework. It doesn’t quite make sense to us yet. So, that is exactly where you are right now, Maya. It’s like, peeling back the layers on this, knowing that there’s still some layers here, because I’m still feeling uncomfortable about this particular question. So, I thought that was awesome.
ANNA: Okay. So, I knew you guys would cover a lot. Mine’s a bit short. But what jumped out to me was the aspect of other, and it was interesting how it ties into things that Erika and you both said. Because this judgment of, what is productive, while we think it’s coming from inside of us, it’s often this outside noise, things we’ve been told, ideas that we’ve taken inside of ourselves until we don’t see the original source. And I found those sources often to be vague and certainly not someone or something that knew me. It was often systems that needed something from me.
And I wanted to get to a place where I was choosing if I wanted to provide that or not. What I saw was that my joy, my fulfillment, my exploration of what it’s like to be human, was not a factor to these outside sources. Basically, I was the product. I was the product they shaped through school, through authority. And well, as you know, I buck against that kind of thing.
And I played that role in school, but as I got older, I realized there was no prize at the end from living up to someone else’s ideal. And that by doing that, by striving for that, I was missing on the actual joy of life, the connections, the space between the doing. That space is where the magic is, where I learn about myself, where I deepen my relationships. And so, I stopped giving away my power and striving for someone else and turned my focus to my growth and my relationships, to the things that mattered to me.
One of the Network members talked about living at the speed of joy and it really summed it up for me. She talked about how we can live at a speed of survival, doing all the things, checking all the boxes, but it’s not sustainable. And it takes a toll on us. It takes a toll on our relationships. But children naturally live at the speed of joy. They delight in the things that are around them. They move at a pace we don’t often understand, but they are there to teach us if we just tune in. And I didn’t want to lose that. I didn’t want them to lose their relationship to time, that pace that allowed them to take it all in, to process and play, develop, and grow at their own timetable.
I didn’t want them to trade their life to live someone else’s timetable. I’m still peeling back years and layers of weight related to this that I was handed. And I didn’t want to hand that on and I’m doing that work alongside of them and was as they were growing up and I continue to do it now.
PAM: I love that. That was a wonderful question. That’s so fun to dig into this stuff.
Our last question. It’s anonymous. And they wrote,
“We’ve been unschooling for over 10 years and I’ve read/heard so many fairytale descriptions.”
And she linked to one that Akilah Richards shared. And Akilah has been on the podcast a couple of times. We’ll put the links in the show notes to her episodes as well. But it was about her daughter’s exploration of language.
“My oldest fits in this category relatively well in the sense that he’s always been super curious and seeks out and devours knowledge. For example, he reads books written by mathematicians and listens for hours to people talking about gaming. My younger two have always seemed relatively uncurious about the world. If we run across something, for example, Rasputin was a real person and not just the name of a song on Just Dance?! It’s me always saying, “Let’s look it up.” And if I don’t keep pursuing, that’s where it stops. I offer books, resources, field trips, et cetera. They just don’t engage.
I’m feeling discouraged and tired of trying to light their fires, so to speak. And I can already hear what you’re going to ask. What do they do? They attend some classes, co-ops, have play dates, watch various shows, listen to audio books, and play games on their iPad and on the Switch. Even when playing with friends, they predominantly seem like passive consumers of entertainment.
I get that these things are fun and I don’t need to be convinced of the value of these activities, but they also don’t see these activities balanced with exploration. I guess that’s the crux of it. In my mind, the ideal un/homeschooler is an active constructor of knowledge, an intrepid explorer charting their own course through the world. They make and pursue connections. So, I guess my question is, can you speak to the intersection of various levels of individual curiosity and unschooling? (Side note, my girls are eight and 11 and I’ve never been to school. So, I don’t think this is really a deschooling issue for them.)”
Okay, this is another really interesting question to explore. So, thank you very much for asking. And I think it’s really worth digging into a couple of things here. Now, they don’t engage in ways that you’re looking for. That fire of pursuing the details, of looking for the facts, of wanting to know. So, it’s just really fun to play around with that.
What if their way of engaging with the world just looks different? What if it’s also a wonderfully valid way to be a human being? What if they’re less curious about the factual understanding of the world, that knowledge, and more interested in understanding people and relationships? Because you mentioned they have co-op classes and play dates and regularly enjoy time with their friends. Is that less valuable than engaging with information?
What if they are also curious, but not about the things you’re looking for them to be curious about? That is just so fun to think about. Why don’t we try on this other lens and see what things look like? So, I’d say maybe spend some time observing them. That can never go wrong. For sure spend time observing them and paying attention. Look at the things they are doing. Like you said, “I don’t need to be told to see the value in those things.” But discover a layer deeper.
What do they enjoy about them? What is it that they’re getting out of it? What are they curious about? There is a curiosity driving them. It’s just not what you’re looking for. Put on a new lens, put on a little detective hat and say, what is it that’s driving them? Because something is driving them. They are out of bed. And as you discover that, can you bring more of that into their lives? I thought that will be really fun to play with. What if it’s just a different way to be curious?
And then along those lines, another piece that would be really interesting to dig into is the idea of an ideal unschooler. That is super interesting. What if they are actively constructing knowledge about people and relationships? What if they, too, are charting a course through the world and it’s just a different path than you imagine? What are you fearful of happening if they aren’t super curious about the facts of the world? How do you see that play out?
That was something that was always helpful for me when I had some sort of worry, was actually playing it out. What did I think this would look like 10 years from now? And is that really going to be the end of the world? So often, it wasn’t. I would be fearful and I was scared to think about it. Oh no! But like, what if? Oh my goodness. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. So often, it wasn’t as bad as I was worried it might be.
I also wanted to mention episode 96 of the podcast, where we talked about ordinary unschooling and digging into, what is that draw of unschooling success stories, of an ideal homeschooler/unschooler? Is that really about me needing to get that A in being an unschooling parent? This is not wrong. These are just great questions to ask ourselves and to explore.
And we also talk about the value and the magic and the beauty of those ordinary unschooling days. And like you were saying, those in-between moments, Anna, you were talking about how much there is in those in-between moments. There’s just so many interesting things to play with here. I know I asked mostly a bunch of questions, because again, there are no answers. It’s about helping you see new lenses, new ways to explore this question and maybe learn a little bit more.
How about you, Anna?
ANNA: Yeah, I think it’s so interesting. And that podcast actually came to my mind, too. And there are these beautiful stories of unschoolers with the singular passion and they take it to amazing places, or the ones that dive into all sorts of things. But I think it helps to also remember, those are the highlight reels. Those are the Instagram-worthy bits that we’re seeing from the outside. Unschooling and life, it’s a long game.
The children mentioned are still relatively young, and it’s really hard for us to know what’s happening inside a child’s mind, what connections are happening, especially if they’re internal processors. And sometimes, as we look back, we can make connections and see how they got somewhere and sometimes not. There are leaps and jumps that we cannot predict, but it makes sense to that person. And I think it helps to check in about our agenda. It’s really hard to step away from that outward product, in this case, that they are learning and exploring things that are easy for me or others to see and understand.
And I do think this really relates to the previous question, why isn’t it okay to move through our days enjoying ourselves, exploring things in ways that may only make sense to us? Why does it need to look a certain way to those outside of us? And I think that’s probably where we develop that external validation need. When we stop following our internal guide and do things in order to please and have it look a certain way for those around us, we all know that can take years to unpack.
My youngest doesn’t have a singular passion and often struggles in finding what she wants to do next, but she is also a loving friend, hardworking, respected. She impacts her slice of the world daily with kindness and compassion. And it may not be as splashy as some of the things you see on social media, but she’s learning about herself, cultivating relationships that are important to her, moving through the world at her own pace. And that life, that quieter life is just as valid and just as beautiful.
And again, it’s a long game. Who knows where her life will take her? But I don’t need to know where it’s going, because her life right now is already important and valid. And it’s the same for the kids in this question. They’re contributing to life in their own way and touching those around them right now.
We don’t know what’s in their mind and hearts and where that will lead them, but short-circuiting that by trying to impose our ideas of what it should look like will only disconnect them from learning about who they are.
These outside voices are strong for us as parents, but it really isn’t a race. There isn’t a scorecard at the end. Each day, we’re learning about being human beings living in this day and age. And that is enough. We are enough.
ERIKA: Okay, I thought this question was so interesting, too. I found it cool to consider how curiosity looks different for different people and exploration looks different for different people.
One thing that is so true about me is that I get excited about everything. I have a scanner brain and I like to go down rabbit holes and learn about all kinds of things. I often say, “I’m so curious about that!” And my husband is similar in that he’s super excitable and always wants to know more. It’s so fun for us.
And yet, our kids are not really the same as us in that way at all. And I find it to be a personality thing and it could also be an age thing. So, just to give you an example, they’re both super different from each other, but they both have something about them that makes it so they aren’t as excited about everything as I am.
So, Oliver has really focused interests. And so, if I bring up something that doesn’t connect directly to something that he is currently interested in, it’s almost as if he can’t hear it most of the time. And then for Maya, just knowing that I’m interested in something is often enough of a reason to make her skeptical and a bit resistant to it. So, for her, it’s more about wanting to be in control of where her curiosity takes her and not wanting to be influenced by someone else. And for him, it’s more about just being so focused on what he finds interesting that there isn’t room to hear something else, for now.
And I haven’t viewed either of these as problems. It can be a little disappointing from time to time to not get that, “Wow! Let’s find out more about that,” or, “Whoa, that’s so interesting, Mom!” from them, but I could get that from talking to Anna or talking to Josh. I can still be me when it comes to the way I like to learn and they can be them.
And I would also say that it’s just not possible for us to know what’s happening inside the mind of someone else. So, to you, it looks like they’re uninterested in things, because the things you’re talking about are the things that are so interesting to you, but maybe they’re learning so much more about, like, I think both of you said, interpersonal interactions or emotions or the nuances of how people behave. Maybe they’re processing things internally that have nothing to do with anything that you’re noticing. And so, it’s hard to even imagine what their experience would be like. And there are two of them. So, I’m sure that each one of them is putting together a completely different and personalized web of knowledge and understanding about the world that fits them perfectly.
You are giving them a rich life of experiences and resources. They have friends and things that they like to watch and play. They’re absorbing and learning from all of their experiences and processing it in ways that are unique to them.
And I think it’s just a trap if you’re looking for an ideal unschooler, because each human being is so unique. And we may have a hard time understanding some people because of just how differently they think and process, how deeply they feel or not, and what engages them, and what’s important to them.
And so, if you’re looking to have a connected relationship with someone who just isn’t making any sense to you, it can help to join them where they are and be present with them, not assuming what they should be curious about, not wanting to pull them forward in any direction, but just being there. And you might be able to discover more about how their minds work. Since you’re feeling this discomfort, I’m betting that their minds work very differently from yours and that’s okay.
Comparison is something that came up a lot, as I was thinking about all three of the questions, you know, like comparison is the thief of joy as the saying goes. It’s a common thread in all three questions. The first was comparing the older child gaming all day to the younger ones who are engaged in more of the family activities. And the second about comparing ourselves to some productivity standard and falling short. And then this question comparing some children to others and wondering which type of brain is better for unschooling.
And I totally get that impulse to compare. It’s one way that we can try to make sense of things, but the downside is comparison leads to dissatisfaction. It can lead to worrying and fear. And it pulls us away from what is it makes us focus more on what should be or what could be. And ultimately it gets in the way of connection and strong relationships, because we’re missing the uniqueness and the beauty of the person we’re looking at.
So, maybe it helps to start at a place of acceptance and love for ourselves and for the people in our lives. And to get curious and try to understand those personality differences, maybe even look into some personality frameworks to see what you can learn, to listen openly to them, and open yourself up to new ways of connecting with the person as they are right now, or with yourself as you are right now. Because comparison is just a distraction from what’s really happening in front of us.
PAM: I love that comparison thread, because that’s what we were talking about. The external frameworks that we’re putting on top of the things that we’re seeing and using them to assess and judge. And again, that’s what we’ve learned growing up, that that’s the way we do it. We compare, we rate, we try to be the best, we try to become the ideal, et cetera. It’s not to feel bad about starting there, at all. But it is like, okay, let’s peel back some of those layers around that. Does this really make sense for us? Does this really make sense for the person in front of me, the child in front of me? And can I just see them for who they are, who they are in this moment and celebrate that?
ANNA: One thing that I want to say, too, that goes in line with all three questions. Comparison, absolutely. But also, the myopic vision, looking just from the inside of us. So, in the first one, she values family and outside and doing these things. And it keeps going. And then we have the last question where I really do think it’s just that their brains work differently. And there’s lots of people that don’t understand the way my brain works, but it’s not a better or worse thing. It’s just, we move through the world differently.
So, when we can start to just be curious about that, like, ooh, so this is interesting. They’re not driven by the same things. And if we take the Rasputin/Just Dance example, they have no interest in Rasputin, but maybe they know so much about the music or they know something about this different piece of it that would never occur to my brain.
And so, I think it’s just stepping back a little bit and realizing like, oh, I want to know more about how they’re seeing the world and why this is important to them and why they’re making those choices.
And I think that’s just something that can serve us always in relationships, because if we stay in our head and see through our lens, Pam, this is your thing.
PAM: I was going to say.
ANNA: Say it! Because that’s totally it!
PAM: Because so often when we’re trying to figure things out, the first place we go is we put ourselves in their shoes. But the challenge with that is we’re still using the way our brain works. We’re still using the lenses that make sense to us. So, what’s more helpful is seeing through their eyes. So it’s like, seeing more clearly how their brain works, the things that they’re valuing. And those are the clues, because we’re seeing their choices. They’re living at the speed of their joy right there.
So, it’s like, let me take all those clues and see what is interesting to them. Maybe they’re often playing Just Dance with friends and it’s the interpersonal relationships. Maybe it is the music. When they’re not interested in something that we’re bringing up, that is just as much valuable information as actually looking it up. Because it’s telling us, oh, it’s not in that direction that they’re building their web of knowledge and understanding. That’s not where their curiosity is leading them.
Then I want to pay attention to find out, oh, so what is it? Because it’s something. That is so curious. So, it’s just a wonderful example of when I talk about seeing through their eyes, that’s what the difference is, is actually figuring out and seeing what it is that they’re seeing, the connections they’re making, why they are trying to that versus, if I was in their shoes, I’d want to look up Rasputin. But we’re also different, like you were talking about, Erika. Personalities, as well, like how our brains work, what we’re curious about. We’re all building our web of knowledge. It just can be very different knowledge that we are connected to individually.
ERIKA: Maybe instead of starting with, this isn’t making sense to me, start with, this does make sense. I’m just not sure how yet. To just get rid of some of the confusing aspects of it for yourself.
PAM: Yeah. Because it totally makes sense to them. Absolutely.
ANNA: That’s our joy. That’s our puzzle to figure out. That’s that extra connection with that person in front of us.
PAM: I love that so much. Thank you very much to both of you. I really enjoy hearing your perspectives and thanks to people who sent in questions. They are wonderful. I really love just playing around with these and helping people just get a sense, because we can feel so much weight. And that brings us down into that tunnel vision when we’re worried about something. So, to be able to open it up a little bit more, shine some light on some different areas, try and release a little bit of the weight, to help people get a little bit more curious and explore what the different aspects can be.
If you would like to submit a question, there’ll be a link in the show notes, but livingjoyfully.ca/question will also get you there. And we would love to hear from you. Bye! Have a wonderful day.