PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today, I’m here with Sara Yasner. Hi, Sara!
SARA: Hi Pam!
PAM: So, you recently reached out to me to ask whether I have talked about unschooling through menopause on the podcast and I have not. And I thought it’d be great to speak with someone who’s already been thinking lots about it. So, thank you so much for saying yes.
SARA: You’re very welcome. Thank you for having me on. I’m really excited to come here and talk about it today.
PAM: I’m really excited to dive in, too. To get us started …
Can you just share with us a bit about you and your family and what’s everybody interested in right now?
SARA: Sure. We are a family of five and I did ask my kiddos what I could share. So, they’re here in spirit and good with it. So, we’re a family of five and my husband, John and I, we’ve been together about 28 years. And then we have three kiddos. My oldest is Seamus and he’s 20. My middle is Emmett, who’s 17, and my youngest is Pam. Another Pam. And she is nine and a half. And we live in Maine outside of Bangor and we live in an old farm house that was my husband’s grandparents’ home when he was young. So, this was where he came and he was a kiddo. And it’s on a little bit of acreage and we live across the street from a lake. And so, we live on a busy road, but still we’ve, we’ve learned to cross it safely.
And so, we love, as a family, especially the kids and I, love going to the lake in the summer and swimming and kayaking and paddle boarding. That’s new this year. There are several hikes in the area, so we all love hiking. All five of us can agree on we love hiking. And we have a lot of homesteading practices, less now than we used to, but now we have 11 chickens and we also just did a bunch of maple syrup boiling. So, my husband does most of that. I do the very end where we put it in the bottles, but he spends lots of hours out there with the sap. And so, the kids have been involved with that over the years, mostly tapping and collecting the sap and eating the syrup. They love the syrup.
And then we used to have big gardens. We do small ones now. And let’s see. What else do we like to do together? We like board games together. Especially the kids and I, but my husband will join in. And my husband and my sons are really into role-playing games. So, D&D and Forbidden Lands and a lot of other ones. And so, we’ve played as a family on and off for probably about seven or eight years.
And it’s always a really good opportunity for us to work on family dynamics. Often my husband and I are winding up in some sort of deep conversation, conflictual, trying to work out stuff. And I find that it’s great, because it’s a great opportunity for us to work on things. Because it’s a time when we’re sitting together and we’re talking. And most of the time when we’re together, we’re out doing stuff and we’re not chewing on stuff in that sort of a deep way. And so, it really brings up our differences in how we communicate. And so, sometimes it’s hard and I find it very helpful in our communication. So, that’s funny that it’s a hobby of ours, but that tends to be how that goes. So, that’s our family.
You want me to tell a little bit about each kiddo?
PAM: Yeah. That would be cool!
SARA: I’ll start with the youngest, because I’ve had a chance to watch a lot of your podcasts now and I remember when my boys were little and we were just getting into this unschooling and I would hear from people who had older teens and their kids would be into these things and I’d be like, I’m doing something wrong. And then it was just so beautiful how it evolved. And so, I love what my daughter’s into, but I just love starting with her, because she’s nine. And she is loving a lot of online series. So, she’s watching lots of sitcoms, lots of things on families and kids in school and a lot of the ones that were around in the nineties, like Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World and all this. So, she’s really loving that. And then she loves YouTube.
And she really loves to do crafting and making. And so, she’s always working with the glue gun and beads and any material and painting, whatever. She learns and hacks, you know, they have all these hacks, so she tries those out. So, she loves that.
She loves spending time with her friends and does Roblox and Minecraft. So, she’s been new with that in the last year or so and talks to their friends on the line. She loves spending time with their friends. We’re super fortunate that we have two close friends that we connect with. One’s an unschooling family, and one just lives unschooly principles even though their kids go to school. So, we all connect. And they’re within two minutes of us, which in a rural place, it’s amazing. Amazing. So, she gets to go there all the time and she loves that.
And she loves horseback riding, that’s in the last couple of years she started. And she does hike with us. She likes it. She gets a little tired maybe, but she likes hiking and the water and playgrounds and Nerf gun fights and the stuff that I find a lot of nine-year-olds really love, she really enjoys it. And she loves her brothers. So, she’s going to have very high expectations of men when she’s an adult, which I think is awesome because her boys, I call them her boys. So, my sons were eight and ten when she was born and they’ve always been really fantastic with her. And so, I will transition into them now.
So, Emmett is 17 and he recently got his driver’s license, back in January. And my oldest had his license, but didn’t really start driving till this past January. So, both my boys, out of the nest, driving, which is something that, oh my gosh, along with menopause, it’s something I feel like people don’t talk about is how intense that is as a parent to have them drive. But he’s driving. He did great. He did his driver’s ed online. And he has dyslexia, which was identified probably when he was about 11. And so, anyway, he enjoyed the class online. It was perfect, because he could do a lot of different things to help with some of the material. So, he’s doing that.
He’s a gamer. He loves gaming. He’s got a group of friends that they’ve been playing online together for, I don’t know, eight years maybe. And he loves YouTube and exploring all different things online. He’s on the computer a lot. And also, recently he and his friends have been trying to create an animation together. And they’re really starting from scratch. So, they’re having meetings and they’re trying to figure how to do it and then they’re struggling through it. And so, I think it’s great. I stand back and watch. Not that it’s great that they’re struggling, but I mean, it’s part of it.
PAM: They’re figuring it out.
SARA: Right. And then he did martial arts for a long time. He got done last year, but now he’s really into high intensity training, which is this very intense training for short amounts of time, so he does that. He loves biking, he loves hiking, camping. And he went to a couple of outdoor environmental camps before COVID and really loved that. And he’s hoping to work at one this summer. And he works at a grocery store now. It’s his first job at a store, but he babysat for many years, too. So, he’s just a kid who, all the younger kids love him. In our homeschool groups, they all love Emmett. And Emmett thinks everything is fun. So, he’s my kid who’s like, “Wow! Look at that cool new kitchen thing you’ve got! That’s awesome! I want to try it!” So, that’s really fun. That’s really fun.
So, Seamus is 20. He’s also been doing martial arts. He’s still doing it, since he was six and a half. It’s a traditional Okinawan karate and he’s been there for years. He has the advanced belts and it’s a really good thing in his life. He really loves it. So, he does that now, and he also is a gamer. He loves to be online, loves YouTube. Also does the high intensity training and he is taking a couple of community college classes, which he is enjoying.
And he also does Dungeons and Dragons and he is a dungeon master or he leads them. So, he makes up the stories. And so, he is having a really interesting life experience now of figuring out his time, how much time classes take, how much time work takes, and not having enough time for his D&D and feeling frustrated and trying to balance that. So, he’s working through that.
And I asked him and he was fine sharing that he’s always been very focusing on his mental health. He has some depression and anxiety. So, he’s been in counseling, his choice, on and off since about 15. And so, for him, he knows exercise and making a structure for himself is really important. And I was a very unstructured unschooling mom. So, he learned that, oh, I need this. And so, I was like, I support you on it. What can I do to help you have your structure? Because I’m not so good at structure that way.
And then just a little on his history, so he did take some high school classes. He did go to the vocational high school for IT. And he learned he never, ever wants to be an IT person. So, that was good. And he loves camping and hiking and he’s worked at an environmental camp and he went to one for many years. So, he’s doing that this summer again. So, that’s his love.
But the cool thing that I really love sharing with other unschool families, anybody who has teens, is he spent eight months doing the AmeriCorps and triple C program. So, here in the States, it’s the domestic Peace Corps. It’s for 18 to 24-year-olds and they spend ten months or eight months with another group of teens or young adults their age. And they go from project to project, fixing up things. They worked at a COVID vaccination center, checking them in. They did tutoring at a school. They cleaned out invasive plants in in a field, like that type of thing. So, he went and did that and had a lot of adulting experience that came to him as a side, a car accident and food allergies for the first time.
So, going through as a parent, having him go off in the world and he loved that experience and he was so happy to come home. And so, I just feel like I’m on this other end of homeschooling/unschooling and I have a nine-year-old and I’m going through menopause. So, all of that is one of the reasons I reached out and one of the reasons I’ve been loving listening to your podcast, too, lately.
PAM: Oh, wow. Thank you so much for going into the details. That’s what I love about this question, because unschooling kids are unique and unschooling kids have the time to dive into the threads that seem interesting to them. So, it’s so fun to hear just the richness. And we have all that time. We have the time to go hiking and camping and trying out camps, and YouTube, diving into it, figuring animation out, diving into old TV shows that are interesting to us.
That’s what I love is just seeing the diverse way we can approach the world, because, like you were saying, we can feel like, “Am I doing this wrong? Because my kid’s doing this.” But when we see that kids are doing so many different things in different ways at different ages, the age is kind of irrelevant. It’s what strikes them whenever it strikes them. So, thank you so, so much for diving into that.
SARA: Thank you for asking. It’s always fun. Thank you.
I would love to go back a bit and I was curious how you actually discovered unschooling and what your family’s original move to unschooling looks.
SARA: Yeah, so let’s see. I had never heard of unschooling, like a lot of people, until for my first two pregnancies, I had a home birth midwife. And so, she unschooled her family and they also lived on a homestead. And so, being from New Jersey, that was the first time I’d ever experienced those two things, for sure. And then, once I had the kids, I still didn’t think we would homeschool. And I was definitely on that, oh, only a certain amount of TV, a little bit more traditional.
We were definitely attachment parenting. We co-slept and we nursed for a long time, but I didn’t really talk about John and I, but I can weave that in there. So, I’ve worked out of the home most of the years while the kiddos were around. And my husband was usually home if I wasn’t. We had a little bit of childcare and we have my mother-in-law and all this stuff, but early on, I really thought that I had an okay experience with school, and so, they would go to school. That’s just kinda what you did. And all of my friends, when the boys were really little, while they were attachment parenting and nursed a long time, but they all were sending their kids to school. So, that was just what was happening.
I was at work anyway four days a week, so it was like, well, they’ll be gone when I’m gone. And I spent so much time with them when I was home, all my time. And that’s why we co-slept. We kept co-sleeping until they were eight or nine, at least because I didn’t see them during the day. And so, all of that just felt okay.
And so, my oldest son, Seamus, he started kindergarten. And at first it was good. And then after a few months, it wasn’t so good. And they were starting to mention things like, “Oh, we’re a little concerned about his attention.” And he was such a happy-go-lucky kid. He was so like joyful and smiley and happy. And then I remember in February, it was so weird. The school sent home a letter that said, “Well, we’re starting to get concerned about Seamus. He doesn’t seem very happy in school anymore.”
And they would do things like, they had this like red, orange, green thing in the schools. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this, but if you’re doing everything right, you’re a green. And if you’re not, then you’re at a yellow. “Pay attention.” And then if you’re red, “Okay, you should stop.” That concept isn’t horrible. But then there’d be all these consequences. “Oh, you have a red, so you can’t go out to recess,” which you’re like, what? And it was a kindergarten that was so much sitting. Sitting, sitting, sitting.
And so anyway, they wrote me this letter and they said, “Oh, we hate to talk about attention issues at age five. But we’re really concerned, because he just doesn’t seem as happy anymore.” And I was like, whoa. So, I spent these two weeks before this meeting I was going to have with them like, I think I’m going to have to pull him out. Because at that point I was like, I’m not doing anything around attention issues at age five. I don’t even understand what’s happening.
And so, I went in and I was like, I’m just going to have to homeschool. And one of the teachers was like, “I totally understand. I would have homeschooled my kiddo if I wasn’t a teacher in the classroom next door. You do what you need to do.” She was really supportive.
So, we pulled him out and we said, “We’ll just get through this year. And then next year, maybe we’ll try first grade, new teacher. My kid will be mature. It’ll be better.” And we loved homeschooling. We did a little bit of curriculum, but not having to rush him out the door to school. The fact that there was already homework in kindergarten, so we didn’t have to do homework. We didn’t have to worry about the school at all. And I just loved that. And my husband, too. We were like, let’s just do this. Let’s just do it. The decision to pull him out was scary. But then after that, it was easy and flow.
And then, we started to explore unschooling a few years later. We were always very eclectic and I was very much about not pushing reading or anything. He was reading some books, but like picture books, but I felt very good. I read some John Holt. And I was just finding my way and still like, oh, let’s not do too much TV, but I was still playing with the whole idea.
And then actually, my midwife hosted Dayna Martin, who’s an unschool advocate here in the Northeast in the States. And she came to talk about her book. And I went there and then it really started to click like, oh, this is a thing we could do. I just saw on one of your podcasts someone said, “Oh, I thought I was just doing homeschooling wrong, when really I was unschooling.” And I was like, oh yeah, that was me, too. I was like, oh, this felt so good. So good. And I met a woman there who also was on the unschooling path who lived 35 minutes from me.
So, it just started there and lots of reading. John Holt and Dayna Martin, but then I read your book and then we just continued down that path of leaning into it more and more and leaning into it more and more.
I just felt really good about continuing to unravel the aggression that existed in the traditional school system or even in the traditional parenting system. Wow, that’s so aggressive that a kid feels bad because they can’t read yet, or that they’re made to feel bad because they didn’t understand something yet. And so, their grade says F. There’s something so aggressive about, “Oh, you are wrong because you don’t learn at my timeline.” And so, I just kept leaning into that.
And another thing amazed me. So, I have a graduate degree in contemplative psychotherapy, which is a mix of Eastern and Western psychology. And so, I had a whole experience with mindfulness and meditation, which I’ll talk about a little bit more, but that played into it, too, where I was like, this whole compassion thing feels so important. And unschooling just felt like the most compassionate thing. And it was a rocky boat sometimes and my husband and I were not always on the same place at the same time. And we had to keep leaning in and figuring it out, but it felt always like the right path. I loved it. Every time I read it in anybody’s work, I was like, oh, this is me. This is authentically me. And I love it.
And then I would say the biggest shift for us was when I had my daughter. So, she was an unplanned, happy surprise. And I was 40 years old and I had an eight and ten-year-old and here came Pamela. And I literally just didn’t have the energy to worry anymore about if they were spending too much time on the computer or if they did this. I literally was like, “I have to sit here and nurse. And you guys, are you happy? Great. If you’re not happy, come see me. We’ll work it out. But if you’re happy, great.”
And they got so much out of that, because not only did they get to just dive into what they loved, but they loved taking care of Pamela and they loved taking care of me and the house. Like, they were like, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, honey. I’m not sure yet. I need to sit here for a little bit and take care of Pam.” And they’re like, “Oh, well, can I make dinner? I want to have spaghetti.” “Sure.” And so, I would talk them through it. They would cook the spaghetti and then they were like learning that. And then they’d be like, “Oh shoot, Mom. I’m out of clean socks.” “Oh my gosh, honey. I am so sorry. I just need to sit with Pam right now. Can I talk you through it?” “Oh yeah. Cool. I’m going to learn to do laundry.” And then they learned to do laundry.
And so, I felt bad in a way, because I was like, am I neglecting my kids? But it all worked out, I think, beautifully, because they really did the things they wanted to do. I was there to help them even if it was just verbally and not like there doing it. I was right in the same house, same room, even, just not as hands-on. And so, that was like, we are fully unschoolers, because as I saw them continuing to expand and develop and embrace their own lives and their interests and be loving with their sister and with us and each other, I was like, oh, okay, okay. I trust this. I can trust them. I can trust this.
And then, I just feel like so many of the worries, they weren’t even in my life anymore. They would come up once in a while, like with Emmett, where Seamus was starting to read at eight and then by nine, he was onto Harry Potter. And Emmett wasn’t reading and he wasn’t reading and he wasn’t reading. And I was like, oh, he’s gonna read. It’ll be fine. He’s going to read.
And then, he was like, “Mom, I’m bothered that I’m not reading. I want to read and I can’t get this.” And so, then we had him tested and we identified his dyslexia and he did some online programs first and now he’s in an in-person dyslexia tutoring program that he’s really loving. So, there were plenty of those moments where we would take a step back and look at wanting to do something with more purpose or focus maybe than we had before.
But I think that’s part of unschooling, too. You’re always stepping back and saying, “Oh, maybe we want to do something a little different and it’s not like it’s “unclasses or “untutoring,” it’s what works for the kiddo. So, if they want to take a class, awesome, but they’re doing it based on choice.
PAM: Oh, there’s so much in there, Sara. I love that piece. That observation that yes, we’re supporting our kids and helping them navigate the things that they’re wanting to navigate. It’s offering up the possibilities, taking that step back, seeing a bit bigger picture, sharing with them. “Well, there’s this and there’s this and maybe this, and do you want to get tested and learn about that?” And, like you said, it’s their choice. It’s bringing them that bigger picture of the world and possibilities, rather than just hands-off, “Y’all figure that out for yourself,” kind of deal. I love the way you put that.
I also loved your lens of aggression when you were talking about, as you were learning about unschooling, noticing how aggressive different environments were, even parenting and classroom and the judgment that comes with that and the timetable that comes with that, the aggressiveness of trying to get kids to fit into whatever vision we have in our head. I really loved that lens on it, because that is another way to look at it. Not just the judgment, but the aggressiveness of the energy to get them to change and fit and the shame, really, that comes with that if you don’t do it.
And then I love the piece about when your youngest was born and you were forced, for lack of a better word, to sit back for a bit and to give them that extra bit of space and your mind was occupied, caring for her, such that it wasn’t spinning with the worries. So, it put you in that perfect place to give them some more rope, give them some more space and just see what happens instead of worrying about what’s happening. It’s subtle, but that mindset shift, that lens shift for us lets us see and appreciate so much more. Giving them that space to do those things, “Oh yeah! I’ll do that. Just talk me through it.” Again, it’s that supportive piece versus just leaving them to figure things out on their own.
SARA: Right. It’s such a balance, because early on in the unschooling journey, there was always this thing of, you want to do everything to meet your kids’ needs. And then I evolved from that, because of my working outside the home and having young kids and all that, and I was like, everybody has needs.
And then I would finally find like readings, like yes, of course it’s everybody’s needs. It’s just that normally the parents’ needs are important, and so, the kids aren’t, and that’s why they focus on it. But it’s like, well, yes, but sometimes. Sometimes moms or dads will be putting all their energy into their kiddos or their spouse or their home or their work and maybe they’re not really doing a lot of self-care or self-focus. And so, sometimes it’s hard to meet someone’s needs if you’re not meeting your own.
And so, then when we came to that place, it’s not like, they’re not going to get the most out of the unschooling if they can’t have every need met. It’s like, no, no, no. It’s more about everybody’s needs are considered. We have to talk through it. It doesn’t mean everybody can have what they want every second, but it means that we’re aware of it. And we negotiate it and we talk about it and we care about it. And we understand that there’s going to be maybe some sad feelings if someone can’t do what they want, simply because of a life situation or conflict or whatever.
PAM: The answer isn’t, “No, you can’t do that, because you’re a kid.” That’s never the answer. But there are times when things just don’t work. Maybe things just don’t work on the timetable, because again, you never need to say never. We can help them navigate things and we can put it on the board for the future, keep it in mind.
When they feel seen and heard and understood that this is important to them or they want to start walking in that direction or whatever, when they feel supported that way, that’s wonderful. They feel heard. And when they feel that way, then they’re more able to consider other people’s needs as well, when they feel heard. They don’t have to keep shouting, “But I want this, but I need this.” They can hear other people, too, and like back to your board game conversations, together we can figure out ways to navigate. And together, not as in a sit-down meeting, “We’re going to solve this now,” because things change over time.
For me, giving that space, too, allows new creative ideas to bubble up that I just didn’t think of. “Oh, but what if we did this?” It’s not exactly how you were envisioning meeting that need, but when we get down to figure out what the need is behind it, maybe we can find a little bit different way that will still also meet that need well enough for you for now and you gain that little bit of experience. And then it’s like, “Oh no, that was great. I really do want to do that thing.” Or, “Yeah. That was enough. And now I’m ready to move on.” But it’s navigating life versus artificially saying, “Oh, I’m not going to meet your every need because you’ll be spoiled,” or whatever. That doesn’t have to come in the conversation, because life does naturally have things that we bump into all the time, doesn’t it?
SARA: Yeah. And I think for me, it got much easier as the boys got older, because they were driving their thing and they could do a lot on their own. The perfect example is when my oldest wanted to work at the camp he had been going to and he had to write a couple of essays. Or actually a better example is when he was going for his advanced belt at karate and he had to take a hundred question test and he had to write two essays and he had never written a paper before and he was 13.
And so, this was him. He wanted to do it. And he definitely was going to do it, but he hadn’t done it before. So, I was available and he would write and we would talk through it and we’d talk about the different pieces. And he would watch YouTube videos on how to write stuff. And then we’d go back.
And so, his need was to get this done and I was absolutely there with him. And there were times when I was like, “Well, I’m not here this minute, but can we work on it tonight?” or whatever it was. And so, there was this mix where it was his need, he was going after it, and the way I needed to help was totally doable. And it felt like this beautiful collaboration.
And to me, the other part of the aggression is that, when we grow up in that aggressive school system and mistakes are a bad thing, then I think it’s also harder. Because if they feel like, “I can’t do this thing because I’m not perfect. I can’t do it well,” then they might not move forward, but they really have been in a situation where it’s okay. It doesn’t matter. It’s okay that he was 13 before he wrote his first paper. That’s fine. There’s no downside to that. And someone on the outside might say, that’s crazy. When I got to that point in parenting, I wasn’t even there anymore. I couldn’t even relate. I’m like, why is that crazy? Like, no, that’s perfect. He wanted to write this paper. He’s doing it. And it’s fine. So, it’s just more of my unschooling love is having that piece of it.
PAM: Because, oh my gosh, how he figured it out in that moment will stay with him so much more than if you’d spent the three years before that trying to teach him. “Oh, you gotta do this. You gotta do this. And here, write about this. And here, write about this.” Unschooling kids create their own timetable. It’s life. And when the things bubble up, they can figure things out when the need arises.
The other really cool piece that was a big piece for me with unschooling is, because the school just inherently has these requirements. They need to learn all these things by the time they graduate, because they take on this responsibility. “Here’s the stuff that we think you should know and you need to learn all of this before you leave.”
But without that more artificial time table, it’s okay that they’re 13 before there’s a actual need to write an essay or they’re 20 before they actually are interested in pioneer times. What matters is when they’re curious about it, when they’re interested in it, or when they want to have the skill, this experience, etc. It’s just so much richer and more meaningful and stays with them more in those moments, rather than us trying to artificially create a need for them so that they can learn it and hopefully they remember it someday when they need it.
SARA: And just one more thought I wanted to share. I think when you peel away that aggression that’s there in the education system, it’s not aggression like in an abusive way, but aggression in like, you need to do this, and if not, there’s a real problem, when you peel that away, then you get to this point of, we are all individual human beings born with preferences and preferences that develop. And the idea that any of our preferences would be bad or wrong in itself is a little bit of a crazy thought. Especially that there could be a judgment, like, oh, you have a preference for playing piano. Well, that’s cool. Oh, you have a preference for playing video games, that’s bad.
But our innate preferences and our interests are just part of who we are. And they work so hard on trying to combat depression and help self-esteem and all these things in school. And it’s like, well, yeah, because kiddos from an early age are in this space where they really feel judged and some kids can be okay in that environment. They fit in okay and they flourish and they do great. I know that path works for many kids. But for the ones that don’t, it’s just not surprising that there’s so much baggage that has to come out sometime later in life, including from us.
And one thing I realized is when I looked back, when I started finally unschooling, I looked back at my own education, because I was like, oh, well I used to think school was great. I liked it. Well, I had sort of an alternative education from ninth grade on. I went to a part-day theater high school. Then I went to a college here in Maine that had no grades. Everyone was on a first-name basis. You could study anything. It was a super supportive environment. And then I went to this graduate school that was Eastern/Western philosophy, where we spent half our time meditating. So, no wonder I liked my education.
PAM: Oh, that’s fun. That’s a great point. Those were more tailored experiences that you could choose, the choice to go to those schools too, right?
When we first connected, as I mentioned earlier, you had said you’re curious about other women’s experiences with parenting and unschooling youngest children during menopause. So, I thought it’d be great to dive into that if you could share some of your experience. And I just want to say that we definitely welcome listeners to share their experiences in the comments for this episode and we can make this a conversation.
SARA: I would love that. You can either reach out to me or we’ll figure it out, because I would love to. So, first of all, Pam, I have to say thank you so much, because when I wrote you a couple of weeks ago, I was really in the space of focusing on what I was experiencing as the challenges of menopause. And I had been processing a lot over the years and especially over the last six months, but I was really in a place that felt kind of stuck, which is, after watching a lot more of your videos, I felt like I was probably in a cocoon phase actually. But you offering to have me on the show was just this wonderful moment where I was able to switch my focus. And as I’m thinking and preparing for this conversation, I was just able to switch things and see things and hear things and understand things in a little bit different way.
I’ve listened to quite a few of your podcasts, but I went back looking for ones where I felt like maybe there were things that related to parenting when you’re a little older or during menopause or that second child or third child years later. And I got so much out of listening, from you and your guests. I’ve just loved them. And actually, I’ll send it to you, I have a list of ones that I think speak to concepts and so you can put them in the notes or whatever. But I even went back from the beginning. So, thank you so much.
PAM: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Yeah, I’ll definitely put the links in the show notes. Thanks so much.
SARA: So, let me step back a minute and I’ll just start with some definitions, because I knew very little about menopause and I am 50 now. And so, in my mid-forties, I was like, okay, so menopause is this thing. Women, you stop your period. You’re not fertile anymore. And maybe there’s some stuff that goes on with you, but it’s just this thing. And I was always like, I think it’s such a great time. I’ve heard it’s a time where you focus on yourself more and, and you’re also at a place where your kids are a little bit older, so they don’t need you in the same way. And you just have all this time.
It’s good to have a physical experience in your life that makes you focus on yourself a little bit after all those years of parenting and all that.
And I was having some symptoms. So, what I learned since I’ve been having more symptoms is that perimenopause is a term that’s used in the years leading up to menopause. So, that could be three months. That could be eight years. And there are a lot of different symptoms. And maybe we can put them in the notes, but kind of like PMS symptoms, but they just happen sporadically. And then you throw in there sometimes a hard time sleeping, lots of moods up and down, dry skin, things like that. But that leads up to menopause.
And menopause itself is actually the moment that is 12 months since your last period. So, that’s what menopause is. It’s that moment in time. And you really have to wait, because you could go eight months without a period and then get a period. So, you’ve got to wait. So, 12 months, that’s menopause. And then after that is called post-menopause.
And so, for me, I look back and say, well, I had some perimenopause symptoms, but I also was raising a little girl at age 40, 42, 43. So, I feel like it was hard to divide the two, because it’s hard to have a baby when you’re in your forties and you already went through it once. But now looking back, I remember having a lot of like anger and aggression that would come out of nowhere, like it wasn’t even in response. And I was just like, what is this? And so, anyway, that was a symptom.
So, most of my symptoms, though, that have been challenging for me have been really in the last six to eight months. This may be a TMI episode for some people, but that’s just how I roll. So, I have been officially in menopause for about eight months. So, I’ve gone my 12 months and then it’s been about eight months. And honestly, it’s pretty much since I officially hit menopause that some of these symptoms have been getting to me and that I feel like they impact how I interact with my family.
And I talk about with my youngest daughter, because she really is the one I spend the most consistent time with and she’s changing, too. I mean, nine to me is huge. For my family anyway, all my kids changed a lot at age nine, from where they were at the beginning to the end, all of a sudden, they were way more independent. And I might not see them for six hours because she’s online or playing with friends.
But basically, some of the symptoms, some of the things that were getting at me were, I was just having a lot of mood changes, just random. And I was like, I don’t understand this. I would, again, have this sort of anger, agitation. Some people talk about you feel like you’re crawling out of your skin and you just don’t know why. And I was having some trouble sleeping or waking up in the middle of the night. And I was also really desiring some more time to myself, which has been much easier as my daughter’s gotten older. But even a year ago, let’s say, she was still at that stage where she really wanted me a lot and I always want to be there for her, but I felt less joyous.
And then the other symptom that comes up is focus. There’s all of a sudden, this sort of foggy brain that wasn’t there before maybe not since pregnancy. I remember foggy brain in pregnancy a little bit. So, all of this stuff is coming out of nowhere at a time when I think, wow, things should be a lot easier, because my kids are all older. I look around my life and I appreciate all the different aspects of my life and so, why am I grumpy? Or why am I angry? What is going on? So, that’s one thing.
And then I have time. My daughter’s happily engaged. Everyone’s engaged. I have time to jump into my hobbies and now I don’t want to. That’s something, too. The stuff I used to love to do, I’m a musician and I love writing music and playing music, and I was like, I don’t want to do that. And then I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t read a book. I’d start reading a book and I’m like, I can’t read anymore. And so, it was just like, what is going on?
And so, when you’re having those types of things, it’s hard to be your best self with your family. And so, I started to dive into some research. And when I finally realized that it was post-menopause, that helped me feel a lot better, because I was like, this is a thing. Everybody goes through it differently. Some people, it’s a few months. Some people, it’s up to four years. Some people might not experience any of it. And I know it’s not forever, but it made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy. I’m someone who really focuses on appreciation, like appreciating and focusing on the good. And that was harder to do. And I was like, why? I don’t understand. Everything at this point should be so much easier. I’m excited about this phase of my life. I love having teen boys. I love how my daughter’s getting older. It’s so fun. And yet, I’m this different person.
So, that’s my like general overview of where I was. And I do have some great resources to share, too, education about menopause. And then also, I found this great YouTube series on understanding all the different treatments that someone may or may not choose to use, from someone who isn’t biased on a particular perspective. So, anyway, I will send that.
But then, since preparing these last two weeks, what has become so clear to me is how much the unschooling principles are just so perfect to address me, to address all that I’m going through, to address life. The unschooling principles are awesome as a parent and thinking about my kids and supporting them. But when I think about, for me, years ago after a conference, I had put together my life philosophy around unschooling.
And so, mine were, life is about growth and joy and being and becoming our most authentic self. So, that, to me, was our unschooling. Everyone’s wants and needs are important and considered and our family does its best to regularly collaborate, compromise, and problem-solve. So, that was at the base of our life. And this one was important as I continued to take apart the, “being successful means being productive,” our value as human beings is inherent and not based on what we produce, learn, or achieve.
SARA: So, those are also incredibly helpful when you’re going through anything. It might be menopause. It might be a broken leg as a mom. It might be leaving a job or a challenge with anyone. But that compassion and that perspective, the reason I was loving rewatching your podcasts was because that compassion runs through it. Our compassion towards our kids, and our compassion towards our spouse, and our compassion towards ourself. And so, while there may or may not be things I can do for my symptoms or choose to do, I do know this is a particular amount of time. I do know that by looking at these principles and having that self-compassion at a really high level and sharing that with my kids, they all know what I’m going through. They all understand. And I can say, “I am feeling really anxious right now. I’m going to go out for a walk and I hear that you want to have me help you do this. Can I do it in 20 minutes? Because I need to go do something to take care of myself by myself right now.”
So, that has been incredibly helpful as I’ve navigated this menopause piece and how it helps me to stay in connection with my kids, but also make sure that I’m attending to my own needs.
PAM: Oh, that’s so beautiful. So beautiful, Sara. I love how you came up with those foundational principles for you, for your family through the unschooling lens. Because I imagine when you first created them, it was more with your kids in mind. You came home from an unschooling conference, you were all fresh and inspired, and this distills how this feels like the kind of parent I want to be for my kids. And to go back and revisit it, for me, that was one of the big a-ha moments.
And I talk about it in the episode that came out as we’re recording this, it came out last week. So, just a couple of weeks ago when this goes live. It was a talk I shared about learning, but the big a-ha moment for me at the end that I share is like, oh, this all applies to me, too.
And so, when you go back to those and look through the lens of ourselves, look through the lens of you, it’s like, oh yes. I am inherently valuable as a human being, regardless of all the measures and the expectations. Those are just extras. Those are just noise, in the end. I can choose what I want to bring into my life. But to see those pieces, it just hits you more deeply. It’s like another layer, like, oh yes, I am worthy of all these things, too, not just for my kids, but it’s for our family. And I am a full member of this family, too. That’s beautiful. I love that.
You mentioned a couple of challenges and I just wanted to check in and see if there were any more, because we had had this as a question, but we knew that things would come up in the flow of conversation. But if there was a challenging moment or two that you just wanted to talk about how you’ve moved through it as an example.
SARA: Well, I definitely could talk about those.
I also want to talk about mindfulness a little bit more in a minute, but I do want to say that, in some of those challenges, in all of the challenges I’ve experienced, those symptoms, when I’m thinking about challenges now, two weeks later, now that I’m thinking about it in this new lens, the challenges with my family are really all about communication. It’s all about me being able to express what I need and be aware of, if I have this sort of like underlying fear that they’re going to be disappointed or angry or hurt or something.
And so, sometimes that messes up the communication. Sometimes I can be more aggressive if I think I’m going to get that response. So, what helps me to have that communication, the mindfulness piece I’ll talk about in a minute, but exercise has been huge. I’m a person who really, I don’t do a ton of medications and things like that, for me. And so, exercise has been paramount. And so, I’m walking twice a day. I started swimming. I will go down and just jump on the rebounder, that little inside trampoline, because I just have this energy and all I have to do is exercise and that will help the hormones move around. Because that’s what’s happening is there’s this imbalance that’s happening at the moment of those hormones.
And instead of getting caught up with what’s wrong or focusing on, I have this bad feeling, it must be because of this, it’s like, let me exercise. Because it could be, I’ll feel great after, which 99% of the time, I do. So, exercise, exercise.
And then sleep is always a thing. I said that through all parenting. Sleep when you can and when you want to. So, I go to bed early, usually with my daughter these days, and that’s fine. And I just do my best to sleep when I can. And if I wake up in the middle of the night, this is the part that connects with mindfulness and meditation, is having awareness of whether I’m heaping pain on myself by being so self-aggressive, because I’m not sleeping. There’s this thought like, I should be asleep. There’s no baby crying. No one needs me. There’s no toddler crawling into my bed. I should be asleep and I’m not asleep. And that’s a problem. Instead of, it’s okay. I’m awake. I can listen to something. I can just relax. I can do whatever. I can just enjoy laying here. Because there’s many years as a parent, you don’t get to just lay anywhere. So, I appreciate that.
So, the mindfulness/meditation piece really plays into it. I would say those are my biggest things, exercise and sleep. And I always eat well. I’m always focusing on making sure I’m feeding my body the right way. So, that’s important for me. And then connecting, whether it was through watching your podcasts or doing this or talking to friends, so that connecting is really helpful to chat about these types of things. Education and connecting are sort of connected, because I might be watching something or I might be leaving comments or I might be chatting.
So, for anyone going through it, I would definitely exercise, get sleep when you can. These are what works for me anyway. And then eating good food, get educated, because it helps to know menopause is maybe causing this, and then connect as much as you can. And feel free to reach out to me, because I love talking about this.
PAM: Oh, that’s lovely. I love that, Sara. That connection piece, too, that community piece. And that’s one thing I love, too, and I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, is that we can have different communities, different people we connect to around different things. There is our connection with our kids and there’s connection with unschooling and maybe there’s connection that we may have through learning about a particular thing, like learning about menopause or hobbies or all those different things.
And I find that so helpful, because then we don’t put an expectation on one particular group that they will help us about all the things.
PAM: Because everybody’s a unique being and we all have different things that are interesting to us. So, to expect that somebody else would have the exact same list is wild. So, that is really interesting to think about. Information can be so valuable in that it just helps us understand things a bit better. When we’re ready, “You know what? I want to learn a little bit more about this.”
Sometimes it takes a while to realize or to even put together, oh, this might be around this thing, I’m going to go learn a little bit more about menopause. And, like for your experience anyway, it helped you feel better, because there was a reason. There was a lens that you could put on that that helped you understand how your body was working right now. And it helped explain some of the things that were confusing to you. Like, why am I feeling this anger? Why am I feeling anxious? Why am I not sleeping so well some nights? And to see the bigger picture pattern that those are all related. They’re not all distinct things. The world isn’t falling apart. It’s great to be able to recognize those patterns.
You have mentioned this a couple of times, so I thought it would be really fun to dig into, you have a background in mindfulness and meditation. So, you’ve mentioned how that has woven in with your menopause journey a bit. And I’d love to hear about how you find that weaving together with unschooling. You mentioned the compassion piece. I think that that’s a really big piece. I love that.
SARA: Yeah. I feel like that’s my tag word. That’s my word. Compassion for self and compassion for others. I just feel like everything boils down to that for me. So, I was introduced to meditation back in the late nineties when I went to this graduate program and I had never meditated and I’m someone who loves talking. And so, having this quiet time to reflect was challenging. And what I learned through that three years though was so much.
And I would say now, mindfulness is much more mainstream and you can find so much information out there. But for me, it boils down to having an awareness that we are not just the sum of our thoughts, that we have a lot of stuff running through our head and some of it doesn’t even really belong to us. Some of it we hear outside of us. But we don’t know that. And a lot of times we don’t know there’s a gap between what we think, how we feel, and what our action is. And our nervous system keeps us going with that, because depending on sort of the hormones that are released, if it’s an upsetting thought, if it’s a thought that that causes us to have fear or anger, then that switches the part of the brain we use and then that causes us often to fight, flight, or freeze. We lose that part of our brain that can actually problem solve and be more compassionate and think through things in a more humane way.
So, now it’s a lot more mainstream, but back then for me it wasn’t as much so, but what I experienced through the forced meditation in some ways, I mean, there was no gun to our head, but it was like, you really need to do this and we have eight hours here. The only direction was just to let go of your thoughts, sit and return to the moment. Every time you’re lost in thought, release your breath and return to the moment and you might do that over and over again and that’s fine. But eventually, you get more and more of a gap when you’re sitting and there isn’t really a thought until you have the thought that says, oh, I’m not having a thought. And then you’re like, okay, I’ll label that. Thank you.
And the experience I had, I actually got to experience this like increased self-compassion and self-acceptance that I’d never experienced before, that I was like, wow. I can choose not to believe that thought. I can choose to just notice it. And the other part was loving kindness for self and other. This term Maitr? is what we used in the dogma of that particular program. But it basically just means loving kindness for self and other, because if you’re going to slow down enough to see your thoughts, there’s a lot of self-acceptance that has to happen, because we can get very self-aggressive about what we think. And the only way we can not cover that up by being busy and whatever is by being like, okay, it’s a thought and it’s okay. I’m going to allow myself to have that thought and I don’t have to act on it. I don’t have to follow it.
And so, that practice that brought me this great new experience was so helpful when we moved into unschooling, because there were so many thoughts that I had to notice and realize, oh, it’s a thought. And then a thought can turn into a belief. Or beliefs are just thoughts that we think a lot, really. So that allowed me to be like, oh, well, that’s a belief, but is it solid? Is it factual? Does it have to be? Do I need to believe it?
And so, the more I could use mindfulness to, one, deconstruct some of that. And then two, in the moment when I actually noticed myself reacting, either saying no, or getting angry or whatever, if I had a little gap, enough to not react, not say whatever I was going to say, that could be very kind to the other person and then also that could give me a chance to consider, what do I really want? What’s my intention? This is my reaction, but what’s my intention?
So, they just came together beautifully. And, because I didn’t really talk about myself, the other thing that I’m very much engaged with as a philosophy is a lot of things around law of attraction. And so, law of attraction and positive psychology has a lot of the same pieces, but really it’s about that our thoughts matter, that our intentions matter. It’s also a lot about self-compassion. It’s a lot about, you are great, right where you are at this moment and you can focus on what brings you joy. And that’s not necessarily a piece of mindfulness, but appreciation and what brings you joy is actually important for creating more of it in your life. And neuroscience backs that up, too, because it talks about creating the pathways to joy. And if you’re comfortable and used to experiencing joy and seeing the good in things, your brain does that more and more comfortably and easily.
So, the spiritual weaves into the neuroscience and, to me, it all fits together. And to me, that’s my life stool now, my chair, my three-legged stool. So, I have an unschooling, law of attraction, and mindfulness. And this is all thanks to you that over this last two weeks, I was able to consciously bring that together. They all, for me, are such a perfect blend of how I approach my life, how I approach my relationships, what I look to. And that is super helpful for menopause and any other stage of my life that I’m going to go through. And so, that’s my little spiel on mindfulness and also all those things.
PAM: Oh, I love how you built your stool. How fun to dive in and just to take the time when it bubbled up to see how those weave together for you. And to see how it just builds a stronger foundation for us, doesn’t it? And it gives us that lens closer to the surface to look at our days, look at our moments, to recognize the pieces. That is something that Anna and I talk about a lot on the podcast, is that there is joy. It’s not about, I need to fix all the things in my life, so that finally things are good and then there will never be any more problems and off we go. Like I need to do these things before I can feel better or before I can have a good life.
But really, when you take the time to look around you, even in the hard moments, even in the hard seasons, there are bits of joy. There are pieces of joy and that’s the thing. Some people will think, same with the positive psychology, criticism of that, they think that it’s ignoring the hard things. It’s not. But when you can see the joy alongside it, too, those are just little reenergizing nuggets to help you as you move through the harder moments.
For me, it helps me see bigger picture, because when harder times come, I can get very tunnel vision, just focusing on, now I’ve got to solve this thing. How are we going to solve this thing? Oh my gosh, this is hard. This is hard. And I get very tunnel vision and I can’t see other possibilities as easily. I can’t be creative in coming up with other ways. I want to fix it as fast as possible. But a really good idea is like two days away if I can just give space for it, to be more curious about how this might unfold, if I can sit with it for a while and see it and hold it and be compassionate towards myself and everybody else who’s involved and notice the pieces of joy. And it’s like, oh, this isn’t all my life. There are other pieces. This is just part of it.
SARA: And that’s part of why I’ve had so much fun going back and listening to your podcast, because before when I would listen, I’m like every other unschooler, so I’m having a challenge with unschooling, so I look for podcasts that have the topic.
SARA: But I wasn’t listening or reading a lot, because I sorta was like, I get this unschool thing, which most of the time I do. And what I say about that, it’s like, I’m no longer worried about what the schools or what the community thinks. I don’t even think about it. It doesn’t even play into it. But I’m getting so much out of listening, because there are so many other nuggets in your podcasts and it’s also such a positive community. Your podcasts are positive and the ability to focus on the good is so prevalent.
And the reality is, Pam, that the good stuff in life is just as real as the bad stuff. And our brains are sometimes wired to look for the bad, because we’re afraid of the tiger in the woods or whatever. But since most of the time there isn’t that there, it’s important to strengthen that other part of our brain. And also, it’s fun. And it’s like, I want to feel good and I want to make the world a wonderful place. And if I’m feeling horrible, I am not doing that. I am not helping anyone. So, I have to make sure I’m feeling good. Then I can look at some of the challenges and say, oh, that’s good contrast. Clarity. Great. Let’s go in that direction. So, yeah. Thank you for that, too.
PAM: Yeah. I love what you took out of it. And that’s something every once in a while I encourage people, to go back to older episodes or just pick one randomly. Because even ones that we listened to months ago or whatever, when we’re in a new place, we see new things and we make connections and there is always more to pick up. And there’s your stool. No, that’s really fun.
What is your favorite thing about the flow of your unschooling days right now?
SARA: All right. Great. And I can weave in a little bit about John in this. So, we have a life now and really have for the last nine years where, even though I work outside the home, it’s flexible and I really can come and go as I need to. I can work from home if I have to. And so, our flow is lovely. So, my husband is home. He has a portable sawmill business. So, he has a lot of off time in the winter, but we work together on all of the things that need to be done.
So, we process wood together for our woodstove and we clean the house together and we take turns making dinner, the kids and I. And John loves role-play, Dungeons and Dragons stuff, just like the boys do. So, they talk a lot about that and there’s so much joy in sharing that and different podcasts they watch and different streaming things they watch. And so, I love watching that. Because we’re all around. We’re out working, doing things, but we’re back and there’s just that flow.
And then my husband is also an artist. And right now, he loves painting miniatures and building different things out of all materials that might be part of a role-playing game. And my daughter loves that. So, the two of them will sit in his workshop and they’ll do all sorts of things and they’ll paint and she wants to do this thing that she saw on YouTube and she needs help and he’ll come out and help.
And so, I love that.
And as the weather gets nicer, then we can go on hikes more together. And I just love our flow. We kind of all have our spaces, like our corners, where we all do our thing, but we’re in the downstairs, so we’re all around each other and we see each other. Oh, they’re exercising now, or they’re jumping on the trampoline, or they’re watching that show. Or Pamela will say, “Oh, Seamus, I want you to watch this YouTube thing about this planet.” Or Seamus will be doing a biology lab at home, because it’s a class he does at home. And he always asks, Pamela, “Pamela, do you want to do this with me?” And she will. So, they’ll sit together measuring things or whatever. And so, I have a lot of joy with that sort of flow.
PAM: Oh my goodness. I love that so much. And it’s so fun to see people weaving together. “Oh, I’m doing this experiment. Do you want to come?” “I’m painting this, do you want to hang out?” And everybody just flowing and meeting up as they overlap and everybody having their spaces, too. And all of that is valued, not one better than the other or anything like that. I love that so much. Well, thank you so, so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Sara. I really appreciate it.
SARA: Well, thank you so much, Pam. Thank you. I had a lot of fun.
PAM: Oh, I had so much fun, too. And before we go, where can people connect with you online?
SARA: So, I’m on Facebook under Sara Yasner. And also, I have a children’s music page that I produced a children’s CD and I have a bunch of singalongs I did with my daughter, which is super cute
because she was like four and so cute. So that’s at Sara Singalongs. I can give you the link.
PAM: Yeah! I’ll put the links to all that in the show notes. So, thank you very much again and have a great day.
SARA: Thanks. Bye.