PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and this week, Anna Brown and Erika Ellis join me again to answer listener questions. Hello hello!
PAM: Now, just before we dive in, I 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 that works for everyone.
So instead, our focus is on considering the situation from the different perspectives of those involved and playing with the kinds of questions we might ask ourselves to better understand the nuances of the challenge, the situation, or whatever. And maybe we’ll brainstorm some possibilities for moving forward if that’s applicable to the question. So basically, we’re sharing food for thought through the lens of unschooling.
Now, Hajdra submitted a quick question that I thought I’d just address up front. They have fallen in love with the idea of unschooling and would like some guidance about submitting their letter of intent. So, they wrote,
“How do I go about the letter of intent? Of course, each state is different, but I just would like some insight as to how to go about under the context of homeschooling, even though we’re not going to do that.”
So, yes, definitely the process for homeschooling approval varies not only by country, but also by state, province, or however your country divvies up the responsibility for education, basically.
But in the bigger picture, I think it will be really helpful to remember that unschooling is a style of homeschooling. So, yes, definitely, you will be homeschooling within their definition of what homeschooling is. It’s not going to school.
Also, using that more common language is less likely to cause confusion and concern for the school board. If they do need more detailed information, I think it’s most helpful to connect with local unschoolers and just learn how they navigate the process. I’m sure they will be very happy to share any tips that they have. That has been my experience anyway. People are very helpful for those who want to learn how they go about things. Anyway, I hope that helps.
And, Anna, do you want to get us started?
ANNA: I do. Quickly though, I’m going to encourage anyone starting out to read their actual statutes, whether that’s for their state, their province, whatever that would look like. Because people will often oversell the difficulties and often there will be over-asks. That’s what we found in North Carolina and Virginia has done the same, like over-asks beyond what the actual law requires. So, it just really helps to know your homeschooling laws inside and out and just give them what the homeschool law asks for. So, I just wanted to add that. On to our first question.
“Hi. I would love to hear a discussion on how to approach supporting a child with learning difficulties. My son was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, and the support recommended is tutoring two to three times per week. If it was up to him, he just wouldn’t write ever. How would you support the child’s interests while still helping where they struggle?”
So, I think this is a very personal decision and there are so many factors to consider. My oldest had a severe brain injury after her birth, and there were lots of dire predictions for her. She actually learned to speak very early, but with physical aspects, those came much more slowly. And we chose to focus on who she was and her strengths.
Schools have a very deficit-focused mentality. They are taking a diverse group of individuals and attempting to bring them to a center line. My nephew excelled at math, but was “behind” in English and they would remove him from his math classes to tutor him in English, which ended up making him be behind in both. Ultimately my sister took him out of school, but by the time he left, and he was still very young, he hated school and everything associated with what would be called learning.
I feel like we’re much better served playing to our strengths, growing the things that we love to do. Because where there are things that will serve us along that path to what we love, we’ll pick it up as we need it.
And my daughter didn’t write until she was maybe an early teen. It never held her back. She still only writes in a block print and she’s married and has bought a house and had jobs and all the things. She’s brilliant. She types and texts mostly, but she’s able to write if she needs to. But it wasn’t something that needed to be drilled into her two to three times a week when she was younger. And knowing her, I believe that would have ended up making her feel less than and would not have celebrated all that she brought to the world.
When she wanted to learn to write, which actually happened to be to fill out a driver’s application for her learner’s permit, she learned, and she was ready to practice and figure it out in a way that made sense for her. And just as a side note, if you’ve ever seen a prescription written out, you know most doctors have terrible handwriting. So, this idea that everyone has Erika-level handwriting is not realistic.
But if your son needs to write, he’ll let you know. And maybe there are some tools and ideas that could help him. And for me, I would let him know that those exist and I’d let him know that I’m on his side and I’m happy to help when he’s ready, but in the meantime, let’s just enjoy all that you’re doing and who you are and all the ways that you shine now and what you bring to the world, because that confidence, that feeling good about ourselves is just so valuable as we’re learning skills that are hard for us down the road.
ERIKA: Yeah. Thanks for the question. It was fun to think about. The first thing that bubbled up for me when I read it was just some of the pros and cons of the learning disability diagnoses, because a diagnosis can really be helpful to a person in understanding how their brain works, maybe getting access to tools and services that are available, finding community who’ve been through similar challenges, and so on. There can be benefits to the individual who seeks out that diagnosis.
But one big downside of the process is the whole system that’s built around it, which can feel like a conveyor belt, particularly for children. Once you have the diagnosis, this is what you do next, and next, and next. And the recommended steps, unfortunately, are often presented as the only way to do things and also as an emergency. It feels urgent that these steps be followed as soon as you receive the diagnosis.
So, in this case, the next step you’ve been told is that tutoring needs to happen multiple times a week. It’s presented in a, “This is what has to happen. It has to happen now,” type of way. And that’s a lot of pressure for parents and it really does disconnect us from what’s happening in reality.
Dyslexia and dysgraphia describe issues that are much more serious for someone who’s in school. In school, information is presented through written words and writing is how their performance is measured. So, anything that makes a child’s progress slower in reading or writing really affects how they do in school. And that’s why those skills are overemphasized in that environment. In the real world, there’s all kinds of ways to access information and to communicate. And so, people can figure out ways to do the things that work well for them. And so, the timeline doesn’t have to be so rigid.
The situation you’re describing is a top-down approach with the diagnosis and the tutoring. The adults have recognized and labeled this problem and then decided on an appropriate solution without the interest or the input of the child. And that is so different than working in support of the child’s process and needs and desires.
A child who is expressing frustration that they aren’t able to read the text in the game they’re playing, or who is having a hard time typing in the chat box and being understood by their friends has a real-life desire for those skills and is looking for support. Working with that child to brainstorm ideas of things that could help feels so great on both sides. It’s like being on the same team. Here’s this challenge. We’ll work together to figure things out. You could say, “Here’s one idea we could try. What do you think? Do you have ideas of other ways I could help you with this?”
On the other hand, with a top-down approach and a child who is not interested in participating in the intervention, the interactions can feel adversarial. It’s totally different. It’s very disconnecting. Children might feel misunderstood and judged. Like, “The people around me don’t understand what’s important to me.” They can internalize a belief that there’s something wrong with them. And the learning will probably come more slowly or not be as memorable, because it’s being resisted. If a child doesn’t see a need for it, it’s not going to stick.
Also, the word “ever” stood out to me. “If it was up to him, he just wouldn’t write ever.” And maybe at this phase of his life, he’s not seeing any need for it, but that does not mean that he never will. And it can be surprising to people who are accustomed to the school timeline to see just how varied unschooling children can be in terms of learning to read and write. Without time pressure, things can look very individual.
My daughter loves practicing writing and drawing, though her interest really only started in the last couple of years. She’s 10 now. And my son is so fast at typing, but he doesn’t have much need or interest in hand-writing anything. And so, his typing is more useful to him and that’s where he has his strongest skills.
It seems to me that the school approach is to create a timeline and a curriculum of information and skills to be acquired in a certain order, just in case they’re needed some time later. So, it’s disconnected from a real need or real interest. And in my unschooling approach with my kids, the skills and the information are acquired in the order that makes sense as it’s needed in pursuing the things that they’re interested in.
So, when the need and desire to read or write is there, which it probably will be to some degree for everyone, because of the world that we live in, then my kids will want that skill and I can support them in whatever ways they need. It’s also, I think, so amazing how much of their learning happens almost in this invisible way, as they continue to just engage in doing what they love. It feels like their skills just improve and no one’s doing anything.
And also, I was really curious about the age of the child in the question, just because I feel like that would really affect my response, too. There’s just such a wide range of ages at which reading clicks or writing becomes interesting. And emphasizing those skills before a child is developmentally ready for them can be just so frustrating for everyone involved. What’s easy for one child when they’re five could take another child until they’re 12 to get, but neither one is wrong. And I just love having lots of time to give my kids to acquire skills at the pace that makes sense for them without adding pressure.
That’s all I have for that, Pam.
PAM: I love that age range piece, because maybe they pick them up, like you said, at five or 12, but the 12-year-old isn’t sitting around waiting. And it doesn’t matter the pace that they gain the skills, because also, they’re learning and doing other things. The one who picked up those particular skills at five is not picking up the same skills as the one at 12. They’re just in different orders and different paces. So, I think that’s brilliant. And once we can open up our mind to that and realize that the timetable that school needs for the system’s needs, I mean, they make sense in that system. But they are also arbitrary and particular to that system. When you’re outside the system, we don’t need to put in those artificial constraints.
Anyway, I just wanted to reiterate what you guys have said that it can be so helpful to recognize that learning difficulties are actually more specifically difficulties learning in the conventional classroom style. So, as Erika mentioned, handwriting is valuable to develop early as a skill in school, because that really is the only way that they can communicate to the teacher, through written homework and tests, etc. So, to just realize and recognize that that is the lens through which those tutoring recommendations are made, because they’re expecting that’s the system that you’re trying to fit into. And they’re trying to be helpful.
With unschooling, we don’t have those environmental constraints. So, your son can follow his own path on his own time table. And you can support him in whatever ways he’d like along the way as he pursues his interest. I think it could be interesting to ask yourself some questions, like how not writing by hand right now is getting in the way of him pursuing his interests. Just open up that lens a little bit more and see the other ways that he’s enjoying pursuing his interest.
Just because you said, if it was up to him, he just wouldn’t write ever. It sounds like, no. Right now, he’s not saying, “Oh my gosh. I wish I could write, because it’s getting in my way, because,” no, that doesn’t seem to be happening. He seems to be pretty happily engaged in the things that he wants to do right now.
So, that’s another question to ask, how is it getting in the way of his learning? Is it slowing him down through his eyes, with what he’s trying to learn? Not what you’re expecting that he should be learning at this age, but really diving in seeing him for who he is and how he enjoys. As Anna mentioned, strengths, look at his strengths and those strengths that you see right now in the way he’s bringing in information or communicating information, that is where that rich learning is.
Like Erika mentioned, you almost don’t notice the learning, because they’re just doing the things. They’re doing the things with gusto, because that’s what they’re interested in right now. So, supporting that helps learning happen so quickly and more easily for them when it’s where they are rather than us trying to pull them away from all the things they want to be engaged in and saying, “Oh, no, we need to go to the tutor, because of this thing that you may want to do down the line,” it’s not going to sink in. It’s not going to be an enjoyable experience. There’s going to be so much resistance.
And if you’re choosing to judge it on learning, which way is more learning happening? Is more learning happening with enjoyment and gusto and fun?
So, the other piece I just wanted to mention is it’s interesting to think about writing itself. What is writing for? Writing is about communicating our thoughts. And handwriting is an even smaller subset of that, as you guys both mentioned. Texting, typing. I have a blog post on that that we can link to called, Learning to Write is About Communicating. And we’ll put that in the show notes.
When we want to communicate with someone, there are so many more possibilities than just those handwritten notes. And I know, as we talked about, school needs that, because they need to hand out the worksheets so that they can mark the worksheets. They need to hand out the tests, etc. But in the real world, outside of that system, there are so many possibilities. We don’t need to bring those constraints into our lives. There’s talking face-to-face.
So often, we say with unschooling and homeschooling, if I’m explaining to somebody who’s like, “Hey, you’re homeschooling, what about tests?” I’m like, “Hey, I don’t have 30 children. I can just talk to them. And in conversations, I know what they’ve picked up. I see them using new words in conversation. All those pieces, I can see that happening.” Talking face-to-face is absolutely a valuable way of communicating, not to be discounted. “Oh, we’re just talking.”
There’s typing. There’s recording an audio message if they’re not quite proficient or they’re not interested in typing. There’s recording a video message. There’s lots of tools out there now. When communicating is your root goal, you can find all sorts of ways beyond just handwriting. And so, you can support your child’s communication through whatever style they prefer at the time. And what is so fun with unschooling is watching to see how that grows and changes over time.
Back to what Erika was mentioning about the ever/never kind of thing. Truly, no matter how much you even want it to stay the same, because, oh, this is very relaxing and lovely, right? It will not stay the same.
ANNA: It won’t!
I want to highlight something really quick that Erika said, because you and I were just talking about this in a Network context, but that sense of urgency. Because I feel like if we can let go of one thing, it would be that sense of urgency that’s put on us by these other institutions, because it clouds our vision. “Oh, we’ve got to make a decision right this second.”
And we don’t. You can take time. You can learn more about each other. You can talk about possible solutions. Set aside that sense of urgency that’s coming from outside of your family and outside of yourself. And that just allows you that space to find a solution that feels good to both of you. So, I just wanted to highlight that piece.
PAM: Brilliant. Yes. It is amazing when we just take that moment to think about, why is this urgent? Why is this such a big deal? You start to recognize how often we’re operating on someone else’s timetable. So, that’s brilliant. Okay, Erika, you want to go to question two?
ERIKA: Yeah. I do!
“Hi there! My partner and I are parents to a bright and bubbly one-year-old. We knew long before our son was born that we wanted to unschool our future children and now here we are at the beginning of our journey. We also both work part-time. So, we divide our time home with our son equally between us and are fortunate enough to have childcare help from each of our own parents weekly.
Our son gets along wonderfully with all of his grandparents. However, I’m feeling uneasy about some of the ways that they interact with him since they don’t really align with our values when it comes to parenting. They are much more traditional. I’m also feeling insecure about explaining to them our unschooling hopes and dreams, since they are much more conventional and will probably think we’re crazy.
So far, we have only mentioned that we want to homeschool and that feels like a comfortable place to start, but eventually, I’d love for them to learn about all the nuances of unschooling life and how we would like to build relationships with our son, especially since they see him so often and will be a part of our unschooling journey.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the most vulnerable relationship with our own parents. So, communicating this feels difficult. I’m wondering what advice you might have for how to bring all of this up with them. Is it better to have a gradual approach as our son gets older, showing them in small ways how we parent him and hoping they pick up on the cues? Or is it better to be more direct and upfront, maybe ask them to listen to some of these podcasts or do some research on deschooling?
That feels a bit pushy, but I also don’t want to be too passive when I see them interacting with him in ways that don’t feel okay to us. I do believe that ultimately, they would respect our wishes and do their best to help raise them with our values in mind, but explaining all of unschooling to them just feels overwhelming because it’s sooo much. It’s not just school. It’s life.”
So, hello! Thanks so much for your question. I just love your enthusiasm about unschooling and I totally get that excitement and wanting to just share everything you’ve learned with these important people in your family and how great is it that all of these grandparents get to be a big part of your son’s life and to have all of that support? So much just sounds really wonderful about your situation.
And one of the great things about where you are now is that your son is only one. You have so much time for the relationships and your unschooling lifestyle to gradually evolve and flow naturally. The fact that you’ve already mentioned homeschooling now gives them plenty of time to get used to that idea and wrap their heads around it by the time your son reaches school age. And they’ll have time to get to know him and develop relationships and to see how you’re parenting, so that maybe unschooling just feels like the natural next step. Maybe.
But the thing is, we’re talking about a lot of different adults who all have their own history and baggage and personality types and everything else. It can be hard enough for two parents to be on the same page with parenting and education. So, expecting that everyone will be fully on board and fully supportive and just getting it the way you get it is probably setting yourself up for disappointment. Everyone will have their own journey and we can’t control that.
And certainly, it is a super common situation to have parenting styles that differ from the last generation and to bump into issues as we confront those differences. But as much as I hate to believe it sometimes, I can’t make someone else change their mind and I can’t change someone else’s thoughts and behaviors.
Since you’re having your parents and in-laws watch your son when you’re not around, you are trusting that they’re caring for him in a way that you feel good about, but you can’t actually make them behave in any particular way. So, then it’s up to you to decide what you feel comfortable with and make choices based on what feels right for your family.
You mentioned that there are things that they do that make you uncomfortable, because they’re more conventional. And I can think of a very wide range of possibilities that you could be talking about. It could be anything from saying “good job” to restricting the times that he can eat or forcing children to finish their food, things like that. Or some grandparents hit or yell at children, maybe there’s teasing or pushing past bodily autonomy, timeouts. There are so many conventional ways that adults treat children that are problematic.
For me, if it was something like they’re saying “good job,” first of all, I don’t believe I could stop someone else from saying what they’re going to say, but I could share information like, “So, I was reading this book that really blew my mind and I’ve actually totally stopped saying “good job” to the kids.” If they’re interested, I can explain what I’ve learned. It’s about me, but it’s giving them some information and if it makes sense to them and they want to change their behavior, then they can.
For something that feels more serious to me, like how they’re treating food, I might give a direction, like, “You can always feed him when he’s hungry, because we want him to have experience listening to his body’s cues. You don’t need to wait until a particular time.” Or, “He doesn’t need to finish his food if he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t need to eat something he doesn’t like. It’s important that we let him listen to his body.”
If they’re yelling or hitting or pushing past bodily autonomy, for me, that would be a boundary situation. It’s kind of reminding me of that boundaries podcast episode that we had recently. But in order for me to set a boundary of, “I cannot allow you to spank him,” I need to be able to restrict the interaction if necessary, because I cannot make someone change their behavior. So, if they’re unwilling to change, I need to be able to say, “Okay, then we can’t leave the kids with you,” because for me that will be something that’s not negotiable.
So, I realized that got dark and I don’t really know what type of behaviors you’re dealing with with these grandparents, but it’s a matter of considering what is important to your family and communicating about things as needed, whether that’s just sharing information, providing directions, or making certain boundaries clear. And it really helps to assume positive intent and to stay on the same side of the conversation as them. Everyone loves this child and wants the best for him. You love that they’re helping out and that they have time to develop a great relationship with him. That great relationship is a goal that you most likely all share.
I think this will just be a gradual learning process for everyone involved. Triggers will be triggered. Beliefs will come to the surface. Everyone will be learning about each other’s personalities, but I don’t think that there’s a way to kind of grab control of the whole situation from the very beginning in order to avoid all future issues. It’s just not how humans learn. The mantra that Anna uses, “There’s plenty of time,” might be a useful one here. And knowing what you know, just keep checking in with your husband, with the grandparents, with your child, and keep communicating with the goal of staying on the same side, working together to provide a beautiful life for him.
And as I was writing this, the book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz came to mind. It could be interesting or helpful. I found it helpful in recognizing what I can control in interactions and what I don’t have any control over. So, I think that’s it. Pam?
PAM: I loved all your examples, Erika. And the one thing that jumped out for me, and that was such a beautiful example, is that you don’t need to mention unschooling specifically in any of those kinds of interactions. That could be a challenging lens through which to frame those conversations. It just brings a whole other layer of stuff to things, like how they were just feeling overwhelmed at the idea of trying to introduce them to unschooling. They’re like, yeah, no, that might be too much. Yeah. We don’t need that frame. Having mentioned that you’re planning to homeschool, that’s great. That seed is planted. That’s wonderful. They know about that.
But yeah, I can’t see a lot of value unless they’re asking and they’re curious. It relates to the previous question. When are you learning the most? When it’s something that’s in the context of the moment, something that someone’s interested in, or something actually comes up related to it. Whereas these can definitely all be framed in parenting lenses and relationship lenses, and that’s enough. That helps spark a conversation. I love your suggestion that, we all love this child and we all want to have great relationships with them. And that is just a wonderful foundation in which to start together as a team and sharing what we’ve learned and what we know.
And again, it’s always our choice whether or not we leave our child alone with them, etc. And that, too, can change over time. It doesn’t even need to be like, oh no, you can’t do this anymore. Again, to the ever/never, yes/no. It can just be for a while, if I’m feeling uncomfortable, a moment just doesn’t come up where that happens. They can come for a visit, but we don’t need to go anywhere or things like that. We still have control over our actions and our choices. So, I thought that was really useful.
I ended up saying so much of what I wrote there already, because it came so beautifully from what you said. I’m just kind of big picturing the nuts and bolts that Erika was talking about, but it really is about planting the seeds here and there, saying, “Hey, I read this book that blew my mind. I’m not saying ‘good job’ anymore.” Those are seeds that we’re planting and sharing little bits as they come up in conversation. That was a moment to share that piece, because we heard them say “good job” or something like that.
It’s again, how people learn in the context of the moment and sharing bits of information of what we’re thinking and the way we’re understanding things and sharing those pieces with others. Again, we can’t control them. We can’t make them change their minds. We can’t make them change their behaviors, but also, we can make our choices based on what their behaviors and the things that they say and do are, because they’re still a person.
That goes back to the role, too, how we see the role of grandparents and how they see the role of grandparents. That is really interesting. We can have this vision of the dream grandparent who comes and is so nice and takes care and plays with our kids and is very sweet and does parenting and relationships the way we want them to do that. Yeah. That dream really isn’t reality, as you were saying, Erika. These are four individual people who bring themselves, their personalities, their history, their traumas, their everything to this moment, too. But we can meet them all with the love that we have for the child and the relationships in the family, but we can’t expect that they’re just going to see everything the same way that we see it.
I love what Ellie Winicour shared on the podcast a couple of episodes ago, how it took her years of deschooling to get to where she is now. And she can’t expect others to get it with a few sentences of explanation. If they’re curious and they really do want to dive in, yeah, sure. You can give them the books, the podcasts, all the things. And they will also need all the time that you have had to get to that place. It’s not like, oh yes, I read all these books. It makes so much sense. There is just so much more to the journey than just reading some books. So, just recognizing that it’s been a journey for you and your partner and it will be a journey for both your parents if they choose to take it.
And really, I’d just say that you don’t need to bring that not going to school piece until your child is closer to school age. I love that you’ve planted the seed, but it doesn’t need to be the frame for all your conversations about parenting and relationship development and food. All those pieces can really be about them. Just because we have a bigger picture framework, we don’t need to bring that to other people or have expectations on them around that. Anna?
ANNA: Yeah. I mean, all the things.
I think it’s a lot to expect that grandparents are going to adopt a different way of parenting. It tends to be a very touchy subject and one that can quickly create defensiveness, divisiveness. So, I would focus on modeling kindness and communication with both my child and the grandparents now. Having a conversation about how you are approaching the things in front of you, meaning I wouldn’t go too far into the future, because people tend to say, “Well, that sounds fine, but just you wait and see.” “When they’re a toddler, when they’re five, when they’re a teenager,” we’ve all heard it.
So, talking about the future will actually probably not be that fruitful, but if you can focus on how you want to handle the pieces right now in front of you, this could be conflicts, food, bedtimes, avoiding punishments, looking for solutions, consent. Doing that can help set the stage for how you want everyone to be treated in the situation.
And so, it’s not calling someone out or stating some big boundary, it’s just, show it. Show it to them. And I think it will make such a big difference, because as they see it in action, it will have context and it will make more sense. I think, especially when we’re giving someone soundbites of information about something that’s deeply ingrained in how they parented, how they were parented, what they’ve done, they’re very quick to dismiss that. But as you see something play out in context, as they see their grandchild grow and develop in this situation, it feels so different.
And as school approaches, there will be so much understanding. They will have seen their grandchild grow and learn. And so, it won’t be this esoteric concept to them. You won’t need to tell them, “Oh, look. They’re going to learn things as they explore the world,” because they will have seen it for themselves.
So, I’m going to call this a “don’t borrow trouble” situation and just enjoy the time that you have right now with this delightful, bubbly one-year-old in front of you. And let that joy and your connection with your child lead the way.
And everything you guys said, too, because certainly there could be situations that are requiring more. And I looked at the development of the child in terms of that. Can they speak for themselves? Can they advocate for themselves? And did I feel comfortable enough in the environment if they couldn’t? Or if they could, were they going to be heard? So, there are some things to really grapple with this when we put our children in another person’s hands.
I’ve talked about this before, something I learned just watching my children and with some of my friends at the time was, our kids trust that we are putting them in a safe and appropriate environment. And so, if we’re putting them in a situation where they are not being treated well or their body autonomy is being pushed through or anything like that, that’s very hard for them to put in context, because they’re thinking, “Mom says this is okay. This is where we should be.”
So, there are some things to think about with this, but from what you described in the question, you have a great relationship with them and your child loves the grandparents. And so, I think there’s so much room there to just build on that beautiful foundation that you already have and just organically share as these things come up together. So, anyway. I think it’ll be fun. You have lots of fun ahead.
PAM: Yeah. I love that piece, because really, what you’re building is the foundation. They will see the learning and the growth and all those pieces happening. And it’s just, “Oh, he’s not going to school? Oh, we’re continuing to do what we’ve already been doing.” You’re showing them unschooling in action without ever really needing the word.
Question three is from Brittany in Maryland. Brittany has three children, an eight-year-old and seven-year-old twins.
“I literally just fell into the world of unschooling about three months ago. So, all of this is brand spankin’ new. I recently left my job as a learning specialist to come home and homeschool my kids. Now that I found this unschooling world, I’ve joined Facebook groups, followed Instagram unschoolers, and I’ve listened to so many podcasts.
This whole lifestyle is so new to me, but it’s also something that I truly believe in, having been part of the school system and having a front row seat to the ways in which many parts of the system is harmful to kids. With that being said, as I attempt to dive deeper into the world of unschooling, I feel like I’m losing myself. Because I’m questioning everything in regards to my parenting, my husband’s parenting, our daily flow, my own upbringing, etc., I feel like a hot mess of confusion inside.
I am grateful for the deeper connections that I’ve already started to develop with my kids, but I can’t help but feel so confused internally. Is this normal? When will it get better? I also feel like I need to carve out space to just have me time. But when I do, I feel bad for not taking that moment to read with one of my kids or play the game they asked me to play. Right now, it feels like it’s me and the kids all the time. And I’ve lost my rhythm of kid time, husband time, and me time. Help!”
Brittany, big hugs, big hugs. And thanks so much for your question. And I totally remember those feelings of both excitement and overwhelm as I dove into learning about unschooling and began questioning all the things. So, you are not alone. It is so normal at this early stage of the journey.
And I also want to say, especially because you’re feeling overwhelmed, that there is no rush. Right, Anna? There’s plenty of time.
Deschooling takes time. It’s not a race. That’s another layer you might want to peel back. We can often feel like, oh, this is the thing. This is my answer. This is my path. I want to do it as fast as possible, because I want to get to the end. No, there’s no rush. There is no end. We really can’t speed it up. Things need time to process. We can’t do it fast.
So, from what you wrote, I think you might find it helpful to just let all these new ideas that you’ve encountered percolate for a bit. It feels like you’ve just filled up your input well. Everything’s overflowing with all these new ideas and all these new questions that are bubbling up for you.
So, giving it some time to percolate doesn’t mean stop learning about unschooling, but maybe in a different way. So, shift away from the gathering lots of new input and shift to that percolating, that processing, and observing it in action in your own family, in your moments. Because seeing it in action with your kids can bring a deeper level of understanding about how unschooling works.
When we first come to unschooling, so often, we think of learning as new things. I’m learning new things. I’m gathering information. I’m bringing it all in. Because in school, we don’t have a lot of processing time. Growing up, we don’t have a lot of time to let things bubble and for connections to be made, to understand something more deeply. Everything’s kind of surface level.
So, giving yourself this time to really bubble and to start seeing it in action and make connections between that thing that you heard on the podcast and seeing what your kids are doing, going, “Oh, that’s what they meant. That’s it in action.” Now you understand it more deeply, because it’s got a real-life connection for you in your life. And that is the piece that so often we’re missing in the conventional way of raising children and teaching them, etc. It’s all about new things, new things. “Remember it for the test and then we’re onto the new thing and the new thing and the new thing.”
So, what you’re actually doing is experiencing unschooling alongside your kids, because, yes, it’s wonderful to bring in new information. And then we need to sit with it for a while. We need to process it. We need to see it in action.
I have a short series of two blog posts that talk about this season of our unschooling journey that are titled, What to Do Instead of School, Part 1 and Part 2. And we’ll put links to them in the show notes. I really recommend giving them a read. I dive into thinking of this time as a season of Saturdays, of getting to know your kids more deeply. That’s what being with them and allowing yourself to be in the moment and to also do a little bit of that processing as to how that looks through the lens of unschooling.
So, you’re going to be observing what learning looks like outside of the classroom. You’re going to see your kids in action, embracing their passions, exploring routines, focusing on relationships. Those are some of the other things that we might not know what to do when we’re like, “Okay, we’re not doing school. Now, I’ve got to do all the things. I’ve got to question all the things. I need all these answers now, so that I can get my life sorted, so that now we can go down this path.” It is so lovely and I so remember that energy and confusion and overwhelm and excitement and all of that all bubbled up together.
But now you can take a deep breath for a while, and there’s so many other lenses through which you can start playing with things and making connections and really starting to see what unschooling looks like. I often talk about the difference between intellectually understanding unschooling, which is bringing in the input. And, “This makes so much sense,” and all the things. And then actually starting to understand it in your bones, seeing the truth of it, understanding how it works by actually seeing it in action. That is another layer of understanding and learning about how unschooling works.
Anyway, Anna, what do you think?
ANNA: Yes. Welcome, Brittany! It is a lot to take in and process at first and really for a while, because you’re going to have seasons of this bubbling up, too. And I think it can be a surprise for people that it’s really very easy for kids, but it’s the adults that have all the unpacking and peeling back, because we’ve been brought up in a system that has basically sold us a bill of goods. And once you start questioning it, the whole world opens up for questioning and it’s fun. And it’s exhausting, but it really can be a lot of fun.
And it also made me think of the Childhood Redefined Summit, because it’s something that’s a wonderful resource for that deeper diving and understanding those layers that we bring into our relationships. So, we’ll put that in the show notes.
But I think the other thing to consider is just like Pam was saying that sometimes in the beginning, we’re in this mode of taking in all the information, which is so wonderful, but it also keeps us firmly in our heads and out of the moment. And so, reminding yourself to enjoy the moments in front of you, to lean in to connecting with your children, learning more about who they are in this moment and what you guys love about each other. Because ultimately, it’s going to be your kids that are the guide. It isn’t going to be the podcast or the book or the whatever. It’s going to be you and your kids figuring out how to move forward.
And as for the me time, we have a lot of great resources, including a podcast from Erika about self-care. But part of that for me was understanding that I could care for myself with my children and find the small moments and the bits to refill my cup and that it didn’t have to look like the traditional spa weekend, which honestly, I would hate. So, really tuning out the supposed to’s and the cultural ideas and tuning into what truly fills your cup and to understand that there are seasons, too, that there are going to be times where you’re intensely needed and times when we’re not as intensely needed. And I think because this is also new for you guys, it is like figuring out all these new things.
And so, it probably does just have this sense of intensity and the hot mess that you described. But also, beautiful chaos, as you guys figure out and settle into it and there’s just room for all sorts of options and solutions that feel good to everyone. So, I think as you settle into that and know there’s plenty of time and know that what you’re feeling right now is not what you’re going to be feeling six months from now, that you all are going to settle into a rhythm can really help with that kind of sense of urgency that you’re feeling there as well, too. You’ve got a lot of fun discoveries ahead, and I am excited for you.
ERIKA: Yeah, this question just brought me right back to my exciting deschooling time, which I feel like I’ve mentioned so many times before, because it was just like you’re describing. So many aha moments, so much learning and questioning. I kept saying I felt like my brain was exploding, so I totally get it. And yes, that time does pass and things do feel grounded and normal again, with all of this new understanding. I don’t remember the exact timeframe, but it might have been a year or two before I felt really settled. But it definitely came in waves of really intense learning for a while. And of course, things are still coming up and I’m still learning new things all the time about my triggers and my beliefs and everything. But there isn’t that same intensity or duration anymore, which I think is a good thing.
I also was working in education and when I was pregnant with Oliver and so, I was definitely steeped in that world, which just gave me more things to question. Like you said, too, the work was helpful on my journey, because I had seen so many of the downsides of schooling firsthand, but I also had put a lot of time into learning about education. And so, I had more to peel back and relearn. Where you are on your journey makes perfect sense and your perspective and your understanding will continue to grow and change.
All of that being said, there’s something ungrounding about so much thinking and so much time spent in our heads. And that can manifest in these cravings for quiet and alone time, which as you’re seeing, is maybe not what your family needs right now. It’s a very common challenge, starting with lots of things to think about, leading to lots of questioning and learning and stimulation, which creates this unmoored, ungrounded feeling, which leads to, “I just need some quiet, so I can hear myself think!” And that response makes perfect sense, and yet, there’s that intuitive sense that maybe connecting with the kids is in fact what you need in those moments more than you need space to think even more.
And so, I thought I might offer some ideas of tools that could be helpful. As a person who gets really caught up in thinking and in my emotions, I have a lot of practice with this stuff. I have days sometimes that I will even call a “thinking day,” because I’ll realize I really was stuck up there in my head and didn’t do the things to take care of myself or to connect or to ground myself in the present. I’ll forget to eat. I’ll forget to move. I’ll feel like I’m missing my family. And the day just slips by. And so, these tools are for me, too.
First is the use of meditation or breathing practices for grounding. So, something like a five senses meditation, where you notice what’s going on in this present moment, closing your eyes, seeing what you feel, hear, smell, and taste, and then opening your eyes and seeing what’s around you. This is the truth of this present moment, and it’s where you are.
Another possibility is a body scan. So, noticing how each part of your body is feeling from your head to your feet or from your feet to your head and just scanning the whole body. Because when we’re stuck in thinking or stuck in feeling emotions, the physical body can be neglected. So, this tunes us back into what’s actually happening.
Simple breathing practices can help stop a mental spiral. I just read about one on Instagram that was a two-part inhale through your nose and then a long exhale through the mouth. It sends a physiological signal that you’re safe. So, inhaling. And then pausing and inhaling even more without exhaling in between, and then taking that big exhale. Alternate nostril breathing is another good one to stop swirling thoughts. And there are lots of YouTube videos walking you through how to do that.
I do have one more meditation idea to mention, but I wanted to talk about mantras first, because I think a simple grounding mantra could be incredibly helpful in dealing with the feelings that you’re talking about in this question. It sounds like you’re in that swirly confusion of like, who am I? What even is life? It’s like this existential confusion. So, the mantra that came to mind for me was, “I’m just a person living my life,” or for the whole family, “We’re all just people living our lives.” Yes, there are so many things we can think about and try to figure out, but when it comes down to it, we’re just living in this moment and that can be pretty simple.
Another possibility could be, “I am here. I am me.” You are still the same person you were before you learned about unschooling. You’re still here in your body and living this life. So, you can ground yourself in the reality of that. “I am right here.”
With the grounding that comes from the realization that, I am here, I’m just a person living my life, now maybe we have space to notice what’s going on with the children in our lives. And that’s where I’ve found lovingkindness meditation, or metta meditation to be so helpful. Sara Yasner also mentioned lovingkindness on her recent episode and called it maitri, which I learned is Sanskrit and metta is the Pali word. Anyway, that’s not the point.
But metta is a meditation where I fill my heart with feelings of love and send positive intentions outward. So, I usually start with thinking of the love that I have for the people close to me and that helps me get that kind of glowy feeling in my heart. And then, with my hands on my heart, I can use the language of lovingkindness meditation, phrases like, “May I be happy, May I feel safe, May I be grounded, May I feel peace,” and then direct that same energy towards my family, wishing for them those same things. I bring to mind someone specific and think, “May they be happy,” etc. I can expand it to my friends and my neighborhood, the world, to all living beings. “May all beings feel peace.”
I picture this glowing light enveloping the whole world made out of my love. And the result of taking some time to do that type of meditation for me is this bigger perspective and this warm feeling of just love towards everything, towards life. And that helps me move through the next part of my day with more compassion and more able to focus on what’s important. Then I can move on to being in the present moment with my family.
Just as, I am here. Oh, look, there they are too. They’re there living their lives and I can choose to join them right there and connect. It always helps.
And so, it’s not that that desire for me time that you’re feeling is wrong at all. But for me, I find that when I feel that, it’s just a signal that I’m stuck too much in my head and I’m finding a solution that seems like it’s what I need, because I feel like I just need more space for thinking. But that actually doesn’t get me closer to what I really want, which is to be content in the present moment and connected with the people I love. And so, for me, mindfulness, and bringing myself back to my body and back to the moment is a more sustainable way to respond to those uncomfortable feelings.
But I really empathize with you at this phase of your journey and I’m excited for all the joy and connection ahead of you.
PAM: It’s so exciting to think of that connection and all that that’s coming.
I love the piece that we’ve mentioned a few times now, how our children really can be such great guides on this journey. And yes, I so remember. That was so great that you brought that up, Erika. When I’m feeling like I want to get away, when I just need some me time, it is so much because I’m in my head and now I just want to be in my head without interruption. That’s what I feel like I need. Like, if I could finally get to the end of what’s in my head!
But over time, I’ve learned that that’s just spinning. That’s just spinning. If I can’t get to the end and I feel like I need more distance, yeah, no, I’m probably much better off to get back to the moment, to lean into the moment with my kids, to get back in there and to see them in action and to connect with them. It did take me some time over the years to make that connection and then to start to recognize it, because when I’m feeling like I need more me time, I’m stepping away more, I’m disconnecting more. And then things get even swirly-er, because I don’t know exactly what they’re doing. And then I’m starting to wonder, are they learning? Are they doing this? It’s just a downward spiral.
So, when I can recognize that and go, oh. Okay. Let’s let that sit. Again, back to the urgency piece. It can sit. There’s plenty of time. We’re just people living our lives, get back to the living piece. The, in the moment piece, seeing my kids in action. That always helped me so much more move through all that processing and swirling that I was stuck in. Just to let it sit for a while.
Back to what I was talking about at the beginning with this question, giving things time to percolate. Getting back to the moment took me out of my head. It doesn’t mean all the thoughts dropped. They went a little more subconscious. So, they’re still percolating away on their own, but I am more engaged. I am having more fun. I am not stuck in there. I am moving forward and living and seeing with my kids and engaged with them. And then those little pieces, when they’re ready, things will bubble up and it’s like, oh yes, yes. They’ll make more sense.
ANNA: And they’re connected to the context. They’re connected to what’s really happening around you, instead of it being so disconnected.
ERIKA: Yeah. I was thinking that that is something that the timeline part is something that’s kind of connecting all three of these questions, like a desire to, if we could only just do the right thing now, we could just skip ahead, avoid all the hard things, and just like follow this quick timeline to the end. Just fast forward us to things working perfectly and avoid all the hardships, if you can just make the right choice right now.
PAM: So much about the right thing. It’s another layer. There’s always another layer to peel back.
Well, thank you so much to both of you. I always really enjoy diving into questions with you. It’s always fun. I have fun making my notes and seeing what jumps out for me, but it’s always fun to get together and see the pieces that have bubbled up for everybody else. So, that’s wonderful.
And if you would like to submit your question, we’ll put a link in the show notes for it. Or you can just go to livingjoyfully.ca/question. And that would be lovely, because it’s hard to do these Q&A shows without questions.
ANNA: It is.
PAM: Bye! Have a wonderful day. Talk to you soon.