PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Jennifer McGrail. Hi, Jennifer!
PAM: So, Jennifer was on the podcast back in 2016 in episode number 18, so I am really looking forward to catching up. I will put a link in the show notes so that listeners can go back and listen to our initial conversation and hear more about your move to unschooling.
To get us started, can you just share with us a bit about you and your family? And I’d love to know what everybody’s interested in right now.
JENNIFER: Sure. So, we have four kids. Three are grown now, technically, and one teenager. And I’ve been in school. I went back to college. I graduated in 2020 and with a bachelor’s and I just went back for a second bachelor’s this semester.
So, our oldest is 25. He has a disability, so he’s home with us. And his big thing is working on engines. He buys broken lawnmowers and weed whackers and fixes them up and sells them. That’s his big project. He’s also on the computer a lot and knows way more about computers than I do.
Next is our 21-year-old who recently got married, which we’ll talk about later. That was a big transition. And he and his wife are all about fitness. They go rock climbing at a rock gym and mountain biking. And so, they stay real active.
Our 18-year-old just started college and he plays the piano.
And then my 14-year-old and only daughter, she’s always been about performing, acting and singing, and she’s taking voice lessons now. Just did her first recital. And she also recently started working. She works at an escape room and she plays a kidnap victim. So, that’s really fun for her. She gets to use her acting skills and she really is enjoying that a lot. So, that’s kind of a quick overview of what we’re doing.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. So, what are you studying? I’m curious.
JENNIFER: So, my first degree was in psychology and what I’m studying right now is health science, which is a fitness and nutrition. So, I kind of did the health of the mind. Now I’m doing the health of the body.
PAM: Exactly. Oh, that is really interesting. I love how those seem separate, yet they weave together. That’s great. Now, as I mentioned, we last spoke on the podcast back in 2016.
I’d be curious to know what unschooling has looked like for you and your family over these last few years?
JENNIFER: Well, it’s been a big period of growth for all of us going from kids to teens and teens to young adults. There’s a lot happening in those years. The dynamic changes a lot between me as a parent and them as a child. Their needs change so much.
And we moved in the middle of that, sort of in the same area, but to a new city. So, that meant new everything, new dentists and new doctors and new classes and everything we did was new. So, that was an adjustment.
And then of course we had COVID in the middle of it, which was also an adjustment. That was hard on my 14-year-old, because she’s the extrovert. So, she had trouble with that. Our days changed. She didn’t have her lessons and classes anymore, because all that was canceled. So, we had a lot more time at home. We had to keep really busy. She was missing being outside the house.
PAM: Yeah, that was a huge one on everybody. Learning all new ways to try to connect with people, maybe new ways to explore our interests if we really enjoy going out and learning in groups, et cetera, to be able to navigate new ways to continue our exposure, our appreciation, and our pursuit of those interests. It really challenges us to bring our creativity to it. Doesn’t it?
JENNIFER: Definitely. And thank goodness for the internet and being able to stay connected through all those means. And she was able to stay connected to her friends and stay connected to different things she was interested in, but it definitely was an adjustment for sure.
PAM: Yeah. I thought maybe we could dive into it a little bit, because as you mentioned there, how we support and engage with our kids absolutely changes through the different seasons of their lives, through the teen years and into the young adult years. For me, I found that a lot of it shifted. When they were younger, it was more about really supporting and helping them as they pursued their interests, the things that they were wanting to do, the things they were wanting to engage in, and bringing that into their world.
And then as they got into the teen years, often, they needed transportation. I still helped with that. But also, a lot of it became more conversations that were deeper and how we are in the world and who we are as people and the kinds of environments that work well for us, navigating relationships, friendships, all those pieces.
So, I felt that it wasn’t that it was less time or that I was less engaged, but the engagement with my kids was definitely different. It was less about things and finding things and much more about helping them as they were navigating more of the relationships, more of the travel, all those pieces. Was that your experience?
JENNIFER: Definitely. And I think when they’re little kids, there’s so much more hands-on parenting. You’re making them their snacks and you’re putting them in the bath and you’re doing all those things. All of a sudden, they don’t need that stuff anymore. They need someone to talk to and bounce things off of and so much of our lives are parallel now. I’m going to school and they’re working on their things. And then, we come together and talk about our various things.
Once a week, I drive my 18-year-old to school and I love the drive back, because we talk about everything. We talk about politics. We talked about what he learned in school that day. We talk about relationships. It’s definitely a new way of communicating with them about what’s going on in their life. Instead of being involved in every aspect of their life, they are living it and then they’re bringing you in.
PAM: I love that. I love that. And it is so much the coming together times. I love the way you described that, that we’re all doing our things and then there’s also these connection moments where we are sharing what we’re doing. But also, that’s when often we dig into those pieces like, oh, this didn’t quite go as I expected. Or, I’m thinking about this. Or, I had a bit of a falling out with this and it is so different when that’s the piece.
And I love that parallel piece. And for me, the biggest piece was remembering to create that kind of safe, open space and environment for those to happen. Because if I got too fixated on the things I was doing, if I gave myself a big to-do list and just started powering down it because I’m not literally having to make sandwiches or run baths or things like that, I could find myself getting stuck in my head and rolling off the things. But as soon as I remembered the value, not just to them but also to me, of those moments to weave together with them, to connect with them, to give that open space that doesn’t particularly have a timetable, so that conversation just can kind of unfold and give space for those things that we’re thinking about to bubble up.
JENNIFER: Yeah. One thing I’ve noticed is that, when the kids were little, I tried to say yes as much as possible. And I’ve used that same philosophy as they’re older, when they say, will you watch this movie with me? Or will you take me here? Or can we talk about this? I always try to say yes, unless I physically can’t, because it’s so important to keep up that connection, especially as they’re teens and have so many things going on. Saying yes a lot helps keep that connection there.
PAM: Yeah. And also, not to spoil going into the next one, but that has served me not only as they were teens, but also as young adults and adults. Because these are relationships that I want to stay connected, that I want to keep strong. And when I don’t respond as openly to their bids for connection, to their asking, you want to do this? Do you want to go for a walk? All those little pieces that may seem almost inconsequential in the moment, but in the bigger picture of connection and relationship, those moments are so valuable, aren’t they?
PAM: All right. So, yes, let’s transition into unschoolers moving into adulthood. That was something that we really wanted to talk about, because there are so many possibilities aren’t there? Maybe they’re going to college. Maybe they’re moving out. Maybe they’re working full time. Maybe none of these things. The possibilities are endless.
I would love to hear about your experience and your perspective on this time, as your children are moving into adulthood.
JENNIFER: Yeah. So, I think that unschooling gave us a good foundation for being accepting and supportive. When they wanted to move on, because they had that good foundation, they were confident and they felt that they were ready and they would have our support. Our now 21-year-old when he was 20, so this was in 2020 when the whole world had sort of stood still, he was having this huge explosion of coming into his own. He got his driver’s license. This was all in one year. He got his driver’s license. Then a couple months later, he got a full-time job.
Then he said, “I’ve been thinking of moving out. I have some friends who want to rent a place together,” and we said, okay. And then he moved out. A couple months later, he was engaged. It was just a fellow unschooler who he had known for years and they had been friends for years and then they decided, hey, I think we actually love each other. So, he got engaged and then he got married and he did all that in the span of a year. So, he had a very big trip into adulthood all at once and he’s very, very happy. So, it’s been really cool to see.
PAM: That’s amazing. It is so fascinating. And to see the difference, that one way isn’t better than another, but you can see how that way worked so well for them as the person they are, as the individual they are. You saw that explosion of all these things, this growth over that year, but he so happy. You can see how each of those mesh so well with who he is.
JENNIFER: Right. And he didn’t really have an interest in going to college right now, but he knows it’s always something that he could do. He saw me do it in my forties. So, he knows if he ever wanted to do it, he could do it. Right now, he’s managing a retail store and he’s happy. He likes it. And so, we’re like, that’s great. You can do that. You can choose to do something else sometime later. You can do that forever, whatever you want to do, he knows that he has all the possibilities.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. That’s so fascinating. I mean, my kids have taken very different paths, too. My eldest lives with us and that’s awesome. There’s never been, “you need to move out to prove you’re an adult” or anything like that. It’s like, what works well for them with their personalities and the things that they’re pursuing and the environment where they’re comfortable. And my dad lives with us, too. We are a multi-generational home. But that takes some work for us.
The things that bubble up for us as unschoolers over the years to move through those conventional messages that, oh, “you need to move out to prove that you can do it,” or “you’re not really an adult until you do all these things.” So, it’s really interesting to move through those messages to really get to a place where we can celebrate each of the individuals.
My daughter just turned 28 last month. She basically moved out when she was 18 and moved to another country. So, she has been on her own for a long time. But that worked so well for who she was. She’s a photographer. She found her tribe online, for years, she’d been connecting. At 18, she was like, “You know what? I really want to try and connect in person.” And so, we live outside of Toronto in Canada and she’s like, “You know what? I want to go check out New York City.”
So, we found a place for her to stay for a couple of months to just go and see what it was like. She had connections from online. She made plans to connect with them in person. And it was just an opportunity for her to, versus vacation visiting, to actually experience what it was like in the city and to see the vibrant community there. And to just start checking it out, which she did and just fell in love with it and ended up finding herself apartments and staying there for the six months that she could, coming home for a month to get her visa to apply for and get her visa and then go back. And she lived there for years. She just moved to LA the end of last year. She has been working and pursuing her interest, her passion for photography, for years on her own. And that meshed so well with who she is.
And my, my youngest, it’s just so fascinating to see their journeys. He was interested in stunt stuff and ended up working in Toronto full-time for Medieval Times for a couple of years and started working in film. But he was living at home and also staying at various places that were close to where he was working at the time. And then he met someone and now he’s moved to another province at the end of last year. And that works really well for him.
And he was actually visiting last week, because a gig had come up nearby here. But every one of those choices felt so real and made so much sense for him. As they are feelers out, when they’re out more and then they’re home more, it’s all the different seasons of their life. Conventionally, we judge what they’re doing with that eye of success and career and college. None of my kids have yet chosen to go to college. They all know it’s a possibility. I remember Lissy looked at some of the photography programs. She’s like, “You know what? I’ve kind of picked up everything that they’ve mentioned just on my own in my teen years. So, I think, for now I’m going to just keep doing what I’m doing.” Michael has looked at a few he’s maybe interested. So, it’s just so interesting to support them.
And what I was meaning to say was I found it reasonably easy to move through all those conventional expectations of young adults and adults, just because we had been unschooling for enough years, that I was very connected with them and understood them and could see that the choices that they were making made so much sense for them in the moment that they were. And I could celebrate those without worrying about what it looks like to other people. Because at that point, I was comfortable enough with unschooling, had moved through the need to worry about what other people thought about us and what we were doing.
JENNIFER: Yup. Yeah, it’s interesting, because I see Paxton at 21 has made such a different choices than Everett who’s 18 and wants to do the real traditional college route, which is wonderful and they’re both wonderful choices. And he started going to college at 17. He was like, “I want to try a college class.” And we said, okay. So, he tried a college class at the community college and he found, he really likes it. He likes the class experience and learning and taking the tests. And so, then he took two more this semester and then he’s like, “I think I’m going to declare a major and go full-time. We said, awesome. So, he’s taking biological sciences starting in the fall. He wants to go into medical research. So, yeah, he’s really excited. He has a 4.0 average. He’s just all gung-ho about it. And it’s really neat to see him so excited about it.
He’s taking an anthropology class right now and he comes home all excited about the different things he learned about. And it’s really neat to see, because having been an unschooler, he’d never taken a formal class. He’d never taken a test. He had never done any of that. So, there was always that, what’s college going to be like for him without having been exposed? But he’s doing great. He loves it. I’ve asked him a couple of times, do you feel like you’re behind or like you don’t really fit in in the classroom?
And he said, no. He said he fits right in. He’s doing well. He’s understanding everything, so unschooling has prepared him well for what he wants to do. Just like it’s prepared the 21-year-old with what he wants to do.
PAM: Right! Because with unschooling, they are who they are. You’re helping them learn things that are interesting to them, helping them understand themselves better, because that’s who is doing all these things. So, they are drawn to these things because of who they are. So, instead of it being an expectation that comes on the outside, it’s a choice that has bubbled up that is making so much sense for them. So, I love that.
And I love just even thinking about the concept of behind, right? When they choose to go to college or whatever more formal situation, just because they haven’t spent their life in a classroom to that point, they have been doing so many other things and they’re going to be navigating towards something that is inspiring to them. Because this is an intrinsic choice that they want to make.
So yeah, if they’re picking up extra things or learning how to take a test or learning how to write a paper, all the little pieces of life and skills that they’ve picked up along the way, because they wanted to accomplish something, it’s the same process, just in a different area. It’s like, oh gee, how do I write a paper? Boom, boom, boom. Oh, it’s got these components. Oh, this is how you write a footnote. This is how you reference something. And they just pick it up. It would almost not seem like learning to them. That’s just the incidental skill development to accomplish the thing that they’re wanting to accomplish. Does that make sense?
JENNIFER: It does. And it’s funny, because you mentioned a paper. He had to write his first paper for his first class. And he was a little nervous. He had me read it and I’m like, “This is really good. You write well. Everything’s grammatically correct.” And his teacher ended up saying it was the best paper in the class and I was like, “Go, unschooling!”
So, what he didn’t know he was able to google as far as the technical footnotes and stuff. And he was able to write a paper just fine. And he’d never written a paper before. It’s almost that they know what they need to know and they can learn if they don’t know how to do something, they know how to learn it. They’re not afraid of it.
My daughter, I suspect she’s going to take a different path than both of them, too. She’s always wanted to go into performing, doing plays and singing. Even when she was three years old, she used to say, “When I’m famous one day,” so I think she’s to go that route, whether or not it’s going to classes or just doing going auditions or however she wants to do it, but that’s the path she seems to be on. And if she changes her mind, that’s fine, too. But right now that seems like what she’s wanting to do.
PAM: Yeah, I find those are so much of the big pieces that you mentioned right there, the experience with how to learn things. They haven’t absorbed the message that teacher/ student in a formal relationship is really the only or the best way to learn something.
They have so many skills on, oh, how do I find this out? How do I figure this out? How do I vet resources? That kind of stuff. They have so much experience with that already that learning something is just something they do. There’s not, there’s a best way or only way to do it. And I need to wait for that class to show up in the schedule before I even start, because I don’t want to muddy my brain or whatever. So many excuses or reasons behind that.
So, that piece of picking things up and then the piece about the freedom to change their mind, to tweak their path, that it’s not a failure. It’s like, oh, I learned a little bit more. This isn’t quite a good match for me anymore. I’ve learned lots of this way. And now I want to take a little bit of a left turn here and do something new. That is another valuable piece of understanding of how we move through the world that, “I said I was going to do this and I must commit until I get to that point. And if I don’t make it, I’m a failure and that’s a bad thing.” You see so many people sticking to paths that they have now learned enough along the way to realize they don’t particularly want to go to that end point, but they feel so obligated. They feel that pressure of being exposed as a failure for changing their mind.
“Oh, I must’ve made a bad decision in the past when I chose this and I don’t want to be dissed for having made that choice in the first place. So, I’m going to get there first.”
There’s just those two pieces of just being open to learning in whatever way works for them the things that they’re interested in knowing right now, or that are important for them, skills that they want to pick up along the way, and the understanding that the path can change. And that’s not failure. That’s like, I learned more. Now I know that I want to go in this direction.
JENNIFER: I think another thing that I’ve noticed with my 18-year-old is he’s really good at self-advocating for what he wants to learn. One example is he’s not afraid of his professor as if he’s on this level and I’m on this level. If he has a question, he’ll just email his professor and get clarification. Where I’m afraid of my professors, because they’re these big knowledgeable people and I’m just a student. So, I muddle through if I don’t understand something.
And he’s not afraid to advocate for himself. He’s not afraid to ask questions. He’s not afraid to do extra research. He’s much more open than I was as a student. I was more fearful and if he wants to learn something, he just learns it. It doesn’t scare him if it gets hard. He’s so much more open to learning, because that’s been his whole life. He just learns what he wants to learn, how he wants to learn it. So, that’s been a big difference I’ve noticed for him.
PAM: Yeah. And he’s choosing to be there right now to learn this stuff. He’s there for the learning, not for the tick box. I also went to university, I wanted the degree. I wanted the course. I was not, just as you mentioned, comfortable approaching the professors. No, no. I’ll figure it out. I will go through the textbook and do the exercises and read and practice things until I figured it out. The idea of going and asking a question and maybe being seen as stupid.
For me, anyway, it was I didn’t want to be seen as stupid or as not knowing something that they covered in class. And why did I not understand it? Why did I not pick it up? I wasn’t comfortable putting myself in that position where I thought I could be judged in that way. So, I would put so much more energy into just figuring it out all on my own. And I love hearing how comfortable he is.
And I’ve heard that story about unschoolers choosing to go to college often. That because they’re there and because they’re really wanting to learn these things and they haven’t internalized that professor on a pedestal, they see them as this resource that has so much of this information that they are excited to gain. And I can see for professors, how fun it is not to have, all these nameless students in your class who just show up, take their little notes, and run away. To have someone who’s engaged and interested and excited to have conversations with you. It seems like a world of difference, doesn’t it?
JENNIFER: It definitely does.
PAM: Yeah. That’s so cool.
So, going to college, moving out, full-time work. We have touched on quite a bit. Are there any other pieces about this transition to adulthood that you would like to share?
JENNIFER: I think what’s interesting is how the relationship is changing to not one of a peer, but more of an adult-to-adult relationship. Like with my son, who’s moved out, we don’t see him unless we text him and say, “Hey, you want to come over Sunday? Do you want to do this together? Do you want do that together?” He’s not there for dinner at night and we have to make the effort to keep connected and that’s been an adjustment.
We see them pretty often. We’ve never asked to see them and they were like, “Yeah, no, we don’t really want to.” We see them pretty often, which is nice, but it’s on a different level, because now we talk about how work is going and it’s different than the day-to-day eating meals together and doing the day-to-day stuff together. We have to catch up on there. He has his whole life. Now it doesn’t involve that. So, we have to stay connected with that. He has a whole life and it’s just a new way to connect. Definitely.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, that is such a good point. And that is something I’m still navigating. It’s been years now. So, I feel like that is just something that we will continue to navigate, especially since my kids moved out. One moved to another country and one moved to another province. So, I can’t invite them over for dinner at any particular time. But yeah, figuring out ways to connect and even the frequency of connection, too.
So, whether it’s texting or we picked up Marco Polo in the last few months, which is just almost like video texting, basically. That’s been working really well in some cases. And there are different situations, too, like what kind of communication works best in this particular situation? From phone calls, to video messages, to text messages, to emails.
And also, it’s funny, because in the Living Joyfully Network community this month, our theme is The Richness of Communication. Because there are so many more aspects beyond conversation to connection to communication, right? So, there is the strength of your connection. There are the things you choose to say and share, the things you choose not to share, all those pieces. There is so much that comes up in communication and it’s just so fascinating to navigate this new phase of our lives together.
So, it’s not like we’re all watching a show around the house and we connect over what we’ve seen. No. It’s like, what are you watching? It’s sharing recommendations. It’s like, oh, I watched this. I think you’ll like it, that kind of stuff. It is so fascinating. Then we’re sharing recipes. Did you make this? And then they’re sharing recipes or they’re decorating and they’re sharing the things that they’ve done.
And we’re doing work around here and we’re sharing what we’ve done. It is so fascinating to just navigate and find ways of communication, because it’s different for each child too, right? The way we connect the things that we connect through, even the technology that we use and don’t use that works for them as an individual, that has that depth of meaning and connection for them is different. So, it’s navigating it in so many different ways. It’s fascinating to see. It can seem like a subtle shift, but it’s a fundamental shift as they are living their lives in the world.
JENNIFER: Definitely. And with Paxton, it all happened so fast. Moving out and getting married, we had to take a minute and say, okay, this is what life’s like now. We needed to learn to adjust to this new way, because it just happened so fast. And there was an adjustment period and a little bit of a mourning period I noticed, too. Like, wow, he’s out now and he’s married and we have a totally different role in his life now and it happened so quickly. So, it was it was definitely an adjustment period and figuring it out.
PAM: Yeah. Figuring out that role now, too, because yeah, I mean, it was pretty quick, too, with Michael, where he was visiting last summer and he had met up with her and he had known her for years. And so, they had stayed in touch. But he had visited her for a few weeks. And then, he came home and it’s like, “Yeah, I’m moving there.” And so, it’s that transition. Then you’re setting that all up and figuring the pieces out, the actual physical pieces, the process.
But then, once they’re there, then it’s figuring out all the other pieces. It’s, how are we going to connect? And then noticing the pieces that feel like they’re missing over time. Oh yeah! Maybe we want to talk on the phone more often. Because that leaves more of that open space we were talking about before for things to bubble up versus text. It’s like when you have a moment. It’s like, is this important enough? It’s not only important things that we share, that seem important. All those little tidbits of life add to that richness of the connection that we are maintaining with them.
And sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, I miss you. I want to talk more often.” And then sometimes it’s like, “Oh, I feel like I haven’t talked to you in ages. What’s up?” It is so interesting to navigate, because it also changes over time, how our lives go through like seasons of busy-ness as well and we have less time. And then seasons where we have more time and we want to reach out more. And then you’re meshing two lives together as well, that are in different places.
That’s why I was excited to talk to you when you said you wanted to talk about this transition, because it’s not something I’ve dived into deeply here on the podcast before, but it is fascinating and fun.
And also, it takes attention and care and compassion to navigate through, because we want to maintain these relationships and they do, too. Like you were saying, they don’t often say no. Maybe they have plans or whatever, but it’s not like they’re like, “Okay, I’ve moved out. We’re kind of done. I’m off living my life now.” Right? That is the kind of relationships that we’ve cultivated with our unschooling lifestyle, our connections with each other, that we both or all want to continue with, no matter where we happen to be living.
JENNIFER: Yeah. And I think it’s important to talk about, because one of the fears that people seem to have with unschooling is what’s going to happen when they become an adult. How does that work? Can they go to college? Can they get a job? Are they going to be sufficient enough to move out? And it’s been smooth, and it’s been wonderful. And it’s just another extension of how well unschooling does work and how close the bonds are and how I’ve loved watching it happen.
PAM: I know. It’s so fun!
JENNIFER: It really is!
PAM: And also, it’s so interesting, those questions that people have and are curious about, you also realize that, like we were talking about earlier, over time as we get to know our kids so well, and we have this trusting, connected relationship with them, that those questions dissipate, disappear. Will they be sufficient? Because you’ll know them. If they choose to be on their own and you’re connected, they can phone and ask for a recipe and they can clean their apartment. I didn’t have to train them with chores for 10 years so that when they got to their own place, they could clean a toilet or something like that.
Like we were talking about earlier, they just learn the things as they come up. There’s no need to have this checklist and work them in preparation of maybe someday. And then also the piece of, will they be able to move out and live on their own? Even questioning that narrative. Why is it important as individuals? Is that the only way to show our worth or our value to society or to prove our value as a person? There are so many bigger philosophical questions that are wrapped up in those questions that people have as they first come to unschooling, wanting to know the outcome.
Because once you get to know your kids and you’re connected at that level, things unfold, whether they speed up or they’re slow over time, or they’re completely different than what we first envisioned, they make so much sense for them in that moment. Even if we have to catch up and even if we have to grieve a little bit, it’s like, whoa, this is going so fast.
JENNIFER: And it’s so cool. And like you said, they know what they need to do. I never forced my kids to do chores or do whatever, but he’s living on his own and he’s cooking and they’re always coming and telling us about these new recipes that they tried and they’re doing their laundry and they’re doing everything they need to do. And they know how to do that and they’re not afraid to learn the things they don’t know how to do. And I think that unschooling has given them the best start.
And even with college, that’s something you hear all the time. People are like, well, how will they get into college? And we never had a question about it. He said he wanted to go to college. We’re like, okay. We’ll figure out what you have to do and we’ll do it. And he did. He’s doing the program. He’s doing his two years at community college and then two years to finish his bachelor’s at the university. And we researched the programs and decided the best way to do it, made him up a transcript, and you just do it and you figure it out. It’s not hard.
PAM: Exactly. And what I find so interesting, too, because Michael had recently looked at some programs, computer systems analyst, that kind of stuff. And he’s like, oh, I found one that looks really interesting. And so, he found out about it, applied, and is on the wait list and whether or not he even goes, we’ll just see how it unfolds.
Whereas Lissy has this passion that she has dived into and followed for years as a photographer, he’s more of a scanner and has multiple interests and passions that he loves. So, from the stunt work to music and computers and video games and so many pieces. So, he so often has irons in the fire in so many different ways. And then each moment it’s like, which feels good right now? What am I feeling I want to pursue right now? So, it changes over time, but that interest in the more formal learning environment, that seed has also been there for a long time.
Now that I look back, when he was 18 or something like that, anyway, he was curious and just for fun, wrote the GED in Ontario. So, he had that in his back pocket. So, it was easy for him to apply. As an older student, it’s like, yeah, you got your GED, boom. Yeah. Applied for the program.
You really can’t see those things in the moment, but looking back, you can see. Yeah. That thread has always been here, too. And I can see that that might move forward and this thread goes in this direction and this one over here.
Or they have more of a passion and then all sorts of other things weave in. Lissy was very interested in and passionate about music, but not in creating. Michael learned guitar on his own. And then eventually after a few years, took lessons, took voice lessons. He went through a season of that and had all sorts of computer equipment and boards for mixing music, et cetera.
Well, Lissy wanted to go to shows. So, we went to shows constantly when she was in her teens, just small alternative band shows. And now, over the last few handful of years, her photography has meshed with that interest. And she mostly works with musicians now, doing albums and publicity shots and all that kind of stuff. So, when you look back, it is so fun to see the different threads of their interests and of their lives and seeing how they are waving together now. But it’s impossible to predict moving forward, but when you can look back and see all those little pieces, it’s so fascinating.
And I think that’s what helps us, after years of unschooling experience, to be so confident and supportive of our children’s choices in the moment. Because even if we don’t quite know now, we know that what they’re drawn to right now and the choices they’re making right now make a lot of sense to them. So, when they say, “Oh, you know what? I’m thinking I want to go to college or do a college course.” It’s like, yeah, let’s figure that out, because you don’t second guess their choices at that point. You have enough experience to know that their choices make sense, even if I don’t quite understand them yet. I know that when I’m looking back, this is going to make a lot of sense to me about them, because I can see them developing over time, so I can just dive in and support them right now.
JENNIFER: Yeah. And one of the things you said made me think about having a whole bunch of different interests. And one season you might go this way. One season, you might go that way. And they know as unschoolers that they have the ability to change their mind and to take a different course and to try a different thing and that, as their parents, we’ll be all in, no matter what their choice is and support it and say, “That’s great. Go do that,” instead of being like, you know what? I went to college straight out of high school. That was my option. That was it. You graduate high school, you go to college. And I was there because that was the thing to do. And I didn’t particularly want to be there. I was there because that was the choice I had. I had one choice and it was to go to college, because that’s what you do.
But to our kids, they have a world of choices and they can try different things and they can know that if they come to us with their different ideas, we’ll be excited for them and support them and be like, okay. What do you need me to do to help you figure this out? With my kids, it’s usually more, “I’ve looked into this extensively and this is what I need to do.” And then we just get to sit back and say, “Okay, that’s really cool. We’ll support you.”
PAM: Yeah. Any way that we can. Is there any way that I can help? Because yeah, they do get to that point where they are, back to when we were talking about how they have figured out how to learn for themselves. They don’t think, “Oh, I need to learn this.” It’s not even that they use that language in their head, because it’s just so natural. It’s like, “Oh, I want to figure out what college courses I want to take, or how I can pick up this skill.” They just dive into it and figure it out.
And they share with us what they’re doing or if there’s something that they think, “Oh, mom can help me with this,” then you’ll have a conversation. It’ll bubble up in those times. It’s like, “Oh yeah, mom, what about this? Can you help me with this? I’m trying to do this,” having those spaces.
That’s why we talked about the importance and value of having those open times where things can bubble up or when they come to you and say, “Hey mom, can we chat?” We say yes as much as we can. It’s not very often at all that I can’t take a few minutes to have a conversation with somebody.
So, the value of choosing that, of having that as one of my highest priorities, because that is the kind of person and parent that I want to be no matter the age of my child. And that’s the really fun thing, too, with all these choices is they haven’t grown up feeling like those are age dependent. Like, “Okay, I’m 18. I need to choose college or not college.” No. And like you said, you’re a shining example. On the conventional path, yes. You go to school and then you graduate high school and you go to college. Whatever it is you pick as a program or whatever, the important thing is that you go to college.
So, that’s why it’s so fun to see how each of our kids move through and how it makes so much sense to them, because they’re making the choices as to what they’re interested in and what they want to do now, regardless of their age. It has to do with who they are and what they want to do so much more than, “Hi. I’m 18. I need to go to college, move out,” whatever, but those messages are all around them, too. So, we may also be helping them process through that. “Oh man, everybody says I should have moved out or I should have gone to college.” Those messages are still out there for them to absorb, so that also bubbles up in our conversations, as well, just to support them feeling comfortable in their choices, because they know they don’t get that judgment at home or from us or from their siblings or anything like that. But they definitely can absorb those messages out and about in the world.
JENNIFER: Yeah. That’s why it’s so nice for them to have other unschooling friends. My 18-year-old, he has a lot of friends who are older than him, like in their 20s. And he can see the different things that they’ve done and how well they’re doing in different areas. And there’s no judgment from them about what path he does or does not take, so they can see in real life what it looks like for an unschooler to try different paths and pick different routes. And so, I think that’s really helpful to have peers that have gone through it.
PAM: Yeah, no, that’s a great point too, having lots of examples and just seeing so many people making their choices in the world without the weight and framework of expectations, of feeling that need to satisfy or even the energy that it takes the buck against it. So, if it’s part of your environment of what people do that does make it easier for them to think, yeah, I can just choose what I want to do in this moment or for the next six months or whatever, and change my mind. I’m sure they see that too. There are so many other possibilities than just walking this one particular path.
So, I would love to know, what is your favorite thing about the flow of your unschooling days right now?
JENNIFER: It feels like we already talked about it. But I love the way that the kids are older now and the way we’re living sort of parallel, I love being in and out of their life and them sharing what they’re doing with me. Rather than when they were little and they had an interest, it was me giving them all these different things. They’re so much more independent now and they’re doing their own things and they’re coming to me to share it. And that’s really cool to see with all my kids. They do their own reading and they do their own research and they have their own interests. And then I get to be a part of it and I get to watch and they involve me and that’s really cool.
Because I have my own things. I’m going to school, but like I said, I always make time to say yes to them and reconnect with them and it’s really cool to be able to see. When they’re a kid, you’re right there in it. But when they’re older, they do things independently. And so, then they bring it to you. And then I feel like, wow, I had no idea you knew that or you had looked into that.
And it’s these fun discoveries I get to make about my kids, because now that they’re older, we have discussions about politics and religion and deep conversations that I had no idea they were thinking about or reading about. And it’s a really, really cool shift from when they were little and I was there when they were learning things. And now they’re so independent about it, but they still bring me in, which is really cool.
PAM: I know. I find, even as my kids are all adults now, that my world still feels so much bigger and richer and expansive with them in it. Because they are bringing so many interesting things, so many interesting perspectives. And like you said, it’s like, “Oh! I had no clue you were thinking about that or diving into that.” It’s fascinating. “I dove into that at this point,” or whatever. Or I love that things come up and connections are made still that haven’t been made before with them, because we’re all continuing to grow and learn more about each other and about ourselves.
That’s one of the things, too, is it’s like, am I done unschooling because they’re adults now? But, as we talked about so much, unschooling becomes a lifestyle. It’s a way of living our lives. And it doesn’t change, even as they’re moving out and having their lives or whatever. It’s not done, because it’s the way we choose to live. And we still get to engage and have that richness of weaving into each other’s lives and bringing more to it. I’m sure all of our lives feel richer for having each other in them.
JENNIFER: Yeah. It’s so cool. And it’s big things and it’s little things. Like, my 21-year-old got a tattoo recently and he was all excited about it. He texted us the picture. He’s like, “Look what I just got!” And little moments like that are so cool to have. He didn’t have to do that. He could have just gone about his day, but he thought of us and he wanted to share his excitement. Little things like that and big things are what make it so enjoyable to have the unschooling life and have the connection with your kids.
PAM: Yeah. No, that is so beautiful. Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Jennifer. It was such a pleasure. I really appreciate it. Thank you.
JENNIFER: My pleasure.
PAM: Now before we go, where can people connect with you online?
JENNIFER: So, my website is JenniferMcGrail.com and there I have all my links to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.
PAM: All the things.
JENNIFER: All the things.
PAM: I will definitely put that link in the show notes. And thank you so much. Have a wonderful day, Jennifer.
JENNIFER: Thank you. You, too.