PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today, I’m here with Jae Williams. Hi, Jae!
JAE: Hey. How you doing?
PAM: I’m doing very well. Thank you. Now, you were on the podcast last year, that was episode 290. And you spoke then about leaving your job as a teacher and you were about two months into unschooling and deschooling. So, I’ll put the link in the show notes so that listeners can go back and listen to that. And I am so excited to connect with you again and hear how your first year unfolded. So, to get us started …
Can you just give us a bit of an update about you and your family and what everybody’s interested in right now?
JAE: So, my kids, they’re into sea creatures. That’s their thing. I think it was the beginning of that interest when we last spoke, but they’ve started to get a little more of a deeper dive into it. My daughter, I feel like she just randomly comes up with facts about sea creatures I’ve never heard of, like any fish and whale sharks and, “Oh, that’s not really a shark or a whale and it’s the biggest blah blah blah in the world.” And she just knows all these random facts.
So, they love this show, it’s a little cartoon animated show. It’s called Octonauts. And I think that’s where they get a lot of their information from. Speaking of that, actually, so my daughter absolutely loves TV. That’s her thing. She’s just visual. She loves the stories. She loves the characters. She just really, really loves TV.
My son, he’s really into like games now, I’m noticing. He wants to play UNO all the time and Racko, and different games where other people are involved and stuff like that.
So, with me, when you gave me the questions and I was thinking about it, I was like, I guess if I’m being most truthful, what I’m most interested in is figuring myself out and how I fit in this new role, this new world we’ve created for ourselves during this deschooling process. What’s the phrase? Two weeks of deschooling for every year? Or something like that. I’ve been schooled my entire life. I was an educator, went to college, taught for a long time, coached for a long time. So, I’ve been in this structure my entire existence it feels like. And so, breaking down that structure and then seeing what’s left and rebuilding myself into who I want to be and how I want to be and how my life wants to be, it’s been interesting. Let’s say that. It’s been a challenge, I would say. But that’s something that I’ve really been trying to dig deep into lately.
PAM: Yeah. I think that’s a pretty common experience. You’re coming from an education background, so you already, I imagine, understood the richness and the value of learning and had your own ideas of how learning happens. And learning about unschooling excited you enough so that you wanted to do it and pursue it.
Yet, along the way, we find that it is ultimately so much of our work to do. It’s not so much about, okay, now I’m gonna help the kids learn instead of them going to school. This is what my role’s gonna be. I’m going to be championing learning for them and helping them figure this out and helping them learn whatever they’re interested in, because that’s what we come to it with. And then, that realization as we get into it that, oh, this is so much about me and less about needing to direct them or even cultivate a certain environment for them to be in. I’m sure we’re gonna dive into that a lot more.
So, that’s good.
PAM: And I’ll put a pin in it there, definitely, because that can be confusing for people.
Because we are cultivating an unschooling environment for them, but it’s the recognition that they’re damn good at this already. So, I don’t need to be on top of them all the time, but be more receptive. And then just learning that there are so many layers to peel off or knots to untangle when it comes to us. So much of it is our work to figure out who we want to be, like you said. And how we wanna be in this world and the kind of family life and relationships with our partner, with our kids. All those are, all of a sudden, up in the air.
Because when we first came to it, it’s all about the learning. But then we realize, oh, but no. Learning really is all about the life. And it’s all about the relationships. And it’s all about how we choose to engage. And it’s so hard to choose to engage when we have so many layers covering up who we really are.
JAE: Yeah. No, you’re right, because it’s something you mentioned with the relationship and there are so many various parts of my life where that’s so important. For example, I coach basketball and I only have that position because of relationships I’ve built. The impact that I’ve had on other people’s lives. And then they use their relationships to share with someone else about, “Oh, here’s a person that could be a good fit for this school,” you know what I mean? And so, that whole thing started so organically. It’s not, oh, I’ve coached at the highest levels and I’ve made this much money or I went to this school or had these successes and won these championships. It’s more of like, “When I’m around Coach, he makes me feel a certain way. He helps me grow to be a certain individual.” And isn’t that what you want for the other kids at your school?
And so, that’s how I even get this position where I’m at with something that has nothing to do with unschooling. It has nothing to do with traditional education, because it’s even sports. So, I’ve realized there’s so much of a value that I want to put on relationships now. And like I said, I kind of wanna pin it, because there’s just so much I wanna dive into.
PAM: I know, because just what you said there, Jae, I think that is a huge piece of the deschooling is coming to value the things that organically develop. To value that process versus the, “I have this certificate. I’ve coached at this level,” the things you can show on paper. Which is fine and is great, but to realize it’s not the only way. And to realize that, oh my gosh, the things that develop organically are often so much more meaningful to me, because they developed organically because those were relationships I cultivated, because I enjoyed them or I enjoyed the topic.
So, the person with the paper may be doing it because it’s what they’re supposed to do, because that’s what their papers say. They may not enjoy it so much that they’re having those effects on the relationships. And they’re not so much having that engagement that is personally meaningful to both the coach and the player, the deeper level. And just coming to value that and to realize the importance of that. And then to start leaving room for things to develop organically, because we have so much less control over the timetable and even where it goes. So, there’s so much more trust in that process. But anyway, layers and layers to peel back. Okay. The ages of your kids, just let people know.
JAE: Oh, so basically four and seven, but they’re not quite there yet. In the next month or so, they’ll be those ages.
PAM: Perfect. Okay. Let’s dive in. I’m already excited. All right. When we spoke last July, as I mentioned, you’d been unschooling for a couple of months and it’s been a year now. And of course, there have been all sorts of ups and downs I’m sure.
So, I was curious to know what you’ve found to be the most challenging aspect of your unschooling journey so far.
JAE: Yeah. So, there’s a lot to that. All right, so I’m gonna start off with, I think everybody says this. I think you ask this question every pod and I feel like I hear so many different answers of the same question. And so, I’m gonna start off the way they start off. The journey is mostly about you and that’s something that I’ve recognized. We kind of already discussed that.
So, it’s seeing how much it is about me breaking down these walls and decolonizing my thinking and focusing on the whole individual. And in order to do that, you’ve gotta really focus on yourself. How can you teach your daughter and your son to be gentle and caring and loving and showing empathy and understanding all these things, if you don’t have those things, if you aren’t displaying those things, those skills. And so, it’s constantly checking myself and seeing, wait, why? I guess with unschooling, there’s always this question of why. So, it’s like, am I doing this because this is genuinely the organic, proper thing to do? Or am I doing this because I was just told to do this?
I don’t know if you ever heard the story where this family, they cut their turkey in half and then they put it in the oven and a granddaughter asked, “Mom, why do you cut your turkey in half before you put it in the oven?” “Oh, because my mom did.” And then the mom asked the grandma, “Why do you cut that turkey in half when you put in the oven?” “Oh, because my mom did.” And it was like, you go back and forth. And then they went back and they saw something older or something and they said, “Oh, I only cut my turkey in half, because it couldn’t fit because our oven was so small.”
So, it’s like, am I cutting my turkey in half because this is something that’s just been passed down to me? Or do we really need to cut this turkey in half? And it’s been a constant struggle. And I know I’m using a hypothetical, but I’ll be real specific.
So, I feel that I’m very contradictory. For example, in one breath, I’ll say things like, “I want to unschool,” but then in another moment, I realize I thrive in structure and routine. So, then there’s times where I’m not as motivated or productive when there’s no structure and routine. So, slowly getting to that balance or that flow or that moment of, okay, this is the proper amount of structure to facilitate a happy, loving environment, to be the level of production that makes me feel joy and that helps my children see their father being in a place of productivity, but also loving and understanding and doing the things that he’s great at while helping facilitate our things that we love and that we are interested in.
But it feels like I’m contradicting myself. So, even for another more specific example is I have the YouTube channel, The Black Dad YouTube channel. And I started a channel, because I wanted to show and reflect a father’s journey from being a teacher to an unschooler. And I wanted to be raw and real and honest. But I’m scared to show that I don’t know everything, that I don’t have the answers, that I’m literally walking somewhat blind a lot of times. And I’m not sure if my approach this week, this month, this year is the right approach or not. And to put that in front of the world, it scares me. So, it’s a contradiction, because it’s like, in one breath, I was like, man, this would be so beneficial to so many people, but then, in another breath, I’m like, oh, I don’t wanna look like an idiot to the internet, you know?
And I asked this question, I know this was one of our questions, but finding that, am I doing enough as a father? It almost feels like I’m too focused on myself. This last year has felt like I’ve been too focused on myself and not enough on my kids.
So, when you said earlier, let’s pin it here, I was like, yeah. Because I really need to get into that. We’re gonna definitely need to touch that point. I don’t know. I’ll let you talk. I feel like I’m rambling.
PAM: Okay. That is such a rich question, am I doing enough as an unschooler? So, yeah, we’ll just say we’re coming up on that soon, because I am excited to dive into that.
I wanted to just touch on, because this is another thing that I think comes up so often for people, is relating unschooling to not having structure and routine. Like, ‘if I have a routine that feels good to me, I’m not really unschooling.’ For me, that’s not how I see unschooling. There are certain personalities, whatever, that thrive on routine. So I prefer “routine” over “structure” because, to me, routine doesn’t have to go by the clock. To me, structure is the things: the dentist appointment, the trip to visit people. That’s a structure that shows up in our days. Or swimming lessons if you guys enjoy that, or whatever people are putting on their calendar. To me, that’s structure.
But there is also, as you’re finding, a routine that can also feel good to us. For some, it can feel very floundering and uneasy to every moment be thinking of every possibility. That gets overwhelming fast. And we end up not really doing anything.
And that’s another thing, too, the whole bedtime question that often comes up. It’s like, okay, well, we don’t do bedtime. So, then we do nothing because we don’t have a time on the clock that we send kids to bed. Yet, bedtime routines can be very comforting for kids, a very nice way to handle transition into sleep. We can realize for ourselves, there are certain things we do to help us transition into sleep.
The only challenge with routines in an unschooling environment, I feel, is if we try to impose them on others. Because a routine that feels very rewarding and comforting and energizing to us may not feel like that to someone else.
Some kids really enjoy the routine of going to sleep, whether it’s a bath, whether it’s stories, whether it’s cuddle time, a show that we watch together as our energy comes down, lying in bed together, whatever feels comfortable for them to transition to sleep. Then there’s the other kid who just wants to go, go, go, go till they drop on the couch or the floor and then you carry them up to their bedroom. Neither one of those is wrong.
For me, the unschooling piece is the recognition that we’re all individuals and that different things feel good to each of us. And it’s about helping our kids and ourselves, now that we’re recognizing this, learn enough about ourselves to see which one feels good, to see which way is helpful, or what combination of them. And then over time, we’re recognizing what seasons, because that bedtime routine feels wonderful for months or years, until it doesn’t. And then maybe you’re switching up the routine or maybe you’re going till you drop, because it’s just a season of energy, energy, energy. So, it’s not holding onto a structure.
That’s why I prefer routine over structure, because structure just feels tighter. It feels like this is a structure to my day. This is what we need to do. “Have to” comes into it more for me. So, it’s even choosing the language that works for each person and what feels good. And routine also helps me remember not to impose it on other people. Yet, I can talk about it. I can say, “Oh, I feel really good if I lie down with a book for 20 minutes before I go to bed.” Or, “I have my comfort show and I like to watch that to just relax for a while before I fall asleep.”
And that’s the other piece is—as we’re doing the bulk of our deschooling—for me, one of the big pieces is self-awareness. What we’re recognizing is, oh my gosh, before I can expect self-awareness from my kids, I need it for myself to be able to engage with them. I can’t talk to them about how I like to go to sleep unless I recognize how I like to go to sleep and I understand myself. Or how I like to learn things or how I choose what food I’m feeling like I wanna eat right now or how I pursue my interests, whether I dive into a passion for a month, a few weeks, years, or I’m more of a generalist or a scanner or a Renaissance person where I like to have all sorts of irons in the fire and skip along.
But I can’t really talk about those things with my child unless I understand them for myself and understand who I am before I can start recognizing, oh, look, my child likes to do this, this, and this.
And that’s how I can support it. Because I know they like to have all sorts of irons in the fire. So, if they’re like dinosaurs or sea animals, I’m not gonna just bring them sea animals, because I know they like a few things. Or if they’re a deep diver, I’m not gonna keep bringing them other things, trying to coax them, because I think they’re too interested in sea animals right now.
But yeah, it’s so hard to understand our kids at that level that we can support them or recognize and have conversations with them about who they are and their personality and how they like to engage with the world if I don’t understand that in myself, because that’s our point of connection. And we can totally be different and that is a wonderful thing, because that also helps them see that people are different. This is them. That helps them even I think develop their own sense of autonomy and authenticity, because they recognize who they are and what feels good and it’s different than a sibling or a parent, yet it’s all so celebrated. We can be happy about Dad’s need for routine and flow in his days and we can recognize that and work with that. And we’re also working with how I like to be in the world.
So, yeah. That’s why I wanted to dive into that routine thing. I think that’s one thing that we first do when we come to unschooling. It’s like, oh, so we don’t direct things. So, it opens up to all sorts of things, but without recognizing what feels good and works for us, if it stays stuck there, it gets chaotic and it gets to a point where we’re not feeling comfortable if we’re a person who likes some kind of routine or regular flow to our day.
JAE: Exactly. And figuring out that. Because basically, with deschooling, I’ve just stripped it all down. Like literally scorched earth. And now, I have the opportunity to build it the way I want it to be. But then the question is, okay, do I want to build a lot of different compartments? Or do I wanna build like one huge mansion? Or maybe a nice small cottage. Or do I want an industrial type thing, like how do I want it to be? And it gets scary at times.
There was this one documentary that I saw. It was done by an unschooler who was I guess a young adult, in his twenties. And spoiler alert, but the realization that he went to at the end is that he actually didn’t like unschooling, because he felt like it was just too much pressure to build this world on his own. He would’ve liked more structure. He would’ve liked a more paved path that, okay. Everybody just follows this path. Go there. And I think about that. And I see what he’s saying. I don’t quite agree with it completely, but I see what he’s saying, because it can be overwhelming with how different unschooling is and the lack of support that you kind of have.
For example, the only unschoolers I know live states away. You know what I mean? There’s no local unschoolers that I know, at least that I have a relationship with. And I’ve tried to find people on Facebook and things like that. So, I’m only interacting with either homeschooling moms or people who are just regular school parents. The kids go to traditional public schools and private schools. So, the only examples you see is an example that I don’t like. So, I know I don’t like that. But then, I don’t see enough examples of what I do like. Does that make sense?
So, I feel like my journey is a little slower. I know there’s no timeline. Stop thinking about that. But I feel like my journey is a little slower than it could if I had more positive examples. Does that make sense?
PAM: Yes. It makes a thousand percent sense. We had no local unschoolers. I knew they existed. We tried out a couple of meetups. We still had to drive an hour or two and nothing really clicked, but for the ones I found that clicked with, well, I’m in Canada. I drove to the states for conferences once a year, so we could hang out with other unschooling families. And it does really help to see that there are other people in the world doing it. And absolutely, being engaged with other families who had the same lens that they were seeing things and the same direction that they were walking was super important to me be.
I felt I learned more quickly about unschooling just by, at the time it was like an email list, by seeing other people’s questions and thinking them through. So, it wasn’t just about my situation, but I was seeing unschooling through the lens of older kids, through the lens of challenges and stuff that just weren’t happening in my life. But because I was thinking about them and seeing people process and talk about them through the unschooling lens, that helped me more under better understand unschooling in principle, to see it apply to all these different situations. So, I better understood the foundation.
And I will just have a little mention for the Living Joyfully Network, which I started because I found that to be such a valuable part of the journey, which was engaging with other families who were looking at things, looking at life, looking at their relationships with their kids, looking at like just day to day things with the same goals that I had. It was so super valuable.
So, that is why I ended up pulling that together, because even though there are more and more unschooling families than ever, than there were 20 odd years ago when I started. It’s 20 years this year.
JAE: Happy anniversary.
PAM: We’re still very dispersed, so to at least be able to, every day, just pop in and see that there are other families making these choices and to see how we can look at all sorts of different situations helps me more foundationally understand how unschooling works. And so, it also helps me day to day, because it’s like, oh yeah, foundationally, this is the direction I’m trying to go. And then, of course, we can always post our own questions, whether they’re unschooling or this particular situation or what we’re thinking about. Absolutely, I think that is such a really valuable part of the journey.
So, I can completely see how you’re feeling that that’s slowing you down that you’re not being able to look through that lens as often as you would like to, because looking through that lens and seeing how things look and how they might play out and why we might make these choices versus those choices just helps keep us in that mindset.
It creates so many more connections and a deeper understanding of the foundation, because, especially in those first few years, the foundation is what you’re building. The foundation on which you want your life to unfold. But the more that foundation stays murky or slushy or whatever image you want, it’s harder to walk in.
JAE: Well, this is quicksand! This ain’t no foundation. But yeah. That’s right on. That’s right on. So, it’s a struggle, but at the same time, you see so much beauty and the journey of it. So, I don’t want it to feel like, oh, it’s just a dark place this last year. Because it’s not.
I feel like I always keep going ahead, because one of the questions was an a-ha moment.
PAM: Okay. Yeah. Let’s go onto that. What is the most valuable a-ha moment so far, Jae?
JAE: I’m interviewing myself, right? But, as I told you, I coach. And one of the young men I coach, we were having a conversation and I like talking. So, I’m big into communication, conversations. Let’s connect, let’s bond, let’s build that relationship, let’s build an understanding of each other. And I asked him a question. I was like, what brings you joy? What makes you happy? What makes you smile? And he said he didn’t know. And instantly, I was like, man. And I know you’re not supposed to compare, but I would hope that if my kids were around his age, they would have at least an idea of what makes them happy. Maybe they don’t know how to get there exactly. But at least they have an idea of it.
And then I think about how so many of us literally go through life. He’s still young, but we go through life not knowing what brings us joy, not knowing what makes us feel that level of happiness. And if I ask my daughter that, she’s like, “Oh, watching TV, playing with my dolls, pretending.” Ja is like, “Being an Orca whale.” And he’ll start doing his little crawl on the floor pretending he’s a Orca or, what was he pretending yesterday? A leopard, oh, being a leopard. And he was crawling on the floor.
But I love that. I love that they know what brings them joy instantly. There’s no pause, no hesitation. And I always want them to feel that. Because what’s life for, but to be able to pursue joy?
I think that’s why we’re here. And whatever faith you may have or anything, I think that comes at the apex, this love, this sacrifice, this this peace that you have. That comes from this understanding of, okay, what are the things in me that I want to continue to pursue, that helps me become a better version of myself or a deeper, stronger connection that helps me make those different hormones start peaking. What causes me to be stimulated? I feel like that’s what life is about.
That’s what life is. If not, we would just be robots. So, that’s that aha moment. Through, I guess you could say, some of my confusion and trying to figure out balance, routine, or figuring out, am I doing enough? I see these moments that my kids are extremely happy. I’m very, very happy. My life is so good. I was just talking to my wife literally two days ago. We were saying, man, I feel like life is so good. I just feel so blessed. And I feel a lot of that comes from our approach to life. Now through this lens of unschooling, we just look at everything differently.
There’s one more moment I had this weekend, like fresh off the presses, you guys. We have two refrigerators, one in the house and then one in our garage. And the one in the garage just stopped keeping things cold. It was just not being helpful at all. And so, we go to Costco and all these, so you’re buying things in bulk and we put it in that freezer. And I mean, we probably lost like $500 worth of food, because it didn’t keep it cold. And I asked my wife, well, should we get it fixed? And, she said, “You know, I feel like this is kind of a sign that we’re kind of wasteful. Some of this food’s been in there for months, like months. Do we really need all this food? Why are we just keeping food in our fridge and our freezer? Just because we have the space for it?”
And even in the fridge inside, it’s like, we just have food. Sometimes we’ll see a little container, it’s been in the back of the corner of the refrigerator for months. It has mold on it. It’s been refrigerated and still has mold. It’s like, yeah, that’s been there too long. We’re just being too wasteful. We need to be more intentional about everything in our life, like even how we eat and our buying practices and stuff. We’re spending all this time buying food and just throwing it in a refrigerator and then we go out to eat three, four times a week. And it’s like, what are we doing? Let’s find more of a a reasonable balance of how we want to live our lives and what’s important to us.
And we’re very spiritual. So, my wife said, “I think this is God’s way of telling us, we need to kind of get rid of some of this stuff. We need to purge some of these things that are unnecessary and focus in more on things that are more important.” And so, there’s a lot of these random a-ha moments. And I honestly feel we wouldn’t have had that if we weren’t unschoolers. It sounds weird, but these moments pop up all the time for us.
PAM: Yeah. I don’t think it’s weird, because I think what unschooling does is it opens up, like you said, the why. All of a sudden, we think to ask why about things that are going on around us, the things that we participate in. Because, yes, before unschooling, it was like, okay, this is how we do things. This is how the shopping goes. This is how the school goes. This is how visiting relatives go. Your life is just filled with the way things are done, the expectation that this is the way adults do things, and this is the way adults treat kids. And this is just the way life works.
And it’s not until something challenges us or intrigues us enough to start to question one thing. And it’s not even surprising that education and learning was the first thing for you to start questioning, because that was where your interest was. That is where your understanding was already deep enough to recognize as soon as you thought to ask why, as soon as you discovered that there were other possibilities and you started thinking about it, you were already there to see the depth of the other choice, the impact of school and that structure and seeing kids really learning and seeing the stuff that you’re teaching that they’re not remembering three months down the road. Which, if you want some stories about that, go listen to our first conversation.
But yeah, so that was your in to “things can be different.” We don’t have to do things conventionally. There are actual reasons that I can find that making different choices makes a lot of sense to me. Once you’ve done it in one place, all of a sudden, it becomes easier to question things like, oh, look. And it wasn’t until the fridge broke down, that was the moment like, oh. That was the thing that knocked the routine out a little bit, knocked that conventional way you do things. It got knocked out for a moment to give you that moment to say, “Do we wanna just get back to that system? Or why are we doing that way? Is there another way that we might like to do it?”
Yeah, it is so fascinating the way it’s an opening to questioning so many things. Again, back to why so much of it is about us. It’s because it’s us noticing all the things that we’re doing, because that’s the way they’re done and starting to say, “Well, is that the way I wanna do it?” And then I need to understand myself enough to know what would make more sense for me. What would feel better for me? Yeah, that’s just so interesting just to see it unfolding for you right now.
JAE: Yeah. It’s opened so many doors. It went from unschooling, to being more gentle with my parenting. It’s gone to trying to be more of a minimalist or even slowing down. One of my last videos I did was talking about slowing down, talking about the contradictions I mentioned earlier. So, I make this video about slowing down and how we just live in such a fast world. And I talk about the history of it and then how basically unschooling has helped me recognize that. Let’s just pause. And how we focus so much on consumerism. Everybody wants to just buy things and to have money and to do this and do that. And it’s all these things.
It’s these “why” questions. Like, wait. Why am I spending this money? Even when someone asks me, “Oh, what did you do today?” Like I remember one of my players asked me, “Oh, Coach, what did you do today?” And I was going to give him the traditional, “Oh, I was just working hard. And it’s been a grind. You know how it is. Striving for greatness and all this kind of stuff.” Like all these like motivational things about hard work. And just striving. And then, I just started answering. I was like, “No, we didn’t do much today. Went to the playground. Kids watched a lot of TV. I played with my daughter with creating words on an iPad and yeah, that was about it. That was our day,” and being comfortable in that and being honest and genuine and not feeling like I have to uphold this standard of, oh, I’m a man and I need to have this suit on with a briefcase and work 60 hours a weeks or 80-hour weeks and stuff to be considered a good father and a man.
It’s dealing with all of that. And it’s different. It’s interesting. Unschooling just really calls you to question so much. But at the same time, it’s kind of a breath of fresh air. When you finally do get through the darkness and the confusion and you get to the other side, it’s almost like the Plato allegory of the cave. I’m sorry. I’m the history buff guy. You’re like, oh my god, here we go. But, you know. They’re in this cave and they just see shadows on the wall. I’m not even sure. Are you familiar with it?
Yeah, they see the shadows on the wall, but then the one guy he gets out of the cave and he steps into the light and he’s blinded and he can’t really see. It like hurts his eyes. You get that moment, but then when your eyes adjust and you can actually see the brightness and the beauty of the world, it’s like, I have those flashes of those moments where I’m blinded and it hurts and it’s painful. But then, at the same time, when your eyes adjust, you see the beauty of this unschooling process.
PAM: Oh yeah. That is a beautiful metaphor for the journey, because we are in the cave. Those shadows are the systems that we’ve just absorbed and learned growing up and just adopted for ourselves because that’s just the way we do things. And to realize, to take that moment to step out and yeah, it’s not easy. I don’t think anybody ever says, “Oh, this was so easy.”
JAE: Just a walk in the park.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. It’s like, oh my gosh. All this work I have to do on myself, all these questions. All of a sudden, everything’s up.
That’s one of the things, too, that people can choose, because yeah. Everything can be up for question. And it’s very overwhelming. It can be very overwhelming. And I think, for me anyway, one of the best pieces of experience or advice that I got was really to dig into one at a time or just a handful at a time, as in, just the one that’s rubbing. If you’re just starting unschooling and you have a bedtime and nobody’s frustrated with it, well, just keep it for now, because there are all sorts of other things.
What’s the rub right now? What do you and your kids have a hard time with moving through? What is disconnecting? That is gonna be where you’re gonna get the most bang for your buck right now in peeling back the layers or the weight that’s on that particular interaction. Whether it’s, I’m really uncomfortable with how much TV they’re watching or whatever the rub is for us. That is usually a great clue that that’s the next thing that we probably wanna dive into that’s going to give us some progress, some movement forward, and improve our relationship.
And once that gets resolved, then something else will bubble up. Over time, for me anyway, that was a more helpful approach. Dig into one at a time. Because if I stood up, looked around, oh, I have to say yes all the time, no bed times, eat anything they want, like all the things that are supposed to be, and I have to just let them all go. That’s a lot of things for me to process. My head would be all over the place.
JAE: For them to process, even.
PAM: Yes, exactly. Exactly. All of a sudden, their life changes drastically and none of us know what to do instead. It’s, “Okay. I’m not gonna control them and tell them what to do, but that’s all I know. So, I’m going to do nothing. I’m gonna sit back and do nothing. Yet, instead, that’s not what unschooling is at all. You’ll hear unparenting phrases thrown around around that situation. But what I can do instead is play with and explore and figure out what I’m gonna do instead. And that instead is the connection. I’m not gonna control them, but I’m gonna connect with them. I’m having conversations with them. I’m learning about myself, that self-awareness piece, and I’m sharing that so that they start to become more self-aware of what they’re doing.
And then we can start having conversations where we can say, ah, this doesn’t seem to be working out really well for us. What are some other things that we can do? We always seem to butt heads when X, and you’re developing that level of trust and that level of connection and relationships such that you’re not trying to control them. This isn’t another way to control them. You’re not expecting them to give the right answer. You’re looking for the answer that it feels truthful to them. And that’s not like a switch that you can turn on and off.
So, to try and manage it in like multiple areas is super hard. But if we can look at one, “Hey, we’re butting heads here or this isn’t feeling good to me,” but we have to pull enough layers back so that we can explain what isn’t feeling good to me. Again, that why question. Why isn’t that feeling good? Because we need to share that. We need to understand to that level to help figure out a way through it. Because if we are stuck at the, “I’m uncomfortable about this.” If we stay up there, our understanding, then the solution is for them to stop doing this. And then you’re back at control. It’s like, yes, no. And I’m the arbiter of what is comfortable for me. You can or you can’t do it. And that’s what we’re trying to move away from. But I need to understand it at a level for myself so that I can bring that to the conversation.
So, maybe I realize that them watching a lot of TV, what’s uncomfortable to me is actually because it’s really loud and it just gnaws at my brain throughout the day or something. But the answer doesn’t have to be stop turning it on. It could be things like moving it to another room or getting some headphones for them or getting some headphones from me. There are so many possibilities, but until I understand what’s at the root of my discomfort with the thing, it’s really hard to come up with creative ways to move forward that will work for everyone. Because if I stay stuck at the top, just with my, “I’m uncomfortable, I don’t like this.” Yes, no, and control is really the only solution I can see. I can’t be open to possibilities.
JAE: Yeah. Biting off more than you can chew, for me, I guess the trigger or the aha moment that I had with that was the lack of timelines. There’s no real gap, the learning gap and all this kind of stuff that you hear. When you realize that’s fake news, okay, I understand that’s not real, so we can work through this process slowly. Like I even said, my deschooling process has been so slow. I want it to be faster, just because I wanna get to the other side, obviously.
PAM: Well, we’ve ingrained that, too, haven’t we? Because, to be good at something, we need to do it quickly.
JAE: Exactly. Exactly.
PAM: And I wanna be good at this thing, so I wanna do it fast.
JAE: Yeah. Yeah. And once you realize, oh, there’s no timeline that I’m tied to, then you can focus on these little moments. And, like you said, you said it so beautifully. It allows you to build a relationship and an understanding with yourself, with your kids, and you can work through that. You are watching too much TV, because I’m nervous that you’re wasting your time. And I was like, okay, but there’s no real timelines. And she’s learning so much when she’s watching TV. I’m seeing it. I see it in our conversation. And she’s also sharing with me what she’s interested in, which gives me a clue to maybe show or introduce her to other things, you know?
So, when you take those baby steps and you don’t just try to eat the whole buffet at one time, it helps strengthen and grow this whole process. Because, like you said, you’re constantly deschooling, right? And I think that’s a part of it, because you’re constantly just doing one thing at a time, whether it’s bedtime, whether it’s TV time or screen time or whatever, whether it’s how the kids are interacting with each other, you’re dealing with these little issues or these little conflicts or these little moments all the time and, through dealing with it, you build a bond, you build a connection, you build an understanding.
And that’s the part that, it’s so hard to explain that to other people. I don’t know how long we’ve been talking, but to get to this moment right here, so when somebody says, “Oh, but why don’t you spank or why don’t you do this? Or why don’t you force them to do this? Or, you allow them to say no to something?” And it’s like, it’s so hard to explain that. You’ve gotta go through all these steps and it’s like, oh my goodness.
PAM: I know. Imagine our journey, how long it’s been and taken us and the depth that it’s taken us, to envision that we can communicate that in a couple of sentences and somebody else will say, “Oh yeah, I get it.” If it was that easy, I could have done that.
JAE: Yeah, exactly.
PAM: Yeah, that’s so, so interesting. And I wanna say, that’s one of the reasons I love these deschooling conversations, too, because this deschooling piece, this processing piece, is so valuable. It really needs to be done. You can come to unschooling and you can go and you can find, okay, I wanna be a really good unschooler. What are the rules? What do I have to do? And you can read around a bit and you can find the list. And it’s like, okay, if you go off and do that. Then it’s like, okay, this is the way it’s supposed to be. So, I’m just gonna push down my resistance and ignore my resistance because this is what I wanna be. That is just a recipe for a crash in the future.
Because this process of peeling back those layers and understanding why these choices, how these choices make sense in the bigger picture, building this foundation of understanding unschooling and how it works. And then you quickly get to the relationships and then you start diving into moving from control to connection in your relationships and just exploring and thinking about power in relationships and how you want that to look. That work is vital for unschooling to thrive, I think.
And without a lot of that processing, too, I think you may get to situations where a child grows up just feeling unmoored, like you were talking about, where that grown unschooler would’ve liked structure. So, maybe more conversations with that person may have been helpful to see how they’re feeling and to see how they like their days to unfold. There’s nothing wrong with routines and structure to our days when that is how we like to be in the world. To me, that is kind of the goal of unschooling.
My goal was to help my kids figure out the joy, which is different than the happiness. There’s happy moments and there’s sad moments, but there’s the root of joy that runs through all those, because I have agency in my own life. I have power over my choices. And to help them explore the ways to be and the ways to move through their days that work for them and who they are as a person. To me, that’s where the lifeblood of unschooling is. It’s not in, “This is the way we do unschooling. Y’all deal with it,” kind of thing.
… to be continued in Part 3