This week, we’re sharing the first episode in our Parenting series, in which we’ll explore our relationships with our children. We are excited to bring this new lens into our conversation! We decided to start this series with school, because it’s a significant part of many children’s lives. Yet, we don’t need to bring school home. When it comes to our relationships with our children, life can be so much bigger than school. We can choose to put it in perspective as just one aspect of their lives.
We hope today’s episode sparks some fun insights for you and we invite you to dive deeper with our Episode Questions. Join us on Instagram or YouTube to continue the conversation and share your reflections.
Let’s dig deep, challenge paradigms, choose connection, and live joyfully!
1. How does it feel to contemplate prioritizing your child, and your relationship with your child, over their school grades?
2. What was your school experience growing up? Considering what we talked about in episode 3 about how people are different—and children are people too—how is your child different from you as a child? How is their school experience different from yours?
3. What are some aspects of school that you might consider not enforcing at home? Where might you consider your child’s needs more important than the school’s expectations? What might that look like?
4. Does your story of your child change when you don’t include how they perform at school? If so, how? Which feels better? Which feels more true to the person your child is?
PAM: Hello and welcome to the Living Joyfully Podcast. We’re happy you’re here exploring relationships with us, who we are in them, out of them, and what that means for how we move through the world.
If you’re new to the podcast, we encourage you to go back and listen to the earlier episodes. We started with some foundational relationship ideas in the first 14 episodes and have really enjoyed how they’re building on one another.
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And this is our first episode in our parenting series in which we’ll explore our relationships with our children. And I am really excited to bring this lens into our conversation. Now, we decided to start the conversation in this series with school because it’s a significant part of most children’s lives. Yet, spoiler alert, we don’t need to bring school home.
When it comes to our relationships with our children, life is so much bigger than school. That said, it can be hard to remember that in the thick of things while you’re figuring out the day-to-day logistics of getting kids to and from school, of packing lunches, of finishing homework, of getting paperwork signed. But it’s true.
When we can take a moment to release the artificial urgency that’s often generated by those schedules (and check out episode eight, There’s Plenty of Time, if that is feeling hard) it can be invigorating to remember that life is so much more than that. Our relationships with our children are bigger than navigating their school attendance. School often looms large in our lives, but we can choose to put it in perspective. We can choose to give our relationships with our children priority.
We have evenings and weekends at our disposal where we can choose to give priority to connecting with our kids, to engaging with them, and having fun together. Because when we pull up to that bigger picture, our relationships with our children will last for our lifetime, whereas the compulsory school years are only a dozen or so years of that. If we prioritize school over our relationships with them during childhood, though, what shape will our relationships with them be in the many decades still to come?
ANNA: Yes. It’s really so empowering to step back a bit and realize that we can absolutely prioritize the relationship with our child, even in the context of school. And that said, it does have a way of creeping into all the aspects of life. So, I think it really will be fun to step back a bit and be really intentional about the choices we’re making and put it through that priority lens that we talked about way back in episode one. Keeping that lens handy as we navigate things that feel like have-tos helps us take ownership for our choices and act with clear intention.
PAM: Absolutely. Yeah. Just going back to what our priorities are, what our whys are, that can just be so helpful to bring everything into context.
So, now that we have put the school years themselves into a clearer perspective against the lifelong relationship that we’re going to have with our children, let’s look more closely at your child right now. Because your child is so much more than their grades. You know them in a much bigger sense than the school does, than their teacher does. You see them in different situations doing different things. You see the things they love to do, because you’re with them when they have the chance to do them, and how they almost effortlessly learn when they’re engaged in those activities.
You see them grow and change over years, a perspective that their teachers just don’t have. You can help your child feel seen and heard and valued for who they are as a whole person. School is just one aspect of their lives.
And you can see things through your children’s eyes. You can see all the learning they’re doing beyond the school curriculum and their official grades. You can see them using what they’re learning day-to-day in their conversations, in their activities, in their skill development. Those are more meaningful expressions of learning in the bigger picture than grades on tests. And yes, absolutely, grades have value when it comes to college applications and things. Yet the relentless judgment of grades as a reflection of the child’s value as a person over those school years can be so harmful.
ANNA: So harmful. There was a thread I read recently on Instagram where adults were talking about their memories of school and it was so intense to read as people talked about how those years felt to them. And it was interesting, because it was a mix of people. Some had excelled at school and had done really well, others had given up on it, but all of them were impacted in ways that have stuck with them and have required some unpacking over subsequent decades. And I was like, wow. It was hard to read.
I think many of the negative aspects can be mitigated by connected relationships in the family, though, (and I think that’s why we wanted to talk about it) by parents seeing the child as a whole honoring what they love, especially if it falls outside of what’s valued at school.
When I work with teens and families, they’re coming to me because things are getting pretty dire, and so often, it boils down to the teen not feeling seen, heard, or understood. The pressure, the weight that’s being carried, is massive for these kids. And validation and understanding around that works wonders.
Many of the parents have bought fully into the importance of grades and performing in a way that prioritizes school performance above all else. But when you’re faced with your child’s mental health suffering, it casts it in a very different light. You start to see the bigger picture and realize their mental health is actually the most important thing to you and for them.
And, here we go again. There’s plenty of time. There’s not one path to success and happiness. As much as school tells us that they have the right path and the answer to all the questions, they don’t. It’s not one size fits all, even for attending college and pursuing more traditional paths. More and more colleges are valuing different paths and students who are engaged in the world pursuing passions.
But most of all, we want our teens to feel strong, confident, and connected. Focusing back on the relationship to really know your whole child, what they love, what weight they’re carrying, what brings connection to the teen years that many people feel is impossible. It isn’t. It’s there for us if we move beyond acting as the school’s enforcer and instead prioritize our relationship and partnering together.
The teen years are pretty amazing, and while that can be surprising to some people, they really can be when you focus on the relationships and seeing the amazing person in front of you, hearing them, understanding them, partnering with them.
PAM: Yes, yes, yes. I will say the teen years can definitely be amazing. So, as we start playing with our thoughts in this direction, another aspect that I want to touch on is that school is a choice. So, for example, you may not want to homeschool your children, yet remembering that it’s a valid option reminds us that sending our kids to school is a choice, certainly throughout most of the world. And that can feel so empowering.
Like, we’re not doing anything differently, but the minute we remember this is a choice. The shift! The energetic shift that we can feel. We can choose how our family engages with the educational system in so many ways beyond just the compulsory attendance aspect.
So, one thing to be aware of is that starting to think about school as a choice may well bring up our own school experiences, as you were mentioning, Anna, and we can carry the impact of our experiences for many years. So, maybe we felt very controlled, like we needed to submit to the system’s authority. Maybe we acquiesced, maybe we fought it, and maybe those feelings all come flooding back as soon as we step into a school, even as a parent. We instinctively feel we need to do what the teacher tells us. But no. We’re adults. It is definitely worth the effort to process our experiences growing up so we better understand them and better understand ourselves.
So, while our school experiences can inform our choices, they needn’t spill over into our current interactions. Recognizing our power doesn’t mean that we need to be confrontational or argumentative with teachers or administrators. It does mean that we don’t need to thoughtlessly take on whatever expectations they try to throw our way. We get to choose. We can prioritize our relationships with our children. We can prioritize them, as people, and that can make a world of difference in our family’s lives over our family’s lifetime.
ANNA: Oh my gosh. Exactly. And I think reminding ourselves of the choices is always so important. And it’s not just homeschooling, it’s the myriad of options and talking with your child about what they want out of the experience, because ultimately it is their life, their education.
So, working with them to understand what drives them, what lights them up, how to fan those fires, instead of extinguishing them. We’ll have a much better chance of helping them live their best life than thinking of traditional kind of one-size-fits-all school as the only option. And I want to acknowledge that it is scary to question some of these things that we’ve been handed. We’ve all been told is the only way.
And we’re not saying throw it all out. You can if you want, but it’s more a call to just take a closer look, to look at our own experience in school. How did it serve us? And looking at how it didn’t. How is it serving our child now? How is it falling short? Again, it’s about bringing intention to those choices and making those choices together so that there’s ownership and consent.
PAM: Absolutely. Back to working together as a team. We are supporting them and helping them. And when there are challenges, we’re helping them figure out ways to move through that, as well. I can just feel them feeling seen and heard when we have these conversations instead of shutting down any challenges they might be facing.
So, lastly, I want to mention, what does it look like when we decide to thoughtfully consider how we engage with the school system? Because, as we said, we don’t need to bring school home wholesale. We can choose our language around school. School can be a way to learn new things, but it’s not the only way. School has a certain set of things they teach, the curriculum, but that by no means covers all the interesting things there are in the world that we and our kids can learn.
Kids can learn interesting things in and out of the classroom. We don’t need to value school learning over life learning, because learning is everywhere. And we know our kids. We can see through their eyes, recognize the things they’re learning throughout their days. We can choose not to bring the ethos of school into our home, not to be a teacher substitute that values the generalized curriculum over the individual child. When our focus is instead on our child, on our relationship with them, and on learning wherever and whenever it happens, it’s amazing the fun and engagement and just pure joy that can bubble up through our days.
ANNA: Yes. I mean, what we say and the energy we bring to it has such a huge impact. By valuing all types of learning, we’re showing them that the world is rich with opportunities. If they don’t fit into the mold of school perfectly, that’s okay. We see their value and the value of the way they learn. And maybe that’s more hands-on or deep dives, things that don’t work quite as well in school. Then they can put those things into perspective.
And even if our child is excelling in the school environment, it’s helpful to check in about what they love and exposing them to all the different ways to live, because maybe they’re good at doing what’s needed for the environment, but when that’s over, they’re left looking around wondering what they love, how they want to spend their time.
And I think it’s important to mention that schools have a deficit focus that kind of goes unnoticed, but it’s big. They’re trying to bring everybody to a center line of knowledge, and unfortunately it doesn’t allow us to develop our strengths as we struggle in areas that we don’t enjoy or pick up easily.
And while we may not be able to change that approach in school, you can make sure that there are ample opportunities and support for your child to explore their passions, whether it be art, writing, math, sport, dance, plants, frogs, whatever is is. Together, you can find ways to help them dig into their passion and know that you see and support them doing things that they love, because no matter what the passion is, no matter how tiny and niche there are people out there making money pursuing it, creating careers and a life around it.
Just exposing kids to all the ways there are to live in the world, all the paths, will help them so much as they try to find their own unique path. No one is served by the idea that there’s one right way, one path to success. There are countless 40-year-olds out there struggling because they bought that story and now realize it’s a myth. But again, connecting with your child or teen now, really hearing them, helping them find their path, not only preserves your relationship, but gives them a strong foundation from which to build a life they don’t have to start unpacking in their forties.
PAM: Yes, yes, yes. And I want to bring that up once more, what you were talking there about a child who is doing well at school, who’s excelling at school. Because if we just leave that as the one right path, because they are successful on that one right path, who knows? When they graduate, it’s like, oh, is that the path that I want now when there are so many other possibilities?
So, even if things seem to be going “well” and smoothly, it’s still beautiful and connecting and wonderful to help them also explore and have fun outside of school, find their passions. Or maybe it’s a passion that they’ve found, something they love that they’re enjoying through school.
We can bring more of that into their lives outside, getting to know them and helping them feel seen and heard by you, not just through the school experience, as well.
So, as you contemplate how you see school weaving through your family’s lives, here are some questions that we hope you will consider. The first one is, how does it feel as you contemplate prioritizing your child and your relationship with your child over their school grades? Again, it’s just like, contemplate for yourself. It’s okay to ask yourself any question. Any question is okay.
Number two. What was your school experience growing up? Considering what we talked about in episode three about how people are different and children are people, too, how is your child different from you as a child? How is their school experience different from yours? And I think this is a great one, because sometimes, as parents, we can have like this image of a child in our mind and that’s what we’re comparing our child against.
But if we can let that drift away, that image of what we thought a child should be or could be … We wanted our child to like the same things that we like, so we could do them together. If you can let go of all those pieces and just look at the child in front of you and think about how they’re different, whether it’s in their personalities, the things that they like to do, like all those pieces. Just look at that for a while and think about the differences. That can help us see through their eyes more easily than just our lens of how we’re looking at things.
Question three or group of questions number three, what are some aspects of school that you might consider not enforcing at home? Where might you consider your child’s needs more important than the school’s expectations? And what might that look like? Just play with that for a bit.
ANNA: Yeah. And I want to add the, what does it feel like? here, too, because I’m guessing as even you contemplate this question, you’re putting yourself back in that role again of, “But I have to,” and so then that’s cool to notice, like, “Okay, I am bringing some of that into this exchange with my child and their relationship to school.” And so, yeah, just contemplating those questions and how they feel and what it might look like, I think, would be really interesting.
PAM: Yeah, that’s the wonderful thing and why we keep talking about energy and how we’re feeling, because often our brain doesn’t yet maybe notice or want to think about the thing, but if we notice our body’s tensing up, that’s just a clue that there’s something there. Or we notice thinking about something, oh, that feels lighter all of a sudden. I didn’t know I wasn’t breathing deeply! Wonderful, wonderful clues.
Okay, so our last question. Does your story of your child change when you don’t include how they perform at school? If so, how does it change? And which story feels better? Which feels more true to the person that your child is? I love that one.
ANNA: Me, too. Because so often, that is the only way we interact with children is, what’s your favorite subject? What’d you do at school today? And so, really, is that the story you’re telling of your child?
Is it steeped in this school or are you seeing these other aspects of them?
PAM: I remember when I first noticed that the first question other adults in the world asked my kids when they met them was, what grade are you in? And that’s fine. I’m in grade whatever. Yet, oh my gosh, the lens of school is ubiquitous. It is everywhere. And your child is more than their school attendance and you don’t need to bring that home. It’s absolutely an aspect of their lives, but it’s not all their lives and it doesn’t define who they are as a whole.
ANNA: And I guarantee you that they want to be seen as more than that. Even if they love school, they want to be seen as more than that. And so, that will just be really fun to check in and see.
PAM: Yes. I love that. Thank you so much for listening everyone, and we will see you next time. Bye!
ANNA: Bye-bye. Take care.