Life Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard

This is exactly the way I dreamed of my life when I dared to dream.

In the dark times- Cancer, job loss, a marriage close to the brink of divorce, a mental breakdown, alcohol abuse, poor mental health… during all of that I was privy to a glimpse. A glimpse of a good and happy life. A happy life filled with contentment, gratitude, and connection. A life of warmth, thoughtfulness, coziness, and laughter.

I caught a glimpse of opting out of the struggle, embracing those around me for who they are, tightening up our bubble, and living fully and authentically with those I love.

I couldn’t imagine I deserved such a life. I am so, so flawed. So very imperfect. So many irresponsible and gross choices.

Yet, here I am. There isn’t a part of my day, or my life, that I dread. Not going to sleep (former insomniac), not waking up (used to hate my life from living a life out of obligation), not Mondays or Sunday nights or Wednesdays at 2.

My husband works from home. We live as though school doesn’t exist. (Click here to read.)  We make choices based on what feels good and right. We keep learning, and S-l-O-W-L-Y try things that make us feel even better.

I don’t hold steadfast to others’ ideas of how my children should live, and what they should do. I don’t get scared when I hear another parent operating out of fear of what may be. When my kids, or my kids and I, or my husband and I argue -and we still don’t argue in a healthy or admirable way- I know that our joint accounts are filled with promises kept, “I’m sorry’s”  accompanied by personal change, and so much love and warmth that the damage done is far less than it’s ever been.

I no longer berate my body and have intentionally opted out of spending one more second of my life obsessing about food or trying to (sweet Jesus above!) lose weight. (Click here to read).  I wear comfortable clothes every minute of every day. Imagine? Nothing cutting into my waste or chosen specifically to hide an area of my body that somebody else believes should be embarrassing for me- my body! The very thing I live in being too shameful to have seen as it is!

I never really dreamed this much peace was possible- this much joy. This much calm. This much authenticity. God, it feels so good.

So as I make a chock-full-of-not-addictive-cheap-and-yummy-sugar-filled strawberry shortcake for dinner with the fire going, my husband working in his office the next room over from me, and listening to my kids drumming and strumming (click here to read) I am filled with such a deep gratitude I’m not sure how to harness it.

But I’ve learned how. I’m learning how. I’m savoring it. I’m recording it. I’m sharing it. Instead of sabotaging it, I’m recognizing that this is my next big leap– knowing that I am worthy of all happiness all the time in my life, and knowing that accepting it is a daily practice.

This is real. It’s not made up. It’s not dramatized. In fact, if I really wrote about how awesome life is I’d no longer be credible- because it seems to good to be true.

Why am I sharing this? As usual, I have no idea. Maybe it’s more ego driven than I’ll admit. I’m selling nothing- no course, no coaching, no opportunity. None of what I have now came from any of those things. It came from a necessity for life to improve and that had to come from me.

I think I’m sharing this so that you know. Maybe it’s because I’m proud of myself, but I think I want you to know in case you need to read this.

For many of us, life doesn’t have to be so hard. We don’t have to move in chaos. We don’t have to fight with our kids so much. We don’t have to control them. We don’t have to have a particular house or car or pair of shoes to justify our worthiness. In fact, the happiest people I know don’t value any of those things.

I’m not suggesting how anyone should live. Really, I’m not. It just doesn’t have to be so hard.

So, I’m off to take a shower and put on my pajamas before dinner- a dinner table likely filled with various meals and the same dessert. A dinner table with people who love to be together, love me, and love each other.

I never dreamed this life could be real. But here we really are.

For Homeschool Moms Because Nobody Else Understands

As homeschool moms (I use solely moms intentionally because homeschool dads are generally revered as superheroes 🙂 ) we don’t receive accolades. We don’t get a certificate for the new skill we learned. We don’t get a bonus for juggling everyone’s needs and activities in a certain week even though it took extra hours.

We don’t hear “job well done”. Our role is not celebrated by society. Sure, every once in awhile someone says “my gawd I don’t know how you do it. I’d kill my kids if I spent all day every day with them” but that’s not positive recognition. It’s not even about us. It’s about them. It makes us feel… invisible, maybe.

They Don’t Know

Though many partners are grateful for the life their kids are living, if they are the working parent they cannot appreciate what we homeschool moms do, because really, they don’t know.

They don’t know that we only slept for four hours because one child was so immersed in a new digital drawing project until 3 AM and the other is so excited about playing electric guitar that he gets up at 7- leaving, at best, 4 hours for sleep if we want to be with our kids when they are awake.

They don’t know that it is after so many trials, conversations, and attempts that we have finally figured out how to navigate a day, or a week, when each child has different things they want to do, and it doesn’t seem possible to make it all work.

They don’t know that in the spare 40 minutes we have each day we are checking the web for recipes everyone will like and cool activities for the kids. They don’t know that we attend events and activities even though we don’t enjoy our time in the environment, because we have prioritized our kids.

They don’t know how much we have read or listened to so that we can better respond to questions, challenges, and curiosities, or how many times we have stopped ourselves in our tracks, backed out and started again because we are applying what we are learning as we go.

They don’t know how much thought, reflection, learning, improvement, and growth it’s taken to make life so peaceful.

Sure, parents whose kids go to school do these things too, I’m sure. And they have a different set of circumstances to which I cannot relate (“Gawd, I don’t know how you do it” comes to mind. 🙂 ).

Even the partners who came alongside our belief that not sending our kids to school is what’s best cannot appreciate what a day is like. And unless roles switch, and they become the homeschool parent, they never will. And that’s okay.

It’s Just an Acknowledgement

This may sound like a complaint. I assure you, it’s not. I choose to spend all of my time with my kids. I adore them and they are literally the two most awesome people I know. At any moment I could choose to send them to school for free and then decide to go back to work full time or not. Yes, I have Boku privilege. I know.

I could choose for my kids to spend several hours awake without me each day- I could choose that. They are old enough and responsible. But they both like having me up with them. I make them snacks and they often call on me to listen to or look at something. I love having the privilege of being the one who gets to do that all day every day. Really, I cannot believe I am so lucky.

On weeks like this when my partner who normally works from home is away, though, I am reminded of how much homeschool moms do. As I finished putting the last dish in the dishwasher before we leave to pick up my husband at the airport I gave myself a little congratulations.

Homeschool Moms Life

With two kids exploring new things they are passionate about this week, and with two very different sleep schedules, I have learned enough to allow my kids to flourish in the time my partner has been gone.

The laundry is done. The house is clean. We ate yummy home cooked food all week. The beds are made. And I managed to sneak in close to a dozen auditions, too– and write this piece, and another piece… all while supporting my kids fully. It was not crazy or chaotic. It was calm, peaceful, and connected. I feel really, really good about that.

I could try to tell someone  about this accomplishment- my parnter, my sister, a neighbor-even another mom. It would sound so silly though. Only another homeschool mom could understand what a robust and accomplished week I’ve had.

It’s okay for me to pay myself on the back. It’s okay for me to acknoweldge how awesome it is that I was able to do all of that this week while keeping home mostly peaceful. I’ve worked really hard to get here, and probably, so have you.

Here’s To Us Homeschool Moms

Tomorrow morning my partner will bring me coffee in bed while my daughter and I watch a show. He will listen to my son play guitar and probably take him to breakfast. The dishes will be put away, the kitchen clean, and the guinea pig’s cage cleaned, by him, before I even wake up. It will be easier, smoother, and all will feel easy again. Like I said, this is not a complaint. This life is beautiful.

Still. Here is to  us- my fellow homeschool moms. Here’s to us continuing to learn, grow, improve, listen, try, watch, give up old habits that no longer serve our family, add in better habits that do serve our family, learning to better communicate… all the skills that go unnoticed on a daily basis but are so much a part of our work. It’s a wonderful life we’ve chosen and I think it’s good for us to pat ourselves on the back when we know we’ve done well. And this week, I’ve done well.

How about you?

 

 

 

 

 

Unschooling Life: When Your Kind of Alternative Living is Center Stage

Did you know Billie Eilish is a grown Unschooler? Right. That Billie Eilish. The one who swept the Grammys on Sunday. She’s never taken a test. Never been in class. She learned through living life with her engaged, intentional, and involved parents. And on Sunday she swept the Grammys.

I didn’t watch them. As I heard rumblings on Monday though I put two things on my to-do list for that night. I wanted to watch Demi Lovato’s performance– I just think she is so brave- and I wanted to watch Billie Eilish accept a Grammy. So once the kids were settled into YouTube, and playing Guitar, I settled in front of my computer to watch.

As Billie’s name was called I watched her hug her mom, grab her brother, and head up onto the Grammy stage… to accept the Grammy for best new record.

The timing was particular. See, earlier that day I had wanted to sit down and write a Facebook post about something specific. I wanted to document the big appreciation I felt that day for my kids having all the hours of the day to pursue the things they love.

This appreciation came from my 12-year-old son getting his first electric guitar (the same day Billie won her first Grammy, though I would not know until the next day it worked out like that).

Why Did it Matter on this day?

I’ve been starting up my own career again now that my kids are a little older. There are several good reasons I decided to do this. As a freelancer, I am responsible for finding my own work. Doing the work itself is pretty quick, and when I have a job to record it becomes the most important part of our day, for good reason. But if I don’t have a job to record, my only work is marketing- finding my next job and following up with clients to stay top of mind.

I decided to reprioritize my career in 2020. It made sense for a lot of reasons. As an Unschooling mom, my kids are with me nearly 24/7. My role right now is to be with them and I love it. As they got older though I found myself with chunks of time throughout the day where nobody needed me for anything.

I started reading again and writing. I burned out from killing time on Facebook. It made sense for me to use that time to do something I love and want to do.

And?

My husband left on Friday for Poland though. Normally Kris works from home. We both cook, clean, play with the kids, do laundry, etc. It’s all pretty easy with two parents around. It gives me plenty of time to work and things stay calm and peaceful.

With Kris away though, I am doing all of the things. I don’t mind. Kris’s work provides us a great life. When he travels though the time I normally have to work evaporates. Nearly every minute of the day is spent either with my kids or doing household chores. So much so, that I couldn’t even find the time to write the Facebook post about my appreciation for all the time my kids have to do the things they love.

I wanted to share how fun it is to watch my son play electric guitar for nearly 24 straight hours, barely stopping to sleep and to watch him improve in that time. I wanted to talk about how excited I am that he doesn’t have to stop playing to eat dinner at a certain time or do homework or move on to the next class.

I wanted to share the value I see in kids diving deep for long periods of time- to say that last year my son was crazy into World of Warcraft and share all the things he learned from it and that the year before that it was World War II and the year before that it was X-box (which is what led him to WW2) and that somewhere in there was a deep dive into the Revolutionary War and life after that war and so forth and so on.

I wanted to express my gratitude that my kids can deep dive into any and all of those topics for as long or short as they want. Whether Owen plays guitar for a week or a decade I believe it’s more valuable than 12 years of forced lessons.

I wanted to express my gratitude that my kids can deep dive into any and all of those topics for as long or short as they want. Whether Owen plays guitar for a week or a decade I believe it's more valuable than 12 years of forced lessons. Click To Tweet

There was so much I wanted to say and more that would have come up, but I didn’t have the time. I was tied up listening to my son learn how to play the electric guitar. I could not pull myself away from watching his perseverance, intensity, strategy, resourcefulness, and best of all, the pure joy on his face the whole time.

As much as I wanted to document it, I could not pull myself away from it to do so.

So as I snuggled my daughter who was watching YouTube with her Guinea Pig, listening to my son play Green Day, I passed on writing the post. I passed on finding my next job. I stayed in the role I’ve chosen- the one that is more important to my family than any other- helping my kids dive deep into the things they love.

sydney and guinea pig daisy

When I sat down tonight at my computer to watch the Grammy clips, more spent than usual from doing all the things, not having done any marketing to get my next job, and I saw Unschooler Billie  Eilish accept the Grammy for best new song, then turn the mic over to her brother Finneas O’Connell, who also produced this album, I became very still. Then, as Finneas (also unschooled) ended his acceptance speech and said “We just make music in a bedroom together. We still do that and they let us do that. This is to all of the kids who are making music in their bedroom today- you’re gonna get one of these” I started bawling. It was unexpected and only lasted a moment but the emotion was so intense it overcame me.

Do I want my kids to be the next Billie Eilish? Of course not. That’s why we’ve made the choices we have. We want them to live their best life- to do the things they want to do, be the people they want to be. Just as Billie Eilish and her brother have done.

In Focus

Homeschooling can be lonely. Unschooling can be lonelier. Few people do it. Fewer people get it. It’s such a simple and authentic way of living as a family but the convoluted world makes it seem hard to grasp. I haven’t felt sorry for myself or wished things were different. We live in a little bubble of happiness with people who either get it or support it.

Still, to see our way of living displayed on such a societally accepted stage while my son literally made music in his bedroom next to mine put everything right back into focus in the most joyous way.

I’m still building my career and I’ll still write on Facebook but I love the reminder that I got from Billie’s and Finneas’s wins this week- that when kids are given the space, support, and resources, they can create the most unimaginable lives- whether the world gets to see it on stage or not.

 

Maybe a Happy Family is this Simple: Eat Cake Together

The kids and I just sat at the table together for close to an hour. We laughed so hard Sydney snorted her soda. Our bellies hurt and we begged each other to stop so we could catch our breath.

The kids got into a spelling challenge and grabbed notebooks. We talked about all sorts of light, fun things— and a couple of things that were a little heavier.

We only sat down to have cake- a delicious lemon cake we made yesterday, that we all love. It has lots of sugar and flour and a delectable buttercream frosting.

When the kids were ready to go up to their rooms they both thanked me for the cake, gave me a hug, and went upstairs with rosy cheeks and smiles. As I walked back to the table I saw this scene and decided to leave it for a minute…because it’s so beautiful.

I hope my kids will always enjoy cake at my table wherever it is and however old they are. I hope when they pull in a chair at my table they know when they push it out again their bellies and hearts will be full.

I could say “no” to cake and time and other things that draw them near. I’m so grateful I was shown another way. A way that understands emotional and mental health are important. A way that values connection and critical thinking. A way that knows food serves many purposes and tables should be comfortable.

I have some more years with my kids at my table eating most meals with me- cooked by me, or Kristopher. I can’t make their tables comfortable when they aren’t with me. I can’t help them leave with a full heart if I’m not there.

I can set the foundation now though so that comfort, love, and acceptance are what they know at my table, so that when they need it they know where to come.

Yes. I’ll leave this scene for a minute. It’s so beautiful and I love it so much. ♥️

Life Learning and Homeschooling Might Not Be What You Think

Life Learning and Homeschooling Might Not Be What you Think

Sometimes people think homeschoolers casually and nonchalantly decide not to send their kids to school. Sometimes people think we don’t understand the education system, academics, or how it all works. Sometimes people think we are a simple-folk-a-livin’ in a bubble.

That very well may be true for some. I’m thinking of religious homeschoolers especially.

As for me and mine (tee-hee), I chose not to send my kids to school because I understand the education system. I’m well versed. I spent time both as student and faculty learning it. Living it. I was formally trained in how to “educate” children.

Life Learning is Highly Intentional

Little boy in cape with title of piece in text life learning and homeschooling might not be what you thinkSince the decision not to send my kids to school I’ve spent my life learning about and observing how children learn, thrive, and engage. It’s literally my life’s work. All-day. Every day. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year. It’s what I do on an intense and constant basis.

While our lives are relaxed, my decisions, actions, and interactions are not casual. While it might look like all we do is play (which is accurate) I observe and foster learning, connections, and meaningful understanding all day every day.

I feel like it’s worth putting out there so that people have a better understanding of many homeschooling families and how much we understand what’s happening- how thoughtful, educated, and intentional this decision is. It’s worth knowing because too often we are seen as outliers not just in numbers but in understanding.

We are outliers in both, I suppose, but not in the way many assume. Many of us have a deep understanding and value of not only learning but other things too. Things like critical thinking, emotional-intelligence, self-worth, self-compassion, self-love and living a peaceful and happy existence. I do not mean a new-agey etherial existence but one that allows us to operate from a calm and contented place- one where learning is able to happen all day every day. We understand the relationship between these things,  learning and meaningfully contributing to society. We know the value this holds in making the world a better and more loving place.

Life Learning

Every day we see how much people learn just from living, some refer to this as life learning. We see the results of creating an environment where curiosity and creativity are supported. This often means removing blocks like access to resources, enforcing arbitrary sleep requirements, and switching focus from exploring the rabbit hole to food or chores.

Many of us choose to homeschool not nonchalantly or because we are stuck in some ideology. For many of us, religion and the subjects being taught in schools has no bearing at all on why our kids do not attend.

For a large number of us, we choose not to send our kids to school because we understand that the very act of living is learning- life learning. We see that when curiosity is supported on a whole-life basis, instead of hindered by arbitrary requirements, kids not only learn everything they are “supposed to” but a million things more. We watch as these things stick, are easily recalled and contextually and appropriately applied in an innovative way.

In Conclusion

There are lots of different reasons people homeschool. Even within homeschooling circles, there are vast philosophical differences. More and more though parents are deciding to partner with their kids to learn through living. Because this is unfamiliar to the majority of us I think it’s worth noting how thoughtful, researched, involved, and committed living this way is.

Assumptions about homeschoolers are plentiful. Some, sadly, are accurate. For so many of us though we are contributing great things to this world by choosing to live this way with our children.

I hope these thoughts are helpful for others. Maybe you have a loved one who is homeschooling this way and you wonder how it works. Maybe you have a loved one who doesn’t value the way you are choosing to live. Maybe you live in a small conservative community of religious homeschoolers and find yourself subconsciously swayed toward school-at-home.

Whatever the reason, I hope these words offer some clarity and helpfulness in figuring out what works best for your family. I also hope they offer those who hold inaccurate assumptions about homeschoolers to reconsider. For many of us, this is our life-long, large, and meaningful way to contribute to positively changing the world.

 

 

 

Deciding to Homeschool and a Marriage

This piece was originally published on a different blog by the same author in 2012.

Deciding to Homeschool and a Marriage

My husband and I have so much to work on in our relationship. Here though, is the commonality that keeps us moving forward:

Owen (almost 6) did a very short stint in preschool. On his second day he did not want me to leave him, and he cried. I’ll never forget the look of fear and confusion on my baby’s face. The teacher convinced me that he would be okay, and I left.

I was shaking and I was dizzy when I got to my car. I finally turned the key and drove around and around. I called my husband and he stepped out of his office. “This isn’t RIGHT” I said. “NOTHING ABOUT THIS IS RIGHT. Owen was CRYING and SCARED and you didn’t see the look on his face that acknowledged that for the first time in his memory I did not listen to him and left him distraught.”

Never once did my husband say that Owen would be okay. He did not utter a single word that “kids get used to this sort of thing all the time”. He did not tell me that “mothers always feel this way”, or that “it gets easier”. He did not tell me that it was what was “best for Owen”.

Deciding to Homeschool and a MarriageInstead, we debated whether I should go back right then or wait until school was over. We both agreed that if he did not want to go back he would not; that if he wanted to be with his mother, he should be.

When I went back to the school, Owen was playing outside with other children. At this point lots of people will tell a mother in my situation that it really was for the best and that her child had only cried for a few minutes, so it was “worth it”.

This was not true for us. Something changed for Owen and I that day. He was more guarded, distant. He didn’t throw his arms around me and tell me about what a wonderful day he’d had.

Though it was a good one, Owen never went back to that preschool.

The next year we made one more attempt at school- never with tears and it was always Owen’s choice whether or not he stayed. I never felt right leaving him, and he never reallywanted to go. We both thought it’s what “had” to happen.

A couple of months later and without a plan, Owen attended his last day of school.

As Owen enters “school aged” this fall, my husband and I are still figuring out what all of this means. As we have some heated discussions, I am brought back to that day three years ago, sitting in my minivan, shaking and crying.

I recall the words from my husband “you are right Jen. Nothing about this is okay. We have wronged our son and we will adjust. Go get him. See if he wants to come home with you, and if he does, take him. If he wants you to stay and play with him and the teacher won’t allow it, bring him to a playground. It’s okay if the teacher is upset with you, or thinks you are making a mistake, she is doing what she thinks is best and we have to do what we think is best. He is ourson and we do things differently.”

I have come to realize how rare and difficult it is to ignore what those around us say in order to meet the needs of our children. With all that needs work in our relationship, this is the one constant that needs no adjusting: my husband and I are both committed to meeting the needs of our children. In comparison to this, fixing all of the other stuff is easy.

Homeschool Fall: Moving Beyond Old Expectations to Unschooling

This piece was published on a different blog by the same author in 2016.

It happens every year. Fall rolls around and kids go back to school. Many of my fellow homeschool families are busy forming schedules and registering for classes. For us though, Fall is just like Summer, which is just like Spring, which is just like Winter. While we love the change of seasons, they don’t bring required changes to our daily routine.

It’s lovely. We chose this. It is what is best for our family. We are committed to living in a  way that fosters family connection, real life learning, and passion following. We believe that our children are people and are learning to practically apply that to daily life. With every fiber of my being I believe that this is best.

Homeschool FallBut still, every fall it happens. Without even realizing it I demand more of my kids. I’m upset with them for not “wanting” to do more school-like things. I get angry because we have spent another day not doing anything that looks like what a September day “should” look like for a 7 and 9 year old.

“Should”, of course, refers to what the rest of most of the world is doing- to what I did as a child… right along with what all my siblings, cousins, and neighbors did…. with what my parents and all of their siblings, cousins and neighbors did… starting school.  What September “should” look like is so deeply ingrained in me, that my anxiety from choosing differently peaks in the Fall.

Except I did not know that. I had not realized until this year that autumn does not only bring crisp air and beautiful colors, it also brings expectations and the reminder of how out-of-the-box we are living.

We are first generation homeschoolers. As Boston Irish Catholics, my entire lineage attended Parochial school- where the teachers and priests were always right, and Childism was the basis of their education and culture- where routine, inflexibility, and standardized learning were fundamental.

We did not simply deviate as far as homeschooling- we are Unschooling. This is perhaps the polar opposite of what my parents and their parents experienced as children. Living this way is not for everybody, but it is exactly what my family needs and I love it. I am grateful for our life…for our choices…for having the courage to step our of a box that was not working for us and trying a different way.

Yet here we are. Another Fall where I find myself unsure and floundering. Where I start thinking I should be “boss”, our schedule should be set, and bedtimes should be inflexible. Even though I do not actually believe any of this.

The “Fall routine” is so ingrained in me that its expectations subconsciously change my relationship with my kids. It disrupts their world- and mine. Every year.

Now I know- I am aware, and that changes everything. Next Autumn, I will be prepared. I will know what is coming and will acknowledge it.

As Fall next approaches, rather than letting anxiety and expectations creep in I will be able to say “hello”, tell them that they serve no purpose in this family line any longer, and send them on their way. I will remember the only changes we need to embrace are the colors of the leaves. I will breathe. I will relax into this life we have designed that brings us joy, growth, and connection. Most importantly, I will practice gratitude that my kids’ fall looks so different than mine did.

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In the Interest of Learning: Changing My Perspective About How Much to Leave the House

A few Halloweens ago my two kids were ready to head out the door about 30 minutes before we were scheduled to leave for trick or treat, just like they are every year.

As we were walking around that night I said to my husband “well, I guess it’s not true that they never want to leave the house.” See, I had been struggling. I am an energetic extrovert (when I’m not in an introverted period). I like to go, go, go. I like to be out of the house doing things I classify as fun and/or productive. It’s the world I grew up and and it’s what I knew. It’s what feels good to me most of the time.

I have one child who is a homebody. They like to be cozy with their family at home. They like to have us mostly in the same space chatting, laughing and playing- sometimes independently, sometimes together, and sometimes independently together.

Costco Pizza
UNSCHOOLING

I have another child who also likes to be home sometimes. They also get a little stir crazy and like to go out of the house regularly. Because our children’s learning is our priority,  we take the preferences of everyone in the family into consideration and meet them as best we can.

There had been a frustration brewing about how to get all of our needs met with such different wants and needs during the day. As the leader of our family, this was exacerbated by my deep need to be out in the world amongst people. We had made a few adjustments that had helped but I could not get past expectations about what a day should look like.

I found myself thinking things like “they never want to do anything”. “They never want to leave the house.  Make no mistake, I only counted doing as things done out of the house. Eek! These statements were made from emotion and ignorance rather than fact, and I was caught there. I could not see what was actually happening because I was stuck in my vision of how things are supposed to happen.

So that Halloween was a big shift. Both of my kids were so excited to get dressed up and trick or treat in our awesome neighborhood. As always, we had a blast. I started thinking about what other things make my kids excited. Some involve leaving the house and some do not. One of the  many great things about Unschooling is that we can fill our days with fun things that happen wherever we want! I realized that night that having a good time together was really good for me, and of course, for them (duh!), and therefore their learning.

I started to realize that both of my kids love going to professional sporting events, theater, museums, shows, Costco as long as it’s not crowded, amusement parks, and other places I like too. My vision was so laser focused on something else that I missed what was right in front of me. I also began to understand how much doing was happening at home. So.  Much. Doing!

So I adjusted my expectations and the priority became enjoyment. To accommodate my own needs I started to really take note of what my kids enjoy out of the house. They love riding their scooters/skateboards and playing basketball and soccer with me. They mostly love to go swimming as long as I go in too (I’m pretty fun 🙂 ). They don’t like large crowds, chaos, or being physical in the hot sun. They like hiking in the Rockies where it is cool and mostly shaded. These are all things my husband and I love, too. And they all get us out of the house, happily.

Adjusting my expectations was a game changer. It mostly helped me to see my children for who they are and better tailor their learning environment. Happy, comfortable children learn better and retain more.

From time to time I still find myself needing to get out when my kids are comfortable to stay home. They are older so I have a little more flexibility but mostly they still like us to be together. So now, if I just need a quick people fix I suggest we run out for a slice of pizza at Costco, a Slurpee, a drive by Ikea (both kids love this because they love to see the flags and it feels European) or to the library. All of these are quick, fun-for-all-of-us things that don’t take any preparation or thought. They are easy and it allows all of our needs to be met.

Changing my perspective in this way has helped us to Unschool better, create more calm, remove resentment and entitlement, and create an environment where my children have more mental energy available to learn instead of wasting thought trying to convince me of who they are.

I’m glad I was open to the shift. Seeing my kids for who they are is the best part of Unschooling.

Author’s Note: This post is intended mostly for other Unschoolers. If it helps you to see things in a useful way, that’s great! If it feels totally incomprehensible to you, that’s okay too. Unschooling is a different way of living that puts learning at the forefront of a family and it takes a lot of learning on the part of the parents to understand it. Here are some resources if you are thinking of or are currently Unshooling: click here. 

 

What is Unschooling and Unschooling Resources

I am often asked how we started Unschooling, what Unschooling is, and how one can get started with Unschooling. It’s a complex question with a reaaaallllly long answer. It has taken me years to get to a place where I feel like we are Unschooling well. It has taken reading, watching, listening, trying, and debunking a lot of things that cause parents fear. It has taken getting over defensiveness, thinking I know about learning, and making myself a better person. It has taken a lot more, too.

So when someone asks me what Unschooling is or how to get started I am not sure how to respond. I could tell them that it is a way of learning out in the real world instead of in a classroom. I could tell them it is about creating a peaceful environment so that my kids can learn contextually at whatever hour of the days they feel the desire.

I could tell them that it is removing arbitrary fear about the things we parents have been implored to fear. I could tell them that for the sake of my children, and their learning, I have learned to think critically.

I could tell them that Unschooling is allowing kids to learn – really learn- in ways that stick. In ways that make sense. That my role in all of this is to be sure my kids have all the resources they need to pursue whatever fascinates them at the moment. My role is to be okay with them quitting, giving up, and trying three million new things. It is to be okay letting that guitar go untouched. Being okay with not taking lessons opting instead to learn on their own.

I could tell them that Unschooling means getting to know my kids in a way I would not be able to otherwise- that there is a depth, connection, and intimacy that comes from living this way- that cannot come with any other way of living. I could tell them that getting to know my kids for who they really are, rather than who I mold them to be, is a gift beyond measure and that living this way has healed parts of me that were buried a long time ago.

I could tell them that people will think they are lying, or showing off, when they don’t complain about their kids and instead talk about how happy, not perfect, life is. Or that they are full of bullshit when they, when pressed, share that their kids help out around the house without being asked, even though they have never had a chore.

I could tell them that learning to Unschool well has nothing to do with my kids and everything to do with me. That I had to get better, get over it, up my emotional intelligence and allow myself to be seen for who I really am, too.

I could tell them this and so much more. Ultimately though, none of that really matters. I have learned that those who are looking to live this way will find a way and that those who say they want to live this way (but for whatever reason don’t really)  will dismiss everything I have shared.

I have learned that the best response I can give to people who are looking to live the Unschooling Life with their children is to guide them toward the best resources to help. While there are a whole lotta people pretending to Unschool (friends, there is no membership card! Only you and your kids will know if you have done a good job) there are only a few that can really help get us there. Here is what I recommend after loads and loads of research, personal experience, and no personal gain from recommending -or not recommending- anyone.

Unschooling Resources:

There are two Facebook groups you should join right away. Be SURE to read the pinned posts and FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. These groups are full of volunteers who run excellent, helpful, and laser focused groups to help us learn to Unschool well. PLEASE NOTE: I recommend that you find these group by clicking the linked words here. There are other groups, with similar names, that lead families astray.

Radical Unschooling Info 

Unschooling Q and A

How I use the above groups: I pick a thread or search for a topic and read the entire thread top to bottom. There are no quick answers when it comes to learning to Unschool well. These groups provide wisdom and insight from experienced unschoolers. Word choice is dissected. Conventional beliefs are debunked. Fears are addressed. Critical thinking is modeled. It was years of reading through Radical Unschooling Info- all the backs and forths and ups and downs- that helped me to learn to Unschool well. Read as often as you can and be patient!

What is Unschooling and Unschooling Resources
What is Unschooling and Unschooling Resources

Jen McGrail is an incredible resource. She writes about all sorts of pertinent subjects and most of all about Unschooling. Jen and her family own and run an Unschooling Conference every year in Phoenix. If you really want to get a sense for how Unschooling families live, I can personally recommend Free to Be Conference. Click here for Jen’s website, The Path Less Taken.

While her no-nonsense approach can be a transition for those of us not used to it, Sandra Dodd’s approach is what I mostly credit for my family learning to live so peacefully and to be able to learn all the time. In addition to the group above, Sandra has excellent books (including a reprint of The Big Book of Unschooling!) and a website. Click here to find both. 

Pam Larrichia has written books, blogs and hosts a Podcast all to help families understand Unschooling and learn to Unschool well. Her work and interviews are wonderful resources and are ones I personally recommend and have used. Click here for Living Joyfully with Unschooling.

Joyce Fetterol offers not only her writing, but a wonderful Tool Box you can order to help you stay focused on keeping your family relationships front and center so that you can Unschool well. Click here for Joyfully Rejoycing.

For now, these are the resources I can personally recommend. If you have others that you think I should include please e-mail me and I will check them out. Please do not leave them in the comment section as they will be deleted.

With just the resources above you can get to the Unschooling Life with your family, but only if you are willing to do the work.