Exploring Unschooling

Exploring Unschooling

EU337: Bringing It Home: Yes Energy

November 24, 2022

This week on the podcast, we’re sharing our first Bringing It Home episode. In this series, we’re going to dive even deeper into the topics that we explore in the Unschooling “Rules” series, with an eye to showing how these concepts come up in our real lives and the many possibilities for how to approach them.

Today, we are sharing more thoughts about the idea that unschoolers should “always say yes” to our children, and looking at the value of having “yes energy” instead.

We hope you find our conversation helpful on your unschooling journey!

Watch the video of our conversation on YouTube.

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PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today, I’m joined by Anna Brown and Erika Ellis. Hello to your both!


ANNA: Hello.

PAM: So, in our last Unschooling “Rules” episode, which was 335, we talked about why people may find themselves trying to always say yes as part of the paradigm shift to unschooling. We discussed how always saying yes may lead to frustration, disconnection, and resentment, and I shared one of my guiding questions, which was, “Why not yes?” That helped me lean into the yes, but also consider the whole context of the situation. We also dove into a few examples of how conversations and focusing on working together to meet everyone’s needs, can cultivate valuable learning for the whole family, for everyone who’s involved.

So, with this follow up Bringing it Home conversation, we want to talk about an aspect of leaning into saying yes that we’ve seen trip people up in various ways over the years. So, what if we can’t make it happen? There are definitely times when our kids have a request that we can’t meet immediately or on the timeline that they’re looking for.

Previously, we talked about the value of having conversations about the reasons behind it, but we wanted to dive into what might those conversations actually look like, because even in those moments when we’re not able to say yes right away, we can still bring yes energy to the conversation.

So, maybe they’re asking for something that’s overwhelming or not possible in a practical sense. “Mommy, I want to fly to the moon!” Or they want to build a rollercoaster or dig to the center of the earth. They are imaginative. Or maybe it’s a resource or a time constraint that makes the request just not doable for now.

When that happens, we can feel the urge to shut the conversation down because it seems nonsensical or because we are feeling a little bit bad that we can’t make it happen for them right now and don’t want to dwell on that. We want to move on. But instead of shutting things down by saying no or changing the subject, we can join them in their excitement and wonder with the energy of yes. We can meet them where they are and see their requests through their eyes. We can get curious. What about this idea or this thing is lighting them up so much?

Maybe we say, “That sounds amazing. What would you like to do on the moon?” Or, “That toy looks so cool. What do you like most about it?” We can have wonderfully engaged conversations with them about the thing, fully validating their interest in it or in doing it, and sometimes that is totally enough for them. Sometimes that helps them move on. Sometimes it’s less about actually doing or getting the thing and more about feeling seen as a person who would be excited about it. “Ah. They get me. They get me. They see me.”

I think we can fear that joining them in their excitement about the thing will be interpreted as, “Yes! Let’s do it. Let’s buy the thing right now.” I know that was what I was reticent about early on, but it’s not been my experience. That yes energy can lead to printing a picture of the thing that they’re wanting and making concrete plans to save for it. It can be brainstorming various ways to experience some of what they’re curious about. Say we watch some documentaries about space travel, or we check in on astronauts that are living on the International Space Station right now. Or maybe we go to the science center and see and feel a moon rock. When the answer feels like no at first, if we can get curious and bring that yes energy into the moment, we learn so much more and have a lot of fun getting creative about the possibilities for now and for the future.

It just takes that mindset shift to not feel like, oh man, I need to shut this down. Or, I feel bad about it. I need to change it. We can really dive into it and there’s so much fun in there. Anna, what do you think? What are your thoughts about that?

ANNA: Right. So, I would say our experiences were very similar. And that yes energy for me is really about connecting in the moment, not getting in my head about what we couldn’t do or why it won’t work, or what kind of an idea is this? But lean in and ask the questions and get excited. That was such a key point for us. And we would do this a lot at the store, if we saw something that they were interested in, but it wasn’t really an option for that trip, for whatever reason, I would just ask questions like, what do you love about it? What’s your favorite part? And then I would get excited. “I love this one! Look at this. And I love how cool the colors are and that’s the cutest face on that little dog that’s a part of that set.” And they loved me seeing what they were seeing with that excited energy and those excited eyes.

And, for us, oddly enough, and I know it’s not this way with every child, but a lot of times that conversation was enough to then move on to the next one. And it was actually sometimes I felt like a bid for connection, even, because we’re in the store and we can kind of be in our heads and it’s a little bit busy, but it’s like, we would connect over these different toys and talk about them, so that was enough to move on.

But if it wasn’t, we would do, like you were saying, put it on the list and let’s check different places as soon as we get home, because sometimes we can get a better price than we can at the grocery store or at Target. And if birthdays or holidays were coming soon, then that might be an option. And if not, then we talk about, okay, how can we bring some extra money in? What are other options that we have? Sometimes we’d realize that we did, right now, we needed it, like this was something we needed and that we could make adjustments elsewhere. But those were conversations that were again, just kind of open and curious, how can we get through this?

And it was another reminder for me that I didn’t have to have all the answers, that things come into their life from a lot of different sources and we’re good at finding used items or big sales or someone that’s getting rid of something that they’re interested in. The key piece was that they trusted that I heard them and that I knew how important it was, and that we would find a way. There was never a doubt about that with them. They knew that if this was something they wanted, we would keep cracking at it until we could figure it out, even if we couldn’t get to it that first time.

And I feel like that’s really how we cultivated that yes energy. It just boiled down to that trusting that all of our needs and desires were valid and we would put them into the context of our life in that moment and we would figure it out together.

But this leads me to some thoughts that bubbled up since the last podcast about this, and it’s related to context and understanding our own needs, and I think it’s an important piece of this puzzle. So, I do want to dive off to the side just a little bit here.

I’ve found that children naturally know how to advocate for their needs. The infant who cries when they’re hungry and needs a diaper change, the toddler who wants the blue cup, they just know. But if a child is systemically overridden and told their needs or desires are wrong or not important, they disconnect from those cues. It becomes about pleasing the people around them, especially when the people hold the keys to survival.

So, this can play out a couple of ways as adults. Because their needs have been repressed, they can lose touch with what their needs are. They can feel the distress and know something doesn’t feel right and it can even cause them to be snappy or grumpy, but they don’t really know why. They feel put upon, but they don’t know how to access what their actual need is or how to articulate it.

And so, this may continue along the path of people pleasing, not understanding their needs. And so, they’re never even brought into the equation of these conversations at the store or these other pieces. Or they may stumble upon that boundary language that we’ve talked about before and it just feels really appealing. Like, I just want this feeling of uncomfortable to stop. And I’m going to throw up a hard boundary. But the thing is, setting a hard boundary isn’t actually being in tune with our feelings. You don’t dig into the why of it. Why is it rubbing? What is the underlying need here?

And it’s hard, because if we’ve been told that our needs aren’t valid our whole lives, how do we start to tune into them? And that’s why we talk so much about self-awareness. Being able to identify and articulate our needs and feelings is so important. And I think if you come into unschooling without a handle on your own needs, and you’re faced with a child who is quite clear, the pendulum can swing to the side of not getting your needs met and it only being about the child, and you’re following this, just say yes idea without any context or putting your own needs into the equation.

And honestly, it’s just a disservice to you both and to the whole process. Children want to understand the world and they want to be given information. So, as you develop self-awareness, you can articulate your needs and you can deepen the conversations about the context. Conversation and collaboration just becomes kind of the MO, like I was talking about before. That’s just the trust. We trust that we are capable of stating our needs and working towards a solution. Children are capable of understanding more context than we give them credit for. But it comes from that environment where we’re all doing that, that’s where that trust develops that, okay, if mom’s saying this doesn’t work right now, I know she’s going to hear me and I can hear her.

And cultivating a yes environment that actually feels good to everyone is contingent upon understanding and being able to articulate our needs. And we don’t have to do that perfectly. There’s always going to be growth and fine tuning, but for it to be sustainable, all parties need to be heard. So, I feel like some of these factors come into play when people are grappling with the Just Say Yes idea. And when we get the feedback that it’s not working, or these conversations aren’t working, and something’s not happening that way for them at the store or in these other pieces. So, I think digging into that a bit can open up some areas that possibly need healing or development. And we can learn those things alongside our children, because as so often, they do lead the way when it comes to this. And so, I just wanted to put that in there as people are grappling with this idea of just say yes and how it’s working in their families.

So, Erika, what did you think?

ERIKA: I am so excited to dive more deeply into this idea. My mind has been coming back to it again and again as things are coming up for me at home and as I’m hearing stories from people on the network.

And first, that yes energy that you were describing, Pam, has worked so well for me and my kids. They really just want someone to be excited with them and to understand what they’re interested in, to imagine all of the possibilities with them.

Oliver used to like watching YouTube videos of Lego sets and minifigures that he didn’t have and that met a need for him. We did print out pictures of minifigures he loved and he has a binder full of them. But, for me, understanding his excitement and bringing yes energy meant not just saying no to that expensive, discontinued minifigure, but getting excited with him and putting the most important items on his wish list and looking up all the details and finding pictures. And it’s just so much more fun to connect from that place rather than the place of, that’s too expensive. Forget it.

I don’t want to shut down my kids’ creativity, and their excitement, and their ideas, their interests with no energy. And sometimes it happens. I mean, the context of the moment sometimes includes me being overwhelmed or maybe having an intense hormonal time. But I can try to remind myself of that good feeling that comes from just connecting with them about what excites them and letting my eyes light up when they tell me about what they want rather than trying to shut it down. It just makes such a big difference.

And then, Anna, what you were mentioning about being clear about our needs as adults and those valuable conversations that can happen, I just think that’s so, so important. It’s exactly that pendulum swing to, I’m meeting all of the kids’ needs with no thought of my own needs, and that can get us into so much trouble. I see this happen more with my husband, Josh, with my kids, because he’ll definitely push through his feelings at times, because the kids are so clear about what they want. And he just doesn’t want to have an argument. So, I try to notice when he really is pushing through his own tiredness or if he’s not in a good mood or whatever it is, and I see him pushing through, trying to meet all of their needs regardless. And I try to help, have a conversation between the kids and him to help him communicate his needs.

And I try to keep that idea that we’re all on the same team at the forefront of that, because we may have conflicting needs at times, but we can figure out what to do. We don’t need to be adversaries in order to meet our different needs. It’s like the abundance mindset. There’s plenty of time, there’s plenty of resources. Even when things are hard, there’s plenty of possibilities and we can problem-solve together.

But I had one other aspect of this that I wanted to bring up, just because I couldn’t believe how perfect it was. So, in the Network this month, we’re talking about kindness and compassion, and in our book club, we’re reading the book, Radical Compassion by Tara Brach. And in one of the first chapters, Tara talks about saying yes to our feelings and to our current situation as a way to show compassion to ourselves and to move through difficult moments. And I just thought it was an amazing connection to what we’re talking about here.

Bringing the energy of yes to myself and my feelings and my experiences means that I’m not judging myself when I’m having a hard time, which I can tend to do. If I have that yes energy, I’m not shutting down in the face of difficulties. I’m encouraging myself to stay present, to stay open and curious, to accept things as they are as the way of moving towards what would feel better. And when I’ve practiced saying yes, since reading these chapters, I’ve noticed the physical feeling of that. The tension around my heart feels like it relaxes. My body feels less contracted. My mind feels clearer and more spacious. I feel more loving towards myself when I’m not saying no to my feelings and trying to shut my feelings down. And so, for me, this, yes, energy is like, even more helpful than I had even realized. It’s so helpful in so many areas.

I can give yes energy to my interactions with my loved ones, even difficult interactions when they’re having a hard time. I can give that kind of same energy to myself when I’m having a hard time. Even just thinking the word yes in a hard moment can bring some lightness into that moment.

ANNA: Ooh. I love that!

PAM: Bringing the yes energy into feelings and emotions. It’s not all about, I want to buy the thing or I want to do that thing, right. It’s also, I’m feeling this thing. Yes, you are feeling this thing, or yes, I’m feeling this thing, and just acknowledging that. Oh yes, the lightness that comes with it, even if we don’t know the next place we want to go with that. Just like, oh, I don’t have to fight it. I don’t have to resist it. This is how I’m feeling in this moment. And when we’re not resisting it, we’re not telling ourselves no, which is the, shut it down, I don’t want to have this conversation, I don’t want to have this feeling, when we shut that down, we don’t learn more about ourselves. Like that open and curious that you were talking about, it’s like, oh, there are possibilities to move through this. This isn’t an end point.

And I think sometimes with feelings, for me anyway, that resistance is there, because I cannot see a possibility where I would go next with it. So, I’m stopping it here. So, when I can say, yes, you’re feeling this, or, yes, this is hard, that encourages me to take the next step to be kind and compassionate to myself. And it’s like, okay, what do things look like from here? It’s okay.

ANNA: Right. And that’s cultivating that trust and yes energy for all of it, for the whole situation, for the whole family, that we can have these feelings and we’re going to look at the context when things come up. And that, if you’re having a big feeling about this, that’s okay. We’re going to figure out space for that. And again, it may be about, figuring out how to get to the moon or do the thing or whatever, but it is just creating this environment of like, it’s okay. We’re all in this together and we’re going to figure it out. So, that’s the yes piece to me, that team piece, that, we’re in this together, piece.

PAM: I really loved your point too, Anna. I know for me it was so much of learning about myself alongside processing this with my kids. I definitely did that swing, like, it makes so much sense to say yes because they’re learning and all these things and I don’t want to negatively, control, et cetera. And I didn’t have words to bring my discomfort into the conversation. So, it was just like, okay, yes! Which, I mean, it felt good. But it builds up over time. That’s the whole pendulum swing. You can get to burnout or just to overwhelm from saying lots of yeses that really are just about the yes, not about the context of the conversation. So, it’s not to shame anyone who is in that spot, because so many times we have been in that spot.

But it is a great clue or a great reason, motivation, to start understanding ourselves. It’s like, oh, now why is this rubbing? Why am I feeling more involved in this moment? And it’s also watching and seeing how all those yeses unfold, because sometimes it is completely and utterly amazing and sometimes things go sideways. I’m gaining more experience with things that I’d never had experience with before, because I had not said yes this often. And it wasn’t even that I was taking my needs into account per se. It was like, ugh, I’m too tired. No. Or that’d be too messy. No. Not digging into like, how tired am I? Is tired a factor in this moment?

ANNA: But that’s the boundary piece, right? You’re like, it’s too messy. No. But you’re not digging into what’s the underlying need there? Okay. So, is it too messy? Maybe it is in this room, but maybe it’s not over here. You’re stopping the conversation with those, I’m too tired, it’s too messy. No.

PAM: Yeah. Because at that point I couldn’t bring anything else. I didn’t think to dig deeper to find those underlying needs so that I could then bring those and be creative. It’s like, oh, I don’t want a mess in the kitchen, because I’m just about to start dinner. But if I had dug deep enough, it’s like, oh, can we do that in the basement? Can we do that outside? All those other pieces. We can be so much more creative when we really understand ourselves. That self awareness piece is so valuable to bring all these yes conversations.

Anything else anybody wants to add? We can go on with this forever. And everybody, you can bring your pieces of the conversation, too. Comment on Instagram or on YouTube or on the website. We are very happy to continue this conversation, because having had time to think about it for a couple more reasons, I like having this second follow up episode. We’re going to be able to bring so many more pieces that bubble up to us over time. So, I am really enjoying this.

ANNA: Yes, I think it’s great. And like Erika said, it just seems like since our last talk, it keeps bubbling up in all these places and we hear it on the Network and we hear it in these other realms. So, I was so glad she brought those pieces in.

PAM: Yeah, no, that was perfect. And being able to say yes to ourselves, even to feelings before we get to the doing and the things, et cetera, like being able to meet ourselves there. That’s brilliant, too. All right. Thank you so much for joining me today, both of you. I really appreciate it. Have a wonderful day.

ANNA: Take care.

ERIKA: My internet was acting up when we recorded this call, so I just wanted to take a moment to add something else that bubbled up for me about this Yes Energy. What came to mind is the idea of both/and. I think if I’m stuck in a spot of either always saying yes or in the opposite place, seeing myself as a gatekeeper and doling out yeses and nos, lots of no’s, then I’m missing the nuance. I’m in a place of either/or, instead of both/and.

And so, I think Yes Energy can also be about accepting and acknowledging the complexity of situations and people and feelings. Maybe it’s a child who wants to go to the park but also seems to not want to go to the park. Or maybe part of me is excited about the possibility of my child’s activity of choice and another part of me has a lot of fears and concerns. In a more mainstream paradigm, I may be putting pressure on myself and my kids to have the one answer, to make the one right decision. But in real life with real emotions and real context, it can be both/and. There is more space to feel all of the different feelings that come up and to brainstorm with that open and curious mindset all of the possibilities of our next steps.

So, I just think that focus on Yes Energy can help us not rush into decisions and not try to shove everything into this yes/no, right/wrong, do it this way/don’t do it at all kind of place. We can say yes to all of our feelings as well as our children’s and create this environment of openness, curiosity, and problem solving as a team.

This topic has been so much fun to dive into for me personally and I just can’t wait for the next one. Take care, everyone!