Exploring Unschooling

Exploring Unschooling

EU344: Q&A Deep Dive

March 16, 2023

In this week’s Exploring Unschooling podcast episode, we’re diving deep into a listener question submitted by Julie in Ontario. She writes,

How would you encourage parents to best unschool themselves? I’d really like to be a better example of someone who follows their passions. My husband would love to do a job more suited to his passions, but feels stuck. I feel hypocritical with my kids, because we encourage them to do what they love and talk about one day how it could lead to a career. But we aren’t living this out fully ourselves. Help! Thanks for this podcast. I love it.

As always, our Q&A conversations aren’t focused on giving anyone the “right” answer, because there isn’t a universal “right” answer for any given situation that will work for everyone. Instead, our focus is on exploring different aspects of the situation and playing with the kinds of questions we might ask ourselves to better understand what’s up. We’re sharing food for thought through the lens of unschooling and cultivating strong and connected relationships.

Submit your question for a future Q&A episode, and if you’re a patron of the podcast, be sure to mention that.

Watch the video of our conversation on YouTube.


Pam’s conversation with Missy on her podcast, Let ’em go Barefoot: The Unschooling (Hero’s) Journey with Pam Laricchia

EU342: Helping Kids Find Their Passion

LJ012: Baby Steps

Follow @exploringunschooling on Instagram.

Follow @pamlaricchia on Instagram, Facebook, and check out her website for lots more info about exploring unschooling and decoding the unschooling journey.

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We invite you to join us in The Living Joyfully Network, a wonderful online community for parents to connect and engage in candid conversations about living and learning through the lens of unschooling. Our theme this month is A Typical Unschooling Day, and we’re exploring it through the lenses of perspective and engagement.

So much of what we talk about on this podcast and in the Living Joyfully Network isn’t actually about unschooling. It’s about life. On The Living Joyfully Podcast, Anna Brown and Pam Laricchia talk about life, relationships, and parenting. Listen to The Living Joyfully Podcast here, or find it in your your favorite podcast player.


ERIKA: Welcome! I’m Erika Ellis from livingjoyfully.ca and I’m here with Anna Brown and Pam Laricchia. Hi to you both!

PAM: Hello!

ANNA: Hello!

ERIKA: So, in this episode, we’re exploring a listener question. And before we get started, we just want to remind everyone that our Q&A conversations aren’t focused on giving anyone the “right answer,” because there isn’t a universal right answer for any situation that will work for everyone. So, basically we’re just sharing food for thought through the lens of unschooling. Anna, do you want to get us started?

ANNA: I do. So, this question is from Julie in Ontario, Canada. Julie has five children, ages 10 and under, and she writes, “How would you encourage parents to best unschool themselves? I’d really like to be a better example of someone who follows their passions. My husband would love to do a job more suited to his passions, but feels stuck. I feel hypocritical with my kids, because we encourage them to do what they love and talk about one day how it could lead to a career. But we aren’t living this out fully ourselves. Help! Thanks for this podcast. I love it.”

Okay, so, thanks, Julie! We really appreciate you writing in. And this is such an interesting question.

And I would say what first came to mind for me is, “There’s plenty of time!” And I say it all the time. But most of us have a lot of deschooling to do and we can get there, I feel like, faster for our children than we actually do for ourselves. We’re really focused on that piece of it. But I found that the longer we lived this life, the easier it became to bring that this life to me, to my husband, to all of us, to really understand how it can fit in our family.

So, I am a scanner. Some people call it a multipotentialite. Basically, I want to do all the things, so I pretty quickly fell into this lifestyle alongside my children. And I will say that when my kids were young, one of my main passions was actually parenting and unschooling. So, that was a big focus area for me in terms of my personal learning and how I wanted to spend any extra time I had. I didn’t really want to do things that pulled me too far away from that or from my children. So, I would look at our environment and see what could easily fit into our life that would kind of spark my interest. I did a lot of gardening. I kept chickens and bees. Those were things that I would end up sharing with our community down the road. They were just easy things I could do alongside my kids.

We also did a lot of art and nature projects that I could easily scale to be of interest to everyone involved. New art things were interesting to me. And I learned to just play, play games, video games, board games, otherwise. What I realized is that I don’t think I ever really allowed myself to play games when I was younger in this way. I was too busy checking other people’s boxes.

And my husband, on the other hand, naturally fell into this lifestyle. Sometimes I think it was really him who led the way, so when he had a chance to leave corporate America, he did and has never looked back. He loves adventure and he really wanted to be around for our girls when they were young.

So, I think it’d be interesting to check in with your husband about what’s feeling hard for him about changing directions, because that would give you a clue if there are things that you could do as a family that would help. What’s making him feel nervous? Or again, what’s feeling hard? I like to ask that question, because that gives us a really good sense of, are there things we can change? Are there some system pieces we can do differently? Is there a different way to approach this problem?

And I like to look at things like that as a puzzle. How can we move towards this thing that we want that feels slightly out of reach? What next step can we take, which kind of reminds me of the Baby Steps episode we did on the Living Joyfully Podcast. But what step can we take towards this?

We don’t have to jump and leap there. We can just start to align our family with moving towards this place. But I also want to say that kids will still thrive in this environment, even if we’re still figuring it out for ourselves. There will be opportunities along the way to discuss everyone’s needs and work together to find ways to make this happen.

That, in and of itself, has so much value. Them seeing us learn and process and figure out new ways, that has so much value. But again, there is plenty of time. It’s not a race. There’s no perfect path, and what I’ve found is that the learning just continues all these decades later. Erika?

ERIKA: Hi, Julie! Thank you so much for listening and for your question. I did find it really interesting, too. And I love Anna’s point about there’s plenty of time, because that is so true. And I also love that you’re noticing something. You’re noticing that something doesn’t feel good and you’re open to exploring the possibilities and really figuring it out.

So, a couple things bubbled up for me when I was thinking about your question. The first was just maybe a lens shift. So, I think sometimes when we realize that things are not feeling as good as we’d like them to, we can get in this long-term view. And from there, it feels like what’s needed are these huge changes and that they need to happen now. It feels more daunting and less doable. It feels like this big, important, scary thing. Like, we just need everything to be different. Or even worse, like we need to somehow be different people in order for things to be better. And of course that feels so challenging, maybe even impossible, like where do we even go from there?

But what if the lens was just this smaller lens of, what fun thing could I do today? What fun thing does my husband like to do with me or with the kids? It could literally just be an intention to do something fun. It’s about lightening the mood and adding some playful energy. Kids are naturally mostly in that zone anyway, but adults could forget to go there.

And maybe that one fun activity could lead to another idea of something else we might like to do, and that could lead on and on to so much learning.

It could be fun, too, to just notice, like Pam was mentioning in her Helping Kids Find Their Passion episode that was on recently, to just catch yourself when you feel that little bit of curiosity about something and just comment on it. Like, “I think I’m going to go look that up.” Or, “I’d like to know more about that.” Just those little tiny examples, narrating what it feels like to follow tiny threads of curiosity. Our kids can see us doing that and see some of the ways that we can learn about the world.

I do think it could be valuable to dig into your husband’s feelings about his work. Are there ways to make his life feel better without changing jobs? Are there other ideas he has about how to use his time? There are just so many aspects of working and time management and money and all of that to dig into in order to figure out what feels the best. But there are always, I’ve found, more choices available to us than we’re usually aware of at first. And so, being really curious about what’s possible can lead to new opportunities.

And that’s not to say that it’s not challenging. It certainly can be. But I’ve found that having an abundance mindset and really trying to keep myself open to possibilities has helped us find ways to make our lives fit us better over time.

And I guess I would also just add that if trying to focus on fun or getting open and curious all feels really difficult for anyone who’s listening, if that feels very difficult, you’re not alone. There are definitely situations in life and phases in life that are just really challenging. Having a lot of young kids is challenging. Health issues can cause stress. Work stress that seems difficult to address, can be just so hard to deal with. And so, for times like those, focusing on stress management or maybe working in some somatic tools to reduce stress and anxiety, things like that, that’s where I would really want my effort to be.

And like Anna said, kids will still thrive even if we’re still figuring things out. And so, when things feel stressful and hard for me, I can allow the kids the space to do their thing while focusing my energy on caring for myself or caring for my husband when he’s stressed out, trying to reduce the impact of those stressors in our lives. Knowing that there are challenging seasons of our lives that we will move through can help put it into perspective as well.

But in any case, I think it’s always valuable to show ourselves compassion and kindness, and then doing that can help us find that next baby step that feels good.

And can I just say that I love how you used the phrase unschool ourselves? I think that’s just so beautiful, because it reminds me to include myself in the fun and the exploration of unschooling and to accept myself and my husband just as we are, the same way that I’m trying to do for my kids. So, I really loved that. Pam?

PAM: Yes. Hi, Julie! Thanks so much for submitting your question.

It has been really fun to think about. And I would like to just start at the end. You wrote, “I feel hypocritical with my kids, because we encourage them to do what they love and talk about how one day it could lead to a career, but we aren’t living this out fully ourselves.”

First, I want to encourage you to be kind and compassionate with yourself and your partner. It’s completely understandable that you don’t yet feel like you’re fully living this lifestyle, because it’s not an on/off switch. It’s a journey. It’s deschooling, as Anna was talking about. Neither one of you had an unschooling childhood, I suspect, which would’ve been filled with years of exploring things you find interesting, gaining experience with how interests ebb and flow over months and years, learning how you prefer to learn new things, finding ways to embrace your strengths and navigate your weaknesses, learning the value of not judging yourself harshly when things go sideways or even just more slowly than you were hoping.

So, that’s why we talk so often about the unschooling journey for parents. For unschooling kids, it’s really just their childhood, right? They’re just figuring this stuff out along the way. But when we come to unschooling as adults, as parents, we are just starting to explore all these things now. We do need a lot of time to work through so much of the conventional wisdom that we’ve absorbed as truth growing up, which is why, as Erika just mentioned, it’s so cool that you framed your question as ways to encourage parents to unschool themselves. Because that’s the heart of it, isn’t it?

And for me, encouraging parents to unschool themselves is about encouraging them to question what they think they know about life and learning, which is definitely no small task, which is why it can feel overwhelming. There really are so many things to question. Where do we start?

Now, I think we can get a sense of what questions to explore next by just noticing what’s starting to rub. What’s not feeling great right now? What questions are taking up a lot of real estate in my head and making it harder for me to be in the moment connecting with my kids?

Now, pretty often, when we first come to unschooling, it’s questions like, how do I know they’re learning? What about math and reading? I encourage parents to embrace beginner’s mind, because when it comes to unschooling, we are beginners. It’s really helpful to release what we think we know and instead bring that open and curious mindset as we explore the questions that come up through the lens of unschooling.

And for you and your husband, Julie, the question that’s rubbing right now is around the idea of following our passion. You wrote, “I’d really like to be a better example of somebody who follows their passions. And my husband would love to do a job more suited to his passions, but feels stuck.” So for yourself, I imagine you’re trying to get a sense of what it looks like when somebody is following their passions and first, I would encourage you to use the word interests rather than passions. Not because there’s anything wrong with the idea of passions per se, but that the energy of the word can sometimes trip us up. Passion seems to be like a super interest, giving the impression that we need to find the one or two things that make our soul sing, and that is a lot of pressure to be putting on ourselves.

So instead, let’s just take it down a notch and think in terms of interests, because interests are cool. We learned so much about the world and ourselves through exploring them. And maybe eventually, we might become passionate about some of those interests, but maybe not. And either way, we’re learning a lot and having fun along the way.

And as Erika mentioned, share what you’re doing and learning along the way with your family. For me, that was a big one because I think that’s something you’re seeing right now, Julie, that your kids are doing this thing and you guys as parents don’t feel like you are. And as Anna was saying, you’re gonna be learning it alongside. There’s plenty of time to do that.

So, it’s really interesting to see when we can share a little bit. And maybe it’s just that, “Oh, I think I’m going to go learn a little bit more about that,” just embracing those little moments when you’re starting to see a little something. “Oh look, I am curious about something. That’s interesting.” And just sharing that with your family. It helps also the kids to see that this isn’t just for kids. It’s the process. It’s not about the destination, “I have a passion.”

And what that can do also, because you talked about being a better example, Julie, what that feels like when you’re living your lives alongside each other and when everyone’s diving into their own interests and sharing their excitement with each other along the way, that’s when we can realize that we don’t have to share the same interests, but we can definitely connect with each other around that shared excitement and joy of doing something that we really like to do.

And I love what Anna shared about how her interests changed over the years to align with her family’s needs. That’s another thing. If we’re really trying to find a passion, something that makes our soul sing, that doesn’t take into account the context of our family. We can find things that are interesting for us and they can change over the years. So, when her kids were younger, your kids were younger, Anna, and needed you to be close by, you dove into things that didn’t take you away physically, things that the kids could enjoy doing with you if they were interested. Because again, there is plenty of time. This is what life looks like. It’s not like our life is on hold while we figure out what our passion is. This is life. Exploring interests and finding passions, and seeing how it all weaves through our days.

And then I just wanted to mention, as for your husband, I think it’s really the same idea. It doesn’t need to start with anything drastic. I loved the way you put that there, Erika. When you’re looking to the future, all of a sudden, I need to make big changes now to make some really drastic future change happen. So, quitting his job is not something that he needs to decide right now, but you can help him lean into exploring what he finds interesting. As his curiosity and his creativity begins to just open up more, maybe he finds some interesting aspects of his work now that he can lean into.

Maybe he comes to see work as just something he does for money to support the family when everybody, including him, pursuing their interests. Maybe he finds other ways to supplement his income that are more interesting to him, growing that and winding down his current job. There are just so many times over the years that I’ve experienced new opportunities serendipitously appearing once I have something top of mind. Once I’m now thinking, “Oh, what would I like to do? What would be fun? What am I curious about? What am I interested in?” When those questions are bubbling around in your head, you start to notice so many things around you that you really didn’t notice before.

So, the point is, if he’s feeling stuck at work right now, you can focus on making the rest of his life more fun and interesting. Let his interests weave through the family, too. Celebrate it alongside everyone else’s. Lighten and loosen things up. And then just kind of see what happens, because that’s the thing. Instead of looking to the future and trying to make a path, really, you create a wonderful path by focusing on the moment that’s in front of you. Just look for what is striking your curiosity. What are you interested in? What is your husband interested in? And do those things. Play with those things. Bring your kids along. Invite them to join you in those things.

But even if you’re doing these side by side, everybody’s doing what they enjoy and it becomes a lifestyle that we all live together, versus this is what the kids do and this is what the parents do.

ERIKA: Yeah. I feel like as you’re talking about it being a journey and so much maybe more difficult or more work for parents to unschool and deschool themselves than it ever is for the children, I was just thinking about that we have all these societal messages maybe to deal with and some beliefs that we have kind of created over the years, or been given over the years. So, maybe there are things like, am I even allowed to do something that’s enjoyable for me? Can I make these choices? Because we could end up with feelings of, but there’s these things I should be doing or I have to do. A job has to look like this and my time should be spent doing these things.

The role of the mother is that I’m supposed to be doing these things, so can I really dive into something that’s just fun for me? So yeah, starting to question all those things. 

ANNA: And I think what that leads to mind for me is something that you mentioned also, Erika, which is the abundance mindset. So, I think instead of trying to solve the specific problems of how he does this or how I do a passion, it’s bringing that abundance mindset into the every day. Because you can hear this kind of deficit focus of, he doesn’t like this, we’re not sure about this, we’re not doing this. Like this not, not, not, which is the cultural message, right? That’s the message is always look at the deficits. Here are the things we needs to fix.

But it is, let’s add things. Let’s find what sparks. Let’s just enjoy these moments together. Let’s just delight in everyone else’s excitement about what they’re doing, bringing that energy of abundance and connection to each of those moments. I think that’s what opens the doors. That’s what then, like you said, the serendipitous opportunity appears and then suddenly we’re open to it.

But I think when we’re kind of tunneled in on what’s not working, we miss the magic, you know? So, I think that’s really something tangible that can happen right now is just bringing that abundance mindset to every moment for everyone in the family.

PAM: I love that. I love that. Because yeah, just as you were talking there, it was the tunnel vision. It was like, oh yeah. When there’s something we need to fix, even if it’s something with ourselves. We do. We get so focused on it. How can I fix this? How can I improve this? How can I make it better? And we definitely just get tunneled in on, I need to fix this and I need to fix this fast.

I don’t want to sit in, “Something’s wrong,” because that’s bad. All those societal judgments that end up on our plate and focusing us in, and then yes. Oh, we miss so much and we miss so many opportunities. I can just have fun watching a movie with my family. Or we can go and draw some pictures or grab the paint. And it’s just getting more and more fascinating to me how that just that shift of opening things up makes things feel lighter and looser as we were talking about a bit earlier.

And for your husband there, who’s maybe not enjoying his work, when you’re so focused on that, even outside of work, that that’s what you’re thinking about, oh my gosh. If you’re instead having fun and doing other things, that becomes a smaller portion of his day. The stuff that he’s not enjoying is a smaller portion, so it doesn’t feel as heavy. It’s a little bit lighter. He can start to pick out little things like, oh, you know, I don’t really mind this. Rather than saying, I hate my job. It just lightens things up so that we can look at things a little more closely with a little less judgment, with a little less fear. There’s probably the word.

ANNA: I just got one quick thing that came from that thing. I’s the examining our why. Just like we talk about with the kids. So, instead of this like, okay, I hate my job. It’s terrible. There’s a reason that he’s choosing to stay in it. And it may be because it’s providing the money that he needs. It may be that it’s close to the house so he doesn’t have a long commute. There’s something about it.

But if we can revisit that, it’s like, okay, I am actively choosing to do this job. I may not do it forever. It may not be meeting some of my needs, but let me think. Let me revisit why I’m doing it, because that has such a different energy and then that translates into this energy we’re talking about in the home that’s more abundant and more focused on what we can do. And again, that’s where I’ve seen just over and over again, opportunities open up from that more expansive place.

PAM: Now that you hit that why, when you’re thinking about your why and you’re opening up thinking about work, what occurred to me as you were talking about that is, you realize that work doesn’t have to satisfy so many things.

ANNA: All the things.

PAM: It doesn’t have to accomplish everything. All my life doesn’t need to be fed or validated from this work. I can open it up and get all sorts of needs met in different ways. That doesn’t have to satisfy all my needs.

ERIKA: Yeah, that, that made me think, I mean, both of you, that made me think of it’s the story we tell about it as well. So, if the story we tell about my husband’s work is it’s providing us with this and he can do this. He can’t do this. But he could do that at home, just find a way to reframe it that feels lighter and that makes everyone feel better moving forward. So, anyway, thanks again for your question, Julie. We obviously had a lot of fun diving into it. And if anyone else wants to submit a question for an upcoming episode, we would love to read it. I don’t remember the address though, Pam. Do you?

PAM: I think it’s livingjoyfully.ca/question.

ANNA: Yay!

PAM: It will be in the show notes, too.

ERIKA: Okay. Good. So, we would love to hear it. And have a wonderful day, everyone!

PAM: Bye!

ANNA: Bye!