#35 Jen Keefe | Unschooling and Mental Health: A Parent's Perspective

35 Jen Keefe - Homeschooling

🗓️ Recorded September 2st, 2023. 📍Saint-Nazaire Bridge, France

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About this Episode

Jen Keefe is an inspiring unschooling mom who has taken the bold step of challenging traditional educational norms. 

Jen's personal struggles with mental health profoundly influenced her journey from conventional education to the liberating world of unschooling. These experiences shaped her unique approach to parenting, emphasizing the paramount importance of honesty, trust, and open dialogue with her children. 

As we delve deeper, we'll explore the transformative power of attachment parenting, the cultural shifts affecting today's parents, and the undeniable value of personal growth and self-awareness. 

Jen passionately shares her insights on subjects like the power of consent, the challenges of providing age-appropriate information, and the art of being truthful even in uncomfortable situations. 

Beyond individual experiences, we'll also discuss the broader societal implications of unschooling. 

Jen believes that this approach can cultivate self-assured, confident individuals poised to instigate positive change in the world. 

If you've ever contemplated an alternative path in parenting and education, this episode promises a wealth of insights, experiences, and revelations. 

Join us as we challenge conventions, push boundaries, and celebrate the transformative power of unschooling.

About Jen:

Jen Keefe, also known as Pondering Jen, runs an old-school blog where she writes extensively about herself, believing that sharing personal stories fosters genuine connections. She emphasizes the profound wisdom that can be derived from listening to others' experiences. Jen's journey has been featured in various platforms including HuffPost Live, Parents Magazine, Scary Mommy, and more. She has also been a speaker at numerous workshops and conferences across the country. Embracing a creative life, Jen faced significant challenges, including a severe mental breakdown at 42. This event led her to introspect, rebuild her life, and pursue her passion for writing. As a Voice Over Talent and Podcast Host, she explores her creativity publicly. Despite not having a traditional business plan, Jen's goal is to remain open to new opportunities and be ready when they come knocking.

Website: https://ponderingjen.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ponderingjen
X: https://twitter.com/ponderingjen
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ponderingjen/
Jens podcast: https://www.hirejensvoice.com/real-womens-work-podcast
Jens podcast on X:  https://twitter.com/realwomenswork

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With love


Jesper Conrad 


0:00:00 - Jesper Conrad
Welcome to Self-Directed. We are your hosts, Cecilie and Jesper Conrad, and now it's time to welcome this week's guest. Today we are together with Jen Keefe! Sandra Dodd wrote to us after one of our podcast interviews with her and she said you should really talk with Jen. And all I did was look up your website and saw the About page where I saw you with a coffee mug, where it said do a big shit. And I was like, yes, we are in, let's do it. So welcome to our podcast. It's lovely to meet you. 

0:00:38 - Jen Keefe
Thank you so much, jesper and Cecilia. As I said, I'm grateful to Sandra for sharing my name with you, and I'm grateful that you guys are doing this work, because it's such an important thing to understand and it's such an as you both well know an incredible option for families who commit to really learning how to do it well. So thanks for having me and thanks for doing this podcast in general. 

0:01:00 - Cecilie Conrad
Thank you. Yeah, I agree, it was one of our really big challenges in the beginning, also being from Europe where on schooling is just a small scale thing, from a country where on school as you could count them on one hand when we started All the information was American and it's not the same. It's not the same culture. It seems so very far away and so privileged for them because they were in their hundreds and they could meet up with each other and we just needed information. So now we're trying to give back, now that we are bit down the road, kind of know what we're doing. 

0:01:38 - Jen Keefe
Though we would all agree constantly evolving right. Every time you think I've got a good handle on this, you realize, oh, there's this whole next level that I didn't even know existed. 

0:01:48 - Jesper Conrad
Yeah, and Jen, as you also have old children not old old, but like teens. We would love to talk about that. But first I think it could be wonderful to hear how it started for you and a little bit about the start, because I know, and a lot of the people who are listening in and considering on schooling, on home schooling, it can be overwhelming to listen to people who are just like, oh, it's so easy, we're just doing it and all of us have had doubts and fears. 

0:02:18 - Jen Keefe
So if you could share a little about your road down to, on schooling, yeah, I would love to do that and I agree it's so important you can tell by my sip of water I'm getting ready for a long one Do it, let's go. 

I started out very messy, very, very messy. I didn't know what I was doing. I'm from the Boston area. It's an academic Mecca. Here there's a big emphasis on not necessarily learning but formal education, and people start kids and you know their names are on the list when they're pregnant. Like it's a very dramatic scene for education. So there was that element of it. There was also an element that I had some mental health issues pretty significant but not severe and so I had my own sort of demons. I had to work through, right and, like, figure out all of that. So I didn't start out in a great place to do any. I started out actually in a horrible place to do any of this, what I knew. 

Now my oldest will be 16 next week, which is beautiful and just bittersweet in so many ways. When we were, when I was pregnant with Owen, we had a nursery for him. We had the letters up on the wall, we had the crib and that baby was sleeping in that crib from his first night home. No matter how hard he tried to manipulate us by crying, we were set. Everything was ready. This baby was not going to disrupt our lives. Then, of course, I met him and my entire world changed and it was in that moment of meeting. I haven't told this in so long, so I might get. His 16th birthday is next week. 

0:04:02 - Cecilie Conrad
I might get a little emotional, so you just go on yeah. 

0:04:05 - Jen Keefe
Oh, my goodness, it's really such serendipitous time for this interview. Um, so I met him and my whole world changed. And in that very moment I didn't realize it, but I felt it that I just I wanted to be better for him and I wanted him to have better than what I had in terms of not that I had a terrible childhood, that's not what I'm saying I recognized all through my own childhood that I needed more um ability to choose. I needed support in different ways. I I those first 12 years of schooling were not pleasant for me. So I now I can look back when he was born and realize everything shifted in that very moment, from the moment that not only didn't we use that crib for him, we never put the kid down ever. He wanted to be with us all the time. So he majorly disrupted our lives, thank goodness. So we learned about I learned about attachment, parenting, and that was just felt like a gift from the angels because, all of a sudden, I wasn't the weirdo who wouldn't let my baby or wouldn't leave my baby to cry. Um, I wasn't the weirdo who was really prioritizing a baby's needs. Um, I wasn't the weirdo anymore who didn't want to leave my baby for a mom's weekend away. I wasn't the weirdo who didn't think I deserved a break. So that was the beginning of our unschooling journey learning about attachment, parenting, finding doctors, years finding others who were doing it. 

When Owen got to be school age which is five or six years old here in the Boston area I felt like I was just starting to learn how to be a better human and like work through my own mental health issues, and our relationship had started to improve. I had used timeouts a little bit when he was younger and I had realized I didn't need to do any of that, and so I remember it was one beautiful fall day, just like one that we have here right now. I was standing in the road with my two kids who were three and five I guess, at the time, and I felt like we were finally getting how this whole family thing worked, and he was scheduled to start school and I thought this isn't fair. This isn't fair. I'm just getting this. I'm just starting to be a good mom, like we're just starting to form this connection that I always dreamed parent and child could have for us, and so I first started telling people oh, we're holding him back because he just barely made the cutoff date and I didn't want to tell anybody, because homeschooling, I mean, this was now 15, 10, 11 years ago. It wasn't common, and it was not common in New England at all, and certainly not in my circle. So, anyway, a friend introduced me to Sandra's work and I had been tormented about the fact that in a few short months Owen was going to be going to school and it was devastated. Devastated about the thought that we would be losing him. 

And, by the way, we had tried a couple of preschool stints. We tried this amazing Reggiano preschool. It was in Italian. They had six kids. They baked their own fresh organic bread every day. I mean it was like the best preschool you could find. And the teacher? He cried the first day I left him and I listened to the teacher who told me to just leave him, he'd be fine. And that was the moment where I now know I cannot. 

And I called my husband, who was at work at a high rise office building in a corporate meeting in Boston. He stepped out of the meeting. We have a lot that we argue about. This is one of his strengths. He stepped out of that meeting and he said go get him. He said she's not his parents, we are go get him. So I did, I went back and that was the beginning of the beginning for us. So I found I was introduced to Sandra's work from my friend, vanessa and as soon as I started reading her work I thought oh my God, this is it, this is it, this is how we keep this thing going. And then it was just a you said shit, so I'm going to assume I can swear on this. Oh yeah, we're from there. It was good, okay, good, it was just a shitload of work on my part to learn how to get to the place where we are now. 

My own personal mind, my, of course, my preconceptions about education, which I love talking about. I have a background and a small background, but I do have a background in education. So I love especially now that I'm in the teen years I love deconstructing those and looking at how they're all bullshit. But it was so and really, you know, I just I say this every time I talk it was Sandra's work, reading a little bit of her work every single day, and that's what she tells us to do, not just her work Read a little, try a little, wait a little watch right, and that is what got us here. I didn't take a crash course for a month anywhere. I read from people, from Sandra and people Sandra recommended. Sometimes it was five minutes a day, sometimes I got 30 minutes a day, but, sure enough, over the course of a few years I am an well. Now it's many years, but I am an entirely different person, an entirely different mother. We have an entirely different dynamic that revolves 100% around our family and our children. 

0:09:21 - Cecilie Conrad
Like you guys who thought that was a thing, yeah, I don't know, I don't know it's been Well, I can just very much relate. There was no way we could have known what it would become. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it could become. 

0:09:39 - Jesper Conrad
Oh no, I was just thinking about back today. We actually put ours in nursery and I remember, you know, peeling off his fingers from my arm when you told that story, jessica, oh, fuck, oh, jesper, I know, but to make people think it's normal, that's what I mean. I can live with the mistakes we have done, but I get sad and angry that people are standing there saying to you oh, it's okay that he cries for 10 minutes, and then you actually get in doubt about your inner emotions. You're standing there with a child that is crying and you are just thinking this is wrong, and then the people in the professional level is saying to you it's all right. 

0:10:25 - Cecilie Conrad
But everything, the whole thing, is telling you it's all right, and they're telling you the kids will be missing out if they're not part of this, even even kindergarten. And they're telling you they need professionals, they need same age kids, they need stimulation. All of this so you think you're doing the right thing. And you're not yeah. 

0:10:48 - Jen Keefe
When I was pregnant with Owen, everything was fine and it wasn't a bad situation, just temporarily. When I was a few months pregnant with Owen, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Very traumatic, it was very awful. It was this. I mean, a pregnant woman with cancer. That's terrible, right. So then Owen was born and the cancer situation went on for a little bit after he was born and of course, I was discovering. I didn't want this baby of mine to cry. I wanted to be for him and the pediatrician that we had at the time, who is wonderful. I still think very highly of her. But speaking, cecile, to what you said about the professionals thinking these are the people we should be listening to when Owen you know I was talking to her about all of this. I don't want to leave him to cry. It doesn't feel right. Her thought for me was well, I think that you're probably spoiling him because of the cancer. Yeah, oh man. 

If there isn't anything more fucked up than that like. I just have a trope in there, but at the time, just for to your emotion at the time. I listened. 

0:11:47 - Jesper Conrad
I didn't make changes. 

0:11:48 - Jen Keefe
Thank goodness, but I listened. 

0:11:50 - Jesper Conrad
No, no. And it gives you an inner conflict about the, about the measurement we have with this, our feelings, which is how we figure out what is right and wrong. And if you, you're actually told you cannot trust your own instinct, and that is, that is wild. 

0:12:08 - Cecilie Conrad
That is so much wrong and so many levels with the common narrative about childhood, even the idea that you can spoil and newborn what I get it. You could spoil a 10 year old you, totally you could, but you can't spoil a nursing child, I mean when they are so small. There is no way you can. It's really wrong, it's, and so I started blogging at that time when I had those insights. It's about the same time frame as yours. Well, I started blogging 12 years ago. 

And I did because of that, because this is the common narrative and every time I speak to someone I say the same things. I have to say them over and over and over. And when I see in mainstream media and I see the little broacher at the doctors and I see I get a letter from the government selling me now your child is this age and they need to learn to walk in traffic or starting kindergarten, whatever all of this information that is floating out there, all of it is wrong. It's based on wrong assumptions and I just felt we need some more voices. 

0:13:24 - Jen Keefe
Someone has to sing another song here, so that's what we're doing and it's it's and it's so important, and it's why I'm so grateful that you all are doing this, because I agree with you completely, Cecile, and and since we've been doing this about the same time frame, I wonder if you've observed the same thing that I have noticed in the last dozen years. The conversation is changing. Twelve years ago, when you would see, let's on Facebook, for example, a thread about spanking, excuse me or a thread about time out, or thread in some way and in some other way that might be really detrimental to a child, it used to be yes, of course you have to spank them. They're not going to know how to, you know, be respectful. The conversation was always pro-herding the child and I am noticing this last 1824 months. 

Way more of those comments now are why would you ever do that to a child? Like, there's this thing. I haven't watched it, I don't want to know about, it is too devastating. Whatever it is with this egg thing, I don't want to know. I don't know if you've seen this. Parents are doing something really mean to their kids with eggs, and I'm not. It's like I don't. Do you guys know who Jimmy Kimmel is? 

0:14:33 - Jesper Conrad
Yeah, this is a better one. 

0:14:35 - Jen Keefe
Do you know about his? This is something so upsetting. He used to do this have parents do this trick at Halloween to their kids. Do you know about this? He'd have the parents pretend they were taking all the candy and the kids couldn't have it, and they'd videotape the reaction and show it on the air. Horrible, horrible. The conversation, oh disgusting, and a group of us actually got together to try to figure out how the heck do we stop this. But that conversation six, eight years ago was ha ha, this is the funniest thing. Look at, oh my God, I got to try that. Now I don't even know if he's doing it anymore, because the comments now are why would you ever do this to a child? So the work that we're all doing that started long before our 12 years ago. I feel like it is starting to have an impact. People are getting educated about this and that feels really hopeful to me. 

0:15:25 - Cecilie Conrad
So yeah, yeah, I agree, we had this spanking conversation before on the podcast. And here's something for you In our country, spanking is illegal. So for me, even when you mention it now, I'm like are they insane in the States? 

0:15:44 - Jen Keefe

0:15:45 - Cecilie Conrad
For me it's, and it's what. 25 years ago they banned it and at that point no one was doing it. It was just an old law. No one had like eliminated the right for parents. 

0:15:56 - Jen Keefe
Right, a technicality. 

0:15:58 - Cecilie Conrad
They had taken it out of this school. No one could spank the kids except the parents. And then they needed to remove that law too, and they did just about when we had. I had our first child on my own, and then we met and we adopted her. So when I had my first child for 25 years ago, just about there, that law was changed, but no one was actually really spanking anyone at that point, I think, and if they did, they would not tell anyone about it. It would be really. 

0:16:25 - Jesper Conrad
Yeah, and so. 

0:16:27 - Cecilie Conrad
So when you talk about it in the States, I've always like what. 

0:16:30 - Jesper Conrad
What makes me pondermost about this, and I'm like that it's weird to think that. To look at, okay, my child is. I don't even like the word behaving. It means that the child should be in a certain way, but that is the length through which they would speak. My child is misbehaving, it gets a slap, and now my child is behaving. So what you're teaching your child is one fear the person who should be the most important to you, who should be your connection, who should be your everything. And you can solve stuff with violence. If you have a conflict, it can be solved with violence, and I mean that's not the best future. 

0:17:16 - Jen Keefe
To agree with you on that. We are also teaching our children. Everybody loves this buzzword no, it is not a buzzword Uses it as a buzzword about consent. Why don't we understand consent more? And they'll say consent, consent, consent. And then, jesper, to your point. We are teaching, we are insisting that our children understand that they are not in control of their bodies. They are not in charge of their bodies. It is up to somebody else what happens to their body, and so we're not just teaching the victim. In that case, we're teaching the perpetrator. Our bodies are not ours. So yeah, it's yeah. 

0:17:58 - Cecilie Conrad
I haven't seen the Halloween prank, but I have seen another thing that shocked me. I got off Facebook because it shocks me too much. What am I doing wrong? 

0:18:07 - Jesper Conrad

0:18:08 - Cecilie Conrad
Oh, I saw a sibling t-shirt, a get-along t-shirt that was the thing at the point. That shocked me really very much. So they would put siblings who fight and they would have to share the t-shirt and they would write something like we get along or whatever, and they'd have to wear the same t-shirt being tied to each other until they would start behaving. 

0:18:33 - Jen Keefe
And these are. I've written about that one in the past, I agree. I mean, what is that solving in that situation? Horrible, really. 

But these issues to me are such a great example of the change that I was talking about, like within myself, because it's not we all being on this side of things. We all know none of us is getting it right all the time. Even for me still, a lot of the time I'm not getting it right. I still revert to old behaviors and I think where in the hell did that come from? But it's not about that. We never put our kids in the get-along shirt. It's about that we're questioning why are we putting our kids in the get-along shirt? And am I putting my kid in the get-along shirt? Is that? What do I think that's going to accomplish? 

And is there something in here that I need to figure out? Do I not have the time to be able to work through this with them? Do I not have the resources to have the? Am I working three jobs and I just don't know what else to do? Is it just that I have old information? Am I dealing with my own inner demons? That's not. You know. That's making me just latch on to what somebody else, but for me that is the change. I've done 3 million and 17 more than that. Wrong things, probably yesterday, but for me it is always wait. Why am I doing that? Is that true? Or is that just what we've accepted to be true, or the solution, or the proper way to do things? 

0:20:10 - Cecilie Conrad
I think also it comes. I agree with you, but and I'm just adding to it it also it has to do with this deeper level of parenting where a lot of especially women and I think because of the women's liberation and women now have educations and they're expected to live their lives just like men, have nice careers and fancy clothes and big salaries and do all the same things as men would do in our parents' generation. They technique their life. It becomes a technique, becomes a job, basically all of it. So you technique your looks. You have this facial cream and the face yoga very fashionable at the moment and you do the gym three times a week because that's the technique that would keep your body look like you're still 17. 

And you technique the childhood. You have to make them do specific things. It's almost like there's a chart and you can tick the boxes. Okay, this is my 16-year-old, he has to be like that, do like that, and the conversations we're having is about this and the problems we have will be like that and they go through this as if it's some sort of manuscript, some sort of. 

0:21:25 - Jen Keefe
They want a 10-step process to change. Whatever this thing is, yes, I agree, and we want to check it off. 

0:21:31 - Cecilie Conrad
The problem is they don't get to live. Then everything is a project and there's no heartbeat, there's no present moment, because everything is on the to-do list and I just feel so sorry for so much life going down the drain, so many moments. There could have been moments that are tough, and I think maybe this t-shirt problem is within that problem, because you think, oh hey, that's a technique, I can fix their fighting by giving them this t-shirt. People on the internet say if I do that, that will fix it. There's nothing in between. 

0:22:07 - Jesper Conrad
No thinking, yeah yeah, yeah, but yes, it makes me think about a subject we've been talking about, where one of the things we really wish deeply for our children is that they end up knowing who they are themselves and that they rest inside themselves, where I think that the way I've grown up, I've grown up with getting grades and everything and it was important to have a career and all that. So for me, life is still projects. I'm not sure I will succeed in letting totally go of putting things into a schedule like that and just be happy for just being, and I think that is one of the gifts I hope that would give our children true homeschooling and unschooling that they will end up being happy for just being alive and being present and around people. 

0:23:09 - Jen Keefe
That's so beautiful. I'm a career, who I want to be when I grow up? I agree, I strive for that and I'm further back from that point than you guys are. And I feel like in so many ways I agree, Jesper, that this is what this life can potentially set our kids up for. 

First, by the removal of all these systems and structures that are saying this is what makes you successful, this is what makes you worthy, this is what makes you disconnect from all those people sitting in that classroom for you, because really you're in this group, you're in this group, you're this kind of person, you're that kind of person. And also, I feel like, when we commit to learning how to unschool well, the process that we go through even if it's on not as significant a level as you were just talking about the process that we go through in order to unschool well we have to engage in that process. We have to engage in being in our bodies and here and now and breaking down all those barriers and traumas that we've had in our own life so that we can fully connect with our kids, and I just believe that that alone I mean, that's not alone, that's huge is setting them up to be so much closer to what you just described than what we all probably had growing up, Because it's real. 

0:24:38 - Cecilie Conrad
Yeah, I think one of the things that I really wanted when I was a child was my parents' attention, and for many reasons and I'm not blaming them as such but they didn't have much bandwidth for that and what I see today is that the family life that we have is very much about spending time together, and the more real I am and I am real, that was one of my first wild insights when I had my first child 20, almost five years ago was I'm never going to lie to this person. I have to be true. She has to trust me. If she does not trust me in everything, I will lose it all. I have no cards on my hand to try to help her into this life. So she needs to trust me and I need to be fully me so that she knows who she's trusting. And I'll have four children and I go to great lengths to make sure that I am honest with them. 

Yesterday, one of my kids asked me are you having a good time? You were at some friends house. Honestly, I wasn't. Not that I. It was very meaningful for me to be there and I love these friends and please don't be offended, but no, but my daughter was having a lot of fun celebrating a birthday. There was a lot of teenagers and it was great, but I was working too much. It was raining, cats and dogs and I hate rain. It had been raining for several months. Everything was damp. We live in a van. My friend was really exhausted the one we were visiting so I felt my job was to just do as much as I could do the dishes, cook for 15 people three times, two times a day and just put in my energy. So we're having a good time. 

I had a meaningful time but I wasn't hanging out, and that's just one example. She got a little oh, but I'm not answering her to please her. I'm answering her to be an honest, authentic person that she talks to and I can tell her. This is my experience and I'm happy you're having fun with the teens and I'm happy to bake the cake and I'm happy to clean up after it. But I'm not chilling. It's not. You know, it's not a party for me, it's work. 

So I think for them to know who they are and feel good about who they are, they need some leading examples who can be who they are and will be authentic and present and vulnerable with them so that they know that when you are, that you're still loved, because it goes both ways. I am very much independent on my kids. I need them in my life. I'm not some sort of I don't know support structure system. I'm a human being and I'm their mother. My trajectory in life is to unfold my motherhood. So if I don't have that connection, I suffer just as much as they do, and I think it's very, very important for them to know that, that you know we need each other both ways and we're real people. 

0:27:43 - Jen Keefe
And that what you just described, I think, sounds so appealing to, so maybe even just so scary to other people to being like who you are and being honest and the feelings you might hurt along the way. You know, even, like you mentioned, your daughter was taken aback, that you weren't having the same fantastic time, that she was Right. But I have had this. I didn't learn it early on. This is the last few years for me about telling the truth all the time, but I relate to that experience, cecil, of being able to say to my kids you know, no, that wasn't actually enjoyable for me, but I am so happy to be there with you guys while you get to experience all this joy. And I do believe I am seeing in their teen years now that that does build a trust, but not a superficial, like a real deep trust, because they know that you have told them the truth, which is counterintuitive, not counterintuitive. 

I think it's very intuitive. It's not the messaging that we get about being honest about these types of things, right, and even coming to like conversations about the past. My oldest is 16, my youngest is 13, almost 14. And in my own friend circles we've had conversations like how much are you telling your kids about your past? My kids are getting older. I'm being more truthful with them than I ever thought they would be, than I ever thought I would be, because I learned a lot from the mistakes that I made. I want them to know me. I want them to know when they fuck up. I've done worse. 

I want you know like I want them to know. No shame with me. 

0:29:32 - Cecilie Conrad
Life goes on. You know I try. So it's radical to say you've told them everything, because obviously you haven't given them a minute to minute report of what, everything that ever happened in your life. But I have no secrets. I have a general rule of having no secrets. Secrets are very toxic actually in life. So, get rid of secrets. I don't have secrets for my kids either. There are things that don't seem that relevant, and when they were, hours are age appropriate Age appropriate yes. 

Yes, so, but you can always give them a version of the truth that is just to scale with where they are. My first child didn't have a father. So the story is he was tall and he was blonde and he was not there when I woke up, and so I told her when she was little that there was no father. Just like you know, women having a child in the clinic. I had a child by accident and in the beginning I just told her you don't have a dad. And then, when she was a little older, I could tell her more nuances to the story. 

And but if I had told her everything when she was a year and a half and realized all the other kids had a father, she would just feel that she was missing out or something was really strange or someone didn't want her, which is not the case. So I wanted a truthful explanation for her that would also be in harmony with the emotional truth of it, and that's very hard to explain to a 1.2 year old who realizes all the other kids have a father. What's that thing, father? What's that all about? I just told her we don't have that. Just like we're vegetarian, we don't eat meat, you don't have a dad and then, as the years went on, I could explain more about what happened and why she didn't have a dad and what that dad concept was all about. So in that way, no, I haven't told them everything. A because it's very highly impractical to try to tell someone everything, and B because some things are just not relevant and some things are not appropriate. 

0:31:42 - Jen Keefe
And sometimes telling the truth is oh, and I really am not comfortable sharing this with you right now. Maybe when you're a little older, sometimes that can be, and that has been, a truth in our house too. I do have a story there, owen, and I'm not comfortable sharing that with you at this point. And I like that too, because it gives them permission to know they don't always have to tell people things if they don't want to tell people things. 

0:32:06 - Cecilie Conrad
At least don't lie about it. I have story here I'm not going to talk about. It makes me sad. 

0:32:11 - Jen Keefe
It's a game changer. Yes, right, yes, I'm not. I'm feeling too sad to go there today. Yes, that idea of telling the truth changes a whole life trajectory. That's new for me. That's not something that I've had since becoming a parent, but that's an amazing, amazing gift to yourself and others. 

0:32:29 - Cecilie Conrad
Good advice. 

0:32:29 - Jen Keefe
It's a good piece of advice Whether you want to unschool or not, just don't lie to your kids or to anybody, and it's not actually as hard as I thought it was to do, especially to your kids. 

0:32:42 - Cecilie Conrad
Especially to your kids, because what you need in your relation whether it's a task with a to-do list and you consider it more of a job in life or you're the radical weirdo, I think was your word in the beginning you still will love your children unconditionally and you want the best for them and you really want to be able to take care of them. And the problem is is there is no trust. You can't take care of them. They will not obey you throughout their entire life, but if they trust you, they will come to you as the first or the second or maybe the third person when they're in trouble and you get to help them, whereas if they don't trust you, you'll never know when their life falls apart. 

And that is what would freak me out. If I knew my daughter wouldn't call me the morning she wakes up crying. She wouldn't call me, she would call everyone else. I'm so happy I'm the one she's calling Actually, it's very often you, to be honest. So it's therefore lying is not good, but lying to your children is shooting yourself directly into the foot. 

0:33:46 - Jesper Conrad
It's building a distance. 

0:33:49 - Jen Keefe
There's this thing going around Facebook, that, or maybe it's a t-shirt, I don't know this idea of I want to be the one my child, when my child is in trouble, I want to be the one they run to, not the one they run away from, which, yes, it's true, and I would love for that to be followed up with. There are some choices that we have to make to reach that point. We can't just say come to me, I promise I won't be mad. We're showing them whether or not they can come to us, from the moment they're little up until forever. We're telling them, with every choice, every interaction, whether we can, they can come to us or not. 

0:34:34 - Cecilie Conrad
That is years of lived life, and that is hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of conversation. When we talk about moral standards, what's the right choice to make in a certain situation At this point? Now we have this 24 year old daughter who lives by herself. Not, she lives with her boyfriend and Copenhagen, so she's not with her every day, with us every day. But we have a 17 year old son who's with us every day and he's actually become the moral anchor of our family. He's the one, I'm sorry to say. 

0:35:08 - Jen Keefe
But he's very honest, you're doing it well. 

0:35:11 - Cecilie Conrad
You know what the ethical? Ethical is that a word Choice. The right thing to do right now would be this so why don't we go do that? And he is there because he's, because he is who he is. It's not my, I can't own that, but one of the reasons that he has this way of reasoning is that we've been discussing ethics over his entire life and he knows why we choose to do this and why we choose to do that and why we and the whole discussion, the hours, of hours of talking about things. They are present for it because they're not send away to school or in bed. 

0:35:51 - Jen Keefe
Right, yes, yes, yes. They're there with you as, as you live life together, like dealing with all the the choices that come your way and all of the decisions that have to be made. They're, they're in that, with you, and that is so wildly different than how I grew up, being away from all of that most of the day. 

0:36:13 - Cecilie Conrad
Dining at the kitchen at the children's table. I did that as a child. My children enjoy the adult all around age conversation Because you enjoy them. 

0:36:25 - Jen Keefe
Yeah, you know what I? 

0:36:27 - Cecilie Conrad
mean yeah, yeah, I know, I know we can talk about whatever. 

0:36:31 - Jen Keefe
Yeah, no, no no, yeah, yeah, no, no no. 

0:36:37 - Jesper Conrad
It's the website Jen is called pondering Jen. Yes, I'm pondering about what you're pondering about. 

0:36:48 - Jen Keefe
So that that website is pondering myself why am I the way I am? Why do I have these reactions to things? And I am so proud of myself for how much better I am in the last few years. I'm so proud of myself. I've put in such consistent work to be such a happier, more responsive instead of reactionary person. But that website really started after a mental health breakdown where I really had to start to rebuild myself and really understanding wait a second I actually do get to choose how I am, who I am and what my life looks like. I got that on some level when we decided to unschool the kids, of course, because that's I mean I forget how radical that is. I forget how radical it is the way we live because we've been doing it for so long. 

0:37:46 - Cecilie Conrad
Yeah, I've put in so much work. I mean we just you don't get up in the morning to unschool. No, that's the thing you do. I mean you get up and you brush your teeth and you start doing stuff you don't do nut stops, I totally hate, that I'm forgetting. I'm unschooling, yes, yes, where they do the podcast or meet people who say why are they not in school? 

0:38:06 - Jen Keefe
Yeah, and that was a good turning moment for me when I realized months had gone by and I hadn't even thought about, like, what we were doing because I had spent so much time invested in learning it. So that's really what that website is it's. I certainly have written about unschooling and my thoughts about mainstream or mainstream parenting advice, we'll say, and all of that, and I used to write about it a lot more. But that really is about pondering how do I get myself better? 

0:38:37 - Jesper Conrad
Yeah, and then you are not the only one who have stood to stay at a place in your life when things, primarily once mental health, have been challenging. I think we all have tried that. What are the first couple of steps, when you look back, you took and that you would recommend other people are taking? 

0:39:00 - Jen Keefe
I love this. This is such a good question, Jesper, and I'm so grateful you asked it. When I'd always been personal, change was always something I was intrigued by, but I never really believed it. After, when I had my mental health breakdown, it was bad news, I mean, it was a bad place to be and I actually I did go to my doctor and get medication, but I actually did not go to therapy at that point because it was too overwhelming and I didn't. We were in a new place, we were in Denver. I'm from Boston and I didn't know any therapists and I couldn't I was literally could not engage in that action of going and finding someone who may or may not work that whole thing. So I actually reached out to a friend of mine who had two friends of mine who had been really open about their own mental health struggles and asked for some resources, and so one friend in particular. 

Books are a thing for me. I love to read. The information comes in in a really understandable way for me. So she the very first thing she one book I read upon her recommendation was and this is an author who I had dismissed for years, and I still do not like what she says about parenting. I will say that up front. 

But Brené Brown Brené Brown's book, the Gift of Imperfection. It's a short, like 90 page book and it was the first time in my life I had ever heard it's okay that you are a fuckup. That's okay. You're still worthy. You're still as deserving of being on this planet and taking up space on this planet, no matter that you've failed that math test when you were 12, no matter that you made these irresponsible decisions, no matter that you didn't get it at the beginning, like whatever the reasons, you're still worthy. And then learning about shame. And then there was the second book that I read self compassion, by Dr Kristen Neff and IEFF. That was another one that, just in that moment when I was so low, allowed me to understand that the things I'd been trying to learn to do for my kids, I needed to learn how to do for myself too, because if I didn't learn to do them for myself, I could never fully do them for my kids. 

So for me it was reading. It was. It was not just reading, it was throughout, every single day, being aware of wait a second. I'm in a moment where an old pattern whether that was a self destructive thought, whether it was a self hate thought, whether it was a reaction to one of my kids needing me. Every, throughout, every single day, I had to be aware I'm in the moment where personal change happens. This is it. This is the moment, and sometimes I wanted to throw a temper tantrum in my, in my, within myself, and say, fuck, this is too. Why do I have to do? This is too hard, I don't. I want to go back to my old patterns, right and just. But I finally recognized it was in that moment. 

And then, of course, the more moments where, where I chose the personal change, I started to see the return on investment, because I would start to see, oh, that did create a different outcome in myself and in my relationships all around me. And so the more that I saw that, the more invested I became in making the change in those moments. And that that was, those were the first steps I took, reading the things that resonated for me and I recommend those books to people all the time the gifts of imperfection and self compassion, I feel like. And it went on. I read the book of forgiveness by Desmond Tutu, which was I mean, I've got a whole list of books. That's, that's the way I intake information. But those were my first steps. 

And just just to take one more, one more segment here and say I literally cannot believe who I am now. I literally cannot believe who I am now. I cannot believe how calmly I respond to things Not all the time, believe me, not all the time I just to be very, but I can own it way more quickly and apologize way more quickly and model to my children. You guys, I'm really sorry I slipped there. I am really sorry. You don't deserve that. That was wrong of me. You're worthy. You know so how and how clearly I can think about things and this, this buzzword of boundaries, is a real thing how I'm able to keep those now so that people aren't coming into my space and taking the energy that should be and I'm not giving them my energy that should be for me and my family. So, yeah, so those are the first things that I did and found extremely useful, and those were based on what a friend told me. 

0:43:54 - Jesper Conrad

0:43:55 - Jen Keefe

0:43:56 - Cecilie Conrad
So one thing, that's congratulations first. 

0:44:00 - Jen Keefe
Yeah first of all, thank you. I will take that. Thank you, thank you. 

0:44:04 - Cecilie Conrad
It's hard work, yeah, so I'm just thinking. I've spoken to a lot of families who want to unschool and sometimes they say I don't think I'm a good enough person to do it. And here you are talking about having a breakdown in the middle of it. You have teenagers in your home and everything falls apart for you, and still they're not in school, and still they have no structured curriculum, mandatory things to do every day. I think that's a shining example, just for everyone, to see that you don't need to be the best version of yourself 100% of the time to be an unschooling parent. You can be vulnerable and you can be completely off and you can be even out of it for a while you can, but it can't be your normal. 

0:45:07 - Jen Keefe
No, obviously, and I, yes, yes, and I sorry I didn't mean to cut you off, cecil. 

0:45:13 - Cecilie Conrad
No, no, no, I said it. It's just because I think there's it's so easy to give up. For many people is very easy to give up within the first three or four years. They very easily give up and then, maybe, if they have teenagers and they can't really find any friends or whatever is going on, and then they give up again. And one of the things that make people give up is if they find, oh, but I don't have the personal strength for this. I'm in a phase in my life I have a crisis. I don't know. I don't know there's something going on. I can't be the best mother. I think they might be better off with someone more resourceful. And here you are sharing a story about falling apart and getting it together again and growing from it. 

0:45:55 - Jen Keefe

0:45:55 - Cecilie Conrad
While not putting your kids back into the school system, which I just find it's a beautiful stuff. Of course you can. Well, you can, I'm not sure. Maybe you can actually on school and be out of it all the time. 

0:46:09 - Jen Keefe
That's. That's what I was trying to address and I didn't. That wasn't a disagreement with you. I didn't want that to register as a disagreement with you, but I have. I have seen people who, many, many people who say that they're unschooling when they're really unparenting. So one of the things that I really like to always say is, if you feel like you're not good enough, you aren't, either get better or make a different choice, because it isn't fair to your child, to you know, we come from the understanding of, we've delved in, we've learned, we're fully in it with our kids. But if that is too much for you to get, to make the brave decision of doing what's best for your kids, because unparenting, letting your kid, not being involved in your kid's life, is not unschooling and it frankly gives us all a bad rap. It really does. There are too many people who are not doing anything and calling it unschooling because it can look similar. If you don't know what unschooling is, it can look similar Like it really can. 

0:47:16 - Cecilie Conrad
Then again not. I mean, I think it's quite clear, at least if you think about it for a little while, whether it's unparenting going on or unschooling going on. I think maybe for the beginner viewer it could be looking like the same. But I want to put a footnote on that thing about if you don't feel you can do it, you probably can't and you should either get yourself together or do something else. 

I've talked to too many women with a too low self-esteem who think they can't do it, who can totally do it, totally, and we just have to make sure that if you don't, I mean if you can get up in the morning and you can talk to them about whatever the, whatever the weather it doesn't have to be resourceful and about some Greek mythology. If you can get up in the morning, you can get dressed, you can get your kids dressed, you can make the meals and maybe clean up after them 80%, depending on how many toddlers are in the house and you can, you know, make the boat sail. That's actually enough. And you might feel like shit on the inside and have some demons to work with and some things going on. That's okay, that's okay as long as you it's not getting in the way of everything, as long as it's not a clinical depression going on for five years but just your own self-esteem being a little to the low end. 

0:48:47 - Jen Keefe
Absolutely. I don't think we can get up on that one. 

0:48:49 - Cecilie Conrad
So that was my footnote and you were saying something more interesting. 

0:48:53 - Jen Keefe
No, no, I agree, and I'm glad you put that footnote in and it leads, I feel like, to a conversation of coming from different places in terms of what it means feeling like you can't do it. Because to me, feeling like you, you know, not being able to do it is not being able to challenge not challenge that sounds so aggressive Not being able to evaluate your belief systems, to make the changes that you need to make in order to unschool. Well, if you're not able to do that, this is going to be a really hard road for you. But the other things when people say they aren't able to unschool I've been in another mindframes for so wrong at the beginning Typically, what they mean is they can't teach their kids algebra. Right, that's real and I agree with you 100%, cecile, and I will add to that footnote by saying that's bullshit. That is not a reason to not unschool. Your kids don't need algebra. Number one Secondly, if they want to learn algebra, you are going to find a way for them to learn algebra. 

0:49:58 - Cecilie Conrad
Period Trust us, it happens and it's not step one, and it's not step one. 

0:50:06 - Jen Keefe
Step one is what you just said get up, get dressed, make breakfast play. That's step every day, whether they're 16 or six. That's step one, or don't get dressed. 

0:50:17 - Cecilie Conrad
Well, sometimes get dressed. 

0:50:19 - Jesper Conrad
I think that one of the or at least change the pajamas. 

I think one of the biggest gifts of being an unschooling parent is the connection we get with our children. And then the second biggest gift is actually the connection we get with ourselves. I have grown so much on this, on this path we have been on, and and I'm just very, very happy for Storm who, more than 11, 12 years ago, said to us mom and dad, I don't think this school things is the right stuff for me. And then we listened and chose not to. But the way it has changed my life I mean I personally, egoistically is so grateful. My life is in all ways so much better. I'm healthier, happier, I have a better relationship with my wife and I just love it. 

0:51:27 - Jen Keefe
It's hard to understand that what you're saying is real if you haven't lived it. Right. If you're coming from live that's basically it. 

0:51:40 - Cecilie Conrad
You get to live. You're not waiting with the living until the kids fall asleep at night, or waiting until the weekend or the summer break or your retirement. You get to live every day. 

0:51:52 - Jesper Conrad
And this living is kind of nice, it's kind of cool. 

0:51:56 - Jen Keefe
It's pretty amazing. It's pretty amazing and you know, to get to the like I don't know whatever side of it you want to call what is the cool. Not the coolest, it's not the coolest, but what is a super cool thing to observe about this is how we all really do. It's not a tagline, it's not a slogan. We really do all learn every single thing we need to know by living. Yeah, yeah. 

And that moment where you stop looking for the learning moments, when you realize you haven't looked for a long time, is really awesome. And then, every once in a while, my kids will say something or do something and I'm like how did you guys look? How do you know that? How do you know how to do that? And their answer is always we're a human living on this planet. And I'm like, yes, of course, of course. That's why. 

0:52:51 - Cecilie Conrad
Yeah, yeah. I kind of want to circle back to that. I don't know, maybe I'm obsessing over this. You can't do it. 

I dare because there's another thing I just thought about, because you said very often it's about people thinking because I can't teach them algebra, I'm not worthy of unschooling. But I think we have a problem with social media as well that a lot of home educating families are very resourceful in making very nice videos on Instagram and Facebook and they take pictures of homemade, organic, vegan ice cream that they somehow managed to get to the middle of the forest in the middle of the summer and it's not even melted and you don't get why. And they always look like a yoga, I don't know, 17-year-old, and they have 19 children and they all look amazing and you just think I can't do that. 

And I just think it's very important that we also get real about sometimes. You just sit on your couch in your pajamas, or. It doesn't have to look amazing. You don't have to go on day trips or climb the mountains or to museums or not. That we're not, we do it all the time, but only because we feel like it. I think a lot of parents are set back by the idea about how it has to look and realize that we're actually just watching TV all day. You know what? Just watch TV. It's okay, that makes us great. Eat some popcorn and go buy a cheap ice cream in the supermarket and eat it on your couch if you want ice cream. It doesn't have to look like that, and that's another footnote, and then we can go back to that whatever. 

0:54:48 - Jen Keefe
No, I think that is so important and so beautiful and so wonderful for people to know, and it's this idea that we hear a lot. But again, it's really true Unschooling really does look so different in every family. It can look different between siblings within a family. Right, I have one child who is a massive extrovert who now, at almost 16, wants to be with friends every single day of his life. I have another child who is far more introverted, likes to see friends, but so how? We, my husband and I, work together extremely closely to make sure their needs are being met on a daily basis. So even within a family, unschooling can look different. 

We watch a boatload of TV. We watch so much TV. So, yes, yay to the TV. And they are learning the coolest shit about all sorts of things from oh my gosh writing and set design, all these cool things. But it can look so different from family to family. And when anybody tries to suggest that this is how it should look, you know they don't get it, whether they're suggesting it on their social media or telling people that this is how you do it, because my experience is that it is a hundred percent about us working through our own stuff, to be able to fully connect with our kids, to create a peaceful life with them, so that we are in tune and connected with them enough to understand what they're asking us for, what they're telling us, what their needs are, that they woke up this way this day, and so the thing they had planned yesterday when they went to bed has now shifted, because they're having this kind of day and, instead of having to go through two hours of fighting and conversation, we can get there so much more quickly with them, and we understand the importance of them making adjustments based on that. So it looks so different within every family based on so many things. 

Resources If we had the resources, a couple of us would travel all the time. That's all we'd do. A couple of us would not want to do that. A couple of us really like to be home. Right, so it would be. Yeah, did I go off on a tangent? No, you didn't. 

0:57:03 - Cecilie Conrad
I just happen to feel like mentioning social media because I think it skews the picture of how it's supposed to look, because people making content for social media about their home, education, life very often make very beautiful content because they're passionate about making content and then it looks amazing. And those who are not, and maybe don't have that very nice sofa and very yoga, fit body and do the homemade ice cream, they might feel that they are inferior as homeschooling parents, and I just wanted to shout out that they're not and that it can look in so many different ways and still be the greatest life for the kids. 

0:57:48 - Jesper Conrad
But I think the feeling inferior is like a global pandemic these days. That it's, and I actually believe that people who are unschooled and have been at home and have been loved unconditionally they won't become adults who feel inferior. We have done a wonderful interview with Samatheen, who is a grown-up unschooler and man. The power in that woman and the presence and the respect for herself she was there. It was almost terrifying meeting a person so clear on themselves. So I believe that we will help grow generations of you who do not grow up with feeling inferior. But it's every day, it's every time they doubt on themselves. It's every time we come with demands to them that we are evaluating them. Then we are breaking it down and it's a long process to get there and I feel that's what I said before. 

The greatest gift with the homeschooling for me is it has helped me to remove the Not all of them, absolutely not but remove some of the layers of. Am I good enough? Because we are. We can't believe that the children we see grow up with the grown-up unschoolers I have met. I'm like that's a road to success. That's what I want for my children. It's not what they do or work with, I really don't care, but it's the being anchored inside themselves. That is, ah, man. I want that for my children. 

0:59:34 - Jen Keefe
I believe I love that. It is beautiful. I am totally trusting that you two do as well that this work that we are doing to be able to unschool well with our families. I believe so solidly that it is changing the world on a massive level. I really do. I believe this work that we do as parents of unschooling parents who are really invested in learning how to create this with our children not just saying we're unschooling, but are putting the work in to be able to really unschool well I just believe we are changing the world in a way we can't even understand. 

1:00:18 - Cecilie Conrad
I actually believe we're just doing the footwork, just laying, you know, the cement under the floor, because it's our kids who are going to change the world. 

1:00:28 - Jen Keefe

1:00:28 - Cecilie Conrad
Because they stand on a different ground. But, we are too. 

1:00:31 - Jen Keefe
Every time we learn how to react more appropriate more appropriate, how to respond instead of react. Every time we learn how to connect more deeply with our children, every time we learn how to respect what they're saying to us and hear them. I believe every one of those actions is changing the world right now. I really do. 

1:00:51 - Cecilie Conrad
I really, really. Yeah, you're right. 

1:00:54 - Jesper Conrad
Yeah, and I know I was just when you said it that was like, yeah, and I still have stuff to learn. 

1:01:00 - Jen Keefe
Oh, yes, To be clear like how many more ways can we say how imperfect we are and we don't think we're better than anybody? And we've got, we've messed up every day, like all those disclaimers that you want to put on. 

1:01:14 - Cecilie Conrad
Something better than the majority. 

1:01:16 - Jen Keefe

1:01:17 - Cecilie Conrad
You think that the choice is better. I believe in my choice. I'm not putting myself on a pit of stone. I don't believe I'm a better, I'm more worthy human being, or anything like that, but I do believe that what we do is better than not doing it. I do believe that, otherwise I wouldn't invest all that in unschooling. 

1:01:39 - Jesper Conrad
No, a lot of hours. 

1:01:40 - Cecilie Conrad
Yeah, good hours. 

1:01:42 - Jesper Conrad
And we try to keep our podcast around an hour, so we should kind of round it up Okay. 

1:01:51 - Cecilie Conrad
We didn't even talk about teenagers. 

1:01:52 - Jesper Conrad
We wanted to talk about teenagers. 

1:01:54 - Cecilie Conrad
We can do a second round and talk about teenagers. 

1:01:56 - Jesper Conrad
We will do a whole teenager talk. 

1:02:00 - Cecilie Conrad
Teenage talk yeah. 

1:02:01 - Jen Keefe
I would love to do that. 

1:02:03 - Cecilie Conrad
Actually you said, before we start about talk about teenagers, let me just say this and now, an hour just flew by. 

1:02:09 - Jesper Conrad
Yeah, okay, so we have teenagers. Great, yeah, okay. So so then, for people who wants to get to read some of the stuff you have done and get to know you, can you tell a little more about what they can find on your website and again name the website and also your social media channels? 

1:02:33 - Jen Keefe
Thank you, jess. Jess Burr, I don't really write very much there at all, but ponderinggencom and I do sometimes write on Facebook under the same page, ponderinggen. I also have a podcast that isn't about unschooling, it's called Real Women's Work. It started because of a question my daughter asked, so there isn't a little bit of an unschooling connection there. But it started talking about specifically how women work and it sort of evolved into this kind of work, the mental work that we do as well. So now it's a combination of those things. So Real Women's Work and ponderinggencom I haven't been doing a ton with either, but there's some stuff there that people could check out for sure. Thank you for asking that question. 

1:03:19 - Cecilie Conrad
We'll put it in the notes. 

1:03:21 - Jesper Conrad
And we will also put the links to the books you recommend. Yeah, absolutely. 

1:03:25 - Jen Keefe
Yeah, thank you. 

1:03:26 - Cecilie Conrad
And then we'll get back to you on the teenage question. 

1:03:29 - Jesper Conrad
Yes, we will my favorite. It was a pleasure having you and a wonderful talk. Thanks a lot for your time. 

1:03:36 - Jen Keefe
I'm so glad that I got to meet you both, cecil and Jesper, and I just again thank you for doing this work and living this example. There's just yeah, there's nothing. There's nothing better than having real people to learn from, and watch and get insight into how they're doing this and making it work. So, thank you. 

1:03:56 - Cecilie Conrad
And thank you for talking to us. It's been fun. 

1:03:59 - Jesper Conrad
Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed today's episode and if you liked that, then please share it with all your friends and family. We would also love it if you gave our podcast a review. Thanks, and if you want to support our podcast and work, then you can find us on patreoncom slash the Conrad family. We will continue to travel full time and if you want to tag along, then please follow us on Facebook and Instagram at the Conrad family, and you can also read more than 100 blog posts on our website, theconradfamily. Until next time, make a wonderful day, thank you. 


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