#65 Sue Elvis | Stories of an Unschooling Family

FB Sue Elvis

🗓️ Recorded April 2nd, 2024. 📍 The Lovetts, Fresno, California, United States

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About this Episode 

Sue Elvis from StoriesOfAnUnschoolingFamily.com as she shares her fascinating journey through unschooling her children. Sue shares how she strikes a balance between fostering her children's individual passions and engaging in collective family activities, creating a harmonious learning environment free from the constraints of traditional education.

Listen in as she describes the significance of being present, especially in the mornings, and how she integrates her interests in blogging and podcasting into the rich tapestry of her family's daily life.

In our heart-to-heart discussion, we contemplate the evolution of the parent-child relationship within the unschooling context, especially as children approach adulthood. Discover how unschooling can empower children to make discerning choices about social acceptance and conformity and the parental endeavor to earn our children's respect beyond our roles as their guardians.

We share our experiences of unschooling, the profound impact of community, and the enduring influence of parental love and support on the path of learning.

▬ Connect with Sue Elvis  ▬
Website: https://www.sueelvis.com
Unschooling Website: https://www.storiesofanunschoolingfamily.com
Books by Sue Elvis: https://www.amazon.com/stores/Sue-Elvis/author/B00QTDRCBM
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stories_ofan_unschoolingfamily/
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/@SueElvis
Podcast: https://www.storiesofanunschoolingfamily.com/my-podcasts/

Watch the full interview on YouTube

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With love


Jesper Conrad 


00:00 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
So today we are together with Sue Elwes, who has storiesofanonschoolingfamilycom wonderful website. And first of all, sue, I'm super happy we finally got together. It's wonderful to meet you.

00:13 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
It's lovely to meet you, jesper and Cecilia. Yes, I've been looking forward to this for a long time, and thank you for the invitation to join you on your podcast.

00:26 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Yeah, and we have tried back and forth to get hold of each other and finally we succeeded. And right now we are in fresno in the united states and the friend we are co-living with an unschooling family here and our friend here she said to me one day while we were here she said you should really talk with Sue, elvis, and I was like, yeah, but I've tried to get hold of her and we have missed each other and that was why I reached out to you again recently and now we're here.

She's apparently been following you, yeah, and actually I said to her so what should I ask Sue about? And she said oh, how do you manage to be there for so many children at the same time when each of them want to do something different? She has four children, we have four children, and I'm not sure it's possible to answer that question. But what would be your take on helping out many children at the same time when their direction goes in different ways?

01:32 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
uh well, we have eight, eight children, but one of our children died as a baby. So we, I say homeschooled or unschooled seven children, but when we say we unschooled them, but that doesn't mean that I think that sounds like we did something to our children instead of working alongside our children and supporting and encouraging them. It wasn't like we had to sit down every day and do schoolwork with all those children. It was more that we did things together. My children do things by themselves, but I was always available to help. So along all through the years I've always had my own interests. I've been blogging I think I have 14 years podcasting, though I haven't made a podcast recently. I started that 10 years ago. So I did that alongside helping my kids. But I always, always said the mornings were the times when I was I did. I wouldn't do anything in the mornings other than be available for my children. So we'd go places, I'd read out loud if that's what they wanted, help them, find resources, just sit and listen to them, drink coffee, go places, and I think a lot of what we did over the years we did as a family. Children didn't. They had their their own interests, but a lot of those interests overlapped and they worked together. But I didn't have to do grade one with this child and grade six with that child and grade 12 with that child. If we did, if we had certain subjects or passions in common, like Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and everybody would come and watch Shakespeare play together and we'd just sit there and have popcorn and enjoy a morning of Shakespeare, and that was really easy. If we had a baby, I used to breastfeed while I was reading to my kids, or my kids would play with the toddler while we chatted about things. But I think a lot of it was working together, that we didn't do things. Well, I say we didn't do things individually. My kids did have individual interests and there were times when I had to give them one-on-one encouragement, help, resources or whatever.

But a lot of the time we worked together. For example, we had a few years where my fourth child, second daughter, imogen, was making music videos and so we'd get up early I think it was once every couple of weeks and go to a location which we had already decided upon. She would have recorded the music and we would film a music video. But my daughter, sophie, her passion was videography, so she contributed to that. My passion is, in an amateur way, photography, so I would do their photos for her. My daughter Charlotte was quite happy to do the behind the scenes videos. And, yeah, my youngest daughter, she found jobs to do as well. So we all work together and we're all learning, but we were supporting one another.

And then, when it came time, I've written a few books. My daughter Imogen's written books. My daughter Charlotte she did a graphic design degree. She's an artist. She did our book covers for us and illustrations, that type of thing. So as a family we've worked together, sharing our skills and all we have learnt together.

But there were very few times where uh, for example, I had to sit down and do grade two maths with somebody, or grade six maths or get my daughter through high school maths. Um, we gave up on that a long, long time ago and trying to make kids do things like that, we didn't do so. My, my second daughter wanted to do advanced maths, but I found her the resources and when I didn't have the time to do that, support her. I found her a tutor, which she really enjoyed. That was her time with this. It was a tutor who was also a family friend and she used to enjoy that. So I think there's ways around things.

But we didn't do things traditionally and I can imagine if we had I would have been, and we tried it once years ago.

I tried doing things, making my kids do things I thought they should do. While looking after a baby, while looking after a toddler, and getting myself into a big mess, getting really, I used to call myself the dragon mother. I could always feel that stress building up inside me. I couldn't cope. It was just too overwhelming. How was I going to see to the needs of all these children? How was I going to make them learn what I thought was important? And one day it all just blew up. I'd had enough of being the dragon mother and I thought things have to change. And we changed our whole approach and I started listening to my kids. And I think I don't know about whether you've gone through this stage as well, but as a younger parent and, I guess, registered homeschooler, I spent a lot of time listening to other people's opinions and expectations and it was hard to shrug those off and say I don't care what everybody else is doing, I don't care what everybody expects my kids to be doing.

We're going to do it our own way. And that's how we got into unschooling is because we were unschooling a long time without even realizing it, because we decided to do our own thing, which involved listening to each other, helping each other do the things that were important to each of us and ignoring everybody else to a certain extent. We still had to be registered homeschoolers and I had to find a way to fulfill those requirements without imposing those requirements too heavily upon my kids, which might have spoiled the unschooling experience. So I don't know if that answered your question, but off the top of my head, you didn't give me any warning about that question.

08:27 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
No, no, before recording talking about what we would talk about, yeah, and then you talked about something completely different.

08:34 - Jesper Conrad (Host)

08:35 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
I'm surprised as well. No, no. It doesn't matter, it's an interesting topic and it looks like you had a beautiful cooperation team of being able to enjoy the same things or, you know, make Not exactly enjoying the same things, but contributing to the same project with your different passions.

08:58 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
Sharing skills, sharing everybody's skills and sometimes those skills overlapped and other times we just took advantage of a skill but we didn't have. Like, I can't draw, but my daughter can, so I asked her whether she would help me. Very much cooperation and also generosity, I think, in being willing to contribute to somebody else's passion in and share skills, and they were all the, all the um. I look back and I think about the things that brought us close together as a family, and all those happy memories are all to do with, uh, sharing our skills with each other and helping each other and just do the things that we love doing, and that's very much in my blog.

I've been worrying about it a bit recently that, growing up, my kids were so happy to share their stories and so, being a writer, I wrote, or I've written, nearly a thousand story homeschooling, unschooling stories on my blog, and also my kids were happy to be interviewed. But their life, their unschooling lives, are out there in the public eye for anybody to read, and they were generous enough to do that for me. And certainly recently I've been thinking about more about privacy and the you know and how kids don't really understand the consequences. They might give you permission to do something, but do they have the vision or the foresight that adults have to see how that might affect them in later life? Do they really want their childhood stories online now that they're adults? Will it cause problems for them?

10:49 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
I've been thinking.

10:51 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Of course, it is a question we need to ask ourselves as advocates for parenting in the way we are doing and unschooling in the way we are doing and unschooling. But at the same time, there's so many hungry hearts out there, and that was why I mentioned the wonderful friend we have we live with here, because the reason she followed your blog was that she had this just lust for seeing a different way of living and doing and doing homeschooling and the curiosity about but how does it actually look then? Because it can be difficult to sit on the other side with a more normal, traditional idea of what life should be, but feeling there's something lacking and you can't imagine how life can be. Before you, you see other people living it like this. So I think you have helped greatly many people with the generosity of your writing and your children's participating in it.

12:02 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
actually, thank you there. Yeah, sometimes I just think you know I'll go delete that, delete the blog and but it's also. I think it's our lives. You're probably finding the same thing with your um instagram accounts and your videos and your podcasts. It's the story of your family, as well as helping other people.

12:26 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
It's very vulnerable to do what you're doing and what we're doing, even though it can help lots of people. It is also something we need to think about. How much of the story can we share? What's too private? I've been putting a lot of thought into it as well and I find it's a balance to walk. How much do we actually share about their lives? Because the thing is, you cannot share the technique of unschooling without doing. Exactly what you've done is sharing all the stories. It's everyday life. It's not. She said in the beginning unschooling is in my voice, is not cooperating. Uh, unschooling is not something we do. I cannot say now we're unschooling for the next two hours and then I can record that and share it with the world. This is how we do it, because it's lifestyle will have to read all the private stories, all the personal journeys, everything that happens, basically to see the full picture of how this becomes an education or an alternative to an education that's worthy the thing I find.

13:56 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
The thing I also find is that there are a lot of people out in the world sharing unschooling, but they're only sharing the happy stories and they're having a very and I don't think that's what life's like and I don't think that's 100% encouraging. We all hope that our lives are going to be 100% happy, but we're growing as human beings ourselves as well as our kids, and they're going. There's going to be times and there's loads of times in our lives. We have no control over the external circumstances anyway and, uh, sometimes I don't know, but I I share those sort of times, but it's tricky sharing them when it's our children. I'm quite happy to share my bad days. What happened, how I felt, the growth that I went through, the thoughts I had. Pick yourself back up again. It's not the end of the world. We're learning, we're growing, we're making mistakes. It's just part of life. But to illustrate that with our children's own stories, that's the tricky bit. And yes, I have a friend called a pretend friend called Amina. I write about on my blog sometimes and she's in my books and sometimes I give my stories to Amina so that it's one step removed from me. I talk to her and she's basically me, but people can't really say I might have put a little bit of fabrication there, a bit of fiction, but I find that that's the most tricky bit is giving the honest view of unschooling.

And I think that to say that unschooling your life is going to be perfect is a little bit just misleading. And when people find out that it's a little bit tougher than they might have thought, maybe they'll think, oh, we're doing it wrong. And I've had a lot of people say that to me in the early years. Oh, your children must be suited to unschooling, you're suited to being an unschooling mother. It won't work with my family and I think well, it works with every family, because it's just the way we all learn. It's optimal for our happiness and our growth as people and our uh, the way we learn. And that's why I think sometimes we I got to unschooling without actually wanting to become unschoolers. We've been there, done that.

Right at the beginning I didn't understand it very well, didn't work out and then. But I didn't. But then we sort of became unschoolers by mistake and I thought, well, if you can get there without even meaning to you, just as a natural uh growth of stop um having, stop forcing kids to do things that are unimportant, or start listening to kids, start respecting each other. If you can get to unschooling just by as a just um, in a natural way, without saying I'm going to be an unschooler, what are the steps I have to do then? I think that it's just part of life. It's not something that we have. If you be a Charlotte Mason, homeschooler or classical, you're deciding to follow these steps, but for unschooling it's just so wrapped up in life that you don't really need a blueprint for it other than to maybe give away all those preconceived ideas that we have and just start listening to ourselves and our kids and we'll get there.

18:03 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Absolutely kids, and we'll get there. Yeah, absolutely I. Last week we had the the joy of interviewing gordon newfeld um, and he's very interesting man. He had written this book called hold on to your kids why parents matter more than peers. And I'm starting. Well, I'm to take it from the top. I'm the classical father slow starter. I let my wife read all the books during the years and she have been in lead of the the family and now, after many, many years, I'm starting to understand more, read more, study more myself about the whole thing about being a parent and non-schooling children are grown up, and half of my children is grown up, so I'm like, ah, you're ready for granddad, I'm getting ready to become a granddad yeah, hopefully um, but there is so much of of unschooling that is a parenting approach that doesn't have to do with the whole learning part of it.

I think the whole learning part of it is minuscule when you go all the way out to unschooling and, as you said, you use time on actually not forcing kids to do stupid stuff you don't want them to and and you start to listening to them and and this whole, and it's very close to the whole attachment theories as well. But there's something in unschooling that I I still just love because it's above being, besides being just also a way of parenting. It is questioning what do you need to learn, when and why, and that part of it I still find very interesting. But sometimes I yeah, I'm talking a little in circles around it. I'm talking a little in circles around it. I'm talking a little in circles around. Sometimes I think that we talk a lot about unschooling, but a lot of the stuff we're actually talking about is parenting more than it has to do with school or learning or teaching, and I started to find that more and more fascinating.

20:23 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
I think you're right there that when I started writing about unschooling, it was more how are we going to cover the maths? How are we going to satisfy homeschool registration requirements? What are my kids learning when we're reading books together? And then over the years I got more and more involved in the unconditional love side, and that is what I feel is at the heart of unschooling. Now is not when we think of unschooling.

A lot of critics think of unschooling as you let your kids do whatever they like, you do whatever you like, and it sounds a little bit in one way exciting and you don't have to answer to anybody, but another way irresponsible, uh, self-centered. If we're only doing what we like, what sort of people are we going to become? And I've thought a lot about how unschooling really is more about giving our kids and ourselves the freedom to choose, to do what is right, instead of forcing our kids to do what is right. They have the freedom to choose what is right, and how do they learn what is right? By their connections with us and our example, and that all sort of boils down to.

I think right at the heart of everything, I'm sure, is unconditional love, and that's not something that I set out with years ago or even read about in other people's writings, and I sat down one day and thought perhaps I've got this wrong. Nobody's speaking about unconditional love. They're talking about all the other things freedom and passions and how kids will learn if they're passionate but nobody's talking about unconditional love. Perhaps I've got it all wrong. I don't think so.

I think there's a hunger there for that, though the number of posts I label as love, and it keeps coming up as a recurring theme, and I think people need love and our kids need that unconditional love, and everything else is based upon that. That when we say we're going to respect our kids, we're going to trust them, we're going to listen to kids, we're going to trust them, we're going to listen to what's important to them, we're going to value their interests. It's accepting them and loving them unconditionally, instead of um saying, giving them this idea that they're only valuable if they do what we say. Um, yeah, I yeah, I've probably got off topic there, but I think that unconditional love should be the topic.

23:13 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
I mean, it is the topic. I think it's a very important thing to start talking about and also for at least for our family. I find it highly unnatural for children to grow up in a context where there is not unconditional love, and that would be the school system. It's one of the reasons. I would always argue that well, maybe not always, maybe in 99% of cases, I would argue that it's better for the child to be at home, no matter what the context is, because at home you have unconditional love, and maybe it's a very thoughtful, elaborate, sweet, peaceful, unconditional love, and maybe it's more chaotic because of circumstances, but at least it's there, and I think that's really the spinal cord of growing up in a way.

There's no way of doing it in a real and and and right way. If you keep being pushed away from that unconditional love every morning and pulled back into it in the evening, and pushed away from it in the morning and pulled back in that, that's a very chaotic emotional journey for children to make every day and actually maybe also for the parents to disconnect, reconnect, disconnect, reconnect. It impairs I wouldn't go so far as to say the love, but it impairs the zone where the love can unfold, which means the experience of the love will be hurt and everybody will be stressed out, and this is probably the backbone. This is probably what it's all about.

Not about education. It's not about whether you read Shakespeare or watch Netflix together or not. Maybe you do both, but in different rooms. It's about do we get to live the life, live our life based on that, soaked in that, with the light of that, because that's how it's meant to be and that's what's ripped apart by this get up in the morning, go to each different places, meet exhausted in the afternoons, emotionally drained, psychologically stressed out. Who can? Why do we ask people to survive that year after year of fear? It's yeah horrible, the.

25:42 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
I came to a point where I realized that we can learn anything anytime whatsoever. Whether we're 6, 12, 20, 80, we can always learn facts and skills. But what we can't do is go back and and gain that foundation of. We can't experience again as children, that foundation of unconditional love that sets us up for everything else in life, that we can have trauma as a child and then we have to work through it and maybe we come to terms with it and we move on. But wouldn't it be so much better if we could give our kids what they needed as they were growing up? And I feel that is the most important thing.

It doesn't really matter about Shakespeare, except for the fact it's connecting us together and we're enjoying it and we're having a, we're discussing stuff and we're talking about life and we're building our connections together, but I always think that it's so sad it well. I'm sure it happens a lot that parents focus so much on grades and education and giving their kids a good start in life. That's what they feel is a good start in life. They can maybe get into university, go off and have a good, secure career and that is the focus but at the same time, ignoring that foundation that they could be giving their kids. They could be ignoring the grades. They could be sitting around the table drinking coffee and having those in-depth discussions. They could be ignoring the maths that nobody thinks is worth learning. Maybe we can't see a need for it now, but focusing on something else that a parent might not think will lead to a career but it probably will and letting kids do that and valuing what's important to a child, and then the child grows in confidence and likes who they are, and then I think we'll sit out into the world with a much better um, yeah, more confidence and that they'll, that they won't be so prone. I maybe they won't be led away from who they actually are by other people because they know who they are, they know what they believe, and beliefs keep changing and opinions change as we all grow.

But to have that confidence to express your opinion and not to go with a crowd, and things that I had to learn and what got me into trouble with my own family at the beginning was I just wanted to be accepted by everybody and liked. And if my children were victims of poor parenting or I didn't listen to them, because I'd rather have listened to the group of mothers who I wanted to be accepted by, well, that was just the way it was until that time when it all became too overwhelming and I thought what am I doing? I'm trying to impress people who are not very important, who won't be part of my life forever, and I'm not listening to my kids, who I've only got in my home for a certain amount of time, who I want to love as much as I can and give all that to them now, because you can't go back. Can you Do you have children that have left home?

29:19 - Jesper Conrad (Host)

29:19 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
One yeah, yeah, and you can't go back, you can't.

29:24 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
They can move back into the family home, but it's not the same. No, you can't go back and reclaim all those years that you could have been building on those connections and showing your love and just making sure not telling as much as showing your kids that they're valuable people and that you think that they're awesome, regardless of the fact the outside world is telling you that don't build up your kids too much. They'll think they're something special, and I think, yeah, all kids are special.

29:59 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
All kids.

30:01 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
Everybody should feel that.

30:03 - Jesper Conrad (Host)

It leads me to talk a little about parental insecurity.

I don't believe I was super ready to become a dad when I became a dad, and maybe nobody is, and maybe we just need to get over ourselves and accept that the child has appeared in our life and we are the best option of a parent this child have and figure out how to be the best parent and the what can be so attractive with the school system and the norm is that when you are sending your kids to kindergarten or daycare or to school, then you kind of know you have done good enough as a parent. That's what you are being told by society that you have done the right choices and the right things. Where to take these choices we have as being home with the children, not outsourcing the everyday care of them to other people. It's a really big choice where you can feel alone and be in doubt if you are good enough as a parent. What would your advice be to parents who are starting this journey and feel this insecurity, because it is wild to become a parent?

31:39 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
It is. I think that the attraction of going along the traditional path is that if things all go wrong, if your kids don't get into university, if they don't get a good job, then it's not your fault as a parent because you did the accepted thing. It must be somebody else's fault, the system's fault, whatever, and that taking all that responsibility upon yourself is a heavy burden. Except I think that if we bring our kids up as unschoolers their education, their upbringing, whatever is their responsibility. It's not really, uh, we don't want to education, for example, you can't force kids to learn, so it's up to them to learn, and we have encouraged and provide the right conditions for learning. But ultimately, maybe it sounds like I'm passing away my parental responsibilities, but I think that if we bring up kids as unschoolers, they take responsibility for themselves, they grow up being responsible. This is what we want for our kids anyway, isn't it? We want to grow kids who become responsible adults.

But the trouble with the system at school, maybe, is that kids don't have a lot of responsibility until they're thrust out into the world as adults and then they have it all upon their shoulders, whereas as unschoolers we're continually passing on responsibility for our children within the safety of the family. They're getting the chance to make mistakes, to make choices. Uh, they might not succeed, but it's safe, we're with them and they're learning as they're growing up. And I've heard a lot of parents say I just can't unschool, because what if my children turn around to me and say, oh look, you didn't do enough for me, I have not prepared for life and I'd feel so bad about it? And I think, well, that's not compatible with unschooling, because our children, in theory, shouldn't say that, because they'll have been brought up with the idea that they're responsible as well, that their happiness doesn't depend on us solely, that we're not there to feed them continually and to make sure they get to the other end. We're working together.

34:15 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
I'm not saying we don't have a role, but we're helping each other and really, also, I think that parents who say this I've heard that exact thing as well many times you know what, if they come back 20 years later and blame me for this and that and really that's the risk no matter what you do exactly risk that the children 20 years later will blame you for something and say why did you do?

That would have been much better if you did something else.

And and as parents, I'm pretty sure all parents do their best and they do what they think is the best thing to do and if you can bring yourself in a position to believe that it is actually the best thing to do to free the children of the school system and allow them to have their personal freedom and grow up in a context of unconditional love, then, yeah, that could be times where it's not so fun and there could be things they missed out on and there could be complaints 20 years later, but it's probably better. I believe it's better. I'm pretty sure it's better. That's why I'm doing it. So I mean that's the answer you can give. That's why a child 20 years later I did this because I was pretty damn sure it was the right thing to do and you had a better life this way than the other way, and there's no going back and doing it all over. So can we talk about something else else? That's the answer for that projected child that will probably, as you say, never come back and say that after being unschooled.

35:54 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
So but if they did, because unschooling isn't perfect and if, as long as we have decided what we believe is the right way to bring up our kids, the way, right way to treat other people, and we've done that to the best of our ability and apologize for mistakes, because we're going to make mistakes but our kids are going to make them as well, so we forgive them, they forgive us. Yeah, we can't do any more, can we? It's never going to be perfect, but as long as we strive, I think, think, to do what we believe is right, and maybe that's look at the um bottom question what do we believe is the right way to treat other people, and especially our children? And then to do that, because I think there is a lot of well, looking back at my early parenting and the way I was as a young adult, there's a lot of things that I cringe about these. You know, how could I have done that? How could I have spoken that way? How?

36:57 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
could I have yelled at my kids regrets, oh yeah, but we learn, don't we? Yeah, yeah, we do.

37:04 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
And then as long as we are continually learning and continually loving and trying to do what we believe is right, then I think, yeah, you say, what if they turn around? Well, the word I like. I love your answer, cecilia that, um, there's too much, I think, of young people turning around and wanting to be victims. You, you, you didn't do enough for me. Well, you go do something for your. What you want to do, we I'll help you, but it's we're not here to fix every single little problem for our kids. They have to um, yeah, they have to take responsibility, I think, especially as adults. It's no good turning around as an adult and saying you didn't do enough for me, well, why didn't you speak up? And we could have done what you would like to have done earlier. It's no good turning around now. I gave you what I believe you needed and now you know I'm here still, just change your pathway. What can we do to help you? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

38:14 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
Unconditional love and teenagers for some people not in our case but there is this general story going on in parenting that oh, when they become teens, they become difficult and oh yeah, just I can't wait till they move away from home. And you know these sayings. People go around and say, and I've never felt that I dreaded the day that our oldest started to live together with her boyfriend and moved away from the nest, started to live together with her boyfriend and moved away from the nest. And I don't think that they have. I haven't had these teenage, none of them have had these teenage rebellion kind of things. Can I ask a question? I'm not saying that teenage years aren't difficult because they are.

39:10 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
A lot of stuff happens and yes, of course, I'm just trying to cut it short because my voice is. What's so different about unschooled teenagers? Why are they so different? That's the interesting question. Because they are. I haven't met unschooling families complaining about teenagers. I haven't met unschooling families with this problem of miscommunication between teenagers and parents. I haven't met unschooling parents. I've met a lot of unschooling parents of teenagers. They don't complain. They don't say they don't understand their teenager, or that everything is conflict or all these things. This story about the horrible teenager is not there. That was what we initially wrote to you about when we started our email conversation. What is it with these teenagers? What's so different?

40:15 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
I think that for many teenagers they're not listened to, and parents, even homeschooling parents like to tell their kids what to think and what to believe because they're afraid that their kids might pick up ideas which the parents don't agree with.

So it's risky listening and accepting what teenagers are thinking and what they want to express. But we've all got to work our own way through things, haven't we? And if we have families where we can sit around the table and discuss things and be open about what we believe and not force our kids to believe what we believe, I think there's more chance that they will believe what we believe because they listen to you and valued. And just thinking back to when I was a teenager at school and I did so I hated it. I just hated my life and I had to do things. I did what didn't want to do. I studied subjects which I was. I was okay, I was pretty clever. I passed my exams. I went to uni. I never did what I wanted to do and I wasn't. I didn't ever have a chance to explore who I was and what I believed and what my opinions were. It was almost like we have to parrot whoever's around us school teachers, whoever, and so I grew up not really knowing who I was and not valuing who I was because I didn't know who I was. And I think that's the difference between our children that they know to a better degree who they are. It's a lifelong process, isn't it? We've talked before we've touched on, I think, in our emails about how unschooling changes parents. We're all growing and changing, so we can't expect our children to know themselves perfectly when they set off into the world and they're going to change their opinions and that. But they have a better idea, I think, of who they are and what they want to do, at least with the first part of their life, because we change our minds about that as well than somebody who's come through the school system and is being forced to go to classes they have no interest in, who don't get time to sit with their parents at night and just have those long conversations over coffee where they know that they're accepted, they can say what they like and just enjoy being part of life.

I think there's a lot of stress, isn't there for the average teenager, and my teenagers didn't have that and I assume yours don't either that maybe some people would say look, that's wrong. Teenagers should be trying to get um, yes, working harder, and you should be forcing your kids to do this, that and the other. They've got to have a career and get on in life, but I think that that's the most important thing is time time to dream, time to think, time to chat with people, time to express opinions and have debates, times of sleep and that's a big one too, isn't it that the average teenager doesn't get enough sleep. They rush, rush, rush time just to enjoy being a teenager. Maybe that's the difference is, our teenagers had time to enjoy being who they were, and they didn't have to spend their life being frustrated or rebellious or whatever, or hiding. I hid a lot of who I thought I was. I couldn't actually explore who I was, but I knew I wasn't what you know. I just wanted the time and the opportunity to be me, and you end up not talking about anything. Really, that's important because you know that you might get shouted down or yeah, and that's, I guess, was where you come back to wanting to be accepted by everybody else because I don't know, you've got to fit in, and teenagers at school have to fit in.

I've noticed something really interesting. I was listening to one of your podcasts about. You were talking about socialization and finding friends for our kids and sometimes it is difficult for our kids to find kindred spirit type friends and one of my children in particular hasn't really found a kindred spirit type friend. One of my children in particular has hasn't really found a kindred spirit type friend and she's working now and she knows lots of people and lots of people her age. The problem is they're not kindred spirit type people. They've gone through the school system. They have different ways of communicating.

Uh, I don't believe that they well, they don't see the world like she sees it. They don't interested in the same sort of things. They use tactics that to make friends like there's all this best friend, you're not my best friend type thing, even though they're adults now, they picked up from school they're, they're not. They mean sometimes that that type of thing. They gossip and I think, yeah, we make our kids different, don't we by unschooled? Well, we don't make them. I think what we do is we allow our kids to be who they're supposed to be and in a way that play those games.

45:49 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
That's the other three times in this conversation. You've mentioned chatting over coffee and I'm smiling, uh inside, because sometimes jesper says you just sit around and drink coffee, and really I mean it's really that's parenting.

And I think sitting around drinking coffee, spending all those hours in conversation, allowing for understanding of the world and how we can be in it and who we are in it to unfold, it's what's different. They have someone to talk to and they know now that we can be their imaginary friend. They can even talk to us when we're not around because they know what probably what we would say. And I think teenagers who live their life in the school system, they learn to become detached from the family. They don't have hours and hours and hours and hours of conversation over coffee in the bank with their parents. They have these conversations with peers who are just as confused about everything. So there is no dynamic going on. It's just everybody's shouting the same word and and who's learning from that?

I think that's the big difference. Of course, they are young and things change when they become teenagers. Clearly it's different from the toddler and it can be very frustrating and confusing, but it's not a conflict. We just sit around even more, drink coffee and chat, because now there's even more to talk about and it's even more important maybe. So what am I really saying? Yeah, the fact of having someone to talk to and having that relation where you, they know that they're okay no matter what. Yeah, they can unfold no matter what. And uh, we were. We're not there to judge them I think.

47:59 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
Do you think that, yeah, do you think that acceptance of what you're talking about will help our children, uh, avoid the problems we I don't know about you, but me in particular and a lot of other parents where we feel the need to fit in with other, our peers, and that we want to be accepted and that we don't?

It's hard to, at least at the beginning, to listen to our children rather than our other parents and outside people, because we're still we still inside us have this need to be accepted, which we didn't get as children well, I didn't get as a child and maybe a lot of other people didn't get as children.

We're still searching for that acceptance and that validation that we're okay.

And do you think that our children because we've had all those coffees and all those chats and we've listened carefully whether we might prevent them from going down the similar pathway and give them the more confidence? And, yeah, just, do you think that that is a possibility that when we talk about how do you get over, let parents come and say, well, how do you have the confidence to do unschooling? How do you go your own way? How do you not worry about the future, whatever, but does it start? Will it be different for our own children? Because we've filled up that need within them of love and acceptance and they won't have to go out into the world and do what we can see a lot of people doing is, um, you see that in teenagers a lot at school, where one person is the cool kid and all the others gather around and want to be to say the right thing, dress the right way so they're accepted into the group.

But I think that happens in parenting as well, that I've been part of groups where I've had to dress a certain way. I've had to.

I wouldn't dare tell my other mothers what I'm reading, for example, because you want to be accepted and because we all need that acceptance, we all need that support and encouragement and friendship and why do we need it?

50:26 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
um, no, no, no, I'm just um. I'm diving deep into gordonufeld's thoughts these days and he's talking about the dangers in having a peer-orientated value system in life, and that is what a lot of our own childhood has been. My childhood was about being accepted by my peers more than my parents. My connections to some of my peers were stronger in the teenage years and those were the ones I looked upon. I reflected myself upon where, in some ways in adult life, I've still done that from time to time, trying to be accepted by my peers, rather than standing in a solid base of love from my parents and the generations above me.

Your first question will our kids be different? Yes, I believe I can see that they stand on knowing themselves in such a deep way that they are not validating themselves too much on what their peers are thinking. They rest them themselves in a way that I'm almost I'm not, almost I am envious of, and I'm trying to learn from them and saying what is it I can take from that? How can I get that rest in myself that they have? And I look so much forward to meeting my grandchildren who have grown up with parents who have that base of trust in themselves and in the unconditional love from their parents and to pass it on to their own kids.

52:21 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
it will be so beautiful I think truly, this got my oh, my god. I can't talk. I would like to say this and then I probably have to stop talking for the rest of the day. I think it goes a little bit deeper. I think we're all different. Some people just have more confidence for many different reasons, for many different reasons.

But I think in order to be part of a social field, we do need to look for acceptance. We do need to show the people that we hang out with, that we are part of for some reason. It could be the soccer club, it could be the local neighborhood, it could be whatever social group that we want to be part of. We need to reach out and show that I'm not dangerous, I'm part of this, I'm willing to be part of this. So we conform and to some extent, I think our children have learned so much about what social life is, why and when they need it, what part of it they need and want and what social groups to interact with, that they know the trade-off.

In this situation, let's say I want to be, I want to be part of. I can't come up with a good one I want to be part of. I can't come up with a good one. I want to be part of this sewing club this summer. Let's say that and for some reason in this sewing club no one swears. They speak very nicely, all of them. So in order to be part of this sewing club where we sew things every Wednesday, I have to watch my mouth, I have to watch my language to speak in a different way, to be part of this. Do I want that? Is that a violation of who I am and is that violation worth it? Can I do it for those three hours once a week so that I can be part of this, and do I want to to those kinds of thoughts about what social life is, how it unfolds and what we need to do to be part of it?

They are on the backbone of our children. They know, maybe even to a more extreme extreme than than most unschooled children, because we also travel. So we keep moving into new cultures, new contexts and we need to talk about. But this is how this is how the game is played here. We can't just come and be who we are. We need to talk about what is so quintessential that it has to always be there so that you feel authentic. And what is this part of your dance today. Could you dance in a different way for the next two weeks? One of our daughters is we have the option of going to egypt, maybe um, to live in cairo cairo how do you say in english?

for somero For some months and one of our daughters. She's refusing because what she knows about Cairo is that she can't walk the streets alone and she's just saying I can visit for a weekend, but I don't want to live for several months in a country where I, as a woman, cannot walk the street on my own. I don't want that and this is the kind of conversation I'm talking about. But now, in a traveling context, it gets extreme, because we can decide whether to go to Egypt or not, based on you know, will she feel that it's a violation of her authentic self, or is it just a little thing that you can change for a few months so that you get an experience? And when it's coming back to the question, when our unschooled children grow up, will they be insecure and need and seek for this affirmation of everyone else liking me to some extent?

Yes, because we all need that social life. We all need to be part of something, and and to be part of it is to be accepted by it. You don't have to be the center, you don't have to be the idolized, extreme, perfect version of it, but you want to be part of it, which means you need acceptance, which means you have to conform. But I think our children have so much experience in deciding when, why and where to conform, and that's the difference, that's the big difference they know. Oh, I can just leave this, I don't need to be part of it.

57:02 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
But it's also because their base value isn't based on the external validation by a class full of people which it was for me when I grew up. There was again this. It was the same group of people. For nine years I needed to feel accepted by because it was eight hours of my life, every day.

57:29 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
Yeah, but you couldn't leave.

57:30 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
That's the thing you couldn't leave.

57:32 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
That's the thing. The school is a prison, and that's what I'm saying. Will our children grow up to have a different confidence, not feel that they need to be accepted? No, they will still need to feel accepted, but they can leave the context if they don't like the context and find another context to be accepted in where they maybe like the version of themselves.

57:53 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
that they get to be accepted in where they maybe like the version of themselves that they get to be.

57:57 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
I need to stop talking.

57:59 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
Maybe it's sometimes we compromise who we are because we want to be accepted and sometimes we're willing to adapt to other people because we make that choice. But the thing I, the situation I come across most and what was my situation, is that when you do things to be accepted by a group who you realize later aren't very important, and you're hurting other people, like our children, so that you're making, you're trying to be accepted by the wrong group of people, if you see what I mean, it seems like the people I wanted to impress didn't turn out to be the important people. The people that I should have been more aware of was my children, and we're talking about teenagers, and as they become young adults, it becomes more obvious that our young children, they have no choice. They're in our families. They, even if we're unschoolers uh, they rely on us a lot.

Then our children grow up to teenagers and young adults and if they don't want anything to do with this, they don't really have to have anything to do with this. And I thought this about this one day and I thought am I this sort of person that I would love my teenagers and my young adults to associate with? Not because I'm their mother, but because they like the sort of person I am and how I relate to them, and so that relationship it became more important than my outside relationships, because my children are more important. I don't think I'm explaining that very well, oh yes, you are.

We spend so long trying to impress other adults and I'm not saying we try and impress our children but we want to be worthy people. We want them to want to know us, to value who we are as well. And of course, we all want our children to follow our example, but sometimes that might look like forcing them to be like us. But we want them to follow who we are because we're trying hard to do what we feel is right. And if they pick up on that and say, hey, mom always tries to speak respectfully to me, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to treat other people with respect. And so, yeah, I just sat down one day and thought what do my young adults think of me and why they're the people that I should be more concerned about? Because, yeah, I want to be the best person I can be for their sakes, not because so I can be accepted into some other group. I've got to be me so that my kids benefit from that.

01:01:06 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
I, I think our the love of our, the unconditional love, if we earn the right to that from our children, if they, they love us because who we are in in regards to them, that is probably the best validation you can get as a parent, as a grown-up and more important than anything else yeah, they don't love us just because we're mom and dad, but they love us because of who we are, not the relationship.

It's a sacred bond we need to honor. They have chosen us and we are here for them. And it's such an honor oh it is. We would love to talk more, but we try to keep our postcard episodes not too long, because it is better for people that we just find a day to chat again.

01:02:02 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
I talk too much.

01:02:04 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
No, you don't, no you don't. I would love one day of just talking unconditional love, just talking about love. I find that could be a very good episode for a podcast. So I hope we can make our schedules work for them.

01:02:23 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
I just had not yesterday, the weekend. Two of my daughters left home and my life is changing again. Oh, it's just so sad. You know they're sort of exciting for them because they're flying off at the same time that connection between us. They're my best friends and they're not coming home in the afternoon after work anymore and it's so hard, yeah, but. I have more opportunity, I think, to do things like this. If we can tee up another time, I'd really love to talk to you again. We should do that.

01:03:05 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
But, now for the sake of the wonderful people listening to this before we find another time to chat. They should know how they could read your stories and get more in-depth knowledge about your work. So if you could be so kind to share the different websites you have and the books you have written so people know where to go. Look for more of Sue Elvis.

01:03:31 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
Well, my main website is storiesofanunschoolingfamilycom. I've been writing there for 14 years, so I've got stories from day one of sort of school age right up to adults, and I have an Instagram account at the moment very tiny stories of an unschooling family, not many followers. I've got a podcast same again, stories of an unschooling family not many followers. Um, I got a podcast same again, stories of an unschooling family, which I started 10 years ago, but I haven't made it an episode recently. And my books, um, curious unschoolers, a radical unschool love and the unschooled challenge, and they're on amazon so I'm easy to find. Sue elvis is an easy name to google oh yes, it is.

01:04:19 - Jesper Conrad (Host)
It is, and we will put in the links in the show notes for everybody listening. And so it's time to say sue, it has been so wonderful spending time together with you, exploring parenting love and all this wonderful unschooling together with you. Thanks a lot for your time.

01:04:37 - Cecilie Conrad (Host)
Thank you so much for asking me, so the next time we speak I will hope my voice is more up for it.

01:04:46 - Sue Elvis (Guest)
Well, I have enjoyed the conversation immensely and I just want to thank you both for the invitation and, yes, I feel so encouraged when I get together with other people and I think that, um, it does. It encourages, encourages us to go out there and share our stories a bit more with other people, doesn't it? When we have conversations like this, instead of just sitting at home and wondering whether what we have to say anybody is interested in listening to you. So, thank you, thanks a lot.


#64 Sue Patterson | UnschoolingMom2Mom - Connect more with your kids
#66 Sue Elvis | Live a radical life of unconditional love


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