Holidays and Unschooling – When Relatives Put You On the Spot

Holidays and unschooling - when relatives put you on the spot

Ahh... the Holidays and unschooling.

It can sometimes be a difficult combination!

Podcast Transcript

Many new unschoolers are facing their first holiday season using this unconventional approach to homeschooling. Even if you’re still only “kind of” unschooling, or “almost” unschooling, you may have some nervousness as the holiday get-togethers approach.

Maybe you've been *okay* with how things are going - but not at a strong enough spot to withstand a lot of scrutiny!

So I have a few tips to get you through it this week - and this season.

I’m Sue Patterson, from Unschooling Mom2Mom.
My own kids are grown now, 32, 30, and 27! And they’re all coming back this week to do Thanksgiving together. One lives nearby but the oldest is in Dallas, and the middle child lives in Burbank.

But I remember CLEARLY how uneasy I felt when we first started out. And… I even remember getting a little further into it and feeling kind of blindsided when I THOUGHT I was confident, but I wasn’t ready for the pointed questions. I’d either get too defensive, or freeze up. So I have some tips for you this week.

Pass the Bean Dip

And the first tip is called Pass the Bean Dip.

You may have heard about this through various social media, but it’s a tried-and-true approach that really works. I heard it first in the 90s - and I think it actually came from some Church Potluck conversational technique that kept everything superficial and pleasant. Remember back when THAT was the way to be in the world? It was taboo to talk about religion or money or politics! Or really anything that made people uneasy or feel exposed. But that’s not the case anymore and your choice to unschool may well cause someone to ask something and then the room falls silent as all eyes turn to you!

But this first technique, Pass the Bean Dip, is a diversion tactic.
It starts with that supposedly innocuous

“So. How the homeschooling going?”

Give a quick little answer like,

“We’re figuring it out.”
“Pretty good, actually.”

Practice saying it with confidence. In the mirror if you have to!

And then, look around and ask them to pass you something that’s closeby. Like bean dip. Or chips. Or whatever shifts you out of the hot seat and tosses the conversation in another direction... to something benign… like the food, or the weather, or the local football team.

Shift Convo to THEIR Kids

Another really good conversation shifter is to ask them about their kids. Something specific, like,

“How’s Abby doing with volleyball this year?”

“What’s Sean into these days?”

Usually, people are only asking about your kids as a conversation starter. And, truth is, they’d rather talk about their own kids than yours. So move the conversation in that direction.

2 Tips for the Kids

1 - Talk to your kids about how to answer the question,

“What grade are you in?”

It’s really easy to just pick the grade level that corresponds with their age.
Or, if they’re less timid, they could say,

“Well, I’m probably about 4th grade in Math, 6th grade in Language Arts, but 7th grade in Science!”

...Just for fun and give everyone a moment to pause and think about what that means!
You could add in,

“Yes, we have a lot of flexibility with how we’re approaching it all.”

2 - Talk to the kids about how to respond to the age-old question,

“What’s your favorite subject?”

Yes, they COULD say “Minecraft.” Of course, all eyes will dart your way when they do. You could shrug, laugh it off, or simply nod in agreement, amused at the comment. Or, if the goal is to get out of the hot seat as soon as possible, thinking of a more traditional answer might be helpful.

“I’m really into Science,”

when they’re spending a lot of time with their pets or going on occasional nature walks, or even enjoying watching the clouds roll in. Science covers SOOO many topics that your kids might actually be playing with - and they may not realize that that falls under the “Science” category! So help them with that part.

“I love technology - the problem-solving, the research to figure things out. It’s awesome to have time to think about possible solutions.”

You get the idea.


Other Parents and THEIR Issues

Remember that your responses MIGHT unleash the fears your friends and family have about this educational choice. Sometimes they’re worried about you and your kids, and sometimes it’s really all about them. They can’t imagine how they could do what you’re doing - they certainly haven’t researched it the way you have - so it’s pretty much unfathomable to them. This may lead them to say things like:

“I could never…”
“Don’t you worry about…”
“How do they have any friends?”

For “I could never” - you could say,

“Yeah, it’s not for everyone.”

Be kind. Let them off the hook.

For “Don’t you worry about…” - you could say,

“I do sometimes. But the internet gives so much information when you know where to look!”

For the friends question,

“Well, it has been a little harder with the Pandemic - for everyone really. But they have dance, park days, online friends… and that seems to be working for us right now.”

Just think about what they’ll probably ask - and it may be the same questions you had initially. And without going into a big lecture - because they really don’t want that! - what’s a quick answer?

It’s perfectly ok to say,

“I hadn’t thought about that. I’ll look it up when I get home.”


“We’re doing this until it stops working - but for now, it’s working.”


“Are you just curious, or do you want me to send you some resource links?”

Because while WE may feel defensive, they may really be unhappy with their situation too. You never know!

You can always point them to the podcast - the “What IS unschooling?” podcast is the second one I did.

And if you need more help, you can join my membership group. Surrounding yourself with parents - and me! - might be the hand-holding you need.

And this week, the Jumping into Unschooling Course is $50 off. Use the Discount code: UM2M50 You may just need to get a better grasp on how unschooling works. Pull it to the front of your mind so you’ll be more confident.

So… Thats’ it for me.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving this week or not, I hope this week goes the way you’d like it to go. Sometimes a little focus on what COULD happen, can help it go well. That pretty much goes for any interactions, right? I’ll be back again next week.

Happy Unschooling. Enjoy your family.

More Resources to Help You...

Join Sue's Membership Group!

You don't have to do this alone!

Jumping Into Unschooling Course

Use Discount Code: UM2M50 for $50 off!

Unschooling Guide: Critics & Naysayers

A PDF to help you conquer the critics!

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