S6 E27 | The 8 Mindsets Essential for Success in Life and Learning (Julie Ross with Michelle Brownell)
Calm, curiosity, compassion, clarity, creativity, confidence, courage, and connection. In this episode, Michelle Brownell dives into the mindsets that are so important for parents to understand and embrance when it comes to homeschooling their children. Embracing these eight essential mindsets will not only impact the way you interact with your children, but it will also change the way you care for yourself. Join Julie and Michelle for this conversation packed with valuable information on mental health, family relationships, and home education.
Michelle is a wife, mother, home educator, consultant, and speaker. She has been supporting parents for more than ten years in the social, emotional and academic areas of development. She is currently the homeschool specialist for Bright & Quirky, an international online community for parents with kids who are twice-exceptional. She is the founder of Homeschool Essentials Plus, an online support community for parents home educating their children. She loves bringing in the latest information on parenting, education and mental health to parents who are home educating their kids.
As a speaker and consultant Michelle shares from the heart of her own challenges raising strong willed and differently wired kids and how becoming resilient and an expert in her own children helps them thrive and learn. She is passionate about encouraging, empowering, and equipping parents to advocate for and connect with their children through their homeschool journey.
She helps homeschool parents go from a place of overwhelm, burn out and stress to a place of clarity on what matters most in their family, confidence and calm & connection with their child. You can connect her at www.homeschoolessentials.net lives in Florida with her husband of 27 years. Together they parent and homeschool their two children, ages 16 and 14, who they adopted at birth. She enjoys reading, family bike rides on the trails, tinkering in the garden and traveling in their RV.
Julie H. Ross believes that every child needs a feast of living ideas to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. As a former school teacher, curriculum coordinator, and assistant director of a homeschool academy, Julie has worked with hundreds of students and parents over the past 20 years. She has also been homeschooling her own five children for over a decade. Julie developed the Charlotte Mason curriculum, A Gentle Feast, to provide parents with the tools and resources needed to provide a rich and abundant educational feast full of books, beauty, and Biblical truth. Julie lives in South Carolina. When she’s not busy homeschooling, reading children’s books, hiking, or writing curriculum, you can find her taking a nap.
Homeschool Essentials Plus - an online support community for parents to help start and sustain the homeschool journey
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Julie Ross Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show, a podcast dedicated to discussing Ms. Mason's philosophy, principles and methods. I'm your host, Julie Ross, and it is my hope that each episode will leave you inspired and offer practical wisdom on how to provide this rich, living education in your modern homeschool. So pull up a chair. I'm glad you're here. As you're well aware, it's open enrollment season. That means you're probably lost in a mountain of paperwork and doing PhD level research to find a healthcare option that is the best fit for you and your family. Well, I have good news for you. Our friends at Medi-Share are the most trusted name in healthcare sharing, and members save 50% or more per month on their healthcare costs. To learn more, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. Here's a riddle for you parents: homeschoolers love them, enemies of freedom hate them. What are they? It's the Tuttle Twins books. With millions of copies sold, the Tuttle Twins help you teach your kids about entrepreneurship, personal responsibility, the golden rule and more. Get a discounted set of books with free workbooks today at TuttleTwins.com/homeschool. All right. Now on to today's show.
Julie Ross Hello, everyone. Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show. I'm your host, Julie Ross, and I am so excited today to be here with Michelle Brownell from Homeschool Essentials. Hi, Michelle.
Michelle Brownell Hey, Julie. I'm so excited to be here.
Julie Ross Yeah, I'm so glad to have you. So I met Michelle at the Florida Homeschool Convention. Her booth was across her mine, and it was also colorful and fun and knew I had to go over and say hey. And you gave me a card with the kind of essential mindsets that you all talk about. And I was like, "Yes! This is—" A) I love it when things—what's it called when they all start with the same letter? Alliteration, right?
Michelle Brownell Yes.
Julie Ross So I loved the way you made it all start wtih the letter "C." I was like, this is easy to remember. But just the focus on that. And so I've been wanting to have you come on ever since I met you in Florida. I'm excited that we're doing it this time of year, because I think as people are starting in their year, we can get so focused on all the little details of, you know, what subject am I going to do first? and what math curriculum should I be using? and let me eliminate all these little pieces. And we can get overwhelmed and we lose sight of what is actually really going to make the most difference. And that is our mindset. So again, thank you for coming on and talking to us today about this subject.
Michelle Brownell Yeah, I'm thrilled to be here. This is something I'm really passionate about and something I could talk forever on.
Julie Ross Well, go. Well hopefully we won't talk forever. I'm kidding. Before we started recording, I'm like, yeah, we could do a podcast episode on all of the eight mindsets you have, but we're just going to touch on some of them here. But before we get started, can you just tell everyone a little bit about who you are and kind of your journey and where you're at and what you're doing currently?
Michelle Brownell Sure. Yes. So I am Michelle. I have been married to my husband, Jaren, for 27 years. We have two kiddos who we were blessed with through the miracle of adoption. We adopted them at birth, and they are now ages 16 and 13. We were one of those crazy couples that knew we wanted to homeschool while we were simply dating. It was a conversation we had before we even got married.
Julie Ross That's an important conversation.
Michelle Brownell Yeah! We wanted to have a tailored education for our kids, one that met their unique needs and abilities, but also focused on strengths and interests. We had no idea when we first started that our kids would grow up to have significant learning challenges that we had to navigate through and just kind of learn and discover about how they learned and how they learned best. And it really lent itself to an out of the box way of educating where they wouldn't have thrived in a traditional setting without jumping through a gazillion hoops. So yeah, we've just—we've homeschooled from the beginning. We've learned—I've learned more from my kids. I know we talk about that a lot in the homeschool journey. But yeah, and I've always been involved in the community. So at the time that my kids were little, I ran a moms group. You know, we had kids later in life, so all of our friends had had their kids already. So when my kids were born, I was like, "Okay, Lord, I need friends that have kids my age." And he opened the door for this ministry that grew to over a hundred women with all their kids. So we got to navigate through that and make connections through that ministry. We started homeschooling together and joined a homeschool co-op and I got involved in that, led some co-ops with that. Through that, I was invited to speak through different parent groups and homeschool communities. There's a group of us that put together a local, smaller homeschool conference. It's like a mini state conference just in our local area. And so that's been a fun journey to go on. And most recently I have been a parent and homeschool coach in another online community called Bright and Quirky. It's a community for parents with kids that are what we call twice exceptional, where they're both gifted but have learning challenges at the same time. And not everybody in that community homeschools. So I was brought in specifically during COVID when everybody was homeschooling. They're like, "We don't know what we're doing. We need help." And I've just continued to stay on in there. And then being involved in that community, the founder there encouraged me to step out and start a similar community for homeschoolers. So that's how Homeschool Essentials came to be.
Julie Ross Okay. Wow. But that is quite the journey. Thank you so much for sharing that. That's so great that, you know, it's so amazing how God just knows what we need and what our kiddos are going to need and he fits all of those pieces together, and to look back and see that I think sometimes we forget to—we get so focused on being in the trenches of our current circumstances that we forget the goodness of all the ways that he's kind of knit everything together. So that is a super cool story. Tell us a little bit, what does Homeschool Essentials do?
Michelle Brownell So we are an online community for parents to kind of come alongside and support and encourage each other in the journey. We do a monthly masterclass where we bring in something similar to this, where I interview an expert in either parenting, education or mental health, which is part of the essential mindsets. Mental health has become a big component of what we do to just reduce the stress and help us engage more authentically with our kids and in a thriving place. And then we do group coaching. So we get on just in a Zoom room where we get together, and we're really focused on celebrating the wins and supporting the struggles. So we want to wire in the good that's happening in our days, as well as have a safe place to share the struggles where we can get support and encouragement from each other. I do interviews with other homeschoolers on what's working in your homeschool, which is always fun to hear. Everyone brings something new to the table when they share what they're doing in their homeschool. And then we do have a licensed mental health therapist who comes on once a month and we call that our "ask anything." So members can submit questions ahead of time, whether it's on parenting, mental health, stress, anxiety, relationship, issue, anything. And then we also have areas where we dove into a particular topic focused on mental health with him.
Julie Ross That is so great. I'm so glad you're doing it. It is so essential (like my pun?) to the homeschooling community and I've definitely seen that as I'm out and about and talking to people, just the need for A) that community, especially with people who sometimes don't live in a place where they have that community or they have a family situation where they're not able to physically go out and meet people in the community for that purpose. So that is so great that you are providing just that community piece, but the mental health and the mindset piece is huge. I don't know if you're familiar with the 80/20 rule, and I tell people this all the time, like 20% of your success in homeschooling is going to be your curriculum, what you're doing every day, you know, those details. 80% is going to be your mindset and how you show up. So focusing on your mental health is so key and so important, and kind of working through your own thoughts and approaching things differently. So that is such a great tie in to kind of these essential mindsets. How did you come up with this eight list of things?
Michelle Brownell Yeah. Well, and just to circle back to what you said, one of the passions I have is to normalize mental health. You know, it's this taboo topic, especially in Christian communities where, you know, God should be enough. And he is. He's more than enough. But sometimes we face a situation where we need an expert who understands how God wired our brains. And that's really what mental health does. It helps us understand the truths and the creation of how God designed us. And it brings us to a place of living in that authentic place that God wants us to be. And sometimes we just need help getting there and doing that. And that should be okay to say, "I need help."
Julie Ross Absolutely.
Michelle Brownell So these essential mindsets, they came actually out of a very difficult time that our family was facing, and I was barely surviving. I'll never forget the moment that my son—he was 11, so fourth grade-ish—and he was sitting on our window seat with a clipboard in his hand and his shoulders were kind of hunched over and he looked at me with tears down his eyes and he said, "I hate school."
Julie Ross Aw.
Michelle Brownell And I was devastated.
Julie Ross Of course.
Michelle Brownell I was like, one of the reasons why we homeschool is to instill a love of learning. How could you hate school? But I realized in that moment—because he's a voracious reader, he's a curious kid, he's just nonstop looking for new things to discover—it wasn't that he hated school or hated learning, but he was hating how he was feeling in that moment. He was overwhelmed with stress. He was overwhelmed with pressure. And he didn't like that feeling. And because that feeling was taking over his body, he wasn't open to being able to learn and absorb the things. And learning was more pressure. So rewind or back up to several months prior to that, my brother had died in a sudden accidental overdose and he was 42 at the time. It had unleashed a tsunami of family drama and family trauma and kind of just opened up the floodgates of just a lot of things to process. And my brother also took over—he ran my parents business, my mom and my stepdad had a business here locally, and he ran that. And after he passed, my mom couldn't cope to be able to run the business. So they had asked myself and my husband to step in and help out with the business, which we did. And we were also navigating just all the family issues that had come up through that. And I mean, it was one of those situations where my husband and I facilitated the funeral because there was so much animosity between the people there that we couldn't have a pastor come in and do it. And we also had to have police present. Like, that's how—it was intense. It was a really intense time.
Julie Ross Yeah, that's really intense.
Michelle Brownell So we were navigating through all that, through the grief. You know, we call it complicated grief when other things like that kind of happened. And I ended up—so my son's entire world changed. All that to say, he lost his uncle, I ended up having to go to work and take care of the family business, his grandma checked out, we ended up moving, my husband got a job as a worship pastor and we changed churches, and we changed the way we homeschooled.
Julie Ross Oh wow! Yeah, that's a lot happening all at one time.
Michelle Brownell Yes! Yes. We changed the way we homeschooled because I had to work so I was no longer able to go to our co-op because I couldn't stay all day and volunteer. I found a place where there was like a one day drop off, so they were able to go and get work assigned to them that I could just oversee at home, which again added to the stress because that's not how we normally homeschooled. So lots of things changed. And when I saw the light go out in his eyes, that's when I knew I needed to get some help. That's when I knew this was more than I was able to handle at the moment. I wanted to get back to a place of thriving. So I did one—and to this day, I say it's one of the bravest things I ever did, was I called in and met with a counselor. At that time, we're grounded in our community, we have an amazing marriage, I have close friends, I exercised, I ate well, I was in the Word all the time, but I still needed something more. And like we talked about at the beginning, I needed someone to help me unravel all the trauma that was going on in my brain. So I got this office—
Julie Ross Do you mind if I interrupt you for just one second?
Michelle Brownell Yeah, sure.
Julie Ross Thank you so much for sharing all that. I know that is very brave and sometimes very hard to talk about things. We've been doing this whole series on homeschooling through life's challenges, and I have just so appreciated everyone's honesty and vulnerability, really. But everyone who has come on has just advocated for getting help, getting a counselor, going to see your doctor. The amount of effort it takes to wade through that trauma by yourself and —honestly, it becomes too much for most people. You know, I think we think we have to just pull up our bootstraps and push through it. And that is actually, in my opinion, a sign of weakness. It takes more strength to say, "I need help here." And I've just—yeah, I've loved this whole series we've done. So I appreciate you sharing that with us. Thank you.
Michelle Brownell Yeah. And why it takes more courage is because you become vulnerable. You're vulnerable when you say, "I need help." But that vulnerability opens you up to deeper connections and deeper understanding of who you are and who the people are in your life. Because we weren't meant to be alone. We weren't meant to go through those things alone. We were meant to be connected in a community with each other to do that. The best way I can describe where I was at when I went to go see him was I was walking a tightrope, because I was trying to do everything. I was trying to create life as normal and keep going. And I was on a tightrope. On one side of me was the pit of depression and on the other side of me was the grip of anxiety. I was trying to do everything I could to stay on this this tightwire, to not fall over. They call it in the psychology world, they call it the window of tolerance. I didn't have any window of tolerance. I couldn't take anything more.
Julie Ross Right.
Michelle Brownell So I sat in his office and he introduced to me what he calls the eight C's of regulation. And I'll go ahead and read them out to you so people have a context of what we're talking about. Calm, curiosity, compassion, clarity, creativity, confidence, courage and connection. And he had these posted on his board. I sat there week after week in his office and looking at all of those "C"s and I was like, "I am not any one of those. That is not where I am at." And all I wanted to be was in that place. And I ended up printing those out at home and I put them on my wall so that I could see them every day. So it created kind of like this compass and this roadmap to get back to just who I want to be. And what I learn through the process of working with him is that when our brains are overloaded with stress, we can't operate in these areas because the brain is wired for connection and safety. It's number one job is to keep us safe. So when we're onslaughted by stress and all that stuff, we're trying to stay safe, we're not able to operate in all these other areas. But what these areas do is they help us live in our authentic self. So now it's become this other roadmap for me that when I'm not able to be compassionate, I can ask myself, "Why, what's going on?" You know, and we get into this—so when we're in survival mode, we can't thrive. So these are kind of thriving systems, like these are where we're able to just be connected and be energized and be going. But when we're just in surviving, our brains can't open themselves up to that. The other thing I thought was really interesting was that positive emotion is not necessary for survival because our brain is just wired to keep us safe.
Julie Ross Right.
Michelle Brownell It's not wired for us to be happy.
Julie Ross Often our brains are wired to find what's wrong. Naturally. It's much easier—
Michelle Brownell Yes! Because it wants to keep us safe.
Julie Ross Right.
Michelle Brownell Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's looking for the threat. It's looking for the threat.
Julie Ross And when you're in survival mode, you're in that kind of constant state of fight or flight or freeze. You can't move past that and you have to work through that to get to these places, you know? So if you're not in that survival mode—I called it with my life experience ground zero. Like I'm starting here, it's shock. Like I can't function mode, you know. And once you kind of have the tools to work through that, then it's—these mindsets become super helpful to kind of have a pathway to move forward.
Michelle Brownell Yeah. And they're actually what shift us from living in survival mode to thriving, because it's those positive emotions and it's those deeper levels of operating and thinking and states of being that help us get out of that fight, flight or freeze and "I'm just here to survive" to "Okay, now I can thrive and I can be." And so we took—after living through all those and kind of understanding more about how our states of being are and those, my husband and I together took those eight "C"s and kind of translated them into what does it look like when we show up in our home school? What does it look like when we show up for our kids? And we worded them in a way that allows us to kind of see either an action that we can take or the opposite of what we want to be. So with finding calm it's 'find calm for the anxious thoughts and futuristic worries.' Like when we get to that place where—there's an author, I forget his name off the top of my head now, he wrote The Self-Directed Child. But he talks about being a non-anxious presence in your child's life.
Julie Ross Yes.
Michelle Brownell We can't be calm and anxious at the same time. It's a contradiction. We can't do that. So when I start to feel anxious—and where it starts is noticing it in your body. Cause a lot of times we're so busy going through life, we don't even realize we're anxious. We're just living in this hyperarousal state. Yeah, but when we start to notice like, "Okay, my stomach feels tight, my shoulders are tense, my hands are clenched." Then we can kind of just be like, "Okay, I'm not calm right now. I need to get to a place of calm." And I like to put my hand over my chest and just kind of take these deep breaths, because breath and breathing is one of the quickest ways that we can get our brain out of the fight, flight or freeze and into a place of calm. Then it just allows me to to think about my thoughts. So I know you talked about this, I think recently in your Getting Out of the Ruts—I remember that podcast I listened to not too long ago. But just that idea of when I get anxious and I have these futuristic worries, I can take those thoughts captive.
Julie Ross Yes. So important.
Michelle Brownell And I can decide if these are thoughts I want to hold on to. Are they serving me? Are they helping me in this moment? Or are these thoughts I can let slide and just release and let go and be able to come back to that place of calm? And it really starts with calm because if we're not calm, we can't engage in these other areas. The other one is 'become curious.' So curiosity is the opposite of critical. Which I just found fascinating. Are we critical about ourselves? Do we beat ourselves up and say, "Oh, I can't believe you did this?" Or we kind of have this critical, judgmental component on ourselves because, again, we're looking for what's wrong. But if we can get to a place of becoming curious, it changes everything, even with our kids, because we're not critical about what our kids are doing. There's another author, Dr. Ross Greene, he talks about, "Kids do well if they can." And another thing he says a lot that I love is, "Your kid is not giving you a hard time, he's having a hard time."
Julie Ross Yep. I heard that. And it changes—the language we use is so powerful in what we're telling ourselves about ourselves, but also we're telling ourselves about—I call it making up stories—about what's happening. I love the curiosity piece because oftentimes I just I'll make up a story or assume something, but if I take the time to get curious, my perceptions are way off. And what I thought was actually happening, wasn't actually happening. I can make something about myself that is totally not actually the situation. My kid isn't giving me a hard time, they're having a hard time—just changing that verb makes a huge difference in my perception. Now I'm curious. Now I want to know what's going on rather than making it about me and taking it personally.
Michelle Brownell Yes! Yes. Because we do, we tend to take it personally because, you know, when our kids get into a stressed state, they're reactive.
Julie Ross Just like I am.
Michelle Brownell And who are they going to react to? Yeah. They're going to react to us because we're there safe place, you know? And when we're in a state of stress, we're reactive to our kids, too. And I think that's why being able to have these mindsets of—we'll get to compassion in a minute, but that's a whole nother piece, too—and I know you talked about that as well—but when we are able to be curious, we can ask the questions, well, why is this happening? what were you thinking in this moment? what do you need right now? And I think the beauty of that is when we ask our kids these questions, they may not even know themselves until they pause and take a moment to start to be curious, too. "Well, I didn't realize I acted that way, Mom. And it's because of, you know, the neighbor kid did something to me and I'm upset by it." You know, whatever it is. But then it gives our kids a chance to grow and become self-aware of what their emotions are speaking to them and how they're reacting out of their heightened emotional state.
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Julie Ross With the curious piece—and I talked about this recently, I just did an assembly for middle and high school kids, which actually is more terrifying than speaking to a group of adults, I found. I was like, "Oh, I'm back at middle school." But I was teaching on Pslam 42 where he asks, "Why are you downcast on my soul?" And if you read the Psalm, I mean, the guy's talking about how his enemies are pressing him, he's in mortal agony, his tears are his food day and night, like his life is not rainbows and unicorns here. So you're like, well, that's why you feel downcast, you know? But he's questioning, he's curious. He's asking the question of himself, "Why am I feeling this way?" You know? And that to me is such a profound question that we need to be asking, in terms of taking those thoughts captive. Part of that is, A) realizing we're having this thought. So most of the time, like you're saying with the finding calm, if we're so busy, we don't even recognize the things that we are thinking on a regular basis. So it takes that slowing down, but also just the questioning, "Why am I feeling this way?" Yeah, I just wanted to throw that in there.
Michelle Brownell Yeah. And just to preference, we can't be curious and be stressed at the same time. They just can't coexist. So. Yeah. And then, you know, having compassion on ourselves. So as much as, you know, we live and breathe and I know these things, I still—I'm learning it and messing up every day. But I'm learning to have that compassion. So, you know, the idea of having self-compassion not only for yourself, but for your child. You can't really have it for other people, though, unless you truly, authentically feel it for yourself. And I love how God describes himself as the father of compassion. If we truly understood how compassionate he is towards us—there's a the story in Exodus when Moses asks him to reveal himself. And when God reveals himself, one of the things He reveals is that I am full of mercy and compassion. That is the essence of his being. It's the essence of who he is, and it's what he envelopes us in. And yet we are some of the most critical and judgmental people on ourselves. I'm one of them. And if I beat myself up, I'm going to be critical and judgmental of the people around me because I can only operate of what's inside of me. I can't operate from an external point. So, you know, Kristin Neff is like the guru of self-compassion. And one of the things that I love that she talks about is having a self-compassion break. It's this idea when a day is hard—because we can get into that mindset of, okay, today was a really rough day in homeschooling, we didn't get anything done, the kids aren't listening to me, I must be failing miserably and I shouldn't be doing this anymore because I'm just not doing it well.
Julie Ross Yep, been there.
Michelle Brownell But instead—yeah. I used to sit at the kitchen sink and just cry with tears down my face and say, "I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this." And then I remember at one point the Holy Spirit whispered to me and he said, "But can you trust me?" And so I changed my I can't to I trust. I trust that you are with me. I trust that you are getting me through this. But that idea of the self-compassion break, is being able to to pause in that and not dismiss what's hard in our life, but to truly say today was a hard day, you know, it was a really struggle that my kids just didn't cooperate with me today. I planned all these great lessons and I thought we were going to have a great day and nothing went as I had planned. That really hurt. It was hard. But then to say, I know I'm not alone in this. I know there's other homeschoolers out there that some of us are having good days and some of us are having hard days. That there's someone else sharing—you know, Jesus talks about sharing in the suffering of others. It just brings a commonality that you're not alone, that it's okay to go through that. And then having these mantras like, changing the I can't to I trust. And intentionally wiring in the good in our life to say this may have been a hard day, but I still showed up for my kids. And so you're still able to have that compassion because you're acknowledging it was hard, but you're also acknowledging that you did something in the moment. And that—just the more we nurture that in ourselves, the more we're able to be that for our kids.
Julie Ross Yeah, that's so good. The first part of that compassion journey for me, my counselor recommended this, but I put a picture of myself as a little girl on my mirror. And she would say, "When you start beating yourself up, I actually want you to go look at that picture and say those things." Well, I couldn't do it. But I can say it to grown-up me in the mirror or grown-up me in my own head all the time, right? But when you see this little person, you're like, I can't say that. That's horrible, you know? But it's like, this is still you. You're still saying this to yourself. And, you know, especially as moms, we're so good at comforting other people. We're so good at comforting our children, you know? And when our children are sad or they're having a bad day, you know, we can take them in our arms, we can rock, we can sing, we can distract. We do all these things to comfort them, and so we need to learn to do those soothing things for ourselves as well. Yeah, the self-compassion part is so key.
Michelle Brownell Yeah. And even though—what would you tell a girlfriend? Like if your friend called you up on a day like you just had, what would you say to her? Say those same things to yourself. And, you know, circling back to what you said about the little girl, that actually was a pivotal moment for me. When I, through my counseling journey, he walked me through a situation that happened to me in my youth and being able to see myself as that little girl, and instead of judging that it was my fault, I was able to say, "Wow, I'm so sorry that that happened to you." I was able to tell myself that. And it changed everything for how I'm able to operate in a state of compassion. Yeah, it's huge. If that's all we work on after today, let's work on being compassionate to ourselves.
Julie Ross Amen. I love it.
Michelle Brownell Yeah. Even the hand over my chest—like, when I was sitting in his office, and he was like, "Just put your hand over your chest and tell yourself it's okay." My hand was shaking, I couldn't even do that because it felt so foreign to take care of myself. I grew up taking care of everybody else around me. And as moms, that's what we do. So have a self-compassion break every day. Every day. Whether you need it or not, because you're building reserve for when you do need it. So, gain clarity is the other one. 'Gain clarity for choices and decisions.' Again, we can't have clarity when we're not calm. The idea of clarity comes from the opposite of decision fatigue and overwhelm and too many choices. And when we're overwhelmed, when the brain is in that state and being flooded with that overwhelm, there's all the different hormones and stuff that are surging through the brain that inhibit clarity, inhibit decision making. There's a story—Brené Brown gives a story in her book, Atlas of the Heart. She talks about being in the service in—the restaurant business. When you get overwhelmed as a server—I don't know if you read this or not in her book—
Julie Ross Yeah, I did. And I was a server, so I totally relate.
Michelle Brownell Okay, so you get it. Okay. Well, as a server, when you're operating and you're managing tables and stuff, you can get overwhelmed. And I forget what the one code word is when you come in and you need help. It's like when you're at that first layer of help that you need, and then someone will step up and take care of this table or that table. But then there's a phrase that a server will walk into the kitchen, and all they have to do is say, "I'm blown." And that means I can't handle anything else. I can't cope. I'm done. And everyone in the kitchen just stops what they're doing and that server is able to go into the bathroom and do nothing, or go step outside and do nothing. Like nobody needs to say anything or she doesn't need to give direction to anybody, and everybody else steps up and takes care of what she needs. Sometimes when we're in that state of overwhelm, and my husband and I say this all the time: one of the most productive things we can do is nothing.
Julie Ross Yes. Yes, absolutely.
Michelle Brownell You know, we're tempted to want to fix everything and make a decision and make it better. You know, we just we got some bad news earlier this week or was it last week on Monday? And, you know, we got some lessons and stuff done, but I just wasn't able to focus and concentrate. And I looked at my husband, I'm like, "Can we go to Epcot?" We live in central Florida. I'm like, "Can we just like after lunch, go to Epcot for the afternoon?" He said, "Whatever you need."
I'm so jealous. I wish we could just do that in the afternoon.
Well, I will tell you, this is how desperate I was because I hate Florida heat. Like I don't go outside in Florida. So it's mid-August and I wanted to go outside. So that's how bad it was. But it was decent weather and it was in the late afternoon, early evening. But it was that idea of I wasn't going to be any good anyway. I needed to get out. I needed to do something to take care of myself. And sometimes it's just a simple walk. When you get overwhelmed, change your location, go for a walk, call a friend, sit and have a cup of tea. Give yourself permission to take a break, because then you'll get that clarity.
Julie Ross Yeah. And Charlotte Mason talks about that all the time, right? That the mothers would do better if they do with their children—for their children to go out and play. You know, and I think moving your body helps a ton because, maybe it is me, but when I get overwhelmed I'm in my head and I'm overthinking everything. And oftentimes it helps me if I write everything that I'm thinking out. All the thoughts, all the feelings, all the to-dos. Just dump it all on a piece of paper. Because what happens is I get overwhelmed because I'm thinking about the same things over and over and over again. It might just be like actually three things I actually have to do, but because I've thought about them 7,000 times, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I have a million things to do." But it's really actually three. So once I actually write them down, I was like, "Oh, I don't actually need to be overwhelmed about all of that." And I think that's part of that gaining clarity, is being able to see things clearly for what they are and not being in that overwhelmed. But then also because I'm in my head, I have to bring myself back into my body, and that means I have to go for a walk or put on a song and dance around or do something like that to just center myself.
Michelle Brownell Yeah. And I love that you touched on writing things down when it comes to clarity, because the beauty of our brains being able to write something down is when they're in our thoughts, they're just floating around in space. There's nothing anchoring the thoughts. So when we put them in writing, it ingrains in our brain that those thoughts are in a safe place and they're not going to be forgotten about, and those tasks are going to be taken care of because we've put them somewhere safe. So I think sometimes that overthinking and that processing is us trying to hold on to something we might forget or figure—problem solve and figure something out. Confidence and courage kind of go together. It's this idea that if you're in this state of stress and anxiety, you're inhibited to take risks. Because, again, the brain is wired for safety. So confidence and courage takes us getting out of our comfort zone and doing something that's new and unfamiliar. And this is why I think it's—I'll touch on confidence first because the way we like to phrase confidence is just finding your abilities and knowing your worth.
Julie Ross I love that. That's so good.
Michelle Brownell Yeah. So when we are inhibited by stress, we're in that negative thought pattern. And when we're in that negative thought pattern, our negative thoughts go towards ourselves. I'm not good enough. I can't do this. I don't know what I'm doing. Someone else is doing this better than I am. What was I thinking? Those are the thoughts and the places we go to. But if we can really understand our worth in who God said we are and what we're capable of doing and the true abilities that He's given us, and some of those abilities we may not know we have until we have confidence to take the risk and step out and try something new.
Julie Ross That is so true.
Michelle Brownell And I'm right there with—the first time I spoke—I was asked to speak or do an interview with somebody, I broke out into hives because I was so nervous because I had never done it before. But I was at that place where I was like, I'm not going to let fear stop me. I'm going to step out and I'm going to speak even if my voice shakes. That's kind of become my mantra. I'm going to speak even if my voice shakes, because I know what God has put in me and I know that we're meant to share our stories and we're meant to connect with each other. So confidence allows us to also be vulnerable. It's being able to be in a safe place.
Julie Ross True. Yeah, I love the idea of confidence. One of the things that really helped me was my life coach teaching me that I can generate confidence from myself even if I don't actually feel it, even if I actually believe it right at the moment. But I have a choice to change what I'm saying to myself and change the way I'm seeing things, and that will actually make me feel more confident. I'm a big Wonder Woman fan, and I have poster for her right over there in my office, and it helped me—
Michelle Brownell That's outstanding.
Julie Ross It was funny because that visual picture helped me out. Like, what would Wonder Woman do? Wonder Woman wouldn't a doubt if she's able to teach this lesson, or this kid's struggling so I must not be able to do this. No Wonder Woman would be like, nope, we got this. Okay, we're going to try this and then if this doesn't work, we're going to try something else. But we're taking action. We're moving forward. We're not just going to sit here and overthink the problem and what possible things I could do a million times. So that shift—and actually studies show that standing like Wonder Woman or Superman or whatever actually releases all these hormones into your brain that actually do increase your confidence. So I even tell people in my talk sometimes if you need to go the bathroom and sound like Wonder Woman for 2 minutes, go do it. Because it'll actually help you feel more confident.
Michelle Brownell Yes. And it's not a matter of trying to talk yourself into it, it's a matter of tapping into who you really are on the inside. And like you said, coming to that place of believing—and I've been told confidence comes by taking action.
Julie Ross Yes. Me too, yes.
Michelle Brownell You don't gain confidence just by thinking about something you can do, you gain confidence by taking action in that moment. So even if it comes to homeschooling, you're scared to do it, take action. Try it.
Julie Ross Yeah, that's great. And for me, that was really helpful with a child who had, you know, some learning difficulties. I spent hours researching all the different things it could be and all the different possible solutions and talking to people about what they could do. And then, you know, I just kept feeling more and more overwhelmed, or can I even teach this child? And like you were saying, my coach said the same thing to me, that confidence comes from action. She's like, write down all the possible things you could do and just pick one. And I was like, well, what if what if I picked the wrong one? Okay, well, now you just learned to cross that one off your list, and now you go to the next one. It was like this lightbulb moment. I'm like, oh, I don't have to figure it all out and make the perfect first step. I could just start doing something. And as soon as she said that, I got off the phone, I called the first person—first doctor on the list and made an appointment. I felt a million times better because I was no longer stuck like in that mental "I don't know what to do when I'm overwhelmed," but I was actually moving forward, like you're saying. So yeah, confidence to me is just been such a key life changer.
Michelle Brownell Yeah. And the idea of if it doesn't work, it goes back to become curious. Well, what didn't work? Why didn't it work? Maybe it wasn't a good fit. Maybe you need to try a different thing. It's not a critical or a judgmental thing when something doesn't work, it's an opportunity to learn and grow. There's an entrepreneur guru who says all the time that there's no failure, there's either succeeding or I've learned something.
Julie Ross Hmm. I love that. And our kids need to know that, too.
Michelle Brownell Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that goes into growth mindset and all that good, fun stuff. So the other one is, you know, with courage, it's thinking outside the box. So having the courage to think outside the box. And you talked about your child with learning challenges, and I've got two of them. And I tell you what, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to do something different than what everybody else is doing. And you can't do it if you're in this afraid, what if I mess it up? stage. You've got to come in—I love your Wonder Woman thing, and I might have to get a poster myself. But it's just that idea—even for homeschooling, those that are considering homeschooling, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to step outside the system and try something that you've never done before.
Julie Ross Even in the hard homeschool circles, doing the Charlotte Mason philosophy is like—
Michelle Brownell I was just going to say that, yep.
Julie Ross That's a whole nother box—you jumped into the homeschool box from the public school box, but now you're going to jump into this Charlotte Mason box where like, I can't give my kids a worksheet in check and make sure they got nine out of ten right, and I have to trust this process. I mean, that to me, and I say this all the time on our show, is this takes a tremendous amount of faith. There is so much courage involved in walking this different way of schooling. I'm sorry, I interrupted you that's what you were going to say too?
Michelle Brownell No, it totally does. And what's beautiful about having gone through a lot of this counseling and understanding the neuroscience behind our brain and stuff, is it makes everything that Charlotte Mason has taught make more sense. It's helped me understand the 'why' behind why this works and why it's good for our kids. Our kids don't learn when their brains are hijacked with stress or trauma. It just doesn't happen. They need that relaxed learning environment, an atmosphere to cultivate curiosity, to cultivate those things that they want to learn about and grow into. And then creative. So be creative is another big one. Anxiety and play can't coexist.
Julie Ross No.
Michelle Brownell They just can't. And play is one of the best ways that not only do our kids learn and thrive, but it's one of the best ways that we build connections with each other. And we can't—I was very guilty of this, I couldn't play. I couldn't get into an imaginative state. I couldn't relax. I couldn't go out and have fun because I was do, do, do, do, do.
Julie Ross Yeah, I actually forgot what was fun. Like, I remember when this whole tragedy happened in my life, I sat down and, clear as day, I sat there for like an hour trying to—I wanted to think of ten things I thought were fun to do. And I could not think of ten things. I was like, this is so sad. So I really had to go back to, when you were a kid, Julie, what did you think was fun? And I could come up like, oh, I used to love to sing or I always loved to be on the water. I could think about it then and I'm like, okay, well, I'm just gonna start trying to do some of those things again and see if I still think it's fun as an adult, because I really did not have those things. And I think it is so important for the parent—and I tell this to people, when you're starting your year, when you're looking at your schedule, schedule in fun for you.
Michelle Brownell Yes. Yeah.
Julie Ross It's gonna to be what keeps you going. I try to do several fun things every day. And they can be small. I mean, Epcot, that's like super big fun, but it just be I think it's really fun to roll the windows down and sing at the top of my lungs, you know?
Michelle Brownell Yes, yes, yes! It's one of my favorite de-stressing moments. 80's music for me. It's got to be 80's rock for me.
Julie Ross Yes. Or musicals.
Michelle Brownell Yeah, yeah. Yep, yep. My son and I actually do that together. My son's 16 and we have a few songs that are like, you know, he's got a song from the movie Guardians of the Galaxy that he likes, and it's an old 70's song that was remixed into that movie. And so we'll play that and some of the old Bee Gees songs and stuff, and we just roll down the windows and he's like, "Mom, it's our time." And that's our play. That's our—because he's 16 now, so play looks different when they're teens, yeah.
Julie Ross Yes. Oh yeah!
Michelle Brownell One of the other things we do is we keep a balloon—I have a little basket of—it's in a little box now of balloons. And the kids know at any time they can go and get a balloon and blow it up and we play balloon bop. And sometimes that balloon just floats around in our house for a week. And bubbles. Even to this age, 16 and 13, my kids will still blow bubbles because there's—and they do it with the dog and the dog likes to pop them. It's just these little mini breaks throughout our day. But yeah, that idea of rediscovering what's fun for us as moms now, like some of us may have lost that. And it's okay to be curious and find out what do you enjoy that just makes you feel connected to a piece of who you are and connected to something that lights you on fire and that puts light back in your eyes. I think we definitely need to explore that and make space for that.
Julie Ross Yeah, for sure. And as we move on to the next one with creative, you know, I think as I have become more fun that has drastically changed the atmosphere of my home. Charlotte Mason talks about that one-third of our educational tools is atmosphere. Like you were talking about, the atmosphere of my home was anxiety filled and pressure, and I didn't even realize that I was the one that was creating that, you know? I say we're the thermostats of our of our house here. We're setting this temperature, we may not even realize it. But as I have become more fun, learning has become more fun, and our days have become more delightful because that pressure is gone. So I just wanted to add that in there. So what's the last one? What did we miss?
Michelle Brownell The last one is build connection. So I think it all ties up into this beautiful bow of just building connection with your child and with other people around you. Not only in learning, but just in life in general. My son at one point got to the place where everything was a learning opportunity, and he would tell me, "Mom, I don't want everything to be a learning opportunity." So I've learned to just kind of let go of that and realize that, really, at the end of the day, what matters is the connections that we're building with our kids. Because when they grow out of our house and and leave, the connection is going to be what has them call us and not us call them to say, "Hey, Mom, I want to talk to you about something" or "Hey, Mom, do you want to meet me for a cup of coffee?" That's what matters at the end of our homeschool. It's not the success. Again, our brains are not wired for success, our brains are wired for safety and connection. So it's not about success, it's about cultivating that connection, helping our kids be their authentic selves. We've just learned—it's come out of tragedy of learning these things, but it's brought back life and brought it back even in a deeper, richer way that these are what is more essential to us in learning and in life than anything that's academic. Because these are foundational things that allow the academics to come on and to thrive, right? Yeah.
Julie Ross Yeah. I've definitely seen that with my adult children. You know, I have two girls in college, and it's precious and I wouldn't trade it for anything, like you're saying. Just those—calling me or wanting to get together with me or like wanting my opinion on something, that's a huge privilege when they get to leave the nest, so to speak. You know, and again, when they look back at their homeschool, they remember the fun things that we did when we dressed up like pirates and we went on this field trip or we went to the apple orchard every year. The traditions, too, make a big difference. They don't remember the math worksheet or the thing that I thought was going to be like the be-all, end-all, and if they just finished this one book they would be like geniuses, you know? It's like they don't remember all that stuff. They just remember my mom cared about me, we had a fun time, and this person is somebody I can rely on and trust moving forward in my life. Now I see even more clearly how important and essential that connection was. And if you're doing things—and there's been times, for sure, where I was doing things that were hurting that connection. Not purposefully, but behind my anxiety and—
Michelle Brownell In your survival state.
Julie Ross Yeah. In my survival state, I was damaging that connection. And through those tragedies, realizing, no, this is the most essential thing. And so it's okay if we take the afternoon off and we go to Epcot, or for me, it was we're going to go on a hike or do these kind of things because it was like we're still being connected with each other and that's what's going to help us get through all of this. It is those experiences that do bond us together as a family, you know, and that's one of the beautiful things about homeschooling, we can walk through these tragedies together. Yes. So I love your mindset. People can get a copy of these, right?
Michelle Brownell Yes. So we're actually working on another handout as well, but if they want to get a copy of—like I created a poster that says, "Become curious." Because I needed that plastered on my wall as a compass to know these are the states I want to be in. So I wanted to provide that to other people. You can go to HomeschoolEssentials.net and just sign up for that and download that. We're also working on a guide to be able to start and sustain your homeschool journey. And we're weaving these mindsets into what does it look like at each of these stages—it's a simple handout, but it's got some good inspiration and shows you how you can apply these mindsets to real life learning and stuff.
Julie Ross Yeah, I like what you said here about having this up on your wall and being like, okay, what, what state do I want to be in? Because that is so key. And it was so helpful for me to realize that I have the power to choose how I want to feel right now. And I can look at this list and go, well, what do I need to feel in this moment? Do I need to feel calm? or is it do I need to ask questions and be more curious? or is it a confidence thing that I need to exhibit and show for everyone? or is it do I need to have compassion on us? Having this visual to look at and decide, okay, I want to feel calm, and realize that you actually have the power to do that. For me, it was always, well, if this thing changed, then I could feel calm, or if this happened, then I would be more creative, or if this happened then I would feel more confident. And we're giving away our power to all these other things in our lives that we actually can't control. That makes you feel powerless and hopeless and discouraged all the time. If you want to feel that you are doing the things that you want in your life, you have that choice to make those—to choose these states for yourself, which is huge.
Michelle Brownell Yeah. And can I just touch on that real quick? Because we went through that one big tragedy that just unleashed a lot of things, but since then we've gone through a couple other really big life moments that have caused a lot of stress in our house, and we were able to operate differently because of these tools that we've had. What you had said earlier is that our brains are looking for the negative because that's what helps keeps us safe. All of these things take intention and self-directed ways of wiring in what's good.
Julie Ross Yes, very intentional.
Michelle Brownell I'll just say this because my counselor describes it as the negative is like Velcro. The negative in our life sticks to us, it just wants to stay. The good is like Teflon, it just slides right out.
Julie Ross I love that picture.
Michelle Brownell We need to be intentional to let the negative be the Teflon. To say, this was hard, I didn't like this, but I'm just going to let it slide off of me because it doesn't need to grab root in my life. And then to be able to have the positive stick. And to savor what is good and what is working and what is well in our days because that is what's going to keep us operating in a thriving mode. Because life challenges aren't going to stop, they're gonna keep coming at us.
Julie Ross They don't stop just because you're homeschooling, sorry.
Michelle Brownell They don't. And they don't stop just because you learned 8 "C"s of regulation. They keep coming.
Julie Ross It's a good way to test your tools, right? That's how I see it.
Michelle Brownell Yes, yes, yes. And it is. It's a toolbox of things that you can pull out on the hard days, you can pull out—but yeah, I love how you said, "You can choose." You can make a choice to change the state that you're in and to focus on truth.
Julie Ross Yeah, I told the middle schoolers that yesterday and I said, "So when your parents pick you up from school today and they ask how your day was, I want you to notice if the first thing that comes out of your mouth is something negative. And I want you to catch yourself and I don't want you to say it out loud and say, I need a minute to think and see if you can think of something good." And so—
Michelle Brownell Right away.
Julie Ross Yeah, so I saw aone of them and I was like, "So were you able to think—what happened when your parent picked you up yesterday?" She was like, "Oh yeah, as soon as I was like, 'Oh my goodness, you're not gonna believe what happened!' And then I remember what you had said. I was like, oh, man, I never noticed that. That's what I do every day."
Michelle Brownell Yep, yep. And one of the things we do in our community is we focus on what went well.
Julie Ross I love that. Yes, so important.
Michelle Brownell Because there's going to be a gazillion things that go wrong and that's what we focus on, but we have to be intentional to say—and even if it's my kids had a meltdown, but I showed up and I was able to help them navigate those difficult emotions. That's a good thing.
Julie Ross That's huge. That's a huge win. Yeah, to not run away, that's huge.
Michelle Brownell Yeah, yeah. So the negative, you know, emotion that in the meltdown that they had may feel like a negative in our day because the day didn't go as planned and my kids melted down, but when we turn it around to say but I was present for them, I helped them navigate that emotion, we coagulated together, we were able to get back to a place of calm and go on with our day; that's the good.
Julie Ross Oh, yeah, that's huge. And I put that in my curriculum, actually. At the end of each week to write down three wins from the week. And now I could do it every hour, you know, but before to come for three for the week was like a really hard thing to—I had to sit there, like, what three good things actually did happen? You know? Like you were saying, it's just that rewiring of our minds and thinking about the things that are praiseworthy and true. It's amazing that God gives us that gifts that we are able to rewire and look for the positive. So I love your mindsets and I encourage everyone to get a little list to print out so they can look at them as well and check out what you offer at The Homeschool Essentials. So we'll link all of that into the show notes. But thank you so much for your time today, Michelle. I've just so enjoyed our conversation.
Michelle Brownell Thank you, Julie. I enjoyed it too. You're amazing. I love what you're doing and that you're bringing awareness to all of this as well. It's awesome.
Julie Ross Hey, thanks for listening to today's episode. If you'd like to know more about the Charlotte Mason style of education, check out AGentleFeast.com and click on the Learn More button for a free four day introduction course. If you'd like to show notes for today's episode, you can find those at Homeschooling.mom and click on The Charlotte Mason Show. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast and while you're there, could you leave us a quick review? This will help other homeschooling parents like you get connected to our community. And finally tag us on Instagram @Homeschooling.mom and let us know what you thought of today's episode. Don't forget to check out the people at Medi-Share because you deserve healthcare you can trust. To learn more about Medi-Share and why over 400,000 Christians have made the switch. Go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/medishare. Have you join us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling events of the year, offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops covering today's top parenting and homeschooling topics, and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit halls in the United States. Find out more at GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. I hope to see you there. Until next time. I hope your days are full of books, beauty and biblical truth. Thanks for listening.