Finding community. Dealing with teen isolation- Unschooling & Travel

Finding community. Dealing with teen isolation- Unschooling & Travel
December 9, 2013 Lainie Liberti

Something wasn’t right.

My normally close teenage son was checking out, snapping at me, being unhelpful and bordering on being a little “mean”. Miro was clearly agitated and despondent, a state I was not accustomed to witnessing. But I recognized that his frustration and behavior were certainly a symptom of something else. But first, we had to get there, through the behavior to uncover what was really going on. Clearly it was my job not to fall into reaction mode in response to his behavior, or nothing would ever be resolved.

For the first few days, I managed to stay accepting, calm and loving, biting my lip, trying not respond to his nastiness. But as some point, I failed, I reacted in response to his mood  questioning “what the hell was wrong is wrong with you?” As soon as I lost my composure, I knew that we couldn’t wait any longer to address what was really going on.

That evening, Miro and I talked about his recent the behavior. Miro was remorseful about the way he had been acting towards me and luckily didn’t take a defensive stance. For that I was grateful. Throughout Miro’s life, we have been practicing non-violent communication and had learned about what triggers both of us throughout the years.

During our conversation, Miro and I both agreed that the “behavior” wasn’t really the problem, rather the result of something else, a symptom of what was really bothering him. Together we sat, both filled with emotions and I listened, held space for him to explore the things he was feeling deep down inside.

At 14 years old, I recognized Miro’s body, blooming, filled with all sorts of conflicting emotions, even hormones running amok. I assured Miro that I honored and recognized all he was going through. I listened with compassion and recalled how difficult my teen years were for me too.

Miro spoke his truth. He said was unhappy, feeling depressed, feeling alone and isolated.

With tears flowing from my eyes, I listened. He talked. Together we talked for hours.

After our conversation, I wondered if this lifestyle was the cause of his feeling of isolation. I wondered if I was responsible. I wonder if we had chosen a difference path if he would be experiencing this.


Our lifestyle isn’t easy. It certainly isn’t not easy being an outsider in a foreign country. Nor is it easy being a teenager. All I could do is sit with him and allow him the space to feel what he was feeling and let him know it was very real. It was not my place in that moment to solve the problem but I assured him that together we seek out a solution over the coming days.

Feeling what we are feeling should not involve shame under any circumstance. I know this intellectually. But emotionally I still fight my own demons surrounding loneliness. I feel shame when I admit I am not that strong super-woman I try to live up to and I do want to find a partner to ride this wave with us. Knowing how intense feelings of loneliness can be, I have assured Miro he is not alone. I get it. I really do.

My son.

He is the person I want to protect. He is the person I want to experience and share the world with. He is the person I am trying to build a future with (and for). He is the person I desire the greatest things for. And as you can imagine, my heart breaks as he goes through his struggles and feels his own loneliness.

And yes I realize, that experiencing intense feelings are an important part of Miro’s own personal development. But still, it’s not easy.

When we lived in the States, Miro didn’t really have a huge network of friends before we left either. To be fair, he was 10 when we left. But even then, Miro’s greatest complaint was that he felt so different than most of the other kids his age. I think of the connections he has made through his lifetime and realized he always made friends easier with older kids. (I too, was the same growing up. ) Through our travels, most of the schooled children in a variety of different countries do seem to have a “different state of mind” than him. He had a group of friends in Mancora, in the north of Peru, which prompted him to write this post called Why I dislike Children. Among other reasons, Miro finds the schooled children he came across to be less creative, less interested in intellectual explorations, and less articulate about their personal interests. Miro wrote this article called  My First Conference Rocks  in which he explains “finding his tribe”.

But still, I wonder, has our lifestyle, my support in Miro’s unschooling journey helped lead to further isolation?

The next day, Miro and I talked about finding some solutions together.

One of the ideas that came, perhaps spend a couple of months with his father in Ohio? We thought, maybe that would provide the opportunity for Miro to connect with others his age. Miro said he was willing to try, so I contacted Miro’s father. But a week after putting the idea out to his dad, I still have not received a response one way or another. I am Miro’s custodial parent. Unfortunately, I do not receive support from Miro’s father either, neither on a financial nor on an emotional level. That being our reality, we need to work this out on our own.

Miro and I talked about hypothetically moving to the States. (A possibility, I am not fond of.) We recognized that if we were to take on that option, we would still have the challenge of connecting with other home schoolers or unschoolers to create community. We certainly would be closer to other potential “communities” but then there would still be the challenge of making friends.

But it’s the US…

Then my blunt question to Miro, “do you want to return to the United States and go back living a conventional life?”

His answer, a clear emphatic, “No.


Miro does not want to go back to the US to live. He’s clear about that. Equally, Miro does not want to go to conventional school. He’s clear about that too, as he says over and over that he loves unschooling. And he assures me, he likes the freedom of traveling.


Next, I suggested to Miro that we reach out to our community, online. I am a member of many homeschooling and unschooling groups on both facebook and yahoo groups. I am also the member of many other groups that support families who travel. I figured if they all had children there would likely  be some that were at home too, maybe even some around Miro’s age. Perhaps some of them might even be interested in some of the same things as Miro is. Maybe some might be willing to connect online as well.  At least it’s something.

And so I put the message out there. Again, I had to remind Miro (and myself) that there is no shame to share our desires as part of the human race. There is no shame in wanting  connection. There is no shame in saying we desire “community” either. There is no shame to seek support in order to learn and be supported. There is no shame in asking for help.

So we asked.

The community response was amazing. Miro added about 8 new friends on facebook. Although he’s a little shy, he hopes to connect and create a circle of friends across the world. I hope he finds some connections this way. For now.

Being a single mom is not easy. Choosing our lifestyle is not an easy path. And if we hadn’t chosen this lifestyle, I would almost guarantee we would have a different set of problems, no better, no worse than the ones we have now. The beauty about our lifestyle is the ability to choose what we want to experience every day. We have the freedom to choose something else if it is not working.

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
~Kurt Vonnegut

So we are looking at lots of different possibilities now, open to where the world will lead us. We both love traveling and are feeling the itch to explore some more, new and exotic places. But we also are committed to stay here in Peru for another 6 or 7 months. Together, we are producing a project we both believe in so deeply, called, Project World School Peru. It is no coincidence really this project is about the very thing we are both struggling with right now: community. The project focuses on having learning experiences together and building relationships as an integral part of the process.

So for the next half year or so, we focus on building our vision and fulfilling our dream. Hopefully our passion can keep us fueled during the next few months and we both can find our way to combat loneliness while we explore options for the future.


  1. Alyson 10 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this Lainie, it’s something that worries me, that my boys are too isolated. The fact is, even when we were “home” in Port Douglas we were totally isolated, other than the once a week homeschool meeting. Nothing would change if we went back and neither child wants to go to school, at all, not even slightly. They very rarely connect with other kids as we travel, there just aren’t many other kids around, they’re all stuck in school! I’ll be watching your unschooling Peru project closely! Alyson.

  2. Nadya 10 years ago

    My 17 year old brother, Misha (Miroslav and Miro for short!) has been following you both for ages. I’m pretty sure if your son would like another friend and person to talk to on facebook/snailmail/etc my brother would be more than keen!

  3. Erin 10 years ago


    So I am just now moving out of my teen years and into the whole adulthood of my twenties and isolation is something I still struggle with everyday. I grew up in a rather “conventional” house, but once I turned 16 I finished my high school career and moved to South America for a year…I am still following the conventional path in College now, though studying abroad often. I have to say though that feeling lonely in your teen years is something you will experience no matter where you are living, and no matter what lifestyle you live. It is part of this dynamic of growing and learning who you are and wanting to identify with someone like you—a task you will (hopefully) never accomplish, because every person is completely unique. I read this article out of curiosity, but I write this comment because I feel compelled to share these feelings with Miro. I too find travel/living abroad to be lonely and emotionally exhausting at times, but it is also extremely liberating and you would have trouble finding anyone who will understand this desire to not be stagnant. I think we live in a stunted culture, but you and Miro are living the ultimate rebellion, and the ultimate freedom.

  4. Shara 10 years ago

    Thank you to both you and Miro for sharing this story! You are both so strong and amazing!

    My first thought when reading the beginning of this story, is that ‘even if you were living a “conventional life”, this reaction from a teen could most likely be the same’. You addressed that in your later paragraphs. The fact of you honoring your son is so beautiful. It takes much strength, from both sides, to produce the relationship you two have. I admire you both for that!

    To me, there is such beauty is reading how you both grow through life, because of course, this is a very normal pattern of growth in life…. teen or not.

    World school Peru is going to be so amazing!! 🙂 Love and Light to you both!!!

  5. Winter 10 years ago

    Your article is so timely. I have been getting some of the same behavior at my house and have been feeling confused about how to respond or not respond. I think isolation may be a key factor. My son (13) is in his first year of un-schooling and we are definitely working through some de-schooling as well. I would love to have him connect with Miro who I see to be a super interesting young man. BTW we live in Ohio :-)If you all make your way here for a visit we would love to host you for a time.

  6. Christina 10 years ago

    Beautiful Lainie! We are in quite a similar position and in the states. Our plan to create and travel on the Here Comes The Sun Bus ( stems from feelings of teen isolation and a need of more connections for the three of us. All we need is a vision: living together in a warm location unschooling community one day! I am thankful everyday that Xavia has that connection with Miro and you are both part of our tribe! This type of breakthrough will lead you to the brighter light! Much love!

  7. Kim 10 years ago

    Wow….I feel like I wrote this….we as well struggle with the same things. I have gone through this with my 15 year old as well….and I have found that it is something like a cycle, we get through it and then it pops up again. I have offered her some of the same options.

    Sometimes I also struggle with…is this traveling thing mine and selfish? I for sure know that I do not want to be back in the states…but maybe I might need to if it is what is best for my kids.

    Maybe the two of them should connect on FB…I will try and find him and get them to connect.

    Good luck on your journey! It is tough being a single mother and trying to do what we see as something amazing for our children! Keep up the great work!

  8. Jennifer Miller 10 years ago

    We don’t struggle with this in quite the same way, as we’ve got four kids and our teens are good friends. However, there is always need for greater community, external friendships, peer groups, that “tribe” that matters so much. Our kids have created that in a variety of ways, not the least of which has been participation in online communities and classes with other kids who live similar lives. Jessie Voigts Wandering Educators class for teens is FANTASTIC and has created a very cool and supportive tribe for my teens. We’ve had lots of fun meeting up with their friends from that group as we’ve traveled. I’m really thankful for the time Jessie puts into that and for the relationships my kids are developing with other interesting, outside the box type people (the other young people as well as the mentors she brings in!) I don’t know if Miro is interested in that sort of thing, but our experience with it has been fantastic! Keep going Lainie, this motherhood thing is not for the faint of heart and it gets to be deeper and better as they make it through the hurdles of teen life. You’re doing great! 🙂

  9. Catherine Forest 10 years ago

    Thank you, Lainie, for sharing this part of your story. Traveling is great, but not always easy… but I agree with you: if you would have stayed in the States, you would probably going through a different set of problems. There is no paved road to growing up. Miro is incredibly lucky to have such an open mom, able to listen without judging, with unconditional love and support, reminding him that there is no shame in asking for help, no shame in feeling unhappy and feeling discontentment. I am sure you will come up with great ideas and solutions together. I am glad he was able to connect online with other unschoolers!! Much love to you and him.

  10. tony 10 years ago

    another wonderful piece. thank you.

  11. Ellie Bizga 10 years ago

    I am glad you are sharing this with us. I think I get a lot of what Miro feels like too. Probably you have to consider the fact that some people are more sensitive than others too and that makes it harder.. I myself struggle with not having a certain “group of friends/ circle of belonging” because a part of me belongs to one place and the other one to some other place, etc….people do not want to attach to me either. At times I feel as if they were just waiting for me to leave….But, i think it’s all about the journey not the destination (at least that’ my stance now). Hugs to you and Miro 🙂

  12. Debra Mann 10 years ago

    Hi Lainie,

    Thanks so much for sharing this. We definitely can relate to the feeling of isolation with regards to connecting with other teens who are unschoolers. XBox is the thing that connects our sons to other unschoolers the most. But, I know that is not something that all teens like to do.

    I know that my boys would not trade their lives for conventional schooling, but they definitely would like to hang out with more unschoolers. The unschooling conferences are always a highlight for them. We are all so spread out and with so many different interests, that it can be difficult to find teens that my sons are deeply compatible with, unschoolers or not. It’s all part of the choice we make to live this life, which has blessed us so much.

    Love to you and Miro!!

  13. Sheila 10 years ago

    I totally understand the desire for community. I am an unschool mom and my oldest is a grown unschooler, 20 years old. Yes, isolation can be a problem.

    Even at conferences, she never felt like she quite connected with anyone. And conferences can get expensive.

    She’s a single mom now, living with us, and we’re embracing a multi-generational home and Radical Homemaking. Community building is very important for our lifestyle, and we talk about the need for it all the time. Actually making it happen is a challenge. But we’re determined to build that community one way or the other–we’re just not sure how it’s going to happen!

  14. Molly 10 years ago

    I really feel for you both, and hope Miro starts to have a bit more fun, as that is a huge part of socializing and having friends… getting to hang-out and enjoy life with others, have fun! And into trouble every once in awhile… er, that too 🙂

    I’ll add, since I know you are an open person, you may want to think of ‘how to be a friend’ type of stuff, meaning, helping Miro find ways to reach out to others, in a safe way, how he feels comfortable.

    And there is nothing wrong I think with Mom helping… in you seeking out some activities that have other kids and encourage some interaction, but I know that can be hard living abroad, been there, many many times. Yet we always found something, Blake always made a friend, here, hung-out with someone there, got bullied by someone’s big brother, then found other kids… all a part of the game of life that is the same for all kids everywhere.

    Lonliness everyone feels, that’s normal, but definitely I hope reading all these comments helps Miro know that he is not alone at all, just another being on this planet going through what most kids go though.

    big hug.

  15. Molly 10 years ago

    Quick thought: does Miro play any instrument? Want to learn any such as the guitar (easiest for travel, Blake did piano in the U.S. a little when young, then guitar in Sucre, Bolivia)?

    That is a great way to make some friends, as maybe after some private lessons (there has to be a music school or music teacher somewhere in Cusco!) he can connect with others who play.

    Just a thought. I also think you guys would love Sucre, Bolivia after you do your cool Unschool Peru thing… and there are classes he can take (Mom too), music schools, easy access to private tutoring, etc.


  16. Valentina 10 years ago

    Hola Lainie, I am from Cochabamba Bolivia, I just found your blog, and really conected with you-your expirience. I have two boys, 12 and 8, we are unschooled, and doing very good, considering here that still the mayority of people sees schools as god and “La Salvacion de la condicion campesina”!
    We feel most of the time felices y libres, even with all the chalenges around. But learning from each other and from simple people who carry real wisdom, y de la tierra misma.
    Wanted to connect with you both, to affirm you and if you come this way please let as know, we would love to meet you y aprender de su experiencia.
    Gracias, un abrazos,
    Valentina Campos, Kamay y Samiri de Cochabamba

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