Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Life of a Homeschool Parent

I don't think I've ever devoted a whole blog post to what it's like being a homeschool parent...though, in all truth, I may have...I forget what I've written here because it all just becomes part of the blur that is life most days/weeks/months.  My thoughts are a little unfocused on this topic...kinda all over the map.  But I've been sitting with a bunch of thoughts for the past several days, so here's my brain dump.

The family life of h/schoolers is generally a pretty good (albeit challenging) least it is around here.  Although Geoff's time with the kids is largely what it might be were they in public school, the kids and I get to spend a lot of time together, and we all know each other really well...really. well.  The kids can read me like a book, and I them.  There's a deep intimacy that comes from spending this much time together...for better and for worse.  I have great relationships with each of my kids, I can respond immediately when I see something going on with one of them, and I know that when the kids are grown I will look back on this time and see it as the best of times.  I will have no regrets about the amount of quantity and quality time that I've spent with my kids in their early years.  And that makes me content.

That being said, the life of a h/schooling parent can be pretty challenging at times...sometimes for the same reason that we love h/schooling.

For example, as much as I love that the kids and I spend so much time together, this can also be very draining...I'm sure that's understandable!  I am someone whose personality lies near the border between introversion and extraversion and so, although I need to be with people on a regular basis, I also find it very draining at times to be with people all of the time.  And the truth is that I am rarely away from my children; where they go, I go, and where I go, they go.  If I have a doctor's appointment, they're waiting in the waiting room for me (or in the doctor's office with me); if I need to stop at the grocery store for one thing, they're right there, too...I haven't grocery shopped on my own in years.  I hear every argument, every question, every cry of frustration, every wail of sadness.  A three minute visit to the bathroom feels like a mini vacation to me...and when my dad takes the kids for a 15 minute walk around the mall once in a while while mom and I sit with a coffee or an iced tea, well, that's a vacation of rather grand scale!  The reality is that the kids and I are almost always together....even often at night, as there's usually a kid camped out at the foot of the bed.  My Thursday evenings on my own are a very blessed and cathartic time for me - I don't know how I'd survive without them!

Similarly, the role of a h/schooling parent in their child's life is pretty all encompassing.  I am:  solely responsible for the education of my children (including all of those areas where I am not skilled or science and about a hundred other areas); social coordinator; therapist and counsellor and mediator; provider of before and after care; the special needs person responsible for figuring out how to deal with various learning challenges; master scheduler; home manager; head chef to the little sous chefs in training; chief maid; entertainer; researcher; mentor; spiritual advisor; question answerer; pray-er; encourager; the one who tries to model for the child what growing up looks like; and on and on.  This list of things is likely very similar to the role of most parents (homeschoolers or not); it's just that they are more intensified because we're together so much of our time and because there's no one else to pull in to help with these tasks.

I always envisioned having a house full of noise and laughter.  And I have that.  I've got really, really loud children.  Like, loud.  Really.  Loud.  This brings to our home a terrific energy, which is great.  But it also means that peace and quiet is rarely to be found in this house.  And when they're in bickery or snotty moods (or when I am), the loudness becomes a rather ugly loudness that takes on proportions that, at times, has me opening doors and windows just to let a little of the noise find its way out!

Again, similarly, I am in constant demand...often by all three kids at once.  It can be very anxiety producing (did I mention that I started on some blood pressure medication a few months ago??).  I don't know about you, but I would never have thought I'd have the patience to do this kind of job.  I don't honestly know if anyone would have the patience to do this kind of job...or maybe I think that simply because it's so beyond the scope of who I am by nature.  It's so often only by the grace of God that somehow we get through the rough moments relatively's certainly not because I have the patience of Job (who, technically, I don't really think was all that patient, given the complaining he did, but that's his reputation anyway).   There are lots of days that I grit my teeth from beginning to end, and other days that I weep my days through; and yet, somehow we get through them and know that this whole h/schooling thing is in the best interests of our kids and family at this point in the journey.

The role is a big one and there's frankly not a lot of support for it.  We've been blessed to find ample and good friends within the h/schooling community, and I'm always so thankful for this because these are the people who understand what it takes to make this work.  They're often my shoulder to lean on, and the people I learn the most from.

A h/schooling parent needs to be pretty resilient/confident in the face of opposition, because most people around them are naysayers.  People who don't homeschool generally don't understand homeschoolers (at best) or are fairly (and openly) critical or suspicious of it (at worst).   Closely tied to this is the perception that most people have that sending a child to school is the (only) way in which the child can be socialized.  Any h/schooler knows that the most common question about h/schooling is 'aren't you worried that your child won't be socialized?'  And of course, the answer is 'yes - that's why we're h/schooling.' (At least that gives people something to think about, but the question does get more than a little tiring)

Sadly, we h/schooling parents/moms are also often left feeling rather discouraged not only by the general naysayer, but also by fellow h/schoolers.  I don't think this is intentional, actually, and I don't think these folks are ill-intentioned.  I think it's rooted in insecurity.

Let me explain.

I see h/schoolers, by necessity, as often having to re-invent the wheel to make things work in their (unique) family.  We're all flying by the seats of our pants and hoping for the best.  So when we hear what the Jones' are doing in their h/schooling world, and realize that we haven't done any of those excellent things, well, it's really, really, really easy to feel shitty about one's own h/schooling efforts.  As for the Mom in the Jones family (the one who's doing the talking about what's going on their h/schooling), she's likely just talking about everything she's doing because she's so worried that she's missed a whole bunch of important things and, in order to feel competent and enough, tells her fellow h/schoolers everything she's doing.  Make sense?  It happens over and over again, this cycle of people feeling insecure about what they're doing and inadvertently making other people feel badly about what they are doing/not.

The truth is that we're all doing our best and there are many, many ways of h/schooling and that what works for one family doesn't necessarily work for another (hence the need to usually re-invent the wheel and hence the reason why we all have unused curriculum in our houses because we've tried doing what the Jones' are doing but it doesn't work in our home).  Our family is a perfect example of this - I tried schooling at home via curriculum for almost four years and it was a mostly horrible experience (not the being-at-home part...the part where we were attempting to do school at home in a way that might look something like what the school system might do).  I tried hard.  And it didn't work, for lots of reasons that I've talked about before.  When, after tons of research, we began unschooling, suddenly things began to make more sense in our family, and the kids proved very capable of learning...but in a different way than might work for other families (or even for me).  That doesn't make us better or worse than the next h/schooling family, but it's easy to be left with one of those feelings when we're not all that sure that what we're doing is the right direction to take.  It's taken me years to (mostly) quell that feeling of incompetence whenever I hear another h/schooling mom talk about everything they're doing...and even as I write that I can think of two recent conversations I've had that left me feeling a little panicky about everything I'm not doing.

I also find unschooling particularly challenging because, for us, this looks like following the kids' interests as much as possible.  But often their interests aren't particularly aligned with my own interests (or knowledge and ability) and so I spend time (invariably at night, instead of relaxing with a book or Netflix!) researching something or figuring out ways they can learn more about something.  And then, sometimes, of course, their interest changes over the course of a couple of days or a week and we're on to the next thing of obsession focus.  Unschooling in our family involves much less structure than when we were following a curriculum, and I occasionally (usually) long for more structure and routine...and for a curriculum-based at-home school.

I pretty much always feel incompetent. Sad, but true.  I'm not trying to feel sorry for myself here, truly - I'm actually fairly used to the feeling and usually ok with it...I'm way more accepting of myself now than I used to be.  But it's still true that I usually feel this way.  I'm not organized enough, not tidy enough, not knowledgeable enough, not patient enough, not able to prioritize well enough, not godly enough, not forgiving enough, not groomed enough, not disciplinary enough, not creative enough, not quick enough, not prepped get the idea.  When I used to work outside the home I could feel kinda crappy about some things that were happening in my life, but I always knew that I was good at my professional work.  I was confident, capable.  On top of it.  Good.  (And getting paid for it. Bonus.)  I miss that so much sometimes.  Not because I think I should be doing something else at the moment...just that I long for that feeling of competence and confidence...that sense of surety.  Does that make sense?

I am no stranger to feeling tired, impatient, and a little lonely at times - lonely not for lack of people or friends, because I have lots of people and wonderful friends in my life, but lonely because the homeschool journey itself can be fraught with anxiety and uncertainty and a sense of being somehow a little alone on this not-very-beaten path.  It can be overwhelming and isolating to be the one responsible for my kids' education and life experiences, and for growing them up to be godly, productive, socially conscious, compassionate and competent people.  There aren't a lot of accolades in this job, to be sure, and I often feel not enough to be doing this job; my hope is that someday I want to look back on this period of our lives with great thanksgiving for having been able to spend this time doing what I'm doing.

So...enough about the challenges.  I'm sure every homeschooler could add to this list in a way that is unique to her!

What are some of the other things that I love about being a h/school parent?  Lots of things!!!!

* I love that I can let one of my kids can sleep in because he's a night owl and was up (too) late the night before, and get my other two up early in the day because they're raring to get going.  Usually by the time my oldest gets up, I've done my reading lessons with the littles and have moved well into other things.  Likewise, it's often after my littles are in bed that my oldest wants to talk and read out loud and be read out loud to.

* I love that we eat three meals together every day, almost every day.  I can't help but think that's a good thing.  Sometimes it feels like a little too much, if we're in a bickering kind of mood, but mostly it's a good thing, and it gives us a chance to talk and laugh and be silly and, as always, loud.  I love, too that, increasingly as the kids get a bit older, they're involved in the prep and in the clean-up of meals, too.

* I love that I've been able to help two of my children attach deeply through h/schooling.  One of the (many) reasons we began h/schooling Matthew was because we hoped to adopt children and we could think of no better way to build attachment with our new children than spending a great deal of quality and quantity time with them.  It is a very different process than with children born to us.  Then Seth and Lizzie joined our family and this is exactly what has happened.  Our kids are well attached - not without challenges, but well attached...and when issues do arise, we see them immediately.  Furthermore, given Seth's unique learning and language challenges (related specifically to trauma and how it impacts children's brains and development at certain junctures), and my learning about how too much academic pressure could actually result in cognitive decline, the single best thing we've been able to do for him from a learning perspective is give him the time he's needed that he would not have had within the school system.  There's no question in my mind that, given our circumstances, h/schooling has been a great option on all counts related to adoption.

* I really love that I can cater each child's education to that which suits them the best.  Whether it be teaching them how to read, helping their interest in cooking/sewing/riding/math/writing/etc etc etc, I can help them cultivate that, and in a way that works uniquely for each child.

* I love that when we get together with friends, we can get together for hours at a time if we want to...we're not restricted to an hour or two or after-school hours.

* I really love that I have never, ever had to spend a single evening doing homework with my kids.  I remember doing lots of homework at night when I was a kid, and I really do enjoy that I don't need to do this.  Of course, that's because we're doing everything that needs doing during the day, but still, I really hated (from a student perspective years ago) the nightly need to work on homework and make a bagged lunch for the next day.

* I love that I get to see my kids learn in a fairly organic, grass roots, developmental kind of way.  Despite the despair that goes along with so often wondering if I'm doing enough, or the right thing at all, these moments come along once in a while (even regularly sometimes) where I see a child making a huge leap in some skill/aptitude/understanding/etc and it's awesome.  Like, truly awesome.  I see it happening.  Right in front of my nose.  It's almost my favourite feeling in the entire world and it takes my breath away.  I feel then like the luckiest mama in the whole world.  Following kids' interests as a way of educating them is very scary, and feels really 'out there,' but wow, when the learning happens, it's like a rocket taking off into space - that big a thing.  I'm seeing this right now with my Seth, who is actually developmentally ready to learn how to read.  We've finished 21 lessons, as of yesterday, in our How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons book and, for the first time in the 4.5 years he's been my child, he's doing it and remembering it.  He's truly absorbing it, not forgetting what he's learned one minute or one day later...and the joy that I feel when I see him successfully sound out a word and look up at me with wonder...well that joy brings me to my knees with thanksgiving...I have tears in my eyes as I write this, just remembering yesterday.  There's just not much better than seeing your child, who has struggled and struggled and struggled and tried and tried and tried and failed and failed and failed suddenly begin to be able to do it - not because of any great thing I've done, but because as a h/schooling parent I've been able to allow him the space and the time to wait until he's truly and developmentally ready without him feeling like a failure about not having been able to do it until now.  It's like watching little miracles unfold regularly before my eyes.  This is what's so awesome about being a homeschool parent.

* I used to watch closely older h/schooled kids and see how neat they were, and wonder if my kids would be like that some day.  Now my oldest is approaching that season/age and he's becoming this neat kid who's confident in himself and who knows himself (and I'm sure my littles will follow).  Just a few days ago, at a grocery store, the clerk looked at our groceries and asked what we were going to be cooking; I said that my older son was planning to make a scratch soup and cheesecake for the family and his grandparents.  I gestured in Matthew's direction.  She looked at him, with his long head of ringlet hair and she appeared confused - and she said something like "you mean your daughter...the pretty one with the beautiful hair??"  When I gently mentioned that this was my son, she was immediately embarrassed and apologetic, and that Matthew boy of mine just stepped forward with a smile at her and said "no worries - I get that all the time - it's really ok and I'm comfortable with who I am on the inside - so don't worry if you think I look like a girl."  Later, on the way to the car, he said to me that I needn't bother correcting people who think he's a girl - he plans to just continue to say thank you for the compliment.  I tell you this - having your son express (and believe) that he knows who he is regardless of what others think of him is a really, really neat thing.

Probably the neatest thing about being a Christian h/schooling parent is knowing that I am doing precisely what God wants for me at this season in life.  Not all Christians are called to h/school their children, but this one is at this juncture in her life.   I still miss things that I otherwise could be doing, such as:  Working at a profession and being able to earn a little money at something I'm good at; finding more of an outlet for self expression (which is one of the small ways my blog comes in handy); being able to read more (for pleasure...I do plenty of reading with the kids and plenty for research when I'm trying to learn about something my kids are interested in); getting out of the house a little more on my own (I really love Thursday evenings and the monthly book club I'm part of, but I do long for a little more time on occasion).  But that season of doing things more on my own and for myself, will come again someday...I feel as confident about that as I do about knowing that the job I'm doing right now is the job God has in mind for me.  So although this is a season of my life fraught with challenges and big hard feelings, it's also a peaceful thing to know that this life as a h/school parent is the one I'm meant to be experiencing right now.


  1. 2 words that you wouldn't write, but are there, woven throughout everything you wrote. Obedient and Faithful to what He has called you. Blessings on you. Cindy

    1. Thanks Cindy. Trying. As I know you are.

      Thank you. Ruth

  2. Hi Ruth,

    I"m so happy you're back! I wrote such a long response, this box won't let me put it in. I'll paste it in installments! ha. This is part 1:

    I’m super interested in those comments you get about h/schooled children possibly not being ‘socialized’. Particularly, I’d be interested in what kind of ‘socializing’ those folks think school is doing, precisely. Have you ever asked? While it has some probably wonderful outcomes, like mass literacy for everyone which contributes strongly to democracy, compulsory public education actually has a very, very short history, but in that short time it developed powerful cultural roots that are difficult to challenge or undo. Public schools were really formed for the children of the poor, who were pouring into cities looking for work in factories. Schools also started to resemble factories, and indeed, as soon as these children got into their teens or younger, guess where they went to work? Then during the efficiency movement in the USA, mostly driven by Ford Motors trying to increase their productivity and decrease their costs, this guy Frederick Taylor first helped Ford increase their productivity through standardization… well, guess who then went into the schools and studied them and then implemented the efficiency and standardization stuff in schools? Yup… Taylor. Worked for factories, would work for schools because the type of socialization going on in schools was preparing factory workers. Therefore, the cheapest way to educate the greatest number of children to be efficient and obedient factory workers is to standardize their education… prior to this there wasn’t even such a thing as GRADES… those are less than 100 yrs old anywhere including in universities. But leveling students and grading them and dividing them into ability levels etc… is exactly like a productive factory with maximum efficiency. Cars, children, chickens. No difference according to Taylor. Anything can be standardized and made more efficient. So, gone were the beautiful sandstone schools that looked like castles… hideous schools with all the same blah design, all children using the same textbooks (great for publishing companies and they make even more profit now), exams at the end to make sure the product is standardized and then you have perfectly created your workforce. Of course wealthy children weren’t expected to go to such schools or be “socialized” in such a way.

  3. PART 2:

    Despite many efforts at reform, this model of schools has really stuck in our cultural mind. So I think homeschooling somehow challenges this and therefore makes people uncomfortable. So I wonder when they say the children might not be socialized, if they are really terrified they might not be ready for WORK. You can hear this from the education ministries and in their curriculum language… when i first started teaching in the early 90s, the Alberta curriculum preamble said that the purpose of schools was to prepare young people to enact their role as citizens in a democratic society. But within the next 10 yrs with revisions, it said the purpose of schools was to prepare workers to compete in the global economy to enhance alberta’s economic advantage. This is how we want young people in society to be socialized? The new curriculum coming out in alberta is a lot better in this respect. It actually says that school is for creating “ethical citizens” (but also entrepreneurs!). Children are more than future workers, and I would argue that they are already ‘ethical citizens’ when they are 5 yrs old… there isn’t a magic age at when you become a citizen or ethical. In fact, young children are the most ethical and compassionate people I know….and schools might be educating some of them right out of this. They might be learning to be competitive and individualistic, as this is the model that schools are still fashioned after... each children is measured and compared and gets their own 'grades' and they are in a hierarchical system where some people are better than others, and some subjects are better than others etc. So despite all our efforts at reform (even the really wonderful ones) we are still stuck with this system and mindset that socializes young people in this way in schools. Until we can get rid of these culturally inherited structural elements of schools (like grades, both as in 'grading' for marks and having children divided into hierarchical grades by age) it's actually impossible to address things like bullying in schools, because the culture subtly enables it.

  4. PART 3:

    I think homeschooling plays a very important role in challenging these kinds of images of what schooling is for, and also in keeping a more open and broad understanding of and possibility for school and children circulating. I’d love it if you ask someone what they mean by socializing!! I doubt that they will say that children don’t get to learn to be friends, or how to get along with others, because of course it is obvious that homeschooled children get plenty of interaction with other children and adults and all kinds of people, maybe more than children in schools… I’m so curious to hear if their actual answer and fears, when it gets down deep, is actually about whether they worry that children won’t be ready to be ‘workers’ and that they won’t have a good ‘work ethic’. Because they haven’t been graded and standardized by a system, so how do you know where they belong? We all know where the cheap caged hens eggs are in the grocery store and where the expensive organic free range eggs are. They are easy to sort. Homeschooled children are unsortable and don’t fit in any category. This freaks people out. Your children are FREE RANGE CHICKENS and you are doing artisan schooling. Some people would argue that such things are priceless!

    Hear endeth my rant of the day. Thanks for getting me going!!!! I’m so happy to hear of Seth’s growing enjoyment of reading!


    1. Jackie, thank you thank you thank you! What a lovely series of comments!! And I'm so glad you're back here, too...I've missed you!

      OK, I have thoughts to put down, but give me a bit of time. I'm going to respond via blog post, I think, 'cause I think I'll have more than a comment's worth of thoughts! (kinda like you did!!!)

      Soon. Ruth