This week marks one year since I took my kids out of school just a few days shy of their official end-of-year date. We headed off on a volunteerism trip to the Dominican Republic, which was work for me, but also served as a kick-off to their homeschooling journey and experience in volunteering abroad.
I honestly can’t believe that a year has already gone by, or how I feel about it all now.
Spinning head, insecure heart
When I decided to home school I was holding on to the safety net of school in my back pocket. I thought that if summer schooling was a total bust that I would just send them to their next grade that following September as if nothing ever happened.
When I started, it felt safe to tell myself we were just trying it out, keeping our options open. When my heart was doubtful I would always tell myself that they could always go back.
I was scared about my job and professional opportunities. How would I juggle those? Clearly, traveling for a month to France or for 15 days to Fiji wasn’t something I would jump at anymore. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t a lifestyle I wanted anymore and I would soon find other great opportunities more fitting of this new path.
My oldest is starting his 3rd year in college and is already talking about moving on with his life. I have two tweens at home. I am not the mother of little babies or toddlers, drowning in lack of sleep or over exhaustion from it all. My kids have grown. Fast. Soon, this phase will be over and I want to enjoy it as much as I can still.
A year later, I am less afraid and am more confident in what we are doing.
There were things that my sons’ teachers always talked about that I immediately saw in my kids. My youngest’s constant talking and need to distract from the task at hand. His older brother’s refusal to ask or reach out for help.
It took me a good 3 to 4 months to really get around these things. I allowed my youngest to talk and share and walk around and do whatever he wanted to as long as it didn’t distract his brother too much and as long as he still got his work done. Over time, he didn’t feel the need to talk as much, or walk away from his work all the time. We set up a quieter space for them to work in my home office when they needed the space, but they often work on the dining room table, or in the living room, or in their bedrooms. And when the weather is nice, they like to work outside.
Getting the older one to trust me when I told him making a mistake did not mean failure or lack of intelligence was a bit trickier. Convincing him that errors did not correlate to bad grades or humiliation was a tough barrier to crack. It was embedded in him so deeply already, and he’s only just starting 5th grade. He has gotten better, asks for help often, and seeks me out when he is stuck on something (usually math) but he still is constantly checking to make sure he is “not failing” and “passing”.
I also saw my kids’ strengths. One is so good at math and is fascinated by science, chemistry, and engineering. The other is a detailed writer with beautiful penmanship who will devour a book in days. They are so different and unique and awesome. I knew this, of course, but seeing it in their work and in how they learn and grasp new topics is exciting to me. I see their confidence grow each day and their curiosity for everything is constant. Our conversations are often riddled with random facts and new discoveries found online or in a random library book.
But in addition to the transformation in my kids, I saw a transformation in myself. I relaxed more and wasn’t so unhappy about my role as a mother. When they were in school, the complaints were constant. There were compliments too, of course, but we tend to feel the complaints more and worse yet, we internalize them deeply. There were so many arguments over unfinished homework or comments made at parent-teacher conferences. There were the bullies, or the kids who wouldn’t include them, which started changing them into becoming who ever they thought they needed to be to fit in. There were the mean teachers, or the ones who believed that putting a kid down would help to build them up. There were the tests, and then the endless weeks to prepare for the tests and the stress these caused. There were the social workers who tried to teach the introvert to be better at making friends and speak up more in class, while also trying to teach the extrovert to tone down his feelings, lower his voice, or not always express his opinions. It just never seemed to end, this constant deluge of all the ways in which my children didn’t flow with the system set up for them and every other kid.
For all the ways in which homeschooling can feel overwhelming, and it is at times, it does not compare to the level of anxiety and stress and frustration and anger and sadness I felt when they were in school.
I underestimated myself and my kids
One of the things that most moms ask me is how do I manage to keep my kids on task. The truth is, we do argue over too much procrastination or over distractions (mostly YouTube gamer channels), but my kids understand consequences and responsibilities really well at this point. They know that though we are not moving at the same pace as the public school, we also have work we need to get through. We take a lot more time off – to travel, or go to the park or pool – but we are always learning regardless. They know what they have to do and can work pretty independently. Plus, they want to do the work. It’s not this stressful thing by which they are evaluated as people or potential contributors to society. This is their education, and they understand that, but they have also come to understand that it isn’t what defines them or what they can potentially learn or do later in life.
Some parents can’t imagine it, and honestly, I could not have either, but my kids get up, make their breakfast, putz around a bit, and then get to work. On their own. Sure, there are days when they need a nudge, but in general, they know what the expectations are and they tell me often how grateful they are to have the opportunity to home school. I underestimated how smart and capable they are. I expected so little from them, but once I opened it up for them to just be, they have proven to be so, so much more. I can’t even take credit for much of it. I just feel that they are these people that I never really saw before and I so thrilled I get to see it now.
Most parents ask me about my education and training. Are you a teacher? Do you have a teaching background? And when I say no, I am not always sure what they are left thinking. But I underestimated how good I am at talking to my kids and walking them through a subject – yes, even pre-algebra. I underestimated how much I have to share with them that would add to the value of their education and how good I am at this. I underestimated myself as a mom.
We can be so hard on ourselves, and believe so little in what we and our children are capable of.
This year has been an incredible lesson for all of us.
Odd woman out
All that said, I don’t often share with strangers that I home school my kids. In fact, I rarely volunteer that information, even when others ask me what grade my kids are in. My husband shares it proudly. My kids are pretty confident in telling people when they ask them about school, which weirdly enough is often. I don’t. I can hear the tone in their voice, that weird, “Huh” or “Oh”. I know that in that instant I have left them with some opinion that might not even be close to who I am.
I once had the husband of a teacher ask why I would do such a thing to my children. He worried about their social lives and ability to function in the real world. I’ve had a lot more people ridicule us for homeschooling when we pay so much in property taxes (assuming that high property taxes automatically equals better, qualified schools is a topic for another day). I have had people slowly walk away from me, or just give me that weird “I regret that I asked” smile.
I never try to sell it to anyone. This is such a personal choice and I get that it makes it difficult to know how to peg us. I am the odd mom out in many ways. But I have my people in social activism, and local minority groups, with fellow parents in scouting, or baseball, or swim team and my kids have a rich and full social life. Home schoolers are not social recluses.
Scouting, one of the many activities the boys are involved in.
Changing how we were doing things, especially in educating our kids, has improved us as parents, has helped my kids become more confident and happy, and has really improved our home life. And I am grateful for the small village of fellow home school moms for their help along the way.
Our kids see this change as an example of what it is to be independent thinkers and courageous doers and have been able to make decisions and do things regardless of what their peers may be doing or trying to convince them into.
As the public school year comes to an end, we are continuing to work and will do so through the summer, though much less so. I have asked my kids if they want to go back, and they both said no. So far, they want to hold off on middle school, unless something changes, and go to high school, unless something changes. I sometimes here about stuff happening at the schools and I wish my kids were taking part in it, but then I remember the other many reasons that lead us here. I don’t know if or when we will go back because on top of it all, we really love the freedom. The freedom to travel which we can and have been doing whenever we want. The freedom to learn at our own pace, which can be faster or slower depending on the subject. The freedom to seek out and research and learn about the things they are most interested in, like foreign languages, or geography and cursive which sadly aren’t offered much in school these days. Of course, the freedom to work in one’s pajamas doesn’t hurt either.
The beauty of it is our options are open and for as long as we have this gift, we will make the most of it. For us, it’s been the most rewarding decision we’ve ever made, albeit it took a rollercoaster of emotions to get here.
If you are a parent who is thinking about homeschooling, my advice is to take it slow. Talk to others who do it and research what option (because there are many) is best for your kids and your family. It wasn’t “just right” when I took the plunge. I still have my days, but after a year I can say it’s been wonderful. I also know it’s different for everyone, and it isn’t for everyone. So, no need to feel bad if it turns out not being right for you. Though I do hope this helps to give some insight into what it can be when the fit it a good one.