Thoughts for a Bitter Homeschool Mom

Recently I saw the following comment on a forum where the topic was Common Core:

I pulled my youngest out of school when he came home and told me, with his sweet little lisp, that his teacher said “Africa was in Asia.”

He was in first grade.

Pull your kids OUT! If you think you’re in a “good” school district, think again. Similarly, if you think you’re in a good private school, think again. Please! Both parents don’t need to work — if necessary, downscale. One parent, usually the mother, can easily handle the education of the kids.

Fathers, please heed: As a woman, I destroyed my career for my kids. Any woman who has kids and takes the time to educate them — even if she hires tutors and spends her time driving the little cretins around to various “learning” activities — will sacrifice her future in ways you will never understand. As your career takes off, her career is plummeting. And its not as if she’ll be able to start again where she left off many years ago. It’s over for her. So, please, remember that when your harried wife plunges into despair as she spends her best years (40/50s) trying to rekindle her mind and work-life.

I was completely with the commenter in the first few paragraphs, but that last one blew me away. Wow! She sure sounds bitter and depressed.

And yet I can relate to her. While I’ve never thought of my children as “cretins” (that’s where I began seeing the bitterness in this comment), I understand the despair she feels. Because I’ve been there more than once since I retired from homeschooling three years ago.

If I could, I would remind this woman than homeschooling is not some minor commitment you make in addition to church and Neighborhood Watch and Zumba class. Homeschooling, when done well, will eat up your life. It’s a huge lifestyle choice that requires enormous dedication. And when you’re done homeschooling, the recipients of your efforts leave you (at least if you did it properly so that they’re equipped for independence).

It hurts on a personal level, no question. And it hurts your career aspirations, too. But wasn’t it obvious that the working world would not exactly be pounding on your door once you finished homeschooling? It should have occurred to you that the career thing was not going to be waiting for you during those 20 or 30 years you spent educating your kids.

That said, today we have far more options for work than we had 30 years ago, when I last worked full-time. Thanks to the Internet, you can work from home. You can start selling on eBay, create things and sell them on Etsy, or begin a freelance career in an area that interests you. You can offer your services as a babysitter or tutor and help the newest generation. If you don’t need an income, you can volunteer in your community.

Now that you’re free to spend your day as you see fit, you may become overwhelmed by all the choices you have. And that’s OK. It’s even OK to be bitter, for a little while. But don’t let it become a permanent emotion. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start figuring out who you are at this stage of your life.

Because you were wrong when you said, “It’s over for her.” It is not “over” for any retired homeschooling mom. Personally, I’m just getting (re)started!

 

We Can’t Be Number One With Our Kids Forever

I’ve always enjoyed Dame Maggie Smith’s work, so I found this recent interview with her interesting. In it she talks about her loneliness since she became a widow and how she handles it by working as often as possible.

One thing she said really caught my attention: now that her husband is gone, she realizes she’s no longer number one with anyone. That sounds like a very lonely place to be. Then there’s the unspoken inference: not only does she miss the special relationship she had with her husband, but as a mother of children, she realizes that she’s no longer number one with them.

And that’s how it should be, since adult children need their independence and all that, but it can be hard for us mamas to accept. We spent so much time with our children, and they looked to us for everything, so much so that sometimes we had to hide in the bathroom to get a little peace (and even that didn’t always work). Then our kids grew up and one-by-one left home and found others to spend their time with. Before we knew it, we became just another item on the to-do list (“Call Mom”) or just another Facebook friend.

I just reread that last paragraph and it sounds kind of cynical at the end. Sorry, but that’s how it feels sometimes, and I have kids who keep in touch. But I know others who only hear from their kids every few months, so it’s even harder for them. It’s not that we need to keep busy with our own activities (although that surely helps), it’s that there’s this big hole in our lives where our kids used to be, demanding snacks and needing baths; filling that hole with work and hobbies just doesn’t cut it.

I know there are lots of suggested solutions for this loneliness that comes from widowhood or an empty nest or both; clearly Dame Maggie Smith’s solution is work. But I think her honesty is probably the most helpful part of her example. It’s always comforting to know you’re not alone, I suppose.

Preparing for Adulthood Without College

I loved college. I loved the campus, I loved the dorms, and I loved the challenging classes (well, most of them). College was a great experience for me, and once I began having children, it was something I wanted for them, too. I assumed they would feel the same way. But as my oldest reached her mid-teens, she decided that college was not for her.

At first I thought she would change her mind, and so I geared her work toward college preparatory subjects, and required her to take the PSAT and ACT. She scored above average on both tests. Soon college brochures and catalogs filled our mailbox, but none of them changed her mind.

Her dream was to work and be on her own. She felt that going to college was a way of delaying adulthood, and she was eager to be an adult. She had dreams of travel, and eventually getting her own place to live. She had been very independent, even as a small child, and that trait grew stronger as she approached her late teens.

I kept thinking that maybe we should just sign her up somewhere. I thought if she went away to school and lived with other girls her age, she would change her mind and enjoy her surroundings. But my husband felt that there was no point in sending an unmotivated student.

As I grew to accept the inevitability of the situation, teaching only college preparatory subjects felt all wrong. Why study subjects she had no interest in, like a foreign language or chemistry, if she wasn’t going to need them for college? All she could talk about was how she was going to move to this city or that city. Some of her plans were very impractical because she had no idea of what it would cost to live on her own. Her naive talk started to make me a little nervous.

I closely studied my large collection of homeschool catalogs, hoping to find resources we could use for her last year of homeschooling. But it seemed like most products were geared toward the college-bound student, and those that remained focused on cooking and sewing. She already knew how to cook and sew. I was more concerned about how she would handle credit cards and whether she really understood how much it would cost her to feed and house herself. If she didn’t want a degree, she would likely have to live on a modest income. (How times have changed!)

I decided to design sensible projects for her. So, in addition to Math Review, Shakespeare, Bible, History and Expository Writing, each week she had to research different aspects of living on her own. She compared rents in different cities, and interviewed insurance agents, landlords and utility companies. She asked many questions and got many answers.

Soon we branched out to subjects she would need to know about before she got her first full-time job. She learned about health insurance (a must, as our health insurance would not cover her once she turned 19 unless she attended college full-time). She learned about taxes and withholding, budgeting and even mortgages. She educated herself about every aspect of buying a car, and the pros and cons of car loans.

I noticed that as she completed the projects*, her naive plans slowly turned into more logical ones. By the time she finished homeschooling, I felt that she was well-prepared for independence. She started studying different cities on her own. She researched and bought her first car, for which she paid cash, because she understood just how much interest a car loan would have cost her. And she didn’t move out as soon as she turned 18, as she’d always said she would, because now she really understood that she couldn’t afford it.

Instead, she saved up a portion of her pay, and she now has a good-sized savings account. She is nearly 20, and will soon move into a city apartment with two other young women. We will miss her, but we see how excited she is about living on her own, and we are thankful that she is prepared for it.

Walking through the preparation process with her taught me a lot, too. I learned to listen to what she was really saying instead of expecting her to want what I wanted for her. I saw how prepared she could become with the right training. And now I get to see her try her wings as she leaves the nest.

Author note: Since I wrote this article almost ten years ago, my daughter has lived in three large Midwestern cities. She now owns two Internet businesses and, unlike many of her peers, is enjoying the debt-free life.

* The projects are in my book Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers.

Hot Off the Press: Letting Go

The third book in the “Stages of Homeschooling” series, Letting Go, is now available for $4.99 at Amazon.com.

Like the previous books in the series, this book is a combination of new material and a variety of articles I wrote while homeschooling my four children. Stages of Homeschooling: Letting Go (Book 3) focuses on:

  • “Making the Choice to Homeschool Older Children and Teens” (Motivations for homeschooling through high school)
  • “Which Subjects Should Homeschooled Teens Study?” (Includes those your local high school probably doesn’t offer, but should)
  • “The College Decision” (Not which college to attend, but whether your teen should even go to college)
  • “Preparing Our Teens for the World of Work” (The 21st century world of work, not the 20th)
  • “Tips for Homeschooling Parents” (Hints and hope for parents of homeschooled teens)
  • “Books and Resources” (A few of the best)
  • “Personal Memories of Homeschooling Teens” (Glimpses into the life of a longtime homeschooling family)

Learn more about the entire “Stages of Homeschooling” series HERE.

Why Public Schools are “Old School”

Parents choose homeschooling for many different reasons, but one common reason is that they’re unhappy with their local public school, or with public education in general.

Here’s a question to think about. What is the purpose of public school? Most people would answer that it’s where children get an education so that they graduate prepared to go out into the world on their own and support themselves.

Let’s take a look at what children experience in school on a daily basis:

  • They have to be there at an official starting time.
  • (If they don’t show up, they’ll have to explain their absence and might be penalized if they don’t have a good enough excuse.)
  • They’re to go to a certain room where they’ll depend on the teacher to give them their work.
  • They’re told what kind of work they’ll do; most of the time, they cannot choose what they want to do.
  • They cannot get up and leave the room; they have to stay put until an official release time.
  • They have to ask permission to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water; if they do either of these things too many times, they’ll be reprimanded.
  • They’re expected to stay in their seat and not wander around.
  • They’re regularly assessed by the teacher, who rewards those with good reports and penalizes those with bad reports.
  • They can’t eat until the prescribed meal time.
  • They can’t take a break whenever they need it; they have to wait until recess or lunchtime.
  • When they finish their work, they have to wait for the teacher to give them something new to work on.
  • They can’t go home until the bell rings.

Schools aren’t the only place where you’ll find this kind of environment. There’s another place where the daily routine is almost identical. Rereading that list (this time replacing the word “teacher” with the word “boss”) makes it clear that the school experience is designed to replicate the experience of the workplace; that is, the workplace that was common during the 20th century. Children in school were and are trained to be “good workers”: to get to work on time, to do what the boss says, and to accept the lack of autonomy inherent in the traditional hierarchical work environment. They experience this indoctrination for the bulk of childhood; thus it will be hard for today’s children to shake off their school-induced dependence on authority once they have to make it on their own in a world where all the rules have changed, and where self-sufficiency is back in style out of necessity.

(Excerpted from my book Thriving in the 21st Century: Preparing our Children for the New Economic Reality.)