When I told a new acquaintance that I was homeschooling my kids, she nearly screamed. "Oh my god, that sounds awful!" she said. "I can't imagine being with my kids all day." Many folks react the same way, assuming that homeschooling is a cruel punishment parents inflict on themselves, as opposed to the kind of jovial kid-loving choice that entails marching around Saltzburg and singing "Do Re Mi." (The reality is somewhere in between.)
I'm a school teacher, so I choose homeschooling for my kids because I think it will make our lives better, whether it's easy or not. It's been worth it for me and my family, but there certainly have been sacrifices, from a change in how I relate to each of my kids to an increased mental load — after all, I'm the parent and the teacher. Here are the things I've had to give up partly, or completely, as a homeschooling parent.
Alone Time For Myself
This is the biggest one. I'm always with my kids. Which is the point, of course. There are lots of reasons that I homeschool, but one of them is so that I can be with my wonderful, fascinating, delightful, energetic, creative, curious, excited, non-stop, excitable, and OK, yes, exhausting children.
One-On-One Time With Each Kid
I have two kids. Emmett is 5 and a half. Tyler is 2. If Emmett were in school, I'd have low-key days (or at least half-days) with Tyler. We'd spend one-on-one time, reading books and doing laundry and going to the park. Instead, I'm constantly balancing both kids' needs, and it's hard to give each one dedicated attention. I manage, of course, but I have to create opportunities to get that one-on-one time. You're going to hear me say this over and over. There are lots of things that are built in to the school experience — a schedule, supplies, a community. Homeschoolers can have these things, too, but we have to work harder to make them happen — we're constantly creating things from scratch.
Paying For Everything Ourselves
On average, a public school spends about $11,000 per student, per CNBC, which goes toward everything from trips and events to faculty and supplies. The money pooled into a school system helps keep children busy, enriched, and surrounded by a community.
Homeschooling folks fill the gap in different ways. Some parents — parents who have more money than me — enroll their kids in lots of "extracurricular" classes to fill their time and make sure they learn things and have friends. There are classes designed especially for homeschoolers. The park district where your kid takes gymnastics after school? Well, the gym and the teacher are there during the day, too, so homeschool kids can go learn to fly through the air before lunchtime. Same goes for the science museum, library, ice skating rink, rock climbing gym, music studio, and so forth. If I had lots of money, my kid's schedule could be fully booked with awesome educational opportunities.
I don't have that kind of money, so my homeschooling expenses are more modest, but it does still add up. Almost all homeschool parents end up spending something on school supplies, from construction paper and crayons to microscopes and beyond. And even the little expenses add up.
As a teacher and current member of the gig economy, I haven't been in line for raises, promotions, or tenure, and I don't get the easy routine of a weekday, 9-5-type job. Yes, I work for pay sometimes, but most of my time is dedicated to my kids. I've chosen to sacrifice my career in favor of my children. And I'm OK with that. I'm choosing to teach in what one homeschooling friend calls, "A highly selective, super-local micro-school," and I love it. But it's not the best "career" move.
Teach the kids and clean the house and pay the bills and take a shower? Forget it. So, what gives? Self-care. I'm not talking about massages and bubble baths. I'm talking about taking care of my own basic needs: food, sleep, and the occasional shower. Homeschooling adds even more to the parental to-do list. So, I eat PB&Js, and I shower while my toddler dumps out all the bath toys on the bathroom floor and my kindergartener teaches himself thrash-metal on his pink guitar. But sleep is hard to multi-task. (Not impossible, though. I've definitely fallen asleep while my toddler finished "reading" himself his own bedtime book.) Sleep gets pushed to the bottom on the list.
Homeschooling parents don't need a conference to know what their kids have been doing. But, there's still something that's lost in losing this ritual — the outside perspective on how our kids are doing. When you send your kids to school, someone else gets to know your kids really well. And you get to compare notes. "Oh, Jeffrey rolls his eyes at you, too, eh?" "Hmm. He always tells me he finished his homework at school." "Wow, I didn't know he was reading all about medieval history. He never talks about that at home."
Of course, there are other ways for homeschool parents to get an outside perspective on our kids. For one, lots of homeschool kids, mine included, go to homeschool co-op classes, where they are with another parent/teacher sometimes (mine go once a week). So I can get some feedback. And, one of the advantages of homeschooling is that we get more family time. My kids are with my parents regularly. So, I get lots of feedback from my parents on how my kids are with them.
Not for my kid. For me. One of the hardest things about being a homeschool parent is that you're making it all up, day by day. There are different approaches to homeschooling. If you choose to use a set curriculum, there are many to choose from. And on any given day, there are a million little choices about what to do, in what order, and how to respond to each moment, whether it's how to guide a student through a difficult math problem or how to resolve a sibling conflict or how to celebrate a new skill that your kiddo has learned.
Teachers of all sorts — in classrooms and out — deal with all of these issues. But classroom teachers usually have supervisors who can guide them and give feedback and congratulate them on a job well done. Classroom teachers get to do the parent-teacher conferences, where parents come in and tell the teacher how much their kid likes the class. Homeschool teachers (aka "parents") don't get that. We have to constantly self-assess... and it can be hard not to dive into self-doubt.
Where I live, homeschooling is considered a pretty odd choice. And it's not that I mind being odd, in and of itself. But it can make it hard to hold a conversation at the playground, when even seemingly simple chit-chat ends up in complex backstory.
"Nice day out, isn't it? What grade is your son in?"
"He's kindergarten age."
"Oh? What school is he in?"
"Well, we homeschool."
Or, "[raised eyebrows]... Oh, that's... interesting..."
Then I feel like I have to explain — to dispel every myth about homeschoolers, when I'm just trying to pass the time at the playground until one of my kids falls off of something. It would be a lot easier if, once in a while, I felt like I was on common ground with most of the parents around me, so we could just chat without having to go into a lot of backstory and homeschool 101.
A Built-In Parent Community
As a homeschooler, I do have a community of other parents. And I get to pick my community more carefully. But it takes extra work. I'm not automatically hanging out with other parents at the pickup line, at the PTA meeting, in the hall at the school open house, at the band concert, and so forth. And, if I am hanging out with other parents, it's not always the same ones at every event. I see one set of parents after my son's religious school, when the families gather for bagels. I see another group of parents on Fridays, at the homeschool co-op. I see another group when I organize a homeschool field trip, another group when we volunteer with a program that provides housing to families. But it's not the same folks every time, so there's not the same sense of continuity. So it can be harder to connect and build into actual friendships.
Remember all of those school supplies? Well, they have to go somewhere. So they occupy space on my bookshelves in the living room, a box on top of the refrigerator, several shelves in the basement, a bin in the backyard, and a large portion of the living room floor on any given day.
A Clean House
Did I mention that we live in a fairly small place, since we're existing on less than two incomes? It's not like we have a lot of space. To get the idea, imagine cutting off about 25% off your house. Then image picking up your kids' school classroom, tipping it on its side, and pouring 10% of the contents into your the remainder of your house. That's kind of how my house looks.
And, remember, I don't have time to clean, because my kids are there, all day, demanding attention and making more messes. And not just regular messes. Art class messes. Science lab messes.
It's a good thing I don't mind the mess... too much.
And I love homeschooling. With all of its ups and downs, it's still totally worth it.