You know what they say about the word never. “Never say never!” These were the lyrics sung by a cartoon mouse and bird in one of my favorite childhood movies, “An American Tail” but the irony of the statement escaped me until I was older. There were plenty of things I said I’d NEVER do, especially with regard to parenthood. These NEVER statements began early. “I would NEVER have a c-section.” I’m now the proud bearer of a c-scar. “My kid would NEVER use a pacifier” was amended to “past age 1” and then again to “except at night.” NEVER would I allow my children to watch more than a certain amount of TV. You can read about how well that turned out here.
The biggest NEVER statement I made was about our educational choices. I said I’d never homeschool. I was looking forward to the day when our youngest would enter full time kindergarten so I could return to work as a teacher. I loved my job, but when my oldest was born we did some math and figured the cost of daycare wasn’t worth the stress of me working full-time. I fell right into the role of stay at home mom with no problems. I even found a few side jobs – a direct selling company and a babysitting gig – to help bring home a few extra bucks. Overall my husband, daughters, and I were happy with the flexible and easy-going lifestyle we had though it was not extravagant by any means. Still, I couldn’t wait to once again don the teacher cardigans, flats, and giant totes filled with expo markers and post-its.
Around the time my oldest daughter was three and my youngest was a baby, I found mom groups on Facebook. I joined some of the “crunchy mama” groups for advice on breastfeeding and cloth diapering and natural foods. I grew fond of some of the mamas I “knew” on these groups and even had the privilege to meet some in real life. Some of these online acquaintances grew into real life friendships. Now one thing about many of the mamas I fell into friendship with is that they homeschooled. I’d walk into a friend’s home mid-week, and her older kids would engage my younger children while my friend and I had “grown up mama time.” I saw first hand how a middle schooler could take charge of her own education and finish her required and chosen (CHOSEN!) coursework before noon so she could spend the rest of the day pursuing non-academic interests. I saw children of all ages interacting with each other and adults with ease. I saw how a struggling reader had the sole attention of his mother and was never made to feel inferior, because there were no other children his age to whom he could compare himself.
I was beginning to like this idea of homeschool. This idea had once been a foreign and undesirable choice. Even though I held a teaching degree, the thought of being completely in charge of my children’s education was daunting. How would report cards and transcripts work? How could I make sure my children were socially “normal” – whatever that means? Plus, I personally enjoyed every bit of my own schooling experience. Learning and school was easy for me. I had friends. I was on the dance team and Beta club. I even thrived under the stress of higher education and graduate school. I wanted my children to enjoy their educational experiences as much as I did and not miss out on anything life could offer. Then one day it clicked. Homeschool doesn’t mean missing out on experiences, it just means having different experiences. Different is okay. Different can even be great!
About the same time that I was developing friendships with veteran homeschool moms, my husband and I took a trip to visit a few friends and family members in another state. Our first stop was to the home of some long time friends who had the typical American lifestyle of two working parents, children enrolled in school and several extra-curricular activities. I felt the family was shuffling from one spot to another during our entire two-day visit, concerned about the next scheduled event or deadline, and as a result they were never fully present with each other. They were busy; their lives dictated by school and activity schedules. I was stressed just by being an observer. After that visit, we went straight to a relative’s home for another few days. They homeschooled their children and from the time we entered their home, I felt a peace. There was no morning rush to get to school on time, and the kids spent a significant amount of time directing their own play outdoors. Instead of little heads buried in homework, the kids were able to spend time with their dad when he walked in from work. The two lifestyles were extreme, and they don’t accurately represent any families other than their own. It may also be important to note that I only had a very small glimpse into the grand scheme of the life of each of the families. To me, though, it was abundantly clear which lifestyle I preferred for my own children.
I know that many families are able to send their children to school and have a very healthy relationship with their children. My parents did, as well as my husband’s parents. And I admire the many families who are able to be intentional and enjoy their families in the midst of the rat race. However, these experiences with these families coupled with the time I’d spent with my newfound mom friends convinced me to at least try homeschooling.
So I did. My husband and I gave homeschooling an honest trial run. Previously, I said I’d NEVER do it, and that it just wasn’t for me. Only, it’s exactly what I never knew my family needed. We have thrived as a homeschool family. It is contrary to much of what I’d done as public school teacher, though it is surprisingly similar to many of the principles and philosophies I’d learned while pursuing my degree in education. Homeschool has given my family the gift of time despite my husband’s crazy work schedule. He works many long weekends, but we have time to enjoy mid-week family adventures without the worry of unexcused school absences. We have time to serve others so that my girls receive an education in compassion and empathy. We have time to pursue many non-academic interests during the day without creating chaotic evenings that require chauffeuring kids to and from practices and lessons. Perhaps the biggest advantage that surprised me is that my dyslexic daughter has all the time she needs to struggle without the social repercussions of being the “slow reader” in class. Because she has the freedom to learn at her pace, and not on an arbitrary schedule, she is happy and loves to learn. If she were put into public school she’d wear a label, and her brilliance would go unrecognized. Her self esteem would dissolve, simply because she has taken a little longer to learn to read than deemed appropriate. She wouldn’t have much time to shine in her strengths.
It’s not uncommon for a friend to comment that she could NEVER or would NEVER homeschool her children. I know, I know. It’s not for everyone. I understand that many people just don’t want to do it. And there are plenty of valid reasons and life circumstances that prevent a family from homeschooling. I can even admit that it does have its drawbacks. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever be a two-income family. (Notice I didn’t say we’d NEVER be a two income family! It could happen.) I’m rarely alone, and some days I’m just over having the kids under my feet. Despite that, it’s the best decision my husband and I have made for our family.
I would encourage my friends and readers to take a note from Fievel the mouse’s song (from “An American Tail”) and “never say never!” Not about homeschooling necessarily, but about any decision or circumstance. Consider all possibilities, even those that seem far-fetched. Life is unexpected and funny, and all I can do is look back at this homeschooling adventure and laugh at how well my “NEVER” has turned out.