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Homeschool, private school, public? Education choices and the Ideal Mother

by Meagan Francis on August 5, 2013

I’m traveling today, so thought I’d re-publish this post from the archives. If you’re wistful or unsure about your schooling choices, I hope you’ll feel better knowing you aren’t alone. – Meagan

As the beginning of the school year draws near, I’m guessing some of you are feeling a little…ambivalent.

I know how it feels. See, I consider myself a homeschooler at heart. Every year when we start the back-to-school grind I look a little wistfully at my copy of The Well-Trained Mind on the shelf and wonder what our lives would be like if I’d stuck with it, seven years ago when we decided to homeschool Jacob for first grade.

I loved a lot about our lifestyle that year, but my attention was just too divided: between a toddler, a new baby on the way, a heating-up writing career and a husband traveling most of the time, I had a lot going on and never really felt like I was juggling it all very well. Plus, I felt like I was constantly under the critical eye of friends, neighbors and family members.

It takes a lot of guts to buck the system, and my confidence was shaken by long battles with a small boy who flatly refused to learn to read. So the following fall, I enrolled the boys at a small Catholic school in town and immediately felt a huge sense of relief.

After two years there, we moved to Chicago. There, I started the angst process all over again. I knew I couldn’t deal with the “lottery” enrollment system at the public schools, where it was entirely likely all of my kids could wind up in different schools across the city (hours of driving a day definitely would not make me a happy mom). Our neighborhood school was not good at all. The boys wound up at a small Lutheran school, which we liked, but not nearly as much as the Catholic school they’d attended before. And as you can imagine, coming up with tuition for three kids–even when kids #2 and #3 get steep sibling discounts–is no easy feat.

Finally we moved again, to the small town where we are planning to stay. For a little while I considered extensively researching the school options in our new town, but finally I just couldn’t do it anymore. The angst, the wondering if I made the right choice, possibly filling out the hefty tuition check…just thinking about it was exhausting. The public schools here are good..very good, by many peoples’ standards. So I went with the path of least resistance and enrolled the boys at the local elementary school.

Looking back, I can see that so much of the stressing out over schools I was doing was an attempt to “make up” for not homeschooling anymore. Since I was giving up control of my kids’ education to some outside entity, I felt obligated to jump through hoops to make sure it was the best school we could possibly find and to prove something to myself.

I’m not suggesting I made the wrong choice in choosing parochial schools – we had great experiences, particularly at our little Catholic school. But finally I decided to choose–without guilt–sanity for myself over scrambling to research every single option and possibly having to come up with a big chunk of money every month.

And while I had a few “was this the right decision?” moments in the early days, three years in, I’m not second-guessing my choice any more. I finally gave myself permission to not do it all, and not do everything perfectly.

So while I so admire homeschooling moms who can make it work, or parents who manage to come up with steep private-school tuition because they believe it’s best for their kids, or those who are willing to drive all over town to get their kids into the best selective-enrollment schools, that doesn’t mean I have to do the same thing. We all prioritize things differently, and that’s okay.

Because really, for many of us schooling choices are not just about education, but about a certain parenting ideal, an image of motherhood we want to live up to. So often those ideals are wrapped up in a specific kind of schooling: Waldorf, Montessori, gifted academy, whatever it is. Or maybe you are a homeschool mom, but have a completely different style than you thought you would.

It’s natural to feel a little sense of disappointment or loss when you change things up – I think so many of us wrap our ideas about ourselves as mothers up with the place or way our children are educated.

I’ve written before about the Ideal Mother I imagined when my big boys were small, and homeschooling played a large role in the fantasy. My Ideal Mother was a nurturing but brainy earth-mama type, guiding her children through magical days filled with art projects and Latin lessons and spontaneous learning moments at the grocery store.

As it turned out, though, I’m a working mother who likes being pretty busy, who never got around to learning Latin during her toddlers’ naps and would much rather the kids learned about perspective and proportion from somebody who knows what they’re talking about or who can at least handle a paintbrush.

I still entertain those homeschool fantasies every now and then. I like having my children around me. I like being in charge. I’m an independent spirit at heart. I really admire homeschooling families. And in so many ways homeschooling suits me, personally…but it doesn’t suit us, as a family unit, right now.

Still, every fall, I get these ambivalent feelings. And there are moments when I wonder if I maybe could still be that mom if I tried harder.

But I try to remind myself that not homeschooling doesn’t mean I have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I don’t have to homeschool to do cool projects with my kids, or help teach them to read, or collect leaves to press between waxed paper.

I can give up certain details of my Ideal Mother without losing her essence. In fact, when I focus on what I can do more than what I can’t; what I am doing more than what I’m not, I feel closer to my Ideal Mother – the real version – than ever.

{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

heather August 12, 2011 at 9:22 am

While our educational journey has been different than yours, the heart that wants to embrace the realistic version of what an ideal mom is for me is similar. We do homeschool and I enjoy it. My semi-occasional guilt comes in focusing on things other than my children throughout the day. I strive to take time to develop my own personal interests and participate in various volunteer activities. I wonder, “Am I putting my kids off, am I not giving them enough attention…”

Really it is silly because we are around each other and interacting a great deal. The point is, mommy guilt is knocking at the door of most every mom I know-whether she homeschools, sends her kids to public or private school, whether she works for a paycheck or volunteers or whatever.

We need to practice contentment with where we are at and extend grace to ourselves. We need to accept that I am only one person and that if I have a heart of love for my children, a resolve to discipline when necessary then that is not to be underestimated. We need to accept our limits, both in ability and in interest. By the way, I have homeschooled for over 8 years and still don’t know Latin. ;-) I like the idea of knowing Latin, but really, I don’t want to put my effort into that. There are other things I want to focus on. And that is okay, but sometimes I have to remind myself that it truly is okay.

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Meagan Francis August 12, 2011 at 9:32 am

Appreciate your perspective, Heather! To me, I think the Latin thing was a symbol, again, for that “ideal” – the ideal homeschooler, the ideal mother, the smartest kids, etc. Love this: “We need to accept that I am only one person and that if I have a heart of love for my children, a resolve to discipline when necessary then that is not to be underestimated.”

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Ani Lacy August 12, 2011 at 9:54 am

I know where you’re coming from. I have a soon to be five year old that I homeschool, but who has recently become very interested in “going to school.” It doesn’t help that we’re in North Carolina where homeschooling is a lot less common than in my home state of Michigan. I’ve struggled to find a homeschool group that is a good fit for us. Luckily we are in the (academically) best school district in the city (should I choose to send him), unfortunately it is also about 98% white. So much thought goes into educating our children, I never would’ve guessed before becoming a mom how consuming it could become.

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Meagan Francis August 12, 2011 at 11:22 am

Ani, my kids also go to a predominantly white school (maybe 92%?) and that is probably my biggest concern about the district. They are white, too, so I don’t worry about them being uncomfortable – actually the opposite. I worry that they are TOO comfortable being in the majority. There were a lot of little things I noticed the first year – not outright racism, but insensitivity for sure. I went to the school social worker EVERY time and she seemed genuinely appreciative, though I’m sure it got to where she no longer wanted to open my email anymore…

My 14-year-old niece is going to be spending the year with us and going to school here. She’s biracial, and I do worry about the experience she’ll have a little, but she’s also not the sort to sit by quietly and tolerate any crap, so I have confidence that she’ll do a lot of educating just by being around.

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Ani Lacy August 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm

It can definitely be a challenge, depending on the school’s attitude toward diversity.

My sister spent her last year of high school living with me (while I finished college) and she went to a private Christian school where she was one of only 3 non-white students. The overall atmosphere of the school was such that we didn’t have any problems though. Also being a little older (like your niece) probably helped curtail any overt racism.

I still haven’t decided if I’ll let my son attend our local public school, private is financially out of reach for us right now, so all I can do is pray for guidance. :)

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Portia August 15, 2011 at 7:32 am

Ani – as an African-American mom of a toddler (who lives in NC too!) I want to really applaud you for wanting your child to go to school in a diverse learning environment. I’m a native Californian and I’ve been really disappointed by the lack of diversity that I’m seeing in our local schools. As someone who grew up in a multi-cultural environment, I’m trying to create the same setting for my 21 month old son. He starts the 1/2 toddler program at our local Montessori where the diversity and the child-centered approach best suits our needs.

Meagan -I’m really glad you are thinking about what it means to be “majority” (I really hate that whole majority/minority dichotomy because I don’t want my son to grow up thinking he is in the minority. He is exceptional! :-) ) I’d like to think that those of us who are GenX and GenYers have a different view of race and diversity than our parents before us and that we are much more tolerant of difference, no matter what it is. The challenge then is to create environments, social settings and find schools (if we so choose) where our kids can learn to explore, learn about and celebrate those differences. GREAT conversation. Thank you.

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JB August 13, 2011 at 8:14 am

Ani, Eight of my ten grandchildren go to public school where they are in the 1% minority; they are white. The other 99% of the students are african american, hispanic, asian or other. The teachers at their schools are a pretty balanced mixture. My grandchildren are getting a good education both academically and in real life, they have lots of friends and enjoy going to school. Outside of school they participate in sports and they’re still in the minority. There are a lot of cultural differences but we’re all just people and we can learn a lot from being around people that are different from us. My grandchildren don’t feel “different” based on the color of their skin. They are very social with their friends from school having them over to their homes and going to the homes of their friends. We have to be smart and keep our children safe, that would be the same if their schools were 100% white, but, we can’t live in fear. My daughters and their husbands are very involved in the schools and sports, band, etc. and teachers, principals, even other students KNOW and respect them. Hey, when you’re white in a predominately dark skinned community, people are going to notice you. I’m so proud of my kids and grandkids and who they are, their actions, etc.

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StephJ August 12, 2011 at 10:16 am

I, too would love to be the kind of mom who homeschools, but even with an ED degree I just couldn’t do it! My eldest is a gifted child who is also a very spirited personality, and I need to have a break from her during the day. I just have way more patience for teaching other people’s kids! :P We would constantly be butting heads if I was homeschooling her, whereas she does not give her teachers nearly as hard a time. Besides, she is extremely social, and the best part of school for her is the bus ride and spending time with her friends.

So for us, sending her to school was the best option as well. I also tortured myself over selecting her preschool and elementary school, but we found a school that is a good fit for her and for our family. Now I found myself second-guessing recently my choice of preschool for my second DD who I had enrolled in the same school as my eldest. I felt that I had enrolled her for the wrong reasons (basically, just because that’s where her sister had gone) when there was a better place for her. So I switched her preschool just in time since they still had spots available, and i feel very comfortable that she is in the right place for her (and great for me, since her new preschool is located IN the elementary school my oldest goes to!) I don’t find it gets easier because each child is different so the same school might not be the best fit for her as for her sister.

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Shari August 12, 2011 at 11:00 am

I’m also a school obsessor, and my story is much like StephJ (spirited, social eldest child; introverted, intellectual Mama (and former teacher) who liked the idea of homeschooling). When I realized it would not work for us, I then obsessed over preschools (we made 3 switches), and investigated private elementary schools, BUT my husband has convinced me to take the path of least resistance, and my daughter will be starting kinder at our neighborhood public school in a week. To say I am apprehensive about this is an understatement, but I am just trying to let it go — and remember most of the world does not have the luxury of fretting about all these choices — and many are lucky to get any education at all, and still children all over turn out to be good, smart, and happy people. Anyway . . . wish us luck.

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Alma August 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

I hope this isn’t too off-topic, but I was just listening to The Age of Persuasion podcast on “The Happy Homemakers: How Advertising Invented The Housewife,” it got me to thinking about how the women in the 1950s and 60s felt an artificial pressure to be the perfect wife and homemaker. This pressure was driven by Madison Avenue, which had a lot of cleaning products, convenience foods and appliances to sell. They created the demand for these items by appealing to women’s emotions, their desire to be seen as June Cleaver-eque wives and mothers.

I don’t think too many Gen X and Gen Y mothers feel like they need make perfect cakes and dust the house in pearls, but we do feel pressure to be Perfect Mothers and I wonder who’s behind this new feeling of inadequacy. As a marketer and a mother, I dare say someone benefits from our feeling like we need to buy right to raise our children right. Just something to think about next time we feel like educational toys, parenting books, expensive tutors, sports camps and fancy baby food/diapers/strollers/lunch boxes define our commitment to our kids.

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Meagan Francis August 12, 2011 at 11:33 am

I think you’re right Alma…though for me I think there was something about the counter-cultural, going-against-the-grain nature of homeschooling that initially appealed to me (ten years ago, while it was starting to become more accepted, it was not nearly as prevalent or mainstream as it as now.) I think there were still some very smart marketers out there benefiting at the time, but probably not nearly as many as now.

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Jessica Davenport August 12, 2011 at 11:27 am

I’m just curious…what exactly does it mean when people say “I want to be the kind of mom who home schools?” What does a home schooling mom look like? :)

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Meagan Francis August 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

For me, it was just part of an image I’d created for myself, as described above – uber-nurturing, creative, patient, endlessly resourceful and spontaneous, etc. I actually AM all those things at my best, but the homeschooling part just didn’t fit in (in fact, I found that I was less of all those things when we homeschooled!)

I know that there’s no homeschooling “type” but homeschooling fit in nicely with the “type” of mom I thought I wanted to be. If that makes sense.

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Sandy Vanhoey August 9, 2012 at 8:41 am

For me as an ideal mom, I want to the best school for my kids and I will make sure to support their schooling.:)

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Laura August 12, 2011 at 11:47 am

I think we all have this idea of what we should be and it is hard to let go. I never had the conflicts over putting my children in public school based on quality of eduction (the administration has nearly driven me mad on several occasions, but that’s a different story) because I believe in enlisting experts whenever possible. That said I struggle with my “Ideal Mother” image in other ways adding all kinds of stress to my life and taking responsibility for many thing that really are beyond my scope of influence.
Thanks for the great post.

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SusanP August 12, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I can relate to having the fantasy of being a homeschooling mom but it just wouldn’t work for us unless we made some drastic changes. I’m the breadwinner so I’d have to quit and my husband would have to find a full time job with benefits (he’s currently at working for himself at home so he can take care of the kids during the day). That would take a lot of upheaval. If we were truly out of options we could, but we aren’t out of options yet. Another problem is our having four little kids. I could not see myself being able to devote what’s needed with babies/toddlers underfoot. While I love the idea of homeschooling, I also think that my personality would not be a good fit — I’m too introverted and don’t think I would get out as much as I should with the kids to get involved with activities outside the home.

For the most part I’m ok with our current choices, but I feel pangs of envy when I read about homeschoolers or talk to them in person (my boss’s wife homeschools their two children). I think what I envy is the FLEXIBILITY. Being able to tailor the education to each child and not follow one curriculum for all. And not having to adhere to a strict school schedule.

Anyway, we’re happy with our little Catholic school we found. It’s not too pricey and thanks to my the income my husband brings in through his at home business we can afford it. It’s a very small school and diverse – I think there are more hispanics than caucasians. We are a biracial family (I’m caucasian, my husband is hispanic), so we feel we blend right in. We didn’t send them there out of some effort to be ideal parents … it’s more the fact that my husband and I both attended Catholic schools as kids and we want our kids to have the same experience we had. And they are able to have a more flexible curriculum compared to our local public schools which are heavily focused on standardized testing.

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Aimee in OR. August 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Oh my Gosh, I so needed this today. Thank you. I am a homeschooling mama who just enrolled the kids into {lol} a private school! They are starting school in a couple of weeks. I love homeschooling and we had some wonderful times together, the kids and I. But there was a lot of struggling with one child who thought homeschooling was about being at home and not so much schooling. After much thought and tears and thought and tears….. they have been enrolled! They are thrilled! Me, um, I think there will be some more tears during the first {week} day of school. But in the end we will be a much stronger, happier family.

Thanks again for posting this.

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Tina August 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm

I feel for you. I homeschooled, but struggled with the decision. One child was dyslexic/autistic, another was ADHD. Mine was far from the perfect family. One son just wouldn’t learn from me, so I got him a tutor reasoning it was better than putting him in public school. Then I struggled if I was really a homeschool mom because someone else was teaching my child.

But the bottom line is, you do what is right for you and your family at the time. One by one my boys made the decision to go to school, one to private and two to public. I felt they had deserted me. But they made their decision and they all did fine. Homeschool or no homeschool I did the best that I could and really that is all anyone can really ask of a mom.

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sybil August 12, 2011 at 6:27 pm

We live in Seattle where there are amazing school choices everywhere you turn. We have taken a very eclectic approach to schooling so far– co-op preschool, regular preschool, private school for K and 1sr for our older daughter and now we are starting homeschool for our oldest daughter’s 2nd grade year and public school for our younger daughter’s K year. Clearly I am deeply conflicted as to what the best choices are.
Thank you for this post, it is relieving to know I am not the only one who struggles with the guilt on this issue!

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Carrie August 13, 2011 at 5:11 am

I really appreciate this post. My daughter is only 16 months old but already I know I am a homeschooler at heart, but that will most likely not happen for a variety of reasons, least of all financial. The one line that really resonated with me in your post was:
“I don’t have to homeschool to do cool projects with my kids, or help teach them to read, or collect leaves to press between waxed paper. ” I try to remind myself this as well – that I can still complement and enhance my daughter’s education, as well as play a very close role in monitoring and guiding her through the (sometimes less than ideal) public school system. And that’s what it ultimately comes down to: giving the most of your attention, when you can, as much as you can. A smart mom is one who knows when to draw the line, for her sanity and the sanity of the family. I think you’re a smart mom, lol, and it’s nice to see I’m not the only one who struggles with all this!

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Petrea August 13, 2011 at 5:26 am

Thanks for this post, it brought me back to when my children were younger and I struggled with these same issues. I remember collecting all sorts of books and activities, piling them up because I wanted to squeeze in as much as I could before they began school, knowing that homeschooling couldn’t work for us. Instead of feeling guilty now I am ahppy about our school choice and am involved as a parent as much as I can, even volunteering to do art workshops with my sons’ classes.

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Jennifer Fink August 13, 2011 at 8:07 am

Wow. This post hit me hard! I struggle mightily with this issue myself — my educational ideals vs. the reality of our lives. I’m thinking I may need to go back, re-read this post, reflect and think a little more, b/c it def. touched something visceral inside me.

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Tara August 13, 2011 at 8:30 am

What an awesome post. I am struggling as we speak with 2 weeks to go. Just switched to public from Catholic school due to money. I hate the loss of control too. Just a great post! Thank you.
Tara

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Diana Stanshop August 16, 2012 at 1:41 am

I send my daughter to private school for this new school year of her. It is her first time going to school so I want to give best for her.

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dweej @ HouseUnseen August 13, 2011 at 8:39 am

We chose this home because it’s zoned for an excellent public school district, and our first year here I sent them to school, happily and without incident. This year, as my older kids enter 4th and 5th grade, we are going to try homeschooling FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME EVER. And I can assure you that I am feeling the exact same ambivalence that you’re feeling. Am I making the right choice? Will they learn enough? Will such a dramatic change be good for our family. No matter what decisions we make as mothers, there will always be questions. But in the end, a strong marriage and fulfilled children are the most important goals. How we get there doesn’t matter nearly as much as we worry it will :)

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cagey (Kelli Oliver George) August 13, 2011 at 11:05 am

I am religious when it comes to my Google Calendar for scheduling. I am hardcore when it comes to my Easy Shop app for my phone (if something needs to be purchased, it MUST go in this or it will never get bought – my entire family is well-trained in telling me to add things to the list)

However, I still rely on old-fashioned pen and paper when it comes to jotting down notes and ideas and lists.

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Meagan Francis August 15, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Kelli, I think your reply got stuck in the wrong spot! I’ll contact you in case you want to move it over to the giveaway post.

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susan August 13, 2011 at 11:57 am

I have 6 kids ages 34 to 14 and yes during part of their education I homeschooled (14 years). Reread the Well Trained Mind and do things with them when they are home and when it seems like a natural place to insert learning. You can have both and not be exhausted and stressed. Less truly is more if it is done well. Great post. susan

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Adventures In Babywearing August 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I always assumed my kids would be homeschooled or private schooled so I have to laugh that we went the public school route and it’s worked so well. I will never forget Noah’s first day of kindergarten- I had made a deal with my husband- if even one red flag went up (and I was watching closely!) he would be homeschooled. He is now starting 5th grade at the same school. Nothing ever went wrong! Actually, we only saw things go right. I am very thankful for this. And it’s not to say that we haven’t had our own struggles (I have one child with an IEP so we have found the extra free help a huge blessing). Anyway. So many people still assume I homeschool because I appear to be “that type of mom” and I am at heart, but not in real life.

I was just saying to friends last night that I am so unstructured- I’d probably unschool instead of homeschool, and as much as it’s NOT ME , my kids love structure! They do so well with it and it’s just not in my make up. So, school is my savior in that way, too.

Anyway! I am really looking forward to school this year.

Steph

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Meagan Francis August 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Steph, I can SO relate. External structure is really helpful for me AND my kids, which is why as much as I love the easy-going nature of summer, at a certain point I just can’t wait for somebody else to hand us a schedule again :)

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Karen L August 15, 2011 at 8:32 pm

I’m similar in that my kids like more structure than I do. If I homeschooled, it’d probably look a lot like unschooling and … get this … I’m a teacher! I am very structured and organised at school but it doesn’t translate to home.

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Sarah August 13, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Love this, Meagan. You’re so great at acknowledging the subtleties in every situation and sharing your personal stories without making it seem like yours is the only and only right way. Many writers try to do that but few succeed, in my opinion.

PS – I shared this in my weekly links post for Scottsdale Moms Blog – you show up there quite a bit! http://www.scottsdalemomsblog.com/2011/08/13/clickworthy-august-13-2011/

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Meagan Francis August 15, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Aw, thanks Sarah! I really appreciate that very nice compliment. :)

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Ruth Lynn August 13, 2011 at 3:25 pm

All these posts are great! Makes me want to sit down with all of you with a cup of tea to discuss schooling!! It is often difficult to find people open to discussing the options rather than simply pushing their own choice.

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Catherine August 14, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Agreed!

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Catherine August 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I found this post heartening, because I am a drop-em-at-school type mom who is homeschooling ;)

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Heidi August 14, 2011 at 11:12 pm

I so appreciate this post. My oldest son is 3.5, and I’m just starting to try to figure out what on earth we’re going to do about school. We’re overseas, and all the preschools here are 20 hours a week, even for 2 year-olds, and have a very heavy emphasis on academics over play. Unfortunately, nearly everyone starts their kids in half-day preschool at 2.5 and very few people homeschool. My husband and I have always planned to send our kids to school, but the closer to school age my son gets, the more conflicted I feel about whether I “should” homeschool him or send him to school when the time comes.

Thankfully I found a preschool home-based co-op that meets 2 days a week and rotates among the homes of the members, so at least for this year it’s a good compromise. I so appreciated what you said about your Ideal Mother, because I’ve been struggling so much with whether keeping him home another year is a good idea or depriving him of necessary interaction, and whether sending him to school next year would be good for him or selfish of me (or both!), and whether I should want to homeschool or if I should be fine with sending him off to school. Thank you for the reminder that I can only do what is best for my family right now, and that I shouldn’t agonize over whether I should be doing something else.

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Jennifer August 15, 2011 at 6:49 am

Thanks so much for writing this! Large families and homeschooling seem to go hand-in-hand. Throw in adopted children and it’s easy to feel out of place for NOT homeschooling. We’ve had a great public school experience with our other children so far. When we brought home two of our children from Russia in December I planned on homeschooling them until the fall (I didn’t want to just throw them in school without the language and staying with me helped with attachment and bonding). It worked out really well and I liked homeschooling them. Still the plan was for them to attend public school in the fall and I still think that’s the right choice. Public school starts here in a few weeks and for the first time ever all six of my children will be in school full-time. This just feels like the right fit for our family as a whole and for each individual family member. If this ever changes, then we’ll re-evaluate and go from there. In the meantime, I’m satisfied with our choice. Thanks for the reminder that I don’t need to feel guilty for going against the “norm” (meaning the “norm” for large, adoptive families) :-)

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Karen August 15, 2011 at 8:24 am

I wanted to thank you for your post. It is my first time reading your blog, my friend sent a link but I will be back. I think many mothers need to forgive themselves for not being their own ideal or perfect mother, including myself of course, in all areas not the least of which in education.

I am pretty crunchy and as my son turns 5 and heads to kindergarten I see many of our friends deciding to home school and honestly I am not sure why but it seems like people hold this so sacred it is hard to ask about.

Homeschooling is a way foreign concept for me. I grew up in NYC and the only choices were public or private. It wasn’t until I went to high school in MA, that I ever met any one who was homeschooled and the only reason I knew him is that his parents sent him to the private school my parents sent me to.

I also feel even on my most patient creative days, teachers understand more about children than I do. I may understand my own more but I have not taking classes in early childhood ed or done internships or met and taught hundreds of 5 year olds. There’s also a huge social aspect of school and for good or bad those aren’t lessons you can teach with a few kids from similar backgrounds. I have always felt preschool and social learning was more important than a lot of the book learning in school.

But even though my son is only 5, the choice was made for me by who my son is. My son was taken into the Child find program in our state at 3 because he had developmental delays. I found it hard to put a baby on a bus and put his learning in the hands of others because while all along I thought school was important, I thought I’d have a few more years to prepare for it. He is far from typical but the school and therapies given to him at school have helped tremendously. Also one of the best things we’ve done for him in put him in a day camp this summer with typical kids. His language and social skills have had a huge boost. So my son, maybe more than most, needs the group environment of school.

Lastly, I have flirted with the idea of putting him into a special private school at least a 45 minute drive (without bad traffic) no where near where my husband or I work, only because it is a special school for kids like him. While it is still an option, albeit a very impractical one, I will endeavor to forgive myself for not sending him there. It is not a very good fit for us as family even if you don’t consider the money.

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Taylor August 15, 2011 at 8:26 am

We homeschool, and for me it hasn’t really every been a choice. I was raised unschooled with my siblings, all four of us, all the way through. So I see the good that came from it, and the places that the model my mom followed (totally and fully child-led) had some problems.

I’m having way too much fun with my almost five-year old to put him in school, and as long as we are both happy at home then that’s what we’ll do.

I think that you touched on one of the most essential aspects of homeschooling in your post. In the excitement of bucking the system, having the kids at home, or any other reasons we might homeschool, sometimes it seems parents forget that at least one of them has to really want it and really enjoy it. If not, you might be dooming yourself and your child(ren) to myriad educational struggles. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of commitment.

And for me it is totally worth it. For a couple of friends…they can’t even imagine it. I really celebrate how many choices we have now for educating our kids!

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hannamay August 15, 2011 at 9:00 am

Meagan, thank you for this article.. I truly understand all your struggle about the schooling choice issue.. I think homeschooling is better for a kid but I agree that it is not that bad that you let your children go to public school.. wish you all luck!

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Kristen @ Motherese August 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

What a thoughtful post, Meagan, and one I’m very grateful for as the mom of three not-yet-school-age kids. I’m also thankful for the reflective comments here. A terrific resource!

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Kiasa August 16, 2011 at 3:50 am

Thank you! I’m stopping over from Simple Mom and I love this post! I feel so much guilt as I send my oldest off to public school (her first schooling ever!) in a couple of weeks. I want to homeschool, but with two little boys I was feeling extremely overwhelmed. Public school is good for us right now. We will take things one step at a time. I am extremely grateful that we are going to a good school. But I will work on not beating myself up, relaxing and knowing this is good (even if I don’t homeschool).

Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom!!!

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phoenix1920 August 17, 2011 at 8:35 am

In reading the post, I realize you only give a small portion of the story so I don’t have everything here, but I wonder why you feel that you’re a homeschooler at heart. I think you’re a fantastic mom, you balance everything well, and your kids are a HUGE focus in life. You do so much with them. But it feels like you think you should be a “homeschooler at heart” or are drawn to a romantic notion of homeschooling families that you want to fit into. Is a homeschooler really who you are? I ask only because it seems like you felt guilt earlier over not homeschooling and generally guilt arises from when one’s expcations of themselves does not met their reality (or when one accepts another’s expectations as their own and this expectation does not meet that reality)

Truthfully, I don’t know a lot about homeschooling because my children are not homeschooled, but I’ve thought about it here and there. I am sure it is a challenging and fun and difficult job. I don’t know if I’m a homeschooler at heart because I don’t know if it’s really me. But I wonder because I seem to be drawn to things I think homeschooling parents probably do. Most of my reading involves either books on a child’s developing mind, ways to educate, methods to motivate, etc. I’ve made numerous games so my kids can practice math concepts in fun ways. We do science experiments, math eggs (Easter eggs, but with math problems inside where they get the candy if they solve the problem), etc. Our crafts are typically historical crafts. We read together and create stories. In the summer, I do 15 minutes a day with each child on “Summer Bridge” books where they do typical school homework activities. I mention this because my heart feels drawn to activities where we can share learning together. Even when we do regular activities, a walk outside becomes a hunt to see how many different types of leaves we can find. Going to the beach turns into lessons on the viscosity of wet sand.

Despite this, I don’t think I’m a homeschooler at heart. My husband is a public school teacher and he is truly a teacher at heart. Teaching is in every ounce of his being; he teaches at home, at work, everywhere. It is clearly his calling: he has the love of it, the discipline, the hardwork. While I love sharing learning with my children, there is a discipline involved in homeschooling that I’m not sure I possess. I love how I share learning with my children, but if I did it on a day-to-day basis, I’m worried it would kill my love of it. I do homeschool-type stuff when my kids are in good moods and want to do it. When they’ve had a bad day, we read or get active.

I used to feel guilty or selfconscious about how I constantly turn everything into a learning environment–that people would think I was trying turn my children into overachievers or the like. But I think we have to learn who we really are and then accept ourselves for that. For me, I love to share learning with my children–it’s a hobby. Still, stopping the guilt is hard.

On a secondary basis, I LOVE how you mention that there is a middle ground. We can do homeschooling-type stuff on the weekends with the kids or after school. Many of the most fun homeschooling projects don’t feel like school at all.

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Meagan Francis August 18, 2011 at 8:05 am

Good questions Phoenix!

“…drawn to a romantic notion of homeschooling families that you want to fit into.”

The romantic notion of it is most definitely part of what appeals to me :) I do know from experience that the fantasy is not the reality, but there were still plenty of positive things that I miss.

“it seems like you felt guilt earlier over not homeschooling and generally guilt arises from when one’s expcations of themselves does not met their reality (or when one accepts another’s expectations as their own and this expectation does not meet that reality)”

You’re definitely on to something here, though I don’t feel guilty at all anymore (i definitely did at first, though, which is why I shared that I made such a fuss over picking the ‘perfect’ school.)

To answer your initial question: I think for me the remaining conflict comes from wanting to live many different kinds of lives at once, and having to make choices. If I had four different lives to lead, I could manage to fit in every kind of experience, but as it is, I have to prioritize and really pick and choose…and I accept that, but sometimes still feel a wee bit conflicted.

I think there are certain things about the homeschooling lifestyle that will always appeal to me – the freedom, the flexibility, being the one in charge of my kids’ education, getting to be there to witness those accomplishments, to see when a lightbulb goes off. So in my deepest heart of hearts, if I could have EVERYTHING – which I can’t – I’d want to be the one doing it.

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Laura August 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm

I just found your blog, and this post is just great! Even though I’ve been a classroom teacher for years (and have four sons), I agree wholeheartedly — educational choices belong to parents, they’re unique to each family, they change from time to time…and just what you said above! I’ll sure be recommending this post!

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Amy August 21, 2011 at 7:10 am

I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear this. We recently moved to a new city that is extremely homeschool friendly. But alas, I am still going to enroll my daughter in school. In a nutshell, I am making my family miserable trying to make sure everyone is happy. None of us seem happy and that is because my fantasy is not matching up with reality. Thanks for writing this.

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Janet September 1, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Thank you SO much for this post Meagan. It could not have been written at a better time for me. We moved in April, took the kids out of school and homeschooled for a term – really not long and I know that everyone says you should HS for at least a year to find your groove. BUT, I was completely stressed out about the whole thing. Thanks for articulating what I think I was trying to inside my own head!! We have a 7 & 8 year old and an 8 month plus another one on the way and I just felt COMPLETELY divided and felt that I really didn’t do anything well. I turned into this dull, stressed out person when I was trying to go through stuff with the kids – during a random naptime of the 8 mnth old. I love being busy and I love the adrenalin that comes from this. I found it nearly impossible to get any time to do anything else. We were all with each other from 7am til 9/10pm. I was exhausted. Hschooling is NOT a popular option here. People think it’s the oddest thing to do and normally this wouldn’t bother me, but the relentless criticism was tough.
I also have a husband who travels alot and my own fledgling business which has had no attention whatsoever. When I found out I was pregnant again, literally 2 days ago, we went to visit our nearest primary and enrolled the kids. They start on Monday and I feel like a weight has been lifted from me. I still get to do the other artsy stuff I want to to with them, but I do get to go do the shopping alone if I need. But I know I will constantly doubt if I have made the right decision. I think for our family it is. Thanks so much for the post and the comments – could not have been better timed,

Janet

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Jacky October 26, 2011 at 4:32 am

Thank you SO much for this post Meagan. It could not have been written at a better time for me. I was exhausted. Hschooling is NOT a popular option here. People think it’s the oddest thing to do and normally this wouldn’t bother me, but the relentless criticism was tough.

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Devon August 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Thank you for re-posting this.

I am *feeling* everything you wrote about here. All of the uncertainty, confusion, gotta-get-it-rigthedness (whatever that is), I’m going through it right now. In fact, I have “The Well-Trained Mind” sitting on my desk right now, right in front of me, with colorful post-its sticking out of it everywhere.

We’ve been seriously considering homeschooling for years now, and have finally decided to try it. I’m starting my boys on a Kindergarten/First Grade curriculum this fall and am scared – and excited – but mostly scared.

Great post, Meagan, thank you.

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Swapna August 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Hi Megan, I am from India and homeschooling is still a rare phenomenon here. My three year old daughter goes to a private school here and is happy but I know she won’t fit into the regular school pattern because of her extremely high imagination and not being able to comply to fixed norms. (I hope I am explaining this correctly) I know I won’t be able to homeschool her but your post shows me the middle path how I can give her the best of both worlds. Thanks for the lovely post.

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Sarah August 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I loved this. Thanks for writing it.

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Alexandria August 8, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Having a very positive public school education and experience, I never particularly struggled with this. But, I have always been amused at the perception that I just didn’t care or didn’t try because we went the public school route. HA! Actually, we are very involved in our childrens’ education and are very concerned they get the best education for *them.* Thankfully we knew that it’s not so black and white, and there are many shades of grey. My kids attend an amazing public charter school (K-8). I don’t think I could pay for a better education if I tried.

When I see parents stressing about this, it is usually because they have backed themselves in a corner by only considering very limited solutions. The solutions are usually “buy the most expensive home possible (going by school district perception)” or “private school.” This is the conversation I hear from most parents, anyway. To get our kids to this spot we did neither. We just knew there would be a lot of good/inexpensive options. We are probably a little more concerned than average because our kids are very unique. But it still seems to me we have a wide variety of options to keep them doing well in school and to not break the bank doing so. If our kids were more average, we’d probably have just sent them to their assigned public school and been just fine with that.

As an aside, my spouse did go to a private school, and from everything I can tell my own “assigned public school” education was far superior. I think this is why we didn’t stress about it or particularly care at all about school districts when shopping for homes. Now that I have kids, I might at least look a little bit into the schools. But I didn’t understand why I was to obsess over school districts when I didn’t even have children yet. ;) If we found ourselves in a situation where private school was a better fit, it would be a REALLY hard sell on my spouse, who feels his parents really wasted their money. I am also open to homeschool and independent study (likely with our kids, in the long run), but there is only so much you can teach a child who is doing math at a higher level than you ever learned yourself. We will need outside help in some form or other. That said, all I can do is tackle things one problem at a time, one school year at a time. These are concerns for much higher grades. IT’s always served us well to just cross these bridges when we come to them. Like when a super awesome charter school was formed in our neighborhood. We could have wasted a lot of time and money stressing before that point. We won’t always be quite that lucky, but it seems to me there will probably never be a need to panic or go broke over our kids’ schooling.

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Carrie August 9, 2012 at 11:55 am

I can relate to the post big time. I’ve done homeschooling, private and public. Did 2 years of homeschooling with my oldest at the middle school age after he’d been in private school and then one year of public. He later returned to public school. The others have had private preschool, but public elementary school. Tuition to private for 5 kids is just not possible, although I loved the private school they attended, the spiritual aspect and the small class sizes. Our public schools are not as highly rated as I’d like, but the teachers they have all had have been wonderful and I’ve been very involved as a parent volunteer. I’ve also learned that it’s an individual thing. Homeschooling worked with this particular child at this particular time in his education — wouldn’t have worked as well with my other kids or when they were at a younger age.
And on another note…I love watching the video of you at the LTYM show last year. I was in the Valpo cast this year and when I found out I was in the cast hoped you were returning to the show…seemed to have a lot in common with you and loved your parenting philosophy. :)

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Nicoleandmaggie August 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm

We had planned to have DC go through kindergarten at his montessori… but a year before he should have started K it was abundantly clear he’d outgrown the school. Two of the schools in town were willing to talk to us about early entrance. One of them turned out to be a great fit, though we did not intend to spend so many hours trying to keep the school afloat.

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Olivia August 13, 2012 at 8:04 am

I have always pictured my children going to public school. I believe most are good schools, and also feel a sense of duty to send my children there. Because, the more people leave them for private options, the worse the schools get.

So this fall I was all set to send my 3 yr old to the preschool at the public elementary near by, a perfectly good program that integrates special needs children. But then friends told us about the Montessori school they are sending their son (a friend of my daughter’s) to. We checked it out and it does seem like a wonderful program. The only cons are price and distance.

We could get financial assistance to help with the price, but it would still be more than twice the cost of the public option. Then there is the distance, about three times as far as the other school, clear across town. In the end, I couldn’t justify paying more money and driving that distance (with a new baby) every day. So back to the public school it is and I feel really good about it.

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Mommy Adventures August 6, 2013 at 6:11 am

Private vs. public school, that’s the exact dilemma we spent months agonising over. I would love to send my daughter to a public school, but despite our cul-de-sac being lovely, the area beyond our little neighbourhood is not the best. The public schools around here are some of the worst in the state, so we’ve decided not to send our kids to any of them. I don’t really want to drive far to a better public school, so we’re going to go private. Picking one is so hard though!

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Sarah August 7, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Thanks for reposting this. It’s a struggle for me every year. I was homeschooled and loved it and want to give that experience to my kids. But another health setback has made it clear that it’s just not in the cards for me at this time. I’m mostly happy with our school choices for our kids and am looking forward to having time for myself for the first time in 12 years of mothering.

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Lisa November 9, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Just finding your site. Thank you for this. As a veteran homeschooling mom (18 years) I have been through a lot, and putting some of my children in school has been the hardest thing I have ever done. But my ideal and reality were no longer lining up. I hope you don’t mind if I recommend your site on my new blog for veteran and former homeschooling moms.

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Jenifer June 10, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Oh how I needed to read this. I’m currently having an inner struggle that is effectively driving me crazy at the moment. Do I send my kids to public again next year? Do I try homeschooling again? I find myself feeling like more and more of a failure as I struggle with this decision, and you really gave me some great perspective here. I have been holding onto this fantasy of what I think the perfect mother is, and it obviously has a terrible effect on me.

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