For over a year, I homeschooled while working full time. I was able to keep my schedule relatively stable, and with a little flexibility, homeschooling fit into the day. Our time together began early in the morning and ended in the middle of the afternoon. The girls came with me to work, and brought along games, art supplies, and our iPad to continue their studies and watch movies. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked well for a while. I had also worked full time before we began homeschooling, so the absence of an imposed schedule during the hours that were once dedicated to school was a great relief.
My daughters were learning anything and everything, and I was working so hard to provide them with every opportunity to flourish while also trying to afford the impossibly high rent on our closet-sized apartment. My first year of this endeavor, as a single parent with a single income, is a testament to the fact that homeschooling can happen on even the tightest of budgets. I knew I was giving my daughters what they needed, and I was willing to take any steps necessary to maintain our new life.
Slowly, a number of small inconveniences became intrusions. I didn’t get enough sleep, relied on take out or frozen dinners too often, and felt exhausted from long days and little downtime. The sacrifices weren’t mine, alone. My daughters were frustrated with the long hours spent at work and missed out on many field trips and social gatherings because of my schedule. Shortly after we started homeschooling, we joined a local group for families with gifted kids. The girls were forming deep, meaningful friendships, and they needed the time to secure those bonds. We were loving our newfound educational freedom, but as I began to view homeschooling as a lifestyle rather than merely an educational choice, it became clear that there were many freedoms we weren’t taking advantage of.
We were busy, and it permeated every aspect of our lives. Always on the go and juggling multiple commitments, we were the family dropping in at park days and leaving just as a game got underway. Compounding our frustration was the fact that my efforts weren’t yielding financial security. We were afloat, but barely. I couldn’t realistically entertain the notion of taking time off to join our group for their biannual camping trip, and some of the field trips my schedule would have permitted us to attend were cost prohibitive.
For all the wonderful discoveries we made during that first year, our chaotic pace held us back. At first, I thought this was an inescapable truth of our situation. It was expected, I reasoned, that the joy and freedom of our lifestyle would be accompanied by certain sacrifices. Also, busy is normal. The most common response to an inquiry about well-being that I receive from friends, colleagues, and parents of traditionally-schooled and homeschooled kids alike is, “busy.” It is not uncommon to be perpetually rushed and feel overwhelmed by an impractically lengthy list of tasks to be accomplished.
I’ll admit to wearing “busy” like a badge of honor. It was a source of pride when homeschooling friends held me up as an example of how work and homeschooling can coexist, or when colleagues said, “I don’t know how you do it all.” A lot of value is placed on stress-management, and I was (for the most part) doing a commendable job of managing my stress.
Homeschooling began as a way to provide my children with the best possible education. School was a stifling environment for them, and they weren’t challenged. I knew I could do better, and I did, but as that first year progressed, homeschooling grew from a means toward an educational end into a monster. It devoured my old, tired outlook, not just on education, but on so many societal norms, and forced me to engage in an uncomfortable but enlightening examination of my values and priorities.
What I came up with was that my daughters and I most value the uninterrupted time we spend together. They have insatiable appetites for knowledge, and need a partner in learning who can be fully devoted and stay in the moment. After their physical and emotional wellbeing, my daughter’s education is my highest priority. In actuality, I knew this all along, but looking at my situation through homeschool-colored lenses, I realized new possibilities. My objective had been stress-management, but I set my sights on stress-removal, instead.
I needed to work less. My parents suggested that the girls and I move in with them, and for several months, I didn’t even entertain the possibility. I was too independent to live in anyone else’s home, I thought, but my attachment to freedom was, ironically, shackling me to an outwardly imposed structure and draining precious time from my children. After discussing our options with my daughters, I made the decision to scale back on work, leave the minuscule apartment that had been our home for over four years, and move in with my parents.
This difficult decision required its own unique set of sacrifices. I worked full time even as a teenager, and I have a strong work ethic. I had to own up to the fact that a lot of my self-worth was tied to others’ perceptions of that work ethic, and I had to untangle those knots. I had to redefine my notions of self-reliance, independence, freedom, and success. I had to resign my busy badge. My previous training had taught me that busy was synonymous with productive, but my experience had proven otherwise. For my daughters and I to thrive as homeschoolers, this drastic change was necessary.
The last seven months have been amazing and challenging. I was the only adult in my household for years, and adjusting to living with two more people was hard, as was learning to navigate the change in my relationship with my parents. Overall, they have been incredibly generous and supportive, and have strengthened their bond with my daughters. The daily presence of extended family has been just one of many tremendous gains our new arrangement has brought us.
Just as important is what we’ve lost. We’re not busy anymore, which is simultaneously scary and wonderful. As homeschoolers, we were already pushing boundaries, and to give up the frenetic, harried pace that is the norm of daily life only enhances our disparities. The transition from a six or seven day work week to radically reduced hours hasn’t been entirely smooth, strange as that may sound. I frequently entertain thoughts that I’m not doing enough, but I’ve learned to hold those thoughts up to reality to determine if they hold any weight rather than indulge them.
My reality tells a different story that can best be summed up by an exchange I had with an acquaintance a few months ago. He asked me if the girls and I were keeping busy, and without even thinking I said, “No, we’re keeping happy.” He laughed, but it’s absolutely true, and this statement served as both an admission and an affirmation of my bold and unconventional choices.