Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Homeschooling- Because Life Doesn't Have To Be Miserable

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David Castillo Dominici- FreeDigitalPhotos.net
My friend Kelly Sangree (author of the terrific book Hard Core Poor) is a fellow homeschooler, and wrote an article on homeschooling her kids. (One of them, anyhow. The other goes to Catholic school.)  As always happens in such homeschooling related media, a firestorm broke out in the comments section. Of course, I had what to say, and after I posted this whole long spiel there, I decided that it was something I didn't want to just leave in the talkback section of an article, but wanted to share with my readers specifically.

And it has to do with one of the main arguments I get as a homeschooler, an unschooler specifically, especially once people hear that one of the biggest things that draws me to homeschooling is that I feel it is the safest environment for me to raise my children in, from an emotional perspective. They aren't thrust in social situations above their emotional and mental capabilities and left to fend for themselves, taking their cues from the pool of kids just as immature as they are, about how to relate to others, especially when it comes to bullying, whether from classmates, schoolmates, or even how to deal with teachers that may do things that are bordering on bullying if not outright bullying. (And in case you think teachers don't bully... my husband has stories that would make your hair curl, about bullying both from teachers and principals, from as young as first grade.)

When kids are constantly stressed out by an environment that doesn't feel safe to them, an environment in which they are continuously on guard because they are afraid of getting attacked, either physically, verbally, or emotionally, they can't be receptive to learning as much as they could in a safe environment in which they can relax and open their mind to the multitude of information in the world around them.

I truly believe that by keeping them in a safer environment when they're younger, they grow up to be self confident, happy individuals, who are able to handle what life throws their way when they are older. This goes hand in hand with attachment parenting, whose motto is that when you allow your children to cultivate strong attachments to their parents from birth, and don't force them to grow up before they are emotionally capable of it, they end up being more independent in the long run, because they feel emotionally secure enough in their relationships with their parents that they aren't afraid to venture off on their own and be independent. (I can see from my 7 year old, who, though I raised him with attachment parenting, is super independent, much more so than most 7 year olds I know- and it isn't just my perception of him- I've gotten such comments from others about him.)

But the usual response I get from people when I explain this idea to them, of raising them in a safe environment until they're emotionally mature enough to handle tougher situations with confidence and maturity, is that the world is a harsh place, full of nasty things and people, and to manage in life you need to know how to deal with unhappy situations and things not going your way, and not expect the world to always revolve around you. Or basically "Life sucks, so you better get your kids used to that early."

I get this all. the, time!


Its like people think that if my kids are homeschooled, they never have to deal with disappointments or things not going exactly their way.

Well, let me put it this way- I have 4 kids. They don't get their way all the time. It is simply not possible. They have 3 other siblings to deal with, who fight with them, take things from them, frustrate them, etc... Its not like they are treated like royalty and never have to deal with disappointment!
And even if they didn't have siblings, there are kids on the playground, and my husband and I don't pamper our kids or let them walk all over us, getting their way always at the expense of our feelings, needs, and desires. Disappointment and frustration is a part of life, whether homeschooled or not.

The difference is that I believe that the ideal is for life to not suck. And that if you push a kid too far before they're emotionally strong enough to handle it, they don't get tougher- they break. But if you build them up first, they have the emotional fortitude to deal with whatever hardships life throws their way.
I try to be on top of things, and when my kids are in situations that are tough for them, I keep an eye out. If I see things are going too far, I'll intervene if I see the kid isn't able to handle it. Unlike in school where kids are often bullied to the point of committing suicide, or even if not that far, to depression. My kids are growing up strong and tenacious and self confident, and therefore when hardships come their way, they are more equipped to handle it, because they have inner strength that comes from knowing that they are good, capable, lovable people who are resilient and able to handle anything that comes their way. And I've gotten compliments from other people who've noticed this about my kids.

I mention that real life is not like school; that in real life, if you're being treated badly, you have the ability to walk away, to remove yourself from the situation, and not be isolated with the same group of people you can't stand, day in and day out, until you graduate high school.

Then people say "What about work? People often have bosses and co-workers they don't like and jobs in which they have to do things they don't enjoy. Teachers and classmates that treat them badly is good preparation for the real world."

And here's the thing. When it comes to work, I think the same thing applies. I do think that we should be raising our kids to not take nastiness from people and be stomped all over. I don't want my kids to learn that its ok to be bullied, so that if they have a boss or co-worker that bullies them, they'll just let themselves be stepped upon. No, I want my kids to know as adult that they don't have to put up with that, that they don't have to let themselves be taken advantage of, that they don't have to let people hurt them repeatedly, and if their bosses are unreasonable/impossible, they can and should either stand up for themselves or quit. This isn't to say that they'll always like everything their boss or their co-workers do, and that they shouldn't learn to be accommodating when things don't go their way- as I've said, that's part of skills my kids learn simply by living in the real world, especially since they have siblings and friends with needs and feelings that differ from their own. But when things cross the line, when things get to the point where it is actual bullying in the workforce, I want my children to know that they don't deserve to be treated that way, that they have a right to demand to be treated respectfully, and look to improve their situation instead of just taking it in and suffering through that.

I know some people are in such desperate situations financially that they need any job that will take them, but I am doing my best to raise my kids to pursue their strengths so that they'll develop their natural talents so that they are employable and have their pick of jobs and aren't so desperate for a job that they'll take ones that treat them terribly.

I think some of the people who are the most critical of my homeschooling, who think that I'm mollycoddling my children instead of preparing them for the "real world" are people who have had a really hard life, and assume that everyone's life will also be just as hard, that an unhappy life is inevitable, and I should prepare them for their future hard life by making their life as hard as possible from as early an age as possible.

I don't believe that is the case.

I try to raise my children with a good attitude, with the knowledge that life is what you make of it, that while you can and should find the good in tough situations, they should do what they can to try to improve their live and make their life as good and happy as possible, instead of raising them to expect to have a life of misery and hardships and not try to change that.

I know, controversial... But hey- what's Penniless Parenting without a bit of controversy, eh?


  1. I can see your point about not pushing kids before they're ready, but if they're ready, why not? We send kidlet to morning "play school" (as I call it, it's sorta like a cross between preschool and daycare) once or twice a week, and he loves it. He cried a little in the beginning but now he looks forward to going and playing with other kids. It's been great for his language development--we're raising him in a mostly-English household but he's starting to speak Dutch (don't ask me how that happened)--and even better for his social skills.

    I should add, though, that Dutch culture is big on conformity, and while it may be problematic in the future, I think it's great at his age (2-ish) because he sees other kids doing things and tries to emulate them. And in play school, the primary emphasis is on getting along, sharing toys/attention, learning the rules of life (10 am is snack time), and doing things together. Or, in other words, everything that I'd like to teach him but as a single child (for now) he doesn't really have much opportunity to learn.

  2. Well said. I home schooled my son for two years because the teacher refused to challenge my son with extra work when he did the regular work in half the time.My son would look for stuff to do and got into trouble.He wasn't even allowed to read books above his grade level,so his sister 2 grades higher got some out for him.Sometimes his jackets and boots got taken away for a joke and we never saw them again.This was Grade 3+4.

  3. I agree with much of what you say and have a hard time understanding why it is controversial.

    I believe God chose you to be the mother of your children and if you do your best (which you really seem to do), there is not anyone better suited to determine what is best for your child. I don't know why people see a happy couple raising happy children and decide to weigh in on their parenting decisions.

    When I was home schooling, people came out of the woodwork to let me know it was a bad idea. Then they would suggest a play date because our kids got along so well and my son had such good manners. My kid got along with everyone. His family taught him how to do that at home just like everything else. lol

  4. I so agree with you. Why should a young child's first lessons in life be on how to tolerate bullying? Yes, schools teach children to conform and they also teach them to fit into a pecking order. Thats fine if that is what you want for your child. I still remember walking into the head mistresses office to express concern for my child who was being bullied by another and the head mistress telling me that the bully was "a leader". Yes, she was a leader but not a good leader when she made my child feel so sad day after day. I also remember stepping into my child's classroom on another occasion to hear the teacher chastise a small child in the most horrific way for his small writing. Bullying is rife in schools and it comes from adults (teachers and other parents involved in the school) and the kids. Because schools condition children to accept bullying we have bullying in every sphere of life. Are we a better society for it? I don't think we are and I applaud you for doing what you believe and know is right for your kids.

  5. I homeschool my three children. They learn way above and beyond what the curriculum says, they are challenged, they have fun and I feel I am giving my best to them. No regrets. Having said that, I believe families are all different and therefore homeschooling is not an option for all parents just as sending children to school shouldn't be the the only option or an imposition as it is in the country we are living now (yes, it is against the law!). As parents we should feel empowered to make decisions about our families. I've been criticised about homeschooling as well as for raising them as Christians, for breastfeeding for too long, for not giving the dummy, for keeping them in bed with me and not letting them be 'independent' as soon as we came home from the hospital and so on! As much as some of these things may work for some people, it certainly doesn't work for me. I am perfectly able to making decisions about which kind of people I intend to raise and the ways "ll try to get there! I may change my mind along the journey, like for example recently I decide to put my little one in a Waldorf Kindergarden a couple of times a week. I felt it would be good for her to play with other children of her own age and I was right! She is enjoying the calm and safe environment there and I can have some extra time to concentrate on the demands of the older ones. It work for us for this moment. I don't know how my kids will turn up. I haven't got a recipe for success but I know however, that I'll have given my best to them and as it is with many things in life, you can't take things out if you don't put some in. I am investing on passing the values that I believe with all my heart, I am loving and disciplining them as it is required, teaching and learning as we go on our journey. Motherhood is the best thing that has happened in my life. I am so grateful I am a mum!

  6. Well said! I especially appreciate what you said about them not learning to take their cues from other emotionally immature children.

    I'd honestly never thought of homeschooling in terms of teaching our kids that life doesn't have to suck, but you're totally right! Life probably won't be all roses for them all the time but I want them to learn that they don have to settle for misery.

  7. Are you planning on homeschooling all the way through high school? If you decide to send them to school in a few years, how will they be equipped to deal with it after being in such a secluded, protected environment all these years?

    1. I don't think you're listening. The author did not state that she was secluding her children, or protecting them from all disappointment, but rather, from the peculiar and unnatural kind of abuse that is the endemic poison of our public school systems. As for creating hot-house flowers, if you wish to go there, you need to take a closer look at the current crop of publicly schooled children, who graduate highschool and go into universities needing safe-spaces with teddy bears if there is a debate that might have two points of views, trigger warnings from professors if a class might discuss something scary, and an office to report micro-aggressions. Talk about your infantilized generation! How could a homeschooling family *possibly* do worse than that? In my wildest dreams, I can't imagine raising such a noodle of a child.

      --Homeschooling, Free-ranging Mother of Four

    2. Joan, just because kids are homeschooled it doesn't mean they live in some sort of bubble. Penny's kids sound like they have a loving extended family, lots of neighbourhood friends and do plenty of activities out and about with Penny, and with other like-minded families. Hardly secluded.

    3. While I disagree with Joan about her statement regarding homeschooling, I also wholeheartedly disagree with "anon" as well. You are just as wrong as she is, in my mind, anon. Referring to children as "crops" and a "noodle"....seriously? Aline said it very well...basically, what works for one family/child may not work for another. smh

  8. Exactly. This is by no means the sole reason I want to homeschool but this paragraph: "When kids are constantly stressed out by an environment that doesn't feel safe to them, an environment in which they are continuously on guard because they are afraid of getting attacked, either physically, verbally, or emotionally, they can't be receptive to learning as much as they could in a safe environment in which they can relax and open their mind to the multitude of information in the world around them." That is exactly how it felt for me growing up, I was very bullied. I did actually immerse myself into learning as I could, but then when I was 16 I found myself unable to concentrate on battling my depression and studying. I remember literally thinking "I can make good grades or I can die" because I was battling suicidal thoughts and I only had the mental reserves for one or the other. I chose life and made an F and two Ds that year (I'd made straight As the year before.) Then of course, those grades are something I was judged on... It's just really a very broken system, the way we formally educate these days.

  9. I think homeschooling is wonderful. BUT sometimes school IS that safe place. It was for me....

    1. I'm sorry. :( I hope that, no matter what age you are now, your HOME is your safe place. Hugs to you.

  10. Great article, and I totally agree. I too unschool (if one has to put a label on it), and I also believe that life is for living and loving and enjoying along with the disappointments and challenges. I find that I get muddled when people challenge homeschooling (my go to is "It's what's working for our family"), but maybe I'll point them here next time so you can say it all for me. Thank you.

  11. You are so right. You are an excellent mother I can tell. As a kid, my parents put me in school a year young and when I experienced bullying and feeling like I wasn't accepted at age 11 I was emotionally hurt. I asked them to let me transfer but they would not, believing that it was important that I be resilient and having unhappy teenage years was normal and I would get over it and be happy when I was older. I kept getting unhappier and finally at age 13 became depressed. Finally they let me homeschool for 8th grade but by then I was in conflict with them a lot (being a bit resentful) so because the home environment was negative, I was still unhappy. Plus, I didn't get much opportunity to do social things with other homeschool kids (still I think that would have been okay if the home environment had been happy). When I entered high school I was depressed, anxious, stressed and really by that point I had been "broken" like you say. It took me another year and a half (during which I was depressed) to make good friends, and I still didn't have a good relationship with my parents. Another half year passed, and then I'm ashamed to admit I attempted suicide. This shocked my family and my parents took steps to help me. But, in spite of the fact that now I take meds, have friends, love my college, have friends I still suffer from chronic low grade depression. I believe I was born to be happy-- though sensitive, I was a happy and optimistic baby and young child. My twin sister, who went to a different school, is very happy. I know that maybe I am a living example of the worst case scenario. I also hope to get over my depression one day as I am only 18. However, I agree very much that the way to build strong, happy, confident kids is to not expose them to prolonged trauma before they are emotionally mature enough to handle it.

    1. I want to send you lots of hugs! Your story sounds a bit like my childhood, with some variances. I am now 34 and expecting my first child! I'm contemplating on home schooling and the more I read about how kids (including myself) cope with life in public schools, the more it just makes sense to keep them home. Stay strong!

  12. I grew up in Orange County - CA at one of the "best" elementary schools in the most sought after city...my 2nd grade teacher would violently shake me to intimidate me, my 3rd grade teacher would just tell me I am stupid and ignore me, my 4th grade teacher was ok then my 5th grade teach was horrific to everyone, my 6th grade teacher was cruel beyond measure to me and a couple other foreign kids.

    I wasn't ESL, but I learned English and another language at the same time which confused me in separation of the words. The environment of prejudicial teaching and belittling that went on gave me the title, "Failure to Thrive."

    Fortunately by the time I was in high school I had a couple really awesome teachers who made a difference in my life and I now have a job learning new technology and training others. I don't feel stupid as an adult, but teachers that can make that difference are few and far between.

    So, if a parent can enrich their own child's life and give them an environment to flourish mental, emotionally, and academically- everyone should applaud them. You Rock Penny.

  13. I do not, nor have any intention to homeschool my kids - but this is absolutely the best argument I've ever heard for it!

  14. I was homeschooled, and will probably homeschool my kids... I definitely knew some homeschooled kids who were totally unprepared to deal with the world, but on the whole, my homeschooled peers are people who think outside the box, know that life can be so much more than a boring desk job, and have successful lives because of that.
    I think that providing an environment that empowers kids and doesn't subject them to inanity or cruelty is a great reason to homeschool.


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