First, my disclaimer: There are some fathers who are the primary homeschooling parent, but this piece specifically addresses a “mom thing.” As women, many of us have been socialized to feel that it’s our job to take care of everyone else to the detriment of our own health and happiness. Homeschooling dads, please feel free to see yourself in here, too, but I won’t apologize for addressing the moms on this issue.
When I was a teenager, we had something we said in our house that needs a bit of translation. Our mom would make yet another self-sacrificing gesture and one of us would inevitably say, “But I like burnt toast!” That was our way of pointing out that our mom was very quick to deny her own needs in deference to all of ours, and there were lots to defer to. My mom deferred to the needs of a husband, five kids, and sometimes even our menagerie of pets. We teased her that when our old toaster didn’t spit out the toast at the right time and some kid whined, she’d always say, “Give it to me—I like burnt toast.”
Homeschooling moms eat a lot of metaphorical burnt toast. We feel indebted to our spouses for earning the money that allows us to stay home with the kids, so we defer to them. We feel responsible for our kids’ happiness even more than other moms since we have taken on such a central role, so we defer to our kids when we should be taking care of ourselves. We find ourselves so used to taking on other people’s burdens, we often even do it for other homeschooling moms, agreeing to take care of another kid when really, it’s the last thing we need to have another bundle of wants in the house, or agreeing to go on yet another fieldtrip because we don’t want to be the spoilsport.
A lot of what we do is necessary for the job: Many a woman has given up a hard-earned career, or cut back drastically, because of taking on homeschooling. Many a mom has given up a beloved pastime that used to happen during school hours. Many a homeschooling family has had to cut back expenses, which often translates into the mom losing her yoga class, her writing retreat, or her much-appreciated pedicures.
Household economies and the limits of time may be unavoidable, but there is a dark side to all this giving: sometimes Mom gives so much, it actually negatively affects not only her family’s happiness, but their homeschooling success as well.
The way I see it, homeschooling is like the ultra-marathon of parenting. If you aren’t in top shape, eating right, taking care of yourself, you’re not going to make it to the finish line. And so often, a mom deny her own needs, thinking that it will help her family. But instead it injures her family, just like the marathoner who cut down on warm-up time or has been grabbing quick junkfood instead of eating right.
Of course, each mom’s needs are different, but here are what I see as the non-negotiable…
Homeschooling Mom’s Bill of Rights
I have the right to keep my body healthy
I will find some way to negotiate support from my spouse or friends so that I can go out of the house for fresh air and exercise, without kids tagging along. I will take the time to fix myself a decent lunch after making sure the maniacs have been taken care of. I will go to the doctor when I need to, and if I’m sick and need to stay in bed, I will.
I have the right to express myself creatively
I need time off to be the person I was before I was a homeschooler, that person I need to keep intact for when homeschooling is done. My children need to see me modeling a healthy approach to self-expression, whether I create art, dance, or enjoy cooking gourmet meals for adult friends.
I have the right to adult time
Time with the adults I enjoy connecting with is important, whether those adults are other homeschoolers separate from their kids, adults I am continuing friendships with apart from our children, or adults who share common interests. I don’t have to drag our children along when an outing is for me. It’s important that I model healthy self-respect to my children so that they can do the same when they have their own children.
I have the right to love my spouse separately from my children
I chose my spouse as an adult human, not as a baby-producing mechanism, and in order to maintain a healthy relationship, my spouse and I need time to relate as adult humans separate from our children. It will not hurt our children to spend time with friends or at Grandma’s house—it will teach them how to maintain a healthy, loving relationship with their own spouses when they are adults.
I have the right to ask for help from my spouse and children
I will not try to do everything that needs to be done, even though I know that I can do it best. I will negotiate with my family the best way for us to get household chores done so that we can all live in our home comfortably and safely. I will not do other family members’ jobs “just to get them done.” I will insist that we all share the burdens and joys of living in a happy home.
I have the right to be a full person outside of homeschooling
Though homeschooling often intertwines with identity for all of us, I understand that someday homeschooling will end, and I will be left with the me that is left over. If I don’t nurture that person during every day of my homeschooling, I risk being left with a vacuum to fill. I acknowledge that once my children move on, I will need my healthy body, my creative self, my friendships, and my relationship with my spouse to have survived intact.
As a homeschooler, it is my job to put on the oxygen mask first so that I can be the best, strongest, happiest, healthiest mom I am capable of being.