I Never Thought I'd Homeschool -- Until My Kids' Happiness Was at Stake

homeschooling hike

I recently walked into a local store and straight into all the back-to-school promotional signage and products. Normally this sudden realization that school is only a few weeks away would send me into a panic. But this time the feeling was different, because this year we are homeschooling.





I would like to say the feeling was that of relief -- but instead there was a little bit of fear and a hint of internal conflict. Even though I have already started homeschooling my kids, our neighborhood hasn't officially started school, so we haven't officially stopped going.

When people ask me why I am homeschooling my boys, ages 9 and 11, I simply tell them that they were struggling -- but not that the source of their struggle was emotional. However, to say only that I am homeschooling because my kids were unhappy downplays the significance of what I saw happening to my boys.

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As the child of immigrant parents, I was taught to be tougher, to fight through difficulties, and to not complain.

I still try to teach my kids to suck it up every once in a while. But, at 45 years old, I have learned that there is greater value in personal happiness than my parents believed, and that how we get there and what we value matters too. I have learned that it is okay for me to change the things that I can change in order to help my kids reach their full potential -- and that that is not something I should be ashamed of or afraid of, even when it is different from what society tells me it should be.

My children have had some amazing teachers, but their influence was lost to those who were not so great. I allowed it when teachers told me, in front of my child, that there was something wrong with him and that he needed help when his breaking down and crying in class became a routine. I allowed it when school leaders ignored my plea to address a bullying problem my boys were experiencing. I allowed it when a teacher confronted me every single day for an entire school year to tell me what a difficult child I had. I allowed them to assign both my kids to the school social worker because one talked too much and the other didn't talk enough.

I allowed it when my children started getting sick.

I allowed myself to hold on to the notion that it would all work out and that my little boys just needed to respect their teachers, do well, and get through each day. I allowed myself to believe that by concerning myself "too much" with the issue of my kids' emotional well-being in school, I was coddling them and raising them to be weak and unable to deal with real issues later in life.

I held on to these beliefs just as fiercely as my parents recited them to me growing up.

But then, as they got sicker (a diagnosis that would turn out to be nothing more than stress), and as they became unhappier and I became more frustrated and stressed too, I realized we needed a change. I needed to change.

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Initially the decision felt like such a risk. As a freelance travel writer, I felt this decision was the equivalent of professional suicide. As an inexperienced homeschooler, I felt like I was toying with my kids' futures.

I reached out to the very few people I knew who were knee-deep into homeschooling. I first thought it was an insane commitment when my sister-in-law took on homeschooling her own two young, rambunctious boys, but she has become my best supporter and lifeline. I avoid the naysayers, most of them members of my own family, who will ridicule me, judge me, and question my ability to be able to do this for my kids. Friends who I didn't even know were homeschooling seemed to come out of the woodwork offering me advice, resources, and encouragement. Even friends who have no interest in homeschooling voiced their support and confidence in us. I started to feel empowered and confident.

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We don't have an unconventional lifestyle. I work from home; my husband from his office in NYC. We live in a middle-class suburb in New Jersey. I know that what I am doing for my kids is very personal and how we approach each day will be unique to what best fits us and our interests, but I also know that we are not alone. In fact, in 2015 the US Department of Education released a report indicating that the number of children being homeschooled in this country had increased by 61.8 percent over a 10-year period (2003–2012) -- and that number continues to rise.

And as for coddling my kids and turning them into inept human beings, I really had nothing to be afraid of. Three weeks into homeschooling and my boys are flourishing right before my eyes.

They usually wake up before I do and immediately do the chores assigned to them. By the time I come downstairs for my coffee, they are working on their assignments, leaving any areas where they might need help aside till I can get to them. My outgoing boys love being Boys Scouts and enjoy spending time with friends. They love to read, cook, travel, and play video games. And now, they are committed to their work and focused on their task. They have figured out what works best for them and do so independently.

They are no longer feeling sick. There are no more outbursts of tears or distracted conversations. The change is so unexpected and so dramatic it brings tears to my eyes.

I am still trying to figure out what long-term effect this will have on my career. In the meantime, I am still working and I plan to travel again, though with my kids as part of their schooling. I am not sure what the future holds. My kids might even want to go back to school next year. But for now, I am glad I worked past my own insecurities as a parent -- and my fear of being judged by others for my choices -- to be there for my kids.

Because their happiness does matter, especially when it comes to their ability to learn.



Image via Carol Cain 

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