Today I am crying

I hid in the bathroom of a coffee shop today and cried. I am so bored. Please do not tell me to learn side-by-side with my kids. I do not want to learn what they want to learn. What about my own self-directed learning? Even the people who are the biggest die-hard fans of self-directed learning could not be forced to learn what their kids are learning.

My youngest son is fascinated by maps of the US. He branched off to state capitals. And now state slogans. I tried to tell myself it’s a way to learn how different areas of the country think of themselves. But really, my head is getting cluttered with the Evergreen State and the Show-Me State and everything I don’t want to learn.

How do I reconcile my need for self-directed learning with teaching my kids? I want to start a business. I have the business plan. I have a partner. I just don’t have the guts to try to add it to what’s already on my plate.

I am stuck between bored and overwhelmed. I guess I am overwhelmed with stuff that bores me.

My friend Melissa came to visit. She took this photo right before she left. It’s my son’s bedroom, empty, and when she showed it to me, I cried. The photo makes me think of the day in the future when my boys will be gone. I want to spend my days with them. And I want to not be bored. And everything makes me cry.

43 replies
  1. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    I’m crying with you. I wish I had something to offer.

    I remember being bored. The way I survived was spend a lot of time with a mom & her kids and do a lot of daily stuff together.

    Then I remember being always available and not having enough space, even with some spots of time, to devote to my own ideas.

    Now I remember being so absorbed starting a small business that every available moment was devoted to some aspect of it. Now with a highschooler in spEd who might be better off elsewhere, I haven’t been able to turn my brain around to total devotion even though I’ve scaled back on my work. It would take total devotion to keep him from spending all waking hours on Xbox or computer.

  2. Yvette
    Yvette says:

    Welcome to homeschooling! I know that’s a terrible thing to say…but I SO get where you’re coming from. I’m an introvert and I MUST be alone to recharge…sometimes weeks go by when I am not truly alone (going to the bathroom doesn’t count).

    It gets better. What you’re so good at, P, is learning and adapting. In time, you will make this your own and you’ll figure out how to be true to yourself and fulfill your home school dream.

    Sometimes homeschooling truly sucks. Sometimes I feel trapped because I can’t just drop my kids off at school and pursue my own interests. But I know hands down that is the best decision I’ve ever made for their lives. And, in the midst of the insanity I am determined to carve out time for my own life.

    Every home school mom I know runs her life and her household differently than all the others. The only true common denominator is days/weeks/seasons like this. So, welcome. You’re officially a homeschool (or unschooling, or whatever) mom.

  3. leftbrainfemale
    leftbrainfemale says:

    The funny thing is, I didn’t realize how frustrated I was until my girls moved to public school. The first couple years (middle school) I spent lots of time working in the library at the school and playing catch up on other interests. Then a job fell into my lap unexpectedly, and I’m having the time of my life. But when the girls were smaller and we schooled at home, I remember teaching lessons while sitting on the couch, and getting so sleepy I’d doze off sitting up! They thought it was hilarious – but I knew I would be happy when we got to the stage of reading and learning things that were of interest to me as well.

  4. Mamabear
    Mamabear says:

    Book a trip with your kids to NYC pronto. You don’t have to worry about their missing school because you homeschool. Also (and please do this) plan something fun!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have thought of this. But I keep thinking that what I really need is a set schedule with built-in alone time. And I’m working toward that. And taking the kids to NYC is no schedule and no alone time.

      So it’s really that I want to go to NYC alone. But I hate doing that. I think. I think I hate doing it. I spent all of 2008/2009 traveling. Sometimes two cities in one week. I had two nannies. Going to NYC alone makes me think of this. Just thinking about it makes me miss the kids.

      Maybe, if that makes me miss the kids so much, I should think about it when I feel trapped with them in the car. Haha. Sort of haha. Is this even a joke? I don’t know.


  5. TR
    TR says:

    Is there any way that you can use your “amazing” negotiating and networking skills to have someone help you out in this area? My spouse is much happier now that I wrangled some work at home days from my boss and she can get out and away from our kids or at least have someone to vent to for two minutes if the day is not going well. Granted I am sure it is not as easy as that, but maybe some organized time away from your kids might help get some much needed “head space”.

  6. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    I know exactly how you feel. I am bored to death with teaching the things that don’t interest me. I’d rather be doing anything else. The other thing that bores me is keeping the house. It’s not that it’s dirty, I just HATE doing it. So I’m a big fail in my local homeschool circle. Seems like everyone in that circle is June Cleaver with the addition of a math book and a globe. I too wish I had time to devote to other areas of my life. The only thing that gets me by is knowing that my kids are happier than most of the neighborhood kids that go to public school. And no matter how bored I am, I am still doing a far better job than said public school.

  7. Bessie
    Bessie says:

    Though I’m an avid reader of your site, I am a bit behind on your homeschooling blog, so forgive me if you’ve already thought of this and I missed it. When I lived in MA I spent a year teaching homeschooled children. Two of them. Their parents anticipated a sense of listlessness (not within the kids, within the parents) and instead of homeschooling themselves 100%, they did homeschooling in the morning and then in the afternoon I came over, one family brought their daughter over to the other’s home, and from 1-3:30 I taught them history/social studies, English, and spelling. At 3:30 they had an hour to do their homework together, and around 4:30 the moms came upstairs and retrieved them. I wonder if an arrangement like this, even if it’s only a few days a week, would allow you some much-needed “adult time” even within your own home. It might also be a nice change of pace for the boys. I think a college student would do this fairly inexpensively, and maybe even solely for class credit if they’re on an education track.

    • TR
      TR says:

      That is interesting. How did that get set up and paid for? We have one child who my wife and I are concerned he will not do well in the public school system but we don’t feel that we would be the best homeschoolers either. That sounds like a very good alternative

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I am working on this. I am not doing schooling, so I don’t want to pay someone to teach curricula or whatever to my kids. I am pretty convinced that kids don’t need that. I actually worked it out so that there is someone to drive the kids around to activities. And I’m getting some alone time. I need to perfect the schedule. But in principle, I think the only thing that will save me is hiring someone to take some of the time with the kids.


      • Tanya
        Tanya says:

        This was going to be my suggestion – hire a driver, or a nanny, or even somebody to hang out with your kids a couple afternoons a week and help them learn the state capitals or whatever it is they want to learn that day.

  8. Tara
    Tara says:

    I have felt so miserable lately and have only had little snatches of time with which to try and figure it out. The overwhelmed part was pretty easy, but just there you nailed it! The other prison wall is boredom! OMGosh… am I ALLOWED to admit that I am *bored*?!?! Really? It’s all getting clearer now. Next big epiphany… this isn’t working for me! I have let myself get so small and insignificant that I guess I felt like to admit to boredom is like admitting to failure. But it’s true … I’m BORED! I am not being sarcastic here … bored might actually be fixable and is much easier to swallow than “I am a drowning and to inadequate to the job at hand.”

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Tara, this seems so wise and insightful. Thank you. It’s a different way to look at parenting. And, since my way is not working, I think I have to find another way…


  9. Simone
    Simone says:

    Come on, Penelope. Enjoy that good cry but now buckle up and carry on. Realizing that even if you got what you want – starting this new business – its going to come with its own set of issues. Some of which will have you back in that bathroom crying again.

    These impossible and painful situations your facing, that we all face, is the complexity of human life once again manifesting itself.

    The painful feelings of boredom, despair, and general fuck-upness are the myths, rituals and poetry of life. This is your novel and any good book contains drama, highs and lows, and chapters of boredom where nothing is happening (Middlesex anyone) but it helps move the story forward.

    But I get it, hell, I’m guilty of it too. We want to sidestep negative moods and emotion, put bad life choices and unhealthy habits behind us. We’re seduced by these tantalizing images of some ideal normality and mental health that saves us from the very messes that most darkly mark human life as human.

    Your better than that. For all your research on happiness, etc, et al. intelligence and education only brings you to the edge, where your mind and its purposes are empty. There are no right answers, no problem-free lives, no cure for the vastitude of life.

    I advocate ongoing care rather than a quest for a cure. Your so hard on yourself. Don’t worry about boredom or crying all the time. Maybe this is your souls way of releasing some of that pressure from the valve. Change takes place, often not according to plan or as a result of intentional intervention.

    So be careful what wish because you don’t know when fate is bringing you something good or something bad. And after years of reading your blog, no one is better at making the best of their fate in either scenario than you. I admire how you don’t run from your problems or your issues but confront them head on. Maybe its time you give yourself a break.

  10. Christina @Interest-Led Learning
    Christina @Interest-Led Learning says:

    I cried today,too. A lot. I had to take the kids to the sinus doctor today, and while I had a huge tube stuck up my nose, the kids proceeded to kick and hit at each other. Kinda hard to stay still and calm with that going on. They’re only five (twins) and this is our first official year of unschooling, but it’s hard not to feel completely overwhelmed.

    I think maybe I shouldn’t have started my site when I did, maybe I should devote myself 100% all day long to the kids. But I need time for my own creative outlets, too. It’s just so hard now because I had sinus surgery two months ago and have since had three infections. I guess everyone has their own unique stressers in life.

    But like other commenters have said, my kids are doing awesome at home and I do love learning with them. I can’t say I get bored, but I’m right there with you in feeling overwhelmed.

  11. Karen
    Karen says:

    Since you started this blog, I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that you are homeschooling against your will because you’ve done the research and come to the conclusion that it is the best thing for your kids. But you don’t really want to do it. This will continue to be a problem for you as long as you really would rather be doing something else. Homeschooling is freaking hard; I’m the first to admit it and I’m not giving up anything in order to do it seeing as I’ve never had a ton of ambition career wise. I do hope you are able to make peace with it or find a way to do your business too. Maybe hiring some help as per the suggestions of others is an answer you can explore.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah. You’re right that I don’t want to homeschool but I’m certain that it’s the right thing for kids — to be homeschooled. So I’m doing it. I don’t see anyone effectively arguing against this research.

      I remember when I did the research and it was clear that law school does not mean you’ll have a job. So I didn’t go. And I ended up modeling nude for a year and it sucked. Everyone told me I was an idiot for not going to grad school. But no law school was right. I just had to get my bearings.

      And I remember when I realized that research showed that job hopping was good for a career, and when I did it people thought it was career suicide, and I thought I would die of starvation (literally) in between jobs. But in fact, that job hopping is what makes me so employable today.

      So I trust myself to understand research and implement it, and suffer through the consequences until I figure out how to make a life that works. I have learned that if all evidence points to something being right, then it is probably right, even if it feels wrong at the beginning.


      • LJM
        LJM says:

        Penelope, you seem to have designed your life choices around what your research says is best for people.

        Why not choose what is right for you? Even if there is research which clearly demonstrates that homeschooling is the best thing for all kids (and I am highly doubtful that such research exists), your kids are not “all kids.” They are who they are. They are individuals with individual needs.

        I’m a huge fan of evidence. I love science and history above all other disciplines. But the only evidence that matters in making choices for yourself and your family is related to your own personalities and desires.

        It doesn’t matter if there is evidence that when people make a particular choice, they are happy. That doesn’t matter one tiny bit.

        It doesn’t matter because those people are not you. Those kids are not your kids. When you make personal choices based on what research convinces you is best for other people, you have to ignore the most important person in the equation. You. Your kids. No one, no researcher knows these people like you do.

        I was a teacher and behavioral therapist for many years before I started homeschooling, which I’ve been doing for 10 years. I am a passionate proponent for homeschooling. I think more kids should be homeschooling. And I will tell you that there are absolutely effective arguments against any research that says homeschooling is right for all kids.

        Those arguments come from the mouths of happy, independent, thriving kids who go to school and wouldn’t have it any other way.

        How many of these kids would you need to hear tell you that they are glad they don’t homeschool and that they love spending time with their parents, before you realize that school works very well for some families? Two? Ten? One hundred? More than that are out there.

        There are lots of different ways to homeschool, to unschool, to learn. Stop doing research on what makes other people happy. Find out what combination of activities will make you and your kids happy. That’s the only research you need to do.

      • Latha
        Latha says:


        I don’t know or remember if you spent much time with your children when they were babies/younger. You think you find a normal, then you need a new normal because your kids are growing and changing and require different things. So even when you think that you have built a structured routine, it will change over time.

        However, what helps me is that I have mastered is the ability to quickly create a new normal, build a robust supporting infrastructure, and flex my life. As a fellow aspie, how unsettling it is not to have that stability and comfort of routine. What helps me with that part is my confidence that I can do it. It is like your start-up businesses. You know you can do that multiple times in different types of businesses/services because you know the blueprint. Not very different. The details may differ but the DNA of the process remains the same.

        You have only been doing this for a few months now. Believe me, cut yourself some slack and you will get there (with your sons)very soon. In the meanwhile, hire help: I use local homeschooling teens as companions to my son which relieves me from being the sole companion/entertainer.

  12. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    I’ve struggled with that to, finding balance between kids and myself isn’t easy. I really like the principle from the Thomas Jefferson homeschooling method “Inspire not require” The method belives it’s vital that our kids see us pursueing our passions, so they will be inspired to pursue theirs. I don’t think we have to share theirs or even participate in all of them. My 8 year old today researched how to make a cardboard weaving loom and is happily exploring this new hobby. Except for helping her where she absolutely couldn’t do it herself, I’m happy to let her pursue that on her own. I try and devote my mornings to homeschooling,(although I exercise and sometimes practice the piano in the mornings) but my afternoons are my own. I teach piano two afternoons a week, run the teenage girls organization at church which I really enjoy, play the flute in a volunteer orchestra a couple times a year and do a little needlework to unwind. I’ve had to drop some of my hobbies for a season, and the kids take fewer lessons then they’d like, but the less I run around and multitask, the more balanced and peaceful I feel, and I think that’s the key. Less really is more.

  13. Marie-Eve Boudreault
    Marie-Eve Boudreault says:

    I know… Living fully for our children leaves us few time, even less to pursue a side-career. I do cry at times too. But then I remember to enjoy to be, this is just a season in life and I’m glad to be here, just take it slow for a day. Don’t be too hard on yourself…

    A study came out that full-time working mothers and stay-at-home mothers are more likely to be depressed. I wrote on it as a sociologist:

    I think the way out is just allowing ourselves to be as we are. If we don’t care, we should let our kids be passionate but focus on something else. I feel guys have it more naturally, my husband he’s like “ok, good for you, but not interested”, and my sons don’t take it personal and keep their passion.

    Also, the way out of feeling bad is to keep a way to realize ourselves on the side (have a part-time job/passion) and share tasks with our partner if we can. Doing that would respond to all our basic needs (maslow hierarchy of needs), but it’s a tough balance, for sure.

    I wish you find a way to be what you want. Take care! Marie-Eve

  14. Jason
    Jason says:

    You really have to think about the example you set for your kids – maybe more than anything else. If your kids remember you being frustrated and tired all the time then they are not going to look back on homeschooling as a great experience. They will be tired and bored too. You absolutely have to find a way to not be bored and unhappy. This will not be a successful experiment if you cannot do that. Look a lot of kids go to school and prove to be successful adults – you? me? The ones who really rise above the schooling system are going to be those whose parents are teaching them by example at home to achieve, have passion, follow your dreams and ambitions – school will never hold those kids back. I am not advocating school unless it is a last resort, but you must be able to show who you are to your kids. My thought is to search for a compromise where part of the day or part of the week your homeschooling is accomplished through some other way.

    Our kids are currently in a co-op “school” one day a week. They take classes like art and legos. I mean this is so much better than real school but also gives us a tiny break and in the future can offload some subjects we are not going to be able to be experts at.

    I do not think you should be trying to homeschool through sheer force of will. The true beauty is the flexibility to create your own school (ownschool) environment that works for you and your kids and is adaptable enough to accommodate both your needs and theirs.

    Good luck (:

  15. Monica
    Monica says:

    We all cry, or yell, or clean, or cook or let the reading eggs, ClickNspell, or IXL math, or a book do the work for a while.

    I yelled today the the Mommy limit of 78 had been reached. The number of times I can hear Mommy in one day and still cope.

    I think about just putting them on the bus in the morning, but when the bus comes back at the end of the day, I am glad that they were not caged all day.

    I started when you did, so I am at the same place. Today I cleaned and they worked at play and other stuff. I think we are both right.

    I started a new business last year. Hang on for a bit. This is the hardest year- per the other home school mom’s I have asked. Plan and partner will be there next year. I year of space is needed for any major life change.

    Just keep breathing and posting. You are not alone or unique, just part of a special sisterhood of women that are great mothers.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I hear on the blog about people sharing the homeschooling responsibilities, but honestly I have not seen it in action. I’ve seen stay-at-home dads all over the place, but not for homeschooled kids.

      The Farmer takes the kids two days a week. Well, each day he takes one kid. Honestly, having one kid instead of two for a day is almost like a vacation for me because two is so much harder. But the Farmer simply doesn’t want to spend all day with two kids. There’s nothing I can do: I mean, I can’t force him to want to.

      I would like to know what other people experience in this regard. I mean, really? People have a marriage where both parents want to spend all day with their kids?


      • Lindsay
        Lindsay says:

        I’m not a parent so I’ve got no experience to relate I’m afraid.

        If he doesn’t want to spend all day with two kids, how about half a day with two kids? I don’t know, just trying to help you brainstorm solutions. I guess it depends on whether you need some 100% kid-free time. I’d imagine you do.

      • Karen
        Karen says:

        I imagine my experience is fairly unique – my husband is home all day with me. He’s a real estate appraiser who works from home. He spends maybe 25% of his time out on the road inspecting properties and he’ll schedule his appointments so he only has to go out 2-3 afternoons a week. The rest of the time he’s home writing reports. I can take off for lunch or shopping, alone or with a friend, pretty much whenever I want or need to. On those lovely days when nothing is working and tempers are fraying, just going out for a coffee to decompress is like magic. I’m lucky.

        He doesn’t assist much with the actual nuts and bolts of the kid’s education; he’s stronger in math, science and technology and is happy to pinch hit when needed though. This was my idea and is primarily my responsibility. But just having him here gives me a lot of freedom that most others just don’t have.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          This is how it is for me, too. My husband is a farmer, who went to graduate school for science. So he is great teaching the kids the science of the farm, and the math that goes with any farm project we do. And he’s home all day. But the homeschooling thing is my idea. If I dropped dead tomorrow, I don’t think he’d homeschool. I think he’d put the kids back in school and try to make the best of it.


  16. Jared Cosulich
    Jared Cosulich says:

    Would it work to have you do what you want to do while they do what they want to do? Then you could have them teach you what they’re learning and why they think it’s interesting? You could potentially teach them about what you’re doing and why you find it interesting too.

    Not sure if it would work in reality, but it’s an idea :)

  17. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I hate being bored so I’m really sorry that you are bored. For myself if I wanted to do a start up and I couldn’t I would be bored with everything and anything if it wasn’t the startup. Are you bored because you are doing the things your kids want to do or are you bored because it is not the startup? Maybe you could find a project that wasn’t as big as a start up but something you could get excited about.

  18. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I feel you, I really do. But I think that my situation is probably the reason that your situation exist. I have wanted to homeschool but I’m so afraid of failure that I haven’t done it. I really wish I had. My oldest son, whose 19 now, had such a terrible time in school. Always getting in trouble, never wanting to learn. He was labeled early on. My 17 yr old, I don’t know what I did different with her, but she makes straight A’s and will be graduating, with honors, this spring. I can’t go back and redo my 19 year olds raising as much as I’d like to. However, I have two more children. My 13 year old piped up that she was gay earlier this year, and my 10 yr old just got ISS for admitting to something he didn’t even do. I just dropped out of college because I am unable to work, go to school full time, and raise a family. I am married, but his solution to everything, even if he won’t admit it, is… If it doesn’t affect him directly, it’s not a problem. If they start fighting, as long as they aren’t interrupting his TV time, its not a problem for him. I am worried that I will not teach them everything they need to know. I don’t want to mess them up. But, I don’t want the school system to mess them up either. They act like they care, but, after watching how they treated my oldest son, I know they don’t. So, when you start feeling like you can’t take it anymore, imagine how you would feel if one of those well-educated individuals labeled one of your children and it carried him for the rest of his life.

  19. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Get a Geo-Safari. They made them when I was a teenager, and it’s fun for geography. Maybe by now, they have a learning card for state slogans.

    Love From the Sunshine State. Wait… is that Florida?

  20. p
    p says:

    This scares me so much. And there is no good homeschooling community for me here, and so I think I will probably send my kids to school, and only take them out if it seems especially awful. Then I hate myself and am sure that I’ll homeschool, and then I have another day of the four-year-old pinching the baby when he thinks I’m not looking and I think I’ll only homeschool the baby. Back and forth and back and forth.

    I admire you for doing the (research-based) right thing and figuring out the rest afterward. I hope you get to a place where you are happy and fulfilled homeschooling. I hope that I do too, or I hope that school is good enough for us that I don’t feel too guilty. Fingers in ears, la la la.

    • LJM
      LJM says:

      All you have to do is pay close attention to your kids. If they hate school, it they think it’s a waste of time, take them out. If they’re having a good time, leave well enough alone.

      Either way, your only responsibility is to study what they need (everyone needs different things) and what makes them happy and act accordingly. Do that, and relax with the confidence that comes from knowing you’re doing the right thing.

  21. Bernie
    Bernie says:

    Love your honesty Penelope. It’s so important.
    We’ve been ownschooling (love that phrase and am adopting it) for 2 months. My husband is at home with our son who is 9. He reads every day but pretty much, the rest of the day he’s gaming or making videos or watching something he is interested in. Next year, we’ll try to add in trips, drama, a bit of maths and swimming. I won’t do anything now unless he is interested. And if he says he is bored, rarely, I think that’s ok.
    This is no use to you but my one bit of advice is try to enjoy the now whenever you can and try to get your boys as independent as possible so you can do your thing while they do theirs.

  22. Rob
    Rob says:

    This is a late post, but it’s what I felt when I read about your sons.

    I remember learning about state capitals. It was my favorite topic to learn about in 4th or 5th grade. It was because I loved looking at maps, and soon it got to memorizing the order and spacing of U.S. highway systems (both of them), and endlessly dwelling how they connected all of America.

    This fascination was not well received by people I went to school with in public schools. If I ever choose to homeschool my future kids, my hope is that I can share their fascination in a positive way, like I wished I could nerd over various things in grade school.

  23. susan
    susan says:

    Can you hire a tutor to homeschool them 3x a week? I’m not totally understanding why you personally have to do it.

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