This is a picture of the very famous Joshua Bell.

Here’s a story he tells:

His mom dropped him off every week at some university where he was supposed to practice violin. But the room he was supposed to practice in was right by the video game room, and he found himself going there a lot instead.

One day he was there and a kid came up to him and said, “Are you Josh Bell?” And Josh assumed the kid knew Josh was a violin prodigy, and they would talk about violin.

But the kid said, “You have the top score on all the video games here. So I wanted to see who you were.”

Josh says this is the moment he realized that he wasn’t practicing enough and he had better find more focus.

Here’s what sticks with me in this story: His mom dropped him off at a university to practice each week.

Who knows why they needed to go to the university, but that they went there reveals a lot.  I imagine she was a good mom; she figured out how to find him a place to practice and she arranged their schedule to get him there. And I imagine that after she dropped him off, she drove to get a pedicure somewhere off campus.

I imagine she read OK Magazine or some other tabloid, all of which I love reading because it’s the only place where there’s a true story about how moms run their lives. We don’t have the time or money to spy on other moms to find out what they are really doing, but tabloids do. It’s nice to know what other moms do.

I like knowing that Angelina Jolie’s kids each have two nannies, and a bunch of tutors for homeschooling. Extravagant, yes. But it tells me a lot about how she parents (not hands-on, but still very concerned for each kid) and it tells me how she ditches her kids. (Using a lot of cash.)

One reader of this blog has an amazing scheme: She homeschools the kids in the country during the week, and on the weekend she drives four hours back to the city to give the kids to their dad and she spends the weekend with her new husband who lives near her ex. I love this system. It makes sense to me and it’s a way to be very hands-on and ditch the kids with grace.

So much of homeschooling advice is about taking care of the kids, but we all know it’s important to ditch the kids. In fact, it’s probably more important to get help ditching the kids than help schooling the kids. Because kids will school themselves, if you give them space. But if you don’t give a mom space as well, she will go crazy.

It seems that regular school gives the mom space, and homeschool gives the kids space, even though neither system is perfect, it’s easier to get a little mom space away from homeschool than it is to grapple with the constrains of regular school. Which means that the key to successful homeschooling , really, is finding a way to ditch the kids that works.

19 replies
  1. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    “It’s nice to know what other moms do.”

    That’s why I read this blog :)

    I’m finding that I need to mentally ditch homeschooling. It’d be on my mind all the time if I let it… but if I stop thinking about it I feel like I’m not being conscientious enough. It’s hard to know where to draw that line.

  2. marie thomasson
    marie thomasson says:

    Can the reader referenced in the article raise her hand, pretty please?! Penelope, can you help us connect? I’m doing a miserable job getting my relationship back on track – per your costly advice – and don’t know how to do the homeschooling without his support.

    I’d sure like to know how your reader managed to arrange her situation.

    • Bec Oakley
      Bec Oakley says:

      The reader is me. It’s no secret, I mentioned it in a blog post.

      Look, the reality is that there is nothing graceful about getting to ditch my kids every weekend because my marriage didn’t work out. That breaks my heart, and I wouldn’t want that for someone else.

      It may be courageous to choose non-conventional paths for my life to make the best of my situation, but I’m not a model for anybody. The road to getting here was brutal. My new arrangement works for us for a bunch of complicated reasons, and none of my happiness comes from driving great distances to hand over my kids.

      Having the mental break from them does protect me from homeschool burnout, but if I had the choice I would find some other way to do that which didn’t involve them having to make such big transitions every week.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Now that Bec has outed herself…

        Here’s the blog post she wrote
        http://www.42squeeze.blogspot.com/2012/08/reading-writing-and-roadtrips.html

        I love Bec’s blog because it’s so honest. And the idea that our role models have to have gotten to where they are in a perfect way. Well, that’s never gonna work. The only people who will step forward as role models will be liars.

        So we need to find role models in people who take a bad set of circumstances and make them the best they can, in a way we admire.

        Even though Bec has a terrible drive each week, I love how she created an innovative way to solve the common problems of a marriage not working and homeschooing being draining.

        Penelope

        • Deborah Hymes
          Deborah Hymes says:

          Penelope, I’ve been wondering why I enjoy your homeschooling blog even though I do not have (nor will have!) any children and I have no direct experience of homeschooling. And reading your comment, I just now figured out why:

          It’s about a group of people doing the best they can in challenging circumstances, in a way that I admire.

          The authenticity of it is the key thing. If you tried to put a perfect facade over it, it wouldn’t be remotely as compelling. I always look forward to seeing what you guys are up to, and it’s shifted my POV on some things that I previously felt very sure of.

      • Marie
        Marie says:

        Thanks Bec for the response. I want nothing in the world more than to have my family back together, but it gives me a little hope to see that yes, things work out. I understand now better your situation with your boys, and that probably left homeschooling as a natural choice for your family.

        I’m facing a father that is totally against homeschooling – he was a little softer on the issue when we were together, but now the reality that he would be supporting me through this is unpalatable at best, I imagine. I’m trying to find a new career so that I can support myself for the basics, and have the flexibility to homeschool my kids if he ever allows it, but it’s an uphill battle.

      • VegGal
        VegGal says:

        Thank you for your honesty. To tell you the truth I recently found myself explaining to (arguing with) my husband that we cannot be jealous of how much free time our divorced family or friends seem to have, because they have a specific time where they can’t in charge of their kids (the time the kids are with the ex). Partly because they are not exactly thrilled that this is how they get their free time, and so as a couple we should focus on the example that they set that having committed free time helps with personal sanity.

  3. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    I am so with you on this. The hardest part of homeschooling is not having any space. I resorted to using the childcare at our Y every day and hour that I was allowed to. Not for wokring out. For working and thinking and being alone. I think all my friends, who I run into at the Y, but who have kids in school, and are there actually working out, and getting in and out of the gym as fast as possible, find this strange and fascinating.

    • teri
      teri says:

      I didnt enjoy reading rhis article. It doesnt make any sense. All homeschooled parents that I know, that are at home with their kids, give their life to their kids and their education, at the expense of their own life.
      To insinuate that they are being neglectful is weird.
      I can guarantee whatever Joshua Bell’s parents did was exactly what was needed in order to teach your kid how to achieve excellence.
      The only point of this article that I agree with is that the parent who is homeschooling really needs to be sure to have a life beyond their kid’s education. As a parent who has homeschooled for years, I dont like anyone telling me that my kid could just stay at home and teach himself, that my teaching and presence isn’t needed. Home schooling is what you make of it.
      The less you put into it, the less quality education and parent/child relationship you will have. I would like for you to commend all the parents who homeschool and to just simply encourage the ones who are home to also take care of themselves. Let’s give Joshua Bell’s mom a big applause, and all parents who stay at home and school their kids. They are doing the best they can and are doing it with best intentions.

  4. Amy P
    Amy P says:

    Thanks for posting this. It reminds me how important it is for me to get away from my kids and reconnect with myself and my spouse. Very timely too as I am about to ditch work early and spend a kid free weekend relaxing.

  5. Marilia
    Marilia says:

    That´s exacly it. How to ditch the kids. How do you ditch yours? I´m having a hard time finding how to ditch my 5-year old. I´m between finding a 12-year old helper to play with my girl for a few hours and sending her to kindergarten a few days a week. There´s definitely no comparisson in prices here. In my small town in Brazil, the school is cheaper than any other option.

  6. Rachel D.
    Rachel D. says:

    Flexibility is everything, freedom to do what you need to do when you want to do it. It’s the same with the perfect career. It’s all a job no matter how you look at it. We all want freedom. Free time is happy time.

  7. Mel
    Mel says:

    That’s one of the conundrums, isn’t it? You want to be with your kids and you want the best for them, hence homeschooling, but sometimes you just need a freakin’ break. My gym has free childcare for a couple hours in the morning, so we go three or four times a week. My boys love playing with their friends, and I am finally getting back in shape.

    We also do gymnastics once a week (about 30 minutes away) and as soon as I drop them off I walk over to the coffee shop for 45 minutes and work or read. I love that time.

  8. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    I’m sorry to report often feel jealous of divorced parents as they usually get to share the kids and get a break from them. I cannot imagine what a week with no kids feels like. But I can imagine it would be excellent.

    My strategy is to do kid swaps. This is best if you have friends with kids a similar age. Start by having their kids for the night one Sat so the parents can go out. Ask if they’d do the same for you next month. Make it a regular thing. You only get 24 hours off once every two months but it’s better than nothing.

    Once everyone realises how fab it is (kids love it too and it’s so important for them to experience how other families live) extend it to entire weekends and even a week or more:)

    • Bec Oakley
      Bec Oakley says:

      I used to think this too, before I got divorced. Yes you might get a day off without the kids but like most things, the reality is quite different and there are trade-offs.

      There’s only one income and longer hours to work to get that income. The same amount of housework to do but nobody to help. No extra pair of hands to read a bedtime story or when the kids throw up in the middle of the night. You take over the duties of both parents when you have the kids, and spend the time you don’t catching up on work and housework.

      And you feel guilty about all of it.

    • Marie
      Marie says:

      I second Bec on this. I’ve been living separate for about nine months, and the little free time you net after extra hours put in for work and house chores, isn’t all that enjoyable because your house is empty and you miss your kids, and I feel guilty spending any time doing dishes or cleaning up when I do have them, meaning I’m always catching up, and my house is always a bit of a mess.

      It is pleasure when you always have them, and get that break. But when it’s the rule, the house feels so lonely without them in it, and you end up missing out on so much that I would give back all the “free time” in a heartbeat.

      I have 50% custody, and while I have three nights free a week, I end up with just just one night a week to go out and see friends, and date eventually if it comes to that. Those days I have free I end up working much, much longer hours. Hardly the free time you imagine you’d have, unless you don’t sleep much in general.

  9. CL
    CL says:

    She dropped him off at the university where his dad worked (his dad was a Kinsey researcher) because she didn’t want to hear the same song 500 times, as you have already experienced. Soundproofed rooms somewhere else are precisely where a mom wants her kid to practice. Josh Bell is from Bloomington, where the Jacobs School of Music is. It outranks Juilliard and it’s second biggest school of music in the United States accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. He was safe and sound there while she didn’t have to listen to 14 years of Josh Bell perfecting his craft.

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