How I created a homeschool support system

This is me, holding my niece, Eva. This is the first time since I had my own babies that holding a baby did not trigger my feelings of despair.

When I had babies I had no support system. My mom has borderline personality disorder, my dad has Aspergers, and my in-laws have (admittedly undiagnosed, but textbook) Aspergers, which explains why I was pretty much completely on my own the whole time I was taking care of babies even though I was living near the grandparents. At the time I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t even realize how absurd it was that I had no support system. Once I realized it, I got sad. Very sad. I felt sorry for myself.

But I realized that I never really tried to create a support system for myself as a new mom. I thought a support system was just for the workplace. I had been so used to doing my personal life on my own.

So I got determined to never let myself get into such a lonely space again. I started building a support system for myself, and I know it’s working, because holding Eva was a pleasure – no triggers for memories of loneliness.

The support system I’ve build for homeschooling has been methodical, probably because I’ve been so alone in the past. Here are the three best supports I have right now:

1. My husband
He’s a great support not just because he understands why we’re homeschooling, but also because I have both kids home with me all the time, but he is also home. He grew up farming, and farmers absolutely do not stop working to take care of kids. But he is doing that. He always tells me it’s a huge shift for him and I need to appreciate it. I started understanding that when he took the kids to the town pool in the middle of the day and a woman from down the road asked if he stopped farming.

2. My friend Lisa Nielsen
Lisa has been pushing me to homeschool for years. She works for New York City public schools, and the more radical she got, the more I paid attention. (Her blog is The Innovative Educator.)She got me thinking in radical ways as well. When I started homeschooling, every time I thought I should quit, Lisa talked me out of it. She was so matter-of-fact—“Of course you have to homeschool”—that there was no arguing with her. She just always sounds right. For every question I’ve had, she had already written a post to answer it on her blog.

3. My friend Melissa
Melissa was homeschooled. It was totally unacceptable to homeschool when Melissa’s mom did it, so they both had to fight hard to make it work. Melissa tells me the story about how she went back to school for high school and took an honors english class. The teacher kept saying to her, if you don’t do this, you won’t get an A. And Melissa kept saying to her, “That’s okay, I’m here to learn.” Melissa realized that the classroom was not set up for learning, it was set up for getting good grades. And the teacher didn’t know what to do with a student who did all the work but was not motivated by grades. I get inspired thinking about Melissa’s mom fighting the system for ten years so Melissa could learn on her own.

4. This blog.
Really. I have never felt alone since I started writing this blog. I never expected to become so attached to it. I have been blogging for ten years, and I’ve never been able to post four days a week. But for this homeschooling blog I can. Because I’m learning so much from the community here. I’m blown away by the insight and support you guys provide in the comments section. Some days I think I write just so I can hear you guys having a conversation.

5. The world around me.
Now that I have my kids with me all the time, New Yorker articles are way too long. (Actually, Melissa summarizes them for me, which is another way she supports my homeschooling.) So I read The Week. It’s snippets of the news from weeks before. And it’s all really short, so the kids don’t interrupt me in the middle. The Week showed a Gallup Poll about education in the US. The question was, “Where do American kids get a good education?”

78% said private schools
69% said parochial schools
60% said homeschool
37% said public school

What this means to me is that most people are supportive of my decision to homeschool. There’s no reason for me to feel defensive or unsupported. Homeschoolers are surrounded by support, if we make it a priority in our life to find it.


6 replies
  1. Casey
    Casey says:

    Just for the record, I think you’re doing the right thing. As a newlywed looking ahead to having children in the next three years, I’m actually in the process of setting up my life and business so that I will be able to homeschool; this blog (and my experiences with American education) have convinced me that it’s the right way to go. But actually, the article says that 46% of those surveyed said homeschooling provided a good or excellent education; 60% believed that *charter* schools provide a good or excellent education. All that means is that a majority of those polled have drunk the charter school Kool-Aid sold by the corporate interests that promote them, since the best data show that most charter schools perform the same or WORSE than neighborhood public schools educating the same demographic (a small group of elite charters like KIPP and Harlem Children’s Zone being the exception rather than the rule). If only homeschoolers were as organized as the charter school PR folks; our society would be radically different (and most likely, better).

  2. cris
    cris says:

    Well put, as always. Amen to support. I think it’s difficult for the type of person that has the inner conviction to step away from the traditional box to also be the type to seek help. Our decision to homeschool pushes so many people away from us, but like you mention, there are support systems if you just look for them.

  3. CJ
    CJ says:

    I met a darling, lovely artist yesterday at a homeschool nonschool gathering. She is beautiful, brilliant and at once impressed me with that “wise beyond her years” calm. She is only 31, has three children, and while I was holding her baby, she explained how she and her husband were both homeschooled. I have never met a couple directly like this before so I bombarded her with Qs. Even she was surprised that she found her life love in a man she met after college and they didn’t talk about HS until some time late into dating. I was telling her how some blogs and news venues (i.e. Huff Post, etc.), will have so many hundreds of HS bashing posts calling us counter culture, child shelterers, and even really insidious claims, like racism. I actually thought to myself, PT would really enjoy this conversation! We were both surprising each other sort of every other sentence. Just the point is that to her, this is her beautiful life she has always known and for she and her husband, they dont concern themselves with naysayers. And how fortunate that they have each other as built in support? If we all raise our children to grow into this talented caring self secure human being, right??? I can’t claim that I never have doubts or worries, I am human too…but I profoundly know we are doing the right thing for our families and our children by avoiding many of the institutional pitfalls,, college bound or no…orthodox path or “counter culture” we will all vacillate a little about what choices we are making that are going to turn out great and the ones we are going to seriously *F* up.

    You do have so much support Penelope! Sometimes I feel sorry for you (and myself, and every child that had to survive childhood, rather than live it), but you are such a champion because you try and you connect and you are awake. Happy Wednesday

  4. patricia
    patricia says:

    Isn’t Lisa Nielsen amazing? She is a hurricane of energy and innovative ideas. I love how open-minded she is about education–especially that she was willing to learn from us homeschoolers. She beats out Seth Godin in that regard.

    Your kids are fortunate that she’s your friend!

  5. Sarah Griffith
    Sarah Griffith says:

    I thoroughly love your blog. I read every line of your posts as if they were a fine meal and I a weary traveler. I also visit several of the links. I NEED to homeschool my boys. They would thrive and blossom. I also have to work since I am a single mom. How do I homeschool when I work full-time? How do I quit working full-time, would be a better question. I know this is what I need to do, I just don’t know how. Anyone else out there in this situaion? Love you, Penelope!!

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