What makes a dad a homeschooling dad?

In a few cases there are men who stay at home and homeschool while their wives go to work. But this is not the norm for many reasons, like boys play war and girls don’t and women want to be with a guy who earns more than she does. But, also, women who believe that families are better when kids are at home are usually also women who want to be the parent at home.

I am not going to debate whether this is good. I think it’s similar to the debate about whether it is good  that women opt-out much more frequently than men. These situations are so clearly part of who we are that there is no need to debate whether it’s good or not.

But here’s what’s interesting to me: my career-coaching business is divided by gender pretty evenly. I don’t advertise that I coach people for homeschooling, but lots of people end up hiring me to talk to them about homeschooling. And it’s almost always men.

This is surprising to me. The demographic who hires me to talk about homeschooling is a guy who makes a lot of money, has a stay-at-home wife, and wants her to homeschool his kids. Of course he has an uphill battle. Any guy who grew up in the last 40 years knows it’s way easier to be at work than it is to be at home with kids. So the men are hesitant to tell their wives they should spend more time with the kids. The men want to discuss possibilities.

Here is what the dads are thinking:

1. They see school is irrelevant at work. Most people who are making a lot of money in corporate life did not do well in school. This is because the personality traits that are rewarded in school are penalized at work. The guys I talk to see this, and they are concerned that they are selling their kids a bad bill of goods.

2. They see high performers and they want their kids to be like that. The high performers did things on their own besides school. They remain self-starters and they get jobs through non-traditional routes. The guys I talk to worry that their kids are not displaying this sort of behavior and they want to take them out of school to encourage it.

3. They have a big-picture view. The people who make a lot of money in business are good at looking at the big picture. The people who are successful at running a household are making the day-to-day details fit with each family member’s life. So most men who work full-time with a stay-at-home wife come home to a household that largely runs without them. But they have the ability to see the household in a way that you can’t see if you’re in the thick of it.

So, it’s a little off-putting that I talk with so many men who want their wives to homeschool. But I confess that I find their perspectives inspiring and justified and probably they are great guys to be married to.



36 replies
  1. mh
    mh says:

    Not a bit surprising.

    School is needlessly aggravating and increasingly intrusive on family time. Men may not notice a lot around the house, but they do notice stress and conflict. The Second thing homeschool does is free the parents and children from the constraints of school.

    The Third thing that happens when parents homeschool (this is based on several dozens of conversations) is more s-e-x. True!

    [Before you ask, the FIRST thing that happens when parents homeschool is the shopping — desks, devices, apps, books, everything. This is not the part the husbands enjoy (usually). Once the first thing is done, the husbands enjoy things Two and Three. And Two and Three have staying power.]

    • Heather Sanders
      Heather Sanders says:

      “The Third thing that happens when parents homeschool (this is based on several dozens of conversations) is more s-e-x. True!”

      This really made me laugh, and when possible I am going to use this somewhere, anywhere.

      That said, this isn’t evident in the lives of the homeschooling families we are close to; in fact, quite the opposite.

      Regardless of whether we had our kids in PS or HS, um…sex was not affected. I needed sex as a stress reliever as much as for pleasure, so it wouldn’t be on the sidelines in any scenario.

  2. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    This is really interesting. I’m surprised that there are more men who want to talk to you to try to persuade their wives into homeschooling. Just in the conversations I have with many moms of the entire spectrum (part time and full time work, stay at home moms) a large majority of them say they would love to homeschool their kids, but the husbands say no.
    Sarah M

  3. Satya
    Satya says:

    This is fascinating. I wonder if a new job market will open up for unschooling nannies – someone who will come and be with older kids on weekdays, drive them to activities, help them with their passions – but on a part-time basis so the moms can get a break.

    • CL
      CL says:

      I totally agree with this but have never articulated this thought before. I think this is what Penelope needs. She spends 16 hours per week in the car driving back and forth to Chicago. She needs a driver/nanny. She certainly makes enough to afford one and she can justify it by putting a bit more time into her career, instead of being torn between the boredom of children and feeling like she’s staying behind. That does not mean that Penelope should pick back up her CEO schedule, but rather that Penelope could do more if she was freed up for part of the day by an unschooling nanny.

      Unschooling wasn’t big when I was younger, but one of my friends is from a family with four kids. Her mom had 3 businesses and her dad is a med school professor. They hired college students to be the nanny – to take care of the kids after school and make sure they had dinner, did their homework, and brushed their teeth before bed. Penelope lives a bit far away from Madison to be able to hire a UW student, but she could maybe hire a stay at home mom to be an unschooling nanny. Another alternative would be to draw from the huge pool of former Epic Systems employees in the southern Wisconsin areas, who are all smart and talented but have left Epic for a variety of reasons.

      • mbl
        mbl says:

        I think some people ask homeschooled teens. Not necessarily for a road trip, but if there is a large enough pool to draw from, a mentor/mother’s helper type situation would be great all around.

        We haven’t done it yet, but I’m sure we will down the road.

  4. Lizarino
    Lizarino says:

    I love this post! I think that is awesome that these men that you know want their children to be homeschooled. I think you are a valuable resource for them.

    All one has to do is read Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams to find that the logical conclusion for education is homeschooling (although for some reason Seth missed the logic there somehow…) and follow that with your blog and Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich to know that unschooling is one of the best ways to homeschool.

    I love that the men are trying to convince their wives to homeschool! That is so funny to me for some reason…

    • Denys
      Denys says:

      I love Seth Godin’s writing too and I had the same shock when he said his kids go to public school. Must be the “I can change it from the inside” thinking of something.

      The other writer than concludes homeschooling is best is Daniel Pink in “A Whole New Mind”. Again though his kids also go to public school.

      They both probably live in affluent areas with “good schools” but I still think they should “walk the talk”.

      • Lizarino
        Lizarino says:

        Hey Denys,

        You are probably right about Seth Godin’s thinking… I still think logic would conclude he would homeschool…

        Soon I will be reading Hacking Your Education:Ditch the Lectures… by Dale Stephens… Seth Godin recommends it highly and the snippets I read have me excited to read it.

        I wonder what I would do if I lived in one of those states where they make it difficult to homeschool… and co-op is a great solution! I found a lot of support here in CA… I’m not sure where you are but the internet is a handy resource to locating these groups…

    • Susie
      Susie says:

      Seth’s book was a good read but he never presented any alternative!! And he slammed homeschooling, the only logical alternative!! There’s no point in trashing public schools unless you are prepared to advocate for something else such as progressive education or homeschooling.

  5. Denys
    Denys says:

    I am one of those wives and it has been tough most days. I miss project work and deadlines, and I miss the men. Now that the kids are older, it is much much easier than when they were in elementary school. I can pop out to work on a volunteer project and they can keep moving on with school type things while I am gone if they aren’t interested in joining me.

    I keep wondering where the non-Christian homeschooling co-op network (a la Classical Conversations) is to help moms and kids socialize, network and encourage each other. Some states too make you prove your kids are learning, so having co-op work is helpful for the portfolio. A new start-up for you Penelope?

    • Ari
      Ari says:

      Where we live on the border between Sonoma and Marin counties, across the Golden Gate bridge from SF, there is immense practical support and cooperatives for unschooling/homeschooling.

      There are about 25 or so Sudbury Schools in the U.S., and more around the world…they are effectively unschooling cooperatives.

  6. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    So interesting! I find that very encouraging. Many women I knew had husbands who couldn’t get their minds around homeschooling. It’s great to hear this perspective and it makes sense!

  7. JT
    JT says:

    I guess I don’t understand why someone would pay PT for advice on homeschooling when she has been doing it less than 2 years, and her kids are still young. She has so much to learn.
    Plus, she doesn’t like teaching and doesn’t do much of it.

    Why not seek advice from a mom who has completed 10-25 years of homeschooling? Whose kids are successful and happy? Who has tried different methods and come up with one that works best? Those moms are out there, with decades worth of advice.

    As a SAHM, I don’t think working is easier than being at home with the kids. I’ve done both, and being at home is so much easier. And more fun!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      JT, If you don’t think I know what I’m talking about, why do you come back every day?


    • Becky Castle Miller
      Becky Castle Miller says:

      Because Penelope is a good career coach. As an ENTJ, she’s good at seeing trends and big picture concepts, and she’s blunt enough to tell people the truth about their reality and their choices. That’s why they pay her $250 an hour to help them figure out how to make their lives and careers work, and that includes how to fit in homeschooling to the picture.

      Most SAHMs are not ENTJs. They like being home more than working – which is awesome. It just doesn’t make them good career coaches. That’s why most homeschooling moms will not become homeschooling coaches who charge $250/hour.

      Just because someone is good at doing something doesn’t mean they’re necessarily good at teaching other people to do that thing. An excellent homeschool parent may not be good at teaching other people how to do it. HOWEVER, if they ARE good at teaching people how to do it, then they definitely should! Clearly there’s a big market for homeschooling consulting. You should set up a business website and start offering services!

    • Kate
      Kate says:

      I think you didn’t really answer JT’s question.

      I would reply that these men aren’t talking to Penelope about how to home school (which might imply that they should talk to a long time experienced home schooling parent). They are talking to Penelope about how to convince their wives to home school. There is a huge difference.

    • Betsy
      Betsy says:

      Penelope knows how to have a professional conversation with a successful businessman in terms he understands. Most women I know who have been SAHM + homeschooling for years do not know how to do that with the same effectiveness.

    • Adam
      Adam says:

      First off Penelope is awesome at homeschooling. Secondly she’s made herself an expert in the homeschooling movement, and knowing her personality an expert in the larger issues facing childhood development and education reform (consider that her oldest has special needs).

      She also has the perfect personality to be a good coach, career or otherwise because she likes telling people what to do. Those things combined with the fact that she has owned her own homeschooling blog for the last two years, and has created a community out of it perfectly qualifies her to be a homeschooling authority worthy of paid advice.

      Yes she’s been homeschooling her 2 young kids for the last two years. Is that equal to homeschooling 1 young kid for 4 years? Maybe, maybe not. How about the fact that homeschooling is a full time job, but in addition to that Penelope also researches and writes about homeschooling even more than her main career blog? I’m pretty sure she’s close to her 10,000 hours.

      You don’t need to be a good teacher, just someone who can facilitate self directed learning. Penny, I love that MIT tablet article btw. And unless that mom who has completed 10-25 years of homeschooling is on top of the new technologies and services available her knowledge is outdated.

      “Whose kids are successful and happy? Who has tried different methods and come up with one that works best?” Of all the points mentioned I think Penelope slams this one out of the park the most and her posts speak for themselves.

      “As a SAHM, I don’t think working is easier than being at home with the kids. I’ve done both, and being at home is so much easier. And more fun!”

      Well you probably have a different personality type. Penny is an achiever who does something obsessively until she wins. Work is easier and more fun for that kind of personality type than staying at home, and it makes a lot of sense to me that she clicks with men who have similar personalities who are interested in homeschooling.

  8. Tim
    Tim says:

    That’s interesting, because that’s the opposite of me.

    Now my child is only 8 months old, so obviously we’re not at the point where homeschooling is even an option. Currently, I spend the day at home taking care of my son while my partner works a 9-5 job. When she gets home we do a quick handoff and I work my evening job in a fine dining restaurant.

    This works out very well, and I think it will allow us to homeschool our child when the time comes.

  9. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    The first thing I thought was that you were going to be talking about homeschooling dads – you know, dads who stay at home and homeschool their kids – and I was all ‘ooh, something about homeschooling dads,’ but sadly no. It’s about something else. I guess PT couldn’t think of a more accurate and equally euphonious title for what she had to talk about.

    “What makes dads want their wives to homeschool their kids?”

    That’s the real topic discussed here, but the question sounds kind of weird when put that way.

    If you’re talking about high wage earners, you’re talking about people who see their kids a couple hours a day max. They’re not going to be involved at all with the homeschooling. The modifier does not apply to them.

    That said, I can add a few more benefits to the hardworking parent of homeschooling kids and spouse of a homeschooling parent.

    -You can go on vacation whenever you want, you’re not tied to a school schedule anymore. Midweek ski trips, here we come!

    -You no longer get your 2 hours of child contact a day erased by homework or taken up by discipline problems regarding homework or waking up for school.

    -Your kids get more sleep, and everybody is happier.

    -The whole family can go with you on business trips if you want.

    Also, the statement that it’s easier to be at work than to to be at home taking care of kids isn’t universally true. It really is better and easier for some people to be at home taking care of kids. We just don’t want to admit it, because we think we’re getting away with something.

    But that’s not the crazy part. The crazy part is that it isn’t even necessarily harder to have your kids at home with you homeschooling than it is to be at home and have your kids in school. There is so much work involved with your kids being in school, and so many frustrations, and it takes so long to address problems when they occur. In some ways it’s actually easier for the stay-at-home parent to homeschool.

    In response to JT, I have to say that I frequently think PT is wrong about things. But the idea that she would not be a good person to talk to dads about homeschooling because she’s new to this or wrong about things sometimes is absurd. I’m sure she displays humility and open-mindedness in her conversations with parents, along with enthusiasm and certainty about the benefits of homeschooling.

    There is no one right way to do homeschooling, and 10-25 years figuring out the right way for you won’t make you understand kids and families you don’t have.

    PT, as you know from your demographic studies, the wives of these fellows will likely have substantial higher education. The benefit and the drawback from this is that they will approach homeschooling as an intellectual project. The danger is that they will form an idea of the ideal method in a vacuum without their kids’ input. The benefit is that, like you, highly educated housewives will have ideas and connections in society that may be of use to their children. If she can steer away from the pitfall of excessive determinism, the highly educated homeschooling parent can use her knowledge and connections to open a broader world for her children.

    So good job and keep it up.

  10. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    I’m a homeschooling Dad who just started teaching our 8 year old on January 1st of this year. We adopted our son from eastern Europe. He has a low IQ and a great deal of difficulty understanding or expressing anything abstract.

    He’s about 1.5 grade levels behind where the public school had him (based solely on his age). They weren’t able to provide him with the kind of learning environment that he needs.

    Since he’s been at home, he’s begun to thrive. He’s made big improvements in his math and reading skills and more importantly, he’s really happy. There were some behavior issues that have completely gone away since he’s been at home.

    I never wanted to be a homeschool teacher, but I’m glad I’m able to be here for him. I know other people who homeschool and I’m the only Dad who is the primary teacher in the family, but it works well for our family.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      Your story is so beautiful, I’m tearing up!

      And I think we’d all love to hear more about your experience. There’s a lot of curiosity about SAHD’s and homeschooling.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      Thanks for sharing! My son is currently 7 months old and I’m still at home with him, but in a few months I’ll be going back to work and my husband will be staying home. Our ultimate plan is for me to continue working and for him to be the main homeschooling parent. I don’t really know of any other homeschooling dads… It makes me happy to know they’re out there!

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        We are out there, Lisa (in more than one sense).

        In my local homeschooling community, dads look to me to be about 10% of full-time homeschooling parents. There are a few more part-timers (as in Dad’s got them on Wednesdays). I know one other full-time homeschooling dad reasonably well (he lives two blocks away), and like myself his wife has a great career. Like my wife, she couldn’t have the career she has without a SAHD; the decision to stay at home was primary, and the decision to homeschool secondary. I gave up a stable six-figure engineering career for this (and couldn’t be happier).

        Depending on where you live (city is better), your husband won’t be alone. SAHD seems to be a good career choice for law grads.

        In my experience, one of the more difficult things is watching fellow SAHDs ‘fall out of the fold’ as they send their kids off to daycare or school. This life truly isn’t for everybody, and this is a sad time for the kids. I have a friend who keeps her child home from daycare one morning a week so he can play with my little one. I have another friend I rarely see anymore because half his day is taking his daughter to daycare and back. I don’t think he’s cut out for homeschooling because he worries too much. My daughter misses her ‘girlfriend’ a lot.

        To add to the list, my wife also says another benefit of having a stay-at-home homeschooling spouse is that she doesn’t worry about the kids during the day. There’s no ‘guess what happened at school,’ no more lice, no officious midday calls to her if I’m not picking up. It makes her job easier for me to homeschool.

        • mh
          mh says:

          This is true — we get colds and flu very seldom (maybe once every 2 years?) because we’re basically healthy. My sister’s traditionally schooled children (she HATES it when I call them “compulsory-school children) miss a ton of school because of sickness, and with two working parents, someone has to take time off to be with the sick child. Every time.

        • Lisa
          Lisa says:

          Interesting… I wonder if rates of attrition are similar for men and women, or if it just seems higher for men because there are less of them doing it, so when one stops, it stands out more. I wish there were more studies done on homeschooling… I love reading about stuff like that!

  11. karelys
    karelys says:

    My soon is still a baby so I am hoping that as he grows that things will get a bit easier. Hopefully he won’t need my attention every minute.

    That said, I imagine that it’s not that big of a deal if the child is with someone else for a few hours a day. It may actually be refreshing for them (needless to say, for the parents too).

    If these dads want their children homeschooled then they could figure out a way to make more income solely for the purpose of hiring help that will take the overwhelming burden off their wives’ shoulders to always be with the kids and never have time of their own. I do imagine that hiring people to help will be less expensive than a good private school education.

    People work hard for bonuses anyway because they imagine they’ll buy the boat, the car, the fancy vacation. Why not do it with the education of their child in mind?

    I read somewhere that Angelina Jolie has some ridiculously well paid nannies that have education degrees, speak different languages, etc. Why not find a way to mimic that environment by finding people who are in the education field, or counseling, or whatever you think is something that will have a good effect on your kid? The student gets a job and your kid gets an opportunity.

    For example, if P’s kid was really into Archeology and if she had the opportunity to hire an Archeology major she’d be giving the student a chance to earn money while the kid gets to hang out with someone that can dish about his favorite topic.

    I am just thinking. I am not even sure this is viable for many. But those people that list off a myriad of reasons why certain options wouldn’t work out strike me as the kind of people that want many reasons why it’s ok to not give things a try and they want an excuse to sit in their comfort zone and not try something new.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Karelys, I think your suggestion is excellent. It’s like a new type of babysitting – now without the babies! I am sure that a subset of grad students would be thrilled to share their interests and enthusiasm with children.

      The craziest thing about private schools is that the difference between tuition and salary isn’t large. It seems to me that a career as a part-time unschooling tutor/nanny would be possible for some, given the economics. On the other side of the equation, some people with their kids in private school already have nannies and tutors; why not just skip the school?

      Okay, PT: here’s your next business opportunity.

  12. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    When I attend conferences my husband takes off work and stands-in-the-gap for me with homeschooling. After Day 1, he’s “good”, but has some stories. After Day 2, he tells me he worships the ground I walk on.

    I KNOW my ISTJ husband would crumble if our roles were reversed. He is happy I want to work from home and homeschool, because it is what he wants for the kids, but he has stated that if it wasn’t my conviction, we would have the kids in PS before he would come home.

  13. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    I believe I’m one of these rare males that you speak of. I am now in my eighth year of being a full-time dad with my two boys (I despise the “stay at home” moniker), and I’m doing the hard sell on my wife on taking them out of public schools and homeschooling them next year. We both feel that the public schools have all but ruined our kids’ love for learning and self confidence and they each have some challenges (one has anxiety, the other Aspergers) that the teachers don’t know how to work with or play to. I know it’s the right thing for them, but I have to be honest, we’re both nervous about it. Your blog has been trendously inspiring.

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