There’s a difference between good worries and bad worries. Psychology Today points out that the cave men who didn’t worry probably died quickly; some level of worry helps us overcome real problems. When we worry about crazy stuff, then worry shifts into the OCD realm. It’s not surprising that the worries of homeschooling parents are different than those of parents who send their kids to school.

Parents who are wise enough to know that obsessing over test scores is outdated are also smart enough to know that it’s the hard-t0-test-for stuff that’s really important. The favorite hard-to-test-for thing to obsess about for parents who send their kids to school is socialization.

What you shouldn’t worry about: Socialization

I’m convinced that no parent can define this term in an acceptable way. Does it mean fitting in with the sadistic peer pressure of high school? Sitting in chairs like girls even though you want to run around like a boy? Learning to not raise your hand in math class so that boys ask you to the dance?

To be honest, I have never heard a homeschooling parent worry about socialization besides me, during my first months of homeschooling. And each time I brought up my worries on this blog, parents in the comments section taught me how absurd it is to have a goal for your child to be socialized.

What should we worry about? 

I could worry about chores. There’s research that says I should. A long-term study from Harvard shows that the only correlation they can find between people who go to Harvard and people who are happy later in life is that if you do chores as a kid, you will be happier as an adult. This study had a lot of impact on me. After all, I came from a family where we had household help everywhere including a laundress whose mother had been a slave and she refused to use the front door of my house, let alone ask me to pick my clothes up off the floor.

So I could worry about chores. But it’s pretty easy to just give my son a set of chicks and say, “Water them or they’ll die.” He’s eight. He doesn’t let them die.

I could worry about teaching the value of hard work.  Because I don’t make my kids learn things that don’t interest them. Research supports this strategy, but also, in my career coaching business, the people who have the most trouble as adults are the ones who are best at waiting to be told what to learn. They are incapacitated by the overwhelming choices of adult life. And they are unengaged because they don’t know how to learn without doing it to meet someone else’s standards.

But instead of worrying, I just make my kids practice their instruments twice a day. Practicing is difficult. Each day there is something new to learn and you get better and better but there is always more work to do, because the better you are the more you see how much there is left to learn.

I am using the music practice to teach them skills that I think are incredibly important: self-discipline, grit, determination, working a little bit every day, commitment to something large, working with others, and learning a second language.

What I really worry about is that I am wasting away. 

I think this is a very common worry for homeschooling parents. If you have kids in school you have eight hours a day to figure out who you are and what you want and to cater to yourself. If you choose to homeschool you are choosing to take care of kids to make family life meaningful and their childhood fulfilling and you are putting your own needs on a back burner.

It’s hard to know if that’s right. I look at people who don’t have kids and for the most part, I think their life is pretty self-involved, which feels boring to me. I did, actually, get bored by it in my early 30s. But I look at people who have time to think, time to pursue their own interests in a huge, unfettered way, and I worry that I am disappearing as a person as I spend more and more time with my kids.

The bottom line for homeschooling parents is that the biggest worries are about ourselves rather than our kids. It’s clear that homeschooling is best for the kids. It’s not clear how to spend the first decade of adult life catering to ourselves and then stop abruptly to take care of kids.

29 replies
  1. Helene K
    Helene K says:

    When it comes to socialization, my worry would be whether my son would get and have friends. Friendships are difficult to maintain and requires what you talk about in music practice:

    self-discipline, grit, determination, working a little bit every day, commitment to something large, working with others, and learning a second language.

    Friendship is the most important thing in life (especially if you have a malfunctioned family that there is little point in maintaining). So when people talk about socialization in terms of school – I think they mean friendship in the end.

    • Kristin
      Kristin says:

      You can’t always find friends in school. My son didn’t make any friends at school but is now making friends as a homeschooled. Go figure!

      • Kimberly
        Kimberly says:

        Agreed, finding friends does not begin nor end in school. I was public schooled and I had trouble making friends because I didn’t sleep around.

        In all honesty, school is not really the place to make friends. No one is raising kids in school for the majority of the day and their behavior shows it.

        I have never met a homeschooled child who wasn’t social, unless their parents were unsocial themselves. However, most schools will take a sociable, kind kid and subdue them in attempts to control the classroom. Not much socialization goes on in school, anyways.

        Try finding situations where your child can “socialize” (talk to?) others of all age groups and experiences. That would suit them better. Most kids who spend all day in school, have no clue how to speak to someone outside of their age group.

  2. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I think this is pretty accurate to my own experience. I found that when I had two kids nearly back to back, and didn’t feel that I had enough adult interaction, I would trip and bumble over my words all the time when I *did* get the chance. I was so used to explaining minute things and chattering about baby/toddler things all the time, it’s like I forgot how to make pleasant and interesting conversation with adults. When I noticed it, I knew I needed to try to recoup my personality and my interests apart from my kids.
    It sounds so strange now typing that out, but I was, and am, so sold on homeschooling it’s hard for me to see any other way, so my kids have always been with me. I have to really try and fight for my own time, though, and because I think it’s important, I get it. I know that ‘my’ time will come soon enough. We had kids very early on in our twenties and so before we’re 40, our kids will most likely be out of the house. I think it would have been really hard for me to go from a huge career and my own specialized routine and life, and then have kids, instead of the other way around. I try to have the mentality enjoying the time I have with them now, as they’re fairly young, and look forward to every stage and phase of life. On days that seem long, my early 40s as an empty nester and doing more of what the world sees as “work” seem like bliss.
    Sarah M

  3. Rolph
    Rolph says:

    When caregiving ends, you feel like you’re on a different planet anyway, like anything is possible or anything can go wrong. You’re wishing you could’ve shortened the distance between who you think you’re supposed to be and who you really are.

    But really, it’s just sink or swim, always looking for the strength to do what we set out to do. It takes just as much energy to let yourself sink as it does to get strong enough to keep swimming. We trick ourselves into thinking it’s this black-and-white thing, but it’s not. It’s never what you expect it to be.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I try not to think about that kind of stuff. Seriously, I worry enough that I might screw things up by unschooling let alone the stuff you mentioned.

    I worry about how my girls will find husbands, that’s why we do swim team, when they get older they’ll be surrounded by hot guys that are also swimmers. I start to really panic about it, maybe I should send them to boarding school in Mass for high school so they can actually meet some blue blood and get married. But then again, who knows what dating will be like in ten years, will it be 3D virtual dating??? Where’s my paper bag to breathe in?… ugh.

    When the kids are off on their own, I guess I’ll be grandma eventually and help them out? Fortunately, my husband and I share many mutual interests, like traveling and there are lots of places to go once the kids are gone…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I worry about this too. I want my sons to have someone to go through their lives with. I want them to experience trust and long-term intimacy. I think all the time about who they will marry and if I’m setting them up to be in in social circles of people I’d like them to marry.

      It’s so controlling. I wish I were not even writing this.

      Also, things like this always backfire to me. I gave my kids hebrew first names so Jewish girls would know they were Jewish (last name: Rodriguez). But their names are completely unpronounceable to most people, and very hard to remember. Impossible for non-Jews to spell. The whole thing just probably was not my best idea and should be a lesson on how I should not worry so much about who my kids marry.

      Penelope

      • Karen
        Karen says:

        I worry more about the “when” than the “who”. I’ve tried to impress upon my sons that the purpose of dating is to find a spouse and that they should not date anyone who does not present as good marriage material, however they define that to be. I could have saved myself a lot of time and heartache had I been more goal oriented in my early dating life.

        I’m a big believer in the idea that it’s harder to adjust to married life if you are older and more established as a single person. It also seems to me that the longer one waits to find someone to settle down with, the smaller and shallower the pool is as most of the good prospects have already been taken off the market. My other piece of advice to them will be to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good – there is such a thing as too picky.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I don’t freak out all the time, just every once in awhile. By the way I love your sons names, I never even considered you were intentionally giving their names so that Jewish girls would know they were Jewish!

        Just today I was reflecting over this post and wondered what it was I actually did before I had kids and was married, well I was a stock broker before that, I was in college before that, and before that I was in high school. I think I am entering the point in my life where I am trying to cement who I am, there has always been so much going on that I may have missed something. So now I think I should try to de-stress. I am not sure if you know much about INTJ’s, but I live life through a logical lens and mostly exist in ideas in my mind, my husband calls me Spock from Star Trek because I can be robot like, and not understand certain social situations… maybe I should use this time to be less like a robot… although my aspergers doesn’t exactly help the situation.

        I saw your career blog post about your startup. Congratulations! That is really so exciting and I am thrilled for you and your team! Great job!

  5. petits homeschoolers
    petits homeschoolers says:

    It’s true.

    I worry about “after”.
    Homeschool is just a time.
    What will I do after? What will I do when my kids will be older and when they will no longer need me to teach them?
    My husband has his job. I hope my kids will become independant… but what about me? I will be unemployed person! lol

    I think I will sincerely miss to feel such usefull. I will probably need to find something new, a new project for “me”, to feel useful again. Honestly, I don’t know what I will do “after”.

  6. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    I think about how my future kids will perceive me as an interesting, industrious or boring, non-industrious person. If there is anything I want for them beyond feeling loved and cared for, it’s to give them an excellent model of what an interesting person does with their life. This post is timely with what’s been on my mind recently as well.

  7. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    This is a huge challenge–trying to balance my needs with my kids’ needs. For a long time I worked on building my art career while homeschooling my kids, but I never had the time for the more mundane responsibilities of a career and so it never worked. So now I just do the art, which is the best part of my work anyway, and avoid all that toxic frustration. As my kids get older, I spend more and more time in the studio. It’s like a slow ramp to the career I hope to make when they have fledged.

    But also, I feel like it is SO important for me to model this balance, for my daughter especially. So my work is always in the juggling mix, even when it is really difficult to keep it going.

  8. sarah
    sarah says:

    Do you think we feel that way because we were taught at school we would “be somebody”? Lets face it, looseing yoursrlf to raise your kids is not being “somebody”. I have been at home since i was 19. In no way was I raised to be at home, and my parents still push me to “be somebody” by getting a doctrines degree. They imply I am not “somebody” because i invest in others, rather than myself. Somedays I struggle with not being a somebody. But you talk a lot about how conditioned we are to define success by position and money. And that does not bring happiness. In the end of the day, I am happy and content, because I am a somebody. Just not the somebody my parents wanted. Im ok with that. I havent “lost me” ~ I just didnt know who I was.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I am not even hormonal today and this made me cry.

      Sometimes it’s just so tiring to swim upstream and constantly remind yourself of different definitions of success and trying to makeup your own when you realize “shit! I never got a chance to define my own. I’ve been working after what someone else taught me to see.”

  9. carmen
    carmen says:

    The one thing empty-nesters always say to me is they wish they had paid more attention to their health. They’re tired, and their kids have moved on. If you keep taking care of your health and exercise and keep your weight down, then you’ll at least have more energy to try things and stave off illness and your grandkids will have grandparents as a good example.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This completely rings true to me. And it’s a good reminder that I have to focus on this problem a little each day or it won’t stop being a problem for me.

      Penelope

  10. Isabelle
    Isabelle says:

    Sometimes I feel guilty for trying to carve out time for myself every day, or putting a lot of effort into figuring out how I can have a satisfying career while raising and homeschooling our kids. But then I think about how important it is for me to model for my son that I am my own person- I am not here on this planet solely to be his caretaker, it is my job to also take care of myself, and to do the work in this world that I feel called to do. I think if I sublimate those goals to be a “better” caretaker for him (ie the Mommy Martyr) I am just teaching him that women are here to serve men, and him specifically. Despite being raised my pretty forward-thinking parents and self-identifying as a feminist, I can see some of those tendencies in my husband and want to NOT repeat that pattern. I don’t want my son to think that being a good caretaker means that you sacrifice yourself completely, just that you must be careful and purposeful about how you spend your time.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I commend you for this and identify with the sentiment.

      My mother never really knew how to take care of herself. I guess that’s what she learned growing up – that a good woman/mother gives herself up for others. In our culture, beauty and virtue for women is to be sacrificial. Needless to say, when my mom was at the end of her (and her rope was pretty short) everyone suffered. She didn’t know how to take care of herself and we grew up with a lot of emotional mixed signals.

      I think “what am I trying to model for my child?”

      I don’t want him to think of me what I thought of my mother. I want to be someone he admires.

  11. Jen
    Jen says:

    Your homeschool sounds a lot like ours. Farming and music take up a lot of our time. I too give my daughter some chicks and say, “Start a business.” Now at 7, the kid has more money than I do! My son is angling for ducks in the spring. I don’t know anybody else that sells duck eggs, so it might just work.

    They play fiddle and banjo respectively. Who knew that I could tune a banjo?! Do you know how hard those things are to tune? But he’s four, I have to learn how if I’m going to help him learn.

    II never worried about socialization, I was just annoyed by the question. I had been a teacher, I saw what “socialization” meant first hand. Often it is just survival of the toughest. I don’t want my kids to be tough. I want them to have grit, but I don’t want them to harden to get there.

    Then for me, I move quickly on to worrying. Worrying about what my devotion to my children and family says to my girl about being a woman. Worrying about what that same commitment tells my son to expect in a mate. Or God forbid, that men do “Important” things like go out and make money, and women “just stay home” with the kids. All those messages terrify me!

    It is a tricky balance because I know that I have to reconcile myself to certain realities that women who send their children to school don’t face. Just yesterday I was telling someone that I had to wait until my kids can stay home alone to exercise regularly. My husband travels, I can’t afford a regular babysitter, and my kind of exercise is outdoors – a tough combination for a homeschooling mom. Don’t get me wrong, we ski – cross-country and downhill, hike, and bike together, I even set up rock climbing class for our homeschool co-op. (Do you think I have ever had a turn on that rock?) I’m talking about me getting on my bike and riding the speed I want to go. Or working up a sweat skate skiing further than from one kid to another and turning around and heading back.

    So while I worry that I’m sending the mommy-martyr messages by not taking enough time for myself, I also need to let go of the idea that I will get fit again when my kids are 5-6, because that just won’t happen for me. If I hang on to that idea, I’ll be miserable.

    At some point we have to let go of our preconceived notions of how things are going to go down, as well as our comparisons to other people.

    Sorry for rambling here, but this one hits home for me.

  12. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    I don’t worry about what will happen when my youngest flies the coop. I am certain I will miss their presence terribly, yet completely enjoy doing as I choose.

  13. mh
    mh says:

    I’ve been thinking… when this crop gets a little bit older, maybe we’ll foster/adopt a couple of brothers. We have so much love to share.

  14. mary kathryn
    mary kathryn says:

    You don’t have to worry about disappearing as a person either. That’s not specific to homeschool parents. Some parents “lose” themselves in their kids, and some don’t. You don’t strike me as a person whose personality is so lifeless and drab that you’re likely to do the disappearing act. Besides, these years with your boys are really brief — another decade, and you’ll be done with that. They’ll be independent, and you’ll have lots of years to do what you love, and you’ll have tons of benefit from the years of homeschooling to add to the mix, which will make the “rediscovery” much richer and more interesting. Right now, it feels like forever. It’s not.

  15. schooling
    schooling says:

    I strongly agree with this line, “I’m convinced that no parent can define this term in an acceptable way.”
    But unfortunately, there are still parents who don’t get what does this line means. tsk tsk tsk

  16. Jonelle Lantier
    Jonelle Lantier says:

    Worrying about wasting away is a much more valid thing to fret over than socialization. Homeschooled kids always find ways to make friends- with other homeschooled kids in the area, or with normal highschoolers. Also, many homeschooling parents do wonder whether they’re giving up too much for their children- especially when non-homeschooling parents keep asking them the same thing. But, it is entirely up to the homeschooling parents to resolve this worry. Great post!

  17. Judy
    Judy says:

    My 11th grade sons are 14 and 17. They have homeschooled since ages 4 and 7. I have spent too much time worrying about every single thing the typical homeschool mom worries about. I’m thankful I worried, though, because it prompted me to take steps to prevent those worries from coming to fruition.

    I am in the homeschool home stretch, and I am almost useless at this point. I have done all the worrying, taken all preventive and proactive measures, taught them how to not need me, and raised two wonderful young men.

    Enjoy the busy worrying years!

  18. VegGal
    VegGal says:

    I just got done explaining this to my husband. My kids are 4, 3,& 2 and I’m afraid to homeschool because of this. i love the way you explain it, because I feel exactly the same way and right now I needed to know that I’m not alone. :-)

  19. gina
    gina says:

    I also worry that my kids won’t find husbands. I mean, all this worrying I do is basically made possible by the money my husband brings home. He’s a banker. We spin a lot of cloth and keep chickens. I don’t see anything strange about that juxtaposition. But if they don’t find husbands I’ll just die. I’m already planning their weddings. Women who don’t get married and don’t have the privilege of worrying about their kids all day and giving themselves 1000 points for saving them from some crazy unpredictable institution where they taught by professionals – well I just feel so sorry for them.

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