When you go to a homeschool blog I bet you expect to find pictures framing moments of a charmed life: Dogs and children and nature and fun.But most of homeschooling makes for terrible photos, because most of homeschooling is just parenting: driving, cleaning, and discipline. And I’m not even sure this is unnatural. I mean, look at lives in early societies: most of parenting involved gathering food, and dragging kids along. And then preparing food, and making the kids play by themselves because the mom is busy. And telling the kids to get away from the fire.

So this all seems natural. Yet it feels unnatural. Or at least unacceptable. Like the only thing worthy to be parenting is playing baseball together all day or curling up with a child, on a sofa, with a book.

My sons both go to a psychologist. They each have a different one. My older son goes to an Aspergers specialist. She gives us tips on issues like how to cope with the fact that my son is not sensitive to cold, so his hands get frostbitten in the winter, and he’s over sensitive to heat, so he cries when the house is humid. (Ancillary Aspergers tidbit that does not belong in this post, but whatever: I am the opposite. I take scalding baths and burn myself once a week. And I wear a down coat in the summer because I can never get warm enough.)

My younger son goes to a psychologist because he is extremely emotional. I am not sure if he is actually fine and it’s more my problem because I am extremely unemotional. Or maybe he is part of a long, familial line of manic depressives (tidbit: most famous musicians have some sort of mental imbalance), and I also just have very little parenting confidence because my own parents were so incompetent.

So anyway, you probably know by now that I have a lot of household help. I have a housecleaner and a driver and an assistant and then each of them sort of overlaps when I need it. My thoughts about this are that I pay people to do all the stuff that is not parenting and then I do the parenting. But I also have to work to pay for all that.

So we were in therapy yesterday and my son said, “My real dad’s favorite is my brother and my step dad’s favorite is me, and my mom’s favorite is work.”

I could analyze this statement for the next 50 blog posts, but really the thing that sticks out for me is that no matter what I spend my time doing, any time when I’m not staring at my kids is time they think I am not parenting.

I expected that my choice to homeschool would inoculate me against any parenting guilt. But instead, it makes me more of a philosopher of guilt. And what I really think is going on here is that the more time you spend with your kids, the more problems you see.

32 replies
  1. Kevin Finch
    Kevin Finch says:

    Thanks for such an honest post. I fight feelings of guilt all the time. If you send your child to school or work away from your children most hours of the day, I wonder if you experience less guilt. When you are homeschooling your children and they are unhappy, having a bad day, complaining about being bored, etc, it’s hard not to blame yourself. You start wondering if they’d be happier somewhere else or with someone else. It’s tough to suppress these feelings even though you know you are doing what’s best for your child.

    Finally, I appreciate your comment about seeing problems in your children. I was a school teacher for 12 years before homeschooling my daughters. I can’t tell you how many times I sat is a conference where a parent said, “Well, he doesn’t do this at home.” “My child never behaves this way when he’s with me.” Most of the time, the blame was unfairly directed at the teacher or the school. The child’s problem was our problem. Blame was shifted to us. After all, we were the ones with the child all day. Homeschooling your children is an opportunity to know your children on a very intimate level. You see throughout the day all of the beauty and challenges that come with their unique personalities:)

  2. Karo
    Karo says:

    Americans have elevated parenting to a highly structured “art form” where downtime and spontaneity are frowned-upon. I live in downtown NYC and see an incredible drive by parents to make their little ones into perfect replicas of a fantasy child that excels at everything. What kids actually need is love, understanding, ton of family-time and for parents to land that helicopter already. Let them be. Let them watch you live so they can learn real life skills. And not Mandarin or gymnastics at the age of 2.

    • Jayson
      Jayson says:

      If you actually see a child in Manhattan, you should take into consideration that you are seeing a stratified view of parenting. Parents in Manhattan are an exclusive bunch, probably with one child (due to space and cost constraints) where they can two-on-one parent.

      Not to mention since both parents are likely working long hours to pay living expenses, they are extremely neurotic about getting their child qualified to be in a school.

  3. Sheela
    Sheela says:

    It’s hard to just be with your kids, but of course, it’s the only thing they want. My kids are most excited for the one week this summer that I am running a Do It Yourself camp for them with my friend. Vacation in Colorado, art camp, swim camp, parties, etc, pale in comparison. They can’t get enough of the fact that mom is spending her ‘work time’ organizing a camp for them and their friends, with me and my friend as the counselors.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      So true about how hard it is to “just be” with kids. It’s incredibly boring. Even if your kid is fascinating. It’s one of the hardest transitions from not being a parent to being a parent. My first reaction was “What? This is all there is?”

      Penelope

      • mh
        mh says:

        Luckily, sleep deprivation and hormones combine to produce “mom-nesia” so we can’t remember those baby days too well. Otherwise how would families ever produce multiple children?

  4. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    ” philosopher of guilt” – right there with you on this one.

    What does it say though, when the last two days I had meetings out of the house for a few hours, so I set up the sitter with a list of things to do with the boys, and when I came home I got the greatest welcome a mom could get?

    I find that I am much better directing someone else to do educational activities with the kids and me working, than doing it myself. For at least the last two days, they seemed much happier with this experiment!

    Oh and I took your advice and hired a housekeeper!

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      My mom stayed at home and never really took care of herself. And she’d lose her cool often.

      If by need she’d have to leave the house and leave with someone for a couple of day just hours everyday, she’d come back and we’d love her! We missed her so much because of course we loved her. But the distance was enough to give us a break from her constantly running out of patience. And the other people were just fun because their job was to be fun. But there’s nothing and no one like the warmth and safety of the mom you love so much.

  5. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I’d love to say that I’m so evolved that I came across this by myself but I didn’t. Life is making me take a more “agricultural versus manufacturing approach to people.”

    And that includes my child.

    I feel like no matter how much I try to inoculate myself from people and I make strict plans to get work done, there, I’m swarmed by people. As I’m writing this I’m coming to the conclusion that I better get used to my business being people.

    My husband is building a wood recurve bow. There’s nothing in the market like what he wants to make. So he has to make it himself. He works many hours on it randomly because parenting is his first priority. I avoid most of the bow work and talk because I feel like I’m going brake out in hives. There’s no way to put it through a machine for it to come out perfect and already done. Fast.

    It’s like the bow is alive and Chris has to negotiate with it and try to get the wood to cooperate. I say I like artisanal handmade stuff but I didn’t know what I was talking about until I saw my husband break the wood because it wouldn’t cooperate. I was heartbroken. It took so much work. I tried to be encouraging and say “you’re a scientist now. You try and try until you find a way. Like Edison.”

    I disliked parenting the moment my child started showing a will. I realized real parenting is no manufacturing endeavor. You have to make it by hand. Even if you have power tools a lot of it is by heart, with your eyes judging distance, you can’t just put the kid in a machine and it’ll come out perfectly done ready to be use at the end of all that.

    Maybe I have control issues because there’s a huge underlying sea of fear underneath. So I need the agricultural approach too. There’s no manufacturing that will get rid of that.

    The more I think of this the more I think school is like a manufacturing plant where we hope kids will come out ready for adult life. Well they need a massive recall.

    Doesn’t that sound like the name of an action movie?

  6. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    And yeah, running errands is both parenting and homeschooling. The more I think of it the I realize that running errands with my mom really prepared me to be an adult on my own. I’m still baffled by 25-27 year olds that don’t really know how to take care of themselves and their finances. It was such a natural thing.

    I’m hoping I can instill that in my son and also, a very natural ability to just find ways to make money. I think that if he has that mindset the rest, the how, is just details.

    • Paxton
      Paxton says:

      Yes, there is a huge difference with someone that grew up in latin america. A 14-year-old girl in Central or South America basically knows how to run a household including cooking, cleaning, taking care of the younger children, etc. It is out of necessity but the lessons are valuable nonetheless.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I don’t so much have a list of chores for my kids to do… but the thing they hear the most from me is “Do it yourself.” or “Why don’t I show you how to do this so that you don’t need to ask me anymore.” It’s not that I don’t want to help them, it’s that I’m getting them to be self-reliant so they won’t need to rely on other people for things all the time.

      Of course I feel parenting guilt, but I think if they were in school I’d be experiencing guilt on a whole different level.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        As Paxton said, being from one of those cultures will get you ready to run a household, but not a company, when you’re barely 14.

        But I think that you’re onto something. It’s not about making the child be ready to do anything (run a household, a company, win at the Olympics, be #1 for cello and other coveted positions). I think it’s about instilling a sense of self-sufficiency and self-respect.

        There are a lot of insecurities I’ve had to work myself through. But deep down there’s always this feeling that I can figure it out. I can find a way to make it happen and I will.

        Whatever the errands, bringing the child along not only makes them feel a part of what you do but it gives them a sense of what the world is like and how to go about it.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          It’s simple things like having my kids order their own food at a restaurant instead of me relaying the information to the waiter. They are pro’s at flagging down wait staff for drink refills. I’m sure other people might think it’s obnoxious but it’s little things like that, that make me smile and know that they have confidence to take care of things.

      • Jessica
        Jessica says:

        Your kids are getting a bit older right? I think it’s necessary to go with ‘how would you do it?’ To help them think for themselves. Kids can learn so much so fast. It doesn’t mean you’re not there for them, it just means they’ll know what to do when they are out on their own. (Anti-helicopter parenting if you will)

  7. mh
    mh says:

    I’m phone-phobic, so my charming son makes the scheduling phone calls — bug service, tire rotation appointments, personal appointments, HVAC maintenance, etc.

    Yes, I consider that learning — home-training more than home-schooling.

    My college roommate had never picked up a phone to order even a pizza, lacked the most basic skills, could not keep a bathroom tidy. Aggravating for a 20-year-old person to be so helpless.

    My sons, at age 7, started sorting laundry, doing the wash, folding and putting away the clothes. At age 9, they could make 5 meals for the family (and their repertoire grows).

    We have three bathrooms and there’s a checklist — they follow the checklist for one bathroom per day. My baths get cleaned twice per week and I’m satisfied with the results.

    Homeschooling families are instilling basic societal competence in their children.

    Yes, chores and shopping count. Driving around counts. They are learning.

    • Jessica
      Jessica says:

      Exactly. There is a lot to life besides just finding your passion. There is so much to take care of, that when you have time to work on your passion you don’t take it for granted. This is what I think is the most important part of a child growing. Knowing when is downtime, work/play time, and skill prep.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Ditto on the phone-phobia, my husband gets so frustrated.. “How did you ever live before we were married?” he’d yell. Can’t wait to start training the kids to make calls, they hang up on people and hit the mute button all the time so it’s too clumsy at the moment.

  8. Paxton
    Paxton says:

    It is exasperating at times because it seems like so much of parenting is saying stuff like ‘No!’ ‘Stop doing that!’ ‘Get away from there!’ ‘Put down that knife! ‘Quit stabbing your brother in the eye with that stick!’ etc…
    I try every day to be consistent and to enjoy the moments because I enjoy so much those times when I can enjoy being with my child and those times when they say those wonderful/insightful/funny things that makes you say ohhhhhhhhhhhh this is what being a parent is all about.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I, too, am concerned that my parenting and relationship with my kid is mainly NO! DON’T DO THAT!

      I don’t want that to lose it’s power. Or usefulness. I try to turn it around on its head. Sometimes I am successful sometimes I am not.

      Most of the time it just helps me slow down and thing, can I live with the consequences? If yes then I just let him go with it. And save the NO! for when we are about to cross the street and he decided it was a good idea to go about it by himself.

      This whole thing has me becoming someone I do not even recognize. But I like her anyway. I like her more than my old self :)

      • Jessica
        Jessica says:

        Also, repeating their names for the sake of it looses power. Then when you need them and say ‘so and so!) they don’t respond. It’s good to watch what is said to maximize effectiveness.

        • Hannah
          Hannah says:

          Interesting comment on the name losing power over time. Do you mind expanding on that a little?

          I love saying my son’s name to him, but maybe I say it so frequently that he doesn’t even recognize it (he’s not even a year old yet, so I don’t really know what he knows or doesn’t know).

          • mh
            mh says:

            As far as using the child’s name, here is what I learned from dog training:

            The dog’s name is not a synonym for “NO”.

            The name is the way you get their attention, then you give the direction.

            My parenting style is more showing than telling, so I tend to limit my talking anyway.

  9. Fatcat
    Fatcat says:

    My kids are in the launching phase and when they were younger, I had these same doubts and guilt, because I did work and homeschool and I felt like I wasn’t doing anything well, but now near the end of their childhoods, my kids are fine, actually they are awesome and I am pretty sure yours will be too. :-)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I like hearing from people who worried like me and came out fine the other side. I don’t even know what “came out fine” even means, actually. (Maybe it means they always come home for Passover????) But really what I appreciate is that someone who has been there, done that, is listening, and saying it’ll be okay. So thank you, Fatcat. I liked your comment.

      Penelope

      • Jessica
        Jessica says:

        My husband and I were just talking about this. Generational perspective to relieve anxiety. USA has more anxiety problems than most countries (20% more). Anxiety results from being worried about the future in the present moment.
        USA doesn’t have co-generational habitats as a standard, and most I know live far from relatives.
        Grandparents have the been there/ done that wisdom that can help parents and kids prevent mistakes and reassure that when there are mistakes it will be ok. Life will be ok with bumps, no matter the road travelled.

        Point is, I need more family and those of us that don’t have reliable family info, need comments like these.

  10. Teryn
    Teryn says:

    I can’t seem to read your blog without spending an hour binge reading your blog. :) I think your transparency is refreshing and always makes me think. I completely agree that “the more time you spend with your kids, the more problems you see.” My mommy guilt has increased dramatically since homeschooling even as the rest of the world treats me like I’m some sort of mommy saint.

  11. Erin
    Erin says:

    At some point I think we all just have to make ourselves trust in our parenting choices & good intentions, and leave guilt out of the equation. When you’re obsessed with guilt, you’re obsessed with YOU. But, when you don’t let yourself become tangled up in guilt, you create space in your emotions for other things. If you believe in yourself as a good parent, then you’ll be more at peace being the parent that you are, whatever that looks like.

    Is it possible your son is picking up on your feelings about your own parenting more than he is coming up with observations of his own?

    I was just commenting to Matt in the car today: the great thing about parenting is that there really is no right way to parent. We all just are who we are. Later at home, we were crammed into our small TV room. Matt was playing videogames, I was blogging, Phoebe was watching Netflix on the iPad & the cat was asleep in the couch. We were all together, hanging with our screens, chatting, doing nothing special. And having a great time.

    One last thought: there are “open handed” truths and “close handed” truths about parenting. Close handed things are things we all need to agree on: don’t molest your kids, don’t abuse your kids, etc. Open handed things are issues we can disagree on, things that are grey areas: when to stop nursing, how much TV to watch, how much sugar is OK. I think the key to not being plagued by guilt is understanding what things are on the “close handed” list, what things we don’t compromise on, and then being good parents based on that scale. Then we can relax about all the issues that are “open handed” issues…because even if we make a decision others disagree with, or we change our minds, it’s just part of the complexity of life.

  12. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    On the bright side, you don’t play favourites with your kids :-) That’s important.

    I find it hard to know how much is ‘enough’ time, sometimes they do seem like bottomless pits. For times like that I read and reread ‘Playful Parenting’ to encourage myself to get some more floor time in.

  13. Julie
    Julie says:

    I was struck by the fact that your son feels like he is someone’s favorite, that his brother is a favorite, and that they are favorites of the fathers in their lives ~ this is so important to boys! That will give them so much emotional stability when they are older, something I see lacking in young men today, and they will look back on their childhood and your work (as their mother and your career) and, if they are honest, see how you structured their young lives in such a way to promote just that. As I’ve read your blog over the years, you’ve endured a lot and yet even when it’s hard (divorce, etc…) it seems you keep the boys and their happiness and emotional stability at the forefront of your thinking.

    The mother guilt never goes away. I worry all the time. My oldest is now 18, and I still tend to focus on all I didn’t do, neglecting to acknowledge all I did do to raise a great young man. *sigh*

  14. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    I think homeschooling and parenting are the same thing. Running errands and cleaning are a part of living with one another, and homeschool for us means living life. That said, I LOVE to run errands when my husband takes the kids or I can leave them home alone. It can be exhausting do everything with the kids in tow.

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