It’s common for parents to say they have chosen to give up income when they began homeschooling.

I disagree—there is really no lost income, and here’s why:

1. Successful careers don’t die.
There is a shortage of mid-career professionals. Generation X is very small, and they are reluctant to give up family for work. Which means as Baby Boomers retire, there are not enough people to replace them.  If you have a lot of talent and you drop out for a bit, you can pretty easily re-enter when you’re ready. If you can’t re-enter you probably did not have all that great a career.

If you have a successful career and you want to stay home with kids and work part-time, that will not be a problem. People who have track records for success and a solid resume before they choose to stay home generally do not have trouble getting part-time work once they settle into a home routine.

2. Big careers can support outsourced homeschooling.
If you have a very successful career, and you want to take your kids out of school, you can use your income to pay someone to facilitate the kids’ education while you keep going to work every day. Even if it’s an expensive solution at the onset, your income will keep increasing because you are on an all-star track at work.

3. School artificially inflates our earning power.
If you don’t earn enough money to pay someone to homeschool your kids, then you probably were not really earning enough money to justify going to work. Because the only way you felt you were making enough money at your job was if your kids subsidized that income by sitting in school eight hours a day.

4. It’s very hard to build a career if you start part-time.
Most people who stay home with kids would like to earn money part-time. This works fine if you were earning a lot of money full-time before you had kids. But this plan does not work well if you never made much money.

Trying to establish a new career, working part-time, while you take care of kids is tough. Also, you’re competing against all the 23-year-olds who want to work full-time and they can take a much lower salary than you can because they don’t need to pay for childcare while they work.

The real solution: the parent who is not staying at home should earn more money.
If your family really does need more money, the parent who works all day is in a better position to earn more money than the parent who is at home all day. And the cost to the family for the working parent to earn more money is way less than the cost to the family of the stay-at-home parent to earn more money.

The problem is that the stay-at-home parent feels bad telling the working parent to earn more money. So the stay-at-home parent should choose to feel better about the work done in the home, with children. Because it’s worth a lot to the family, and to society at large, really.

If that fails, then you could consider trading: would the working parent want to stay home and let the stay-at-home parent work? Probably not. It’s easier to work. And society values it more–right or wrong, they do. So the working parent should feel lucky and stop pressuring the stay-at-home parent to earn money.

Another problem is that the stay-at-home parent is bored. But working a few hours a day, only to quell boredom, is easy. It can even be for free as a volunteer. Just remember that you are not working to earn money—you are working to stay sane.

Marriages work best when the two spouses work as a team. It is not teamwork to have one parent doing childcare and work and the other parent just doing work. It’s teamwork to separate tasks and work together to get people what they need: the parents (both of them) need to feel respect for what they contribute, and the kids need to feel that everything is working well to enable them to learn at home.


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35 replies
  1. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    I’m starting to know some people who home school their kids in Australia. It seems they still follow the exact state curriculum. Sometimes they employ a tutor for a particular subject, and most of the times, the mother teaches. It’s such a difficult job! I will DIE in this situation. It’s been school holiday since mid December, and I’m really pushing my own limits here!

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Today was a rough day for me between my week long migraine and my 3 year old learning a louder decibel level exists and testing it out on my ears.

      I don’t think it’s easy to start because you have to change your mindset, and let go of your expectations and ignore all the worrisome thoughts that infect your mind in the beginning. Once you become used to it you enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tied to any one elses schedule or agenda.

      I always say to try it for a year, so at least you will know. I am fully aware of the challenges that come with little ones, so I hear you.

  2. Amy Mattson
    Amy Mattson says:

    I am curious, Penelope, if you know anyone who does outsource their homeschooling, how the arrangement functions, and what they pay. I am dabbling in this with one girl besides my own this year, and am learning valuable things I’d like to build upon.

    • Betsy
      Betsy says:

      I am not homeschooling officially yet (my children are 4 and 2) but I am already talking with people who I plan to hire to work with my children a few hours a week. We are fortunate to live near a highly competitive top-tier university and I have spoken with several college students/graduate students who would love the opportunity to work with kids one-on-one. I certainly won’t be outsourcing everything but my kids won’t be spending 35+ hours a week in the classroom either. They won’t need to.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Most homeschoolers with kids older than 10 are paying people to help with their kids. If nothing else, kids have interests that don’t coincide with parents’ interests so someone needs to guide the kids and it can’t always be the parents.

      If you are looking for someone who is paying a caretaker to be with the kids all day, I do know people who are doing that. It seems to me that it’s a function of money – you get what you pay for.


  3. chris
    chris says:

    I think “outsourced homeschooling” is called “school”. Or “private school”. Or “babysitting”.
    Full disclosure: I am not a homeschooler. My kids are in public school in a good district and while it is far from perfect, I am quite happy with their educational experience, even the challenging parts.

    • Linda
      Linda says:

      outsourced homeschooling is tutoring. It is in no way school – only your own children are being tutored, not 30, and the parents still pick what’s being taught. I have a tutor come 8-12 hours a week for language arts and history. I handle math. Science is at local summer camps and homeschool coop. Recess / gym time is at Boys and Girls Clubhouse daily.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I am an unschooler. I have outsourced art lessons to a well-established local artist who is always commissioning paintings as well as graphic artist stuff as well. I currently outsource acting classes to one of the best acting coaches in the business for kids, two hours a week. My kids are home with me pursuing their own interests during the week, I wouldn’t send them to the local good schools in the good district ever. But the majority of people do what you do, so I’m the weird one and I know that. I like it.

    • mh
      mh says:

      I’m just curious, why did you decide to put them in school? Don’t you worry that they will become improperly socialized little test-taking robots?

      (Just kidding. I’ve always wondered why people ask homeschoolers those questions. It’s so rude.)

  4. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    Penelope, do you feel that the work load is fairly distributed in your home? Being a farmer is hard work but you are doing so much with your company, website, coaching, and homeschooling that it seems like a daunting task. Do you have any free time or value free time?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have no free time. But I’m not sure that’s a result of me homeschooling. I had no free time when I was working full-time and had two nannies either.

      I’m not actually sure what free time is anyway. I am not the kind of person who has friends outside of work. And I didn’t even go to dinner and movies before I had kids. So I don’t think I’m missing free time.

      What I’m missing is thinking time. I would like to feel that I can stare at the wall and do nothing, but I feel like I”m missing a chance to either work or be with the kids, so I don’t take that stare at the wall time.

      As for are things equal in my house: no. Of course not. In every household one partner does more. But I am not sure that matters. I think what matters is that each partner gets what he or she needs.

      That said, I am not always sure enough about what I need to ask for it. But when I ask for it I get it.


  5. Ron Mais
    Ron Mais says:

    I would love for my wife to homeschool our little ones. I would do it myself if I could. I really don’t care for the government schools in my area. Hopefully we’ll find a way by the next school year.

  6. Katarina
    Katarina says:

    Homeschoolers tend not to be big believers in formulas, hence the desire to homeschool and follow their own instincts. Sometimes life can be vague and ambiguous. Circumstances that we cannot foresee can limit our choices. Commitment is the required component for success. Rolling with punches, doing your best, re-visiting priorities. I mention this because I think a lot of homeschoolers (especially those just starting out) feel so insecure about their decisions that they look for formulas to cling to. My observation is that things work out best when people follow their gut instincts in the moment. That is all we have been given in this life anyway. I don’t spend time on shoulda coulda woulda. By the way, outsourcing is one of the great aspects of homeschooling. It is nothing at all like going to public or private school.

  7. mh
    mh says:

    People flip when we tell them we unschool.

    I mean, other homeschool parents as well as Helpful Relatives. Not to mention the general public.

    It’s like we confessed to EATING the children, the look of horror.

    I’m being funny about this, but people cling to school-as-they-knew-it. When I tell them the fourth grader is memorizing Shakespeare for fun or the kids went bike riding all day, it’s like… so when do they get social studies?

    It’s hard to understand. We took a month off at Christmas. We travel all the time. Sometimes it’s more like car schooling than homeschooling, but we’re together and laughing. And we outsource music instruction, sports coaching, and I’m thinking of getting a writing tutor for my junior high boy. Somebody new to connect with.

    We get along with the neighbors and do nice things for them. We visit old people and bring our hobbies to show preschoolers.

    And yes, we sing the multiplication tables, but that doesn’t make us the Von Trapp family.

    There is no social studies here, because I think “social studies” is boring. History, civics, and economics are very interesting, but staining them with the social studies brush turns them into the worst crayon in the box. Puce, or something.

    But at ten o’clock last night, two little rascals were up making a model of DNA out of colorful mini marshmallows. The oldest read all five Gregor the Underlander books today. While I took down the Christmas tree. Don’t judge me. It’s only mid January.

    Homeschool is for normal families. I’m going to come right out and say this. Everyone should do this. Homeschool is the right way to educate kids. Not just because of social studies. Because people are individuals, and they shouldn’t have to wait until they’re 18 or 24 to start exploring what they want to do. We don’t exist solely in order to fill in the diversity quota for some school administrator or bring up the test scores for our demographic.

    I homeschool because I want to be a better parent.

    We started homeschooling only the oldest. It wasn’t until we pulled everybody out of school that I got it: now we’re free.

    My manifesto.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Yes to everything you said. What about lesson planning? How do you record their grades? …. These questions have no place in our lives. We are intentionally and metaphorically flipping the bird to the whole system.

      I enjoyed your manifesto. You need to do a guest post please.

      • mh
        mh says:

        Good grief. Grades?!?

        How do you grade, “Learned to ride a scooter, overcame fear of dogs, taught five friends how to dive, kept calm in an emergency, planned and hosted a neighborhood all-ages party, learned to manage his temper, made a friend”?

      • mh
        mh says:

        For that matter, how do you grade, “Ate the food at sleep-away summer camp, was sweet to the dreadful cousin, shared his favorite toy, can make 3-point shots in basketball, doesn’t leave his shoes around the house anymore?”

        Or how about, “Working on making eye contact when conversing with adults, wrote thank you notes without complaining, can cook 18 recipes for family, budgets his money and is saving for own pick-up truck when he turns 16, played “Linus and Lucy” at the recital, speaks German when we travel to Germany?”

        I mean, come on. What’s really important is how they do in LIFE, not how they do in school.

    • DB
      DB says:

      God MH, I so love what you said- I really wish I had been home schooled( or private tutored like rich people had in the old days)…. Would have loved a big nursery like all the kids in Peter Pan etc…. It’s just more normal to unschool! And I’m so ashamed ( now) that as a Mom in 1975- I actually was Kindda made to feel CRAZY for NEVER wanting my kids to go to school…. I was doing such a good job of it at home. And life was great.

  8. Emily
    Emily says:

    When I was in law school, a professor of mine outsourced his children’s homeschooling to the wife of one of my classmates; she had a degree in education. The professor had 6 children, and they were all homeschooled. My professor’s wife was a doctor, and she also worked. I don’t know any other particulars about how the instruction was outsourced, but I do know that it was. The arrangement fascinated me.

  9. Jeff T.
    Jeff T. says:

    On #2, where I live in SC, it is illegal for someone other than the parent to be the teacher in homeschooling. A little ironic, since all of the PS kids have a non-parent as their teacher and is the preferred method of the state.

    Unschooling is technically illegal as well but for either it is easy enough to lie.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Jeff T, that’s interesting. Do you homeschool? How do parents there work around the “illegal” part? If parents want to homeschool their athlete child, are they forbidden to hire a trainer/coach for most of the day to work with their child? Or any other activity?

      We are in a homeschool science co-op with 20 families, but we don’t all know everything ourselves. We have outside teachers. Would that be breaking the law?

      We have been on the homeschool swim team that practices during the school day when the pools are unused, but the parents aren’t the coaches.

      How does the state make sure the parent is the on-site supervisor/instructor for all possible moments of the day? Laws like that seem unenforceable. What is the penalty?

      Does the state require parents to register as a “private school” so they can contract with a cello teacher? Is that the workaround?

      What’s the point of making homeschool illegal? Using the force of law to try to control families and compel submission to state authorities makes no sense. Why would the state know better than the parents?

      • Jeff T.
        Jeff T. says:

        Hi mh,

        The law is completely unenforceable. Nobody checks up and it’s just a matter of claiming that you followed the law on a form once a year through a third party accountability group.

        The law is so short, it’s not even 200 words long. There’s no mention of a penalty of any sort for the option we use.

        I think the law says that the parent has to be the primary teacher. Instructors for swimming or art would be permissible IIRC.

        We unschool/homeschool our three young children. They do tae kwon doe, swimming, horseback riding, lacrosse, football, art, acting, etc. in various programs throughout the year.

        The unschooling part is illegal because the law says we must have a curriculum of english, math, science, social studies, but doesn’t say what the curriculum must be.

        Frankly, I think the truant officers are more concerned with PS kids not showing up than worrying about homeschoolers.

  10. mh
    mh says:

    I miss how Gretchen and redrock used to chime in to tell us that we are uncredentialled wanna-be’s and obviously selfish to homeschool our kids.

    Fond memories.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      If I was selfish, I would send my kid to school.

      I think Gretchen wants to homeschool her kid, but her husband won’t allow it (something about saving for retirement/straight and narrow path- unfortunately I don’t see how keeping the kid in school will help her daughter achieve the same/more success as the world she will navigate will be much different than the one we currently live and even now nothing is so ‘straight and narrow’ anymore).

      Her commentary is interesting. I don’t understand redrock’s points half the time, but maybe that’s because I don’t work in education.

      Come back guys!

  11. E
    E says:

    This post speaks to my situation exactly! I am a former English teacher-turned-homeschooling parent, and my husband works in IT. I absolutely love homeschooling my kids, but I would also LOVE to work part-time, if I could. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make any sense for me to work because my husband out-earns me so greatly. (That’s the nature of earning potential in our respective job fields.) So, I could, for example, be away from my family every evening or all weekend long doing, say, tutoring (and, in the end, not earning all that much money), OR, my husband could earn that money (many times over), simply by tacking an hour or two of extra side-work onto his day a couple days per week. We’ve done the math many times and found that the cost of me being gone or on a tight part-time work schedule just isn’t worth it; my presence at home is far more valuable to our family. (In fact, my husband is only able to do so well in his career because I am fully available to be home with the kids; this enables him to stay late on a whim or take on extra projects, etc.) So, instead, in order to remain sane, I’ve chosen to start a volunteer position in my community, teaching adults how to read. There are many benefits to this: the time commitment is small enough and flexible enough not to be a problem or conflict with any other commitments; it meets my personal need to be out in the community working with other adults; it is relevant to my job field; and it allows my children to see that mommy works, too. Win-win!

    My ability to work may change as our kids get older; when they’re old enough to stay home alone for long stretches, I think it might be possible for me to work a “real” part-time job, but for now, while they are still so young (ages 5 and 7) and in need of constant childcare, this is what works for us. (My husband and I are both 100% committed to homeschooling, though, so I definitely agree that the couple must operate as a team in order for everyone to feel happy and successful!)

    Anyway, great post! I think this work dynamic is true of many of my homeschooling friends: it often makes much more sense for the main earner to find a way to earn a little more than for the homeschooling parent to try to take on the schedule and demands of formal part-time work. I will also add that other financial sacrifices we make–such as choosing to own just one car and renting a small house instead of buying–also offset my lost income, making homeschooling a feasible choice for us financially. Every homeschooling family I know juggles money this way, and they are all glad to do it.

      • E
        E says:

        Thanks, Jessica! Things are working really well, for now. My plate feels pretty full at the moment, but online tutoring is truly a great suggestion (thank you!), and one I hope to properly consider and explore in the near future. (I think it might be a great option for us once our kids are just a little bit older!)

  12. Susan
    Susan says:

    I was fortunate enough to work part-time from home for the past 17 years. I was the director of a small non-profit and while I occasionally had meetings and events around town, for the most part my work was done at home and around my kids’ schedules (napping when they were younger, homeschooling and activities as they’ve gotten older).

    While it certainly was tough to balance at times (but then again, what isn’t with kids?), it was a terrific solution over the long haul. I made enough money to make a difference to my family, but I was also able to incorporate my kids into my work a lot of the time, which I think has been invaluable. They’ve helped with the physical work (stuffing envelopes, mailings, moving boxes, etc.), they’ve helped with gallery shows, they’ve helped me with events. In fact one time I was supposed to oversee an all-day workshop on a Saturday that was the same day my son was playing goalie in a big soccer tournament that I didn’t want to miss. So I sent my then-16 year old daughter in my place – she did my job running the event for the day – a total win-win. She got the benefit of leadership experience, plus learned from the workshop, plus the life lesson of pitch-hitting for the ones you love.

    I think the biggest impact my job had on my kids was when we’d brainstorm solutions to my work problems. Not only were they seeing work issues first-hand, they were learning about how people function within organizations. Most profoundly they developed a sense of empathy for me as an employee as well as a working mother, because I’d bring them into the problem solving process. They knew that if we came up with a good solution, we would ALL be happier because I’d be less stressed/annoyed/tapped out/whatever.

    The association I worked for ended up going out of business over a year ago and I’ll be honest, it’s been a nice year not having to answer to someone else (though in my case it was a board of directors). But my kids are 17, 16 and 14 and don’t need as much of my time and attention, school-wise, so I have time to pursue other personal and professional goals. And because of that time I spent raising my kids while working at that job, I have a fully developed skill set to leverage now, without a huge gap on my resume (I get that gaps are generally fine, but I suspect that an employer would question an 18 year gap!).

    I think that it’s absolutely fine to take time off to just focus on your kids and your home and your family life – I’ve done that the past year and loved it – but working part-time from home all those years was worth all the stress, given the life lessons my kids learned and the place it left me, professionally. Yes there will be crazy overwhelming hairy times, but that’s all part of the learning process too!

    • Karelys Davis
      Karelys Davis says:

      I am in a hurry and I have to run, but I just have to tell you how I love your story!

      Thank you for sharing it!

    • Karelys Davis
      Karelys Davis says:

      Sometimes I don’t know if kids and work don’t mix because they just don’t or because we’ve been instructed to think and live like that. So that’s the assumption that we carry.

      I love my taco truck people. The whole family works there. They make the little 5 year old clean the tables. And sometimes people give him the tip instead of putting it in the jar. He beams.

      I love that family.

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