If you think winter break is a nightmare, you’d still be good at homeschooling

I know there are lots of parents out there who are facing what seems like an impossible task of having kids home for two weeks, without having a household set-up for that. I want you to know that first of all, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.

Here’s how I know:

In the fall of 2005, I had a three-year-old who had just narrowly escaped being intubated for failure to thrive, and a newborn who had a severe facial deformity. And I had a nervous breakdown. The hospital in Brooklyn was fantastic—they kept me there overnight, with a social worker by my side the whole time, until they had a plan for me to go back home and take care of the kids.

In late 2007, I was working fifteen-hour days at my startup and I had both kids in daycare/school/whatever you call it. Then the kids had two weeks off for winter break and by the third day I was losing my mind. My husband kept the kids for three hours while I went to the emergency room in Madison.

I told triage that I was losing my mind, that I needed a pill or something. After they kept me in the waiting room for two hours, I told them I only had one more hour of child care and I really needed them to see me.

I went home with nothing except incredible fear that I would hurt the kids or myself and I would not make it through two weeks.

For years after that I was terrified of school breaks.

Now I see the real problem with school breaks. It’s not that I can’t take care of my kids. It’s that I can’t take care of kids when there is no structure, no routine the kids are used to, no sharing of duties that the parents are used to. School breaks are completely outside of the systems families use to maintain sanity. Families set up their support systems and routines to function with five days a week of school/daycare. Only the very rich are able to seamlessly switch everything up for two weeks.

So when I had the kids at home for two weeks, I went nuts. I counted the days til it was over. And probably, the kids did, too, because there was so much tension.

But the terrible winter break experience did not mean that I was unable to be home with the kids. Kids like structure and routine. If the family establishes structure and routine with kids at home all day, then kids do fine. Everyone needs to know what is happening and they need to find their own rhythm.

I swear it is completely true that my life got a thousand times easier when I took my kids out of school. The constant reordering of my life to accommodate the demands of school is totally draining and debilitating to parents. Winter break is one of the best examples of that.

I look at that photo of my son. He is so small and cuddly and enchanted by the snow. I can’t believe how much time I missed with him while he was at school. And I am so thankful that I started homeschooling as early as I did.

11 replies
  1. marta
    marta says:

    I keep coming back to your blog because of this kind of honesty. Most of the time I do not share your views. But there’s so much truth in the daily bits…

    My 4 kids stayed home with me until they were 3.5 years old and went to pre- and then school. The first 3 are closely spaced, so a lot of the time it was at least 2 of them at home.

    These were difficult years. I felt lonely, sometimes nuts, sometimes struggling through the loooooong day. Being home with a 0-5 year old kid 24/7 is the most overwhelming “job” you can possibly have. And still, I wouldn’t change a bit of that experience.

    If you survive those first years at home, homeschooling looks like a piece of cake. Per definition, the kids are school-aged: they can entertain themselves, are fairly independent, sleep through the night, are able to be on their own while you do errands around the neighbourhood, can go to the park unattended to (my 1st born and 3rd born, both boys, went to the park on their own when the oldest was 10 and the younger was 5), etc.

    So, it was not the mad days that made us choose school. A combination of the need of two incomes (and, believe me, we live v. frugally; it’s just that one income is totally not possible in our country) and the virtual non-existence of homeschooling here, with a dislike for creating extraterrestrials in their own land, made us send them all to school (which they enjoy most of the time).

    Come school breaks we adjust. The older two (15 and 13) are pretty autonomous in going places and helping with grocery shopping/cooking meals and so on. The younger two go to the park and play around the apartment. It looks a lot like unschooling, so it would seem perfect.

    But I am not able to work for all those weeks (19 per year). We wouldn’t get by if I did not work during the other 33 as well.

    • Marie-Eve Boudreault
      Marie-Eve Boudreault says:

      Is there any way you could work from home, even if only when the younger ones are sleeping at night? Or even bringing more work at home? I truly believe it is worth it too (we homeschool 3 children, I work from home).

      Possible avenues for working at home are selling online or freelancing.

      • marta
        marta says:

        I freelance from home.

        I used to work during naptime and at night only, when one or more kids were at home. This year the youngest is in preschool for the first time and I’m able to work more hours during the day and have nights free for catching up with my husband and sleeping. I was having 4 hours of sleep for months at a time for years and years when the kids were home. It was pretty draining but the real problem was having to turn down projects because I didn’t have the time/energy to do them, while desperately needing the money. Now I am able to take in a bigger load and we’re finally (and barely) making ends meet.

        Having older kids who can look after/entertain themselves is freeing but you still have to be there for them, albeit in a more laid back, hands off fashion.

        I’d be able to continue with the old workload (naptime morphed into more independence from the kids) but I’d never be able to have more than 2.5 or 3 hours straight of undisturbed work. The younger two (at 3.5 and 10.5 years old) are still not that autonomous and I can’t -or won’t – rely on the older kids to look after the younger two for 4 to 5 hours straight each single day.

        Having said this, the main reason we don’t homeschool has really to do with the virtual non existence of homeschooling here.

        We don’t want to be pioneers in that road, we don’t want our kids to be culturally or socially isolated and, frankly, in general I don’t feel school rules our entire lives in the way it seems to rule (in the descriptions I read from parents and kids) in the US.

  2. Deidre
    Deidre says:

    Breaks and weekends may also be nightmare for schoolkid parents because they’re not seeing their true kids, they’re seeing a destressing, acting out versions recuperating from school during that time so naturally they imagine homeschooling would be a nightmare.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      So true! Also I noticed that my kids were incessantly climbing on me, whining for me and calling to me, because they only saw me before school and at dinner/bedtime. But once I was there all day, they became less demanding. Really exactly the opposite of what I expected. They just like knowing I’m there.


  3. JDVT
    JDVT says:

    I now think that public school eight hours a day, 180 days of the year, is stealing a priceless piece of our communities.

    During summer vacations when kids are out with their caretakers, all that energy and creativity is flowing into the surroundings. When September rolls around, suddenly their is an unnatural silence. Adults wander through their routine and that random joy, discovery, and raw experience is absent.

  4. Shelly
    Shelly says:

    This is so true. With 10 kids at home, we’ve chosen relaxed homeschooling over unschooling simply because we couldn’t find enough of a routine with unschooling this many children. I love the concept of unschooling and totally believe in it, but I found that scheduling a couple hours of activity does wonders. Even now, as we are in the midst of a 6-week break from activities, I find that my house is so much more chaotic without our normal routine. Routine means EVERYTHING to the sanity of a homeschooling parent!

  5. Laura C.
    Laura C. says:

    How do you do routines for kids when executive function is a weakness. I am fine working because I have an imposed schedule but at home I can’t seem to manage regular mealtimes for example because there is so much kid stuff going on. Honestly remembering to close the door when i pee is challenging if there is too much going on. My husband sadly isn’t much better but when I’m not working I pick up a lot of slack because he is also physically disabled and I don’t sit still very well anyway.

    Our daughter is 3 and I’m 7 mo pregnant. I have no idea who to ask a question like this. But I want to homeschool on some level eventually.

    • Shelly
      Shelly says:

      Sometimes it’s not so much about doing things at the same time everyday, but doing them in the same order. For example, while some people may prefer breakfast at 8, lunch, at 12, etc., it is just as well to simply approach each day doing things in a certain order. While I do like to do things at a certain time, if it’s not possible we always stick to our routine: breakfast, reading aloud, structured activities, lunch, chores, free time, dinner, chores, baths, bed. Maybe something similar would work for you.

  6. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I am curious what kind of routine and structure you have in your days now? From the posts I’ve read it seems not much.

  7. Garrett
    Garrett says:

    “I went home with nothing but incredible fear that I would hurt the kids or myself…”That’s a very disturbing sentence.

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