This is a guest post from Sarah Faulkner. She is a homeschooling mom in Washington state. She has five kids, ages 14, 13, 10, 7, and 3.

Sometimes I dream about who I would be if I sent my kids to a traditional school. Would I be more relaxed? Put together? Would we parents have more friends? Would I be thinner? This weekend we went RV camping at the Pacific ocean, next to a playground and a three-family reunion of some sorts. They were nice people. I wondered what I looked like to them. The frazzled woman who should send her kids to school for a break? The great mom that has it all together, or the mom that doesn’t care about her kids?

When I look in the mirror, I see a tired woman fighting against the grain.

My fourth son had a tough childhood, fighting against health problems left over from a mom with a meth addiction. All that disrupted the bonding process—now we are trying to bond. He feels no stranger danger and wanted to visit our neighbors in their family reunion. I explained to him how he needed to first check with me before visiting any stranger. I explained the dangers. And then he went over to them, unannounced. Like a command sergeant I barked for him to return. The group of laughing moms (who he had been chatting up) stared at me. I was a crazy, controlling mom, in their eyes.

We went to the beach. My daughter played and played. I began to relax and feel like a normal mom again, not a homeschooler mom who worries she is screwing over her kids, not a public school mom who has free time to keep herself together, not a psycho mom who screams and yells. Until my daughter pooped. She has issues, too. She poops to get my attention. At 3 ½, she can poop in the potty for everyone but me. Every time she revenge-poops my heart slowly dies because I really want us to be bonded. I don’t want to be the mom with the kid who revenge poops. I want to have that fantastic mother-daughter bond. I want to be a “Friends with her Kids” mom.

I take her back to the RV campsite and shower her down. I make her stay by me instead of playing on the playground. I tell her I can’t trust her not to poop on the playground. It is rude to do that. She must stay with me. (Not the first time for this consequence, she knew this was it). The other moms walk by and stare at me as I tell my daughter to sit. I’m anti-social mom.

My oldest eventually makes friends with their oldest. I tell myself I should go over and talk to them, maybe help my son in his friendship endeavors. My husband befriends them. I don’t. I am in a huge control fight with my daughter. I want to cry because my heart is hurting from all the revenge poop. I want to beg them for understanding, I want to show them I am a good mom. This is more drama than people care to have when first meeting someone. So, I hang back feeling ashamed for the way I perceive they see me. “Feel sorry for the Kids” Mom.

I feel this way with homeschooling all the time: Others must see me as someone I am not. I wonder why I can’t homeschool just because I like the idea? I wonder why other parents send their kids to school. I try to imagine life with breaks from my kids, with freedom, but in the end I just feel lonely. And I am “Mom who likes her kids” mom.

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34 replies
  1. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I know this is the not the point of the post but I can absolutely feel your hurt at the revenge poop. I know what it’s like to love someone so hard and they just decide they’ll do something to hurt you and you really cannot do anything about it.

    Maybe consequences.

    But that doesn’t take away the hurt. That doesn’t take away the loss of what it could be but it’s not there.

    Perhaps just accepted that whoever is self deluded will just perceive you as crazy mom or whatever. But those who are willing to be authentic with themselves, instead of running from it, will just know (and maybe even nod in solidarity) that parenting has a dark underbelly. Some hide it well. Some show it well.

  2. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    Dear Sarah, I feel for you.
    Don’t worry so much about what others think of you. If they have been through difficult times themselves, they’ll have true compassion for you and not judge you even if they don’t know the “whole story”.

  3. Johnna
    Johnna says:

    We have foster children and are trying to adopt a FAS child. Have you read The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis? It gives strategies for attaching/ bonding with children from hard places.
    I also have biological kids 3 with major learning disabilities, and I always feel like people are judging because they don’t have an outward disability. We are a fairly close knit family– our own tribe, but have had fosters that have had RAD (no stranger danger) and had to be on constantly aware of where he was. It can be exhausting. Many people thought I was too hard on him because when we were out he couldn’t be more than three feet from me.
    If they were in school you would have to be at school all the time. They would be in special ed and would only learn more “bad habits”. Do the best for your family and yourself. Find a group of other foster/ adopted families. We can feel your pain and in many cases have been there and may have ideas on how to help.

  4. Deidre
    Deidre says:

    Sarah, thank you for sharing your thoughts like this – straight from your heart. I realize how hard it it and that’s why not many are capable of doing it. And then even less, for reasons you mention “who wants to hear that”, and then even less people can truly listen and understand. But we are here for you.

    I have many of the similar thoughts and feelings and so I thought sharing what I started doing may be of value. I started a small notebook with examples (to keep me sane, to look back at, because I am anti-social, for my kids to read, to give me peace … I don’t know).

    Left column says: The Perfect Thing
    Right column: The Loving Thing

    Once I wrote down a couple of examples in this way, my life falls into place and I can keep going.

    Example
    Perfect – put all the dishes away, wipe the kitchen floor, ensure everyone does their chores and the house looks well taken care of
    Loving – sit and chat with kids after a meal, answer all their questions

    Perfect – smile, look well put together (spend more time on me), go over for a conversation
    Loving – talk to my kids instead, be real, don’t pretend

    Just in case this helps anyone…

  5. Shulamit
    Shulamit says:

    This was so moving! I can totally relate. I don’t know about your insurance mental health benefits but I think even here the state should help with a specific counselor who specializes in kids who have difficulty bonding bc of past abuse or parental drug use. There are good counsellors. It’s helpful just to talk. Do you have family that can help? You seem overwhelmed and I’ve been there w just two kids! So has Penelope. All moms get overwhelmed and if a kid has extra needs and you homeschool more challenging. I am not a mom who mingles. Most moms turn me off. The homeschool moms here are largely kooky to me. Anti American. Very bizarre political views (to me anyway) and many talk about nothing but their kids enrichment their nails and tv. Most moms NEED a mom to talk about or look down on. There are mommy wars sadly. I lost a friend because she couldn’t stop judging and offering advice. I asked her not to kindly. In the meantime SHE had a child with a mental illness one with school refusal and she wasn’t homeschooling and I only offered nice words and supportive advice. She was always bringing me down. Hurt terribly. The straw that broke the camels back was her saying something negative about my son who was only good to her within earshot of him. Maybe you’ll meet a good mom maybe not. The moms offering support groups are probably less hands on. I’m like you. Who has time for support groups? But I think the counselor is critical. Even biweekly. You’re a loving mom. Be proud!!!

  6. D.
    D. says:

    I think this is more of a reactive attachment disorder/adoption post rather than a homeschooling post, but I can see how homeschooling would be helpful/necessary in this kind of situation, to help with bonding.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      To me is about navigating choices and finding…no, MAKING room for life with your children in whatever situation you are in.

      Homeschooling for me is important because I don’t have to conform my life around the school schedule. I conform education around our lives.

      Well, right now the kids a little. Ask me how I am doing when they’re older :)

  7. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    A theme I keep seeing on this blog is the tension between normal and what we actually are living. There’s a subtext of shame around the latter, as if everybody but us has always polite kids with perfect teeth. But I think all of our families are f’d up somehow. I feel most sorry for the families that put on the front. You know the ones: they post on Facebook about how their kids are just tops at every sport and also share sunset photos from their exciting vacation locales.

    No thanks. I’ve got little desire to air all of my family’s dirty laundry, but let me assure you we’re 100% in the f’d up club and we are just doing the best we can. My sincere hope for my children no matter what is that they know I loved them every single day. They’re going to have their own “stuff” to sort as adults but if they know they were loved, they will have the closest thing to a roadmap to their own sanity.

    • Jenn Gold
      Jenn Gold says:

      Love this comment. Had to let you know! We do our best for our kids as we seek to grow and learn more. Even just reading this blog is a testatment of the facft that we all are learning to grow. The kids may or may not still have their “issues” despite all that we do but as you said, they should never question our LOVE for them.

      I’ve made peace with this possible future scenario: My kid saying “My Mom was so (such an such)____________ (insert failure here) but one thing I do know is that my Mom loved me and did here best.” I can live with that…

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I love you for this post.

      I noticed a funny thing that was happening to me a while back (like four years ago). Billboards with perfect specimens in it didn’t draw my eye. We were so used to those that we became desensitized to a point. But it was the “outside the lines” people that drew my eye. It was different and my brain paid attention.

      It’s the same with living life. It’s not about airing dirty laundry, I think. But about being comfortable with being messy and not photoshopped. We got the sunset pictures and we got the under eye circles. We got the blissful times and the holy shit! times.

      Those people, who are comfortable and not ashamed of what they are as they are, are interesting.

      Also, the kindest people. They offer comfort and they welcome you when you need it.

  8. Candace
    Candace says:

    My post was to jim grey. I think Penelope tells too much as does the guest poster but isn’t that why we read it to connect to others? I feel sorry for the kids privacy. They may dislike it. I don’t think pooping for attention is revenge poop. I think she should be in underwear At home pull-ups outside. This worked with my son who was 4 and cracking up pooping himself. He knew it was bad. So I was calm and we did pull ups outside. It helped diffuse a lot. Just a suggestion. Let other moms most of whom do NOT have 5 kids look down. They have the same bad moments!

  9. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    I am not being snarky. I believe mothers with 360 degree vision understand their own situation…but..I’m baffled as to why this is necessarily revenge that needs consequences. In a six year old ? Sure. My kid wasn’t poop trained till maybe 3 1/2 and one month. It was gross and I tried to hide it from other moms but I just treated is a variation of normal. Which in retrospect it was…the no playing thing seemed harsh to me. Pull-ups?

    • Jenna
      Jenna says:

      Because it’s not a potty-training issue. It’s a control issue which needs to be addressed so the little girl can learn to love and trust in a relationship.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        I have a three year old, positive reinforcement has worked for me. Maybe not having a reaction to the poop would be a good alternative? At this point, it sounds like you expect it to happen. The only reason a kid at this age would be trying to control a parent at this level of revenge would be uncertain boundaries or lack of attention (5 kids!). Understandable, but she’s still so little! Just clean her up and have a conversation about telling mommy she needs to go, do this again and again without punishment (does she even understand why she is standing there with you? This could reinforce negative attention behaviour, she does something naughty and then gets to be near you more which is something you are both craving). I just think this poop is annoying, but isn’t a bonding issue unless it’s made into one. Best to keep in mind is that she won’t be pooping like this forever, especially while it’s happening. Good luck and hopefully next month it’s a non issue for you and her.

  10. Erin Wetzel
    Erin Wetzel says:

    You’re too hard on yourself. When I visited, you were nervous like this, so I’m glad you’re writing about it, but recognize that you’re more than this and move on. You are driven, savvy and empathetic. You care deeply for and about your kids. And you know you’re going to do what you think is best no matter what people think, so just don’t GAF what they think. You be you. Who you are is beautiful.

    I worry that this is an awful comment & terrible advice. I just want to publicly say you’re more wonderful than you give yourself credit fr.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      NO! this is a wonderful comment.

      This is the reason why I bought one of your prints. Because I want your voice and your kindness and your realness in my house. I need a physical reminder taking up space in my environment.

      And it’s beautiful of course.

  11. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    You are doing fine. You would be frazzled as a public school mom too. There is really never any time for a mom to pull herself together when the kids are young. If they were in traditional school you would be running around like a chicken without her head to activities, managing multiple assignments and projects and school schedules and packing lunches.

  12. Trilby
    Trilby says:

    Sarah, this is a beautiful post. I too used to spend a lot of time worried about how others perceived me. Then I woke up and realized how much of my life I had wasted doing so and, for the most part, I’ve stopped worrying about what others think.

    This quote (I think from Eleanor Roosevelt) really stuck with me: “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” It’s a very freeing statement.

  13. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    Sometimes I get tired of being around people and their egos and having to blow sunshine up their ass all day.

    Then I realize I am really tired of being around myself and my ego and wanting everyone to blow sunshine up my ass all day.

  14. MJ
    MJ says:

    I’m curious as to how the 3 1/2 year-old is ‘revenge pooping’. What is she seeking revenge for? Do kids know what revenge is at that age? Why do you view her not pooping in the potty as revenge or an attack on you? These are real questions as I’ve never come across this perspective before and would like to learn more.

  15. Anna
    Anna says:

    I had a revenge pooper; it was a control thing. Controlling me. Age 3 years 1 month. I finally got wise and told her she had to clean up herself. She never did it again. Good luck!

  16. Mariana
    Mariana says:

    Sarah, maybe people are judging. But maybe they are just afraid of you and your anger. Maybe they see your struggle and think ‘oh, how can she manage it? I could not.’. Maybe they are as frustrated as you because they don’t know how they can help, how they can reach you. The reality is that there is just too much work. You won’t be able to do everything by yourself. And that is fine too. We all have to live with our decisions. So kids will poop and be vindictive. Mums will look and feel tired. Neighbors will look funny at you. And we are going to do our best everyday. That is what you are doing, being your best self. Believe in that and give up control. Wish you peace and joy.

  17. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    If I wasn’t homeschooling my life would be a crazy, hectic, train-wreck. Over the spring, we toured an amazing private school. Without a significant move that would impact all of us, it would require 5am wake-ups every weekday, and a three hour round trip car ride, making the day a total of 12 hours.

    While my kids enjoyed their day there, and I easily found ways to occupy my time, that lifestyle doesn’t fit us. One of my kids had the darkest circles around her eyes I had ever seen on a person, when I picked her up! When would they have time to work on their assignments?

    We found some excellent, part-time/weekly alternatives that are much closer to us that don’t require such a drastic shift in schedule but still give them the group learning they desire, while still unschooling, and gives me time to work with my youngest kid who has speech delay issues. It’s a win for everyone.

    My oldest is taking multiple engineering, programming, and science related classes. My middle is loaded up with performing arts classes. It doesn’t really give me a huge “break” or whatever (I still have to drive all over town), but it helps them accomplish their goals in life.

    As far as the parenting goes, I guess it comes with the INTJ territory of not caring what other people think. Probably because I am confident in all of my decisions, and I feel it’s not my job to explain my family’s education choices to random strangers.

    • S.M.
      S.M. says:

      As an INTJ, I think my biggest mistake was ever allowing my circle of people whose opinions I’m concerned about get too big. And by too big I mean immediate family. The only opinions I’ve ever been concerned with or somewhat seriously entertained were my parents (mom, specifically, since my dad died before I became a parent) and my inlaws. Retrospectively,my inlaws should have been designated to near-stranger status. My oldest, having been homeschooled her entire life, has chosen to go to the local public school for high school. On a recent visit, my FIL repeatedly nagged about a potential placement test, “Omg, a test. omg, i hope you do well. omg, what if you don’t do well?” I can wax on and on about my child’s intellectual capabilities, rubrics, Bloom’s taxonomy, all the standard educational lingo and why we (including my daughter) are not stressing about taking a test. Finally, as he tried to get one last dig in when leaving, I resigned myself to not taking him seriously any longer, “Ahh, well if she fails the test and tests into 4th grade, I guess we’ll be stuck with her for a lot longer than anticipated.” With the implication being, she’d be a 14-year-old in elementary school and wouldn’t be going to college in 4 years. Which is absurd, and he knows it. I just figure i’d humorously highlight his pita-attitude for him by giving such an impossible scenario. Now, I’ve resolved that I’m not even entertaining ANY further seemingly serious discussion on the topic. My inlaws are rapidly getting relegated to stranger status as far as their input and concern. No more discussions on the topic. Just jokes, jokes, jokes. That’s my last resort before going all bitch-mode. Which I’ll do, if needed.

  18. Teryn
    Teryn says:

    As a foster parent I can definitely relate. It’s hard to explain the depths of behavior and manipulation these hurting kids will go to in order to show you they don’t care. It’s heartbreaking and it can be really embarrassing in public. Sometimes it feels easier to isolate myself than deal with other people’s reactions. I have 4 bio kids too and they are messy in their own ways but not quite as extreme. It’s more like people might think they are a brat and I don’t discipline verses the horrified looks I got when my 3 year old completely potty trained foster daughter squatted and went to the bathroom inside the grocery store or when my 5 year old foster daughter was screaming and shaking in fear at a theater because something triggered her. So of course you are tired. Mothering is hard enough without adding trauma to the mix. I think we all know that school is not the solution for tired. I go back and forth different years between homeschooling and private school and I can honestly say school is more exhausting for me. Anyway, I think you are brave and the right mom for your kids and anyone who thinks differently is just wrong.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I love this post.

      Most of the time I don’t have any advice because how could I possibly know what your situation is like unless it’s exactly like my situation?

      I think very few people understand what it’s like to be a foster parent.

      I am now a mom who is single but has a coparent. And I have the best support system. How could I possibly advice a parent with a far removed situation. I can only offer a hug and maybe beer.

  19. Renee
    Renee says:

    Beautiful words, Sarah! I am struggling with being The Mom Who Couldn’t Hack Homeschooling and the Mom Who Gave Up. I am still frazzled, tired and overweight. Being a mom to difficult kids is difficult. Every. Single. Day.

    Thank you for sharing.

  20. Marilynn
    Marilynn says:

    I would disagree with you about single moms not being able to homeschool. We can, and many (including myself) do. It involves huge sacrifices, but I consider them well worth it. It’s much less time intensive to home school my children than it ever was to have them in the system.

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