The essential support system for a homeschool parent

A really difficult thing about homeschooling is that a huge swath of my professional network disappeared once I announced I was homeschooling. I thought it was because they assumed I would be useless to them.

But actually I realize, in hindsight, that I chose not to maintain a huge professional network. I made a conscious decision to pay more attention to people who could help me in the next stage of my life.

There’s a saying, you can’t get to where you are going by doing what you did to get where you are. It applies to homeschooling too. In my career I was very independent, and I relied on very few people to help me. Probably because everywhere I turned, people told me I was making terrible decisions.  I realized, though, that I was not going to be able to homeschool without help.

When I was out on the bleeding edge in careers it was exciting – like when I told people I worked on the Internet and they thought it meant I was unemployed. That was fun. But when I told people I homeschool and they thought that meant locking my kids in a closet, that wasn’t fun.

So I started building a support system. And these are the parts of my support system that have felt essential to me:

A homeschooling mom. My son’s violin teacher was the first person I really knew well who was homeschooling. She was my first frame of reference for what days look like. (Chaos.) I liked her kids. So it made me believe that my kids could become personable, kind, accomplished kids outside of school.

A homeschool advocate. Lisa Nielsen is the person I trust to always tell me that it’s better to homeschool than put the kids in a classroom, no matter how lost I am in homeschooling plans.

A friend who was homeschooled.  Melissa is my sounding board. She has the ultimate perspective of hindsight and is more confident than I am about what works. She tells me what it was like to find her own learning materials. She tells me when I’m paying too much money for tutors or not paying enough attention to vacations.

A partner. It’s really hard to homeschool, so having an adult partner helps a lot. I am pretty sure I am failing in this arena. But I’m also pretty sure that it helps a lot to know you’re not alone. A partner doesn’t need to help with the homeschooling per se – the partner can just help you feel like you are on a team and someone has your back.

A role model for the next stage. I met Lauren Teller when she submitted a piece of writing in one of my webinars, and the writing was incredible, so I sent her a note about it.

She was so excited that I liked her writing that she came to my apartment and paid me to sit with her for a whole day while she wrote. I was nervous because what if I didn’t like her? I told myself it’s a job, and I don’t have to like her.

But it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Not just because it was so fun to hang out with her and edit her writing, but also because I learned so much from her while I was doing it. Like, she knew she would learn to be more disciplined writing if she was paying me to watch her do it.

Fast Company calls this sort of relationship a procrastination nanny. When I read that I thought to myself: “I hate Silicon Valley and everyone there is a child.” But when I saw how much Lauren produced the day I spent with her, I thought: “She’s so smart. I want to pay people to keep me from procrastinating.”

In between writing stories, we ate meals with my kids. I practiced cello with my son while she made changes to edited versions. We talked about what makes people write poorly (bad self-knowledge) and what makes people write well (bravery).

I didn’t know she was my friend until one evening when I was crying about my marriage-that-is -not-really-a-marriage, she is the person I called. And her perspective was so much more broad than mine, because I am right here, in my stage of life, not seeing very far past it. Lauren is a part of my homeschool support system I didn’t know I needed: The past-raising-kids, not-homeschooling, fresh perspective of someone who is where I want to be headed.

11 replies
  1. jessica
    jessica says:

    What a great way to get to know someone. People fall in and out of our lives at the right times. Sometimes it takes a while to realize it.

  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m glad to read you’ve got a new supportive friend as part of your new stage/network. I’ll add a thought to this sentence – “Not just because it was so fun to hang out with her and edit her writing, but also because I learned so much from her while I was doing it. ” First, it’s kind of you to readily admit the fun and learning that you experienced with Lauren. And second, I don’t see it often (or enough) mentioned that when people engage in a mentor/mentee, teacher/student, or similar type relationship where collaboration is taking place that the exchange of information and support is beneficial to both parties. More people should write about that. I’m glad you are.

  3. Bos
    Bos says:

    I am struck by how little this resembles the support network I had when my son was homeschooling. That was made up, overwhelmingly, of my peers, people we homeschooled with – not people I hired, or who hired me. Homeschooling was not a thing my son did alone, or that I enabled by myself. It was a group endeavor, with compromises and arguments and politics and community.

    Now that both kids are schooling, my network has shifted to include more peers from that world, whereas most of the parents I used to see every week are running in different circles. It is easier to find peers and comrades now, but the conversations aren’t as interesting because we are more bystanders than participants for a large part of the day now.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    The best support system I had for homeschooling was when we were living in SoCal. The homeschooling community is very large there, and there are tons of schools, learning centers, teachers, and enrichment that offer things to the homeschool community during the day when all the school kids are in school. It was easy to find parents doing the same thing, or kids with the same interests because living in a large metro area with tons of homeschoolers, one is bound to find someone who has something in common with you.

    I personally need more community than just my partner and tutors. I have a kid who is extremely ambitious, and we were all lined up for her to do competition robotics, advanced classes and had a clear path, now that’s gone. My middle is an actor, and we have found plenty of options for her in Minneapolis, but she is very extroverted and all she cares about is performing and having friends. We just moved into our new house two weeks ago and I’m still struggling to figure out what our options are. Over the summer I will scramble to find options but, in the meantime my kids demanded to go to school for the last few weeks of classes and they have adjusted seamlessly. The stereotype that homeschooled kids don’t know how to socialize is totally busted by my family. If I don’t find something close to what we had in SoCal then it’s possible I may be done (except with the actor kid)…. currently networking with a few parents for now.

    • Bos
      Bos says:

      It must be a very hard transition for you, YMKAS. You’ve been in the area for a few months, and your adjustment must have been complicated by not really able to commit to things because you didn’t know exactly where your base would be. It’s admirable that you listened to what your children were asking for – clearly their most immediate needs were not educational but social, and being among other children probably helped them to feel in place after the dislocation.

      I’m sure you’ll find some events and activities to help your kids replace what they lost. Competition robotics is national, and there are plenty of teams in the Minneapolis area. A lot of the teams will be coming out of the local high and middle schools (I think your oldest is middle school aged?), so now that you know exactly where you’re based you can find the local team(s). In some places it’s not a problem at all to join in extracurricular school activities as a homeschooler, so just ask!

      I find one of the more difficult parts of adjusting to the school climate is losing the ability to proceed at your own pace. It would be understatement to say that my son is bored in his school math class. His math class is completely irrelevant to his needs; he would be better employed teaching it. In his free time he studies math that he won’t be able to get in school for years. We are trying to help him (we have a Plan A and a Plan B) get up to Calculus in 10th grade. He’s agitating to have himself moved up a couple of grades in math, and so far hasn’t been able to pin down the relevant administrators. Finding some way to compromise with an institution that doesn’t move at your pace is complicated, but, depending on the profession you choose, also a good thing to learn early. Learning how to ask for things can be one of the most valuable lessons a kid can learn.

      Best of luck redeveloping the community you need! I wish you all the energy, patience, and faith you will need to do it.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Unfortunately, and I have confirmed this with at least four different homeschoolers out here who have kids similar to mine, besides sports and enrichment they don’t offer anything outside of coops for homeschoolers. Coops aren’t really my thing.

        My kid is actually 10 years old, and she had a competition team she was going to be on back in CA because she was good enough. She is not in middle school for another year. So far we found some summer camps, that probably are not at her level, but it’s something. And we can just tinker around the house until she can join a middle school team out here.

        My kids have a lot of “gaps” in their education, because they could study whatever they wanted. They are advanced in some areas, average in most, and ignorant on some. They also just learned about “praying to the flag” as my kids like to call it. We aren’t flag people…nor are we religious.

        So unless I want to start my own microschool, I’m in limbo land.

        Moving is so hard!!!

        With your kid being advanced in math, can’t he take math at the high school? Or can he take math at college and work on it at school? I plan to get my oldest into the UMTYMP program out here in a few years. The schools work in a coordinated way to make it work out. We also have PSEO.

        For now, my kids like the camp-like feel of their school. It is like a well-funded private school in size, offerings, and specialists. When we do math homework, it is annoying…but completed in 5 minutes. She’s only had a few issues at school, which she mostly complains about the “boys being so passive aggressive”. But maybe that is just the “Minnesota Nice” we have heard about. :)

        • Bos
          Bos says:

          I moved a lot as a kid. For one stretch, it was four states in four years. I can’t imagine moving my kids right now. My son would not do well with it. My sympathies are with you; at least it’s a nice school!

          Umptyump sounds awesome. My son would be in in a flash; it would be perfect for him. But there’s nothing like that here. It’s odd to me, but gifted education is pretty much just not done in Massachusetts.

          My son’s plan A is to get accepted to a private school we have identified that offers much greater acceleration, and plan B is to accelerate as much as they will let him at his public school, and begin taking night classes at the college level when he’s 15. We have something here similar to PSEO, which is called Dual Enrollment here, but that only applies to state and community colleges here and he’s more likely to find the classes he wants through Harvard Extension.

          He could also take online courses through JHU CTY or something, but I think he’d be better off working face to face.

  5. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:


    Finding Lauren Teller and working with her is so absolutely awesome for you!!! I am so happy that you have found some support…. :) Especially some INFJ support – because well, we INFJ’s know some things and authentically want to come along side you and be here for you.

    This really makes my heart happy (even though it doesn’t matter a whole lot). I want to see you thriving vs. surviving. You DO mean a lot to me.

    I also loved Lauren Teller’s web site. What a beautiful and strong example of a woman who is passionate about what she does, who she is and how she wants to serve the world. I think in our society, that we often overlook the WORTH of a woman who has gleaned much wisdom from her experience in this life…. Often times, women who have lived more years than we have, have the advantage of experience and the knowledge of what is important and not. I have taught my boys to refer to people not as “old” or “older”, but rather as “wise”. My son Samuel who is 13 and on the autism spectrum went up to a very “wise” gentleman at our synogoug and said “You are a very wise man.” The gentleman was very touched by what Samuel said to him and later told me that it made him feel important and useful, versus, used up and not needed. It is all in the perspective – right??! :)

  6. D. Mendez
    D. Mendez says:

    Ohhhhhh Penelope…. I LOVED this SOOOO much! This was BEAUTIFULLY written, rhythmic and kind of “soothing” to read. Great information/tips. Thank you so much!

  7. Christy
    Christy says:

    How wonderful that you crossed paths with Lauren! I was able to attend a session that Lauren facilitated with Soul Collage and was also drawn to her ability to connect on a very personal level and to offer support,encouragement and guidance. Thank you for sharing your experience in discovering people that were able to join you in your homeschooling journey…and beyond!!

  8. jen
    jen says:

    I’m a relaxed unschooler. I don’t sweat it. My goal is 45-60 min quality work a day and I’m content. I’ll raise the stakes for middle school.

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