I was raised in the homeschool movement. I grew up on its ideas and its rhetoric. And yet, I send Bobby to daycare and Sally to preschool and will be sending both to public school when they are old enough. This runs smack up against the ideals of good parenting I was raised with, and in the eyes of some homeschool parents, it de facto makes me selfish. I was reminded of this by a facebook comment by a homeschool parent I noticed in the discussion of Virginia’s HJ 92.
I highlight this comment because it so fully encapsulates everything I heard growing up about parents who send their children to public school. I learned that public school is “free babysitting” and that parents who send their kids to public school can’t wait to “get rid of” their kids. And there was the same derision about parents freaking out over snow days and delays—were they really so eager to shuffle their kids off on someone else? What was their problem! They must hate their children! I fully agreed with this reasoning.
I now am that parent.
We’ve been having delays for the weather, and it sucks. Sean and I look at each other and begin to haggle. “How important is your meeting? Can you miss your meeting so that I can make my class, or should I skip class?” School delays are difficult not because we can’t “get rid of” our kids sooner, they’re difficult because we have work, and when there is a delay one of us has to skip work. Snow days are worse. We’ve had days where we shift the kids back and forth all day, taking turns so that we can both get our most important things done—the things we can’t skip. And even for families with a stay at home parent, delays throw off the schedule, and enough of them make everyone cranky.
And now I am horrified at the things I used to think, to say.
But even as I am now horrified that I used to deride parents like myself for being so annoyed at delays and snow days, I’m absolutely boggled that fully grown homeschool parents do so. When I thought those things, I was a child. I didn’t know what it was like to be a parent with so many responsibilities to handle. But the homeschool parents who say those things? They know that most parents work. They know that things like delays and snow days throw of people’s schedules and sometimes mean taking an unpaid day off of work or missing important meetings or scheduled appointments. They have no excuse.
But it’s more than this. It’s also this all-pervading idea that parents who send their children to school are just sending them for “free babysitting,” and that anyone who sends their children to school must simply not be able to stand being around their children. This idea that the parents who de facto win the parent of the year award are the ones who are home with their kids homeschooling 24/7, that parents who send their kids away for 6 or 8 hours a day must be bad parents.
So let me break this down for them really simply.
Most parents work. While there are stay at home parents who send their kids to school, most parents work. In 2010, over 70% of all families with children under 18 were headed by either two working parents or a single parent. Parents don’t generally send their children off to school and then spend those hours watching Netflix. Most parents spend those hours working, and even those who don’t have things to do—errands to run, laundry to fold, etc. And yes, some parents work when they technically could afford to stay home, but there are quite a few good reasons for that—things like putting aside money for the future, trying to provide their children with the best childhood possible, or building a resume toward the future.
Parents generally send their kids to school to learn. Parents really do send their children to school to get an education, not because they don’t like them and can’t stand to get rid of them. School is not “free babysitting.” I dare any homeschool parent to say that to a school teacher’s face. Public schools may not be perfect, but a lot of them are very good, and even those that have their problems generally do manage to provide at least some education. Most parents also see the school experience itself as a positive thing for their children, including social activities and extracurriculars and the feel of community. There are a whole plethora of good reasons for sending children to school that have nothing to do with wanting to get rid of your kids because you can’t stand them.
But even as parents generally send their children to school both to get their children an education and because they themselves have to work, it’s important to bear in mind that wanting a break is healthy. This idea that if you really love your children you will want to spend twenty-four hours a day with them seven days a week is not only a lie, it is also toxic. If you are a parent, you need time off from your children, and they need time off from you—and this is not a bad thing. It is natural and good. I love my husband Sean dearly, and yet, he and I still go to work each day, headed in separate directions. To date, I have never heard anyone accuse me of not loving Sean because we part ways every day instead of spending every second of every day together.
I am in a moms group on facebook, and every so often a stay-at-home mom of small children posts there saying she that is about to lose her sanity, asking for someone to tell her it gets better, or considering taking a part time job so she can have a break from the kids. She loves her kids dearly, she explains, but she’s going crazy at home with them and needs time to recharge. And then everyone in the group offers her support and encouragement, because we understand. She is not a bad mother, she is just overwhelmed. Would homeschool parents like the one who left the comment at the beginning of this post tell mothers like this that they are selfish, unloving, bad mothers for wanting a break? I certainly hope not.
It’s also as though homeschool parents who trash talk public school parents as selfish for sending their children to school away all day forget that even they need—and take—breaks. I know my own homeschooling mother did. When I was very little, she would go shopping with a good friend at night after the children were in bed. She and her friend would go up and down the aisles at Walmart, enjoying the bliss of being alone together—just them, chatting and catching up. Sometimes they would stay out for hours, getting home well past midnight, tired but refreshed. When I was older, mom would call up another homeschool mom and they would go out for a lengthy lunch together at Olive Garden or somewhere similar while we older children fed the younger ones sandwiches and carrots and put them down for their nap. Our homeschool community even held “moms’ night out” activities for mothers like mine, with tea and chatting.
This idea that parents who send their children off to public school are t he selfish ones also ignores the fact that the choice to homeschool itself can, for some parents, be a selfish one. There are parents out there who homeschool for bad reasons, and who don’t put their children’s needs and interests first. Being a homeschool parent does not de facto make one selfless—and I have seen the idea that it does get in the way of efforts to prevent abusive parents from using homeschooling to isolate their children and hide their abuse—because, homeschool parents tell me, abusive parents would never homeschool. Homeschooling involves being home with your kids all day! Abusive parents would do the easy, lazy, selfish thing, and ship their kids off to public school each day!
Are there parents who send their children to public school who are selfish and continually put themselves first at the expense of their children? Certainly—and there are homeschool parents for whom the same is true. Both homeschool parents and public school parents can be selfish and uncaring, and both homeschool parents and public school parents can be devoted and loving. Creating a “homeschool parents good / public school parents selfish” dichotomy helps no one.