Weighing the Drawbacks of Homeschooling

by Shay Seaborne, Woodbridge


Originally published in the March-April 2005 VaHomeschoolers Newsletter.

I admit it: I have been in denial about the drawbacks to homeschooling. I have previously not admitted that they exist. But that has changed. It started when the question “What are the drawbacks to homeschooling? And please don’t say there aren’t any!” came up at the January 29th Beginning Homeschooling seminar hosted by VaHomeschoolers. The topic arose concurrently on a statewide email list, and I realized that I had been ignoring something important. One of Will Shaw’s replies to the seminar question, “Your children will be different,” caused me to realize that others might see as negatives some of what I see as neutral, or just a part of homeschooling, or, in some cases, even a positive. With that in mind, I reconsidered the difference homeschooling makes in a family’s lifestyle, and what might be considered drawbacks — some of which are relatively easy to remedy, and others that might prove to be more difficult challenges:

You may have to reorganize your priorities. Homeschooling is easiest when both parents agree that the children, and the children’s education, come first. It is hard to homeschool if you are accustomed to two incomes and the convenience and material benefits those incomes provide. Single income families often forego expensive vacations, newer cars, nicer clothes, a bigger house, and the latest electronic gadgets. Homeschoolers often find themselves becoming frugal coupon clippers and deal seekers. They also learn how to do a lot for themselves, rather than paying professionals to do the work for them. Depending on how you look at it, this can be a burden, or it can be a positive, or an even trade. As one list member wrote, “I wouldn’t trade my 16-year-old car or anything else to lose the option to home school my children.”

You’ll have to plan time for yourself. By far the most-expressed drawback to homeschooling is lack of what I call Mommy Time, that crucial “me” time that we primary caregivers need in order to refresh and sustain ourselves. We need time for adult conversations, to tend to our friendships, and to pursue hobbies. We need time alone, and we need a break. As one e-mail list member expressed it, “I would love to take one shower this week without somebody opening the door and freezing me in a blast of cold air.”

Of course, this is a challenge for most parents of young children, and there are many ways to address it: instituting a daily “quiet time,” either during the day, or as part of a winding down before bed; claiming certain parts of the week as reserved for mom (or dad) to take a break; going out with friends or having friends over once a week; doing errands when the other parent can stay with the children, or leaving older children in charge of the younger ones while the parent goes out for short periods; trading childcare with another homeschool friend, and arranging for the second parent to take children out for walks, to the park, etc. so the primary caretaker can be home alone for a while.

You must learn to trust yourself better. Parents who choose homeschooling are doing something that goes against the cultural norm; they are taking a step toward trusting themselves and what they know, rather than conceding that the professionals always know best.

You’ll have to evaluate an increasingly wide variety of educational materials, methods, and opportunities — many of which are now marketed specifically to homeschoolers — and you have to determine which to use. This requires paying attention to how you and your children respond to particular items, experiences and approaches, and a willingness to pitch something when you discover it isn’t working.

Others may constantly question your educational choice. Although most Americans have heard of homeschooling, the majority of them don’t know what it’s really like. Friends, family and acquaintances question whether our kids are learning enough, whether they’re being properly socialized, or how they’ll learn to deal with bullies if they don’t go to school. Well-meaning relatives may try to quiz our homeschooled children, to see if they measure up. Each homeschool family has to figure out how to handle these interactions; none of us escapes it completely. Fortunately, it is easy to find help with this from other homeschoolers, who are often willing to share what worked for them, at support group meetings, outings, and on email lists.

You will frequently question yourself. No homeschooler escapes self-doubt; we tend to question our ability, our choices, our children’s social skills, whether they’re doing enough of this or that, if we’re doing enough, or if we’re even doing the right thing. There are no guaranteed results with any educational path, and it is hard to trust that this uncharted course will take our children where they need to go. Questioning ourselves can be uncomfortable, but also affirming. When we question and question, and the final answer almost always tells us, “Yes, you’re doing the right thing for your child,” we eventually come to greater trust of ourselves and what we know about our children. And, if the answers often add up to “No,” then we can make major changes, or, if appropriate, enroll our children in school.

You might begin to question authority. When parents choose homeschooling, they are choosing to question the conventional wisdom, and the idea that trained, certified, highly skilled professionals are the best authority and a necessity. This can lead to questioning whether it is wise and good to turn over decision-making to the authority of other professionals.

You will waste some money. Wasting some money is part of the homeschool life. Sometimes we buy products we end up not using. We might withdraw a child from a rec center class because we can see that the situation is unsuitable for her. We go wild at book sales, and arrive home to realize can’t cram one more book on our groaning shelves.

Luckily, there are many places where parents can buy and sell used materials, such as at curriculum swaps, and online. Other homeschoolers are often glad to share their sources of used materials, and outlets for selling off what didn’t work. If you purchase materials secondhand and don’t like them, you can often recoup the entire price by reselling the items for the same amount — so there is little loss.

Your picture of socialization will probably change. Most people in industrialized nations picture a classroom of age-same peers as providing children with a crucial form of “socialization,” but homeschoolers often come to see that as a negative type of socialization. Many come to define true socialization as being able to relate to people of different ages and backgrounds, and they see how readily homeschooling provides this positive socialization.

Homeschooling can change your social contacts, too. If the lives of your friends and children’s friends are centered on school, and you begin homeschooling, it can be harder for friends to connect, due to the varying schedules and priorities. In addition, it is sometimes difficult for homeschool parents and school parents to comfortably communicate about their children’s education — which is often a central theme in relationships during the “school” years. Such widely differing forms of education and educational experiences can make it hard for parents and children to relate to each other.

It’s likely that you will end up mixing with “others.” Humans tend to be “birds of a feather,” but the diversity of the homeschooling community brings a wide variety of people together for one purpose. Homeschoolers meet for sports, clubs, classes, community centers, drama groups, support group meetings, field trips, cultural events, and many more gatherings. We are often in close contactwith people we would otherwise not meet, such as those from other faiths and cultures, or those holding very different political beliefs. This may be very uncomfortable, and it can require some personal adjustments.

When a particular type of homeschool family mixes with “others,” there is a risk that walls will come down, and then people can see that the “others” are not so frighteningly different.

You will probably have to roll up your sleeves. Homeschooling is a proactive endeavor. Some parents are content to take advantage of the numerous classes, clubs, teams and special events set up by others, but most homeschool parents eventually feel the need to roll up their sleeves and make something happen, too. Whether starting a support group or e-mail list that suits your particular needs, or lending your hand to the local co-op, drama group, or homeschool sports team, or learning how to influence homeschool legislation, you are likely to become involved in activities that you hadn’t imagined before you began homeschooling.

You will surely be changed. Homeschooling can change your picture of education, of what is valuable, of who you are. It might change how you interact in your community, and even your political views. Even if you have read numerous books, participated in endless discussions, and have a detailed plan for homeschooling, you will end up learning, doing, and being things you could not have foreseen when you began this journey. Is that a drawback, or a challenge? It’s up to you.

About the Author

Shay Seaborne homeschools her children in Woodbridge.

Originally published in VaHomeschoolers Newsletter (now the VaHomeschoolers Voice), a bi-monthly homeschool journal produced by The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers for our members. Not a member? Join now and don’t miss another issue!

VaHomeschoolers Voice Publication Information

VaHomeschoolers Voice is a bi-monthly homeschool journal produced by The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers for our members. Not a member? Join now and don’t miss another issue!

VaHomeschoolers Voice prints selected articles, news, and letters related to home education and Virginia homeschoolers. Opinions expressed by individual writers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board of Directors of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, nor do they represent an official position of VaHomeschoolers. Writers’ views are their own, and readers are encouraged to research and explore homeschooling issues to their own satisfaction.

Permission to reprint content from VaHomeschoolers Voice may be requested by contacting the Voice Editor. Reprinting by-lined articles requires permission of the specific author in addition to permission of the editor.

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