Recently I had the opportunity to see a bunch of moms from my old homeschooling days. We talked about our adult children, how and what they’re doing, and we engaged in some reminiscing. One mom and I discussed how we feel now that our kids are grown and we have more time on our hands. It’s not as though homeschooling and raising kids was all we did — part-time work, volunteer work, and hobbies like singing, gardening, community activism, and more helped fill our days then as now, but there’s no mistaking that a huge part of our life’s work has, if not ended, shrunk, diminished, subsided. It exists now in the realm of happy, meaningful memories, and lives on in the lives of our adult children.
My friend and I talked of transitioning to a life with a different focus, and how we feel about ourselves in the aftermath of choosing a lifestyle that prioritized motherhood and family in a way that society doesn’t acknowledge as valuable. Women’s work, whether in the workplace or the home, has long been undervalued, but modern women choosing not to work outside the home, or to pursue a non-traditional form of work in order to stay home with their children, is dismissed by many as backwards, nostalgic, too traditional, and in some circles, anti-feminist. A blog on feminist legal theory from the University of California, Davis School of Law, for instance, concludes that homeschooling must be anti-feminist if only because in the majority of families the woman stays home and the man works. With a passing acknowledgement of the fact that such an arrangement is more practical because men make more money than women, the post goes on to say that “Returning mothers to the home to devote the entirety of their selves to their children subordinates women” and that women who choose to homeschool weaken the “social, familial, and political advancements” women have made.
Here we go again with the women against women narrative, which does a lot more to hamper our advancements than my choosing to homeschool ever will. If we could stop pitting ourselves against each other, we might genuinely try and understand the choices of others rather than spout ignorant statements like, homeschooling requires that a woman be “tethered to her children at all times,” and that it “teaches children that education is inextricably linked with being mothered.” The latter assertion demonstrates not only a profound ignorance about how homeschooling worked in my family and scores of other families I know, but also a disrespect for the intelligence and personhood of children, who are fully capable of learning and making choices in the world independently.
While the author makes legitimate points about the potential perils of economic dependency for women who are supported by their husbands, she fails to look at broader issues like, when parents work, who minds the children? In her wonderful essay “Unschooling as a Feminist Act,” Wendy Priesnitz talks about working in daycare centers as a young woman and noticing that the primarily female staff members were both underpaid and undervalued. While one set of women liberated themselves by pursuing careers, another set paid the price. It led her to ask the question, “Does one have to have a paid job in order to be a feminist?”
The “third way” she discusses involves considering not only the rights and needs of women, but also those of children. It is that third way that I and my friends chose, one that upends the notions that children are vessels to be controlled rather than nurtured by adults, that caring for children is menial and unimportant work, and that success and happiness are measured by material acquisitions rather than relationships, community, and other non-tangibles. Our choice was not based on lack of ability, qualifications, or opportunity to pursue paying careers. Nor was it based, as some believe about homeschooling parents, on a desire to control and mold our children’s lives. Like most mothers, we thought about what we wanted to provide and model for our children, and what kind of world we wanted for ourselves and for them. For me, that decision making process led to slow homeschooling, a way of life that emphasized respect, relationships, personal responsibility, community, and enjoyment of life.
I would be lying if I said the social judgment of my work as a mother and homeschooling activist never got to me. Yes, sometimes I do feel less than for not having a “career,” for not being able to produce a sterling resume of degrees, jobs, and other socially honored accomplishments, but all in all I have no regrets. That third way, whether one calls it unschooling, slow homeschooling, life learning, or something else, was the right way for me and my family, and while the path is ever changing, the opportunities for joy, learning, connection, and growth are never ending. Onward I go.