I was recently asked to write about being a father who homeschools his children. I have been rolling it over in my mind for days now. On some level there is little difference between myself and homeschooling mothers in regards to the daily struggle and success involved. We probably both find ourselves staring in bewilderment at the organized chaos taking place around us. All evidence would suggest we both survive on coffee and pray for the occasional opportunity to use the restroom without a child pleading their case with the door wide open. How is it that the bathroom in our home has turned into a Federal courtroom where accused toy and candy thieves try to stack the jury in their favor?
Most likely we both stare at the dark ceiling of our bedroom in the early morning hours wondering where the immediate energy of youth comes from as we hear distant sounds of children leaping from one piece of furniture to another in the yawning light of dawn. I feel pretty confident that we both find crayon murals on our window sills, balance dishes and laundry between mathematics and wonder where the time went as we stare at the aftermath of a long day cleverly disguised as piles of toys, pencils and socks.
On the other hand I do believe there may be some slight differences worth writing about. Just as homeschooling mothers face obstacles I lack the experience to address there are circumstances unique to my situation. Truthfully they may even be results of a homeschooling father living in a rural area because I do wonder if fathers teaching their children at home who happen to live in a city have the same experiences as I do.
There are positives and negatives. Let us start with one of the perceived negatives though so that we can end on a good note. For me personally the feeling of isolation is a major obstacle both creatively and emotionally. Now the interesting thing is that my isolation has not really had an impact on my kids socialization and I say this for those of you considering homeschooling or who are new to it and still buy into that myth. I will give you a recent example. My two oldest children recently started taking ice-skating lessons. I took my kids to the first two lessons. Though I smiled and attempted to engage the mothers who would approach my kids I was largely ignored. On the third lesson my wife took the morning off of work and joined us. She was in turn approached by other mothers wanting to know which child was hers. Conversation was easy. Interaction was safe. Now of course these were the same children I had been showing up with for two weeks but there is some sort of social taboo in my neck of the woods that does not allow married male/female interaction to take place as readily. Now I realize that that may seem like a very small and insignificant situation to some but when you multiply this by every social situation whether the library, kids sporting events, dance classes, or any number of organized homeschool field trips it leaves one feeling isolated. That is not to say no one speaks to me or avoids me altogether but there are no real relationships being developed. Luckily my children do just fine. They laugh and play and learn but I spend a lot of time alone.
The really interesting thing is that some of my strongest relationships and most trusted support networks have developed over the internet. In an attempt to find pen pals for my two oldest children I eventually found a wonderful family from southern Australia whom we interact with somewhat regularly. The friend who asked me to write this is from the U.K. I have even had the good fortune to interact with a homeschooling author who really inspires me. Although not in my immediate vicinity these are very important relationships to me. A network of support is important in any aspect of life especially when it comes to the education of ones children. I suppose the positive twist is that those relationships really expose the true value of homeschooling not only for the children but for the parent as well. Though barriers exist in my own community globally speaking I have been able to find individuals and families who are more interested in the pursuit of truth than social taboos. Further I realize those same minds must exist locally it is just a matter of locating them.
Now with that said I have always been comfortable with myself. I can spend large amounts of time reading and meditating simply put daydreaming. But it is always nice to know that if you need to interact with someone you can and that has been my biggest obstacle as a homeschooling dad.
My life is far from gloomy though. It is too hectic and too entertaining to be anything but wonderful. Though I go weeks without a haircut or shave and I rarely know what day of the month it is I do have the amazing opportunity to watch my children grow on a daily basis. I am so blessed to see the spark behind their eyes as knowledge from the days lesson takes root. I imagine what it would be like to be an astronaut or a dinosaur with young minds. I wipe tears and put Band-Aids on cuts too small to see. I dig in muddy creek beds in search of crayfish and salamanders. I comb hair and put in crooked ponytails. I color with crayons and introduce Neil Young on vinyl to my kids. I have barrettes put in my beard while I work on social studies activities. Most importantly I listen when they ask the serious questions in life,
“Where do we go when we die?”
“Why was that man yelling?”
“Why are your teeth so yellow dad? Don’t you brush?”
Though some aspects of a homeschooling father are unique overall I would humbly suggest that it is an extension of parenting which finds its common ground in the bizarre, unscripted situations that can only arise with the developing curiosity of youth. Though my family and I are no different from any other family in that facet we are entirely unique because of that fact.
Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .