In 2013, when my marriage ended, I was actively homeschooling my oldest, and planning to continue with my younger children. I had a few well-meaning strangers — community service providers & others — suggest that maybe public school would be best, but I clung to homeschooling, for many reasons. And despite all our other differences, homeschooling our children was the one thing my ex-husband and I agree on. So how was I — how am I — able to homeschool as a single parent?
There are several things I did deliberately to homeschool as a single parent.
I set up my home and income to allow for me to be able to stay home with my children. I parented in such a way that homeschooling is an integral part of our life. And I had several mindset shifts that enabled homeschooling. And.. some of it just came down to the choice, and the sacrifice that came with it.
While I’m not going to into the immediate aftershocks of my separation and divorce, and homeschooling through crisis, these are the strategies and choices I made that have allowed me to continue to homeschool for the last decade.
First, I choose survival over electives.
One of the nice things about homeschooling is the flexibility. We get to take advantage of a number of afterschool or daytime programming, because school hours don’t apply.
However, my first priority is and always will be our income and my ability to parent my children in a healthy and kind way.
So activities and programs always take a back seat to those priorities.
I’m honest with my kids about why we can’t do some of the things they might like to do. Sometimes it’s a matter of cost. Sometimes it’s a matter of scheduling — I can’t be in 3 places at once, so I do have to pick and choose at times, who gets to do what. And sometimes it’s about honoring the other parent in my children’s lives. My ex has requested that we don’t do weekend activities on a regular basis, so I don’t sign my kids up for programs that happen every Saturday. And sometimes that means there isn’t an alternative.
And often, we aren’t participating in all the things because we need to have time to bond as a family. Or because the physical and mental health of one member means we need to prioritize that. So sometimes we step back from the busy-ness, and stay home.
And, sometimes it’s just flat out that I need to work. So … the kids have to miss a night at one of their activities or I won’t sign them up for something they had done previously, because it interferes with my ability to earn an income.
It’s about priorities.
Second, I separate the problem of child care from the issue of education.
Public school is really convenient childcare. It’s free, it’s every day, it’s got set hours and it’s generally reliable. And that can be tempting.
But when I separate out my need for childcare from my responsibility to provide for the education of my children, I can get creative.
First, how much child care do I really need? When the kids were smaller, there’s was a bigger need for direct supervision, so I did my best to do all the things I needed to do either with them — or saved it for when my kids were with their father.
As the kids got older, there was less need for direct supervision, which means that phone calls, uninterrupted work time, and even occasional appointments were a lot more manageable. I could often arrange an activity for them that didn’t need me to be in the same room. And if I needed to be away from them, I could arrange for a playdate or a babysitter.
Now that I have kids old enough to babysit, it’s just a matter of making sure our schedules align.
Third, I taught my children how to be independent quickly.
I believe that my job as a parent is to work myself out of a job. So my parenting philosophy boils down to “Teach, Train, Coach & Empower”. I teach my children the skills and knowledge they need, I train them on how to do the tasks and jobs they need to do, I coach them on how to do these things well, and then I empower them to go and do it.
So far, it’s worked well.
In homeschooling, this means that I prioritize things like reading and writing in the early years, and then add in science, history and other content subjects later on. I don’t do a lot of hands-on projects with my kids, because I really want them to be independent in homeschool. Because when you homeschool as a single parent, there just isn’t a lot of time for much else.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have fun. It’s just not every day. But I still plan on field trips and fun activities.
Having independent kids leads to confident kids, which is a side benefit. My daughters win awards for showing initiative, taking responsibility and being helpful in their programs and activities, because they aren’t afraid to step up and help out.
Fourth, I plan. A lot.
I always have a plan. I teach my kids how to plan. I walk them through prioritizing tasks and wants and needs, and I help them figure out where to start and how to know when you’re finished. And I do it for myself too.
I plan for our homeschool. I plan for our activities. I meal plan. We have a daily chore plan, and a monthly work plan, that I make visible for my kids so they know what to expect.
Obviously this didn’t happen all at once, but I’ve always had a plan. After all, when you’re leaving an abusive relationship, having a safety plan is kind of important.
Fifth, I delegate when possible.
Knowing where, who and how to ask for help is huge when you’re a single parent. There are a ton of resources out there for single parents, if you know where to look. And I made it part of my plan to find out what was available in my community for me.
I’m not afraid to ask for help from the right people.
If you’re newly single, and wondering where to ask for help, try these places:
- community centre
- child protection services (yes, seriously!)
- city hall
You’ll notice, I’m sure, that I didn’t add any religious organizations on this list. That’s on purpose. Unfortunately, especially for survivors of abuse, religious organizations are often not safe. So I won’t recommend that single parents looking for support approach a religious organization at all, unless you are stronger than I was, and you can handle the often-attached strings or criticism.
Sixth, I managed the decision fatigue.
When you’re the main caregiver for your family, there are a lot of decisions to make. And, if you’re like me, you might be used to it, it can still get overwhelming at times.
Sometimes, I wish there was someone I could talk out my pros and cons list with.
There are a couple of tools you can use to manage all the decisions.
One, automate as much as possible.
Systemize your repetitive tasks like chores, meals, and errands. Whether you theme days (ie. laundry day, errand day, etc) or use reminder apps to help you keep up, take the decisions off your plate.
Two, surround yourself with support.
Find a support group, connect with new friends, and get yourself a therapist or counsellor.
Three, limit how many decisions you make at once.
Yes, some things you can’t put off, but some things you can. And if you can, do so.
Four, recognize that no decision is permanent.
Even your decision to divorce isn’t permanent. You can always change your mind.
Lastly, there is sacrifice to single parent homeschooling.
The sooner you come to grips with the idea that you’re going to have to give up some things in order to make this happen, the better off you’ll be.
And the better choices you’ll have about what you give up.
If you want to homeschool as a single parent, you’re going to have to give up things like time, energy, sleep, income and opportunity. You may not be able to binge watch tv the way you used to, and going to the gym or going for runs by yourself may not happen anymore (or for a while). Buying brand name foods may have to give way to getting cheaper, and maybe you go with frozen over fresh more often.
While you may not get to do the same things as often as you did once, remember that, as a single parent, you do get back some things you didn’t have. For example, your evenings, after the kids are in bed, are now yours to do what you want, since you don’t have someone else taking up your time. So while you may not be able to have that girls’ night out with friends — you might get a girls’ night in instead.
Sometimes sacrifice just means making things look different rather than giving them up altogether. When you can embrace the sacrifice, you can choose what it looks like easier.
So that sacrifice doesn’t actually feel like losing, but winning.
Can you homeschool as a single parent?
Yes. It takes effort but it’s possible. Your life isn’t going to look like what it did before you became single, but sometimes.. it can be better.
It’s all in how you look at it.