May 10 2001
We have a blended family—me, my partner Sam, my daughter Katie, his son Rowan and his daughter Genevieve. There’s been so much written about blending families that it’s hardly worth discussing, but there’s one issue I haven’t really seen addressed anywhere—combining homeschooling and public schooling in one family.
I homeschool my daughter. We absolutely love it, and it would be extremely difficult for us to go back to following somebody else’s schedule and somebody else’s choices about what she learns, when, and what silly hoops she needs to jump through as far as tests and paperwork and dress. She jumped through those hoops extremely well, but she’s blossomed so much just in the year she’s been out of that environment that I can’t help but wonder what damage it did to her. And no, Katie doesn’t resent anything about not being in public school. She gets far more actual social time now than she did when she was in public school, and she enjoys moving at her own pace and being able to study subjects that really catch her fancy in depth. Several times, we’ve overheard her convincing other kids that they should ask their parents to try homeschooling.
Sam’s ex-wife objects to homeschooling. They have joint legal custody, so the kids are in public school and there are ongoing negotiations about what will happen in the future. They want to be homeschooled, as well—we had a trial of homeschooling for everybody last summer and it was a big hit with the entire family. The kids slept late in the mornings so they could stay up late when Sam was home in the evenings. They did some work during the day, but had lots of free time, as well, and worked with him on various subjects when he got home. Sam had much more time with them, which made everybody happier. We could go to Stone Mountain or a local museum or the library at the drop of the hat—and we did.
Those days are over ’til next summer, though, and for now, Geni and Rowan have to get up each morning and catch the bus. They dress by the school’s prescribed rules, sit in boring classrooms with 29 other kids all day, are held back to the level of the slowest students in their classes, and get very little individual attention from their teachers or any other adult throughout most of the day. When they get home, most of the day is gone, and they have homework to fill the rest of it. They have very little time for playing, much less for sports, music or other lessons, friends, etc.—just getting to check their email is often a big deal. Geni has had two field trips all year, and Rowan had none until his Probe (gifted) class went to the zoo several times for a project. Geni is in a Girl Scout troop, but since all the other girls in the troop are also in public school, the troop isn’t very active and nobody really has time to do any more than meet every other week.
In contrast, Katie is as likely to be doing math wearing fairy wings and glitter as in jeans and a t-shirt. She has ballet and jazz dance classes and is involved with a very active Girl Scout troop (full of other homeschooled girls and led by homeschooling parents). She’s had time to take Spanish, drama and writing classes through a local homeschooling co-op. She recently added voice classes, as well. She eats when she’s hungry, goes to the bathroom without asking for permission, and can go to the library just by saying "Mommy, would you please take me to the library?" (because I’m usually just as eager to go as she is.) While we’re always sure to be home by the time the school buses return Geni and Rowan, we have a lot of freedom in what we do while they’re gone, and we enjoy it.
As you can imagine, the contrast causes tension in the family. It’s perfectly reasonable that Geni and Rowan feel resentful when they’re rushing to get homework done and Katie is playing or doing an art project or practicing a dance routine. They have to have very fixed bedtimes, and she can stay up to look at the stars when we’re studying astronomy. She recently finished reading Mists of Avalon and started Lady of Avalon, and they’re reading boring, vocabulary-controlled tripe which has no distinction other than the dubious one of being approved by the school board.
Geni and Rowan know that their father and I did not make the choices that require them to be in public school, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t get angry at us for enforcing the rules that inevitably accomplish being in public school. We can’t say, "that’s okay, you don’t have to do that assignment right now—let’s sit down and talk about . . ." because we aren’t their teachers and we don’t make up their academic schedules (and we do not believe in undermining their teachers). They have to go to bed in time to get enough sleep to get up and be fresh at X time in the morning so they can get on the bus and go to school as dictated by the school. If one of them isn’t at his best in the morning, that’s just tough—that’s when school starts, and everybody has to run on their schedule.
What can we do about it? We keep trying to be as flexible as we can be while acknowledging the realities of the situation. We try to keep reminding the kids that we don’t really have a choice in this matter right now. We keep hoping that Geni and Rowan’s mother will change her mind—but we don’t plan on it. We certainly don’t say "Hey, don’t blame me, blame your mother!" but it doesn’t have to be said for them to know it, and we do worry that it will damage their relationship with their mother.
Is it fair? No. Can we help it? No, no more than any blended family can help things like some kids having involved, loving grandparents and other kids hardly knowing their extended families. Life isn’t always fair, and some kids have to learn that earlier than others, despite the best efforts of their parents.
(And before people start recommending that we go to court over this issue, the answer is no—it would result in damage to everyone concerned and enrich lawyers, but we don’t think it would be a lasting resolution in any positive sense.)
Last updated May 10, 2001