May 10 2001

Blended Family: Homeschooling and Public Schooling in Our Household

Tag: Cyn @ 4:23 pm

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

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