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Ask Jeanne: Homeschooling with a Doubting Dad

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Ask Jeanne: My husband still has a lot of doubts that this will work for our family. How can I educate him about and involve him in homeschooling?We will be homeschooling all three of our daughters this fall (ages 9, 12 and 17). I am excited and nervous about this new adventure, but my husband still has a lot of doubts that this will work for our family. He recently said “I’ll never see you” and thinks homeschooling will take over our life. Are there any resources out there to educate him on the benefits, and to somehow involve him more in this change? Thank you.

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Your concerns about your husband’s doubts and feelings about homeschooling show you’re on the right track. While more and more dads are taking on the role of “primary homeschooling parent,” and many other couples are tag teaming the homeschool duties, the dominant  homeschooling model is still one where the mom is the instigator, organizer, and implementer of most homeschooling activities.

Depending on how Mom handles this, Dad can certainly feel left out. And, frankly, if Dad is the primary homeschooling parent, the reverse can also be true. However, homeschooling allows for so much more family time than other educational models that, handled well, homeschooling can be a boon to fathers’ relationships with their kids and their wives.

First, I think you’re onto something. You have heard his concerns and want to take them seriously. I read in your letter that you’re getting both his emotional worry — that he’ll not see you and lose connection with the kids — and his practical worry — his doubts about the benefits of homeschooling. Try to hang on to this, because he’s done a great job of expressing himself, and you’re seeing his worries clearly. This is Homeschool Win #1 for your family, because family communication wins are homeschool wins!

You might even write down those two concerns of his and put them on your desk or bulletin board or inside a kitchen cabinet door, so you’ll have a reminder of his perspective.

Here in part 1 of my response, I’ll address his concern about losing his connection with family.

Dad’s Concern about Spending Time with his Homeschooling Family

This, my friend, is something to treasure. He wants to be with you and the kids, and he’s afraid that all the homeschool hoopla you’ve been reading and talking about is so all-encompassing that it will sweep you away. A few ideas:

Put regular family time on the calendar first. What are the daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal “special times” you can set aside for you and your girls to spend with their father?

  • Daily: When my husband worked second shift many years ago, that meant he could not eat dinner with us in the evenings, so we made “brunch” our family meal. If your husband works regular hours, long hours, or out-of-town, what are the daily touchstones you can establish with him? Would he be willing to do “the family read-aloud” each evening with candles lit? Would he rather walk the dog with a different daughter each night? Will he be able to do a Skype check-in or phone call at 9 am a couple of  regular mornings a week? Can you and he plan a few minutes after dinner with your daughters to look at any of the artwork or the projects the girls created during the day?
  • Weekly: Set aside a special family night and prioritize it. It can be something you do a lot of times anyway, but don’t let it get covered up by “homeschool” activities except on the rarest of occasions.  Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday night, you make a big deal of watching a movie with popcorn, playing board games, going out for (or making) smoothies or milk shakes, playing music together, or taking a special walk all together. It’s amazing how this time provides for re-connection. You think you’re playing the games or taking the walk, but you’re also getting a chance to talk and laugh and listen.
  • Monthly: Pick an outing or an activity that’s a bit more of a big deal at least once a month, and do it together. Depending on your budget, interests, and location, you could go camping, hiking, visiting relatives, to a pro or semi-pro ballgame, or on field trips that can include dad — museums, historical sites, or natural areas. You and your husband can see if a theme emerges — something that you all enjoy doing together or that he especially enjoys sharing with you and his daughters. I know a family that does a monthly “sky watch” where they get out the telescope and look at the night sky, learn the constellations, and hear about their dad’s love for astronomy. Since they live in the city, they drive to different “dark places,” which makes it more of an experience, and they go no matter how cold or hot it gets, often taking sleeping bags and looking up from the bed of their pickup truck. I know another family that goes to a different historical site (with a Civil War emphasis here in Virginia) each month. A theater family I know has visited community theater in many different communities, attending plays and marking the theaters on their state map. A farming family I knew years ago did farm visits with other farm families who were too distant to spend much time together otherwise.
  • Seasonally: Of course your husband will continue to be involved in your existing holiday and seasonal traditions. However, you’ll probably find your homeschool community (such as a group, co-op, or class) will have some new traditions he can be included in. Look for a Not-Back-To-School picnic or party in the fall, and for a homeschool conference or convention (in our state, that’s in the spring, but there are others at other times). Attending each year will give him a sense of the rhythm of homeschooling families, and that your family is part of a larger community.

Put regular couple time on the calendar. Really, this is no different than it probably was before you began homeschooling, when you had three kids in school. You will want to continue to prioritize your efforts to emphasize your relationship with your partner even though your kids take a lot of time.

It is generally easier to homeschool with two parents in a family, so if you’re tempted to take shortcuts on time with your husband “because of homeschooling,” you should be tempted not to take shortcuts on time with your husband — “because of homeschooling.” Does that make sense? Because homeschooling is ultimately at less risk for most families if there is no divorce and no distancing and no always-choosing-the-kids-over-the-spouse.

Besides, your daughters need to see the two of you work this out. They need to see you take care of them and meet their needs, but also to see you take care of one another and love each other. This will create a wonderful backdrop for homeschooling and make it more sustainable into the future.

Dad’s Doubts about the Benefits of Homeschooling

If you do a lot of the things I’ve suggested to prioritize family time and not just homeschool time (in part 1 of this Ask Jeanne response), your husband is going to have a front row seat to the benefits of homeschooling. Spending time with you and his daughters as they are learning and growing, he will realize how much they are getting from homeschooling. He will begin to notice differences from their school years and school assignments and their rushed school days.

There are also other things you can do to address your husband’s doubts about the benefits of homeschooling:

  • Take Dad where there are older homeschooled kids. Find the park days, nonprofits, co-ops, and businesses where teen homeschooled kids socialize, study, volunteer, and work. There is nothing like seeing capable “big kids” to make a father of younger ones feel reassured. Host or join in on “whole family” homeschool events such as Not-Back-To-School picnics where he can see teens helping with younger siblings, playing music together, and talking about what they’re learning.
  • Take Dad to a homeschool conference or convention. Let him see the wider world of homeschooling and hear from speakers whose kids are grown. He’ll hear what homeschooled grads are doing — some have graduated from college, some have started businesses, some are serving in the military, some are working. He’ll be able to attend informational homeschooling sessions that will answer many of his questions. At inclusive conferences, such as the conferences sponsored by The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, he’ll see homeschoolers from all walks of life with vibrant religious, political, and ethnic diversity, and he’ll hear from presenters who represent many approaches to homeschooling.
  • Watch the movie Class Dismissed with him. Now available for rent at $5.99 or for sale at $15.99, this movie has been shown around the country as an introduction to homeschooling, and it shows the transition from school to homeschooling.
  • Give him reading material about homeschooling. It’s an old book now, but the book Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson continues to be my go-to book for dads, because it’s written from the perspective of a male school teacher who homeschools his own children. Leave other books, magazines, and catalogs around that focus on homeschooling. Send him links to online articles about homeschooling.
  • Show him what’s happening. If your husband spends many hours away from home, he may not witness how a lot of the education happens. Consider writing a blog (you can make it private if you don’t want to share with the world), or see if your daughters might want to do one together. This can include photos of field trips, lists of books they’re reading, pictures of projects, links to science documentaries they’ve watched and more. Keep a list of questions your kids ask on the refrigerator and involve him in helping them find answers. Frame their artwork and create a gallery wall so he can talk about their creations with them. Share an online calendar or refrigerator calendar — where you not only put your appointments, but you jot learning notes. Keeping a homeschooling dad in the loop will make him feel a part of rather than apart from his family.
  • Let him shine where he shines. If he’s a busy bread-winning dad, he may not be the one doing the every-day all-day things with your daughters. However, he has his special skills and interests, and you can acknowledge these and make sure he is a resource for your kids. He may be the tree house builder or the star watcher or the dog trainer or the computer tinkerer or the pastry chef. My husband has been many of these things with our kids, but only after looking back over 18 years of homeschooling can I fully see some of his lasting impact — he was the music sharer. My sons all love music and can play instruments, and one in particular is a more serious guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Because of my husband’s broad and deep music collection, our son grew up hearing everything from blues to bluegrass, and it shows in his music today.

Listen to your husband

Kids who have a mom and a dad both interested in their education are fortunate. But moms and dads sometimes bring different things. When your husband has a concern, listen and determine whether he has a point you may not have considered. Even use the old canned “you feel” phrasing. “You feel worried that our daughter is not reading well yet.” “You feel reluctant about them using the computer so much.” “You feel sure they need to be doing multiplication by now.”

Reflecting his concerns back to him will help you pause and think about what he’s worried about. You won’t always agree with him, and maybe you’ve done more research or been around more homeschooled kids to see how things work out with this approach or that curriculum. On the other hand, maybe you will be able to see his point and want to consider how to remedy things in your homeschooling. Either way, acknowledging his concern means you are more likely to have a conversation rather than an argument, because he’ll feel heard and you’ll be open to his input. You can share more about what you’re learning about homeschooling because you’ve created an opening rather than defensiveness. He’ll be part of the homeschooling team.

Balance the outside activities

New homeschooling moms in some communities find an amazing array of opportunities, and with three kids, they can be involved in a class, sport, or activity during every part of the day and every day of the week. If you schedule you and your kids for all the good things going on outside your home, you’ll miss out on some of the good things going on inside your home.

Dad can’t be involved if you are always doing things that exclude him because of place or time.

You are blessed, because your husband is present enough with you to say he’s worried “homeschooling will take over our life.”

You already wrote the answer, which is to “involve him in this change.”

Now, you just have to live it.

Jeanne Faulconer

A popular speaker at homeschooling conferences, business groups, and parents’ groups, Jeanne Potts Faulconer homeschooled her three sons in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia for twenty years. Jeanne is director of Brave Writer's Homeschool Alliance, which provides homeschool coaching, community, and "grad school for homeschool" for parents. She is the contributing editor for TheHomeSchoolMom newsletter and writes the popular Ask Jeanne column, addressing homeschool parents' questions here at TheHomeSchoolMom. She is a former college faculty member, former editor and book reviewer for Home Education Magazine, a long-time editor for VaHomeschoolers Voice, and a news correspondent for WCVE, an NPR-member station. Holding her Master of Arts degree in Communication, Jeanne has conducted portfolio evaluations for Virginia homeschoolers for evidence of progress for many years.

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