The Non-Homeschooling Parent
Aka: How do I get my husband to accept my style of homeschooling?**
I went to a homeschool support group back in 2000 when I first moved to Ohio. Each of the parents introduced themselves. Most of the attendees were mothers, but occasionally a dad would be along for the meeting as well. To a parent, the mother would introduce herself as the homeschooler and the husband as the “principal” of their school. Then everyone would chuckle. They chuckled because they knew that in just about every case, the “principal” had a fulltime job and did very little in the way of home education! Yet here he was with the big title!
When they got to me, my husband was not present. I introduced myself as the home educator, curriculum developer and the principal. Then I added, “My husband isn’t here, but he’s the janitor. His contribution to our homeschool is making sure everyone does their chores on Saturdays.”
Laughter. But it was true. I saw no reason to give him the supreme title just because he had facial hair.
You home educators take the lion’s share of the responsibility to homeschool your kids. You do it after hours of research and oodles of conversations, you do it because you’ve become convinced it’s the best thing for your family, and you do it the way you do it because of the philosophy of education you’ve evolved through all those hours of research and conversation.
Unless you have a spouse with similar dedication, the truth is: you’re the homeschooling expert in your family.
Being an expert doesn’t mean that you are without flaw or that you will get it right every time. Lord knows we all reinvent homeschool every single year. Still, even with the nuances changing year to year, you have a pretty good idea of what you mean by homeschooling and you want the freedom to do it according to your lights.
When a mom asks me how to “get her husband” to share her philosophy, what I think she’s really asking is: “What do I do about my husband’s worries that I’m not doing a good enough job?”
At one workshop, when asked that question, I answered: “This is a marriage issue, not a homeschooling one. I don’t know if your husband is crazy or a reasonable guy. I don’t know if he is hard on you in every area of your life or if he has legitimate concerns about your dedication to the homeschooling task. The question to ask yourself is: ‘Does my husband generally support me, trust me and help me? If I give him the information he wants, does he accept it?’”
The foundation of a happy homeschool has to be that both parents are equally supportive of this style of education. They don’t both have to be equally knowledgeable, they don’t both have to do the work of homeschool and I absolutely don’t see the need for a wife to “submit her lesson plans” to a husband each week for his approval.
What needs to happen is this. Raising the kids is a responsibility both parents share. When discussing home education, where the husband has little experience and spends almost no time researching, the conversation needs to shift from explaining home education to him and instead focus on two things:
Just like you don’t constantly check to see if your husband is performing at his career in a way that makes you feel comfortable, your husband needs to trust you (that you are capable of home education, that he is confident in your skill set, that he knows you are reliable to do what you say you’ll do). Then he needs to allow you the freedom to live into that role, knowing that it will include set backs, mistakes, course changes and all the things that happen in any career.
Of course he’ll have questions and he should feel free to ask them. However, asking a sincere question is not the same as scrutinizing or judging or belittling or haranguing. You know if you have a husband who does the latter because those behaviors won’t be limited to homeschooling. If that is your husband, just know that you have a marriage issue (not a homeschooling one) and be sure to get help in addressing it. Any family that has the marital dynamic where the wife is repeatedly up against hostility and judgment is in crisis. Home education is the least of your concerns.
If you have the garden variety husband who simply shows some nerves about this unfamiliar style of education, start by talking to your husband about trust and freedom—that you value his trust and you need freedom to explore this version of education.
You can allay his fears in these three ways:
- First, suggest to him that he do some reading. Point him in the right directions (give him a book or send him some links to websites via email). Don’t nag him, don’t follow up. Just let him know that he can read what you’ve read and if he wants to discuss it, you’d be happy to! Don’t educate him. Let him educate himself. Don’t nag. If he chooses not to read, then you can gently let him know (after a month) that you’ll continue without his input (though you’d love his support!) since he doesn’t have the foundation to talk to you about home education.
- Second, introduce him to another homeschooling family. You might even plan a themed home education party where the dads are participants. A medieval feast or a picnic at a site where fossils can be found are possibilities. Get them involved in a weekend kind of way.
- Third, share what you do during the day with your husband in a free, enthusiastic way. Don’t report to him like he’s your boss. Simply make an effort to remember what happened that was exciting: Johnny identified a cardinal at the feeder today! Mary figured out how to dye cloth with a beet!
Once you have tried one or all three of these practices, see how your husband does. If he continues to express anxiety about home education, you have two options:
- Make it an issue in your marriage. If this is one of those hills you want to die on, then so be it. You may need a therapist to help you. Get to the bottom of his anxiety and your need to home educate so that you are honest about how important this issue is to you. Make sure you have a safe space to explore all the concerns you both have. If you ignore them or pretend them away, I promise they will come back in a big way down the line and your kids will know that their education is a source of tension in your marriage.
That is not healthy! Better to put the kids in school than that.
- Give up homeschooling. It is utterly critical that your family have a peaceful home to live in. That is more important than Charlotte Mason, tea parties, read alouds, field trips to art museums and Saxon math. If you and your husband can’t come to a place where you feel supported and trusted in your home education leadership, then homeschooling can’t work for your family.
I find it helpful if I think in terms of the bigger picture. To be happy at home means that all the members of the family feel they have an authentic say in their own happiness (how they discover what makes them happy, how they express that happiness, how they create it for themselves). That happiness is contingent on several core values:
When any of these is missing in any of the relationships in the family (parent to child, child to parent, sibling to sibling, wife to husband, husband to wife), the entire family has a diminished sense of identity and contentment. Cultivating relationships that nurture an experience of happiness has to be a primary goal, even above education because there are lots of forms of education, but only one original family.
So when we talk about homeschooling, we have to be honest: it’s not possible to do it if both parents don’t support it. Wives can’t make husbands support homeschooling any more than a husband can require a wife to homeschool if she doesn’t want to invest the time and energy it takes to do it. Education of the children is a responsibility that both parents share, but how that responsibility is executed can be resolved in a variety of ways.
The bottom line is this: If your husband is not participating actively in the education of your children (and doesn’t invest the time to think about homeschooling or to develop his own philosophy of education), he should be willing to trust you to do that job and he ought to support you in doing it through encouragement, cooking dinner once in awhile, and bragging about how awesome you are for taking on this heroic of tasks.
If he is deeply uncomfortable with home education after doing his own research and is a genuinely decent guy in the other areas of your marriage, you may have to accept that for right now, home education is off the table. Ask to revisit it with him at a later date.
In all cases, get help if these issues between you and a spouse become significant enough that you are tense, stressed, and anxious. If you are fighting about homeschooling regularly, then you are creating a toxic home environment for your kids. That’s no way to live and kids spending 24/7 at home will pick it up (and it will be bad for them).
**I’m sorry to use the gender normative roles throughout. I realize there are homeschooling dads where the moms work outside the home and that there are domestic partnerships, not just husbands and wives. Thanks for letting me off the hook by focusing on the 99% that ask me these questions. Philosophically, these answers can be applied to any pairing raising kids!