Homeschooling isn’t for the faint of heart, but it sure helps if you can find the humor in it.
That’s just what Jennifer Cabrera, a Texas homeschooling mom of three, a podcaster, and author of “Socialize Like a Homeschooler: A Humorous Homeschool Handbook,” is doing, and she’s sharing her humor with other parents in the same boat. If you’re homeschooling (or thinking about it), find her on social media as the Hifalutin Homeschooler and let a new sense of ease and some unfiltered truth inspire you along your journey.
I recently asked Cabrera about her homeschooling experience and her advice for other homeschooling parents. Here’s what she said.
The Epoch Times: What made you decide to homeschool your three sons?
Jennifer Cabrera: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. Homeschooling is everything I never knew I always wanted to do. It only took me three years of sending my kids to public school to become Hifalutin enough to decide, “Anything school can do I can do better.”
My husband and I are both physician assistants, each with a master’s in public health. We planned to have one child. I would go back to my career after maternity leave. We’d hire a nanny but be devoted and loving in the evenings and on weekends. Have it all, do it all.
And then we had twin boys to start. I imagine God chuckled. Four years later, he gave us our third son. Already, I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to work while they were so little. Yet, my husband and I both attended public school. My mother and aunts were public school teachers. Naturally, my boys would attend public school.
However, by second grade, the carpool line was sucking the life out of my toddler harnessed in the back seat and covered in bananas as we ventured through twice a day for his brothers.
I missed them so much and felt the school was an annoying middleman choking our family relationship.
Every evening, I dragged two grouchy, snot-covered kids home and used the last bits of daylight and our time together on excessive busy work. But they were receiving gold stars and stamped certificates, so we stayed despite the growing unease I felt.
My boys were some of the smartest in their class. We read books way above grade level to be rebellious at bedtime. We discussed science, music, and history because they were curious and mostly bored out of their minds at school. They usually finished their work quickly and became restless. They wandered the classroom, built things out of paper. And one of their teachers began hinting about testing them for ADHD.
That same year they were locked out of sections of the library deemed too difficult for mainstream second-graders. No matter that they tested well above grade level in reading; they were also asked not to bring the books they read at home to class, so as not to make the other kids feel bad.
Tears flowed every morning before school. My boys were losing their love of learning. Realizing I was doing most of the teaching during homework time every evening anyway, I started snooping into the lives of weird, unsocialized, homeschool families.
Every reason I could find to homeschool was staring me in the face, but I couldn’t get past my own public schooled mentality that I should leave it to those who knew best. But did they?
They were my boys. I had taught them to walk, talk, tie their shoes, write their names. I had even taught them to read before kindergarten.
Still, the world said they’d be weird and unsocialized, and I’d have to wear a denim jumper, sell strange oils, and raise goats!
Deep down, I knew I could homeschool. I wanted to be with my kids. I wanted to teach them to question everything, to read for curiosity and pleasure (not grade points), and instill our beliefs and values. I wanted to see and be in the world with them, rather than have them tucked away waiting to live like my husband and I were for 12-plus years.
So, I asked God to slap me upside the head with a homeschool catalog or something, if this is what I was supposed to do. I hoped he’d be really obvious about it, like a note home from the school expelling my boys for loitering on the wrong side of the library.
One morning before school, one of my boys began to cry: “I hate school! Why do you take me up there and leave me where nobody loves me or cares about me? You’re supposed to teach me!”
And so, we leaped off the cliff into homeschooling. After nine years, I still say it was the best decision we ever made for our family. Our reasons for homeschooling began academically, but as the boys have grown and the world has changed, family, faith, and freedom have become what keeps us going.
The Epoch Times: What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of homeschooling?
Ms. Cabrera: Most parents I talk to, myself included, have a hard time letting go of the constant worries of inadequacy and failure. Are we doing enough? Are we doing too much?
Do we need a set of encyclopedias and some chickens?
What if I forget to teach them something essential and they get to college not knowing how to use a combination lock? Should I go buy three combination locks? Will anyone believe my kid got an A on Mom’s homemade transcript?
It is very challenging for parents to let themselves off the hook for every little foreseen and unseen hole in their homeschool. Once, I lost two hours of my life searching the web to determine if test anxiety was something I needed to try to induce sporadically, so that my boys wouldn’t be blind-sided with the need to breathe into a paper bag or call for medical aid when they go to take the SAT.
A certain amount of worrying is probably good for parents, especially homeschooling parents. It’s what keeps us from letting our kids freely roam the internet, reminds us to teach them to count, and puts up red flags before we let YouTube cover all the basics of science.
Most of our worries stem from society’s expectations that we don’t want to meet anyway.
Homeschooling is an enormous, life-altering task. We are not adequate alone. There will be holes left to be filled. We will mess up and fall short.
But with God, parents are equipped and capable of homeschooling with amazing success.
The Epoch Times: What was one of the funniest things that you experienced along your homeschooling journey?
Ms. Cabrera: There was this time we burned down the kitchen for a science fair. OK, so it was mostly me, though I’d like to blame the children. Three boys, three separate projects, and just one me. Staying organized is key, but cutting corners is easier. So, when it rains, and you have a schedule to adhere to, you go ahead and launch a rocket in the kitchen for video evidence of success.
Now you’re thinking, no wonder you started a fire. But this is not where things went south to Hades. We launched with the utmost care and precaution by aiming our trajectory at the kitchen sink and managing to hit the cooktop backsplash instead, which is basically a fireproof enough wall. Plus, we have a vegetable sprayer on the sink, which is like a firemen’s mini hose. We were basically OSHA-compliant.
Of course, we had to get rid of the pyrotechnic evidence before the principal got home. I grabbed my cute mini-iron skillet with the yummy wax squares and set it to simmer on the gas burner and hide the hint of rocket fuel that lingered.
But my multitasking mom brain then glitched and moved on to getting the troops ready for swim practice. And the kids were pumping creative neurons upstairs, oblivious to the underworld bubbling up below them.
OK, OK … they were playing Minecraft. The point is, no one was paying attention.
The fire alarms went off like a domino rally across the house. I was using the bathroom in peace and thinking how odd it was that the smoke from the rockets was just making it to the detectors. Weird.
And as I was yanking my yogas back up, I remembered the mini wax skillet! And the distance from my bathroom to the kitchen telescoped exponentially.
I rounded the cabinets to find the stove a fiery inferno of lemon-scented hell! My mind quickly wrote the entire press release for the local news in one twenty-fifth of a second:
“Recent homeschooling newcomers to the area burned down their house today in a science fair experiment gone wrong. The mother claims it was simply a forgotten air freshener, but the smell of rocket fuel, and assorted questionable materials scattered around the home, leave room for suspicion. The children have been removed and placed in protective services after admitting their mother was teaching them to build and set off explosive devices.”
We recently moved here, and I didn’t want to get to know the rest of the town by asking for their donated socks and underwear. So, I acted, grabbing the oven mitt, and then the flaming skillet, and tossing it into the water and dirty dish-filled sink.
BWOOOSH!! The boys rounded the corner in time to see a blazing mushroom cloud explode from the sink over four feet into the air. If their individual reactions were any indication of what kind of men they will be, I should make notes to warn their future wives. One child literally stopped, dropped, and rolled out the back door. Another froze in place, screamed, and plugged his ears. And the third’s eyes lit up excitedly as he exclaimed, “Awesome!”
“That was just a fire drill, guys. Congrats, you all passed! You just never know when accidents will happen. Yup, we have to be prepared,” I panted.
They weren’t buying it. I was shrill and shaking like I’d just witnessed Satan waltz in the kitchen and pour himself a cup of tea and sit at the bar. ‘Cause he did. Except it wasn’t tea, it was hot boiling wax.
And that, folks, is how my children made me almost burn down the kitchen. And how I pulled off the most awesomely realistic epic fire drill ever.
Disclaimer: If you work for, or are planning to contact child protective services, I totally made all of this up. Especially the part about getting it on video.
The Epoch Times: Your ability to see the humor in homeschooling has inspired your growing audience. What prompted you to begin making humorous homeschool content?
Ms. Cabrera: It’s like I always say: “If you’re going to ruin a kid, might as well keep them home and do it yourself.”
We started homeschooling in 2013, when homeschooling was growing but long before the homeschool-stampede-inducing pandemic. While searching for info, curriculum, and reading homeschool blogs, the overall impression of homeschooling was very … picturesque and intimidating.
After getting started with three boys, I quickly learned it was anything but picturesque. Rather it was messy, loud, and things hardly ever went exactly as planned. I was totally exhausted, pulling my hair out, and yet having a blast and wishing I had started sooner.
Because it was working beyond my most optimistic expectations. My boys were thriving, confident, and loving to learn again. We were growing closer as a family. And yet we lost friends still in public school and had to deal with nosy skeptics.
In 2016, my alter ego was born: the “Hifalutin Homeschooler.” I began my blog from a need to vent about homeschool skeptics and hit back on the homeschool stereotypes with good old-fashioned sarcasm.
“Some of y’all mouthing about socialization never met a real homeschooler, and it shows.”
Mostly I wanted to show other apprehensive parents what “real” homeschooling looks like in the trenches. You don’t have to be perfect to be awesome.
Homeschooling is less overwhelming when you realize you can learn right along with your kids. And even on the hard days, often the best learning happens in finding and fixing what went wrong.
I also hoped to reach experienced homeschoolers and say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about homeschooling, come sit by me.” In fact, one of my most popular articles early on was “10 Things I Hate About Homeschooling.”
My mission was to get the homeschool community to lighten up a little, even poke fun at life as a homeschooler and those who know nothing of it. By breaking down the stereotypes and intimidating barriers, we might lead hesitant parents to see that most homeschoolers are just strong families taking action against real-world concerns.
The Epoch Times: What advice would you give to a parent who is brand new to homeschooling?
Ms. Cabrera: There is a “Quick Start Homeschooling” tutorial on my blog that, in short, goes something like this:
Once upon a time, everyone homeschooled. For thousands of years, the world operated on the natural assumption that parents were expected to raise and educate their own children. Mass education is the newer experiment—and it’s failing many.
You know and love your kids better than anyone and are going to be able to invest more one-on-one attention and personalization than any school.
Run to educational and family freedom. It’s homeschooling, not school at home. You don’t have to call roll or announce the pimento loaf for lunch each day. Fight the urge to create structured learning to fill time slots and check boxes. Cut the umbilical cord to the system and everything you’ve been programmed to believe is necessary for kids to learn.
The educational system unnecessarily, yet intentionally, complicates learning to justify its bloated budget and power, leaving parents feeling inadequate. Don’t be intimidated. More is not always better, sometimes it’s just more—more time wasted and more busy work.
Homeschooling can do in a few hours what takes the system months or longer. Learning really is straightforward. Your natural ability to instruct your kids along with your will to succeed, and the simplicity to do so, cannot be reproduced in mass—and that is intimidating to the system.
Next, find out your state’s homeschool laws and requirements at HSLDA.org
Always lean on the homeschool community for support. Don’t turn to the system you are fleeing for advice or handouts that may have strings attached that will erode our homeschool freedoms. Ask seasoned homeschoolers all the questions you can think of no matter how ridiculous they may sound. Nine years ago, I didn’t know a thing about homeschooling, except that only weird people did it and I’d need a laminator. Turns out that was only half true. You don’t need a laminator after all.
Then go shopping!
Browse all the available curriculum, books, tools, games, online resources, and area homeschool groups. I don’t know what I expected to find when I first started shopping homeschool stuff. What I found was my confidence.
Just make sure you are shopping for your children and not the ones in the brochure. Discovering your child’s learning style may take some time and trial and error. Likely, you already know your kid better than the school did or cared to accommodate. You can choose curriculum and scheduling based on what works best for each of your kids.
Know that socialization is probably one of the greatest reasons to homeschool today. Socialization is code for conformity and is a fear tactic used to browbeat homeschoolers. Don’t fall for it.
If you subscribe to the traditional school definition of socialization in an artificial setting of same-aged peers forced together day after day, then homeschooling will always be wrong about socialization. We like being wrong.
Lastly, the untethered freedom to homeschool won’t always seem as scary as it does when you’re starting out. Sure, you will make mistakes but, like we teach our kids, that’s where the learning happens. When we make mistakes, we can change things up and find a better way immediately. Schools make mistakes all the time, and many go uncorrected at the expense of students. Even if spite or fear drove you to homeschool, I pray the freedom it brings will be what ultimately keeps you going.
The Epoch Times: What most drives you to continue to homeschool your children and encourage others to do so as well?
Ms. Cabrera: We wagered a second income on the notion that we could educate our children more effectively than the public school system. We wagered the need to fit into the world’s expectations on the belief that our children should look to us for social and moral guidance.
We wagered the ease and comfort of kid-free time on the belief that kids need family more than peers, love more than affirmation, and encouragement more than conformity.
If I could take back those three years I put my oldest two in public school, I would. But God blessed the broken road that led us straight to homeschooling. My faith and trust in God have grown, and I know that my children will be my life’s greatest work for him.
More and more, I realize we homeschool our kids not to shield our kids from the world, but to prepare them for the harsh reality of it, armed with truth and reason.
I thank God for making me uncomfortable enough to act and decide to homeschool every time I see my boys stand their ground for truth as they venture into the world. Parents, talk to your kids about everything. A blank slate is easy prey for a corrupt word to write upon.
Homeschooling has opened up more opportunities for our kids than we could have ever dreamed. They are now 17 and in an honors dual-credit college program. One is training for his pilot’s license and is cadet commander of his CAP [Civil Air Patrol] squad, the other is a CAP officer, math whiz, and tutor. My youngest is also a new cadet, a pianist, and starting his own farmers market business out of his love of gardening.
My time homeschooling them is so precious and will come to an end sooner than I am ready to let go.
I may say the time with my kids went by too fast, but I won’t ask where the time went. I know exactly where it went. Because of homeschooling, I was right there with them every step of the way.